Godzello Presents: Buzz at Pop-Culture Corner

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Updated: 1 hour 5 min ago

On Infamous Second Son

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 18:13

So, my gaming history went something like this, 

  • Roller Coaster Tycoon 
  • Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness
  • Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos (and associated expansion packs)
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2
  • Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
  • Fallout 1 & 2
  • Planescape: Torment
And ... that's pretty much it. I wasn't much of a bowler, if you know what I mean. So my introduction to modern console games were the 7th generation games BioShock and Infamous (years later I did fall in love with New Vegas and Deus Ex). I loved the former for the story, I loved the latter for it's ability to reach into my deepest fantasies of being the least qualified superhero ever and allowing me to rampage around a city. Granted, I must have liked something else otherwise I'd have probably preferred Prototype ... but I didn't, so moving on.

I'm always a little dubious about sequels. In this day and age, can you really blame me though? I could spend multiple reviews waxing philosophical and ANGRILY TYPING IN CAPSLOCKS about how tired I am of sequels, remakes, franchises, reimaginings, spinoffs, shared universes etc.

But, I have to admit, I was actually pretty excited about Second Son. So, does it hold up to my pretentiously high standards and expectations?

Most Idiotic Review

"[Second Son] speaks to an attitude reflected in the main character: 'We're far too cool and alternative to be put into your little boxes, man! Not like those nerdy spods over there, with their dungeons and Star Wars and all the other shit we pretend we don't know anything about.' But it's all delusion! Second Son stands obliviously in a box clearly labelled 'current-gen'. As in 'same as before but shinier and there's less of it'. Less sandbox, less missions, less of everything except arrogance. Can't see much point in it unless they found a way to erase the previous games from history. Like, say, by making a new console not backwards-compatible with– oh." -- Yahtzee Croshaw (Zero Punctuation)

Well, Yahtzee keeps popping up in my reviews in this section. Surprising. Again, I'm a huge Zero Punctuation fan, but oftentimes I just can't agree with him. I doubt that would bother him. This particular point I chalk up to Yahtzee being a hipster. I can't help it. Maybe it's the goatee and the fedora he so commonly sports, but this part of his review really just sounds like the rallying cries of the hipster population. Maybe it's my Vegas upbringing and the people I surrounded myself with. 

We were an eclectic group to say the least ...
But ultimately it's just a matter of opinion, so I'd best leave it at that. I can't personally agree with Yahtzee on this one, but I can still see where he's coming from.

Most Accurate Review

"While Second Son’s individual beats and characters are well executed, the plot that strings them all together is frustratingly straightforward and limited in scope, depriving the bit players of the chance to make a meaningful impact on the core conflict."

I find myself favoring reviews that appeal to how fun the game is, but how much more the game could have been. There's the shame of wasted potential, but not to the degree that the game we ultimately received was still a lot of fun. 

What I Say

So what is this story trying to offer? We have Delsin Rowe, a twenty-four-year-old Native American who lives with his more conservative cop brother in a fictional Okamish conservation, before he discovers he's a conduit or bio-terrorist who can absorb powers from other conduits he comes in contact with. Delsin is also your regular ol' Juvenile Delinquent, but, being voiced by the Baby-Jesus in real life Troy Baker, he's nothing but charm. 

The antagonist of the story is Brooke Augustine, the director of the D.U.P., a government organization bent on controlling the so-called bioterrorist threat, and the crux of this story involves Delsin trying to absorb her own conduit powers over concrete in order to save the people on the conservation.

This was the first major problem I encountered. I was under the impression that, when Augustine suspects Delsin of hiding something, she hurts the people closest to him and ... leave him behind? Behold the makings of the classic revenge plot that we've all seen a million times. He goes on a quest to get stronger so that he can return home with the chalice and a new sense of self. While it is a classic archetypal story, it rings very tired in this case, no matter how much new characters try to spice it up. 

After that the story pretty much plays out as you'd expect. I won't spoil it, but I'll be honest, it doesn't go anywhere truly surprising, even if it's nicely done.

The characters though are certainly a step up from previous installments. While I never had particular issue with Cole McGravely pants, I certainly see why he's not going to be lauded as revolutionizing video-game characters, he's a MacGuffin in and of himself created in order to get to the gameplay of the stories. That's about it.  

Here, whether you find him charming or grating, Delsin is a pretty fleshed out character, and not too detached from the situation not to enjoy the gameplay as much as the player. He has some pretty solid relationships with the people around him too, especially Reggie, his brother, who goes along with a lot of Delsin's harebrained schemes with a sigh of weariness, hinting that, while Delsin hasn't had powers for very long, this behavior is nothing new. 

Reggie is actually really interesting. The fact that he has an inherent distaste of bio-terrorists supplies the game with some pretty sincere drama as it causes friction between the two brothers, and it also allows the player a direct insight into the minds of those who are antagonistic towards Delsin (and being an action game, there's quite a few). Also, the game works hard to not characterize any of the alternate viewpoints. To some degree, I can see this world legitimately existing.

Fetch is one of the other main Conduits we see in the game, and she's not nearly as interesting as I expected her to be. Actually, outside of the two main characters, most of the rest of the cast is woefully underdeveloped. Fetch has a really interesting backstory, but it really doesn't go too many places. She, like Delsin, seems more like a response to needing a new powers source than as a character called upon by the story. Now that said, her dialogue and voice acting are a lot of fun, and her relationship with Reggie and Delsin are entertaining, I just didn't feel like she was utilized to her fullest extent. 

In a way, she (and Eugene, who was the other main conduit in the the game, who I really don't have a lot to say about) was what I feared The Avengers would ultimately be. I understand Delsin the protagonist, but I remember having a similar sensation during Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, right at the very end of the game which was the moment someone uttered the line, "Only you can stop the bad guy, rescue the damsel, save the world," ... or something like that. I instantly thought, "Why am I the only one? Why can't we call on an army to do the world saving?" 

Lastly we have the antagonist. I still don't really get Brooke Augustine. Her initial backstory is pretty nice, and while I won't ruin it, I found it pretty interesting ... and completely inconsistent with the character we and Delsin face for the majority of the game. It felt very schizophrenic truth be told, which hurt my overall enjoyment of the story. 

The spectacle of the game though is where the game really shines. The various powers, Smoke, Neon, Digital, and Concrete. While they're visually stunning, they really stretch what constitutes 'elemental' powers. I mean, the moment Angels started flying around their recreation of Seattle ... well, it's not done poorly, it's just a little out there.

Gameplay is smooth and fun, and really builds on what the developers learned in previous Infamous games, but ... it really doesn't add too much knew, in terms of gameplay or story. It's fun, it's flashy, it's enjoyable, and really there isn't too much more to be said. 

No Post Today!

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 18:29
Hey fellas. On the road again. Heading back to the land of the Mormidons, Utardia.

You might be able to tell, I'm not a fan.

But it's a good school, relatively cheap, and it's where I felt like I needed to be. I love Vegas. I almost always have a great time here (despite having encountered some of the strangest scenarios imaginable), and I always miss it a lot. But it wasn't where I needed to be.

So, as I say allons-y to my true home to return to a intermediate stepping stone, I'll say to you, "More reviews are on the way. Catch you on the flip-flop!"

~ Godzello

On Young Adult Fiction and Whether You're Too Old For This Sh*t

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 10:00
For those of you who eschew reading entirely for Hollywood bombardment and suckle at EA's udder, you might have missed out on the back and forth debate raging about Young Adult fiction that took bloggers by storm. My understanding is that it started over Ruth Graham's article for Slate, "Against YA"

So here's my take on it.

I don't give a f*ck what you read. I really don't. I have no qualms about it. And I too have read, and honestly reread some of my treasured Young Adult roots. I'm only twenty-two for christ's sake, so I'm not that far removed yet. But here's the biggest thing I'm noticing in the defense of adults reading YA, 'Live and Let Read,' which is great, and I don't care, and the other is, 'It allows me to connect with my kid,' good for you. BUT.

I remember being a kid. I read things like Pendragon by DJ MacHale and The Mad Scientist Club, and even Winnie the Pooh. Loved these books and I still appreciate and love the part they played in my life. Then something happened. My father, a college English professor, handed me an adult book for the first time. He'd been paying attention to the kinds of YA books I was falling in love with, and found the adult equivalent. I fell head over heels. It was amazing and I loved it. More than a decade later, books are one of the few areas of life that we still really can let lose and talk about together without going for the jugular. Here's the thing though, I'm on his level now, and instead of pandering to my age-range, he and I are equals. 

So back to YA people who read for pleasure and enjoyment. I had the same negative reaction to the Lego Movie. It was fun, clever, well made, and for the little bit of theme it was broaching (if not fully realizing) I can think of half-a-dozen adult equivalents that deal with the topics better, more directly, and more deeply. So it's not that I have any problem accepting that adults make the occasional foray into YA ... it's that it seems they live there. That's creepy to me. It's like Bronies. "It's got a great message, mang!" is the rallying cry. 

