Monday, August 31, 2015

"Until Dawn" is a Fascinating Game

I recently played and, "Beat," the video-game, "Until Dawn," which can be found on the Playstation 4. I used quotation marks to discuss my finishing of the game because there are in fact numerous ways it can conclude depending on how well you play. You see, the plot of the game is that eight friends have returned to a big mansion up in a snowy mountain-region owned by one of the chum's parents. They are returning a year after an unfortunate accident where a prank led to two friends of the once-ten of them running off and apparently dying. Now, weird things are starting to happen and there may be a killer on the loose in addition to ghosts and all sorts of nastiness.

Clearly, this is kind of a cliché horror yarn, but the intriguing twist in all this is how you are the one controlling the story by playing the various characters, and depending on the choices you make all of them could survive to the dawn, or none of them. A little under half of my characters made it, although one died literally less than a minute before the game ended and I felt kind of robbed, so let's say half survived.
Here is some of the, "cast."
Good luck keeping them alive.
In order to keep your characters alive you need to be ready to tap buttons for the, "Quick Time Events," and make choices that I felt were at times a bit arbitrary and shouldn't have resulted in certain characters dying...although some things I did were just stupidity on my part and I fully, "Earned," some characters' deaths. I'm writing a bit vaguely about the game because a lot of the fun comes from watching the story unfold, and even if the plot is a bit obvious at times there are enough surprising twists to keep things relatively fresh.

If I were to have a complaint, it would be that the controls can be a bit finicky during the parts of the game your character is being directly controlled by you and exploring the mansion or some other setting. The way the camera will occasionally shift to seem more cinematic compliments the stellar graphics and spooky mood well, but can make something as simple as walking around feel relatively uncomfortable and difficult.
Peter Storemare turns in an incredible performance.
Oh, and as for the actors themselves, everyone does a pretty solid job but the only person to really, get my attention is the amazing Peter Storemare (of various shows and movies) as a creepy psychiatrist who interviews the player between, "Chapters," of the game and starts out seeming a little intense before going full-on terrifying in his mannerisms and speech as things progress.

"Until Dawn" has a story that can be at times predictable and controls that will frustrate, but as someone who has loved previous cinematic games such as, "Heavy Rain," or the Telltale-produced, "The Walking Dead," seasons, I really appreciated what the creators were going for. Despite some irritations this still is a fantastic game and should you own a Playstation 4 I would encourage you to play it!
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

DC's Publishing Plan for "The Dark Knight III: The Master Race" Sounds Really Odd

How Weird? Quite Weird!
DC had previously announced how Frank Miller would be writing a 3rd entry in his, "Dark Knight" books--yet oddly not illustrating as he did for the previous two, and even more strangely would have a co-writer in the form of Brian Azzarello.

Miller's seminal, "The Dark Knight Returns," was of course written and illustrated by him, with the much-less liked, "The Dark Knight Strikes Again," also mainly Miller besides his spouse serving colorist duties. Therefore, it's a little weird to see Miller having a co-writer, and not doing much of any art. Now, perhaps this is to keep some of Miller's more lately...eccentric tendencies in check, but it could also be Miller just only had a passing interest in doing a new Batman comic and DC told him they could lighten the creative load by tacking other folk on the title.

Whatever the case of how the creative team came about, where things get really odd is how DC is releasing the comic. You see, each issue is 32 pages and includes a 16-page mini-comic inserted into the main title. That's relatively straightforward. However, it gets odd when, as DC puts it (the all-caps are their emphasis, not mine), "After the release of each issue of DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE, DC Entertainment will release a volume of the DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE COLLECTOR’S EDITION that will collect the both the main story and mini-comic from latest issue of DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE as a single 7.0625” x 10.875” title, with both stories presented at the same trim size." In other words, another version of the same comic will come out but with the mini-comic made bigger.
That's not too confusing, but then , "After the first seven DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE COLLECTOR’S EDITION have been published, DC Entertainment will ship a special slipcase designed to hold the entire set with the eighth COLLECTOR’S EDITION." So yeah, I'm utterly lost now. Oh, and each issue (of the initial comics at least) are a hefty $5.99 and there is actually a 1:5000 variant cover, meaning a comic store would have to order five thousand copies of this comic in order to be allowed to get one measly variant with art by Jim Lee.

This is all pretty strange and an obvious blatant attempt to make a comic a collectible item before it even comes out, (and we see if it is even any good or worth collecting) eh? I mean, if the comic is actually really good I can understand people wanting special collector-sets and the like, but if this is at a level of quality like, "Holy Terror," you're better off watching two turtles mate, because it'll be just as slow and boring, but at least their humping will have an actual conclusion.

In closing, unless this gets rave reviews I'll probably pass, even though the whole mini-comic idea is kind of fun before the weird, "Collector's edition," stuff comes into play. I imagine DC would like you to buy this though, as they have a lot riding on its success after apparently facing some big austerity measures, despite protests to the contrary.

The Weeknd's "The Hills" is a Stellar Piece of Horror-Romance

I Told You I Would Write About Music More
We often see genres intermingle. You'll get a dramatic movie that is also sci-fi, or a horror-comedy. We will read a book that is romantic and also historical fiction, or see a film that combines political intrigue with a good dose of action-filled explosions. Songs do this too, often telling stories of adventure, love, and the like. Two genres that seem to almost never intermingle however are romance and horror. Sure, in scary movies there will be the horny barely-legal teens trying to get it on before the psycho-killer interrupts them mid-coitus, but when was the last time we got a true mixture of romance and fear (seriously, I don't know)?

It's odd because there is rarely something as terrifying as being in love. We feel so much anxiety, worry a lot, and otherwise have a fear of either losing the person we love through them doing something foolish ("Why did you cheat on me?") or our own actions ("Um, so, I cheated on you.") Therefore, that makes it wonderful that an artist known as The Weeknd (real name: Abel Tesfaye) has turned in a song that is arguably a horror-romance masterpiece.
The Weeknd is an artist who I have felt has a solid voice but whom had been hit-or-miss in terms of me enjoying his actual songs. "Earned It" AKA that, "50 Shades of Grey," song was a catchy little ditty but I could happily pass on having to hear, "Love me Harder," with he and Ariana Grande ever again. However, that Ariana Grande element introduces another interesting wrinkle in the song's story I'll address in a moment.

