Archive for the Reviews Category

The Pros & Cons Of The Hobbit Trilogy

Posted in Best / Worst, Lists, Movies, Reviews, Tolkien with tags , on December 30, 2014 by slateman

307252id1L_TheHobbit_TBOTFA_Teaser_27x40_1Sheet.inddNow that The Hobbit is done, we can look back at the trilogy that is a miracle to even exist. I recall the promise of it coming out being squelched by lawsuits. Now that the trilogy has ended, there is plenty to mull over. The verdict has come and it isn’t pretty. Rotten Tomatoes lists the finale as the worst of the three movies. I’ve heard of at least two comparisons to Episode I – just about the worst analogy a multi-part film could receive. It’s not quite so bad, but some commentary is needed.

The most important part of an article such as this is to preface the entire lot by saying this trilogy was no LOTR. The book, the lighthearted feel, even the way it was filmed differed. Comparing a children’s tale to the “if we don’t destroy the ring, the entire world will cease to be” feel of LOTR would be utterly foolish. Having said this, by the conclusion of the series, I found this tone, the colors, the presentation to be a charming alternate to the darkness found in the first film trilogy.

Nothing is more exemplary than the barrel scene from the second movie. If you read the book, you’ll remember it was a consistent, silly tale of “Aww shucks, we’re in trouble again – Oh look at that! Bilbo saved the day!” Contrast that to, “OMFG darkness, Nazgûl, Sauron’s gonna kill everyone.” The movies’ entire atmosphere is representative of this.

Letting go of this comparison allows for a better appreciation, so just do it.

The Good

The Dwarves
The variation of the Dwarves in the book was limited to color and some simple personality traits. The film does a good job in at least visually differentiating each. Time is limited, clearly, so by the third movie, there were some whom I couldn’t name whatsoever (Bifur and Nori, for instance.) I feel Jackson did a splendid job at making a colorful cast work well in the constraints presented by film. I did quite appreciate the fact that Glóin looks like his son, Gimli.

Out-Of-Control Action
It’s safe to say that some scenes were almost ‘comic-book’y. Yes. Just in case you were forgetting already, This Isn’t LOTR. Read the book again to get a feel of how silly it all was.

Three Films
In the recent weeks, reviews have slammed Jackson and his expansive Hollywood rendition of the timeless 200-page book. Most state that two films (the original vision) would have sufficed. But let me say this…in the original book, Thorin, Fíli and Kíli were all killed in three sentences. The nephews were relegated to saying they died defending their uncle. A film translation cannot introduce main characters and kill them without some weight and gravity. And Thorin’s death would come how? By the hands of a normal Orc? By a stray arrow?

hobbit-azog

Enter Azog & Bolg
In the books, Azog was slain by Dáin after killing Thrór. In the extended version of The Desolation Of Smaug we’re given information about Thrór’s death by the hands of the orc-chieftain. While Azog’s involvement in The Hobbit trilogy was greatly expanded, it presented us with a very important nemesis.

I didn’t like the idea of Azog originally. Another CG character – but think about it…Tolkien created Azog and while his backstory isn’t fleshed out (much like countless other characters), his purpose in the book is legitimate. And Thorin has a genuine interest in him. Who is the main antagonist in the story otherwise? Peter Jackson took an underused enemy, beefed him up and gave the trilogy a veritable (though not the most innovative) main enemy. It had to be done and while it’s far from canon, it ties in well.

Oh, Bolg was Azog’s son. He fought in the final battle and was slain by Beorn. In the movie, Legolas took care of him, but that’s OK. I guess Legolas needed to have some purpose (more on that below).

Extended Editions
We still wait for the last film’s extended version but I look forward to Alfrid dying! I liked the first movie’s extra footage but the second’s was far more powerful. It included much more about Thrain and Thrór. The potency and overarching importance of the magic rings is played out. Beorn has his time in the sun and seeing him next to Gandalf next to Bilbo was a cool height comparison!