Sure it does. That's the point of most kids' shows. So did Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, and while I used to dress up in costume and yell, "Tyrannosaurus" in a voice that sounded closer to Matt Damon from Team America than I'd like to admit, in my early twenties, that it so not the way I want to self-identify. It's a diluted form of the world, devoid of the rich complexity that starts to hit you in your early twenties and beyond, and maybe it's because I come from a fantastically shitty childhood, but I grew past the rose tinted glasses fast. Give me the unanswering universe, utterly void of purpose or meaning every day of the week. I personally can't relate to YA anymore, nor can I imagine, why anyone would want to. 


On The Lego Movie

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 22:23

No one who reads this blog (all four of you) know I'm no stranger to ripping a movie a new one. But I actually feel bad when I say I didn't really like The Lego Movie. One, until I sat down to write this review ... I did like it. I laughed most of the way through it. It had entertaining visuals, a clever story, recognizable figures, engaging jokes ... and, ... honestly the characters left no lasting impact on me. That was the main thing. I only saw the movie a week ago, and seeing as I can still name the episode order of Season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when I haven't watched that show since junior high? Not remembering something is a big deal. I think that's when I realized there really wasn't anything to remember. 

Most Accurate Review

"Boasting beautiful animation, a charming voice cast, laugh-a-minute gags, and a surprisingly thoughtful story, The Lego Movie is colorful fun for all ages." -- Rotten Tomatoes website's consensus

I still really enjoyed the movie. I did. So I want to give credit where due. I had very low expectations when the movie was first announced. The fact they could pull of such a concept as well as they did is astounding. I wouldn't have wanted to be the screenwriter on that project. 

Most Idiotic Review

"It's just too bad that a movie that encourages you to think for yourself doesn't follow its own advice." -- Alonso Duralde (The Wrap)

Of any complaints I can lobby against the film, the Lego Movie really did keep me guessing. On several occasions I really had no idea where the movie was going. I can't say that often. And while I don't know if all the twists really worked, that might just be personal preference on my part. 

What I Say

Alright, the plot is pretty simple. The badguy (played delightfully by Will Ferrel (who I'm not always such a big fan of), wants the world picturesque and, 'by the book,' and his perfect world is threatened by the Master Builders, a group of creative rebels who can build 'outside the box'. The films soars here with a fun, clever, and fastpaced script about the adventures of a normal lego-piece (Played by Chris Pratt) becoming a hero who is unique and special. It's definitely a post-Don Bluth kids movie, alas. It's so kid friendly that, while there's nothing untoward for kids, it really doesn't challenge them in any way.

I felt torn about this one. One, I found the characters less to be characters and more expositories for clever joke dispensement. Two, I found the characters harkening back to classic archytipes. I think my ultimate opinion is that nothing in this movie will challenge kids to new ways of thinking, but it will lay some of the groundwork explored more fully in other stories. While there was nothing done wrong with the Lego Movie, it didn't strike me as doing anything new or risky in any way. They were using a pre-established model to tell a pre-established story.

The film shines in its visuals, which are very clever. There's a lot going on, which is appropriate, but never feels like it's overpowering the story, which is so fast paced it waits for no one, not character or visual, which makes it fun and enjoyable, doesn't leave a lot of meat on the bone for a close encounter as my professors like to say (unless you're just enjoying the background visuals, which are a lot of fun).

Ultimately I have less to say about the Lego Movie. I thought it was very well done, but it didn't leave much of an impact on me. I'm glad I saw it. I'm glad I didn't pay to see it in theaters.

~ Godzello

P.S. Batman was friggin awesome. 

Regular Posts Resume Tomorrow

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 22:43
So here's the sitch. Yesterday I threw myself at the mercy of the Las Vegas system of Public Transportation to visit and old friend and boss. After missing the last bus home, I found my way to a friend's house to crash. Today we rocked out and made music videos. If you knew us it'd make sense. Alas, this has not been conducive to maintaining my blog. So here's the deal. Check in tomorrow and I'll have finished my review of The Lego Movie. Cheers!

Throwback Thursday: On Superman Returns

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 23:47

I haven't seen this movie for years. Honestly I don't know if I ever actually saw this movie all the way through. I decided, in honor of ripping the sh*t out of Man of Steel I'd take a backward glance at the last time the red and blue boyscout hit the big screen in Bryan Singer's Superman Returns. 

I have a real soft spot for this movie. Maybe it's because I was raised on the Donner Superman films and the Burton Batman films, but these takes on these characters are strikingly iconic. Superman Returns attempts to hearken back to that era, and personally I think it did it really well. I feel like, in comparing this and Man of Steel that they are two ends of the pendulum swing. One is new and gritty and the other is classic and nostalgic. One has a lot of heart and soul, the other has a lot of grand motifs and epic battles. Maybe one day we'll get a film that finds a way to balance the two aspects. 

Most Idiotic Review

"... glum, lackluster movie in which even the big effects sequences seem dutiful instead of exhilarating." -- Roger Ebert

Okay, I don't mean Ebert's an idiot so much as I disagree. I feel like the film offers a lot of heart and the few big actions scenes had me personally on the edge of my seat. 

Most Accurate Review


In all caps no less. This really nails the tragic flaw of the film. Alas. 

What I Say

Still both films suffer from an overabundance of storylines and subplots, most of which no one was expecting or even wanted. In this film, the main wart on the nose is the existence of the kid. Superman's kid to be specific. He's got the charm and natural talent on par with Jake Loyd, and only a smattering of dialogue through the whole affair. We're never given any real reason as to why we should invest in this kid's story. He was ultimately extraneous. 
Beyond that, we have Superman returning (if you couldn't have guessed that, you're beyond my help). Where's he been? Searching for the remnants of Krypton, of which he finds only a graveyard. It's been five years since Richard Donner's time, even though all the leads seemed to have aged backwards by a substantial couple of decades, and once Superman's back in town, Lex Luthor coincidentally springs his latest real-estate plot, drowning America by growing a new continent using crystals. 

The plot loses a lot of grounding as it progresses through the story. Its not bad by any means, but seriously a little out there. I think the combination of the outlandish story mixed with the lack of action makes for an ultimately boring film. The only highlights of the film are some very sincere and honest character moments. Clark and Lois have an entertaining set of interactions throughout the film, and again, there is a lot of sincerity in the way these incarnations of the characters are written and portrayed. Where Man of Steel had messianic preaching, Superman Returns has honest vulnerability. I definitely know which one I prefer. 

For all Man of Steel's efforts to impart its message about the godliness of Kal-el (via long-winded speeches about the weight of his destiny), it is Superman Returns that encapsulates what it means to be Superman in the exchange between the titular character and Lois Lane, "I hear everything." Right there, that is the true tragedy of Superman's character. He will never be fast enough, or strong enough to prevent all the suffer that he is witness to. Even for him, it's impossible, but he will never stop trying. 

Although he'll take a break to woo a reporter. 
In the movie I never honestly had a problem with any of the characters (although, again, the actors may have all been cast a little too young). Their sincerity supports their behavior pretty consistently, no matter how silly the situations became. It was like the entire cast was taking the approach that Mark Hamill did toward Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars, wide-eyed naivety. 

Brandon Routh plays the continuation of Christopher Reeves Superman from the previous feature films (although we try to only remember the first two) and he does a fantastic job. It might not be a replication performance like Zachary Quinto's Spock or Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Bruce Willis, but he hits a lot of the same beats, especially Clark Kent's nebish charm.

Lex Luthor was beautifully played by Kevin Spacey. He is one of my favorite actors and this film doesn't do much to tarnish my opinion of him. I wasn't sold that the writing ultimately served the character, failing to really portray him as one of the world's leading minds, who we all know (especially post House of Cards) that he can totally play that role with deft skill and ... a kind of whimsy. 

While it's still not my favorite, I far prefer twenty-two year old Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane to Amy Adams'. This character feels more real to me, despite the nostalgic approach to the character, as opposed to the gritty modern feisty woman that Adams was saddled with. 

The rest of the cast isn't really much to write home about, although I did really enjoy Sam Huntington's excitable Jimmy Olson. The bow tie was wonderfully out-of-place, but a welcome addition and James Marsden does well ... even if skipping out on X-Men: The Last Stand to make this film ... /sigh. Just /sigh

As opposed to Hans Zimmer's soundtrack for Man of Steel, the music in this film is the classic John William's scores mixed in with John Ottman's, although they're still very much in the original's style. It beats Hans Zimmer out of the water every day of the week. It really encapsulates the hope and old fashioned values ... reflective of a simpler time

The spectacle of this film is a bit unbalanced. We have some of the quintessential Superman imagery in this film, including the bullet striking the eye, catching the airplane, rushing about the city actually saving citizens and saying cheesy things like, "I hope this doesn't turn you off to flying. Statistically it's still the safest form of travel." But a lot of the movie is dedicated to ... just talking. There is an undeniable soap opera element to the film, and it's not a small aspect. Oh, and Superman Returns has Jesus imagery too. Just ... not as bad as Man of Steel.

