The Hobbit: The Desol(ook at that f$&#ing dragon!)ation of Smaug

16 Dec

Like the awkward middle child in an oversized family The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug seems to be going through puberty, finding all sorts of new things about itself while not being sure of what it’s supposed to do.

The movie takes place directly after the first Hobbit film and continues the unexpected journey towards the Lonely Mountain original kingdom of the dwarves. The protagonists, including the 13 dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), the wizard, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) and the titular hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), must traverse the remaining land as they find their way back to the dwarf’s homeland. Along the way they must evade orcs, consult with the high elves and prepare to come face to face with the larger than life fire-breathing dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Viewing movies such as The Hobbit trilogy piece by piece is equally as exciting as it is frustrating.

The ending cliffhangers still smack you in the face, even if you are someone who knows these movies are ensemble works, which is actually more of a testament to how engaging these films can be.

As the title suggests the main focus of the film is the inevitable encounter and interaction with a dragon by the name of Smaug, who is the same dragon from the beginning of An Unexpected Journey. I mention Smaug as a “who” because he is not your typical big dumb fire-breathing dinosaur. He has as much if not more personality as any of the other characters and is the main villain in the film.

As much as the movies defend their long running time, here it seems to put padding on top of padding, including a boring love triangle, single-shot filmed fight scenes, and an entirely different movie, with Stephen Fry playing a foppish aristocratic dictator of a lake top village adequately named, “Lake Town,” that just so happens to be next to the Lonely Mountain.

But with more padding comes quality filmmaking in both the acting and photographic departments. Every character, whether from the novel or not, is three-dimensional, with flaws and strengths brought to light by the actors, who do a great job of making the film a very organic experience. This is most evident with the group of battle ready dwarves who are now discernable from one another in big action vignettes and dialogues.

The visual effects are also some of the best seen in recent years, while the CG is still noticeable it’s very natural and never takes you out of the experience. The work done on Smaug alone is something that must be seen on the big screen.

A must see for fans of the book and the fantasy genre in general, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a movie that pushes the boundaries even further. The film is filled to the brim with something for everyone and a testament to good filmmaking that still includes the likes of fun in an industry that says otherwise. As frustrating as it is to see a cliffhanger the feeling of disappointment comes because the audience wants to see more.

This is my opinion, Thanks and see ya later!

DBSLAYER7

Fro(m the Renaissance)zen

2 Dec

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Frozen, a CG musical-fantasy released November 27, is the latest film done by Walt Disney Animation Studios that keeps the Disney spirit alive.

In a surprising return to form for Disney, Frozen, takes the tried and true princess formula and succeeds in making it feel as fresh and vibrant as it did during the Disney Renaissance.

Loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson Novel, The Snow Queen, the movie sees two sisters deal with powers out of their control as they try to keep their kingdom of Arendelle afloat. Elsa, the elder sister, was born with the ability to create and control the power of snow and ice and after an accident that almost killed her younger sister Anna she was told to hide her powers from the world. This led to, her and subsequently Anna, being shut off from the outside world until the day of Elsa’s coronation where she must introduce herself to society. An incident during the coronation forces Elsa to reveal her powers and accidently cause an eternal winter in Arendelle and run away to a self inflicted exile. Anna with the help of ice salesman Christophe, his reindeer Sven and the animated snowman Olaf must find her sister and attempt to reverse the winter and save Elsa from not only the fear mongered populous but also herself.

The story at first glance already has enough twists to spin audiences upside down but it gets even more interesting as the whole movie is explored. The first twist is the absence of an identifiable villain as well as a lead. But this all works in the movies favor as it keeps you guessing throughout the entire movie and never leads itself into predictability. The movie is the greatest example of, “show don’t tell.” There’s no obnoxious narrator and the characters don’t say haw they feel, you see it in the beautiful animation.

The CG animation is standard Disney high-quality and uses its setting to the fullest extent in using snow, ice foliage and architecture to  

The movie has a break neck pace as literally years of plot and exposition is told within the first 10 minutes of the running time. But the film knows exactly when to slow down and take a breath from the action subtly introducing set pieces and characters and giving them all enough time to develop and interact with each other, such as when Christophe argues with Anna on how ridiculous “love at first sight” is.

