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posted on
02/21/12 17:19:31
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02/21/12 17:20:03

I used to write reviews of things I'd read/watched/played/eaten for my friends and family every week. I just started again, and thought I might post them up here too. Feel free to comment. I'd love to get some discussion/debate/fan boy gushing going on. If there's interest, maybe I'll post the "archives" at some point.

The Secret World of Arrietty: Borrowers are a race of tiny humans who survive by "borrowing" items from the regular humans whose homes they inhabit. The first rule of borrowers is never let the beans (that's what they call us) see you. Arrietty is a spirited young borrower just coming of age to accompany her father on his expeditions when she's spotted by Sean, a young boy with a heart condition that's been sent to his family's country home to rest. Their uncertain friendship will turn both lives upside down. Most of you have probably heard me gush about Studio Ghibli (Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, etc.) at some point, and this entry stands among Ghibli's finest even without Miyazaki at the helm. Visually, the film is beautiful, as if its characters were inhabiting a living painting. While other Ghibli films feature fantastical settings, Arrietty turns the world around us into something fantastical. Whether it's a veritable jungle of wild flowers, the "secret passages" in the walls, or a cavernous kitchen, Arrietty brings a fresh and fun take to the things we take for granted. Like other films of its pedigree, Arrietty is slower paced than modern movie-goers might be used to, but if that doesn't turn you away (and it shouldn't!), I emphatically recommend seeing this film.

Claymore: In the world of Claymore, monsters called yoma threaten the populace. Half woman, half yoma, hybrid warriors called claymores are humanity's only defense. Yet they are feared and loathed by the very people they protect, and not without reason. Claymores must always be vigilant, for if they call upon too much of their yoma power, they may irrevocably become monsters themselves. The series tells the tale Clare, one such warrior. This is the second time I've watched this series all the way through, and it's easily one of my favorite in the past few years. The action is solid while mostly avoiding the vices of the medium (e.g. warriors philosophizing at each other instead of fighting). The characters are compelling and often tragic. There is a fair amount of graphic violence, which may be a turn off to some. Overall, I highly recommend Claymore to fellow anime fans.

-Toccata


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posted on
02/23/12 17:32:28

Safe House: Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a CIA grunt running a safe house in South Africa (i.e. sitting in an empty room by himself), and dreaming of a more important assignment. Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is a legendary CIA operative who went rogue and disappeared off the grid years ago. When Frost ends up in Matt's safe house for interrogation, an unknown group of armed killers isn't far behind. Now Matt must stay alive, keep Frost in custody and figure out who's trying to kill them both. Safe House is basically a series of chase sequences broken up by talking heads in Washington, and little bursts of character development. The chase sequences aren't anything you haven't seen before, but they're slick and well executed for the most part. My major beef with the film was that I kept expecting Frost to show us the legendary bad ass he's hyped up to be, and it never really happens. If you're in the mood for an action flick, you could do worse than Safe House.

Guin Saga: Princess Rhinda and Prince Remos, the twin pearls of Paros, narrowly escape the sacking of Crystal (the capital of Paros) by an invading Mongaul army. Something goes wrong, however, and they end up alone in a hostile land, hunted by the enemy. It is there that they meet Guin, a strange warrior with the head of a leopard and no memory of his past, who vows to protect them. Thus begins Guin Saga, a series that I couldn't help but enjoy despite its flaws. For example, the first episode is awful. After watching it, I nearly called up Jason, who recommended the series, to tell him how bad his taste was. =P It gets better. On a side note, a disturbing trend I notice coming out of Japan (both in anime and games) is a tendency to cut right to the melodrama. Someone needs to tell them that melodrama is only effective once you've invested in the characters. If Romeo and Juliet killed themselves in the first scene of the play, would anyone care? Of course not. Anyway, where Guin Saga succeeds is in the broad strokes. It really feels like the characters are caught up in an epic conflict. And even when that conflict is resolved at the end of the first season, it feels like only the beginning of something truly momentous (here's hoping for a season 2!). It didn't hurt that the series has a really majestic opening theme, and a very serene closing theme, easily some of my favorites in recent memory and a far sight better than the nonsensical J-pop anime fans are often subjected to. You're going to have to put up with a fair amount of cheese along the way, but in the final reckoning Guin Saga is well worth it to anyone looking for a truly epic fantasy anime.