At the end of the day, I will always prefer Superman Returns, for as weird as the plot holes are, they're padded by a lot of charm generated by a good cast, and there's a real reverence for the previous incarnations. Man of Steel I have to respect for ... trying to go in a new direction, create a contemporary Superman, and failing almost across the board. 

And Brandon Routh's suit was better. Not realistically or functionally, like Cavill's ... but truly the classic. Routh had red undies, and that's the American Way. 

On Man of Steel

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 22:15

My oldest friend referred to this film as a religious experience. 

... which just goes to show that a mutual love of Digimon in the 4th grade may not be the basis for a longstanding friendship. I mean, Jesus, this movie was ... bad. Just bad. So bad. Holy Sh*t was it bad. 

I might be a minority opinion on this one, but while Superman Returns was a complete snooze and had its share of in-universe stupidity ... Man of Steel was a poorly made ass-fest piece of pretentious pompous poo. IT WAS COMPLETE SH*T.

Why? Glad you asked. Let's take a look at Zack Snyder's visual ejaculation by way of Nolan's masturbatory grandstanding, Man of Steel.

Most Idiotic Review

"Man of Steel is more than just Avengers-sized escapism; it's an artistic introduction to a movie superhero we only thought we knew." Steve Persall (Tampa Bay Times)

I wonder what counts as art anymore. I can only imagine in the next century people looking back will list the classical greats, like Citizen Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Casablanca, and obviously, Man of Steel. I don't get it. Just because Nolan's mind is incomprehensible and Zimmer's scores are overblown does not make these films art. Also, we do know Superman. We know Clark Kent. But honestly? After watching the movie, I started wondering if the filmmakers knew the character, and I also wondered, after the viewing, how we were supposed to know the character.

Most Accurate Review

"I just think it's terrible! There are some things I like. All the actors to play these roles are good choices, the action scenes are awesome, and though I like the more upbeat Superman, I'm open to the idea of a darker version. But these characters have no identity. Outside of their job and how they look, you wouldn't even know that this was Clark Kent or Lois Lane if they didn't call them Clark Kent or Lois Lane. The millions of sub-plots are not needed and get in the way of any emotional connection we want to make. The incoherent storytelling is pointless and annoying, and as a superhero, he lets way too many people die in this! Even if you took Superman's name off of this, I still wouldn't like this stupid, illogical mess!" -- Doug Walker (Nostalgia Critic) 

What more can I say? The characters are despondent even when they're yelling, have little to no connection to the audience, and there are too many subplots considering the lack of investment the audience should have toward the primary plotline. 

What I Say

Every time I go back to this film, I like it less. Honestly. 

Part of the problem is the story. Unlike with Batman Begins, Man of Steel's flashbacks don't feel like they're truly informing the decisions to come, so they're oddly hollow. We get a scene where he saves people on an oil rig. We get a scene where he destroys an asshole's livelihood. We get a scene where his first Robin Hood dad says maybe he should let people die. We get a scene where his father dies in the most contrived way possible. I think part of the issue here is that we're never shown him having a normal life before or in spite of the manifestation of his powers. At least with Bruce we saw him before he plummeted into a hole with a bunch of flying mammals. 

With Clark, all we see is that his life is ... well, dramatic. It gives us very little to relate to, as is one of my main complaints about any film Nolan's name is attached too. His characters are all very dry and they're attempts at humor are ... well, stilted. And I'm not looking for comedy, but ... the amount of times Superman cracks a wry smile are few and far between. He spends more time with his forehead furrowed looking gloomy and serious about the weight of his destiny.

Beyond the schizophrenic nature of Clark's own developing story, we get, once again the destruction of Krypton as seen through the eyes of every sci-fi director who's come before, and most of the story still makes little sense to me. Mostly the whole, "We're already dead," implication. Why? I have no idea. F*ck you movie. 

So we have Zod, a genetically engineered war-criminal who's not bad, he's just drawn that way. His motivation? The good of Krypton. How's he go about it? A complete disregard for everything and anything not Krypton ... or his view of Krypton, seeing as he's a homicidal screaming jackass even before the planet is destroyed. 

When they collide on earth ... uh ... fights ... for reasons (we all know the reason for at least one of the fights. PRODUCT PLACEMENT. It's like the movie got overtaken by Yogurt from Space-Balls. MERCHANDISING)? We also have the subplot of the Codex ... which I'm just going to ignore. We also have Lois Lane ... who is there, being a touch, feisty modern women who is still as dull as cardboard. 

The characters are were I really have a bone to pick (if you couldn't tell). I'll tolerate all manner of weirdo plotlines if the characters are well done, and here they just aren't. If you subtract the talented cast and just look at some of the dialogue, it's really bland. It's right up there with some of Khan's dialogue in Star Trek Into Darkness. There's a quote from novelist Dennis Lehane (Shutter Island), “Character is plot; character is dialogue; character is scene. A story with a few strong characters can occasionally survive a weak plot, but a story with a strong plot cannot— ever— survive weak characters.”

So what it with the characters? They don't feel like they exist outside their reaction to the weight of Superman's destiny. It's actually amazing that a cast as diverse as this is so uselessly bland.

Honestly, the first draft of this review, I completely forgot to saw anything about Henry Cavill, but, seriously, he didn't leave much of an impact. Truth be told, for all of the angst he goes through in this film, I thought Superman Returns made the character a lot more relatable, and in one scene no less, where we see him listening to all the people of earth from outer space. That 30 seconds encapsulated all of what it means to be Superman better than all the hamhanded symbolism that Nolan and Snyder could cram into this film. That said, I think Cavill does the best he can with what he has ... which isn't much.

There is one other thing that I've hated for years now. I am really sick of Hanz Zimmer. He's the perfect foil for Nolan just like Elfman's talent is shackled to Burton's repetitiveness. There is this single pattern to nearly every single song Zimmer writes that has none of the heart of a John Williams or Howard Shore score. Hell, say what you will about his movies, James Newton Howard's scores to M. Night's films are really damn evocative. Probably the best part of his films. 

I will give the movie some credit. It had some damn visually pleasing (heartless) action scenes. The CGI usage was fantastic. The wanton destruction hearkened back to the worst of post 9/11 right wing conservative fears. This in and of itself is not what bothers me. It's that the movie tries to make a point about Clark being put in a position where he has to make a choice between killing Zod or not saving a group of people. 

Nowhere in the previous fifteen minutes of the film, though, did this seem like an issue. They never illustrated it as an internal battle that Clark was going through during the course of the fight. In the Avengers, 1) they still caused less damage, and 2) they verbalize that they're trying to contain the Chitauri, save civilians, and control the situation until a solution can be found. Clark ... just punches, which is fine, but don't try to tell us that it's part of some deeper meaning. 

Also, was anyone else bothered that the story of Superman went from a retelling of Moses being shoved down the rive to Jesus ... even if he doesn't die at the end? The symbolism in this movie is really heavy handed and ... again, WEIGHED DOWN BY CLARK'S DESTINY. It's overtaken every aspect of the movie, except the fight scenes, making them even more laughably out-of-place (than the product placement already did). 

Lastly, to wrap up, I want to comment of Zack Snyder. I really hate this guy. He's as pretentious as Nolan in his own ways. Did anyone else catch that spat between him and Terry Gilliam where he said he made Watchmen to save it from the "Terry Gilliams of the world." This is one of the most laughable statements I've ever encountered. Terry Gilliam is a damned fine director and actually has artistic merit, and as far as utilizing the artistic medium of film, go watch Fear & Loathing and then watch 300, and tell me which one was made by an artist. 

But, get this, Snyder goes on in this same interview to unleash this gem, "I always believe the movies I've made are smarter than the way they are perceived by sort of mass culture and by the critics. We set out to make smarter movies than what they're perceived to be ..." 

So there you have it folks. The man who brought us the intellectual and thought provoking magnus opus 300 everybody. And on that note. Good friggin night!

On The Last of Us

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 18:35

So, I'll be honest with you, this is one of those games that I never actually played. My roommate sold his PS3 shortly after and I never had the opportunity. That said, I watched both my roommates play this game. I watched walkthroughs. I downloaded the soundtrack. I even watched my roommates play the multiplayer. For me, that's unheard of, especially considering the basis for the game, zombies (more-or-less). This game blindsided me like no other modern game has. I saw the E3 footage like everyone else, but the promise of intuitive AI didn't thrill me the way it did my peers, which isn't to say there's anything wrong with that, but I already suck at games, so making the baddies more likely to outsmart me isn't my idea of a good time. 

So what was it about this game that captured me so? Let's take a look. This is The Last of Us.

