Spiders in “Dragon Age: Origins”

__I’m currently spending my free time playing Dragon Age: Origins. Yeah, after completing and (for the most part) loving the Mass Effect¬†trilogy, I decided to check out BioWare’s other big seller. ūüôā I’ll save my thoughts on the game as a whole for my next “first impressions” post, but for now, I have something to say about one type of enemy you encounter: the spiders.
__Now, most other times I’ve encountered giant spiders in games, they’ve freaked me out bigtime! Resident Evil¬†and Skyrim¬†immediately spring to mind. But for some reason, the spiders in Dragon Age: Origins¬†don’t bother me at all, and I’ve been trying to put my finger on why that is.
__First of all, let me point out, I am not afraid of spiders in real life. Continue reading

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First Impressions Review Diary 3-Jun-2017

__Welcome back. ūüôā I haven’t seen that many movies lately, so this post will focus more on the games I’ve been playing. I spent nearly all my free time throughout the month of May playing all three instalments in the Mass Effect trilogy in a row. Then the final episode of Telltale’s The Walking Dead: A New Frontier came out, so now’s the perfect time to sum up my thoughts on all the episodes of the third season as a whole.

__But before all that, we start, as always, at the cinema. ūüôā Here are the three movies I’ve gone to see since I last checked in‚Ķ

Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Ghost in the Shell__In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: a human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.
__Let me preface this by saying I haven’t read the Ghost in the Shell manga ‚Äď I’ve only seen the classic 1995 movie ‚Äď so I came at this movie from a different perspective than a hardcore fan might: I was simply comparing one movie to another. As a remake, it gave me a somewhat different story, yes, but it came across to me as an extremely derivative one. A cyborg getting flashes of memory from their past life and trying to figure out their identity? Now, where have I heard that before? Yeah, you get my drift: the plot is literally just RoboCop! Any similarities to Ghost in the Shell are purely superficial references, like the invisible street fight, the underwater scene and the climactic tank battle. (Speaking of which, that scene seems surprisingly so much smaller and less grandiose than the animated version.) Continue reading

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My Words on the Manchester Attack

__After posting my epic rant on Mass Effect 3‘s ending, I realised I also had something to say about another, far more serious topic. As if to pour salt on the wound after my experiencing that infuriating conclusion, the universe threw yet another major piece of bad news at me upon waking up this morning: the news of a bomb attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.
__I haven’t been this angry at the world since the 2012 cinema shootout in Aurora. Not to sound cold, but I’ve kind of become desensitised to this kind of bad news. Violence like this is happening in the Middle East all the time, but we westerners only seem to take notice when it happens on our doorstep. But when it happens at entertainment venues, that’s when it hits especially hard for me: these people were just coming out to have a good time, only to have their lives ruined by an incident like this.
__My deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of all the people who were involved, but there’s something else I have to say. Continue reading

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My “Mass Effect 3” Ending Rant (SPOILERS)

__Okay, so I just finished playing Mass Effect 3¬†last night, and I just had¬†to get this out there because I am super¬†pissed about the ending! And I know I’m not alone on this; just about all the fans reacted the same way when they first played it five years ago. Yes, it’s taken me until now to get round to playing the Mass Effect¬†trilogy, so I’m sure I’m just preaching to the choir by this point, but I don’t care; I now feel the fans’ fury one hundred percent, and I just had to get all my thoughts down and set the record straight on why I, along with everyone else, hate this ending.
__And this probably goes without saying, given the nature of this post, but‚Ķ spoiler alert! I’ll have to go into details to explain this properly, so if you haven’t played Mass Effect 3, you might want to hold off on reading this until after you’ve done so. You have been warned.

