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Casual Saturdays: More Risky Talk – A Brief Discussion of Strategy September 6, 2008

Posted by lotrking in Casual Days, Other Random Stuff.
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I’m not going to pretend to be a RISK expert, but I have noticed a curious strategy among fellow RISK players. Anytime I mention RISK to someone new I meet, if they play it, their reaction is usually along the lines of: “Oh yeah! I love that game! I always go for Australia!” Now, Australia is a very good continent to own: it ensures two extra reinforcements every turn, and is extremely easily defendable because it has only one access point.

However, I’ve noticed that Australia is oftentimes not a good location for your “homeland.” (I’m using the word “homeland” to mean the area you first attempt to take over in the game, and then direct most attacks out from.) Yes, it provides plenty of defence, you can stay holed up there for a long time, and endure through much of the game if you can keep it. However, if you attempt to build Australia as your homeland, there is only one place to move your frontline attacks: into Asia.

Now Asia is huge, and grants seven bonus reinforcements. If you can take and keep Asia, you are probably going to dominate the game. However, most other players will stop what they are doing to ensure that another player does not take Asia for this very reason. I have seen games won where someone’s main goal is to take Asia, but these are rare, and often involve a good deal of luck. In order to move anywhere else on the board, you will have to get there through Asia, and therefore have to keep both your frontline and distant homeland well stocked with troops, and this can often be hard to do.

So, summing up, Australia’s best quality is also its worst: it’s isolated. However, in my opinion, there is a very similar continent which poses much less problems: South America.

South America, like Australia, gives two reinforcements, and is also easily defendable because it has only two access points. However, unlike Australia, from South America, you can easily move to any continent except Australia. South America is connected to North America and Africa. If you can successfully invade from Brazil to North Africa, then you are also connected to Europe. One further invasion (into either Egypt or East Africa) ensures your path to Asia. In other words, South America puts you only one or two territories away from every continent (once again, except Australia). From here, you can use almost any conquering strategy at your disposal.

To clarify, trying to own Australia is certainly not a bad thing. If you have the opportunity to take it, you’d be a fool to pass it up. However, it is not the best place to make as your homeland; rather, it should be more of a side-project. Now, you obviously can’t make South America your homeland in every game. The games that I’ve played involving two players fighting for the same homeland usually end up with one (or both) of those players dying off very quickly. It’s usually better to move away, than to waste a massive amount of troops on a cold war. But, in situations where I can make South America my homeland, I always take them.

Now as I said in the opening, I am no where near to being a RISK expert. But I’ve played my fair share of games. I’m not the world conqueror too often, but I’m rarely the first person to die either. So you may or may not want to take my advice with a grain of salt. This was mainly meant to be me wondering why everyone goes for Australia, when I’ve always thought South America seemed the better choice.

Well, what do you fellow RISK players think?



Review of Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (3.5 stars) September 4, 2008

Posted by lotrking in Comic Book Stuff, Other Random Stuff.
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Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

My original intent was to rent this, and summarily bash it here for its horrible cheesiness which, I thought, the trailers made apparent. Well someone needs to fire their marketing department, because this was much better than it looked to be. Given, it still stars a bunch of young teen superhero children of the original Avengers, but the movie creators were actually able to pull this storyline off fairly well.

In the future, Ultron has killed off all the original Avengers, except for Iron Man, Hulk (though he isn’t discovered until late in the movie), and Thor (who left Earth behind). Before their deaths, the Avengers sent their young children with Iron Man, to be kept hidden away from Ultron. Tony, now the unsuspecting surrogate father must raise these kids. Surprisingly, he does a pretty good job. Twelve years later, these children have mastered their abilities, and after a quick chain of events, are found by Ultron. The rest of the movie is a series of attacks and escapes filled in with story and character development, and along the way we see a few “familiar” faces (though now much aged). There may not have been too much in the way of “Easter Eggs,” but those familiar with Marvel history will probably be able to guess a few plot points faster than the less familiar.

Now, addressing the complaint that this isn’t based off of any comic: personally, that doesn’t bother me at all. True, there are still plenty of classic Marvel sagas that need to be adapted to movie form, but seeing a completely new tale feels somewhat fresh, especially when it’s with new characters. Despite being kids, the stars give us plenty of great characterizations, and humor. The “child element” of this movie didn’t annoy me in the slightest. However, faithful Marvelites may be bothered by one thing: in the movie, it has been changed that Tony Stark was the creator of Ultron. Yes, this is a major change, but since he is still a character in this film, and plays a significant role, it allows us to see how he suffers the consequences, and makes for a much better story (in this particular instance) than if the creator had remained Hank Pym. So I was slightly annoyed at first, but I soon came to realize it was for the best.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but let me confirm now, the cheesiness was kept to a surprising minimum for being marketed as a kid’s movie, in fact this probably had the least cheesiness of any of Marvel’s Animated Features so far (though Dr. Strange remains my favorite to date). While this was intended to bring more kids into the genre, adults who enjoy superhero tales, and don’t mind animated movies should enjoy this. If you’ve seen any of Marvel’s previous animated movies, you should definitely look into this. There’s really not too much to complain about here. Yes, there were one or two lines that could have been omitted, and an occasional instance where the animation was awkward. But overall, this was surprisingly enjoyable.


Casual Saturdays: My Official Report on the New Edition of RISK August 30, 2008

Posted by lotrking in Casual Days, Other Random Stuff.
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For those who haven’t walked down the board game aisle of your local retail store lately, I’ve got some news for you: there’s a new edition of standard RISK. However, this time they didn’t just update the packaging, to those familiar with comic book terms, you might as well call this the “RISK Reboot.” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, RISK 2.0 is here. So what’s different, and what’s the same? Is it still the same game, with only minor changes, or has it become something new altogether? Having played this new RISK thrice now, I hope to detail just this, and comment on which changes are good, and which are not so good.