"The Hills" basically is about a relationship where The Weeknd/Abel--as I'll call him for now on so I quit fighting the urge to spell, "Weeknd" correct grammatically--has someone he is terrified to be honest with and basically only can be himself around when he gets so numb on drugs he feels like his real self. Plus, as this woman he is having sex with apparently has a boyfriend who occasionally is out on the road, "Doing promo," for his own career, the romance must be kept secret.
The scary part is how as the lyrics mention that the drugs are at a point where he does so many it this point its like, "Decaf," coffee, she's fed up with his calls, "Half-past five," in the morning, and it seems she herself is possibly tired of having to, "Hide your [her] lies". Then there is the element of how, "The hills have eyes," as he repeats in the bridge toward the end of the song. "The Hills Have Eyes" was of course itself a horror movie by Wes Craven made in 1977 (let's ignore the awful 2006 remake) with one big element being that people are being watched by evil forces. Here Abel is of course referring to such, "Evil," entities as the media, nosy neighbors, and etc.

The heavy thumping bass and occasional surreal shriek-sound create an ominous tone not unlike that of a horror movie, and Abel's basically admitting just how scared he is for everything to come to light--e.g. his feelings for this woman--because there is not only the risk of her rejecting him, but what everyone else will think, not to mention her man's inevitable anger.
One area where this gets even more interesting is that the song does not seem to be a wholly-fictional piece. There apparently have been numerous rumors that Abel and the aforementioned Ariana Grande were secretly having an affair and this allegedly lead to her break-up with now-ex Big Sean. Therefore, it seems there is an awful lot of uncomfortable autobiography in the song, with Abel having discussed his drug issues previously too, and now apparently touching on an affair between Grande and himself.

Setting aside questions of if Abel is trying to share his emotional hurt with us listeners or is engaging in some crass commercial exploitation by via putting forth his own personal life for us to pick-over yet simultaneously stating people who do so should be embarrassed (so, having his cake and eating it too, possibly) it still is an amazingly raw song, and one that illustrates all sheer terror of love. For these reasons I find, "The Hills," to be a fascinating mixture of genres, tones, and otherwise a great listen. You can watch the music video right here below,but I find just the music itself is better:

It seems not too long after this post went up it began being reported that Wes Craven has sadly died today at age 76. This saddens me as a fan of his work.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

I Saw a Great Javier Mendoza Concert This Evening

A Fantastic Time!
I don't always discuss music on the blog as much as I would like, as I clearly love auditory delights and enjoy talking about them. I'll work at writing on music a bit more and thought I would begin by discussing how I saw a superb concert this evening which involved Javier Mendoza playing a set that was a bit over an hour long. He jammed with some other talented individuals at a location known as, "Jazz at the Bistro," a nice lounge/restaurant/music-venue and true to the location's name gave us some great jazzy-tunes with a strong Spanish influence.

All the songs were sung in Spanish but little brochures with translations of the lyrics were supplied and the instrumentation itself was superb too. From the more sad songs such as, "La Sangre/Blood" to his peppy song about Bacardi and Coke that he jokingly told the audience was going to be in an ad but didn't work out, "So order a Bacardi and Coke and maybe a promoter will see it could work!" it was a great show.

Afterward he ventured out into the audience and happily interacted with anyone who wanted to say hello and/or buy a CD. I always appreciate artists who enjoy speaking with the crowd after their show as opposed to disappearing as soon as their set is done, so that was quite cool. He was a really nice and pleasant guy, so between the great voice, expert instrumentation, and kind personality, I was quite impressed and will seek out more of his work in the future! You can learn more about Javier Mendoza here at his official website and I would encourage you to do.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Rant-Reviews: Good Comics and Ones That Tried

At Least An Effort Was Made
Today would have been Jack Kirby's 98th birthday, and he was someone whom you felt gave 100% to almost any work he did. With that in mind, sometimes there are good comics and at other points we see ones where it is clear the creators tried but couldn't quite give us something great. Here is a mixture of those comics:

Ready, Set, Try!
Loki: Agent of Asgard #17
The final issue written by the talented Al Ewing is perfectly fine, but just a bit of a let-down, even going so far as to get a bit meta and acknowledge it is ending on a cliffhanger of, "Just wait till after 'Secret Wars', then you'll see what might be next!" by having Loki literally stand in front of a door he drew on a blank canvas that says, "Next." Yeah, I told you it gets a bit meta. After a solid start to this series and then kind of meandering into and out of various events in cross-overs we get some resolution to Loki trying to stop his evil future self, discovering a bit about what kind of God he is, and otherwise as Ewing says in the comic's epilogue, "End with warmth," as opposed to a big battle.

I feel like Ewing is really trying to subvert superhero tropes here and succeeds a bit, but when a comic ends with us feeling such a small amount of resolution, it just kind of stings. It was a good run, and it sadly ends pretty quietly. Still, for such a quirky book that almost is fitting.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Boy-1 #1
This is a hard one to review negatively. I can sense all the effort and love put into this comic and making its world an intriguing near-future. The thing is, it just doesn't all gel together that well and results in a comic that has some interesting ideas but doesn't know what it is. Are we reading about technology taken too far? A missing-father conspiracy? Multiple plots that all seem a tad undercooked? I just am unsure. Also, the artwork that is supposed to look futuristic just seems a bit muddy and tinted way too dark, with even scenes in the brightly-lit labs looking 5 shades darker than they should be. Nothing in this comic really, "Grabbed," me and without a solid hook to catch my attention, I probably shan't be inspecting future issues.
2 out of 5 stars.

Injection #4
I just don't know what Warren Ellis is trying to say here. He has his usual affectations of wise British men who know the country's ancient history, a tough scientist who happens to be a woman, government intrigue, and the like. The thing is, I'm not sure what is going on as pieces start to not fit together so much as float in each other's general vicinity, making a picture kind of apparent but still infuriatingly unclear. Is this a comic about ancient forces come to wreak havoc in the present day? Is it another parable warning us about how our desire to create artificial intelligence could result in something that brings humankind's downfall? I just don't know.