Seeing the the Witch-King of Angmar’s burial grounds, the added scenes in Mirkwood and even the naming of Bilbo’s sword Sting were all nice touches that added to the fidelity of the motion picture as well as effective tie-ins to the LOTR trilogy.

The Bad
I positively hate how Galadriel handles things in Dol Guldur in the last movie. However, in The Silmarillion, details are given about the White Council, though few they are. Essentially, while Galadriel is part of the council in some form, she wasn’t there for the actual event. All that’s told is that Saruman, Gandalf and Elrond “assailed Dol Guldur and drove Sauron from his hold.” You can understand Peter Jackson’s desire to include this portion in the films. It ties this trilogy with LOTR and also gives Gandalf something to do. That is why he left the party at the edge of Mirkwood after all. So, having this is ok, but man, I hate the weird magic they give to Galadriel (but it’s not much different than what she was like in LOTR. And, having that meeting in the first Hobbit in Rivendell with Saruman, Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond is pretty cool.

hobbit-tauriel

Tauriel
I don’t know of a single reader of the book who enjoys Tauriel’s presence in these films. Her acrobatics were entertaining. Many cite Tauriel as one of the worst decisions of the movies but I’ll just say one other name. Arwyn. I still haven’t a clue how it was the she was dying in the LOTR trilogy. As a purist, I hated her entire storyline and Tauriel is no better. She is Hollywood’s love story and as dreadful as it was, I understand the need to have this type of character.

Legolas
I realize time doesn’t pass the same way for Elves but it’s hard to hide the 10 years of age in Orlando Bloom’s face. To counter this, some film tricks have been used but he looks less natural. Visuals aside, my biggest issue with him was his lack of purpose. The entire second film just made him seem like a whiny boy slighted by his true love.

The WTF?

Thranduil’s Goodbye
Really? Go find Strider? That’s absurd, ridiculous and unnecessary.

Gandalf Knows?
I look forward to the extended edition to tell me more about this. I’m guessing he may think Bilbo has one of the Dwarf rings of power. This was another unnecessary attempt at a tie-in to LOTR.

Worm Things?!?!
I guess the Orcs need a way to travel. I don’t remember any worm things…

Alfrid
He kept getting screentime in the third movie but never died! Perhaps the extended edition? He was annoying but the comic relief was appreciated by one of my daughters. I expect this was the goal, but like Tauriel, readers groaned at his inclusion and recurring appearance!

It’s Over
Regardless of what you think, we’re done. The Silmarillion will and can never be made into a film so let’s not even pretend there’s hope. So, that’s it. Two trilogies that were dreams in the first place have been issued and while The Hobbit will never receive critical fame, I thought all three movies were fun. I enjoyed them all in some fashion and each has its own merits. I can’t wait for the extended finale. While most will disagree with all of what I wrote above, I’m a reader. I’ve read everything at least three times. I love my stuff and was highly entertained by the motion pictures. For me…that’s good enough!

Dragon’s Crown: Old School & Fun!

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Reviews with tags on March 2, 2014 by slateman

Dragon's_Crown_LogoI’ve waited for this game to come down in price and it finally has. While full retail was a bit too steep for me, $17 was perfect and I caved and got the PS3 game this past week. Now, I still fully expect this to be free on PS+ some time in the next year; so I’m hoping that’s the Vita version. However, after a few hours of play, $17 is nothing when compared to the fun that this game is!

In recent years, I’ve enjoyed some new/retro beat-em-ups. However, most don’t have a great balance of old (the action game) and new (well…anything else). The newest Double Dragon is pretty bad and Final Fight Double Impact is really only great because of Magic Sword. Dragon’s Crown on the other hand, is an impeccably-animated romp in a wonderful setting. Swords & magic & loot…what more do you need? Oh…a dragon, clearly. See the title.

In any event, I hope to get some good hours in on this in the coming weeks and while it won’t be a platinum trophy title, I’m going to enjoy the heck out of it while it lasts!

