Monthly Archives: August 2015

300: Rise of an Empire

300EmpireTitleSullivan Stapleton as Themistocles
Eva Green as Artemisia
Jack O’Connor as Calisto
Hans Matheson as Aeschylus
Callan Mulvey as Scyllias
Rodrigo Santoro as King Xerxes
Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo

Remember 300? Well, it finally got a sequel. This sequel continues the story about the Spartans fighting off the invading Persians. As with the original 300, this fantasy flick is not to be confused with The Lord of the Rings or Hunger Games. It’s pretty much an action flick. But while no classic, it seems good enough in my view.

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The obligatory execution from the evil overlord, er, overlady.

We begin with the first of many flashbacks. Because it had been seven years since the first movie, these flashbacks tell us the story thus far. This particular film’s story is about the army of Sparta finally fighting the Persians. This time, though most of the fighting is not by land but by sea. Yes, there’s some serious ship action.

Performances are decent. I’d say that stars Sullivan Stapleton and Eva Green as the hero and villainess are good. Not great but good, owning to the emotion and dramatization they project. Everyone else is just so-so.

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Not surprisingly, the “this is Sparta” line is used again.

The action makes use of CGI for ship-to-ship battle. This is very well-done. I guess after over a decade of medieval armies clashing onscreen, there are innovations to be found yet.

As you might have guessed from the poster above, this is a decidedly gorier film than the original. CGI is used to show a lot of blood. I mean Mortal Kombat style blood. I’m pretty sure real people don’t have as much blood in them as some people in this movie shed. All that’s left is for a narration to yell, “Fatality!”

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You can clearly see that this movie isn’t for everyone.

As far as plot goes, I really wouldn’t expect too much. It’s not nonexistent or anything, but it’s definitely secondary to the action. And while that action is solid, it does not a great film make.

There’s really not much to say about 300: Rise of an Empire. That’s why this review was so short. As for the movie, like its predecessor, there’s a fun time to be had, but not an unforgettable one.

Overall: 7 out of 10

Sonic Adventure

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It’s rather odd that I would review this game before the original Sonic the Hedgehog, but I was a Nintendo fan back then but owned a Dreamcast before any other console in the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube/Dreamcast years. As a result, I probably actually played the two Sonic Adventure games more than the 2D, 16-bit games. Though I do readily concede that this series has become hit/miss at best, I have always had a good time with this particular game. There’s great, fast-paced action helped by the multiple styles of gameplay.

Plot: 8 out of 10

At first your only character available is Sonic. As you encounter other characters — Tails, Knuckles, Amy Rose, E-102, and Big the Cat they become available. Each character has his/her own plot. They all eventually have you fighting Dr. Eggman, who has found and controlled a liquid beast named Chaos. By feeding him the Chaos Emeralds, once used only by Sonic and Knuckles to power up, Eggman is able to make Chaos transform and grow stronger. We pretty much know going in that Chaos will get them all, but are surprised that this doesn’t happen in any of the six characters’ plots. No, it happens in one last plot that appears after all the others are finished.

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This strike prevents you from using the trains to travel and stops a little girl’s father from coming home. Odd sociological theme in a game in which the characters are unemployed.

Other than Big (he’s trying to find his pet frog; that’s literally it), everybody has a solid story. There’s decent character development like E-102’s journey from bird to robot slave of Eggman to savior of his fellow animals inside robots, for instance.

Graphics: 9 out of 10

Visually, Sonic’s overdue entry into the 3D world was well worth the wait. He looks like I always would have imagined that he would in the third dimension. Cutscenes are particularly well-animated.

Sound: 8 out of 10

Each playable character has either a rock or heavy metal theme song to remind us that Sonic games the hip anti-Mario. They’re all quite good, as are the stage and overworld songs. Voice acting is almost as good, with the exception of Big. He’s got a high-pitched, annoying voice that really irks me. Throw in his weak plot and I really don’t like this character.

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Whaling without a whaling boat can be very dangerous.

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

There is one very bad thing about this game: the camera. Although nothing like how bad it would be in more recent games, the camera can get out of sync in Sonic Adventure. Occasionally, it can even move behind a structure or wall, forcing you to move a bit to get it back behind you. This is very bad because you’ve obviously got to see yourself.

Still, the controls function pretty well. As noted, you use six characters. Each has their own style of play and levels, with Sonic, the star getting by far the most.

Sonic: If you are remotely familiar with this series, you know how this goes. Sonic goes through the levels, destroys robots (and frees the animals inside), and avoids obstacles. Very fun, but sometimes the camera is a problem as it has trouble keeping up with the blue speedster.

Tails: He can fly, making it very easy to get around on the overworld. His levels are about him racing Sonic to the destination. These levels are straightforward, making camera issues very small.