So yeah, we have a comic that is annoyingly obtuse but which contains the amazing art of Declan Shalvey--who also collaborated with Ellis on a superb six issues of "Moon Knight". Basically some incredible artwork is helping save this comic from seeming like nigh-incomprehensible gibberish, but I feel like if Ellis is given a bit more time by me things will start to make sense. After all, "Supreme: Blue Rose" actually all came together in the end.
2.5 out of 5 stars.

Rise of the Anti-Christ #4
I've been enjoying this comic so far, and the latest issue introduces an interesting shift in perspective. Our main character, Michael, actually takes a backseat to a wider-ranging plot that brings in the idea of other folk with potentially ancient powers being around and touches on the concept of genetics and the question of if its okay to change genes or, "Play God." We meet a female scientist named Noa who is a part of this effort--the "Genesis Project"--and witness her displeasure at it being cancelled. We also learn more about a doctor named Adam who may hold some special secrets of his own. The comic's writer, Betvìn, clearly isn't just simply telling the tale of one man, but is in the process of creating quite the wide-ranging story. You can see the care he's put into slowly and carefully setting-up story-elements and I am intrigued to see how it all relates. It's a digital comic and can be found here.
4 out of 5 stars.

Crossed +100 #7
Alan Moore is a tough act to follow. Si Spurrier is a writer who has made some stuff I absolutely adore, but also can make stuff I don't acre for. "Crossed +100" had an intriguing first six issues under the pen of Moore showing a world where the Crossed have evolved to a point they can make plans and pose a solid risk to humanity again. Si Spurrier continues this but it just feels less impressive.

The future-speak is still there along with discussing now-ancient literature, but it all feels a little different, a bit, "Off." I can't quite put my finger on it but I can tell Spurrier wants to do a great job following after Moore and just isn't quite pulling it off as much. Perhaps it annoys me how the literary references do feel more ham-fisted and obvious, with one book-title itself forming as the name of this chapter, or how the aforementioned future-talk seems to just not, "Flow," as well. I honestly don't know, but I can say I'll probably stop following the series at this point. I'm just not, "Feeling it," anymore.
2 out of 5 stars.

Material #3
Ales Kot is an amazing writer. I talk about his stuff a fair amount on this blog and while not everything he makes is incredible, a lot of stuff is. "Material" has proven especially fascinating with its four so far unrelated tales of various individuals all dealing with difficult aspects of life. It engages in doing a fascinating thing where there are footnotes on each page, sometimes explaining how something can elaborate on the comic, other times providing a link to further stimulate thought. "Material" is a hard comic to describe in any form other than that it seems to have a heavy focus on how injustice impacts us all. A stellar series I'm eager to continue reading.
5 out of 5 stars.

The Attempts Have Concluded
As these reviews make evident, a lot of the time creators are trying very hard to make a good comic. Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they don't, but at least it is encouraging when it appears people made an effort.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Television Tuesday: Big Brother's 17th Season is Kind of Mellow

They're All So...Level-Headed?
I had a depressing post earlier today so let's talk about something more fun than saddening. "Big Brother," is a show I love to watch. In the few seasons I have viewed it there have been some where the cast gets extremely emotional quite easily and that results in drama, or there have been seasons where there was actual hate occurring in the house thanks to racism so bad CBS actually had disclaimers before each broadcast about how the views of some contestants did not reflect that of the network. That makes it seem all the stranger how the cast this season seems to be for the most part reasonable and nice.

This season of Big Brother had the first ever openly transgender contestant in the form of Aubrey, a young woman who found only support and love in the household upon telling everyone. She got voted-out earlier-on in the show, but due to the fact she was playing the game terribly as opposed to people disliking her for hateful reasons. Within this season of Big Brother there are cast members who are dating someone of the same gender and the house hasn't batted an eye. There is a bit more diversity this season and an Asian-American man named James who was adopted by a Southern family and speaks with a dirty-South drawl got the most surprised looks from house-guests, but after the initial shock of a self-described, "Asian Redneck," he has gotten-on well with everyone too. Frankly, the only time things got particularly intense was when it appeared James might get into a fight with another house-guest named Clay who was arguing with him because James actually played the game of Big Brother and made some big moves (he nominated Clay and Shelli to go home, and they were a, "Showmance," couple who couldn't fathom the thought breaking-up their power-coupling could appeal to the house).
The most surprising thing this season? Twins.
It is just so odd for there to be a season of, "Big Brother," where the cast are doing the usual activities of forming alliances or double-crossing each other, but actually feeling the need to apologize after metaphorically stabbing someone in the back, and telling them how they love them as a person and it isn't personal. The most surprising thing was how one contestant had a twin whom has now entered the game, and the house was pretty cool with the fact she had been lying about trading-off with her at the start of the game.

Some seasons of, "Big Brother," have felt like utter madness with breif bouts of quiet. This season has been more like a long lull with sudden twinges of action or unease--such as when James and Clay clearly weren't getting along, or Aubrey's game-plan of making an alliance with everyone in the house and then lying about it blew-up in her face. It's perfectly alright, there is still plenty of intrigue and the competitions are fun to watch, but as my lady put it, "Wow, this is actually kind of a bit boring this season."

The Need for Drama
There always seems to be a random picture of everyone in their swimsuits.
Perhaps this season is an outlier of the usual formula where once you lock a bunch of strangers in a house it doesn't take long for them to become mean and a little stir-crazy. I guess it goes to show there are plenty of people in the world who are just nice and pleasant, whether locked-away in a house competing for $500,000 or free in the regular world to be their cool selves.

Still, this makes it apparent there is one thing this show thrives upon, and that is drama. The seeming drip-feed of anything shocking or startling has resulted in a season of, "Big Brother," that while enjoyable can sometimes feel a bit slow, or grasping at straws to fill air-time. We are a bit more than half-way through the season so time will tell if things are going to ramp-up as the number of house-guests shrinks down and folk get more antsy about that half-million. For now though, it is both positive to see a cast who are nice and mellow, and admittedly a bit dull.

Television Tuesday: From a Duggar Downfall to an Utter Destruction, It Just Keeps Getting Worse

It Never Ends
I have written about the Duggars a variety of times. From my first observations about them, to then asking if the so-called, "Charm," had worn off, to the mess of it coming to light that Josh Duggar sexually abused his younger sisters and the family did nothing. Now, even more unsavory details are being dug-up about the first son of the ultra-religious and supposedly, "Pure," family. Josh Duggar has been revealed to have had an Ashley Madison account now that hackers are releasing data on people who used the website to cheat on spouses, and he has admitted to a, "Pornography addiction."