Castlevania: Mirror of Fate HD

Posted in Blog, Games, Reviews with tags on November 22, 2013 by slateman

Mirror of Fate HDThis $15 title was about perfect…for $15. Had I paid full price on the NDS, I may have been upset. However, the quick jaunt through the title was fun, and appropriately priced.

The Good
The music was pretty cool. It was moody, we didn’t get any Vampire Killer tunes and that’s OK. It was different. The story was a bit strange, and at first, I couldn’t figure out WTF happened at the end. However, SPOILERS! Trevor turning out to be Alucard was a pretty awesome take on this non-canon side-story.

The So-So
The game’s combat was pretty weak. I actually preferred exploring the castle over actually fighting. Some of the platforming was ok at best.

Overall, it wasn’t the best Castlevania, nowhere near it. In actuality, it may have been one of the worst but I’m still glad I played it. It’s made me interested in Lords of Shadow 2 and made me wish I never lost my first LoS save game. After getting 100% w/ Simon, Alucard & Trevor though; I’ll likely never touch this game again. :) That’s OK. It was fun while it lasted.

Army Of Two: The Devil’s Cartel – A Fun Game!

Posted in Blog, Games, Reviews on September 2, 2013 by slateman

army-of-two3Army Of Two: The 40th Day was the first game I played through entirely co-op and it was a blast. In the 3 1/2 years since, I’ve played a lot of games. But going back to this series was an exciting prospect. Then the reviews came out. 4/10 some deemed it. A 4/10??? I’m trying to think of games I’ve played that might be that bad. Aliens: Colonial Marines? Perhaps. In all seriousness, the 3rd Ao2 game was fun. Playing online with a friend, our connection was better than most recent games (a testimony to its poor sales?) but we busted through the whole game over the course of several sessions and loved it. Destroying everything in Overkill mode was a blast. The driving sequences were fun. The game sounded incredible. Sure it wasn’t the most inspired game ever. However it achieved the purpose set forth by its design: A great-playing co-op game. This was a ton of fun, screw the naysayers.

Kalmah: Seventh Swamphony

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Music, Reviews with tags on June 16, 2013 by slateman

Seventh SwamphonyAfter hearing the title track in advance, I was, for some reason, underwhelmed. Could Kalmah really put out a less-than-spectacular album? I was prepared for disappointment. Then, I listened to it.

Holy fucking hell, this album is incredible. Production? Flawless. Riffage? Old-school and fucking heavy. Solos? Better than ever. Drumming? Spot-on, solid, fast! Songwriting? Barring Moonsorrow’s masterpiece, this may be the best metal album in years. From the under-appreciated title song to the catchiest-song-in-their-catalogue, Deadfall, this album starts off with everything. Blistering fast, melodic grooves, memorable and heavy as hell. Hollo would have to be my least favorite, a very different type of track – but it is not bad, just different. Then the second half is impeccable. Windlake Tale, Wolves On The Throne, awesome. Black Marten’s Trace, whatever that means, is so fast and so heavy. The Trapper has its catchy intro riff and an epic outro that leads me straight back into track 1. I love this album. It’s got everything I love about metal and it proves that Kalmah is the best band of this century. They’ve yet to put out a bad album, and even the lackluster For The Revolution is better than most band’s better efforts. Play it again. And Again……

Mini-Review: My Dying Bride – The Manuscript

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Music, Reviews on May 14, 2013 by slateman

The ManuscriptAnother EP from the kings of EPs. I recall a time when they had 2 LPs and 3 EPs and it was all downhill after that – in a sense. I recall The Angel And The Dark River and it took them a few years (and one interesting experiment) to get back to excellence. And since 1999, it’s been pretty consistent. The Dreadful Hours may be my favorite, Songs Of Light… not so good. A Line Of Deathless Kings came out in 2006 and since then, while solid, I haven’t been blown away. I like the stuff, but am not wowed and don’t tend to play any of the records/EPs/singles. I definitely liked the orchestral record and The Barghest O’Whitby is an excellent if not tough listen due to its length.