Olaf, who serves as the token comic relief, brings the heart and laughs without the annoyance. Where similar characters like Mater from Cars seem obnoxious, Olaf does his job of being a nice break from the tension without ruining the investment. 

 Did I mention Frozen was a musical, cause you’ll find that out quick as the movie opens with a big booming catchy song about sawing and collecting ice. The characters all get their big songs, except for Christophe, who really needs one. The centerpiece of the music being Elsa’s “Let it go” song, which mirrors similar songs done in Mulan or Beauty and the Beast in terms of both inspiration and being memorable.

MINITORIAL-Two Princesses?: Frozen breaks the mold of having not one but two female leads who are for all intensive purposes Disney princesses on the side of good. Elsa being the one imbued with a magical gift and must learn to hide from everyone is an all too good metaphor for girls who grow up and discover more about who they are and not conforming to society’s wishes. Anna on the other hand wants nothing more than to conform as being shut away from the world has made her crave for attention and love and serves as a metaphor for girls who jump into situations too quickly without considering the consequences. Both juxtapose one another perfectly and let the movie have an interesting identity outside of being a rehash of an old story.

Frozen keeps the formula fresh and proves that no matter what may come Disney is still more than capable of turning out instant classics. A beautiful return to the female oriented fairy tale classic and a movie so good and filled with enough interest that a franchise would be obvious. 

Rayman Legend(ary)s

2 Dec

Video games as a medium and as a vehicle for stories have advanced beyond the point of just being toys for children. Video games can tell stories that intrigue people as much as Shakespeare, and look as gorgeous as a new Pixar movie. It’s pretty surprising however to see simplistic games such as the Rayman titles not only survive in the current market but also thrive.

Rayman Legends, released Sept. 3, was developed by the Montpellier branch of Ubisoft and directed by series creator Michel Ancel and the same, beautiful cartoony atmosphere and presentation. Even though Ancel and the team that worked on Origins is present, Legends takes what Origins perfected and attempts to take it further, but it ultimately misses what made Origins a nearly perfect experience.

Set in a surreal world created by an old shaman like character called the “Bubble Dreamer”, Legends features the titular character of Rayman, a limbless hero of sorts, his best friend, a blue frog named Globox, a new character, the warrior princess Barbara and little creatures called the “Teensies” jumping back into action as the nightmares caused by evil Teensies plague their world once again. The group must traverse through different worlds via magical paintings in order to save kidnapped Teensies and magical sprites known as Lums from the Nightmares’ clutches.

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As convoluted as the story may sound it, like the one found in Origins is extremely cut and dry and borderline random, which is the point. It’s just a simple framing device for the game. There is only one line of discernible dialogue in the whole game while the rest is comedic gibberish.

Legends is a basic 2D side scroll platform game reminiscent of old Mario games with 4-player co-op, and has you jumping, punching, and floating your way through six themed worlds including a Medieval fantasy setting with dragons and ogres, and a mouth-watering food world designed after the Mexican holiday, Dia de Muertos filled with colorful skeletons and cake.

Origins was noted as having incredibly jarring difficulty spikes and Legends addresses this with more forgiving checkpoints and ample foresight into what you have to do in each level, reducing the need for frustrating memorization. Legends features new content like a soccer mini game, costumes, pets and daily challenges for those with internet access.

One major downside with Legends is the new “Murphy” levels which need the assistance of a timed button prompt to let the character of Murphy perform a necessary action in order to advance through the level. These levels came from the game first being a WiiU exclusive and work well with a touch screen but the PS3 and XBOX360 versions of these levels seem tedious and slow down the fast pace the games are known for.

One thing Legends and other Rayman games do get right is the jaw dropping presentation. For one thing the visuals are some of the best produced by artists with expansive, hand-painted backgrounds, environments. While it looks could it sometimes looks “too” good as the characters are as detailed as the backgrounds and leads to them blending in, instead of popping out like in Origins.

MINITORIAL-More detail is bad?: As said above the art has been incredibly improved since the last game but it has also turned into something that is a bit ugly. Having everything, characters, items, enemies and backgrounds have the same level of detail makes everything blend together. While its all still beautiful it actually affects the game itself and not in a good way. Being harder to differentiate characters from the fore ground makes a myriad of levels that much harder to traverse and while more detail is appreciated it should still have good conveyance.