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85 Night Elf Druid
posted on
02/27/12 15:43:24

Priest: In the world of Priest, mankind and vampires have always been at war. On the brink of extinction, the church turned the tide in man's favor by gathering survivors in fortified cities and unleashing the Priests, warrior monks empowered by the church. The vampires were wiped out, or so the church led people to believe, and the now obsolete Priests were stripped of their powers and relegated to menial labor. As the film proper begins, one such former Priest's (Paul Bettany) niece is kidnapped by a resurgent vampire population, and he must defy the church and leave the city to rescue her. Priest falls on its face right out of the gate. Its early scenes are devoted to selling the dystopian future they've created where a desperate populace are crushed under the cruel heel of the church, but they're just not up to the task. When the Priest goes to the church to ask permission to find his niece, he's turned away not because the clergy are blinded by their faith, pursuing some hidden agenda or even just being dogmatic. As far as I can tell, he's denied only to establish the church as a foil. It's just poor story telling, and when combined with boring characters, a formulaic plot and action that never rises above mediocre, Priest is a movie best avoided.

Hanna: Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a teenage girl genetically engineered to be a bad ass. All her life she's spent training in the wilderness with her father, so that she might have a chance against those who created her and would now see her destroyed. Many of the reviews I read of Hanna sold it as The Bourne Identity with a teenaged girl, and that's not an unreasonable way to think about it. Hanna herself is an excellent character. She's a total bad ass who's a complete alien in the modern world, and the film is at its best any time she's on screen. Where the movies fails is in not ever giving us enough of the back story to understand the characters or the stakes. For instance, we know that Cate Blanchette's character is highly competent and ruthless, but we never find out why she's so desperate to find Hanna. In the end, Hanna is a pretty solid action flick, but I can't help feel like it could... like it SHOULD have been more.

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posted on
02/28/12 17:45:20

The Dresden Files: Harry Dresden is a Wizard. It says so on his front door. A more apt description might be paranormal investigator. The Dresden Files feels, and plays out very much like a classic detective story, but as a wizard, Harry employs magical means (scrying, speaking to the dead, etc.) to solve supernatural cases (vampires, demons, etc.). It's slightly brilliant in concept, and having watched the series, I am now very curious about the original novels by Jim Butcher. The only hiccup is that the actor who plays Harry can't quite carry it off. He's not terrible or anything; I enjoyed the series, but I always had the sense that he wasn't quite doing the character justice. It's unfortunate that the series only ran for 12 episodes because it definitely had potential. If you're a fan of old school detective stories, or the supernatural, the Dresden Files is worth a look.

Mass Effect 2 downloadable content: With Mass Effect 3 coming out next week, I wanted to hit up all the DLC that had been released for the second game.

Kasumi Stolen Memories: This DLC provides another dossier mission and playable character, the master thief Kasumi. This DLC was short, but sweet. If you played through Zaeed's missions that came with new copies of Mass Effect 2, you'll have a good idea of how MUCH content to expect (i.e. one story mission, and a roomfull of trinkets to talk to Kasumi about). That said, Kasumi is a much cooler character, and her mission, while brief, is of excellent quality. Overall, I'd probably recommend this one.

