Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

So I was one of the billions of people who watched or will watch this movie. My particular time was Monday at 2:45pm, May 25th 2015. I have to say I was exactly excited to see this movie; I just went like any good sheeple would, feeling the weight of the world bearing down on you that you must go and see this thing because, well by Odin, everyone is!

I should have been excited. I have a minor interest and knowledge into the background of these characters, but I honestly had nothing more than a shallow desire to watch Age of Ultron. Overall, I thought the movie was actually really good, but the problem was that I felt like I'd seen it all before. I wasn't actually shocked at anything in particular or overly stimulated or felt particularly vested. I felt like I was sitting in a different seat of a familiar roller coaster that had long since stopped being a thrill-seeker for me.

The characters didn't really evolve or change much, but nor were they left shallow or untouched. The characters acted along their tried and true strong points, doing as one would expect (and some would say demand) to see. Captain America the good guy, the Hulk the monster, and then Tony the dramatic. Now, don't get me wrong; these guys did their parts well and they get full marks for truly bringing these characters to life, but at that particular moment I was not craving to see the same old thing no matter how well done it was.

The best and biggest positive points for the movie go to the love interest between Black Widow and the Hulk, followed quickly by the witty Ultron.

Love scenes and romantic conflict are hard to do right. I'm an honest believer in that because love is awkward, especially new love. Two people walk on egg shells near each other as they try desperately to close the gap between them and yet hold back for one reason or another. It's usually painful to watch (hence why we all hate PDA unless it's an old marry couple who got their shit down) and thus watching it is usually awkward and cringe-y, too. However, Hulk and Black Widow made their awkward dance fun to watch instead of painful. They were honest, like adults should be, and let their emotions express true through body language as well as words. Also, this was one of the very few areas where character change and development occurred over this movie, and thus I soaked it up at every opportunity.

Point 2: No movie is can be called good with a great villain. Ultron, although not particularly threatening, was interesting to watch. He was witty, like his creator, and had a very human touch to his AI. Most of us expect robots, even "self-aware" ones to lack a personality. They should all be plain, dry, and monotone. However, as I suddenly remembered while watching Ultron, if something is truly an AI, then it should be unique by some degree. It should be able to learn and apply things on its own, thus coming to a different conclusion than another AI given the same data. It should have a personality.

Ultron follows in the footsteps of all the great AI's before him. Cortona from Halo and EDI from Mass Effect, Ultron had humor as well as goals, and I liked him a lot. I almost wanted to see him succeed!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Movie Review: Crank (2006)

By invoking the power of Thor, my sister's cat has finally had its soul cleansed. The ice giants battling for her heart have been driven out by the might of Mjolnir, and in the coming battle of Ragnarok, I intend to ride her as mount that will rival the ferocity of Fenrir himself.

This also means that my nightly binge of Netflix movies is coming to a close.

This last night, I had the pleasure of watching Crank (2006), which is yet another cult classic long on my to-watch list, and yet another title deserving of its status.

The story follows a hitman who is poisoned and forced to keep his adrenaline running at full power to slow his death long enough for him to enact revenge on his killers. It's a singular type of movie focused around one concept of constantly getting the main character jacked through ever increasing demands of craziness, all the while speeding towards certain death. Watching this movie was like watching a train accelerating toward a wall that was constantly moving back. The faster the train went, the further away the wall got, yet you knew that inevitably the train would ram full speed into that wall, and here you are strapped in the driver's seat just clinging onto the armrests white-knuckled, jumping back and forth between "Dear god just get it over with!" and "No No No! Not yet!"

So yeah, it was one really interesting ride well worth watching once through.

No life altering or genre altering stuff happened in this movie. I didn't go cry myself to sleep or rethink my life, nor did I leap up and go "Hell yeah!" However, I had to hand it to this movie on creating a truly unique experience for me none-the-less. It was a wild ride from start to finish that avoiding being shallow, glossed over, or over done. I mean really, with a movie like this, it could have gone wrong so many times and yet it didn't! I'm mostly shocked that the director and writer didn't botch this movie with such a simple and focused plot element.

I know that doesn't sound like high praise, me saying "Hey! Nice job, dude! You didn't mess up when I totally figured you would!" but you have to realize that not-messing up is how you get it right. Crank was supposed to be a wild, crazy ride, and it avoided all the pitfalls that would stop that from happening and delivering an action-packed movie still full of more character development than one sees in over half the romantic comedies and shoot-em-up's that get churned out every summer for chicks/bros to drag their boy/girl-toys too.

