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Monday, 23 September 2013

Oblivion by Joseph Kosinkski

Yeah, I was pretty surprised when I found that out. After the way he butchered my favourite television franchise, I kind of lost a lot of respect for him as a director. And this is coming from someone who really enjoyed Lady In The Water, if only because the characters were so memorable.

Oblivion is not a bad movie. It's not a good movie, but it isn't bad either. I have to side more with Rotten Tomatoes, who gives it a 53% with 215 reviews. Bafflingly, IMDb gives it a 7/10 with over 150 thousand votes.

 I want to say it was 'visually stunning', but it really wasn't. It felt flat, sterile, and without much character to it, and the same can be said for Tom Cruise in this film, who seems to be riding the crazy-train in this movie. At least he's enjoying himself. The acting is well done, which is unsurprising since it's a cast populated by Hollywood A-Listers, but the same can't be said for the story or characters, who are all bog-standard sci-fi tropes. Which can be the most I can say about this film. It's a bog-standard sci-fi action film. Pretty typical summer fare, designed to cash in at the box office.

The "big twist" in this film isn't actually all that jarring, and is well integrated into the plot, although it does leave a weird after-taste in your mouth at the film's conclusion.

Overall, I'd have to say that this film commits the worst crime of all: It bored me. Not that the pacing was bad, the pacing was fine. It was just that the film is so typical sci-fi fare, that it just fell flat. The best sci-fi should say something about the human condition, but the message this film sends is so dull and trite, and the characters so uninteresting and unengaging, that we don't connect with them enough for the ending to have any impact.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Boogiepop and Others by Ryu Kaneda

What was I thinking when I rented this from the library?

It looked fascinating, and it most certainly was, but it was borderline culturally impenetrable from a western standpoint.

For those who don't know, Boogiepop is a series of Japanese Light Novels (a genre very similar to our Young Adult Fantasy genre) about a girl who turns into a Shinigami, a Japanese Angel of Death, who is bafflingly named Boogiepop for no adequately explained reason, at least within the confines of the film.

Note that I will be approaching this film review with the film as a standalone object.

Boogiepop and Others is a fascinating film, with some very interesting cuts in it. These cuts come off as a very jarring, as the soundtrack doesn't even fade out. The film opens with a series of short vignettes that give us a brief introduction to the various storylines we see later in the film.

Each storyline builds on the last, giving us a different piece of the picture of the various high school students attending the school that the movie centres around. The central conflict is that there are girls going missing, one girl named Nagi is being blamed for them and accused of being Boogiepop, when in fact it's a completely different girl who is Boogiepop. It's all very confusing.

And that's perhaps the worst crime of this movie is that you spend half of it with no idea what's going on, and when you finally do find out and everything makes sense, it's just not super-rewarding. That said, the movie does a great job developing it's more realistic characters. Unfortunately, this just makes the fantastical characters seem more unreal, with the notable exception of The Manticore and her boyfriend. Those two were freaking fantastic for the short time they were in the film. I've never seen such a deranged and yet believable couple in my life.

All in all, if you're a fan of Japanese stuff you'll probably love this movie. Otherwise, probably not worth your time.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Fate Core Gaming Reveiw

Hey everyone! Today I'm going to do a quick review a new gaming system that was backed by Kickstarter, and is fast becoming one of my favourites: Fate Core!

Created by Evilhat and available for the amount of "Whatever you want to pay, even nothing" on their website, Fate Core was created to be a modular gaming system that can be quickly adapted to just about any setting imaginable.

Teachability: Fate Core is a quick system to understand, with their only being 3 major actions to take. However, it can take players familiar with more crunch-heavy RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons, or worse yet systems like Shadowrun, to understand the amount of narrative freedom given to players. The concept of Aspects can also be a little difficult for new players to understand, but most of this can be taught simply through playing. When it comes to getting a firm grasp of the rules, the game is very teachable and is easy for new players to pick up and play. The best advice I can give for teaching new players is to have the GM simply tell them "Tell me what your character would do, no matter how complicated, and I'll make the rules do it for you."

Character Creation: Character Creation in Fate Core can take as much or as little time as you want. It's easy to pick skills and figure out your character's stress tracks. The hardest part is coming up with the aspects, and unlike most games the players often help to determine the setting as well, meaning that character and setting creation often takes up the entire first session, although it probably doesn't have to, particularly if you're using one of the premade settings from the Fate Worlds books.