__Before we start, let me just briefly go over my thoughts on the trilogy as a whole so you can understand where I’m coming from. Continue reading

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First Impressions: “The Spectacular Spider-Man” (2008)

The Spectacular Spider-Man__A couple of weeks ago, I wrote¬†a piece here on my blog in which I talked comic book adaptations, comparing animated films and shows to the live-action movies. At one point, I mentioned that I hadn’t yet seen The Spectacular Spider-Man, the animated series that ran for two seasons.¬†Well, now I have¬†‚Äď I ran through all twenty-six episodes in two evenings ‚Äď and I’m ready to share my thoughts. I don’t usually do “first impressions” reviews of TV shows, because there’s just¬†too much to cover, but with this one I felt I should make an exception.
__Spider-Man 2, you have been dethroned! ūüôā This show is now my favourite incarnation of the character! I used to think that the 90s animated series, despite its flaws, trumped any of the movies in terms of storytelling and characterisation. Well, that also applies to this show, but its presentation is infinitely more refined and appealing.
__I never read the comics, but I know enough about the Spider-Man lore to opine that this show represents it best. After all, from what I understand, it tributes all eras from the comics, as well as the Ultimate Universe.¬†For example, this show’s Rhino is Alex O’Hirn, not the classic Aleksei Sytsevich.
__The focus is where it should be: on Peter trying to balance his double life as a high school student and a superhero. He doesn’t just have to worry about his studies, but his job at the Daily Bugle¬†and his responsibility to Aunt May as well. A pivotal¬†moment in the first season is when he has to choose between buying a new camera or giving the money to Aunt May to settle her bills.¬†And in practically every episode, he has to invent an excuse for why he (as Peter) missed all the action when Spider-Man was on the scene.
__Josh Keaton is the perfect voice for the character; in fact, I think he is to Spider-Man what Kevin Conroy is to Batman. When he’s Peter, he’s shy and unassuming; when he’s Spider-Man, he’s cocky and ever funny.
__In fact, all the voice actors are great. I don’t have time to compliment each cast member individually, but another favourite of mine is Daran Norris as J. Jonah Jameson. I didn’t think anyone could top J.K. Simmons, but he comes pretty close. ūüôā And it kind of amused me to think that it was the same actor who played Spottswoode in¬†Team America.
__The animation is top-notch: energised and always keeping up with the show’s fast pace. I do question, though, why the characters’ eyes have irises but no pupils.
__I’d love to talk about some specific story arcs, but I don’t want to get into spoilers. But I will say this much. In the first season, I love how the show combines the Sinister Six and the black suit¬†storyline into one. And the conclusion to the latter (the moment we¬†all know is coming, when he breaks free of the symbiote) is nothing short of brilliance¬†‚Äď one of my favourite scenes in the entire series.
__I also love how, when he starts out taking pictures of himself as Spider-Man, he has to learn the process; his early shots don’t come out clear, or a window reflects the flash or something like that.
__But my absolute favourite aspect of the show is Peter and Gwen’s relationship. She’s not just his love interest; they’re friends first, a close-knit trio with Harry. Even if you knew nothing about her role in the comics, you’d still want them to end up together; they just get on too well not to. Mary Jane is involved, yes, but she never becomes a third wheel. In fact, she makes friends with just about everyone, sees Gwen’s true feelings for Peter, and fully encourages her to act on them.
__I only have two real complaints with the show. One is that Doctor Octopus’s character development is a bit sketchy; I didn’t get what his game was. Where did his intense hatred for Spider-Man come from? And the second is that‚Ķ well, I wish it hadn’t been cancelled! Especially with the way the second season ends, I wish they’d had the chance to expand on it and conclude it properly.
__All in all, this is a great show. Of the few Marvel animated series I’ve seen, this is absolutely one of the best, right up there with¬†Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. And like I said before, it’s my favourite screen iteration of Spider-Man to date. The upcoming movie,¬†Spider-Man: Homecoming, has some big shoes to fill!
__Oh, and I just can’t get enough of the theme song, too! ūüėÄ
__My rating: 90%.
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First Impressions Review Diary 31-Mar-2017

