Friday, May 25, 2012

Movie: The Avengers

I went with some friends the other day to see The Avengers.  Before the movie premiered, we were all a little nervous that the film was going to be a cash in and not live up to expectations.  Once critic reviews started pouring in, we were all able to breathe a sigh of relief.  The movie has performed phenomenally at the box office, and for good reason.  It is quick, witty, action packed and doesn't lose sight of its characters in the process.

Nearly all of the Marvel characters that comprise the Avengers, save Hawkeye and the Black Widow, have had their own recent standalone movies, which have also done well for the most part.  This allowed for the majority of these complex character's personalities to be fleshed out prior to this newest film.  This is what worried my friends and myself initially, that these characters who had been established well would be quickly thrown together in something that a huge target of fans would obligatorily see in some unpolished mess.  With the limited time a movie can feasibly run, it isn't easy to pull off multiple main characters without it coming off stale, or leaving them undeveloped, which fortunately isn't the case with this film.  One of the most interesting aspects of the film and also a big reason why it succeeds, is the portrayal of these big dynamic character's clashing personalities thrust together and forced to interact with one another.  At this point we all know that Captain America stands for things like justice, order, and good old fashion values.  We know Iron Man is quick witted and too smart for his own good.  This creates a scenario for conflict.  We know the Hulk, or Bruce Banner rather, is also a brilliant scientist, which runs parallel to Tony Stark's intellect and could serve to create a connection between them, or perhaps rivalry.  The interactions between the character's are pulled off carefully and yet effortlessly.

Speaking of Bruce Banner, many people are voicing their opinions about the Hulk in the Avengers.  People almost universally concur it is one of the best portrayals of the Hulk in film as of late.  It combines  the charm and wit of the Bruce Banner character with the tension and nervousness that he could transform into the uncontrollable beast at a seconds whim.  In this regard the Hulk overall works better as a supporting character in the Avengers, than both of his recent standalone films.

The villain of the film is Loki, Thor's brother.  This to me is pretty much a necessity, because although I'm not overly familiar with the source material in regards to the Avengers, what on Earth could possibly challenge this team composition?  Due to the success of the film, there is already a sequel in the works.  If it is done as well as this film, I can't wait to see it.  If you're a fan of these superheroes, or entertaining films in general, do yourself a favor and see it!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Movie: World's Greatest Dad

World's Greatest Dad is an extremely dark comedy starring Robin Williams.  The movie centers around Lance, an unsuccessful writer who's dream is to become famous, reach a broad audience and make money while doing so.  Lance has tried to publish five different novels, each time being rejected by publishing companies.  Instead, Lance has had to settle for teaching poetry class at a high school.  Lance is a single father who's son Kyle is a stereotypical jerk of a teen.  Lance tries to be a good father but Kyle's poor actions often result in hardship for Lance. 

Eventually Kyle kills himself in an embarrassing way.  Distraught, Lance creates a more bearable suicide setting and in the heat of the moment writes a deep suicide letter that sets the stage for a plethora of changes in his life.  Suddenly everyone at the high school who hated Kyle can relate to him and overall things turn pretty positive for Lance.  As Lance tries to continue to shroud the truth by spinning webs of lies, things start to get out of hand and perhaps a bit too surreal.

This movie uses a lot of symbolism and especially a great deal of irony.  With any dark comedy, there's a fair amount of shock or appalling scenarios.  The film may be a bit predictable and of course it doesn't contain the slapstick hilarity that is often expected of Robin Williams, but overall it is pretty funny when considering the ironic situations that are infused throughout.  It is currently available streaming on Netflix.  I would recommend it to fans of dark comedies, but it definitely isn't for everyone.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Movie: The Big Lebowski

I remember when this movie came out 14 years ago and people were talking about it, at a younger age I watched some of it but only made it a quarter of the way through, not really following or appreciating its uncanny flow of story.  Years later, after the the Coen brothers have made an even bigger name for themselves with blockbusters like No Country For Old Men, Burn After Reading and True Grit's remake, I decided to revisit this movie.