Firewalker: The principal attraction of this DLC is the introduction of the Hammerhead tank, Once you've acquired the tank, there are 5-ish new missions supporting it, all offering the same brand of light platforming. I never thought I would be nostalgic for the original Mass Effect's Mako, but I was after playing this. The platforming feels a little loose, but isn't terrible. The Hammerhead can jump high, and almost glide. The combat though, is awful and ultimately frustrating. You can't do anything but drive, jump and shoot straight ahead, so any prolonged combat involves you rushing out of cover, firing off a few shots, and then retreating back until the alarm stops sounding (the hammerhead doesn't have a health gauge), rinse and repeat. There is a bare minimum of story to get you from point to point, but that's it. It's hard to argue with the price (this one is free), but honestly if I had to do it again, I'd skip this one.

Overlord: The Hammerhead tank is back! >_< Fortunately it's mostly used to ferry you around between sites Mako style, but the few combat encounters are just as frustrating as they were in Firewalker. This DLC tells the story of a Cerberus experiment gone wrong (totally unprecedented, I know!), and Hammerhead aside it's reasonably well done. It kind of feels like a mission that didn't quite make the cut for the main game. If you're hungry for every bit of Mass Effect you can get your greedy little hands on, this DLC satisfies. If you'd rather save the $7, you're not missing anything spectacular.

In the Lair of the Shadow Broker: This DLC reunites you with Liara Tsoni, as you both pursue her obsession with the shadow broker. Wow, just wow. This DLC blew me away. It was easily the equal of the main story missions, and probably better than some. The story was great, Liara is a great character (even more so than in the first game), and the action amazing. The final show down with the shadow broker has got to be one of the coolest fights in the game. If you've already finished the main game, Shadow Broker offers some perks including the long overdue ability to respec your companions. If you like Mass Effect, do NOT miss this one.

Arrival: The Reapers are coming! Sheppard knows it, but now the alliance has proof, or they will once you bust their agent out of a Batarian prison. This DLC was intended to fill the story gap between the second and third games, and it does a reasonable job of that. The baffling decision to make you play the entire thing solo perplexes me though, and ultimately I felt like it the experience a lot. The lengthy action sequences just seem to drag on without your companions to help speed things along. There are also some really cheap enemies (Pyros), which pretty much keep you stun locked from full to dead if you let them get anywhere near you, that continually frustrated me without the control a biotic companion would have afforded. Without spoiling too much, I was also a little disappointed that there is no "happy ending" to this DLC. If you're a fan of the Mass Effect story, I think you pretty much have to play this one (or at least get someone to tell you what happened =P), but gameplay wise, it wasn't my favorite

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Iliana
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85 Draenei Paladin
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61 Gnome Rogue
41 Dwarf Warrior
85 Worgen Druid
posted on
02/28/12 18:22:06

Well technically, uhm Zaeed was also DLC, free like Firewalker but still had to download it on PC hehe. Arrival was more hype than what it delivered, although it gives a good insight of what to expect on ME3 and adds another variable that probably will change in the game.

Shadow Broker yeah it was a nice DLC, specially if you had developed a relationship with Liara.

The unexamined life is not worth living, man.


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posted on
03/02/12 15:47:52

Real Steel: In the near future, anthropomorphic robots have replaced real humans in the boxing ring. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a washed up robot boxer who used to be a washed up real boxer. When an ex-girlfriend dies leaving him with an 11 year-old son, he doesn't relish the prospect initially. For his part, Max isn't too thrilled to meet his real father either, but as Max is a huge robot boxing fan, the two may have more in common than they think. Maybe enough to make a winning team. The film succeeds too well early on in making Charlie seem like a waste of a human being. As a result, he's just not a very likable character, and his inevitable reformation later feels that much less believable. In general, the father son bonding is as sappy as it sounds, but to the film's credit, it's restrained enough not to break you out of the action. And the action is where Real Steel shines. Robot boxing is as cool as it sounds. All the competitors have a unique look, and the fights themselves are absolutely brutal. Overall, I found it pretty enjoyable. Come for robots beating the crap out of each other, and the sappy stuff won't make you squirm too much.

