Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Game Review: The Last of Us

So, after finishing Mass Effect 1 through 3, and playing each two to four times a piece, I finally got around to trying out a "new" game, the new meaning new for me. Introducing:

Released back in 2013 by Naughty Dog, see the wikipedia page here, I had heard great things about this game and put it in my ever increasing and too long to mention to-play list. My friend had the game for the PS3, so I borrowed it from him a few months ago and began playing it.

Last night, I finished it, and all I have to say is "Holy . . . f*cking . . . shit."

This game was intense. Playing this game was like watching Requiem for a Dream for the first time or Django Unchained. Just one continuous slog through the worst that humanity has to offer. This game's awesomeness essentially comes together threefold: The Plot, the Gameplay, and the Acting.

I'll start with the Gameplay. Most video games, or perhaps most shooters, have a tendency to empower the player. You are often an unstoppable juggernaut of destruction, slaughtering hordes of lesser mortals who dare stand in your way while occasionally slugging it out in a couple boss battles where you finally encounter a slight challenge for once in your life. You laugh at the countless peons, stamp mercilessly upon the weak and downtrodden, and rain down bullets and powers from on-high like the god among men you are.

Meanwhile in The Last of Us, you enter a room and see two enemies and go, "Damn it! How the hell am I going to kill them both?"

I mean it full well that each and every fight in The Last of Us was a struggle. This gameplay was brutal, your character sneaky but weak, easily spotted and killed if you ever dared tried to fight fair. Every fight required dirty tactics, tricks, and ruthless execution of well thought-out plans. If you didn't be prepared for the fight of your life because those NPC's ain't never heard of no Conservation Of Ninjutsu trope. They all charge in, and they'll beat the ever loving life out of you with no remorse.

I'd like to say that as my character got more tools, weapons, and power, the fights got easier, but that's not true. The fights just got harder just as quickly. But hey, if you've been following me for any length time, you know that all of this is actually a good thing. I crave this kind of difficulty, and The Last of Us brought it on THICK!

The Plot & Acting: These two really go hand in hand, so I'll address them together. This movie played out like a film worthy of academy awards, with twists and turns that left you reeling, characters that were so deep and real that I struggle to recall any actor that could match the care that was given to this game. These characters' facial expressions, sighs, twitches, and voice acting brought the story to life as if I were watching a live-action movie. And that writing! That ENDING! By Athena what an ENDING! I will spoil nothing for you, though, but suffice to say it left me stunned.

This is yet another game that has raised the bar for me. My hat's off to you, Naughty Dog. Well done.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Movie Review: American Sniper

 American Sniper
(2014) on IMDb

I feel like movies such as these have to be handled with figurative oven mitts. What I mean by that is not some pun that the movies tackles a "hot" issue, but that its hard to look at these types of movies objectively when they contain material that is so strongly subjective. I mean, these issues aren't "hot" at all. In American and in the rest of the world, we rightfully expect that countries who send their citizens off to war take care of those citizens when they return. There is nothing "hot" about PTSD. It is real and requires attention. What I mean about the subjective material is that this movie is about real events that happened fairly recently, all following the perspective of an admirable man who is American and in the military.

I'm probably still not making sense. You're probably still thinking to yourself, "WTF do you mean subjective?" Let me put it to you this way. Sometimes when I watch movies like this, I try to imagine I'm not American. I try to imagine I'm either from some un-involved country or even that I'm on the enemy side. Being American, it's a given that I root for the hero, I feel for his or her cause, and I hate the enemy. All of this is subjective. Had I been born in Iraq or Britain or China, I might very well think differently, and I might have a different opinion about this movie American Sniper.

Yet, I am American. So, take that as you will.

American Sniper follows at a quick pace the story of Chris Kyle, a man from Texas who join the Navy SEALs, went on 4 tours after 9/11, and then retired to help other veterans overcome the stress of re-adjusting to peacetime life, helping himself and his family along the way. The strongest compliment I can lay on this movie is the extreme detail it gave to PTSD, showing just how all this stress compounds on men and breaks them down. We've seen war movie after war movie portray the horrors of war, but very few have taken the time to tell the ending story of when these soldiers return home and nightmares stay with them. If nothing else, whether you're an American or not, I feel every human can take part in understanding this message from the movie that when you send people off to war, you must do so understanding that these people will be forever changed.

There isn't too much more I can say about this movie, honestly. It was well done, fantastic acting that made me a fan of Bradley Cooper, but it was otherwise your typical well-done war movie that makes it hard to blink as you watch and makes you feel heavy when the movie ends. All this has been said and done before, and I listen every time, but I feel American Sniper has one more message not covered by other critics and I feel is imperative to what sets it apart from (and above) other war movies.