I am very glad I did.  This comedy is absolutely hysterical and genuinely entertaining.  The story revolves around "The Dude"  who's real name is Jeffrey Lebowski.  His typical day revolves around meandering about, drinking white russians, and bowling with his other dead beat pals, John Goodman's character being a Vietnam vet and Steve Buscemi's character being a befuddled abused bowler along for the ride.  Things get mixed up when the dude gets mistaken for a millionaire by the same name, Lebowski.  Thugs try to get the money owed to them from the wrong Lebowski and proceed to pee on his rug that "really tied the room together."  Then the film transitions to a kidnapping scenario.  The Coen brothers are really good at developing characters.  Really the plot doesn't matter in this movie, but instead serves to create scenarios for these different characters to interact.  That is what this movie is really about.

If you haven't ever seen this film, there is a chance that it isn't for you.  It doesn't really follow a linear predictable story, but again ties scenarios together for the sake of letting these characters develop.  As such, it yields some pretty hilarious interaction between The Dude, his friends, and some upper crust of society.  Years later, I've now determined I really like it.  I'm given the impression this is one of those films you could watch many times and still get enjoyment out of.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Video Game: League of Legends

League of Legends was a game I was pretty sure I wasn't ever going to get into.  I had heard about it a few times from various people, but with such a surplus of choices in this world, and the most valuable resource being one's time, I just didn't expect I'd ever come across a situation where I would be playing it.
Eventually several friends got into the game and urged me to download it.  It is actually a free to play game with a unique system which gives incentive to spend money on it, while it not actually being necessary.  This is a pretty great system because virtually most any playable aspect of the game is attainable if you play enough and earn points to make purchases, but at the same time if you want a character or aspect of the game sooner, you can spend real money and simultaneously support the game through funding.

The game is a little hard to explain, but one way to describe it would be to liken it as a cross between StarCraft and Diablo.  It is a RTS with action elements.  It is based upon the gameplay of a Warcraft 3 mod known as Defense of the Ancients.  Typically a match consists of 5 on 5, in a symmetrical map.  The objective of the game is to break down a path through three different lanes in order to reach the defensive side of the opponnents map and destroy their Nexus.  Throughout each of these lanes are turrets that defend from entry.  There are a constant spread of mindless minions that flow up each of these lanes for both teams, inevitably running into each other and fighting.  You use your unique choice of champion and their select abilities to help these minions push past the opponents minions, reach a turret, destroy it, and continue on in the lane moving ever closer to the nexus in order to attain victory.  Meanwhile the opponent attempts to defend their turret while trying to push yours.  It may sound pretty complicated at first, but is pretty easy to get the understanding during the first rounds of play and becomes extremely addictive and fun.

Each week there is a rotation of free characters to select from which allows you to try out champions at no cost and make a determination if there is one you would like to spend your hard earned points or cash on.  Characters range from tanks, support, damage dealers etc.  I have provided a pretty barebones description of the game for simplicity sake, but as you further in it there are all sorts of ways to customize and buff your characters via mastery points that you gain each level up (with a total of 30 levels.)   These are like talent trees in WoW for the familiar.  As well, there are different runes you can purchase that give certain perks to the characters as well.  Starting out, none of this matters though and as you progress it is pretty easy to pick up and understand.  It is a pretty competitive game.  Most people advise to start out versing in computer rounds so you may get the hang of your respective character.  If you have friends to play with, it is all the more enjoyable because it is a game that thrives on cooperation.  If you can get a group of friends together on skype so you can quickly communicate, you've already got an upper edge on a group of who aren't communicating.  One user's experience could vary drastically from another depending on this factor alone.

Regardless of that last notion, I highly suggest you try League of Legends out.  Right now it feels like the definitive version of this type of gameplay, while other game companies are scurrying to develop their own knock offs.  Both Valve and Blizzard themselves are working on "sequels" to Defense of the Ancients, which will inevitably provide a more of a fleshing out of this genre as a whole.  Right now though, you have nothing to lose but time by trying out League of Legends as it is free of charge.  Give it a try with some friends.  If cooperation and competitive gameplay is your thing, you are sure to have a blast.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Video Game: Bastion

Bastion takes a very unique approach to some tried and true gaming elements.  It is stylish, artistic, atmospheric, and although the story may not make a whole lot of sense while you're going through it, thanks to its excellent soundtrack and interesting narration, it feels heavy.

In Bastion, you are "The Kid."  The world has gone to heck due to an apocalyptic event dubbed "The Calamity."    All those that once existed are now gone, save for a few key characters.  Landscapes have been torn asunder.  Creatures that used to exist peacefully are now hostile.  Your task is to travel this desolate world in the sky and collect shards that will restore the Bastion, a place built for such an occasion, that has the power to restore the world to a previous time before the calamity occurred.