Major changes:
How to Win

Minor changes:
RISK Cards/Reinforcement Trade-Ins
Location names
Troop pieces
Amount of Players

How to Win: RISK is no longer the game of global domination, but still remains a game of conquest and strategy. Instead of taking over the world to win, you must have control of your capital and accomplish three objectives. However, the rule booklet does contain rules for “an updated version of the classic game of global domination.” You simply maintain Objectives/Rewards, Capitals, and Cities, and just keep playing past the point when someone accomplishes three objectives, until someone conquers the entire map. Of course, RISK purists may simply wish to ignore these three new elements and can easily play “Old-School RISK” with this updated edition. Objective RISK does have two advantages: one, it takes significantly less time to play. So when you and a couple friends want to play RISK, but don’t have 5-7 hours to dedicate to a single game, this is the perfect solution. Two, it actually takes more strategy. Not only do you have to keep yourself defended and your frontline strong, but now you must also figure out ways to accomplish objectives before your opponents, while keeping them from doing so.

Objectives/Rewards: Recent editions of RISK have contained alternate rules for “Mission RISK,” and it is a similar concept here. At the beginning of the game, the objectives are shuffled, and then eight are placed face up on the board. This number is not restocked as the game goes on, so the number of possible achievable objectives diminishes as the game continues. Rewards are also shuffled and placed with objectives at the beginning of the game.

Capitals: Those who have played RISK II (the computer game) may be familiar with the “Capital RISK” variant. Once again, the rules here are similar. At the beginning of the game, each player chooses one territory to serve as their capital. They cannot ever move their capital, so it is wise to pick an easily defendable position. (In other words, don’t stick it in the middle of Asia, unless you plan on losing.) As mentioned earlier, you have to be in control of your capital to you win the game. If someone takes over your capital, you will eventually have to take it back. Even if you are playing the global domination variant, capitals are still important, as some of the objectives involve them. You also get one extra reinforcement each turn for every capital you control (including your own).

Cities: At the beginning of the game, fifteen territories are chosen at random, and a city is placed in each of these territories. When you get reinforcements, you count the amount of territories AND cities that you own, and divide this number by three to get your number of reinforcements. For example, if both John and Ben own twelve territories, and none of John’s territories have a city, while all of Ben’s territories have a city, then John will only get four reinforcements, while Ben will get eight.

RISK Cards/Reinforcement Trade-Ins: Instead of having an infantry, a cavalry, or an artillery on each, cards now have either one star or two. (There are more one-star cards than two-star.) Trading in a certain amount of stars will get you a certain amount of troops. You can now have more than five cards in your hand, but you can only turn in cards at the beginning of your turn (even if you kill one of your opponents) and cannot turn in more than ten stars at once. This, I in my opinion, is the perfect solution to the ascending trade-in/set trade-in problem. Those who thought that ascending trade-in amounts that granted up to sixty troops were too powerful will be pleased to learn that even ten stars only grants one thirty troops, and seeing as how most cards are one star, it will take a lot of “saving” to turn this in. Likewise, those who think getting a maximum of ten troops is too few should be appeased with the new trade-in system. Also, there are no more wild cards.

Location names: To those who have been worrying: don’t worry, the board still has forty two territories located in the same areas, with the same “adjacencies,” sea-line connections, etc. The ONLY thing that has changed on the board is the names of a few locations. Quebec is now Eastern Canada. Ukraine is now Russia. Congo is now Central Africa. And Siam is now Southeast Asia. These have all been done (likely) in the effort to “modernize” the game (which I will discuss later.)

Fortification: This isn’t really an update if you are familiar with the previous edition of RISK. At the end of your turn, you can fortify from any one territory that is “connected” to another. “Connected” is defined as owning every territory in between two territories. For example, if you own Eastern Australia, South Africa, and everywhere in between, you can move men from E. Australia to S. Africa. If an opponent takes the Middle East, and you don’t own any other “connectors” to East Africa, then the furthest west you can move is India.

Troop Pieces: This is yet another thing that will probably serve as an annoyance to “RISK purists,” the pieces are no longer infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Now, there are big arrows and small arrows. Small arrows count as one troop, big as three. At first, I thought this was ridiculous. What happens when you stockpile men in one location? First off, with objectives now taking precedence, it is quite unlikely that you will be stockpiling anywhere (except perhaps your capital). Second, because the pieces are much more compact than previous ones, you can fit much more into one territory. To those who are annoyed by this: remember, the pieces have changed frequently. Originally, they were just colored blocks. Then they became roman numerals identifying their quantity. Then they finally became the pieces we are familiar with. (I’ve actually played with all three versions too.) This is just the next step up the evolutionary ladder. The only time I could see this as being a problem is when you are playing Global Domination. In which case, you may need to start using an unused color if you gain too many men (I’ve had to do that in the “Old RISK” anyway), or you could say from the game start that big arrows are five troops (or whichever amount you choose). Once again, this is probably in attempt to modernize the game. Yes, I enjoyed the Napoleonic flavor of previous editions, but modern can be fun too. I’m neither upset nor excited by this shift in time-setting. I suppose it is all up to personal preference.

Amount of Players: RISK is now for 3-5 players, not 2-6. The board only comes with five troop sets, and no rules are included for “2-Player Neutral Army RISK.” I see this as an improvement. Six player games I’ve participated in rarely turn out to be fun, the board is much too crowded, and one or even two players lose very quickly because they are simply in other people’s way, so everyone stomps over them before they can even begin to set up an adequate frontline or home-front. Having only five troop sets ensures that this doesn’t happen. Likewise, two-player RISK with neutral armies takes way too long. (If you want to play with two players, play Lord of the Rings RISK which, in my opinion, is actually best to play with two. Four can be fun also, just NEVER play LOTR RISK with three players, trust me, it just doesn’t work.)