Game Creation: As I just mentioned, the players often have as much of a role in world building as the GM does as everything is generally done cooperatively. That said, it can be really easy to come up with a simple combat for the players on the fly, and since the game doesn't use miniatures or battlemats, there's very little prep time for a GM pre-game. At most, a GM might spend ten or fifteen minutes before each session just to catch up on where they left off and to review notes from previous games. This makes Fate Core and it's simplified companion Fate Accelerated Edition ideal for convention play and one-shot adventures, but even more ideal for ongoing living campaigns.

Playability: The game plays like a charm, and action can flow even with new players. The key to playing any of the Fate games is to remember the credo of "narrative comes first". The rules are designed to be flexible, which allows the players and the GM to tell their story together. The rules can be adapted to fit literally any situation, with actions being open-ended, and aspects being able to cover anything you can come up with a name for.

Non-Combat Resolution: Fate Core is excellent at making non-combat resolution fun and exciting. Non-combat resolution can include systems that are identical to combat in how they work, although narratively they're not combat at all. There's also the idea of challenges, where characters compete using skills and actions outside of attack and defence to try and beat their opponent (such as in a foot race, or when cops are chasing a perp). This means that even when your players are doing nothing more than an indepth investigation, the game remains tense and exciting.

Price Point: One of Fate's greatest features is that you can get the PDF for free. While the additional books might cost you a bit of money, the prices are incredibly reasonable. That said, shipping hard copies to Canada can be prohibitively expensive off the Evilhat website at the moment, so you might want to see if your FLGS has some shipped in already through a supplier first.

Other Impressions: Fate Core's modularity is one of the things that make it such a fun game to play. You want to do noir 1920s detectives fighting alien invaders from the planet Necron? Or would you rather be a group of plucky barbarians from the sand dunes of Azagar? Both are totally playable in the Fate Core universe. I would strongly recommend everyone go to Evilhats website and download the PDF for yourself. Read it, love it, and adore it. It's worth every moment.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Review of D&D 4th Edition

Hey everyone! This will be my first gaming review that I'll publish on this blog! As part of this review, I'll also explain what each of the categories for my gaming reviews will be, starting with the first category:

Teachability: Teachability is how easy a game is to teach to new players. 4th Edition D&D as a game has a very complex rules system that can be difficult for new players to grasp. However, once the basic concepts are more-or-less understood, the game can run rather smoothly, as there's lots of references on the character sheet and the power cards.

Character Creation: Character creation is usually the first and most important thing players do in a game. In D&D 4e, this is no different. It is difficult to seriously mess up a character and make a character who is completely ineffective, however Character Creation is an intimidating morass of rules, feats, and power selections and for this reason can take ages, especially if you don't use the Character Builder on the D&D Insider tools on the website. While choices are normally a good thing, there are simply too many choices at this point, so it would be wise for GMs to place some basic material restrictions for newer players, or just to roll up the characters for them entirely (as I did).

Game Creation: Game creation refers to the act of a GM writing up games, campaigns, and modules. D&D 4e, unlike most of it's predecessors, is actually very easy for encounter building, using a simple points-based system for generating encounters. Some pre-writing is required, but a GM could easily make up a game on the fly.

Playability: Playability is about how smooth the game runs. The game runs rather smoothly up until the characters reach the Paragon Tier, where the game can get a bit bogged down in the sheer number of action choices PCs need to make each round. This problem is only exacerbated when they reach the Epic Tier, where the problem becomes even worse due to the number of magic item powers and bonus powers each character gets.

Non-Combat Resolution: Non-combat Resolution refers to how non-combat situations are handled in game. In 4th Edition D&D, there is a basic skill system. For more complex situations, a skill-challenge might be used which is simply a series of skill checks. The skill-challenge system is very difficult to tell a story with, and can feel very artificial. It's a valiant effort to try and make non-combat encounters more interesting than simply "roll diplomacy" or "roll a search check", but it ultimately failed in it's execution.

Price Point: Pretty straight forward, Price Point is about how much it costs to get into the hobby, and how much value you get for your dollar. D&D 4th Edition is an expensive hobby. I will come out and say that right off the bat. However, if you start off by buying right into the essentials line, you can save yourself a bit of money as the soft-cover essentials pocket-sized books are considerably cheaper than the hard cover splat-books that are the 4e release line of books. If you don't buy any extras other than the stuff included in the Dungeon Master's Kit, you're looking at between 60-80 CAD$ to purchase the materials and start playing, excluding a set of dice which will cost between 10 and 15 CAD$ for a cheap set. I would strongly recommend buying at least a one month subscription to DDI, if only to benefit from the character creator programs and to get the extra material from the other books for free via the Compendium.