Most Idiotic Review

" ... perhaps [Naughty Dog] feel they have to make whatever the video game equivalent of Oscar bait is. So it wants to be this big serious exercise in character development, but it’s also very very safe." — Yahtzee Croshaw (Zero Punctuation)

This one hurt me. I love Zero Punctuation and have tuned in weekly for years now. Hell, when I first started out blogging, I really did look up to him (and Nostalgia Critic) for inspiration in how to be a douche-spewing ass-monkey... but in a lovable way. 

It's rare though that I feel so alienated by Yahtzee's opinion. He goes on later in his review to refer to The Last of Us, "I guess the story is the selling point," which I want to point out, in Triple A gaming is not a safe choice. In this day and age it's practically unheard of to even attempt 'this big serious exercise in character development.' He goes on about the story, saying, "while it is well-presented, it’s also fairly predictable, and, depending on how your mind works, the ending may completely lose you ‘coz it did me. Naughty Dog games have a bad habit of dehumanizing every character except the leads for no particular reasons besides 'fuck you, got mine.'"

This too bothered me. To work backwards, I never felt like the every character except the leads were dehumanized. I found the cast to be varied and quite interesting, and the ultimate 'antagonists' of the story, pretty sympathetic. The predictable part, I can kind of see, although I don't see that as a bad thing. Tom Stoppard once reportedly said, (and I'm paraphrasing) "I'm not interested in good vs evil, I'm interested in differing definitions of what's good." I feel like that's what Naughty Dog pulled off with their ending. It's not clear who we're supposed to root for in the scenario present, but we see how each character came to the conclusion they did. That, in my opinion, makes it a damn good character study. 

A necessary aspect of any character studyMost Accurate Review

" ... because the game spent so much time convincing me to care about these characters, its emotional high notes were even more effective, and its many sad scenes even more devastating." — Kollar (Polygon)
This really is what nabbed me. I'll talk more indepth later on, but this specifically nailed me to the wall like a low-rent jesus. Holy crap did I fall in love with these characters. I was even moved by the raw footage of the actors on the motion capture stage that I was obsessed enough to go find. The closest I've seen in modern (and even most classics I tout so highly) games is possibly BioShock: Infinite, but we don't really know Booker's backstory (for most of it), and we only see them over the course of, what ... a few days? We see Joel and Ellie over a long gradual timespan, so we see their relationship solidify. So when it's threatened, it means all the more to us, them, and the story. 

What I Say

Story — The story to this game ... is possibly the weakest part. Honestly, it's something we've seen many times before, in all different shapes and sizes, but that doesn't keep it from being original. Bare with me. Another example of a story we'd all seen before was the original Star Wars. It was based primarily on myths and legends, followed Shakespeare's Five Act structure and Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, and was populated by classical archetypes.

So to say the story isn't new, doesn't mean much here. It's all about how the writers can put a spin on a classic tale, and boy does Naughty Dog deliver. I personally fell in love with the characters and thusly, their investment in the story became my investment in the story. The backstory to the infected was pretty cool too, showing (like 28 Days Later) one possible origin of a zombie-like plague. 

Character — This is really where the game shines. Joel and Ellie are beautifully crafted characters, lifelike, relatable, and easy to empathize with. The game does well that, even as it delves deeper into dark storylines that the characters still relate to the player. Part of this is accomplished by damned clever writing, honest performances by voice actors Troy Baker (god I love him. He's perfect) and Ashley Johnson, and lastly the usage of in-game interactions. 

Without spoiling too much, there is a scene later on that isn't particularly commented upon, involving an activity that has (at this point in the game) become rather rote to the player. In the scene, though, the detached character reacts with detachment. It sounds overly simple and I am trying to be purposefully vague, but having the emotional interaction develop from a player controlled action really helped cement the connection to the player. 

Besides the two main characters, we have a colorful cast of misfit survivors of the zombie apocalypse (how could we not) and each of them was ... as I said colorful. They were quirky and interesting enough that they spring easily to mind when I consider the game. A lot of stories I can't say the same about, which is a shame really. I'd like to think that Naughty Dog approached each side character as if they could star in their own spinoff game. 

Music — I want to take a moment here and point out the fantastic (if minimalist) score for this game by Gustavo Santaolalla. I don't know a lot about music since I quit playing violin nearly a decade ago, but man if this soundtrack wasn't evocative. For me, it ranks up there with other contemporary game soundtracks like Red Dead Redemption and the BioShock series. Seriously, if you haven't, check it out.

The End of Days has never seemed more tranquil.
Spectacle — The last thing I'll talk about is the spectacle of the game, which is hard for me, since I want to stop at, "iz good," but that won't fly. The world is oddly beautiful considering how gone-to-sh*t everything is. The designers really took time and effort to show off the natural dilapidation of the environments. The monsters in the game are grisly to say the least, with an uncomfortably, almost dare I say, pretty design. It's like how the Splicers in BioShock all look disconcertingly classy considering how f***ed up they are. The gameplay did seem to suffer judging from watching my friends play, but considering how long my friends played, they didn't seem to mind. No 'game-breakers' like what my roommate described in Elder Scrolls Online.

So what else can I say about The Last of Us? Check it out. Unless Zero Punctuation scared you away entirely, it's still, in my opinion, one of the best told stories using the video game medium on the market. And Troy Baker may in fact be jesus (Joss Whedon is undeniably god and Stephen Moffat is definitely Lucifer ... smug bastard).

On World War Z

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 19:29

To start, I did not read the book before seeing this film. There's a lot of books out there, there's a lot of movies out there. I can't always do the book justice by seeing it before I see the adaptation. Maybe when I get back from my vacation I'll finally pick it up off my shelf, along with the Strain, Good Omens, Anathem, and countless other books that I promised people I'd get to. 

This sums up how my friends are about books I should readSo I walked into this movie blind. I knew little about the source material. I knew it was an oral history without a main character that took stories of a zombie apocalypse from around the world. The movie had Brad Pitt as a guy working for the UN. Seemed like the closest to clever writing to take the spirit from one and manufacture a character to work as the face for the story to me. Otherwise, I only had an instinct garnered over many drunken viewings of Romero  films to guide me. 

This image sums up the importance of the supporting cast.Most Accurate Review

"World War Z plays a bit like a series of separate films and the juncture where the new final act was grafted onto the proceedings is unmistakable, but unless you knew about the film's troubled past, you'd never guess it existed." 

You get the feeling very quickly that the movie is getting snapped around one way and then another at various points. I'll be honest, rewatching the film on Netflix gave me the undeniable sensation that you can pick out the different writers between scenes. If not for a highly talented cast and the unity of the direction/editing, I feel like the movie would shamble into an early grave (see bigshot critics, I can make stupid taglines too).

Most Idiotic Review

"... this lousy, ugly-looking, intensely illogical movie ..."

Finding a truly idiotic review off the bat was actually rather hard. Most critics, and me it seems, gave this film the benefit of the doubt. It had a hell of a production, and despite it's three credited writers, Pitt and his ensemble manage to keep WWZ's head just above water. So ... no, I don't think the film is lousy, or ugly looking. It does suffer from shaky-cam-itis, but seeing how prevalent that is these days, I've trained myself to look for it. As far as offenders go, this is not one. I always knew what was happening, at the very least, which is more than I can say for Abrams last outing in the Star Trek franchise. As far as being illogical, it certainly has its moments, no doubt ... but it is a movie about reanimated corpses after all, so call me overly forgiving in my old age of 22, but I think some leniency is allowed. The logic of the movie is more-or-less sound within the confines of its own world, if not ours (the way pathogens and viruses work), and the characters (usually) avoid horror movie cliches. The few times the movie decides to trot out these cliches, I'll just blame one of the other three writers who just couldn't bare to kill his darlings. 

What I Say

This is still a damned enjoyable film, but damn if it isn't riding of the fumes of potential. It's like Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. You can just feel it oozing awesomeness that it never quite gets too. As a creative person, I can at least respect the attempt to hit a mark and failing, as opposed to something produced from the GeneriTRON 9000 ... which constitutes 90% of whatever Michael Bay touches. The movie tries for a epic scope, it tries for relatable characters with an emotional center, it tries for tension, suspense, and action. Hell it even tries for a more sciencey approach. So instead of angrily lambasting it, I feel like World War Z is like that friend you knew in High School who had all the makings of being awesome, and a few years later you run into that friend and they're sad, overweight, and trapped in a dead-end job. For a moment you might think, "WHY U NO LIVE UP TO POTENTIAL," and then you just feel sad.

World War Z is like this zombie's hairline, f***ed up.
That's World War Z.

It's overweight, past-its-prime potential.

The main culprit of this is the script. It's herky-jerky, and a bit unfocused about what it wants to be, which is understandable, because when Lord Lindelof, Dark Lord of Hollywood Hack-Work ... breath ... breath ... the ending feels like it belongs to a different film. The first two thirds are building up this wild globetrotting epic and the last third feels more traditional Romero. Both have merits, but without Pitt to keep it cohesive, this would have fallen to pieces entirely. If anything, it feels like two movies. The ending is actually the sequel with its own story to tell. It's a rather surreal experience. 