In Bastion, the action and game play reminds me a lot of Diablo. You collect choice new weapons and level up becoming stronger and with new perks each level.  You can upgrade said weapons and use a distillery to provide further bonuses to be used as you try to rectify the wrongs caused by the calamity.

As mentioned before, a key element to this game is its awesome narration which provides a very cool and unique atmosphere not found in many other games.  A grizzly voiced old man essentially recounts The Kid's tale as you go through with it.  The narration adapts to whatever you do.  If you select two oddly paired weapons, the narrator will make a comment about that.  If you walk off a cliff, the narrator will provide a tongue and cheek response to that mistake.  This narration, coupled with the appropriate music, culminates into what I considered a very enjoyable experience.  The game is not overlong, and does leave you with a yearn for more, and options to continue on with incentives to restart the game at the end.

If you haven't already, pick up Bastion for the PC on Steam.  If you can catch it on a deal, all the better.  It's worth the investment, in my opinion.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

News: Netflix

To be truthful, this isn't necessarily new information, as it was originally reported back in September of last year, but instead serves as a reminder to the forgetful or notice to the unknowing.  February 28th marks the end of a contract with Starz and Netflix, which will result in the removal of approximately 1,000 titles available instantly streaming from Starz Play.  When this was originally announced, it caused Netflix stocks to plummet.  Starz has provided much of the recent and relevant content on Netflix, in regards to movies at least.

Some argue that this will actually be good for Netflix, as it will allow the company to save $300 million that would have gone to Starz and instead allocate it somewhere else.  Netflix has started to make deals for original programming and exclusive content, such as the upcoming new season of Arrested Development.

While only time will tell the affect this will cause in the long run for Netflix, I strongly urge everyone who has a Netflix subscription to make use of the catalog of content that theoretically will be gone by the end of the month.  Although I primarily have used Netflix to watch television shows I had not watched previously, admittedly a number of the movies I have watched have been made available by the Starz Play deal.  It is kind of a shame for any consumer to watch as a price gets hiked while simultaneously losing a ton of content from said service.  Here's hoping for a positive outcome for Netflix.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Video Game: Duke Nukem Forever

Gearbox, the developer behind the critically acclaimed FPS Borderlands, formed a subsidiary group, Tryptich Games to put the finishing touches on the game that the shut down 3D Realms left unfinished.  Many a Duke Nukem fan awaited Duke Nukem Forever for years, during its unnecessarily long development time.  Like anything that takes longer than expected to be released, while waiting, one wonders the two options, whether this delay was to polish something that would truly blow us away, or if the impending experience wasn't coming together quite right and in the end would be a product along the lines of which Duke Nukem might tell the game developers to "Blow it out your ass!"

Well after playing it to the end, in my humble opinion it's neither.  It is about what I expected.  The game really is a victim of its own hype.  Duke Nukem Forever became so infamous for how long it was taking to be released, that fans and haters alike kept close tabs on its progress.  Take for instance Guns N' Roses album Chinese Democracy as a similar situation.  Both of these cases, the end result is something okay, but underwhelms the listener/player so much in comparison to their anchored perspective of what they expected versus what they're getting, that it results in an uneven judgment and inevitable backlash.

Duke Nukem was panned for its outdated graphics, lack of innovation and strangely its title character's elementary behavior among other things.  The game actually plays all right.  It has a few humorous quips, as it attempts to capture a faux universe where everyone worships the ground Duke walks on for saving them in the past and hopefully will protect them in the future.  Another common complaint I've noticed is the adoption of more modern FPS elements, such as recharging health called Duke's Ego (like Halo's health system) and the ability to only carry 2 weapons at once (akin to modern war shooters).  This too, as well as a more linear playing field, disappointed some people hoping for the more run and gun type of atmosphere from the older games.

Ultimately, the game suffers from delivering a different experience than what the masses expected and hoped for.  The game plays fine and is not boring by any means traversing through action packed sequences and over the top driving scenarios reminiscent of any 80's action movie.  I'd recommend picking the game up on a severely discounted deal on Steam or in the bargain bin where you can most likely expect it to be soon for the console versions.  Go into it without the hype and notoriety it gained for its long development cycle, and without the critically negative reception it received flooding your mind.  Instead, expect nothing amazing and you may find yourself enjoying a decent shooter, which if anything, may serve to make you look forward in anticipation for Gearbox's actual creation of the next Duke Nukem game.