Another source of majesty in this game is the music scored by Christophe Heral and Billy Martin featuring original tunes and some more notable melodies. One of the highlights of Legends is its newly introduced, “Orchestral Chaos” levels which have the player performing actions to the beat of familiar songs like a hard rock cover of Ram Jam’s “Black Betty,” or a flamenco style cover of “Eye of the Tiger.”

As good as the music is it couldn’t be help feeling repetitive, some of the more prominent songs from Origins were pulled into the game, and multiple levels will use the same track with little to no difference.

Legends is a fantastic title but it is nowhere the level of a complete experience as its predecessor is and feels more like an experimental expansion pack, but consider this experiment a success.

Thor: The Dark World

13 Nov

Thor: The Dark World, released on Nov. 8, is the latest in the generous offering peddled by Marvel Studios and its revolutionary ideas on building an Avengers trilogy.

Thor: The Dark World is set two years after the events of the first Thor film and one year after the events of The Avengers and sees Thor(Chris Hemsworth) finishing up building peace amongst the nine realms and ready to take the throne of Asgard. Unfortunately his mind is towards Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) as she is imbued with an ancient sealed power called the Aether. The Aether is being sought out by an old enemy of Asgard, the Dark Elf Malakith (Christopher Eccleston) who has sworn vengeance upon Asgard for a war that killed his race. Thor must enlist the help of his enigmatic brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and fight to defeat Malekith and protect the realms he worked to make peaceful.

MINITORIAL-Divided They Fall?: The biggest question for people who enjoy the Avengers team dynamic is whether or not it works with only one Avenger. It’s gotten to the point where the individual hero movies cannot ignore their past exploits. The attention to previous details helps the films tremendously and keeps the entirety of the franchise alive and not repetitive. New problems, new villains and new macguffins that will be collected and used for different plots in the future. 

It’s at this point in the Marvel movie universe that no wrong can be done. Anything resembling a mishandling of an individual property or characters is immediately met with a good screenplay, great acting and love for the art of film that’s not found in many places today.

That’s Thor: The Dark World in a nutshell. Not perfect or fantastic, but just the right amount of dynamic between drama, action and comedy.

When the Avengers are together it’s a typical superhero flick with a team dynamic but when you pull them apart and you get some interesting possibilities. Namely that Thor and everything having to do with him and his world is a fantasy and the movie makers know this all too well.

Giving the Director’s chair to Alan Taylor, who handled various episodes of Game of Thrones, and can make the goofiest set pieces, wardrobes and colorful characters be taken seriously as they fight power ranger villains in plastic masks.

The biggest problem with the first film was the fact that Thor wasn’t actually Thor throughout the film and remained a human as he regained his power but that’s apparently resolved in The Dark World. Hemsworth played the fish out of water cocksure Thor we saw in the first film but now the actor gets to remain in the characters’ fantastical element and fight everything hammer, cape and honor in hand.

Special mention goes to Idris Elba as Heimdall, as he can go from dead serious to lighthearted in a second.  The highlight of the movie is definitely the banter shared by Hemsworth and Hiddleston as Thor and Loki respectively.

The biggest problem with this film is the villain and the somewhat plain performance given by Eccleston. Those hoping Eccleston would bring his “Doctor Who” charm to the role as an engaging villain will be disappointed yet he still serves the purpose of a legitimate threat and fits the movies wiry feel.

Thor: The Dark World is a great movie and deserves to stand among the ranks of the Marvel pedigree but if you’re a hardcore Thor fan it might seem like a wasted opportunity.

Grand Theft(of time) Auto V

7 Oct

The Grand Theft Auto games, since the first release in 1997, have always been the poster child for the worst side of video game culture, the sex modification “Hot Coffee” scandal, the promiscuous artwork and the fact that the main action of the game and its identity is associated with a criminal offense.

But when a game is around as long as the GTA series, it has the ability to grow into a pop culture phenomenon to not only rival but also obliterate blockbuster movies in terms of sales.

GTA V, released on Sept. 17th, cost around $270 million to make and in the first 24 hours of going on sale it made $800 million dollars. Trouncing previous records set by the likes of Call of Duty: Black Ops which sold more $200 million in about a week.