I don't have to talk about this, as unlike Josh Duggar I can stop myself from making awful decisions. However, I also differ from Josh Duggar in that my choosing to continue to marvel at the spectacle of this family's implosion doesn't hurt any children or cheated-on spouses. So yeah, here we go, yet again.

The One Smart Thing Josh Duggar Has Done
The one, and basically only smart thing Josh Duggar has done is utter the words, "I have been the biggest hypocrite ever," which despite containing the word, "Biggest," still serves as a massive understatement. Between the past abuse of his sisters and rampantly cheating on his wife, Josh Duggar doesn't seem like a very good person to pick as your mascot for family values, and it is hilarious to see all the people he once worked for or found himself close with distancing themselves as fast as possible from this mess.

It is funny in an incredibly depressing way to think a year ago this time the Duggars were looked at as darlings of the ultra-religious wing of the Right, and now are punch-lines for anyone who wants to make fun of hypocrisy. I mean seriously, you go on and on about sexual purity and how gay individuals pose a threat to the sanctity of marriage, and meanwhile you let your son fondle his kid-sisters when he's an older teen, and then he grows-up to be a habitual cheater on his spouse? Clearly if things went this wrong with your eldest child you may want to change your parenting methods before we see what the other 18 children might grow-up into. We are ignoring the biggest, "Victim," here though. I mean, won't someone think of poor ol' TLC?


Both the Duggars and TLC are in massive damage-control mode. The Duggars are saying how they continue to, "Look to God," because simply trying to pray away the bad things in their life has worked really well so far. TLC is in a full-on panic, having now announced a documentary about child sexual abuse that I imagine will gloss over the fact it seems quite likely they were aware of the Duggar's dirty secret but still gave them a show and made money off them for all those years. But hey, if they do a special now about how abuse is bad they don't have to feel any guilt, right (he said with the utmost sarcasm)?

Really though, TLC can't play the victim any more than the Duggar family can because it proudly covered its eyes and plugged-up its ears to the idea of anything rotten happening behind the scenes of this supposedly happy and extremely conservative family. To its credit, TLC did eventually cancel the show after all this nastiness was exposed for the world to see, but the damage is done and the Duggar's image will probably never fully recover--with Josh definitely being doomed to forever find himself scorned by the world--and with good reason--viewed more as the butt of a joke than someone conservative politicians try to court for a endorsement.

It is Honestly Depressing
In the end, this just honestly is depressing. We all knew something terrible was going to come out regarding this seemingly, "Perfect," and, "Pure," family, but I would not have guessed things this horrible were to be revealed. I guess it goes to further the data that the families that obsess the most about sexual purity often have the most twisted secrets (I can recall a report about how Utah of all places has the most online-porn subscriptions).

It's sad, it's dark, and it is--as I keep saying--depressing....although in an admittedly so-sad-it's-funny way. I guess it just goes to further prove that sometimes the folk talking the most, "Game," about how perfect they are have the worst skeletons hidden away. Still it could be worse.
At least he isn't a former Subway pitchman-turned-convicted felon.

Monday, August 24, 2015

"Zombi" for PS4 Greatly Underwhelms

Talk about A Let-Down
I remember when I heard about the game that sounded like the one reason I would buy a WiiU outside of enjoying Mario and Smash Brothers titles. "ZombiU." It sounded like an amazingly fun time, for sure. Utilizing the WiiU Pad as your backpack on a second-screen, navigating a London plagued by Zombies, and the crazy-cool idea of how when your character dies they actually are gone, and you have to go find them as a new person to get your backpack--by destroying the now-zombie former-you. It sounded so fun back in 2012, and when I heard it was coming out on the new consoles finally I was pumped, even though I knew it would a good deal different (after all, we don't have a video-pad for the PS4 or Xbox One). Still, I didn't know I would be so badly disappointed.

I think some of the fault for my disliking, "Zombi," as it is now called, may stem from how other games have come along and done better what it did those three-ish years ago. "State of Decay," for the Xbox 360 and the retooled-version of the Xbox One came along and introduced an exciting dynamic of having various characters in a group struggling to survive a zombie apocalypse. This involved scavenging for supplies, and sure enough if one member of your team dies you can no longer play as them, instead having to engage in controlling another member of the camp who goes and kills the newly-zombified other individual to gain their supplies. So, that's one cool dynamic replicated by a different game in an even better way.
The game isn't ugly. It just isn't that good-looking either.
When it comes to exploration, I can point to one game that is amazing fun to climb around and traverse the world of--it is called, "Dying Light," and while it isn't perfect, it has the excitement of exploring an open world down well. Yes, the plot of, "Dying Light," is pretty awful, but in case you were wondering, "Zombi," isn't much better with its story of ancient conspiracies and such coming back into the modern age to wreak havoc. Also, "Zombi," already had so-so graphics back in 2012 so despite some textures getting cleaned-up it ain't like the game is particularly pretty to gawk at (and I am by no means obsessed with good graphics, but they can help ease the sting of a mediocre game).

As for the actual combat compared to other's pretty awful. While, "State of Decay," could be annoying to fight in and, "Dying Light," had satisfying melee combat despite the annoyance of weapons easily falling apart, "Zombi,"just feels awkward and unsatisfying when it comes to thwacking characters with a cricket-bat (or other instrument) and shooting a weapon. The combat just lacks the punchy feeling or other games where when you smack someone upside the head it looks and feels like it has some serious impact.
"Dying Light," just does it better. With, "it," being basically everything.
Perhaps if I had played, "Zombi," back on its original console when it first came out I would have been more impressed, as there are plenty of games I loved when they were new but which haven't aged well. As it is though, "Zombi" for me has just proven to be a massive let-down and twenty bucks wasted considering I got maybe five-dollars worth of entertainment overall. Considering how there are so many zombie-themed games, and a number of those are at least marginally better than this, I would just keep scrolling along when you see this on the digital store for your console. There are simply better ways to spend your money.
2 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Some Thoughts on "Hearthstone" on the Eve of "The Grand Tournament" Expansion

A Big Change Approaches
"Hearthstone" has been a game I am fond of. It was my favorite video-game of 2014 and has had a lot of solid content come out in the form of the "Goblins VS Gnomes," expansion which added a lot of cards folk could acquire via card packs and the, "Blackrock Mountain," one which was more in-line with the first and decent-but-not-amazing, "Curse of Naxxramas," expansion that added a certain amount of set cards for whomever bought the pack with gold or cash.