So there you have it, a fairly detailed description of similarities and differences between this new RISK, and the older editions. For the most part, I like the changes. However, if I could change one thing about this new RISK (or unchange I suppose, depending on how you look at it) I would include rules for the original Global Domination, no Objectives/Capitals/Cities, “Old School” RISK. Yes, I understand, and even approve of the updates they’ve made. But they can’t just overlook the original version that has existed for decades. Hopefully, when the release the next version, they’ll keep these new rules, and include the original rules, just for old times sake. So, knowing everything I know now, would I still have bought this new edition? Most definitely. But I’m also definitely keeping my older board, for those times when I and some friends DO have seven hours to kill, and are in the mood to take over the world.


Casual Saturdays: Why I Think Iron Man Is Better Than The Dark Knight August 23, 2008

Posted by lotrking in Casual Days, Other Random Stuff.
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A few days back, I posted this as a note on Facebook. It lead to a rather good discussion. The transcript is being posted here:

LOTRKing: Tired of justifying this on several occasions to several people, I’ve decided to put this here for all to see. Yes, I liked Iron Man better than The Dark Knight. I typed the following justification for the Iron Man vs. Dark Knight discussion board here on facebook:

Personally, I find it fairly easy to gauge which was a more enjoyable film to me. As several posters have stated, Dark Knight was surrounded by tons of hype and was about Batman, one of the most well known superheroes on the planet. Iron Man, however, was a lesser known superhero, and while people were expecting an enjoyable show, they weren’t expecting to be as blown away as everyone was. Add this to the fact that many kids (including my nephew) who had never even heard of Iron Man are now ranking him as one of, if not their top most, favorite superhero, and you can see which one was more of the “runaway hit.” On a personal level, I already read comics, and while both Iron Man and Batman are both interesting characters, I never before had the desire to read either of their comics. As soon as I saw Iron Man, I wanted more. Now, the new Invincible Iron Man is one of my favorite monthly comics. As entertaining as Dark Knight was, I still have no desire to actually start reading Batman comics. If a movie can get you that interested in a character, what does it say about the movie? Sure, Dark Knight was awesome, but it was largely because of the story line, I didn’t care too much about the characters. With Iron Man however, I think Tony Stark may have become of my favorite fictional characters of all time, and for a guy who loves reading books and watching movies as much as I do, that’s saying something.

Hopefully, this clears stuff up. Leave comments and/or arguments (of which I’m sure there will be many) below.

Tim: The concept behind Iron Man is one that you expect to be blown away, and from all the other hype about the movie that I heard from those who saw it, it didn’t blow me away like Dark Knight did. Two words: THE JOKER. You can’t compare any other villain to him. I don’t care much for Batman, he has no powers, only gadgets and limited martial arts, but the Joker made what I thought was gonna be another disappointment to the Batman movies an absolutely awesome flick. Granted, I haven’t seen the full of Iron Man, but at the same time, the Joker holds a special place in my heart, and that for me is enough. And are you really cheating on Marvel like that? I don’t read comics, I don’t have the time or energy, but a good movie is a good movie, and movies rarely reflect the book associated with it. That’s my opinion, the Joker rules and could totally pwn Iron Man.

p.s. Who else would like to see a movie just about the Joker?

LOTRKing: The Joker was certainly a an interesting character, but he was a disturbed, deranged. homicidal maniac. There are times when a villain is cool, and there are times when a villain is disturbing and scary. The Joker is certainly the latter. A good villain doesn’t think he is a villain, in his mind, he is doing what is right. The Joker just says “screw good, I wanna do evil for the fun of it!” While this lead to a darkly entertaining movie, I’ll take a noble villain over a blatantly evil one any day. Now, if you are tying to compare villains in movies, yes, The Joker was certainly a more interesting villain than Iron Monger, but Iron Man wasn’t about Iron Monger, it was about Iron Man, which is what made it so entertaining. Dark Knight, on the other hand, was more about the Joker than Batman. You say you want to see a movie about the Joker? You just got one. Jack Naper was the star of Dark Knight, not Bruce Wayne. So, while I don’t doubt Dark Knight’s high level of entertainment, (and it was certainly more artistic than Iron Man), I still found the greater level of entertainment to come from Iron Man.

Tim: That’s what makes him a great, possibly the greatest villain. Pure evil.

Shaun: You have some good points, Mr. Staples, [note: that’s me – LOTRKing] but I think that in order for the Joker’s character to justify his actions, he would have to be “blatantly Evil” instead of a Noble Villan.

Remember the talk Bruce had with Alfred when he wanted to quit? Alfred was talking (and a neat insight to HIS past as well) about when he was hunting thieves in the jungles of Burma. Remember the line “and some people just want to watch the world burn” kinda tied in the whole “Blatantly Evil” concept into understanding the Joker to some degree.
The Joker WAS more of a ‘traditional villan’ in more of a sense of his ego was more out of control than his actions. Think Al Capone. The Joker had to be the ‘best’, he had to one-up every other gang in his own twisted way, and throughout the entire movie he created power vacuumes and then filled them. I think his character is more believeable than most realize…

Evan: I definitely agree with you on Iron Man being a less known hero than Bat Man. You had to be burn around the right time to have any exposure to Iron Man at all. Iron Man definitely paved the way for the Dark Knight becaue Iron Man revived our faith in comic book movies.

Tim: i reread that, and noticed something. The Joker is doing what he thinks to be right, by creating anarchy. He loves chaos, and that, to him, is right. His law is that there is no law, and he dedicates himself to that cause. Just because he thinks outside the normal realms doesn’t mean he doesn’t do what he does for a cause. the trick is being able to empathize with him. The only flaw i found in the movie is that we know nothing of his background in it. i would love to see more of his back story.