__Now that we’re three months into the year, now’s the perfect time to give you my first “first impressions” post of 2017, covering what few movies I’ve seen up to this point. I usually post these on a Saturday, but I felt it was far more appropriate for this one to fall at the end of the month instead of the end of the week. You can sort of think of this as a quarterly report. ūüôā

__As always, the best place to start is the cinema. This is what I’ve gone to see so far this year‚Ķ

La La Land (2016)
La La Land__In Los Angeles, jazz pianist Sebastian falls for aspiring actress Mia, and they soon end up having to cope with the pressures of success.
__This has to be one of the most critically lauded films of 2016, hailed as a return of the classic musicals of old. Unfortunately, what impressed everyone else so much, I felt was the film’s weakest aspect. The musical sequences often involve choreographed dances that I couldn’t help but feel looked very unnatural. On stage, it would look fine, but in the naturalistic setting depicted on film, it just looks out of place.
__One thing that did¬†impress me, though, was the film’s use of colour. I think every colour on the spectrum is visible bright and clear in this movie, which makes a welcome change from the washed-out, monochrome colour palate I’m seeing so often.
__But it was the second half that really¬†stuck with me, where the songs become less frequent and it becomes clear that the overall theme is dreams and aspirations, particularly of being successful as a performer. It’s a very profound and hard-hitting message: success in the entertainment industry is just pure luck.
__So I really enjoyed this movie, but maybe not for the same reason as everyone else.
__My rating: 80%. Continue reading

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DC (and Marvel) Animated Movies