I wouldn't watch Crank twice, but I'm really glad I watched it once. If you ever find yourself cat-sitting one of Satan's brood, I'd highly recommend this movie.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Movie Review: The Blues Brothers (1980)

My sister's cat is still possessed by Cthulhu's unholy spirit, though his power over the tiny creature seems to be waning. As consequence, I have been confined to her cage we affectionately refer to as the Spare Bedroom or the 9th Pit of Hell, depending on if the beast is asleep or not, watching old movies on Netflix that are truly amazing and make me wonder why I ever waited so long to watch these awesome things.

Case in point: The Blues Brothers (1980)

The plot follows two brothers who are trying to put on a concert to save their old orphanage. They are both musicians and small time criminals though, so they are trying to do this while also running from the law and the many other people they've managed to piss off on their mission from God. And I gotta say, what a damned good ride it was! This movie was awesome!

With such a wacky plot, The Blues Brothers doesn't take itself too seriously either. There are more than a few cases where the scenes slide into a sort of epic-fantasy-esc telling, including a beam of light shining down from the heavens, doors that close on their own, and the characters serving being thrown several stories up in the air while in a telephone booth. Along the way, jokes and music a plenty keep the story moving forward without missing a beat. Things slowly escalate so subtly that by the end of the movie (and show) the army is rolling in to catch these two crooks while they raise to pay their taxes, and I'm laughing my ass off because I'm so enjoying this ride that I don't want it to end!

Without a doubt, The Blues Brothers earned its cult classic title. It's a little on the long side, being over two hours in length, but well worth the ride. This is the kind of movie I'd re-watch and also the kind of movie that I won't soon be forgetting.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Review: The Mass Effect Trilogy

Every once in awhile, you come across a game so incredibly unique and amazing that it completely alters what you expect from video games. For me, Mass Effect is one such game.

Over the weekend, I finally finished playing the Mass Effect trilogy (my first play through) on my Playstation 3. I started with the 1st game, Mass Effect (2007), played that through a good four times, then played it's second installment [Mass Effect 2 (2010)], I played a good 3 times through, and then I finished the experience by playing that third and last installment, Mass Effect 3 (2012). I still have at least two more play-throughs on the third game, too. However, for now, as you can tell by those release dates, I am way late to this party. Probably because I didn't buy a PS3 until late 2011 anyway. Eh, whatever, my loss.

As they say, better late than never.

A short summary for the un-indoctrinated, Mass Effect is a third-person shooter that takes place in a Sci-fi future where space travel across the galaxy is possible, and humanity is one of many races. There is also a sort of "magic" element called element zero that allows Star-Wars-Force type abilities, tech abilities, and the game also allows the main character to make unique choices that drastically alter the game across all three installments, leading to over 1000 different possible outcomes so the same game can never be played twice. If I haven't caught your attention yet, read on.

In order to explain how and why Mass Effect is such an incredible game, I'll first have to explain what is defined, by me, as incredible. Shortly, incredible is a thing which either exceeds or subverts my expectations, leading to either a gained experience or knowledge that creates its own unique "shelf" in my head, thus becoming unforgettable. Incredible is unforgettable. There. I guess that's the short part, actually.

Every media source has its own area of expertise. Books tell the largest, longest, and deepest stories. By their shear length, no other media can compete with their level of depth. On the other hand, movies and pictures provide a wonderful experience for the eye, sucking the viewer in communicating things across language barriers. Pictures and movies can make people feel things without uttering one single sound, over several things using sound for movies. Games have the unique talent of challenging and engaging our minds like no movie, picture, or book ever could. They are puzzles to be solved, and I love them for that.

Mass Effect is a game that successfully combines the best all three of these elements, and for me, one of the first to do so.

Mass Effect is a book: It has a lush background and detailed world filled with full, three dimensional characters that tug at your heart strings as they go through trials and tribulations. You can explore a world with more history, knowledge, and backing than some books I've read. Everything has a purpose, a use, a history, and even a scientific explanation for why such a thing exists. It's amazing the level of detail that was put into this thing! I can hardly fathom the amount of work it must have taken, and it shows!

Mass Effect is a move: Stunning scenes and landscapes everywhere one looks with characters that twitch and move as if real, so much so that they can communicate their emotions and expressions without dialogue, sometimes through body language alone. The music is seamless, and the feeling of tensions ramps up at particular moments as the steaks continue to rise and the whole galaxy becomes threatened.

Mass Effect is a game: A true game, where you don't just aim and shoot but also have to unlock puzzles to access new areas, send your resources wisely, account for your actions and those of your allies in combat, and also have to politically out-move entire civilizations and colossal organizations in order to achieve the desired out come . . . or don't, and suffer the consequences! Unlike other games, no "Game Over" stops you from making the wrong move here. Besides your own character's death, you could literally royally screw yourself over and lose the game by your own standards at the end of the day just before the credits roll.