I personally preferred the globe-trotting of the first half, if only because I felt, personally, that I hadn't seen that before in a zombie-film. Even if it wasn't fantastic, it was new, like Mtn Dew's LiveWire. I couldn't tell you if it was better than Code Red, but it's new and I'm drinking the crap out of it.

Symbolism of Mtn Dew and geo-political tensionThe characters also suffer. They aren't entirely consistent, at least not the side characters. Pitt is a dominant enough personality that he can anchor almost any role, and no I'm not salivating over Pitt. He's just a dreamy hunk of man-meat. Moving on.

It's the rest of the cast that suffers. The wife starts off pretty cool in the face of all that's happening. Then she's sidelined to playing middle-man over the phone. Segen is introduced just before the third half, and she's a really interesting character. I wanted more of her too. She was a real badass for the time she was on screen and left a real impact considering I remember her having next-to-no-lines. I seriously thought at first she was a mute. Then there was that bit with her screaming. And that was a cool part too. Honestly, the scene where she's ... spoilers, is really intense and cool, especially in the middle of the bedlam that's happening all around them. Capaldi and ... the other actor who's name I don't know but he did well too, brought weight, but ... eh, there were two casts to the film, both good, and both rather shortchanged. 

It was one of the complaints I've heard about Days of Future Past, and I can see it at work here as well. Two casts, and neither gets quite the spotlight they deserve. Again, this is a result of the Frankenstein-work of the script.

The spectacle though is still pretty fantastic. The imagery combined with the soundtrack was pretty powerful. The swarming zombies reminded me of the Squiddies from the Matrix films, especially Revolutions (which my brother and I just rewatched last week), and the overwhelming mass of 'You're F***ed' that they create as they flood whatever area they're in. I particularly loved the way they'd jump and lunge and throw themselves all over. The usage of CGI to create zombies who legitimately gave no shits about hurting themselves added a new level of danger to the creatures that we didn't even get in 28 Days Later.

So overall? It's a fine movie. It will ultimately rust a bit, be a bit forgotten. I doubt it will be hated or loved, or become a cult hit. People will probably look back and go, "Oh yeah, I liked it fine." Personally, I'll stick with Edgar Writer's Shawn of the Dead or Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later though. Them Brit's seem to really know what they're doing.

Terrible Tuesday: Terry Goodkind, a betrayal

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 19:24
As I've gotten older I've noticed I experience less shitty movies, games, books, and music. This is not because art has improved drastically in the past half-a-decade, but because I've learned more about what I like, the types of intellectual properties that appeal to me, the recurring artists who I love, and when a trailer and advertising campaign is overselling a product. It also stands to reason that in High School I had a vast social circle, much larger than I do now. Back then I was all over the place trying to figure out where I fit in, and I was funny and unassuming enough that I fit into most social circles long enough to be exposed to some real utter garbage. I mean, I was subjugated to horrors untold over those four years. And we're not just talking about getting a group of people and having a drinking game to movies like The Room, either. I'm talking about die-hard fans who refer to movies like the Dark Knight Rises or Inception being, respectively, 'a religious experience' and 'changing their lives.'

So buckle-up, because every Tuesday, I'm going to throw-down with a gnarly monster from my past and see if its corpse still stinks. 

Since I haven't talked about a book in quite a while, I thought I'd take a moment to return to my roots. I am a wannabe fantasy author, and I work really hard to avoid cliches, create engaging characters, and still have fun with it. I started reading Tolkien in the 4th Grade and moved on to Donaldson in the 5th, with Pratchet and Brooks sprinkled here and there for levity and humor's sake. This spoiled me pretty badly, but I didn't know it yet.

No, that lesson was learned the hard way. When I was in 8th Grade my father's girlfriend invited me over to a Wine Tasting at the local golf-course where a local author was socializing. His name was Terry Goodkind, and he was very polite, friendly, and gracious to spend some time chatting with me about the craft, and I will always respect him as being personable and friendly, as well as giving me a signed copy of Naked Empire, which had just come out.

At a rapid-fire pace I blew through his series which, to anyone who knows, is freakin' long. I mean, holy crap is it long. As far as fantasy sagas are concerned, it does rank up there with Wheel of Time and Song of Fire and Ice. And honestly? It was the first time I felt betrayed by a series. It was too long. It fell apart in the middle (and the middle of this series was something like three to five books, depending on how forgiving you are of either Temple of the Wind (rapey) or Naked Empire (forced Randian Bullshit). The characters became caricatures of themselves after book three and ceased and progression, development, or growth. 

The reason I say betrayed and not insulted or offended, is ... Wizard's First Rule and Stone of Tears were damned fun. I had a great time and the characters did feel realistic, well defined, etc. All those things we associate with a good story. They might not have been game changing or revolutionary, but they were like ... Indiana Jones. A fun ride from start to finish, which, considering they were both just under a 1000 pages apiece was no small feat, and for a previously unknown author, I'd say I'm still pretty damned impressed.


Seriously, Richard and Kahlan became speechifying psuedo-philosophical mouthpieces, the plot took a left-turn to crazytown, and the violence, sexual assault, and mass-rape became so prevalent that the further into the books I read I started to feel legitimately ill. We're not just talking about Stephen King's penchant for showing his villains kill dogs or something, either, or Game of Throne's more honest depiction of the time period most fantasy series are set in, or even Donaldson's instance of his protagonist raping a sixteen year old girl within the first hundred pages of his first novel. All those cases usually feel justified in establishing the world or character (in Donaldson's case, the aforementioned rape is still a pivotal aspect of the series and the character 9 books later. The protagonist suffers the ramifications and responsibilities associated with his action for books and books and books where you honestly start to feel sorry for him. You kind of want the world to forgive him, or at least I did, which is not my stance on rapists, so kudos to the author for turning my own sense of ethics and morality on myself). 

Goodkind though? Somewhere around Temple of the Wind I started getting this voyeuristic feeling, much like the way Robert Patterson described reading the Twilight books in relation to Stephanie Myers. I started thinking Goodkind might have been embellishing less in order to drive some point across, like Donaldson or Martin ... and just kind of living out some really freaky fantasies. I'm probably wrong. I seriously hope I'm wrong, but that's a vibe that, eight years later, I still can't quite shake.

Then there's the damned philosophizing. Terry Goodkind is a fan of Ayn Rand, and I'm just going to make my stance perfectly clear. I think there's a reason her beliefs didn't take hold. I think there's a reason that Ken Levine modeled BioShock's Rapture after her beliefs in Objectivism, and it painted a horrifying portrait of what would likely become of such an economic model.

I feel like there's a danger to authors who try to paint why something works as opposed to why it doesn't. It's very hard to create something that's unassailable, and the harder you try, or at least the longer you try (as in a ten books series thousands upon thousands of pages long) the more holes you'll inevitably have and the more absurd lengths you'll have to go to sustain your position. So while I applaud him for being passionate about something ... he picked a hellova thing to be passionate about .

In short, I'd never accuse Mr. Goodkind being a philosopher. After some of the interviews I've read of him in my studies of fantasy (I particularly love Donaldson talking about the Modern Epic, but hey, I'm a fanboy).He's more of a dogmatic moralist at this point.. much like the Spanish Inquisition, Nazi Party and most kindergartners with an absolute good/evil right/wrong duality. He's more of a dogmatic moralist at this point.. much like the Spanish Inquisition, Nazi Party and most kindergartners with an absolute good/evil right/wrong duality. 

In other words, "Pot the kettle called, and said pitch wants his black back."

My belief is that Goodkind has a very limited understanding of Philosophy and even the one he claims to ascribe to he doesn't seem to reflect on using that lofty conciseness of his beyond constructing false premise moral absolutes by ignoring or over-emphasizing the available evidence to suit his interpretation of Rand.

TL;DR: He lives in his own little world.

And lastly, if only Inchoatus was still active. They had a perfect summation of Goodkind, but I'll do my best to reiterate some of their points here. 

Goodkind's Rant: a rebuttal of the more preposterous utterances of this prolific author

"To define me as a fantasy writer is to misunderstand the context of my books by misidentifying their fundamentals." -- Terry Goodkind

You write a series set in a pre-industrial world with magic, wizards, dragons, an actualized underworld, and prophecies, and you think we're the ones misunderstanding the context of your books? It's named after a magic sword for Christ's sake! It's not great literature you miserable, pretentious bastard.

You know what? I don't regret reading all ten of those damn books, because they taught me more than I'd have ever thought possible. I can only hope that paranoia of turning out so schizophrenically will help me avoid the same pitfalls that destroyed someone who was, once upon a time, one of my top three favorite writers.