Troll Hunter: Three film students are following a man they believe to be a poacher for a school project, but after following him into the woods one night, they discover just how wrong they are. Hans is the Norwegian government's one and only troll hunter, and it's not a pretty job. A couple things to note about Troll Hunter: it's a Norwegian film, so it's all subtitled. It's also a "found footage" type of film, a la The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield, where it's all recorded by one of the characters holding a camera. But don't let those thing discourage you. I loved this movie. Perhaps the most brilliant thing about it is the eponymous character, Hans. The students see him as some kind of super hero, but he genuinely sees himself as an ordinary working Joe with an extraordinarily crappy job, even as he's battling four story monsters with three heads. Like a good episode of the X-Files, the film gives you just enough science, folklore and conspiracy theory to make it all seem plausible. If the premise of Troll Hunter intrigues you at all, I really can't recommend it enough. I've never seen anything quite like it.

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03/08/12 16:38:54

Chronicle: Three teenage boys discover a mass of living crystal in a sort of sink hole and subsequently begin to develop telekinetic powers. As Spider-Man's uncle Ben said though, with great power comes great responsibility, and as their powers grow we begin to question, were these boys ready? Chronicle is yet another of the first person perspective type films where one of its main characters is actually carrying the camera, though it is significantly elevated from other films of its ilk (sometimes literally =P) when, about mid-way through, one of the characters begins to control the camera telekinetically. Probably the key selling point of the film for me was the organic way in which the three leads grow into their power. They start out goofing around, pulling pranks and trying to impress girls as you might expect of teenage boys. Events take a darker turn towards the end (you'll see it coming a mile away anyway =P), and the finale plays out spectacularly. If the premise intrigues you, I can't think of any reason you shouldn't see Chronicle.

Contagion: When Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from a trip overseas with flu-like symptoms, noone suspects that she is at the very epicenter of a world-wide pandemic. Or that she'll be dead 24 hours later. Even as the CDC, led by Ellis Cheever (Lawrence Fishburne), races to find a cure, millions of people are dying and social order begins to break down. Contagion flips between the view points of half-a-dozen different characters all playing different roles in the overarching saga - doctor, bureaucrat, victim, survivor - and by doing so manages to be both epic in scale, and intimate in terms of human drama. I think what I found so compelling about Contagion is that it provides the same sort of "end of days" scenario you might expect from a zombie movie or something post apocalyptic, but in a much more real and immediate context. If that's the sort of thing that interests you as well, Contagion is definitely worth a look. One caveat though, if you're a germophobe, do yourself a favor and steer clear.

Jyu-Oh-Sei: Thor and Rie are the twin sons of renowned scientists in the human colonies of the Balkan star system. Returning home one day to find their parents murdered, the pair is kidnapped and soon find themselves on the secret prison world, Chimera, where carnivorous plants are at the top of the food chain, and humanity has devolved into a savage, tribal society. Fighting just to survive, can Thor unravel the mystery of this strange, hostile planet and discover why his parents were murdered? I wracked my brain to come up with specific things I liked or disliked about this series, but could only come up with a couple nit-picks. There was some time-line inconsistencies early on that left me scratching my head, but they were mostly inconsequential to the plot. Slightly more damning, when the grand conspiracy was revealed at the end, it didn't make any sense to me. I'm sort of immune to bizzaro anime logic at this point though. =P Overall, I enjoyed Jyo-Oh-Sei quite a bit, though at a mere 11 episodes, it was over all too soon.

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posted on
03/16/12 09:39:28

John Carter: Jaded Civil War veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) goes looking for a legendary cave full of gold, but after a run in with the cave's mysterious inhabitant he finds himself unexpectedly transported to Mars! In Mars' lighter gravity, Carter effectively has super strength and is able to jump great distances; facts which soon land him in the center of a conflict to decide the fate of Mars! After reading a lot of luke-warm reviews, I wasn't expecting much out of John Carter, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover a solidly constructed sci-fi epic. While its true that there isn't much here you haven't seen before (except space dog! space dog is awesome!), given that John Carter's century old source material pre-dates most of sci-fi's genre defining works, one might suspect them of ripping off John Carter rather than the other way around. Genre fans, or anyone looking for a decent action flick should check it out.