Other Impressions: Overall, D&D 4th Edition is a fun game. It's very different from previous editions, but you can still get impressions of the core mechanics of older versions of the game in the way some things are handled. D&D 4e's Essentials line is easily the best set of products released for 4th Edition, in my humbled opinion, as it breaths new life into the game and it, along with Psionics in Player's Handbook 3, is the first time that characters really started to feel unique in the way they're played.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Easy A, directed by Will Gluck

Easy A is a surprisingly good movie, and I would have to say is one of the most underrated comedies of 2010.

The cast is wonderfully amusing, and Amanda Bynes makes a wonderfully easy to hate villain, if a little bit under developed as a character.

The main character of Olive, played by Emma Stone, is easy to relate to and we really care about her as she goes through the struggle of at first embracing her sordid reputation, then becoming hurt by all the negative attention it gets her. She's a very funny and sarcastic character, but can also show real emotions and bring us on her journey with her.

I do wish we saw a little more of her love interest, Todd. He shows up a few times in the film, but the film never really lingers on him long enough to give us an idea of his and Olive's relationship, other than we know they once almost kissed in 8th grade. The same goes for Olive's best friend Bree, who does have an important role in the movie (she's the one who Olive first lies to) but aside from a few angry glances and cross words, we don't really see her personality other than being loud and boisterous.

In the end, though, this film is really about Olive, and she carries the film extremely well. If you're looking for something to watch on a friday night, you can't really go wrong with this movie.

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, plus series Overview

Alright, everyone.

I've finally done it.

This is Breaking Dawn.

With every one of these movies, I further questioned my decisions. This one was no different, but it did do a few things right.

For one, I loved the cast of side characters. I really wish we got to spend more time with them. Seriously, it's like the only uninteresting characters in these movies are Edward, Bella, and Jacob. And Carlisle a bit, he's kinda dull. But everyone else has things like internal conflicts and interesting back stories and, like... personalities. Seriously, half of the side characters could carry an entire show all on their own. What the heck are they doing as side characters?

Also, the action sequence was great. There was no over-use of shaky cam, so we were able to follow the action. Lots of cool kill shots and beat-em-up action.

But that also brings me to the two things that bothered me the most. Not just with the movies, but with the books as well.

And I can't NOT talk about them.

Magic. And Dreams.

There is a massive genre shift in the series at this point. I mean yes, we've had it established that vampires get super-powers, and that's fine. But these were almost all restricted to things like psychic powers. Like Dakota Fanning (I can't be bothered to look up her character name) can cause pain with a look, Alice can see the future based on decisions people have made, Bella can shield her mind. Awesome, that all makes sense. Even shock-touch lady I can get behind. I didn't see it the way this director did as lightning bolts shooting across her fingers. I always saw it more as a toned-down version of Dakota Fanning's power, but there's something to be said for Artistic License, at this director tried to make everything mesh tone-wise.

But then we're introduced to a character named, disgustingly to me, Benjamin. He can control the classical elements.


Seriously, WHAT? Am I watching Twilight or Avatar: The Last Airbender?Seriously? I mean, you couldn't give him the ability to use Telekinesis or something, it's specifically controlling the four elements? Really?

How could Stephanie Meyer write that and not think “This may be waxing a teensey bit fanficy.”

I just, can't even... I mean, seriously people? Seriously?

But that's not the only problem here.

The other big problem is Dreams. Specifically, “It was all a dream.”

Our big climactic battle, where Carlisle and Jasper and a bunch of wolves and other vampires die, is all a dream just so we can have one big happy ending.

Listen up. I don't want one big happy ending. Let there be consequences. Unless you don't think it's appropriate in a book directed at teenagers for characters to die. If J.K. Rowling taught us anything, killing characters is a terrible idea. I mean it doesn't help to build tension or give a conflict a sense of real risk at all. Gosh.

That said, these movies weren't that bad. I've seen Adam Sandler movies that were way worse than this and probably had twice the budget. That said, I've seen movies with probably a third of the budget of this that were much, much better.

Overall, this series of movies had a lot of potential, sadly most of that potential is limited to side characters, small genuine moments, and stories that never get explored. I think that's the Twilight franchise's greatest crime. Who cares about the mythology of Vampires and Werewolves that they spit all over? No vampire or werewolf movie doesn't change the mythology and the rules to fit their needs. No, the biggest crime of this series isn't that. It's that there was some real potential, and it gets squandered.