That long intro leads us to this four-song, half-hour offering that is both perfect in its duration and its quality. This stuff is fantastic, culling the best riffs and mood MDB has to offer from their vast catalog of sounds. From Var Gud Over Er‘s classic death growls to the chilling mood of the outro (Only Tears To Replace Her With), this EP is just about perfect. It’s got everything that the band does well. If that is considered playing it safe, then I hope for another LP of familiar safety. And in only one day of listening (four songs, remember), it’s up there with Amorphis’ Circle as the best of the year. Everything I love about MDB is right here. A+!!!

Mini-Review: Amorphis – Circle – Yesss!

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Music, Reviews on April 20, 2013 by slateman

Amorphis-CircleI truly believe all reviews should come with a disclaimer. What’s your background with this? Can you review the Star Wars prequels if you never saw the original trilogy? Sure…but your opinion suddenly doesn’t matter to, well, anyone. The new Amorphis is great. Why? Well, the brief intro: A friend gave me Thousand Lakes in 1994 and the band has never trumped it. I hated Elegy at first but stuck with the band through several weak albums before they stormed back with Eclipse. Since then, some are great (Skyforger) and others less so (Silent Waters). There. Now, you have an understanding of my approach to this record. It’s important because like many others, Tales will always remain the pinnacle. But of course, I can’t compare this to that epic. How does this album stand on its own?

After listening to the new October Tide, I found myself bored. Nothing caught me at all, nothing stayed with me after I left the car. When I stepped out of my lovely mini-van to run into the store, I found myself humming several riffs, vocal melodies, drum beats. Yes! That’s what you want! Circle blends the trademark Amorphis sound with spectacular production and has that requisite balance of familiar yet new. Tomi’s vocals are as strong as ever, matching the best clean vocals of the band’s career with that growl that blows away all others. While the death vocals aren’t used too often, they are placed well. Guitars sound crisp and clear, keyboards fit perfectly and the rhythm section fulfills its purpose with a great bass sound and a few well-timed double-bass sections.

This was one of those records that was ‘pretty good’ the first time, but each subsequent listen drew me in more. So many harmonies, riffs and vocal lines were left on my brain minutes even hours after pressing pause. The pattern of Good (Eclipse) – OK – Great – OK is followed by fucking awesome on Circle. With Kalmah coming, I won’t lock this one in, but four months in, it’s by far the album of the year so far. Now to put it on again. LOUD.

Mini-Reviews: Soilwork / October Tide – Unimpressed…

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Music, Reviews on April 17, 2013 by slateman

OT-TunnelI really wanted to like both of these albums but I just can’t get into them. Moving backwards in time, the newest October Tide was highly anticipated as I’m a huge fan of the original records as well as the newest incarnation of the band. Those first two albums were awesome, filling the gap left by Katatonia’s departure from doom metal. The rebirth was heavy as shit and catchy. This new one is…well, it’s heavy. Track 2 has a super catchy portion in the middle. I generally can’t recall anything else from any other track. It’s true and unfortunate. It’s so mediocre I don’t know what else to write. Is it bad? No. It’s…just…boring.

The Living InfiniteOh Soilwork. This isn’t too different from October Tide, really. We’ll just substitute those albums in the middle (anything after Predator’s) for OT’s absence. Then, we had The Panic Broadcast which I thought was incredible. Their new, double-disc effort sounds awesome. It is HEAVY, the mix, the drums, guitars, vocals all sound great. The problem is that I can’t listen to it. Some songs are good. The first track starts out great. However, it all falls into the formulaic problem that plagued everything after A Predator’s Portrait. I remember that album coming out and knowing right then and there that the band was done. You could tell the next album would be all about the hook. The catchy riff that led to the obligatory clean vocal chorus. Here we are again, and some of these chorus parts are unlistenable. They’re cheesy. I can’t do it.

As for the double disc portion, that I can handle. I realize that lots of times a double album means filler. It might not be the case here, but I have a hard time getting through even a few songs. It would be great to enjoy this record, but it suffers from what plagued all those ‘middle’ albums. The planned riff-chorus formula. Meh.