On The Edge of Tomorrow

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 20:44

I will readily admit it, I'm not a Tom Cruise fan. I'm neither a majority or a minority on the issue either. He seems to be a lukewarm star to me. No one is maddeningly in love with him (at least in my social circles) or desperately ready to cave in his skull with a Toyota Prius launched from a trebuchet. And his personal life is no end of amusement.

That said, after the disappointing rancid predictable tripe that was Oblivion, I was leery of Edge of Tomorrow at best. I love Sci-Fi, but after growing up on Hienlien, Asimov, Clarke, Verne, Wells, and Phillip K. Dick ... it's hard to be impressed by the stuff Hollywood usually turns out. It doesn't mean it can't be good or enjoyable but ... well, Back to the Future is one of the best time travel movies out there, beloved by mass audiences. Now go read the plot synopsis for Heinline's All You Zombies. I'll wait.

See? When you spent High School uncovering these gems, you'd have a bit of a higher bar when it comes to what gets you really excited. 

And let's face it,
Tom Cruise's chin cannot compete with Casper Van Dien's
So what did I think of Edge of Tomorrow? It was okay for a weird lovechild between Groundhog Day and Starship Troopers (doncha miss the days when my reviews were me frothing at the mouth about what a bunghole Dark Knight Rises was?).

But seriously, let's look at the pieces. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt are both talented and skilled actors, capable of carrying their weight separately and their characters are given some pretty solid depth and growth. The action was fast paced, visually interesting and enjoyable (the exoskeletons are undeniably badass). The side characters were colorful and some were memorable. The script used repetition to good use without being overbearing. The third act fell apart and turned generic on such a dime it nearly folded space/time doing so. I won't say it fell apart, but the buildup could have payed off so much more. It's more of a shame than an insult, since the first 2/3rd of the film were actually pretty damned enjoyable.

I also have to take a moment to really compliment Emily Blunt's character. Not only is Sergeant Rita Rose Vrataski a strong women in a man's world but ... well that's pretty much it. The film doesn't add much more to that. She's there, she's badass, and no one really comments on the fact that she's a woman. Props.

There's no other possible reason I found her performance engaging. None at all. 
If I were to lobby one complaint it was the (barely) techno-babble behind the time travel. It's internally consistent with the rest of the film and it follows its own rules without breaking them or copping out too much .... they just weren't very interesting rules. But if I wanted to watch a time travel movie that I knew'd blow my brains out, I'd make time to finally watch Primer.

Wait that's a good idea. Lates!

On Kickstarter and Old-School RPGS

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 14:19

Well, here we are folks, I braved the <checks> 106 degree Vegas weather to get myself to a Starbucks to update this blog. THAT'S DEDICATION, so share the love, cause I'm not above measuring my self-worth against a digital readout of total strangers who read these ramblings. ONWARD

The first video-game I really fell in love with was KotOR. Before then I had garnered hours of enjoyment from Warcraft 2 & 3 and all of the Roller Coaster Tycoon titles, but Knights really cemented itself in my heart. I had discovered RPGs, and nothing would ever be the same.

But while my friends (I HAD FRIENDS) were doing backflips and headstands for games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Elder Scrolls ... I had no interest. The stories never impressed me, they were full of halfhearted characters and lackluster overall stories. I appreciated the art design, and oftentimes the direction the games were trying to take their stories, but beyond that? I just wasn't their target demagraphic (which is the diplomatic way of saying they suck the major doodoo).

... and I have to interrupt, an absolutely beautiful girl just smiled at me at Starbucks like six times, my computer crashed in the middle of this, she sat right next to me, and while I tried to extricate the "Hi" stuck in my throat, she got her order, smiled at me again, got to the door, smiled again, and left. I am an impressive specimen of male charisma. 

Anyways, back to video-games while I try and scrub the bitterness out of my brain.

I had one friend back in the day who turned me onto three magical titles: Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, Fallout, and Planescape: Torment. My world was blown away. These games were magical. 

So when Wasteland 2, Shadowrun: Returns, Pillars of Eternity, and Tormet: Tides of Numenara were announced, my ears perked up so hard I nearly achieved flight I was so f***ing excited. This was it, the return to the golden age of classic isomentric topdown RPGs, and I was there to see it. No longer was I playing games from the previous generation of gamers.

It was a nice reminder to the market that there is still an audience for these games, that were not all interested, or only interested in the Triple A games' graphics and porridge-brain inducing storylines. I'm sorry, but those games can sit and rotate as far as I'm concerned. They've dominated long enough.

Not that I think this will change the playing field, but I'd like to see it ... encourage the playing field to introduce games like BioShock: Infinite or The Last of Us. I want to see balance brought back to the force.

On My Vacation

Mon, 06/30/2014 - 19:00
So I went from my buddy's to my brother's, so I'm moving up in the world. Instead of having access to 250 games on Steam, I have acess to 575+ movies on DVD, VHS, and even Betamax (and no, I'm not exaggerating). So, I'm here to get my nostalgia on. We've riffed Matrix films, had a Phillip Seymor Hoffman tribute, and laughed endlessly at Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation with Matthew McConaughey with a robot leg. And we watched Election. Matthew Broderick has the best mental breakdowns. But I'm trying to blog from my phone, and frankly, I t. But I won't have desktop access until wednesday, and forget about being a Starbucks writer. I might have no pride, dignity, shame, or standards, but... wait that's a damn good argument. Peace!

On Far Cry 3

Thu, 06/26/2014 - 01:12

So, I've been stranded with no car and no ride at my friend's house for several days now. While he was at work he foist upon me Far Cry 3. It's been a killer vacation.

Since I'm a little past due, I figured I'd just share some of my thoughts on the game after a few hours of playing. 

The graphics are fan-f***ing-tastic


The writing is shite. The player character is moderately inconsistent and goes along with the things people order him to do with alarming compliancy.

Yes, random wise-black-man. I will trust everything you say without question.
& lastly, the gameplay is meh. There were many moments I was hampered by torturously aggravating controls.  

I cannot accurately describe my hatred of climbing these
damn things.

For a game touted as highly as it was, I was really disappointed. After a fairly engaging opening, the game lapsed into downright silliness as far as the story was concerned, and I found myself increasingly frustrated by the gameplay mechanics over the nine hours that I played.

That said, there is something to be said about the game that did keep me playing past simple stubbornness. 

I don't know what it was, but something kept me from chucking the game and never looking back, and normally I'd try to pin down exactly what that something is. Maybe over the next few days I'll get more chances to sit down and give it a shot. I'd be more comfortable articulating my various issues after a more lengthy playthrough.

On How to Train Your Dragon 2

Mon, 06/23/2014 - 22:53

In the spring of 2010, I was but a wee High School Senior, ready to graduate and take on the world. Being the poor bastard that I was, my best friend and I couldn't afford our Senior Prom. We improvised: we cooked dinner, took our girls to the park, danced in the desert, and then went to a movie. The movie we saw? How to Train Your Dragon, and it was fantastic. I especially fell in love with it once I noticed, during the course of the movie, that everyone was staring at me. When I asked what they were looking at my best friend smiled smugly and said, "We're staring at you ... Hiccup." 

I guffawed. "I'm not Hiccup!" at which point Hiccup got smacked in the face by a tree and I shut up. 

I was forever after Hiccup.

So when I came back into Vegas for summer break, a certain group of friends wrangled me into seeing a certain movie. 

Most Idiotic Review

" ... this was not a sequel that anybody needed, outside of the accountants. And there's another already planned." 
— Stephen Whitty, (New Jersey Local News)

I feel a little remiss to attack a local news source, but lesbi-honest, this movie, not exactly racking up negative reviews, and rightly so. In his article, (titled 'The sequel that fell to earth') he concludes with a flat out falsehood. Of any franchises getting sequels, Dragon is perhaps one of the few that inherently excited me in and of itself. X-Men was only exciting because Brian Singer was returning to direct. Godzilla was a character that's always been a part of my family. The Marvel films are seriously hit-or-miss. But Dragon never worried me, and if the response on my facebook alone has been any indication, Mr. Whitty is sorely detached from this film's target demographic ... which, judging from the aforementioned response, are living beings with a pulse. 

Most Accurate Review

"The pressures to make a giant four-quadrant monstrosity must be enormous, and yet, like his unflappable hero Hiccup, How to Train Your Dragon 2 writer-director Dean DeBlois has prevailed, serving up DreamWorks Animation’s strongest sequel yet — one that breathes fresh fire into the franchise, instead of merely rehashing the original. Braver than Brave, more fun than Frozen, and more emotionally satisfying than so many of its live-action counterparts, Dragon delivers."
— Peter Debruge (Variety) 

This was also hard to choose, as there's no shortage of praise for this film, but I think Mr. Debruge really hits the nail on the head, if only for his reference to both a Disney movie and a Pixar movie (which are still technically two different things) that I agree, Dragon is better than both.

The plot of the film picks up five years after the original left off, and our lovable vikings have changed with the times. Obviously this requires a new threat, and the film deals us Drago, a man who really does just want, "to watch the world burn," and like another, honestly more likable madman, he too has his own set of scars. 