Highschool of the Dead: When Komuro witnesses a teacher get attacked by a zombie, he immediately pulls his would-be girlfriend and best friend out of class. The outbreak spreads like wildfire and they soon find themselves fighting for their lives. To survive and escape Fujima High, they'll have to band together with other survivors. And that's just the beginning! If you think Love Hina with zombies, you've got a pretty good idea of what to expect from Highschool of the Dead. The series is only 12 episodes long, and for roughly the first half, it's about what you would hope for from an anime/zombie movie mash up - quality anime action amongst the zombie apocalypse. My principal complaint is that the fan service (gratuitous, compromising shots of female cast members for those of you not already familiar with the parlance) spirals totally out of control about mid-way through and never really abates, ruining the second half of the series. Especially irritating to me is that strong female cast members constantly wind up in compromised situations where they need to be saved by the everyman protagonist. My tolerance for fan service has increased with its growing presence in the medium, but when the story and characters are taking a back seat to the titillation, that's just unacceptable. If you're an adolescent teenaged boy, by all means check out Highschool of the Dead. For the rest of you, I can't really recommend it.

In Time: In the future, time is money. Literally! People buy and sell goods with the hours, minutes and seconds of their lives. The rich can live forever and poor hope they'll have enough to make it through the next day. When an ancient business man decides it's his time to go, he leaves Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) his "fortune," starting a chain of events that will turn the entire system on its head! In Time is basically Robin Hood meets Bonnie and Clyde with a sci-fi twist. It's a fun conceit, but ultimately the whole ham-fisted metaphor for social inequity doesn't really work. Someone living paycheck to paycheck doesn't literally die if they get a flat tire, or their alarm doesn't go off. Cillian Murphy's character, the time keeper, was also a sticking point for me. He's playing the Sheriff of Nottingham's role, but while Robin Hood's nemesis was just evil, the timekeeper seems admirable in a lot of ways, so its mostly just confusing that he behaves as he does. In time has pretensions of being more than it is, but if you can get past that, it's a pretty fun action flick.

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posted on
03/23/12 17:00:44
updated by
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03/23/12 17:02:46

Game of Thrones: If you haven't already seen it, stop reading and go watch it! Seriously. When John Arryn, Hand of the King, dies under mysterious circumstances, King Robert Baratheon travels north to ask Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Robert's closest friend to take his place. Thus is the Stark family, a rugged but honorable house, drawn into the court intrigues of the capital, King's Landing. Fans of George R. R. Martin's original books will find the series to be a faithful translation. And while Martin's narrative style of cutting between characters is somewhat irritating on the page, it works perfectly on the screen. For those new to the material, you're in for a treat; Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series is easily one of the greatest fantasy epics in modern memory. Somewhat gratuitous amounts of sex and violence are the the only things holding back my unqualified recommendation, but if you've seen other HBO series, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. See it. It's worth your time.

Afro Samurai Resurrection: After winning the number one headband and avenging his father in the original series, Afro has given up his violent ways, so he is unprepared when Jinno (teddy-bear guy) and beautiful, but insane newcomer Sio storm his place, steal the headband and dig up the remains of his father. Their plan: to resurrect Afro's father and torture him. Or some stupid bullshit. What was so impressive about the original Afro Samurai was that they made Afro, a stoic bad ass who barely says a word, feel like a real person forced to walk a tragic and violent path. None of that carries through in Resurrection. Another outstanding feature of the original series was the crazy, hyper-violent action. Resurrection has one sequence that's easily the equal of anything from the original series, but the rest of the action is very uninspired and the "climatic" battle more than rest. If you love Afro Samurai, watch the original series again. Skip this one.