In the movie, Chris Kyle is forced to shoot (sometimes) women and children in order to save his fellow troops. He knows, tragically, that these kids never had a chance to make their own choices, having been indoctrinated by the types of evil bastards who would send children into war. Also, Chris Kyle has to watch, helplessly, as an informant of his is killed and the informant's young son has his head drilled out, just for trying to help the Americans catch the bastards. Then towards the end of the movie, Chris Kyle states to his psychiatrist that killing the bad guys doesn't haunt him. He made those shots to save his men, and that the only thing that does haunt him is the men he couldn't save. The psychiatrist then goes and shows Chris Kyle to other wounded veterans who need saving now.

See, I think there's a hidden message in there. I think that the men Chris Kyle couldn't save doesn't stop with his fellow troops. I think the men he couldn't save includes those children he killed who fought for the wrong side, or those innocent people who were just trying to help the Americans and were killed for it. I think there's a strong anti-war message right there that among the evil bastards Chris Kyle gladly shot, there were some people (too many) who he had to shot and deeply regretted because he couldn't save those people.

Remember how I said sometimes I watch these movies and try to imagine I'm not American? Well, that right there is what would make me admire Chris Kyle above the standard of just-your-normal-average-gunho-American-patriotism. That right there is the message I feel every war movie should carry, that among the few evil bastards that truly deserve death in war, too many are killed just for being born on the losing side.

When we make war, we are all victims.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

My 2-Year's of Fitness Progress Report

Two years ago, on July 17th of 2013, I decided that for once in my life I was going to get fit. I was going to lose the weight, start working out, watch what I eat, and make a true effort to get 6-pack abs.

Well, I don't have the abs yet, but damn have I made progress. This is what I have to show for these two years worth of work:

I did this by counting calories and working out roughly 4 days a week, sometimes more sometimes less but on average about 4 times per week for half an hour to an hour at a time. This is just a status report though, because I'm still not at where I want to be. I figure I have about another two years before I'll finally have the body I envisioned when I started back in 2013.

But, if you'd like to know how I got this far, I'll give you the summary:

Firstly, by far the biggest factor is my diet change. I had tried getting fit several times in my life, but the only thing I did was run or go to the gym and I never watched what I ate. This meant I got stronger, but I never looked stronger. Counting calories is the holy grail of fitness, and I embraced it fully. Most people use app like MyFitnessPal, which is great and I highly recommend doing that, but it wasn't enough for me. In order to stay on track, I have to eat pretty much the exact thing every day in order to form a consistent habit. To do this, I created a spreadsheet that tracks my calories and macros. Have to keep that protein intake high in order to build and maintain muscle!

Secondly, I worked out. Obviously, right? Well, what isn't so obvious is that just going to the gym and lifting some weights here and there doesn't do anything. You need a program that targets the right muscles at the right time, allowing them to rest to recover and grow. The program I followed was essentially a modified version of the startbodyweight.com basic routine, meaning I didn't have to pay for a gym membership and I could workout from home, which was essential for my lazy and cheap attitude.

If you're reading this and want further information on how to get fit, I highly recommend reddit's r/Fitness Wiki, as that will tell you pretty much everything you'll need to know about gaining weight, losing weight, building muscle, or what have you.

As for me? My goal from here is to keep on going. I've got goals like being able to do a 1-arm chinup and such, as well as looking my best and being healthy. I'm addicted to this stuff now and so glad for it!

See you in a year for my next progress report! I have to keep accountable to someone, right? Might as well be me.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Movie Review: War Games

(1983) on IMDb

WarGames was released back in 1983, a good 4 years before I was born, but it's legacy was such that I knew of the movie despite never having seen it. I always thought I'd one day get around to checking this piece of nerdy history out, but just never got around to it.

Then I read Ready Player One, which is basically about a bunch of kids in a not-so-distant future dystopia reliving the old video game and nerd days of the 80's, and this movie WarGames was specifically referenced in an important way. My itch to watch this flix increased tenfold, and then I saw Netflix added it to their list and immediately watched it!

If, like me, you hadn't seen this movie yet, let me set the scene. The movie is essentially another one of those types where the computer is given too much power and, with its limited morality, begins to reek havoc on the lives of us dumb humans. That in and of itself isn't too special, but WarGames takes a unique approach in that the computer is not being intentionally evil. The computer is just trying to do exactly what it was designed for: conducting thermonuclear war on the dirty Russians!

The computer in WarGames isn't Skynet from Terminator, trying to eliminate the pitiful human race just because it wants to. This computer isn't even VIKI from I, Robot, which deduces that in order to save the human race, it must confine them to a life in cages. It isn't the ridiculous over-the-top Ultron from the last Avengers movie, who researches human nature for all of 5 seconds and deems humanity must be destroyed. No, no, no! What makes the computer from WarGames so amazing is that it never gains self-awareness, nor thinks outsides its programming! The ingenious here is that WarGames is the perfect setup to how humanity, when clouded by fear, never considers the full weight of its decisions! This is a story about how we (or the government) creates a monster designed to kill and then becomes shocked when lo and behold, this monster decides to KILL!