Would I watch this series again? Probably not, but I can at least understand why some people do like it as much as they do. I think it suffers the most from staying too true to the books. While I think the romance angle could have really worked for this series, they really needed to overhaul the love interests to make it work. Edward, Bella and Jacob's entire relationships are so contrived and end so stupidly neatly that it really bothers me. Further more, the shows could have really benefited from exploring some of the characters and side stories that are ignored both in the books and in these movies.

You're not missing much if you pass by The Twilight Saga, but it's interesting to see something that became quite the cultural phenomenon and brought vampires into the mainstream in a very big way.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Boy oh boy! Looks like I have another one of these done for you guys!

Let's take a look at the over-drawn, extra-long melodrama that is Eclipse!

First off, one things that has consistently surprised me about these movies is that they handle those little awkward moments quite well, and you can really start to see some of the very real talent that David Slade has as a director in these small moments. There was real potential for a very heart-felt coming of age story here, but it's kind of drowned by the unbelievable and confusing paranormal love triangle that serves as the movies focus.

Also, where the heck were all the human characters in this movie? I mean, it's nice that we're finally starting to learn some stuff about where the Cullens come from, but  the human friends that Bella had in the first movie have now come to serve as little more than back drops to the Vampire vs Werewolf melodrama.

Jackson Rathbone, the man who played Jasper Hale in this movie, is actually quite a good actor and I would have liked to see more of him.

Idea for a spin off: A movie that's all about Alice and Jasper, easily the two most interesting characters in this entire freaking franchise, and the two play off each other fairly well. Seriously, everyone else can go die in a hole, lets just make a movie about those two.

I'll digress for a moment and confess that with each passing film, it's becoming more and more difficult to say anything good about these movies. I think I'm suffering from a serious case of Twilight Overdose at this point. But, there's still two more movies to go so there's no way to back off now.

Since the last two movies are two parts of a two parter, I'm going to tackle them both in the same review.

Until next time, my followers!

See you in Breaking Dawn!

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Twilight Saga: New Moon Retrospective

Alright everyone! Here it goes!

Let's review NEW MOON.

As last time, I won't be doing a negative review of the movie. Yes, it is a bad movie, but I want to try and get people to take a look at this film in a new light.

I actually really liked the montage after Edward leaves, involving the time-lapse tracking shot and the e-mails to Alice. It was a good way of drawing us into the film, passing by a significant period of time without just saying “6 months later...” Also, I noticed that Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner have way better chemistry than Stewart and Pattinson. This is mostly on part of Taylor Lautner, who is a pretty decent actor and is good for his role as Jacob. I like Robert Pattinson as an actor, but he just didn't sell his part as Edward very well. I think this mostly comes from getting stuck with the cool icy “Blue” of their not-so-subtle Red vs Blue love triangle (come on, Jacob is even a red wolf, and Edward almost always wears blue or black... lame).

The Face Punch scene was appropriately awkward. This is of course the scene where Wolfboy and Token Human boy go to see a movie with Bella. I kinda want to see the Face Punch movie, though. Guess I'm stuck with Paranormal Love Triangle: The Movie for now.

As an interesting note (neither positive nor negative): There's some definite signs of Mormon influence, namely the scrap booking theme, and the idea that no good people go to hell (regardless of religious belief).

My biggest grief is that it looks like she lightly taps her head on the rock when she passes out, rather than a storm surge knocking her out, which I could have bought much easier. I think that was the intention, it just wasn't really well demonstrated. Which is a shame, because the cinematography and story telling is actually pretty good in this movie, despite what they had to work with.

Alice is great in this movie. She demonstrates why exactly she has some character depth, and the actress shows more than one emotion, and unlike most characters who can fit into the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” archetype, she isn't an unbelievable character.

Also, is just me or does Michael Welch look a bit like Wil Wheaton? Also, what the heck is a guy named Mike doing playing a guy named Mike? I remember Mike vaguely from the books, but it's almost like the casting director asked “Hey, is your name Mike? Yeah? Then you're cast.”

Ah well, it was a fun movie in the same way the last one was. There's some moments I chuckled at, others I snoozed through, but overall I might watch this again if I'm snowed in and I have literally nothing else to watch.

That said, if you want to really see something funny, go check out this reading from the spoof book Awoken by Serra Elinsen!