We now sit on the eve of another massive influx of cards that can be bought with gold or money titled, "The Grand Tournament." It comes out this week and it introduces some fascinating new cards that could very well utterly break the game or make it even more fun. From an, "Inspire," mechanic that results in hero-powers being used more, to cards that actually make said hero-powers better, it appears to be the injection of freshness that will help keep things interesting. These "Hearthstone" expansions always seem to come at just the right time, because as I find myself getting a tad bored with my card options all these exciting new ones appear on the scene--and I'm thinking I'll quite like the many cards coming via, "The Grand Tournament," as I got more pleasure out of all the cards for, "Gnomes and Goblins," than I did with the admittedly fun (but sadly quite limited) cards for the other expansions.
Yeah, this is pretty insane.
I am concerned how these cards will effect the game. There are some new ones on display that seem pretty dramatic, and alter a lot more than previous expansions did. The game's developer, Blizzard, has consistently delivered a superb experience so far, and the fact that a, "Free-to-play," game has honestly been easy to, you know, actually play for free (or with extra cash should a person want more cards at a faster rate) is a testament to what I would say is the, "Right," way to make a game.

I myself am quite eager to jump-in with all the gold I've saved so that I can immediately purchase a bunch of the new card packs. I am excited to get busy fiddling with exciting combinations so as to create an epic new deck.  I am seriously still super-proud of a great Warlock deck I made all on my own without basing it on any other decks I saw online, as I will admit I've done with some decks. Honestly though, if you don't do a Grim Patron Warrior and lack the good cards for a Control deck, he is basically horrible to play as.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Rant-Reviews: I Liked All These Comics

Yeah, These Were Good
Oftentimes I'll read some comics I like, and some I dislike. I try to avoid purchasing and reading ones I don't care for or hate because I'm at a point in my life where I ask why I would spend money on something awful, and therefore avoid doing so.  This time I've only read some pretty good stuff, even if I simply, "liked," something as opposed to, "Loving," it, that is still pretty snazzy.

Some Quality Reading:
Uber #27
The last issue in the first, "Book," of this series, with the sequel, "Uber: Invasion," coming in 2016. This has been an interesting series to read, as often when you think of writer Kieron Gillen, his more pop-culture-influenced and peppy stuff such as "The Wicked and the Divine", "Young Avengers", or the below-discussed "Phonogram" comes to mind. Your more gritty and violent  historically-influenced war comics sounds like something that is Garth Ennis-territory, even if it has the twist of throwing in super-powered individuals.

Still, Gillen has done a great job with this series over its 27 (actually a bit more when you factor in specials and the #0) issues, bringing readers an intense and gruesome war comic that presents a fascinating, "What-if?" about a World War II where, as Gillen describes it, Germany got the atomic bomb first, with the A-bomb in this scenario being individuals with incredible powers. Canaan White contributed art for much of the series but sadly has moved on to other projects, making me thankful an artist such as Daniel Gete in this issue and other folk in various other ones has kept a generally solid and great, "Look," to everything. A stellar comic and one I look forward to seeing more of in 2016.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Wolf #2
This is some cool stuff. A story focused on a man named Antoine Wolfe who is a private detective and has supernatural abilities such as potentially being immortal. Written by the incredible Ales Kot whose "Zero" I made no secret about loving,  Between Kot's writing and Matt Taylor's art this is a superb comic, even if it is one that I may not adore as much as "Zero" yet, but still for sure find myself fascinated by. This is almost a more commercial Ales Kot, which means we are still getting a very avant-garde and at times surreal book, but the, "Hook," is a bit easier to describe and actually reminds me of some other titles. Basically, in a world where there a people with special abilities who are known as being, "Supernatural," there is a detective who has been hired for a mysterious case by a very evil and racist man (Wolfe is black and can't stand how this twisted white dude is basically using him, but needs funds to help a family member). Meanwhile, there are vampires, a girl who may be the Anti-Christ, and a best friend with a mouth full of Cthulhu-esque tentacles.

There is almost a feel like some of the, "X-Men," comics with this element of special people living in an otherwise ordinary world, but the strange stuff fits well with the regular elements to create a world that doesn't seem as far-fetched as a world full of mutants so much as a place where if we just scratch below the surface we might find some weird and wild things. As Wolfe himself says (and I'm paraphrasing), sometimes people want to pretend the world isn't as weird as it is. This is more of a noir-type book than any sort of superhero comic, and its mixture of humor, fantastic art, and a plot that continues to grow stranger and stranger results in a book I"m excited to keep reading.
5 out of 5 stars.

Trees #12
"Trees" started out slowly and then ended its first arc with quite the, "Bang," of death, explosions, and otherwise finally paying off after at first feeling admittedly a bit dull. Since then the 2nd arc of this comic has had an even greater variety of Warren Ellis' favorite things to put in his works (hard-edged lady-scientist, futuristic technology, conspiracies-upon-conspiracies) and has continued to amp-up the tension with it becoming more and more apparent that the destruction witnessed in the first segment of issues could very well have just been a warm-up for even more madness. Jason Howard provides illustrations that makes everything look worn-down enough so as to make the future-stuff seem mostly commonplace and as exciting to people in that world as an iPhone is to us now, and that just makes the bursts of unexpected action all the more delightful.

I am curious how long it will be until we learn--or if we will in fact learn--what exactly the purpose is that the eponymous trees serve and if the comic is heading towards a happier conclusion or if we're gonna have a, "Yup, everyone dies," kind of end. Time will tell.
4.5 out of 5 stars. 

Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1
Another comic written by Kieron Gillen and this time with art by Jamie Mckelvie, he points out in the closing notes of the book this new edition of "Phonogram," will probably have a lot more readers thanks to all the popularity he and McKelvie have gained thanks to, "The Wicked and the Divine." I myself read the earlier "Phonogram" stuff so long ago I honestly barely remember it. This resulted in me struggling a bit to recall who some of these characters are, what (if anything) I remember about them, and overall had me pondering if anyone buying this without having enjoyed the earlier comics will just be utterly lost.