The thing that pleasantly surprised me about this sequel is that it really does feel like a continuation more than a retread. This is a brand new story, and in many ways, a darker, richer, and more emotional one. The catharsis on this movie was brutal. They took all the love you'd developed over the course of the first film and used it to strangle you to near unconsciousness ... but in a nice way. 

The comparisons to Empire Strikes Back? Well justified for this second installment. 

Something was done in this film that I can honestly say I, at least, have never seen in an animated film before. The characters have aged. Hiccup and company went from being snot-nosed 15 year olds to snot-nosed 20 year olds (seriously, we never grow out of having snot in our noses. It's a biological thing). It adds a bit of that Harry Potter flair that grounds a pretty fantastical story in some pretty real territory. 

As I mentioned previously, this really does feel like the next stage in a journey, and part of what I found so impressive is, it's still securely Hiccup and Toothless' story, and frankly, I wasn't sure when the sequel was announced where else they could take the characters. On top of that though, unlike other mega-trilogies (Pirates of the Caribbean comes to mind) they didn't hold anything back. 

Dragon 2 is securely a standalone film with its own definite beginning, middle, and end. The story is open for more, but it's not ending on a damnable cliffhanger. 

Like it's predecessor, Dragon plays into ideas of family and responsibility pretty heavily, and that's where a lot of the emotional resonance comes into action. It doesn't avert or distract from it's own themes, nor does it brow-beat the audience with a particular message. It allows the themes to be carried by the characters first and foremost. Honestly, if someone ever asks me for an example of solid story-structure, this'll be on the top of my list. 

It's been years since I regretted not seeing a movie in 3D, seriously, but after seeing Dragon? I can only say that I'm pretty sure the ticket for IMAX 3D would have been worth it. I haven't said that since ... hell, probably the first one. 

The Dragon scenes are spectacular. I was happily bouncing in my seat one moment and then wringing my hands the next. The film works hard to balance its darker tone with the same sense of awe and wonder from the first film, and to my money, they succeeded. This film had some of the best visuals I've ever seen in a film. It really is a stand-apart feature. 

On Iron Man 3

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 16:03

Okay, I was going to save this for tomorrow's Throwback Thursday, but I'm scheduled to escape the temperamental weather of Utah for the sanctuary of Vegas' oven tomorrow, so I might not be able to be online. What I was planning to talk about today were the released trailers for Guardians of the Galaxy, until I realized, having not grown up with these comics and characters, the review would amount to, "Looks cool. Hope it doesn't suck." To me it seems like Marvel is starting to get a grip on their own films, even if they're sending directors running scared left and right. Captain America: Winter Soldier I really enjoyed and Thor: The Dark World was ... serviceable and entirely forgettable. 

But Iron Man 3?

I didn't honestly think that Iron Man 2 could be topped for being schlock, but this movie is really trying.

So what prompted this? I stepped into my living room and my roommates had popped in the BluRay and I  decided to give it a second chance (the next time this scenario played out, they were watching Dark Knight Rises and I fled the room snarking), and at first I was surprised. I'd walked around for months calling the movie a train wreck of poo, and for a while, I thought I had judged the film too harshly. I was enjoying the hell out of the start. 
Theeeeeeeeeen the third act kicked in. 

Man this movie fell apart hard. I could literally feel the film's gears shift and explode into shrapnel that dug through my eyes and attacked my brain. Say what you will about Iron Man 2 (it's cutting room roadkill?), but at least it's consistent in its stupidity. 

So, I wasn't overly bothered by the villainous Killian. I love Guy Pearce, I thought he was doing well, it seemed to be an interesting rivalry as opposed to Sam Rockwell's bumbling character in the previous film ... and then it turned into the most generic cliched revenge story. It overtook the international terrorist storyline in a half-assed way, and offered up a complete slap in the face to the few Iron Man comic fans out there.

It's as if millions of fans suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced

I don't mean insult to Iron Man fans, but think of this, the reveal about Mandarin was fun and actually well executed, in the context of the movie, but with knowledge of the comics, I was pissed on comic book fans' behalf. Why? If Dark Knight had revealed Batman's numero uno villain, the Joker, to be an actor hired to pretend to be a crazy homicidal clown, there'd have been riots in the streets. I think it shows an extreme lack of respect for the fans who originally gave you your start. 

I will never question Wolverine's regenerating stubble again.
Moving on, the Extremis component of the film. What the hell happened? In the comics it was -- and in the movie it was -- ugggh. Again, I'm not opposed to alterations to the source material in the transition to the big screen, but once the alteration becomes nearly unrecognizable, just change the f***ing name to something else. If you're not going to adapt the concept in any meaningful fashion, just go all the way and make it your own. I was also pissed that the Extremis Virus was so poorly developed a part of the film. It allows regenerative qualities. And as a fan I was thinking, 'Oh! Like Wolverine?' to which the film responds, 'No. It's not just rapid healing.' 'So it's like Ang Lee's Hulk?' 'Well no, since there's no gamma rays, and no big guy.' 'So ... is it like in the Amazing Spider-Man?' 'Nope, no source animal DNA to overtake the human DNA.'

So what is it?

Hell if we know but it allows you to breath fire and explode!

Did we ever explain this? No? Ah, f***it.
... Are you sure this isn't a Thor movie? 

Totally plausible science.
It's not necessarily an asinine idea, but as far as I remembered there's no explanation of how or why this occurs beyond, "Some people have an explosive reaction to the virus." This is not science fiction, it's pure fantasy, and I always respected Iron Man for living closer to the former than the latter. Once you buy Arc Reactor technology, it's not hard to accept the rest of the events in Iron Man 1 or the Avengers .... No comment on Iron Man 2. 

I really hated what they did with Tony. I don't hate what they tried to do. I just hate what they actually did. They try to explain that he's having panic attacks because of the 15 seconds of the Avengers he spent beyond the dark portal and the battle in New York. This doesn't add up for me. Tony makes it through a terrorist capture, and the betrayal of his oldest friends in the first film, nearly dies in the second from blood poisoning, and spends most of the Avengers around purported interdimensional Gods--none of which phased him. What the hell happened? So the idea behind it? Moving Tony into a new area, a new vulnerable place? I applaud the effort ... but I'll give them a 2 for biffing the landing. 

We do birthday parties too.

This might have been a poor decision.
The last major thing I'll bag on is this, the House Party Protocol. Now I know it's stupid for Tony to spend most of the movie worrying about his 'Prodigal Son' armor, which wasn't even combat ready, when he had a dozen plus suits waiting in his blown up house (also, Tony makes some really bone-head moves in this movies). That's not my major problem. My problem is that in this movie, the Iron Man suits seem to be made from tissue paper. What the hell happened? 

Dark Knight Rises? No, never heard of itKevin Smith influenced this scene.
Okay, time for another list. I'll just stick specifically to the Avengers, since I watched it most recently. In that movie his armor stands up to a toe-to-toe battle with Thor, God of Thunder, and even though my money was on the beef-cake, he was holding his own damn well. Later? He gets caught in one of four turbines that keep a Aircraft Carrier flying, and the damn thing still works (albeit damaged). And lets face it, during the final fight, he puts his suit through hell, case in point, the Jonah scene. It is shown over 3 films that his suits can take a beating. Until there are twelve suits on the screen. It's not a perfect metaphor, but it reminds me of Storm-Trooper syndrome. The more there is of something, the less effective it immediately becomes. The Series final of Buffy the Vampire Slayer suffered from this, but at least Whedon had the decency to make that happen in the name of his thematic message of women's power. Jeesh!

And the ending just seemed a bit cheap to me since anyone who's stumbled around the internet recently knows he'll be back for the next Avengers film, and chances are he'll even be in a suit! 

They're actually talking about where to grab food after.
So what did I like about the movie? The film had some good fun dialogue, especially closer to the beginning, and this time, the strength of character wasn't only reserved for Mr. Downy. I felt like the secondary characters had a lot more strength than in the previous installment, and a certain buddy-cop aspect seemed to underpin the fist half the film, even with the kid, who I personally liked. The action scenes were good, even if I didn't understand half of them, and the idea to see what Tony could do without his suits was a good one I think.

Alas, the reason the movie pisses me off so badly is that it had so much potential and started out so strong that I got really invested, so when it started to fall into bad and lazy writing traps, I felt more betrayed than I might have, if the movie had inured me to its stupidity right from the getgo. 

I totally forgive this whole storyline for ... some reason

On The Last Dark, book four of the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 17:14

I first read Donaldson when I was twelve. Looking back on this fact, I can't actually believe that I read those books when I was so young. They're heavy, intense, beautifully crafted books. So, when the Last Dark, the final book in the series, came out last October, I was hesitant to read it. Whereas the rest of my generation was weeping over the Harry Potter final, I was still gnashing my teeth over Covenant, Linden, and the Land.