Just to sum it all up, this was great. I loved the ride and I don't want to give anything else away for fear of spoilers. If you get a moment and you have Netflix at the ready, put this movie in your play list and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Movie Review: Jupiter Ascending

 Jupiter Ascending
(2015) on IMDb

This movie was bad. IMDb rated 5.5, but I gave it a 2, which is pretty bad because I really, really, wanted this movie to be good.

It seemed to have everything going for it! They paid so much attention to all sorts of little details and effects, like the technology and gene manipulation. There were all kinds of little things such as the controls for the gravity-gliding boots being in the palm of the hero's hand that just seemed to indicate that a lot of thought, love, and passion went into this truly unique scifi world which I so desperately wanted to be amazing.

And yet, this film totally sucked because with all the attention to the little visual stuff, the writers/producers completely forgot to come up with an interesting story.

Seriously, if there was any story at all, it was lost on me. If there was any characterization at all, I missed it. If there was any engaging plot of any kind, I blinked through it. In this movie, there were more bullets than words and more explosions that reasons for said explosions occurring. My wife fell asleep watching it, and with half an hour still left, she asked, "Do we really have to finish it?" I did, she didn't, and I don't blame her.

With so much going wrong in this film, it's hard to point to any one thing that broke my interest, but I'll give it a shot.

Firstly, the characters weren't appealing in the slightest. Jupiter Jones' only hardship was that she had to wake up early in the morning and clean houses for a living. Otherwise, she had a loving and devoted family, so her uttering "I hate my life" every morning didn't strike me as endearing, it struck me as pathetic and unimaginative. You hate your life? Then go do something about it. What the hell was holding you back from applying for another job? You're interested in astronomy? Why do you have to buy a $4,000 telescope? That's as cheap as they come, really? You know, I'll bet astronomy books aren't all that expensive.

The love interest, the half-dog warrior hybrid, got some slight attention. It was so shallow though, about a half-a-minute of exposition about how he killed one guy one time, and that's it. That's all we learn about drives this character. I couldn't have been more bored! He wants his wings back? Why? What do they symbolize to him? What do these wings mean? It's not important enough that they are important to him; I have to know why they're important, damn it! Uuuggh! So terrible!

And the love story. Wtf? I saw no sparks flying, unless you count the endless number of useless explosions happening everywhere for no reasons at all. They just up and decided they were into each other because, you know, they're on camera a lot so year. God, it was cringe worthy watching them kiss.

Nothing else existed in the film to pick up the slack. The villains were shallow and petty, seemingly weak and unimposing. The ending felt so forced that I rolled my eyes and face-palmed in real life. I couldn't wait to see the credits roll, and I just felt so happy I didn't see this pile of crap in the theaters. It was hardly worth the $1.61 I paid at Redbox.

God damn did I want this movie to be good, too. Flying dragon creatures, gene-splicing, immortality. This movie could have been a story instead of just a moving, boring picture. Damn it...

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Oahu, Hawaii - 10 Days in 2014

Finally got around to creating a travel video of our trip to Hawaii back in 2014! Hope you enjoy it.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Movie Review: Jurassic World

 Jurassic World
(2015) on IMDb

Went to see this one Saturday night with my wife, sister, and brother-in-law. I hadn't planned on seeing it in theaters, but they struck up the desire and I went along. We got there early, nailing the best seats in the house (imo) which are the very backrow, center stage. The backrow is best because it's more difficult to hear people talking throughout the movie.

That didn't stop one parent's toddler from shouting and babbling throughout the movie, but hey, that's the 10% rule: There's always 1 out of 10 who will screw something up for everyone else.

But about the movie . . .

Positives: Jurassic World made the striking effort to both recreate the old (1st) movie's feel and pull off something totally new. To bring back the old, they recreated shots from the first movie, made reference to the "old" park, and even the ending battle scene had strong ties to the first film. As for the new, that's plastered just about everywhere, which is Chris Pratt controlling raptors, which I was pleasantly surprised to find that they didn't totally botch that! I mean, really, I think they walked this fine line between old and new quite well, and I can't think of any points that would balance this out further.

The raptor control thing, too, I thought was going to be just horribly lame, ended up being a strong point of the movie. I won't give up too much for spoilers sake, but dinosaurs are basically animals right? You can't mind control an animal, right? Well, thankfully, the film's writers, producers, and directors all managed to remember that! Good on you guys!

The Bad: Never surprised. Never felt in suspense.

No deaths surprised me, nor did any death happen unexpectedly. That dread I first felt when the water shook in the glass on the 1st film? Never felt anything even remotely close to that for the first film expect perhaps the part where the Big-Baddy first escapes and searches for Pratt under the car. Otherwise, I knew who was making it out and who was going to become dino food.

And oh yeah, about those deaths? People dying in this movie was practically comical. Strong dislike for how casual the death of humans was. Meanwhile, we were supposed to character about a dino's death, but just shrug at the British intern forced into babysitting duty? Lame. Lame, lame.

Still though, it was positive enough I gave a 6/10. Worth my time and money, but I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it to anyone nor would I bother seeing it again.