The main, "Thrust," of the series is pretty evident--imagine a world where music has magical properties and some people wield these powers. This new mini takes the idea in a clever direction, bringing in the concept of music-videos having their own special properties. The art is of course beautiful because its Jamie McKelvie and the writing is strong because its Kieron Gillen, and he is writing about something he has passionate feelings towards. Still, my faded memories of the earlier mini-series makes me feel I need to re-read "Rue Britannia" and "The Singles Club" to fully understand what in the dickens is happening. So...I guess that means mission accomplished? As it is though, this is a perfectly enjoyable if not utterly amazing issue, that hints at possibly some astonishing things to come.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Oh, Killstrike #4
This comic written by Max Bemis has been a superbly fun read and between Bemis' plotting and dialogue together with Logan Faerber's excellent mixture of realistic and absurd art (depending on if we are looking at a normal human or the purposely-silly Killstrike). I really have been a fan of "Oh, Killstrike" since its first issue and this concluding one finished out expertly its streak of being both delightfully metatextual whilst also telling its own complete story.

So yes, this issue wraps things up well, with Jared facing off against all the fears and angers Killstrike represents upon humorously being transformed into, "Dark Killstrike," making it evident these are feelings that he needs to conquer, It all comes full-circle with it being revealed Killstrike and his comic-stories were basically created by Jared's father to provide a surrogate parent for him to have, "Be there," for Jared, a corny twist that the comic itself points out is clichéd, but appreciated by Jared because it impacts him and shows how he needs to work to be a great dad himself. A great series with a fantastic conclusion.
5 out of 5 stars.

Hooray for Fun Times!
It's always nice to have good comics to read and treasure. That said, I should probably do some reviews of bad stuff just to balance out the cosmic-scales...or something.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Some Much-Delayed Observations on "Batman: Arkham Knight"

I've Been the Bat, for a Third Time!
I've played, "Batman: Arkham Knight,"to a good degree and have some thoughts on it. The final game in the, "Arkham," trilogy (people don't count "Origins" generally, as it wasn't developed by Rocksteady) came out in late June and I for sure played it a great deal after picking it up, then was incredibly busy in July and didn't have much of a chance to play any video-games. With the arrival of August I had the opportunity to play the game some more and delved further into the main story as well as side-missions. I am not anywhere near done, with plenty to still be accomplished, and I do hope to get most of the game completed before September arrives and I spend all my time playing, "Metal Gear Solid V," which I pray is as awesome as it looks. So, I still haven't beaten, "Arkham Knight," but as it has now been out for quite awhile I did want to share some of my opinions, with only one  spoiler mentioned that occurs just a couple hours into the game, so don't fret too much, but you've been warned.

Random Thoughts as Follows:
The "Flow" of Combat and Sneaking Still Impresses
It is startling to think that as early as the first game in the series combat and the sneaking/"Predator" mode has been as impressive as it is. Few games have come close to rivaling the "Arkham" games in terms of superb combat as well as stealth and it continues in this game to get even wilder with the addition of more unique gadgets that can be used before and during combat.

The Batmobile is the Best--Except For Those Rare Times it's the Worst
I don't care how many posts are on the internet bashing the Batmobile (just check Google), I generally love that thing. As long as you are in an area that it can be summoned to, it is merely a button-press away for you to have that giant-yet-speedy tool come to assist you. Like some kind of pet who always eagerly comes running when you call, the Batmobile operates in a manner not unlike a Swiss-Army knife, able to speedily get you somewhere, blow-up drone tanks, or help fire non-lethal rounds at enemies whilst you punch them into the air for it to take-out. It truly is a wonder.

Yes, the Batmobile is extremely useful...almost to the point it feels overpowered and like the game is forcing you to use it way too much. It gets to the point that it can almost feel like you're playing, "Batmobile: The Game (Featuring Batman)," and it does feel odd to be blowing so much stuff up even if the game takes great pains to remind you, "Don't worry, he's just using all that firepower on robotic cars, it's all good!" Still, I like the Batmobile more than not.

The Joker...Yah?
Pretty early on in the game Batman is exposed to Scarecrow's fear gas and between that and the blood of The Joker in his system, finds himself starting to hallucinate his old nemesis and fighting his psyche being taken-over. It's a clever plot-device, but considering how major a role The Joker played in the first two games it maybe almost would have been better if The Joker just sat this one out, or played a smaller role, perhaps later on. Still, Mark Hamill returning to a role he excels at so much is always welcome.

The Arkham Knight is an Awful Villain
The plot of "Arkham Knight" has been pretty solid, if not as amazing as the other games. But one thing is quite obvious, and that is how the "Arkham Knight" is just a terrible villain. I won't spoil who it is, but upon my learning his identity I felt the lack of any surprise. Before his identity is revealed he comes across as a whiny child in a grown-up body, and otherwise fails to impress. Thank God the Scarecrow also plays a sizable role in the game and helps the main story-line feel a tad more interesting thanks to how just-plain-creepy he is.

Dual Play Mode is Highly Underutilized
The moments in "Arkham Knight" where you get to control another character besides Batman in a fight are fun, but seem to be relatively few and far between. As cool as it is to have Batman fighting enemies with the assistance of Catwoman, Nightwing, etc. it comes off as more of a rare novelty than much of a selling-feature.

Beautiful Graphics
As cool as it would have been for the series to be able to finish on the consoles it began on, the amazing visuals make it evident that probably just wouldn't have been possible to run this on something older. Between the rain-slicked streets, gorgeous explosions, and otherwise impressive overall, "Look," this is one gorgeous game. It made me happy to own a PS4, for sure.

A Great Deal of Fun
With its mixture of great elements and annoying ones, "Batman: Arkham Knight," is by no means a perfect game, but still is a great deal of fun regardless of my quibbles with its plot and occasional over-reliance on the Batmobile. I would definitely recommend this game to any fans of the previous entries in the series, or even folk new to it although it may be a tad harder to follow if you haven't played the earlier games. Now I just wonder if Rocksteady is going to make another game based on a DC hero, and if so, whom it may be about!
4.5 out of 5 stars based on my experience so far.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I'm Not Going to Bother With Seeing "Fantastic Four" in Theaters

Bad Feelings Turned Into Bad Results
I had this hesitant feeling about the new "Fantastic Four" movie. There was a decent cast, with Michael B. Jordan being a fantastic actor whom I felt excited to hear was Johnny Storm--regardless of all the people protesting his color. the Director, Josh Trank, had made a cool super-esque type film in form of the beloved "Chronicle." There even was an interesting-looking trailer that gave me inklings of hope, which is of course the most dangerous of all emotions. I say it's the most dangerous, because it is so easy to dash a person's hope and have them become angry, disillusioned, cynical, etc.