Tommy: Ok good points all around but the simple matter of the fact is a man likes what he likes. Both movies in their own right raised the bar of the comic book movie forever. Batman gets the point for the movie aspect for the simple fact that not onlydid it set the new record for openning weekend sales but it also set a NEW standered for the ganera. It was not the carbin basied copy that Iron man was( by this I am refering to the same old story line that Good comic book movies have. You know hero has power(Such as spidermans bite giving him his powers, or in this case toney starks knowledge for wepons) and finds out something bad has come foruth from using this power(obvious). And than takes it upon himself to set things right and in doing so than incounters a villan which genraly is someone he already knows personaly in some way and has to defeat him.) Think about it that just Discribed Spiderman 1, The Incredible hulk(2008), Iorn man, and the fantastic four. Now i will give Iorn man the prize for best film visualy and in referancing to the later sequal. However Batman was not the typical movie. It was dark and scary and in all matters of the form not sutible for Children. But it also should us the intesity that the first batman (Batman begins) should us with a Realistic Forum of Batman.As for the villian, A villian in litterature is generally of a mission to prove, change, or in other terms disturb the balance of reality so that it benifits him. Which insadently describes Batman from Batman Begins. Which is why the Joker was in any sence of the word Perfect. The balance had already become disturbed in Gotham and he only wanted to push it Further( the unstopable force meets the unmoveable object). He is the ultimate villan because you don’t know what he going to do next. he has no visible weakness, he (as staited before) just wants to watch the world burn.

Tommy: Now for the BLOWING AWAY.
Iorn mans poularity was not as established as others did blow audencese away in the fact of , How come I didn’t know about this?
Ofwhich it is unfair to judge aganst the “blowing away” aspects of Batman because they were to different thigs. One established a Charecter while the other simply took things to a lvl we weren’t anticipating.
My Ending point being that as far as standereds go The Dark Knight not only pushed the envelope but it gave us a new view and stadistic view of a charecter that we all know.
While Iorn man did push the envelope as far a visualy, and givning us a look at the wise guy anti hero, alcholic, womanizer that is Toney Stark.
So in conclusion they Gave us the same things in different ways. It is up to the individual to decide who gets the prize.

Tim: ironically enough, batman disturbed the balance, the joker in such a sense is trying to push it back the other way. never thought about it that way. does that make him a little good, as far as social stability is concerned?

LOTRKing: As Tommy said, good points all around. In response to Tim: the Joker knew what he was doing was wrong, but he thought it was fun. He enjoyed playing with his “food,” this doesn’t mean he thought what he was doing was for the greater good. To Shaun: the Joker was certainly believable, many of his actions and statements reminded me of purely evil men such as Hitler and BTK. To Tommy: while the basic plot of Iron Man may have been somewhat generic it was still presented in a fresh way, and the characters (especially Tony) are what stole the show. The Dark Knight wasn’t one hundred percent original either. Villains making the heroes choose between two equally undesirable outcomes, and heroes making large sacrifices for the greater good are two elements that are used throughout the genre (not that they weren’t used extremely well here). Furthermore, you mentioned that Batman was already a well known character. This is true. But as I mentioned, Dark Knight didn’t make me want to go out and buy Batman comics ASAP like Iron Man did. Dark Knight had a great plot and was full of suspense and action. But Iron Man had much more entertaining characters. So as you mention, it really is a preference: which do you enjoy more from fiction, a great story, or great characters? For me, story is extremely important, but if you want me to love the piece, make me love the characters. As pulse-pounding and cinematic as Dark Knight was, I didn’t develop a “love” for any of the characters. It probably doesn’t help that Batman wasn’t even the main character, the Joker was, then probably followed by Harvey Dent. Batman comes in third. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved the Dark Knight. But at the end of the day, Tony Stark, the star of Iron Man, is more awesome and likable than the Joker, the star of Dark Knight, and this is why Iron Man is 5 stars in my book, and Dark Knight is only 4.5.

All right dear readers, now it is your turn to join in on this discussion. Leave your agreements/disagreements below, and I’ll try to think of good responses. I’m also going to provide a link to this post on my Facebook, so if my friends want to continue this discussion, they can do it right here. Oh, and just for good measure: here is my Iron Man review, here is my Dark Knight review, and taking off the serious gloves (Why so serious?), here is a link to my post which jabbed some humor at both of them. Have fun!


Casual Saturdays: Review of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2 stars) August 2, 2008

Posted by lotrking in Casual Days.
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Overall rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Straying from the world of comics for a moment, I thought I’d take a crack at reviewing this. Sad to say, I was extremely disappointed by this movie. I loved the first two (four our of five stars in my book, both of ‘em, with the second being slightly better) and I realized that this one would be significantly different what with a new Mummy (and a new Evy) but I didn’t realize that it would be significantly less entertaining.

It starts out with an interesting enough premise. An ancient Chinese emperor gained control over the five elements (fire, earth, water, wood, and metal) through sorcery and after taking control of all of China, his next goal was the world. Knowing that he could not possibly live long enough to see this accomplished, he wished to live forever, and hearing of a witch who knew the secrets of immortality, he sent his most trusted general to find her. Of course, said witch is anything but an old hag and both the general and the emperor desire her when they first see her. Long story short, the general sleeps with her, the jealous emperor commands that he be given immortality or the general will die, she seemingly grants it to him, but he kills the general anyway, only to be revealed that she cursed the emperor and his large army as they all turn to stone.

Alex, now an adult and archeologist in his own right, discovers the emperor’s tomb and eventually the Mummy (if you can even call him that, seeing as he’s covered in stone) is awoken. While this sounds similar to the first two Mummy movies, I was willing to run with it, and enjoy it. It all turns downhill about half-way through the movie. As Rick and family are fighting this Mummy and his minions in a village which will show the way to Shangri-La, a ninja chick (introduced earlier in the movie, allied with the O’Connells, who cheesily falls in love with Alex) runs to an archway and shouts some cheesy line (something along the lines of “We’re in trouble! Come save us!”) only to have three Yeti come out of nowhere and help out the good guys. Now I knew there was going to be at least one Yeti in the movie from the previews, but I assumed he would be guarding a sacred tomb, or something, and must be defeated. Instead there are three Yeti who come when called to save the good guys.