Weird Science: High school nerds Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) aren't very popular with the ladies, so they decide to create one! Their creation, Lisa (Kelly LeBrock), is every man's dream and it's her mission to improve her young creators' social standing. After hearing some cheesy eighties music at the gym one day, I was in the mood for a cheesy eighties movie. Weird Science, a John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, etc.) film I'd never seen, seemed like a prime candidate. What a let down. I had two principal complaints with the film. First, the "science" was more like magic. For example, Lisa's creation process consisted mostly of scanning pornography into a computer and hooking up a Barbie doll with alligator clips. It was a strain on my suspension of disbelief to put it mildly. Second, and probably the more serious complaint, Gary and Wyatt didn't really learn or achieve anything that wasn't just magically handed to them by Lisa. Given the masterfully crafted character arcs in Hughes' other works, I was expecting more. Pass on this one.

Mass Effect 3: After years of unheeded warnings, a god-like machine race known as the Reapers has arrived to wipe out organic life in the galaxy. Earth's defenses are overwhelmed in moments, and now it's up to Commander Shepard to unite all the disparate races and peoples of the galaxy for one final, desperate push to drive the Reapers back.

Mechanically, Mass Effect 3 is the best of the series. After three games, the action feels nearly as smooth as Gears of War (the engine Mass Effect games are built on). There is a much greater diversity of enemies this time around, requiring a degree of strategy beyond that of the previous games. Mass Effect 3 also strikes the most satisfying balance between RPG and shooter I've played in any game to date. Weapon customization is back in a big way, minus the clunky inventory management that was so irritating in the first game, and replacing the strictly linear progression of the second game. Weapon types are no longer restricted by class. Instead, there's a new encumbrance system that slows or speeds your power recharge time depending on how much weight you're carrying. You can roll into combat with a full arsenal of weapons for any situation, or pick 1-2 favorites and go in firing off tech/biotic powers with wild abandon. "Skill trees" work similarly to Mass Effect 2, but there are even more options this time around. Some of the the powers from the original Mass Effect have returned (I was very happy to see the return of Sabotage), some powers have been combined with others, and there are all new powers. Remember how when you fully upgraded a power in Mass Effect 2, you got a choice of how you wanted to evolve that power? Mass Effect 3 expands that idea with three choices to make per power. Common choices include straight up damage, AoE splash damage, and powerful combo effects.

The story is great right up until its final moments. You'll be tackling some of the biggest issues, and longest standing grudges in the Mass Effect universe. Additionally, the way that even small choices you made in the first two games are acknowledged and revisited in Mass Effect 3 makes you really feel like an integral part of the universe. The ending is the big sticking point for Mass Effect 3. If you follow gaming news at all, you're probably already aware of the controversy. There are several issues. ***spoiler warning!*** You're forced to make a choice in the final moments of the game that is very possibly contrary to every action you've taken over three games. Worse, there is functionally no denouement, so you won't get to see the consequences of your choice. What little resolution is on offer is confusing and full of serious plot holes. ***end spoilers*** Taken by itself, the first 99% of Mass Effect 3 meets and exceeds the series' ludicrously high standards. Unfortunately the ending significantly diminishes the overall experience, not only of Mass Effect 3, but of the series as whole, and that's a damn shame.

-Toccata


249
Iliana
Raider
characters
85 Draenei Paladin
80 Human Warlock
80 Night Elf Priest
61 Gnome Rogue
41 Dwarf Warrior
85 Worgen Druid
posted on
03/23/12 18:45:05

For Game of Thrones I think the violence is balanced to what the book shows, but yeah it has a lot of sexposition so to speak.

I don't mind much about the ending of ME3, but they're ammending some things with an April patch, so things might feel different then.

The unexamined life is not worth living, man.