Based on what I'm hearing in terms of reviews of the movie (in writing or via word-of-mouth) there seems to be a lot of people who found their hope was for naught, and despite dreams to the contrary of their finally being a good "Fantastic Four" movie, reality came crashing down and left us mess of a film that showed me my hesitance was right all along.
That's cold, Ty Templeton, that's cold.
I haven't seen, "Fantastic Four" so for all I know it might be great in my own opinion, and when it comes out on DVD I may very well rent it. It is just that my own doubts mixed with a lot of what I've read (a hilarious summary of the film can be found here) gives me the perception that I would feel about this movie the same way I did the past two I saw and found myself wholly unimpressed by--or possibly even dislike this even more.

Don't get me wrong, I hear there are moments of enjoyment sprinkled within the movie, just as I would expect there to be considering there are usually parts of any movie I like--for example, I even found some bits in the aforementioned earlier "Fantastic Four" movies cool. That said, when people are proclaiming that the Roger Corman version from the 1990's was better, that's pretty harsh.

So...Who Do We Blame For This?
There has been a lot of finger-pointing about who/whom is to blame for the final product, with Director Josh Trank posting and then deleting a tweet hinting at studio interference, rumors Fox had been smearing Trank with fake "leaks" of derogatory information about him, and Marvel's staff meanwhile are standing on the sidelines rubbing their hands with demented glee at the grim monstrosity this box-office bomb has become--and wondering if maybe they'll snatch those film rights away from Fox (if you don't know how all this film rights stuff works, here is a good summary).

Oh, and I doubt Ike Pearlmutter's personal campaign of destruction against the characters to spite Fox had too much of an impact on the movie's box-office or it otherwise being supposedly terrible, but I still bet he had a good laugh after the abominable debut-weekend of the flick.
"We were cancelled to spite Fox for this piece of junk?
I'm not sure who we blame, but this makes it apparent that just because you make a movie based on a comic or super-heroes that does not guarantee box-office success. I hope this doesn't spur those annoying, "Are Super-Hero Movies in Trouble?"-style of articles, because those always seem to be put out when a single movie has trouble. This doesn't show that super-hero films are some kind of fad or doomed, it just illustrates that if you're going to make a super-hero flick you better make a good one or people will simply ignore it. The biggest downfall of this movie simply is that it apparently is not very good, and while there are plenty of great movies that fail and bad movies that succeed, when you make a movie that is just somber, miserable, and wholly unimpressive, folk often ain't gonna pony-up the cash to see it.

Therefore, I don't know who we blame. I suppose the deep and thoughtful-sounding answer would be that we blame ourselves, the fans. Why us fans? Perhaps for expecting too much or some B.S. like that, but I honestly don't think it is expecting too much at all just to want a decent movie about the "Fantastic Four." I say we blame Capitalism, or Socialism. Some kind of, "-ism," has to be ready to take the wrap. Then again, it could just be that the argument is true that at the end of the day, the Fantastic Four themselves frankly aren't that likable or interesting.

Hard to Like
Galactus is easier to empathize with than the Fantastic Four,
and he devours entire planets.
There are some amazing characters that the Fantastic Four have interacted with. There have been some great stories involving the Fantastic Four. The Fantastic Four aren't really that cool themselves however. I've never been a big fan of the character's themselves, finding only maybe the Thing to be at all bearable as he truly is in a tough spot being stuck in the form of a chunk of rocks. The rest of the team are just kind of jerks, and as this article discusses, it has been that way from the start.

I personally was never that invested in the Fantastic Four as a team when I would read about them. I just often found they encountered a lot of problems and handled them pretty well, before going back to live in their fancy tower. The Avenger's might have a big tower, but they seem to genuinely want to help people. The Fantastic Four just kind of give off an image of thinking they are better than everyone else--again, with the exception of Ben Grimm/The Thing.
One of the people in this picture is easy to hate, but also fun to read about.
You can have super-person who is unlikable and still make them fascinating--just look at how much I loved Rob William's run on the saga of Daken/"Dark Wolverine". Making them hard to like and dull, however? Yeah, you've sunk your ship of possible profits.

You could argue there are plenty of people who love the Fantastic Four and I would not dismiss your claim. I just personally am not a big fan of them, and hearing that a movie about the group was going to occur yet again, elicited a shrug, my earlier-mentioned hesitant feelings, and now I just shake my head and mutter, "This isn't surprising."
Weird to think these were the good films now.
Someday we may get a good movie about the Fantastic Four, but for now we just have yet another, "Fantastic Four," that apparently fails to excite. Should I see it sometime and be pleasantly surprised that I actually like it I will let all of you know, but for now I'll pass.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Film Friday: Comparing "Ant-Man" and "Magic Mike: XXL" Just For the Fun of It

A Man of Ants and a Mike of Magic
Please note that both movies are spoiled in-depth.
During this week I was able to get to the movie theater twice, once to finally see "Ant-Man" and then two days later to view, "Magic Mike: XXL". I really enjoyed and found some issues with both, for a variety of  surprisingly similar reasons (and I was surprised I liked "Magic Mike: XXL" as much as I did considering Steven Soderbergh was not as involved in this one as the last, which he directed).

Similarities in Both Movies
One Reason: Both had amazingly choreographed scenes--be it Scott Lang's fight with  Anthony Mackie as the Falcon in a surprise cameo (well, surprise if you haven't seen the T.V. ads that ruined it) or all the guys insanely creative strip-routines.

Another Reason: There was an immense amount of humor in both films, and both had a major overall goal, with it being a heist in "Ant-Man" and winning the Stripper Convention in "Magic Mike: XXL".
A Less-Positive Reason: Both movies also unfortunately had female characters that didn't get too big of a role, be it Hope in "Ant-Man" stuck to the side assisting Scott and her father Hank up till the reveal of a new Wasp outfit during the credits, or Amber Heard's Zoe character existing on the periphery of the film to give Mike someone to vaguely flirt with, but appear to decide is better as a friend (which it actually is kind of clever to have the idea that not every women Mike meets he has sexual chemistry with). There is one exception in "Magic Mike" in regards to a character named "Rome" I will discuss at the end of this post that helps counter this issue though.