Unfortunately, the movie just gets more ridiculous from there. Add to the fact that the aforementioned ninja chick can’t act and has an annoying voice, that Rick and this new Evy have no chemistry whatsoever, and that most of the plot points are similar to the first two movies or even occasionally a couple other random movies, and you have a failed film. I was looking forward to this movie so much. “The final great film of an awesome movie summer, this will be,” said I. But unfortunately, I was very wrong. To anyone who enjoyed the first two Mummy movies as much as I did, do yourself a favor and try to pretend that this one doesn’t exist.


Review of The Dark Knight (4.5 stars) July 17, 2008

Posted by lotrking in Other Random Stuff.
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Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Intense is the word for Dark Knight. Without a doubt, it was the most terrifying, suspenseful, and dark superhero movie that I have seen. While this is its greatest asset, it also serves as its flaw. Yes, we get tons of violence, tons of jump moments, tons of scenes keeping you on the edge of your seat, but this dip into the world of dark gives viewers very little chances to “come up for air” as it were. Maybe I just enjoy humor too much, but this entire movie had a rain cloud hovering, if not down pouring, for almost the full two-and-a-half hours, with not but a rare short ray of sunshine (and most of the humor was dark humor anyway). Despite this, it was still very satisfying to me as a general movie-goer, and as a comic book fan.

If you do not want SPOILERS, READ NO FURTHER. If you want my spoiler-less review, go here.

First off, I was worried that the Joker might be a little over-the-top cheesy. After all, he’s the Joker! But not only was Heath Ledger able to perfectly play his character, the Joker came off as believable. The entire persona was that of a crazed murderer, who was anything but funny, and definitely frightening. It’s only once in a very great while that you see someone acting in a role they were born to play (superhero examples include Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man), but that was exactly the case here. It is therefore very unfortunate that this was Ledger’s final role. I’m sure the Joker will be in the next Batman movie, like the Scarecrow was featured here, but no matter how good the replacement, I highly doubt they will be able to recreate the insanity that Ledger brought to the role.

Speaking of role changes, Maggie Gyllenhaal successfully replaces Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. While the “torn-between-two-men” scenario displayed here is certainly not new, especially to superhero lore, it is told here in a believable way. Perhaps most tragic is Bruce’s belief that she will wait for Batman to “save Gotham” and then unite with him, when in reality she knows that he will never forsake the Batman persona, and therefore intends to marry Harvey Dent. While this movie had many shocking scenes, her death tops the list. Of course, the Joker’s trick which leads to her death further shows that despite his chaotic manner, there lies a true criminal mastermind underneath, one with the perfect brain for creating maximum emotional torture.

Yet the most surprisingly good character progression was that of Harvey Dent. Despite not knowing too much DC-lore, I knew that he was destined to become Two-Face. But as we got to meet his character, I felt more and more that he wasn’t going to be able to believably transfer from the unashamed do-gooder that he was to a merciless villain. I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong. The death of his beloved Rachel, the severe disfigurement of his face, and the city-wide emotion of absolute-terror seemed more than enough to cause his already weakened mind to snap.

But what about Batman himself? This movie certainly decided to take the “symbol more than a person” route. As such, we mostly just see Batman reacting to situations, and going to any measures to stop the spread of evil. While this provides a lot of entertainment, we don’t get to see too much of the man behind the mask. And while I can appreciate the heroic and sacrificial themes of the movie, I really wish this movie would have been more about Bruce Wayne, and less about virtually everyone else. Indeed, Bruce himself seemed more like a supporting character rather than the main character. Still, despite minor complaints, this movie is certainly a must see.


Review of Hellboy II: The Golden Army (4.5 stars) July 11, 2008

Posted by lotrking in Other Random Stuff.
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Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The summer of great superhero movies continues with Hellboy 2, a film that either kept me laughing, contemplating, or sitting on the edge of my seat nearly throughout. Definitely better than the first (which I still enjoyed), Hellboy 2 is certainly a movie much more suited for the general public. Hellboy 1 had a much more low-to-medium-budget, almost independent movie feel, but this time around, they’ve pulled out all the stops, making this much more grand, but still maintaining the quirkiness of first film. What’s more, they pretty much tell you everything you need to know, so those who have not seen the first film will not be lost. In fact, I might even venture to say that those who flat out didn’t like Hellboy 1 may find themselves surprised by its sequel. With plenty of action, great characters, an engrossing plot, and the touch of Guillermo del Toro’s likable bizarreness, Hellboy 2 definitely ranks among the greats amongst the best of superhero movies, and stands apart for its enjoyable uniqueness.

Those who do not want SPOILERS, READ NO FURTHER. If you would like to read my spoiler-free review, please go here.

Echoing its predecessor, Hellboy 2 opens with a prologue in the past, telling of a war of man against elves and all other magical creatures, the stakes: the rights for dominion of the earth. When hope appears lost for the elves, they order the goblins to create war machines. This leads to the birth of the Golden Army, a mechanical multitude which cannot be stopped. As Golden Army wreaks utter destruction upon man, the king of the elves realizes the horror of what he has done, and calls for a truce between the two peoples. The king covenants to keep elfkind and magic folk within the forests if mankind will remain in the cities. The peaceful pact struck, the Golden Army is stored away deep within in earth, and the Crown of Bethmora, which allows the rightful owner to control the Army, is separated into three pieces. The king keeps two for himself, and gives one to man, hoping this separation will see continued peace and the permanent entombment of the Army. The prince, angered towards man and disagreeing with his father’s decision leaves his twin sister behind and goes into self-proclaimed exile, vowing that one day he would claim the crown and take earth for his kind.