Simply put, incredible. The Mass Effect Trilogy has completely revamped what I've come to expect from video games.

Pardon me now, I have to go play it again!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Movie Review: The Dark Crystal (1982)

So last night I was forced to spend the night locked in a room with a very pissed off cat who wants nothing more than to be loved but is too afraid to let anyone touch it and thus is perfectly fine with being right next to strangers but hisses and strikes out if you make eye-contact with, reach out to, or mistakenly leave lingering body parts near it.

Hence, I finally got some time to dig into my long to-watch list on Netflix and stumbled upon The Dark Crystal

The Dark Crystal (DC from here on out) was released in 1982 and was made by the same guys who  created the Muppets. DC is also filled similarly with live-action shots of puppets on creative sets and, altogether, was a very unique experience. Lo and behold, it even seems to have a tiny yet devout cult following. If you're one of those people, don't ask me how I never saw this film until 2015. Maybe it's because I wasn't born until 1987 and my parents weren't Muppet fans.

Anyway, I saw instantly in DC the clash of two things that almost always results in an amazing film: Classic Storyline + Unique World.

Classic Storyline: The story follows a young male hero named Jen who is decidedly on the Good (Mystics) people's side. Nearly all his people have been wiped out by the Bad people (Skeksis) who are decidedly bad with no intentions of being good even in the slightest. There is a prophecy (of course!) which says that Jen will unite the world and make everything better again. Along the way, Jen finds his one-true soulmate, the other last remaining member of his race, and the two fall in love and both come out alive at the end after defeating all evil.

I'm talking the epitome of classic here for fantasy.

Unique World: DC had a truly stunning unique world full of all kinds of different creatures and detailed settings that felt both larger than life and touching observant. Hardly anything was left to the imagination, filling every scene with like a moving picture from a true alternate world that could be felt and seen as if it were real. Amazing work, I have to say, and one can almost feel the love and care in all the details. The people who made this film really loved their jobs and wanted so badly to pour all their creativity into this film's world.

Those two things, if performed well, always result in an amazing film. Avatar was this exact same way: predictable-as-shit plotline but a truly stunning and detailed world.

But when all is said and done, I'm not sure if I'd recommend this film to anyone except those looking for such a thing. I didn't finish this film and rush to my wife saying, "Babe! Babe! You gotta see this!" I wouldn't call my friends up either. I don't even think I'll keep this movie in my memory long enough to remember it when I have my own children. There was no strong message, nor particularly memorable characters. The dialogue was dry and seemed bare-bones. I feel this film has faded in time for the same reason Avatar did:

Watching this movie is like watching a moving painting. It's stunning, gorgeous, and beautiful in its detail. It makes you watch every scene with lips parted, taking in the lovely scenes that seemed handcrafted with care and ambition. However, at the end of the day, it's just a painting and not a story. And a movie without a great story isn't much to brag about.

Still though, 4 out of 5 stars for creativity. The Dark Crystal is truly unique.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The character Lemniscus Domniscus Demetrius the VIII

Every gamer has a common gamer tag they go by. This is the name they choose for their profile, their default one that they use for a login and also as a character name. It should be unique enough not to be taken yet easy enough to remember. If you have to vary the spelling, it should be in one of three ways so that you never have to try more than a couple times to get the name you want.

Some people choose their own names for their gamer tags, adding their birth year on to the end to make sure it's unique and yet memorable to them. Rob_Bob87 or TomasMW_95 come to mind. Some people take it a step further and come up with a completely new name that has some contrived meaning to only them. Annverable or Vorkazo are examples of this. Some people, such as myself, take things even one step further and create a unique character with a specific personality that has his or her own interests and play styles that vary from game to game, bringing along a whole personalty as if every single game were a role playing experience.

This is the story of one such character, my character - Lemniscus Domniscus Demetrius the VIII

First I will tell you a bit about this character and how he came to be, and then I'll get into the gritty parts of his personality. Lemniscus Domniscus Demetrius the VIII translates roughly into The Eternal Lord of the Earth. He tries not to be smug about it and routinely goes by Lemniscus or Lem for short. His closest friend teases him by calling him Lemon. Whatever, insults are simply a fun battle of wits for him.

He started out as my first not-my-own-name gamer tag, and his name was Spike then. Spike was a nickname I received from a Boy Scout leader for spiking my hair in the 7th grade. I'd never done anything with my hair until then, so he meant to tease me, but I liked the name and decided to use it. When the internet came about and "Spike" wasn't always available, I added "Accost" on the end because I didn't know that was a real word and oh well, shit happens.