Knuckles: First playable in Sonic and Knuckles, Knuckles retains his gliding ability. The Master Emerald that keeps Angel Island afloat was shattered in an Eggman attack, so Knuckles is trying to find the pieces so he can rebuild the Emerald. His levels are about him moving around to find these pieces. Unfortunately, his gliding around makes for the worst camera issues of all the characters. The unusual challenge to wits rather than reflexes for this series is refreshing, though.

Amy Rose: A Pink hedgehog with an agressively romantic woman/shy man relationship with Sonic. But most of Amy’s plot is about her being chased by a big robot. Therefore, her levels resemble slasher flicks. Can you tell that horror games were extremely popular at the turn of the century?

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You have a giant hammer, Amy. Use it.

E-102: A defecting robot of Eggman’s he moves slowly but has missiles and a targeting system. This is a really cool way to destroy monsters (plus, since he’s slow, the camera isn’t a problem).

Big: What’s Big’s missions? Fishing. It functions all right, but the fact that it’s fishing is kinda lame.

There are three mini-games along the way: virtual pet, racing, and flight simulation stuff.

In between levels, you search.

By this point, the problem of the camera should be clear. But as noted, there’s enough good stuff that it doesn’t ruin the experience.

Challenge: 5 out of 10

While the Genesis games were challenging, this one is surprisingly easy. There are a few tough spots, but only a few. Most of the bosses are nothing less than pathetic. The fact that you fight a number of them multiple times, with experience carrying over to the rematches, doesn’t help. This category would be scored higher if not for these bosses.

Knowing fictional cops, look elsewhere for help.

Knowing fictional cops, look elsewhere for help.

Overall: 7 out of 10

It’s not quite as good as I remember, and the reasons why foreshadowed the enormous problems the series would incur years later, but it’s acceptable. Not quite as good as the Genesis games, though.

Dracula Untold

DraculaUntoldTitleLuke Evans as Vlad Tepes III/Dracula
Sarah Gordon as Mirena/Mina
Dominic Cooper as Mehmed II
Art Parkinson as Ingeras
Charles Dance as the Master Vampire

Yep, a movie about by far the most popular and well-known vampire, Dracula. Except this time, it’s not Bram Stoker’s classic tale at all. This movie takes place in medieval times. It’s how Dracula, hitherto Vlad Tepes III, became a vampire.

The acting leaves little to complain about, especially Luke Evans as Vlad. He has a passion and loss of innocence that serves the role he plays well. Evans is becoming familiar to me, having appeared in Robin Hood (2010), Fast & Furious 6, two Hobbit movies, and played two Greek gods in Clash of the Titans and Immortals. In 2017, he will be Gaston in a new Beauty and the Beast. It’s safe to say that Evans has become a go-to guy for films set in ancient times.

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Some of these movies set in ancient times make it seem as though there was nobody back then except aristocrats.

The story is about a Prince of the Ottoman Empire who is transformed into a vampire and wreaks havoc on the world. Prequels often suffer for the things that we know must happen. It’s less so this time because this story takes place so long before the Bram Stoker novel. We don’t really know what was happening with this ancient being in the years before that, so the filmakers aren’t too constrained. This movie has Vlad becoming a conquering warlord and growing more dangerous after contracting vampirism. Not only is he much more powerful, he develops a killer instinct that he didn’t have before.

Unfortunately, this film doesn’t seem right. The tale of Dracula is supposed to be a horror story. This movie comes off more as a war movie with just a dab of tragedy (we’re asked in brief moments if Vlad is only a product of his upbringing and the mystical disease). Thus, there’s a sense that this movie used Dracula for the wrong plot. I can virtually guarantee that Stoker wouldn’t have approved.

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Well, of course there would be Christian imagery in a Dracula movie.

Some criticism has also been made about the liberties taken with history and agree that it’s not accurate there. But to be fair, it’s Dracula. Was the real Vlad Tepes a supernatural being? My point exactly.

On the other hand, this movie doesn’t do too badly for what it is. While the dialogue could be better, the events and action proceed just fine. And as I pointed out, the movie does have some pretty good performances.

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That’s one way to skin a vampire “alive.”

Dracula Untold is not a great film by any means, but it’s not exactly something I can’t endorse. Just remember that it’s probably not what you’re expecting.

Oh, yeah. The “ending” is an obvious conclusion to the beginning of an entire series. Just a little heads-up. The first sequel movie seems set to take place in modern times, meaning that it can’t be a sword-and-shield war movie. Here’s hoping it gets this concept right.

Overall: 6 out of 10

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

CapToadTitle

When I heard the commerical last fall that Toad was going to get his own game, I was shocked. Now, he had been the protagonist in the NES/SNES puzzle game Wario’s Woods. Of course, that was not only a lifetime ago, it was marketed as being more of a Wario game. The reason is that not many like Toad. Spinoffs with countless playable characters aside, his role is usually to get kidnapped alongside Princess Peach or to be the guy who gives you advice on the gameplay mechanics. Not the kind of guy who headlines a game, is he?

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Tell the truth. Which of these two is your money on?