The effect this game has on the population is immediately apparent, as numbers don’t lie. Grand Theft Auto V has instantly become the best-selling game of all time.

So, is it deserving of its success? Or is it just an overblown fluke of titanic proportions?

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GTA V is the latest installment to the massive series, created by Rockstar Games and subsequent branch Rockstar North, and features similar gameplay and atmosphere from previous titles.

An open world game, advertised as being three times larger than any other map the team has developed, a do whatever you want action game, with guns, cars, planes, bikes, and a myriad of activities ranging from skydiving to tennis, all tied together by a coherent narrative.

The story itself puts the player in the shoes of three separate protagonists who live in the fictional state of San Andreas, and the city of Los Santos which mirror California and Los Angeles respectively.

Franklin, the black youth who’s tired of the small time repo work and has something to prove; Michael, the retired big time criminal whose materialistic family is driving him insane; and finally Trevor, the most deranged, frightening, and nasty videogame character to date.

As light hearted as the GTA series may seem this entry especially needs a gigantic red, “Not for Children or the Squeamish,” sticker plastered on the box art.

GTA V has intense scenes of gory violence, extensively horrid language, and an un-ironic handling of the satirized material found in games like these.

MINI-TORIAL-Everyone’s bad, so it’s okay to kill them.: One thing I’ve noticed about the GTA games is that I never feel guilty about a single soul. This could be that I’m a rational human being and that I’m not actually hurting anyone, or it could be that everyone you meet in the games, NPC or otherwise, are awful ugly people. You never see children or kindly old people, just a wide array of 30-something A$$-holes waiting to curse at you or flip you off for no reason. This of course makes it easier to expend these jerks as you revel in your own debauchery as one of the three awful human beings you play.But amidst the vulgar story and presentation there is a beautifully realized game. The city of Los Santos feels alive with the chatter of NPC’s, sounds of sirens music and driving cars makes you feel like you’re living in the world.

You can level up different abilities of each character by performing mini-games. A shooting range will improve weapon handling, as well as performing in triathlons will increase a character’s stamina.

Driving and handling vehicles in the game has been incredibly improved from the more “realistic” driving found in titles like GTA IV. The graphics are top notch, as the game squeezes every last bit of power out of the PS3 and Xbox 360. Buyer, beware though since this working of both systems has led to some major graphical issues.

On the PS3 the game will randomly crash or become corrupted to the point of being unplayable and requires a reinstall of the game data which can take up to 10 to 20 minutes at a time.

As for the Xbox 360 the game has to install the data from one disc and play it on a separate disc just to keep up, and if you install both discs the game will lag to a third of the games actual speed. The PC version couldn’t come sooner.

But when the game is playing successfully it’s easy to get lost in the world as you switch between the different characters and commit to different missions, the highlight of which are the Bank heists that allow you to plan out from different angles and let you make your own team to perform the job.

As GTA and open world games in general go this is the gold standard. While the story and character dialogue is hit or miss the game as a whole is fantastic, filled with time sinking side missions, a whole city to explore and three different perspectives in which to enjoy it, GTA V does indeed deserve its phenomenal success.

JAM(that’s a good book!)

26 Sep

Countless stories detail different people’s interpretation of Armageddon, but what if the great apocalyptic threat was man eating jelly that smelled of strawberries.

“JAM,” set in current day Australia, features a rag tag group of nobodies who must work together to survive the “Jampocalypse,” as they make their way through the city of Brisbane. Along the way they meet other survivors, find twisted makeshift civilizations, and do their best keep their head above the pink shaded muck that wishes to consume every living thing imaginable.

“JAM” is the second novel from acclaimed internet videogame critic, Ben Croshaw, whose first book was the pseudo fantasy/sci-fi comedy, “MOGWORLD.” Both stories are unique, since Croshaw finds ways to keep everything fresh by introducing new things throughout the story all while making it flow.

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The memorable characters throughout the story are all descript archetypes of everyday people. Travis, the protagonist and narrator, is the aimless loser that goes with whatever, Tim the aloof yet forceful everyman, and Don the disgruntled game programmer whose shoulder chips have chips on their shoulders.

The best part of the book comes in all the interactions and reactions among the characters and how each of them deals with having the continent of Australia smeared in sweet smelling death.  A big threat than can’t be imagined sets the stage as the story unfolds to reveal the secret of the ooze and how it came to be. But it’s always the people, who don’t keep a level head amidst the disaster who present the biggest threat.