Another Disappointing Reason: Both movies really do just sort of end, with "Ant-Man" clearly ending with a big cliff-hanger (especially so with that post-credits scene featuring Cap, Falcon, and Bucky) to get people even more excited for, "Captain America: Civil War" and Magic Mike reaching the point it has run two hours, the guys win the show, and the credits just suddenly roll as they watch fireworks on the beach triumphantly--because, honestly, what else is the movie going to show now that they won? Mike going back to working on furniture?

Elaborating on The Reasons
I just gave four examples, and I imagine I could come-up with more, but you get the idea. I think I'll elaborate a bit on them, though. For example, the choreography in both flicks is truly a mind-blowing thing to witness, with the mixture of real-fighting and special-effects giving "Ant-Man" a high intensity whenever Scott jumps between shrinking and being normal-sized while punching and kicking or when we see the guys in "Magic Mike: XXL" being just amazing with their dancing, from Channing Tatum in his workshop, Joe Manganiello at the gas station, or the sheer insanity of the closing scenes with their candy shop, honeymoon, and the surreal mirror-strippers bit. Plus, the immense humor and how it compliments the action is just delightful.

Watching Manganeillo do his wild dance in a gas station before asking how much the cheetos and water he used are, or seeing Scott Lang joke about how he's sorry for beating-up the Falcon because he's a big fan both are just two examples of great jokes that compliment the going-ons of each movie. The mixture of solid writing and great delivery by Paul Rudd in "Ant-Man" and all the guys in "Magic Mike XXL" creates two films that are both just hilarious. As "Magic Mike: XXL" is more of a comedy it has less drama (especially compared to the first one which could honestly get a bit dour), but "Ant-Man" knows when it needs to stop joking and put on a serious face for at least a few minutes. Still, as you see, all of this talk about action and humor is about men.
Seriously, these movies are pretty testosterone-driven, with one key character keeping "Magic Mike: XXL" from feeling too much like its all about the guys. It makes sense that with "Magic Mike: XXL" you're going to focus on men, and those men getting very lightly clothed, but the original "Magic Mike"--which I quite liked--does give the women characters some attention, as opposed to this one which other than a one big character is all about the boys, with women serving less as characters so much as the entities the fellows oil-up and grind on--not that any of the women in the theater I was in would complain if it happened to them (one yelled out, "I'd like to!" when a female in the movie asks to take off the shirt of Joe Manganiello's character).

As for "Ant-Man," you've got Hank Pym's daughter, Hope, acting like she hates Scott the entire movie before they fall in love...for some reason, and Judy Greer making an appearance as his ex-wife, but both are mostly minor characters. Scott's daughter really serves the biggest female role in the flick, although in the end she's more of a macguffin to make Scott and Darren Cross AKA Yellowjacket have a big fight around a Thomas the Tank Engine train set. Don't get me wrong, however, that fight was awesome.
Also, my annoyance about the sudden credit-rolling of both movies isn't too bad, as that's par-for-the-course with Marvel flicks to leave you wanting more, but it just really felt like "Ant-Man" really left a lot of stuff up in the air, as opposed to some of the other Marvel films that feel more complete. Plus, with "Magic Mike: XXL" once they win the Stripper Convention that's kind of that, but I still would have liked a little more closure--even something like out of "Animal House" where it shows their picture and goes on to describe what their character's went on to do--"Tarzan finally was able to meet the woman of his dreams and have a family, just as he said he wanted during one of the few sad scenes in the film," or something like that.

Overall? Really Fun Stuff!
There are parts I really liked about both movies, and some annoying concerns about them too. I think I can say that in my opinion that the sequel to the original "Magic Mike" really is bigger and better, much like the "XXL" in its name would imply, and "Ant-Man" was solid fun (better than the "Thor" films), but not as incredible as some of my favorite Marvel features ("Winter Soldier" is just a masterpiece).

With that in mind I give "Ant-Man" a stellar 4.5 out of 5 stars for stumbling a bit with its obnoxious feeling of not delivering a completely satisfying ending, and "Magic Mike: XXL" my highest rating of 5 out of 5 stars as even if it has some concerns, the sheer enjoyment-level I and other's got or will get from the film overrides most of my worries. Plus, the biggest complaint I had about women not having a big role in the movie is of little concern to most female viewers who are more interested in Channing Tatum's abs than anything else. Plus, my last interesting side-note about "Magic Mike: XXL" gives it an extra edge in being so neat...

A Closing Interesting Side-Note About "Magic Mike: XXL"
Basically, this film is really diverse and inclusive, which I quite liked. The guys go to a gay-friendly bar hosted by a Drag Queen early in the movie on their road trip and don't express any discomfort or crack any jokes at the expense of the LGBT population. They just simply are some straight guys who feel perfectly comfortable hanging-out with LGBT individuals too. Also, later in the movie when the fellows need a new car, Mike takes them to a large establishment owned by "Rome", who is played superbly Jada Pinkett-Smith. The mansion of a building they go to is a massive strip-club that has a clientele who are mostly women of color, and a "staff" of male dancers who are black men too.

Again, this is never used to set up some kind of joke at the expense of any minority, it just is apparent that Rome has found an audience and tailored her employees to appeal to that audience, with her making mention she has had some Caucasian men in her employ too, with Mike apparently having been known as, "White Chocolate" when he worked for her years ago. It results in a movie that actually passes multiple tests in regards to to the portrayal of race and gender discussion.
By giving us the character "Rome" in the form of Jada Pinkett-Smith viewers see a strong female, who Mike actually has to go to for help, and who does not just automatically help him, but demands he prove he is worth her investment of time and resources before she saves his team from being disqualified from the Stripper Convention by serving as their MC. 

Rome is a strong, self-assured, and business-savvy individual who really gives "Magic Mike: XXL" that extra, "Oomph," to the story and characters by showing us that to truly succeed and win, both men and women need to work together as equals--even if it is working together to win something as silly as the Stripping Convention.