And yet, might we have a winner? Because although Toad may not be the most deserving star, this is an outstanding game.

Plot: 4 out of 10

This could’ve been done better. Toad and Toadette (yes, a female analog of Toad) are treasure hunting. They are attacked by Bowser’s cronies, although the koopa king isn’t the bad guy. The villains are a dragon named Draggadon and a giant crow named Wingo.

Yes, they slay dragons the Scooby Doo way.

Yes, they slay dragons the Scooby Doo way.

The simplicity of the plot is just one thing, but the names of certain characters are really lame. We just don’t have a good story.

Graphics: 6 out of 10

Reasonably well-detailed 3D levels and characters with one exception: Sometimes it can be difficult to tell where you should move to avoid an incoming projectile. Also, when there’s a need for speed, it can be frustrating if you ever have to move the camera around. Why? Because you have to move fast and moving the camera will push you off-target.

Sound: 9 out of 10

Music is great! There’s happy, determined, gloomy, and dramatic tunes that all capture the kinds of areas they’re used in.

It's kind of funny to sea this land mass floating. And on pink clouds, at that!

It’s kind of funny to sea this land mass floating. And on pink clouds, at that!

Gameplay: 8 out of 10

You alternate between controlling Toad and Toadette. Unlike Mario and Luigi, they can’t jump. Instead, they throw items picked up, run and sneak around to get to the Star that concludes the level when it is obtained. There’s often some problem solving to figure out how to reach the Star. Thus, there is as much puzzle solving as platforming.

You've found the Gold Mushroom. Now to find a way to it.

You’ve found the Gold Mushroom! Now to find a way to it.

Controls and level design are done well, though the former has room for improvement. There are some camera problems, for instance. Level design, though, is quite creative There are many types of levels we go through, which increases this game’s staying power tremendously.

Challenge: 9 out of 10

Captain Toad starts out easy, but gets harder after a while. A balanced, incremental increase from easy to challenging is hard to pull off, but this games pulls it off quite well.

Overall: 8 out of 10

Although Toad and Toadette aren’t my mental images of video game heroes, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a lot of fun. The problem solving is a welcome contrast to the more reflex-orientated Mario games. Just don’t expect much of a plot.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

FFSpiritsTitleMing Na-Wen as Dr. Aki Ross
Alec Baldwin as Capt. Gray Edwards
Ving Rhames as Ryan
Steve Buscemi as Neil
Peri Gilprin as Jane
Donald Sutherland as Dr. Cid
James Woods as General Hein

Let’s face it; if you recognize the video game series in the title, you have probably already guessed that this movie won’t be highly rated. It’s cool today to blame Uwe Boll, but they were bad before he ever took up filmmaking. Much as I believe that if Hollywood wouldn’t insist on half-assing these movies and crapping on the source material (is it really much less worthy than scientifically laughable superheroes), they’d be fine, the track record makes me surprised that they keep coming. The financial success rate isn’t good and the quality rate is about 1-for-20. That is not an exaggeration.

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This rippling effect is kind of like the one that rare exception makes.

What’s unique about Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is that the company that made the games that it’s “based” on is actually strongly involved in it. After Final Fantasy VII became one of the most beloved games of all time, Squaresoft decided it was time to expand into motion pictures. Perhaps inspired by Pixar, Square’s new movie studio, Square Pictures decided to make it CGI. The possibilities were endless, Square thought! Alas, the movie proved to be as inept as if a 100% Hollywood entity had made it.

First up, this movie does not bear even a vague resemblance to any Final Fantasy game, nor does it have any character from any game, unless you count the fact that like many of the games, there is a character named Cid. Admittedly, every FF is its own entity, and trying to link them together is an exercise in futility. But why not just pick one, stick with it, and make it clear in the trailer and TV spots which game the movie will be based on?

Stormtrooper wannabes are a calling card of bad sci-fi.

Stormtrooper wannabes are a calling card of bad sci-fi.

Instead, we have a generic sci-fi plot about some incorporeal beings trying to take over the world. There is also dabbling into the horror genre, but his movie particularly fails as a horror flick, as it’s not remotely scary.

Voice-overs aren’t horrible, but it’s too pedestrian and bland to be good, Despite Square having gotten a few names in the cast, it’s below average.

The story actually isn’t too bad. What ruins it are the lousy characters. Most are either lame or annoying. As far as the annoying characters go, think Jar Jar Binks or Cait Sith here. The first time I watched this, I actually cheered when a bunch of the main characters, in true horror fashion, died. Somehow, I doubt that was the reaction Square was looking for.

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Why you shouldn’t let yourself be cut underwater.

I noted that many of these films bomb at the box office. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within not only sucked, it bombed epically. It played a part in Square’s merger with rival Enix (henceforth called Square Enix) because Square was in such dire straits after it wasted so much money on this awful movie. So despite not being worth your time, Spirits Within did make quite an impact.

Overall: 3 out of 10