MINI-TORIAL-Laughing at the Apocalypse: JAM features a myriad of quantifiably great and often gruesome deaths; those caused by the Jam itself or by the people killing each other. So why is it so easy to laugh at during the reading of this book. I mean sure the author is known for his comedic and descriptive writing but it’s more than that. When faced with a lot of negativity, the positivity becomes more pronounced. I man even the situation the character’s are in is hilarious, “Man Eating Jam,” and it smells of strawberries, that’s hilarious. So while death, disaster and mayhem are brushed off during reading it’s not for lack of investment but for appreciation of the levity.

“JAM” has detailed and hilarious writing by Croshaw such as using metaphorical puns to describe different events or actions, like the near human intelligence of a tarantula that really isn’t doing anything.

“JAM” also takes the cake in terms of writing out scenes of physical altercations among characters with good timing, specific descriptions and Croshaw’s special brand of metaphorical description mastered from his review show.

JAM” contains some of the most entertaining writing imaginable but what’s apparent throughout the story is how the plot will occasionally slow itself down to set up bigger jokes and set pieces it feels that certain character’s only do certain thing for the sake of moving to a different part of the story.

“JAM” is made for people who enjoy a good survival story but are tired of the same old formula of zombies and earthquakes, and is most definitely worth a read.

Breaking Bad

8 Sep

breaking-bad-logoThe hit crime and drama series, Breaking Bad, being in its fifth and final season as well as being one of the most engaging television shows to date, deserves a second look into the story of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and his rise to infamy as the notorious drug lord known as, “Heisenberg.”

The show details the story of a man named, Walter White, who goes from mild mannered chemistry teacher to drug lord in the span of the shows run.  Of course at first he goes into the meth making business as a means to take care of his family since he has been diagnosed with lung cancer and fears for his family’s survival. Working with his former student and delinquent, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), Walt develops his own chemically pure meth, the off colored “Blue Sky”, and starts to gather the unwanted attention from that of other drug dealers and major criminals who prove to make his family saving venture into an all-out war for his product and his soul.

Created by writer Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad proves to be a show that can excite and pull at the different strings of an audience’s heart, not to mention sprinkling some well-placed levity throughout the drama. Each episode raised the stakes and had you wanting for more as you tried to piece the story together only to have the show twist and turn in surprising places making it that much more engaging.

The partnership between Walt and Jesse grows into one of the most solid and believable relationships between two characters as they struggle to keep their head above water while keeping what’s most important to the m safe. Walt’s brother-in-law and DEA agent Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) tirelessly trying to hunt down “Heisenberg” all without knowing that it’s Walter. And the emotional roller coaster that gives each character whether good or bad their own moments of drive and clarity into how they’ve become what they are in the shows theme of reaction and change which parallels the study of chemistry itself.

MINI-TORIAL-Rooting for the bad guy?: Ever since Breaking Bad started the character of Walter White has been a complicated one. At first you think, “Oh sure he’s just doing this for his family,” but he never stops. For no other reason then to, “build an empire” asWalter puts it. In this process White has ostensibly become the bad guy even though he’s still the protagonist; killing snitches, poisoning children, lying to everyone he knows and letting the success of his illegal business come before all else. Yet we still find ourselves supporting Walter in his villainous venture, and I think it’s because we relate to Walt. Sure, we wouldn’t do any of the things Walter has done, but spending time and rooting for someone for over five years leads to rose colored glasses and an interesting version of stockholm syndrome. We want him to come out on top, we want him to succeed, because if he doesn’t then in the end, everything that happened so far would’ve been pointless.

As said above this show is in its last season and the culmination of over five years of story and character development is coming to an end as the final episodes are coming out in the coming weeks.  With this in mind now more than ever is the perfect time to start watching, because if the rest of the show is any indication this finale is what everyone will be talking about for a long time.

Its brilliant writing, mixed with spectacular cinematography, and topped off with an amazing cast of actors who make the roles they play as three dimensional as possible make Breaking Bad one of the greatest television shows of this or any generation.

Breaking Bad is streaming on Netflix and the final season episodes can be purchased on Amazon.com.