When the story moves the present, the prince steals man’s piece at an auction, slaughtering all the customers. He later confronts and kills his father, taking the second piece. Luckily, his sister is able to escape, taking her piece along. As we move to the B.P.R.D., we see that Hellboy and Liz are having relationship problems (again). When the Bureau is called to investigate the auction massacre, we get the “horror” scene of the movie as the agents have to fight off a building full of “tooth fairies,” leading to the horrific deaths of various “redshirt” agents. Parents, if you take your children to this movie (probably not a good idea anyway), make sure they don’t see this scene, otherwise they’ll be afraid to put teeth under their pillow. (Though I suppose it would save you in quarters…) This scene also throws two wrenches into the movie. First, and perhaps most surprising, we learn that Liz is pregnant. This comes as a shock to her, and she initially decides to keep it from Hellboy. Second, the rather explosive ending of the battle leads to the public “outing” of the Bureau and Hellboy. This leads to some rather interesting plot points later on.

As the B.P.R.D. members investigate the mystery of the crown, they are joined by new member Ectoplasmic Man and also eventually find and house the princess. During much of the movie, we get some great character dynamics, whether it is quick-witted arguments between the more irascible characters, or the good times shared by this band of freaks, the viewers quickly learn that these people are definitely not two-dimensional. Perhaps the most amusing scene comes when Hellboy learns that Abe Sapien has fallen for the princess. Together they share some beers, advice, and singing. That’s right, Hellboy and Abe sing. (Keep in mind the beer preceding said song.) Having fun laughing at that (I know I did).

As the movie comes to its climax, Hellboy must enter into mortal battle with the prince for command of the Golden Army. Of course, Hellboy wins (it is a comic book movie after all), but not before a fast-moving and tense duel. Having defeated his opponent, Hellboy turns to return to his friends, only for the audience to see that the prince has pulled out a hidden dagger behind Hellboy. The princess, who has been magically linked to her twin brother since birth, stabs herself, killing both siblings in the process, but saving Hellboy. You can’t help but feel sorry for Abe Sapien here. But after the brief scene of grief, we see that Hellboy, Liz, and Abe all quit the B.P.R.D., with Hellboy and Liz wanting to move to the country to raise their baby. Here, Liz corrects Hellboy revealing the proper term to be “babies,” being pregnant with twins. If all this isn’t a big “to be continued” sign for Hellboy 3, I don’t know what is.

Whether it is the moral theme of true humanity, the spectacular action, or the amusing characterization, there is plenty to like in this film. If you want a deviation from the typical superhero film, this is the path to take. Hellboy 2 ranks with Iron Man and Cloverfield as my favorite movies of the year.


Review of Hancock (3 stars) July 1, 2008

Posted by lotrking in Other Random Stuff.
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Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Hancock, while entertaining, could have been better. The acting was great, the effects were amazing, and the humor was usually funny. The movie’s main problem was that is was too short for the story. In more than one instance, the movie pretty much told you “this is how it is,” and just went on without explaining why. At 92 minutes, I’m sure most audience members would agree that they would have sat through 30 more minutes of the movie in order to understand several of the plot points better. Another major complaint is the overuse of vulgarity. With the f-bomb dropped twice in the first ten minutes of the movie (well, perhaps more like one and a half times, it’ll make sense when/if you see it), I figured that the language wouldn’t get any cleaner. True, those were the only times the “f-word” was used, but the use of “less harsh” curse words was fairly frequent. Still, despite these complaints there were several saving moments in the movie.


The movie opens with a high-speed police chase, before Hancock intervenes and causes massive unnecessary damage (he was drunk). The public reaction to this is that Hancock is a menace and should mind his own business. Later, Hancock saves corporation P.R. agent Ray Embrey from a train that is about to strike his car. While this also causes a massive amount of damage, Ray is grateful to have his life saved and invites Hancock over for dinner and offers to give him some P.R. advice to turn his public image around. At dinner, Hancock meets Ray’s son Aaron and Ray’s wife, Mary. (As a side note, it should be mentioned that Aaron is not Mary’s son, rather the son of Ray’s first wife, who died in childbirth.) Several meaningful glances between Hancock and Mary foreshadow that these two may have had a history. During this entire first act, there is humor, superheroic and non, sprinkled throughout.

Eventually, Hancock accepts Ray’s P.R. offer just as the city issues a warrant for Hancock’s arrest due to the damage he has caused. Ray, seeing this as the perfect opportunity, convinces Hancock to turn himself in so that the city will see how much crime rises with Hancock out of the way. While in jail, we see that Hancock’s character changes and becomes more sociable because of both Ray’s continuing tutelage and his experiences with other prisoners. Up until this point, the film had been mostly a comedy, but here it evolves to be more of a drama, a flavor that it will maintain until the end.

In time, Hancock is indeed asked to help against a bank robbery standoff, which he stops and finally becomes a publically recognized hero. Things seem to be going well until he develops unexplainable feelings for Ray’s wife, Mary. Just as they are about to kiss for the first time, the movie experiences its first major twist as it is revealed that Mary too has superpowers (this is revealed by her literally punching him out of the house) and Hancock isn’t as “alone” as he thought. Mary tries to avoid him after this, but Hancock continues to implore her for answers.

As she finally decides to “spill the beans,” the movie gets its second major twist as she reveals they are two immortal beings, given different names by different cultures, among them “gods” and “angels.” They are the last of their kind, because they are “created to be in pairs,” and when one grows close to their partner, they begin to lose aspects of their immortality, until they eventually become mortal. This is because the pairs are meant to “fall in love” and “live a normal life.” Over the centuries, Mary has tried to avoid Hancock because each of the “immortals” has a purpose, Hancock’s being to be a constant hero for humanity. Mary knows this, and has sacrificed a life with him to ensure that mankind has a protector. If any of this sounds somewhat vague, that is not my doing, this is as specific as the information gets in the movie. Ultimately, Ray finds out about Mary’s “condition,” as is extremely hurt.