I've lived with these books for ten years. I went through junior high, high school, and most of college with them as constant companions. It's a bit of a big deal to me that a series that meant so much to me for such a long time comes to a close. 

It's been a day since then, and my emotional balance has returned somewhat, but not quite. Here are a few of my non-spoilery thoughts.

Suffering. That's the first word to come to mind. The sheer amount of pain and anguish foisted upon these characters is astounding and gutwrenching, but not without redemption. It's not just for the sake of violence and torment, but it really ... really ... really drives home the idea that this is the last battle. There's nothing that follows this. Either they win, or everything dies, so the entire book is full of moments that left me cheering. "Do something Foul doesn't expect."

They do, over and over again through the book, to the point I felt tired and exhausted by the weight of the struggle, by the impossibility of it all. It made all the little victories so much sweeter, like Treasure Berries. 

The characters are as extravagant as ever, and if the world ever were in real danger, there'd be no group I'd trust more to save it. They go above and beyond, as they always have, giants, Haruchai, Forestals, Rhanyhyn. The whole gang is here for the final round (minus the regular folk of the Land, who've been rather absent for many a story, if memory serves). 

But what I love is we still see new sides of these characters. Covenant, Linden, and Jeremiah all face their fears, one way or the other, and even the Haruchia and Giants are confronted with possibilities they've managed to avoid for nine freakin' books so far. Power to Donaldson for finding new ways to challenge the characters.

I will say this, and I find it odd, considering the length. I found the ending short. 

Here me out, seeing as the book is nearly 592 pages, you'd think it was long enough, but I specifically mean the resolution seemed ... almost unearned. The redemption of the earth takes place at the very tail-end of the tale, and honestly, considering how in-depth the attention to detail was throughout ALL of these books, there wasn't the equivalence we had with the end of book two as Linden heals the Land. So I loved the ending ... I just felt like it was rushed. The execution threw me, if nothing else. 

Still, the only complaint I have is that the ending, though well conceived, was less well executed, the ride alone was worth it. It's been a good long while since I fell that into a book.

On Dream Theater's Dream Theater

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 12:53

Whenever I hear from someone that they listen to everything, I laugh. With 11 siblings ranging from the ages of 22 to ... somewhere in their mid 30s, and 10 nieces and nephews ranging from newborn to graduated from high school ... I HAVE HEARD EVERYTHING. Whether I like it or not, it is very hard to surprise me when it comes to music. I have actually heard Satanic Metal Folk Polka, and I am not making that up.

And while the mood may take my ADD and I might get the urge to fly all over the map, there are certain brands of music that always brighten my day. Alice Cooper and Poets of the Fall are two of these. Creedence Clearwater Revival is one of the best bands of all time (seriously don't believe me? Randomly pick from their discography and tell me the majority of their songs weren't classic hits). But I'm here to talk briefly about Dream Theater.

The first time I heard these guys was in 1998 when they released Metropolis: Scenes From a Memory and I fell in love. It was the first time I encountered Progressive Rock/Metal, and 22 albums of King Crimson later I ... still like AC/DC, which according to my brother makes me a freak of nature, but that's not the point.

Prog Rock has become a pretty large part of my music library (not just because the average song is 10 minutes long), because there is real talent involved. While the rest of the music world is drifting off into corporate synthesis, Prog Rock is still a small isolated corner of "F*** YOU WE ROCK."

Now, over the years, I grew less and less interested in what Dream Theater had to offer. They had started so strongly, and broken the mold for themselves time and again, that ... sooner or later it felt like they had built a box around themselves. Also, I was never a fan of their drummer Portnoy. Out of the whole group, I felt like the guy was a tool. He was talented and probably pretty likable, but something about that blue goatee just got to me.

So when he was replaced I was super excited, (and I could dedicate an entire blog post to my belief that they should have picked Marco Minnemann) it was finally a chance for the band to go in a new direction! Breath new life into the band!

The next album was pure Dream Theater, and I mean that in the unexciting way. THEN THIS ALBUM CAME OUT. They let Mike Mangini write on this album, and while it's not strictly a new direction, there is an epicness to the sound and scope of the album that had me sit through all 1:08 several times. 

If you are a fan of this band, it is a lot of fun and carries with it the weight of albums like Octavarium and In the Presence of Enemies. It's good to be surprised again. 

~ Godzello

On Expendables 3 Trailer

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 21:09

Okay, so, I spent the weekend marathoning Nostalgia Critic reviews. It was fun but not overly helpful in exposing me to new stuff to write about. When I started this blog, one of my first (lengthy) posts was about the trailer for the Avengers, which leaves me wondering, "How did I know so much about a film I had never seen?"

But I think I'll fall back on that model with a movie trailer that actually got me oddly excited. I haven't kept it much a secret that I've a tender soft spot for the Expendables films. Despite growing up a decade too late, my Mom's bad parenting skills assured me that I was never without ... well, the cast of the Expendables. I was actually more familiar with the old faces than any of the new in either film, and in keeping with that, the trailer for the Expendables 3 is no exception. 

So what do we actually have? Not much. The movie, as always, is riding on nostalgia for these actors who, short of movie magic, are barely threatening and have been since the turn of the century fourteen years ago. We get a slam-bang montage of the actors set to appear (and it's a hellova lineup) set to classic rock.

Will the movie stand-up? I'd like to think so. I mean, it's really not a hard formula and these are the guys who built the formula. They're the original parts of the equation! I have a modicum of faith that Stalone and Co. can turn out another example of bad but lovingly crafted 80s explosions. 

On Community

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 19:56

Once every couple years I stumble blindly and haphazardly into a new sitcom. It happens one of two ways, I either fall into it before it hits super-big (How I Met Your Mother, season 1), or I find it while digging through Netflix (like Spaced). 
This leads me to a show that I avoided at first (have you ever had a friend who hypes stuff up to the point where you don't want to acknowledge it, even if he might be right? This friend nerdgasmed over two particular franchises that I tried to ignore, 1) was Doctor Who, and 2) Community.

After a second friend (I HAVE FRIENDS, DAMMIT!) sat me down during a 6 hour Stand Up Comedy marathon involving Chris Titus, Robin Williams, and Hal Sparks, and she made me watch Donald Glover. I vaguely made the connection at the time, but didn't pursue it in any meaningful way. Honestly, even though it's only been a week, I can't remember what prompted me to watch the first episode of Community. We'll chalk it up to chaos theory.

And like many people before me (but not enough to make the show as sensational a hit as HIMYM) I fell in love with the misadventures of a pack of Community College misfits who are both recognizable and completely unique. I think this has to do with the strength of the casting. Unlike most sitcoms I've seen, they buckled down and really dedicated some heavy-weight talent to each character, so while they start off as stereotypes (as blatantly pointed out in the opening scene) they are portrayed by talented enough actors to run the gamut of absurdity. 

This, I feel is what separates the show from most sitcoms I've watched. While the show promotes Jeff

Winger as the main character, it really does operate as a powerful ensemble. Winger might be the red ranger of the group, but even Chevy Chase's cantankerous Pierce is in many ways, irreplaceable. The show takes great strides to never marginalize any of its cast without ramifications (see again, Pierce). And for all the surrealism surrounding the hi-jinks the characters get into, they retain surprisingly human relationships with one another. It helps ground the show's more offbeat elements. 

Community breaks apart the medium in a way I haven't seen done before (at least not that I can think of right off the top of my head) and is, as much as I hate the word, Meta. It deconstructs movies and shows with complete confidence and even a bit of swagger.

One of the main highlights of the show, whether it was originally intended or just happened that way, the best friendship between Troy and Abed ranks up there among bromances with Turk & JD, Bill and Ted, Ros and Gill, and/or Calvin and Hobbes, but there is something fresh and fun about their interactions. Also, I have to take a moment to appreciate the sheer existence of Abed, a character so amazing that for two days this week I actually talked like him. I'm an acting major and I can't always control it. I may have locked myself away in my room for the duration of my mimicry.

One last thing that sets the show apart from most sitcoms is, 3 seasons down and other than sporatic sexual flings, the characters don't fall into the inevitable trap of relationships. If anything (speaking as a former Community College student) the lack of heartfelt romantic relationships minus the hormone fueled bang in the janitor's closet is pretty much how I remember my time there, and it adds a level of tension to the characters relationships you don't get elsewhere, when the characters will-they-won't-they gets dull and the audience loses interest once they do. 

Which leads me to my next point, much like Spaced captured British culture in a totally sincere way, I would contest that Community is the quintessential American sitcom. It celebrates its heritage in a variety of homages that, I'm still constantly surprised the show could pull off, shifting from Western, to Star Wars, to Noir, to Procedural Cop Show, with uncanny ease. It's actually really impressive. 

Alas though, I'd argue due to production issues and several cast members leaving the show to pursue, you know, their lives, the show was cancelled, BUT in this day and age, there is still (according to Wikipedia) hope of a renewal of the show.

~ Godzello