Enter Spikeaccost, who becomes my mage on the Emerald Dream server of World of Warcraft. My first mage character on my first MMO. It was over those many, many years of playing WoW that Lemniscus developed his current personality and became detached from myself altogether. When my friends and I started playing D&D, I decided Spikeaccost needed a new name, and I went hunting for latin roots of words until I came up with Lemniscus Dominiscus Demetrius the VIII, which is a long flashy name that fits his style. The VIII part is crucial because I've always been partial to the infinity symbol, you see.

Yeah, I'm one of those guys.

Lemniscus is always young, just entering the early stages of adulthood. He is born to privilege, being a noble and/or wealthy class member's son. He is extremely talented and driven, and also uses some form of magic. The magic part is a must, and it must be a basic part of who he is. If a game does not allow for magic use, then Lemniscus is not a part of that universe. He was not only born gifted, but is also well-learned and studied, making him a shockingly competent and confident opponent to face. He is not physically strong, but neither is he weak. He's not particularly tall nor is he short. He's rarely full human, but normally a half-breed of some kind.

Lemniscus is the embodiment of my ideal ambition and intellect. He is the pinnacle of what I strive to be in those areas, knowing what he does know but also knowing what he does not know. If he is ignorant in some area, he does not gamble nor think he is an expert when he's not. He's cold, calculated, and focused. He is a No Nonsense Nemesis, willing to crush in an instant those who oppose him mercilessly, fully, and without pity. This does not mean he is above diplomacy though. On the contrary, Lemniscus is quite the charismatic character and believes that defeating an opponent through words alone to be the greatest victory one can achieve. He is fond of being underestimated, preferring to let his opponents think he is weaker than he is so that their defeat is more satisfying.

Lemniscus is my Magnificent Bastard.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

I just can't let fantasy go

Sometime in 2013, I finished Augustus by Anthony Everitt and absolutely loved it. This had been the first non-fiction book I'd read since I finished The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins back in 2008. That's a full 5 years from one non-fiction book to the next, and I realized after reading Augustus just how much I liked expanding my mind and what I read and decided to make an active effort to read more non-fiction. I even changed my Goodreads what books do you like? section and said, "I use to be strictly a fantasy/scifi fan, but I have since been trying to open up and am more interested in expanding my mind than my imagination these days. I crave knowledge and the feeling of exploring true creativity in a world I can get lost in."

Two years later, here I am, 60% of the way through The Name of the Wind, and my past-books read since then are filled with nothing but scifi and fantasy from A Song of Ice and Fire to Warhammer to Space Odyssey. The one lone memoir, The Latehomecomer, doting my otherwise widespread disregard for my own promise to expand my mind over my imagination.

I just can't let fantasy go. Why not?

True is, I love it. It's the raw, unfiltered truth that I just love fantasy above all others. I like to let my mind go and imagine that truly impossible things are coming to life. Magic, sword fighting, dark and gritty to the weird and strange; there's a whole world of unknown with seemingly endless possibilities that can never be perfectly recreated from one author to the next. Each new fantasy book brings with it a host of new creatures, landscapes, and civilizations the likes of which can never be reproduced in non-fiction. Non-fiction is thoroughly grounded in reality, and thus woefully limited to what is physically and mentally possible.

Now, to the credit of non-fiction, sometimes fact is stranger than fiction.

For example, the actor who plays the Mountain - Hafthór Júlíus Björnsson - is 4'9" and 420 lbs. The Mountain described in GRRM's books is said to be 8 feet tall and 30 stone . . . which is 420lbs. The actor in real life is actually more muscular and bigger than the Mountain in the books! The Mountain in GRRM's books is actually a god damn skinny rail of a man! Ha!

And let's not even go into the unification of Germany. What a twisted plot of conspiracy and undermining that was!

Yet still, I am here, reading my fantasy.

The thing is, I like to let to go. When I read, I want to escape. The world I live in is complicated enough without me knowing more about it (though I still desire to do so) so when I read, I want to take a break from the huge pool of billions of voices shifting a never ending ocean of constant change and progress. When I read, I want to be drawn out and away from the huge, colossal tidal wave that is human life on Earth and be taken to a place where the fate of the world can be decided by a single person with a sword in hand.

I want a world totally strange and unfamiliar, thus with limitless possibilities to explore and learn. A world unlike any other with magic and danger, wild and untamed, both sophisticated and feral in the same breath. I want a world that makes you scared to take a step outside and yet hopelessly curious to do so. It would be a world that would physically challenge you at every corner, providing a never ending stream of challenges to overcome.

I want magic. I want mystery of the deepest sense which can only be grasped at and never fully comprehended. A constant shroud of unknown blanketing the single greatest power any world could ever know.

I just can't let fantasy go.

And damn it, why the hell should I?