Later, the villain who had masterminded the bank heist, now in prison, unites other prisoners who hate Hancock, and causes a jail break. As Hancock is stopping a different robbery, he is shot, and for the first time the bullets injure him. He is taken to the hospital, where Mary and Ray both arrive separately. The final pieces move into play as the villains arrive to attack Hancock, and Hancock, Mary and Ray all fight, with Hancock and Mary being severely injured (surprisingly, it is Ray who saves the day). As they both lose consciousness and appear to be on the verge of death, Hancock reawakes, and gets as far away as he can, as he does so, he heals, and is eventually able to fly away, while Mary also heals and regains consciousness.

One month later, we see that Ray and Mary have overcome their differences and accepted each other for what they were (not mention that Aaron loves his adoptive mother’s superpowers). While we see that Hancock has now become a superhero in NYC (the rest of the movie took place in LA), and has done something that should incredibly progress Ray’s struggling P.R. business. Hancock, while he may still have some of his quirkiness, is ready to overcome his past and help humanity.

As you can see, the movie really would have benefitted from a further explanation of who/what the “immortals” were. We don’t know anything about the others, we don’t learn what Mary’s purpose was, we don’t know who created them or why. This isn’t a Cloverfield-like experience where the clues are scattered throughout the movie and advertising, allowing the mindful viewer to puzzle it out on their own, this is a lazy move on the creators’ parts to not flesh out the back story. Still, as a superhero movie, this was quite enjoyable, and the humor for the most part was genuinely funny. The acting was also spot on. Waiting for rental would probably be the best value, but if you want to see it in the cinema, wait until it goes to the discount theatre, or at least catch a matinee showing. Don’t pay full evening price, because it is probably not worth it.


Review of The Incredible Hulk (4 stars) June 13, 2008

Posted by lotrking in Comic Book Stuff, Other Random Stuff.
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Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Note: this contains some spoilers, but I am not giving a full summary. If you want full spoilers of this movie, please go here. For those wanting my original “spoiler-less” review, please go here.

While Incredible Hulk is obviously not as good as Iron Man, it still provides an entertaining movie experience for both the comic fan and casual movie-goer. The movie quickly cuts to the chase as we see Hulk’s fairly well known origin story as a series of flashbacks during the main titles (with a few Easter eggs scattered around). The story here moves into three acts, each culminating in a Hulk attack.

The first act features Banner in Brazil as he works to find a cure, consulting with a mysterious “Mr. Blue” via the internet, and supporting himself by working at a local soda bottling factory. In an accident, Bruce’s blood drips into a soda bottle later to be shipped to the USA and drunk by an unsuspecting civilian (Stan Lee no less!) After Stan gets “Gamma poisoning,” General Ross is able to locate Bruce and sends in a strike team, including soldier Emil Blonsky, to capture him. Along the way, we also get Bruce’s humorous blunder as he tries to say his tagline in Portuguese: “Don’t make me hungry, you won’t like it when I’m hungry!” (The same could be said about me! 😉 ) Here we get two very action packed scenes in a row as the soldiers chase Bruce over the rooftops of Brazil (I thought it was pretty darn suspenseful), and when the game of cat and mouse finally ends, Bruce is provoked into transforming. This first appearance of the Hulk (outside the opening credits) was very well done in that we mostly get teasings. You’d see the shadow of Hulk here and perhaps just his arm there. We don’t finally see the full Hulk until right before he escapes. Only seeing bits helped to emphasize the fear that the soldiers were experiencing by keeping us in the dark as much as they were.

In the second act, Bruce is able to make it back to the Americas and eventually reunites with Betty. While the lines shared between these two are few, the acting and body language make it obvious to the audience the pain that these two are experiencing. Craig Armstrong’s wonderful score also adds immensely to these scenes. Later, Bruce obtains the information he needs to send to “Mr. Blue,” to help find a cure, but before he gets the chance to send it, the second “Hulk out” of the movie begins as the U.S. Army attacks him on Culver Campus. This time we see Hulk full on, and there is smashing aplenty. Audience members who love to see things blow up and get destroyed will be more than appeased by this scene. Hulk also fights with Blonsky, who has been given a variant of the super-soldier formula, and unfortunately for Blonsky, “Hulk smash” every bone in his body. While this scene was visually stunning, my first major complaint of the movie comes from the “sonic cannons” used against Hulk. I realize that comic book movies use futuristic technology, it is part of the genre, but did they have to use something so cheesy looking? Sonic cannons certainly sound like a cool idea (no pun intended), but I really think they needed to redesign the look. Oh well, at least I got the pleasure of seeing Hulk smash those as well. Hulk escapes once more, this time with Betty, and we get some more trade offs between character development scenes and humorous scenes before finally moving to the third act.

Needless to say, the climax of the movie is the big showdown between Hulk and the Abomination (but not before introducing the Leader, hinting at sequel!). This scene is full to the brimming of super-powered violence as these two creatures of rage duke it out. My two favorite parts include the Hulk’s use of a police car as boxing gloves, and finally the inevitable line of “HULK SMASH!” After Hulk defeats the Abomination and goes on the run once more, we get the final scene with Ross in a bar only to be visited by Tony Stark! Tony has come to talk to Ross about Hulk because, as he says, “we’re putting a team together.” Some may complain that between these two scenes there is very little closure, but this is of course because they want to leave it wide open for a sequel.

While this movie holds a lot nods to comic book fans (and abounds in Easter eggs), it should still an enjoyable experience for action movie lovers. I realize this movie may not be everyone’s cup of tea (unlike Iron Man, which everyone I’ve talked to seemed to love), but if you normally enjoy comic book movies and/or you actually want to see the Hulk’s character done right (unlike 2003’s version), then I highly recommend this movie.