Mini-Review: Darkstalkers: Resurrection – Missing Something

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Reviews with tags , on March 19, 2013 by slateman

VAMPIRE RESURRECTION POSTCARDI spent an awful lot of time a few months back working on an exhaustive Vampire Savior FAQ and I now will have to update it with Darkstalkers/Vampire Resurrection information. After a little while of testing things out, I have to say…it’s OK. My main concern was the port of Darkstalkers 3 – a game that never truly existed. Sadly, they didn’t take the ‘best of’ idea and include Vampire Savior 2 and Vampire Hunter 2 tweaks. This game appears to play just like the arcade version of VS without the Dark Force changes or the additional three characters. Why this is eludes me. The gameplay is spot-on, of course and all the usual perks are included. You gain points for completing challenges. You use this currency for the Vault – artwork and movies. Fortunately there is some new artwork included here not present in every other version. Unfortunately there is no sound test; this is a pity considering how the soundtracks to these two games may very well be the best Capcom has ever produced. The Japanese game was released in disc format and the first copies came with a bonus soundtrack CD. Sure I already have the soundtrack for VS but it’s just that good! AND, the game definitely features at least one new track – again, a sound test would have rocked.

And then I start doing tutorials/challenges. Now, can someone tell me why back in 1997 Arika was able to do the trial thing right and why now, 16 years later, we’re left with this? First off, there are only five for each character for each game. That still is a lot of challenges, I suppose. Street Fighter EX+A had…was it 15? 20? 25? And, since I’m not a fantastic player, I can’t perform half of them. Morrigan has the same trial for both VH and VS (screw this American naming convention). The same trial? Well, I can’t manage to chain a c.Short->c.Fierce->Darkness Illusion…so that means there are 2 of Morrigan’s 10 challenges. Great.

Now, the entire presentation is amazing. The HD makeover looks phenomenal (the game still looks like it always did) and when you switch from VH to VS, you remain in the last menu. I.e. if you’re about to start a ranked match and you change games, the menu places you in the ranked match area again. Small things like that are great. There’s also an info box giving you details about all the fighters. Developers, if you’re going to do this, please have at least 100 different quotes. I played for 10 minutes and felt like it was repeating already.

VR Soundtrack

Online play was superb, zero problems and GGPO has treated me well with all recent fighters. I suck, so it’s no fun at all getting trounced by Gallon (Talbain) constantly. But, that’s my problem.

There’s a spot for the Playstation Store – so I don’t know what they’re planning on trying to sell us. $15 for this package is indeed good, but I’d be pissed if they asked me to shell out more for anything. Unless it’s the soundtrack – it’s just that good. Then again, I now have this game for the PS1, PS2, PS3, SS, PSP and arcade ROMS – just missing the DC game. I’m not paying anything more for Vampire/Darkstalkers until part four comes out. :)

Mini-Review: [Rec] – Outstanding

Posted in Blog, Movies, Reviews on March 19, 2013 by slateman

rec-movie-poster-2007-1020420587Dread. To put it simply…dread. The horror genre is one I grew up with and have never quite outgrown. As a father now, though, my fascination is mixed with dread as parents have a new priority in life. I’ve seen [Rec] twice. I never watched the American recreation…but the original film is the perfect thriller. This wasn’t the first found-footage film, and it may not be the best. However it instills dread in me every time I watch it. But when the bloody woman attacks in the apartment….when the fireman falls from upstairs…when things go to hell at the end…I’m filled with dread. It’s just a movie, of course, but it feels real. The first-person account of whatever is going on feels real. Like Cloverfield, you have no real idea as to what is going on, much like it would be in real life. All of the calm dialogue is utterly shattered when things start going wrong. The horrible sounds, the utter panic, the non-stop dread…And the entire time I am scared to death at what’s around the corner, where the people are and what is going to happen next. And don’t even get me started on the end. I know what’s going to happen and it still freaks me the fuck out. Oh, and then the lights go out.

[Rec 2] was good and had some very cool ideas but as usual, the original is the best. Outrageous fear. I hate this movie but I love it more.