Casual Saturdays: How to Ensure that a Movie Theatre Employee Will Hate You (Or, What Not to Do at a Movie Theatre) June 7, 2008

Posted by lotrking in Casual Days, Other Random Stuff.
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Note: the following is supposed to sound like a documentary, so please imagine that you are hearing it in the stereotypical documentary narrator British accent voice.

Today, we are going to examine a rather odd creature: Homo Sapiens Movie Fanicus (henceforth referred to HSMF), who sometimes go by the name of Average American Movie-Goer. The HSMF are a rather stupid lot, as we will see evidenced by their actions in their native habitat, the Average American Movie Cinema. Before arriving to this habitat, an HSMF will usually attempt to find out what time the movie they wish to see is playing. Assuming the HSMF is up to date on current technology, they will usually look it up online. However, more often then not, there will be two theatres of the same name in the town, such as Bill’s Cinema North, and Bill’s Cinema South. Those who live on the South side of town will click on the listings for the North theatre (since it is listed first alphabetically) and find out the incorrect times for their movie.

Before arriving at the theatre, the HSMF will stop by the local feeding area (sometimes referred to as McDonald’s) and buy themselves a meal to take to the show. Upon arrival (approximately 1:30 PM), the HSMF will approach the box office and request a ticket for their 1:45 show. The cashier will then inform that the last showing for that movie was at 1:15 and the next show is not until 4:15. The HSMF will argue that “their website” said 1:45 and blame the cashier, who has no control over the correct website anyway, for getting it wrong. When the cashier shows the HSMF the page, printed directly from the internet, showing them the correct times for the South Cinema and then shows them their show time was for the North Cinema, the HSMF will insist what they saw was right, and say that paper must have been printed after they looked at the site. The disgruntled HSMF will then purchase the 1:15 ticket, knowing they’ve missed the first minutes of the movie, but not before taking the time to stop and complain about how high the movie prices are to the cashier, who once again has no control over movie prices. What most HSMFs fail to realize is that the electric bill for one month alone at most cinemas is more than the entire year’s salary of the general manager of the cinema. This does not include the many salaries, bills, and royalties that each cinema has to pay. Cinemas do not “rip their customers off” with high prices, they need those prices to make an understandable profit.

Of course, some HSMFs will not even take the time to look up any movie information before arriving at the cinema, and will simply arrive hoping to find a good movie and a convenient time when they get there. Approaching the box office, they will then ask the cashier to tell which movies are good, and a brief description for each (often giving disregard for the long line of customers behind them). This is of course making the assumption that the cashier has seen every movie simply because they are allowed to see movies for free. In order to watch every movie, the cashier would have to watch two to four movies every week. Of course, the cashier is just as busy as the HSMF and therefore has probably only seen two or three of the movies currently playing. When and if these HSMFs are able to find a movie they want to see, they will also complain about prices and purchase a ticket.

Then, there are the third group who know the show time of their movie, but do not know it’s proper name. For example, if one were to examine a group of HSMFs at the cinema today, they would hear thing’s such as the following: “Two tickets to that one movie that was made by that really famous director.” “Can I get a ticket to Raiders of the Lost Ark?” “Three tickets for Prince Narnia” (or Chronicles of Caspian, or once yours truly even heard a rather old woman ask for two tickets to “Prince Lesbian” oddly enough) “One for the Zoltan movie” “Can I have four to Karate Bear?” “One ticket for Metal Man” And the potential list goes on and on.

Once the HSMF has successfully made it past the box office (always a rather amazing feat, giving their often high level of stupidity) they will approach the concession stand. Here, the will be even more shocked by the high prices but proceed to buy food anyway, but not before complaining, once again, to this cashier about the “incredibly high prices.” They will then proceed to leave their straw wrappers on the counter despite there being a trash can only ten feet away from them.

Approaching the ticket taker (or “the gate” in cinema lingo), the ticket taker will ask them to throw away their leftover milk shake from the aforementioned McDonald’s. Despite there being several obvious signs on the front doors of no outside food being allowed, the HSMF will be very upset by this and ask for an exception this one time. The ticket taker will remain resolute in their decision, the HSMF will throw the shake away, and be very angry at the ticket taker for doing what is necessary to maintain his or her job. The HSMF will then reapproach the gate, only to realize that their ticket is in their back pocket, place all of their concession snacks on the gate, pull out the ticket, have it torn, be told where to go, and finally pick all of their snacks back up.

The HSMF, who was so disgruntled that they were not paying attention, will go into the theatre for the correct show, but the wrong show time, instead proceeding into the theatre which is already halfway through the movie. The HSMF will sit and watch for about five minutes before realizing this, then proceed out of the theatre, back to the gate, yell at the ticket taker for directing them to the wrong theatre, after which the taker will look at their ticket and once again direct them to the correct theatre. The HSMF will then finally proceed to the correct theatre, find a seat, and attempt to enjoy their movie.

At the conclusion of the movie, the HSMF, who hated the movie (the HSMF was too inept to research and find our the movie got horrible reviews), is angered at the high prices, and, in their eyes, the idiotic workers at the cinema, who caused them to be late, sent them to the wrong show, and did not tell them that the movie sucked, and will leave all of their trash on the floor and in the cup holders, and occasionally even spill their remaining popcorn on the floor, just to punish the cleaners of theatres for all the wrong things they have done, and for causing the HSMF to have a horrible movie experience (when in reality it is actually the entire fault of the HSMF.)


Okay, so I realize this was a little harsh, but as I have mentioned before, I work at a movie theatre, and experiences mentioned here are things that I see happen every day. Please remember that cinema employees are given crappy pay already, and be considerate the next time you go to a movie (such as Incredible Hulk next weekend! 😉 ) And yes, I really did once hear an old woman ask for two tickets to “Prince Lesbian.” (I also heard “Spider-Man Chronicles” back when Spider-Wick Chronicles were out, and countless other hilarious incorrect names for movies.) So please, please, don’t be the stupid HSMF next time you see a movie.

Next week: something a lot less preachy!