__I’m just going to say this upfront: the DCEU movies have not¬†impressed me so far. I know I’m not alone in thinking Warner Bros. is making a complete pig’s ear of this franchise, but why is that? I’ve heard it suggested that they clearly don’t care about the characters or stories they’re adapting; they’re just treating the source material as an anonymous property to manipulate at will ‚Äď and their will is nothing more than to make money.¬†Man of Steel was a transparent attempt to turn Superman into¬†The Dark Knight, and now they’re rushing out a¬†Justice League movie just to capitalise on the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
__While I do¬†feel there’s a lot of truth in those suppositions, though, that’s not why I dislike the DCEU so much. No, my real issue with these movies is just the fact that they’re not fun to watch. They’re visually dull, the dialogue is dry and uninteresting, and they simply have no sense of humour or goodwill whatsoever. Everything else that people have complained about ‚Äď the bad characterisation, the haphazard plots ‚Äď that all comes second as far as I’m concerned. What bothers me the most is that watching them just straight-up depresses me.
__That’s the main reason I disliked Man of Steel: its tone¬†was completely devoid of the inspiration the film itself said the character was supposed to be. Batman v Superman was even worse, not only because it was just as drab and unappealing, but because I felt it had so much more wasted potential.¬†I didn’t hate Suicide Squad, but it was still Warner’s¬†third strike for me. I’ll give them one more chance with Wonder Woman, but if I end up disliking that movie, then that’s it, I’m done. I won’t see Justice League¬†or any of the following movies; I refuse to support them.
_
__I’ve mentioned this a couple of times before, but it bears repeating. I steadfastly believe the DC animated movies really are better on just about every level. When it comes to movies based on DC Comics, I’ll always insist that animation is the best place to look. Anyone who thinks, “Oh, they’re animated, so they’re just kids’ stuff,”¬†needs to wake up and realise they’re not rated G (or U if you live in the UK). They don’t hold back on the violence or heavy themes, and the stories are told with the utmost wit, artistic merit and, above all, respect for the characters and the audience. The creative teams behind those¬†movies clearly know and care what they’re doing.
__Now, don’t get me wrong: Warner Bros. has given us some good live-action DC Comics movies in the past. The two Richard Donner Superman movies were silly, yes, but they still took the character seriously and presented him as a hero who represented the best of humanity ‚Äď perfectly captured in John Williams’ outstanding score. However, I still never had that much respect for Superman as a character until I saw the Animated Series from the 90s. Same with Batman: as great as Tim Burton’s Batman and¬†Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy are, my favourite incarnation of Batman, again, is the Animated Series.
__So yes, there was a time when Warner Bros. could be counted on to represent our favourite superheroes well. They had some stumbles along the way ‚Äď I don’t think anyone will deny that Catwoman was abominable¬†‚Äď but it’s only in the cinematic franchise starting with¬†Man of Steel that they seem to have officially lost all respect for the characters and their fans.¬†Just about every movie in the DCEU line-up so far has an animated counterpart that’s far superior.
__Superman: Unbound was a godsend after Man of Steel; it was so refreshing to get a good Superman movie that year! The animated movie schooled the more mainstream one good and proper on how to portray Superman correctly.
__Batman v Superman¬†was so obviously trying to be Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, but completely missed what made that story so powerful. In the comic (and the two-part animated movie), they fight because it’s Superman’s duty to the government, so he represents the authority and Batman represents the people. Plus, they’re old friends, so you know neither of them really wants the fight to happen. You don’t get¬†any of that dramatic heft in¬†BVS.
__Batman: Assault on Arkham¬†is what the Suicide Squad¬†movie should¬†have been. All the characters are memorable and interesting, and there’s no bullshit attempt to turn them into heroes at the end. Batman and the Joker are still included, but they actually have a purpose in the story; they’re not just there for fanservice.
__Hell, this trend was around even before the DCEU started.¬†Green Lantern is another movie I didn’t hate as much as everyone else. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t like it by any means. I thought it was a mess but still bearable. Still, the 2009 film¬†Green Lantern: First Flight is undeniably superior. The story is better, the narrative is more focused and streamlined, and because it’s animated, it doesn’t have to worry about the visual effects looking like shit.
__And I guarantee the upcoming Wonder Woman¬†movie is not¬†going to be as good as the prior¬†animated film, also from 2009. I’m willing to bet ‚ā¨100 that the animated version will leave it in the dust.
_
__So, now that I’ve pretty firmly established my stance on DC animation versus live action, what about Marvel? Yeah, they’ve had their fair share of animated movies and TV shows too, so am I just as biased towards¬†their work in animation? Well‚Ķ not as much. There are certainly some¬†Marvel sagas that I think worked better in animation, but also a few¬†where I think the live-action movies¬†handled it better. And keep in mind, I’m speaking as someone who never read the comics; most of my knowledge of the characters and their lore comes from word of mouth, especially online video reviews.
__The one example of Marvel animation trumping its live-action counterpart that I always point to is¬†Doctor Strange. The 2007 animated version was my introduction to the character, and it single-handedly pole-vaulted him into my top ten list of all-time favourite characters. While I still like the 2016 movie, it just wasn’t new to me; it felt too much like a rehash for me to hold it in the same high regard. I’ll always hold the animated one closer to my heart. Still, to its credit, the live-action one had a genuine sense of humour to it¬†‚Äď it made me laugh out loud several times¬†‚Äď and it had enough original ideas of its own, particularly the theme of time, to allow it to¬†easily stand apart from its predecessor in my mind. I still prefer the animated one, but I’m happy with both versions in their own right.
__As good as some of the¬†X-Men movies got, I still don’t think any of them measure up to the 90s animated series. Except for the character of Apocalypse, that is. One of the main reasons why I liked¬†X-Men: Apocalypse¬†so much is because it was the first time he didn’t bore me as a villain and seemed like a genuine threat.
__To be honest, I haven’t loved any of the movies focusing on the Hulk, but I’d say my favourite¬†is¬†Hulk Vs., an animated film that actually combines two short stories into one:¬†Hulk vs. Thor and¬†Hulk vs. Wolverine.
__Now, as for Spider-Man‚Ķ Well, my favourite work to feature the character is Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, but in terms of story and characterisation‚Ķ I’d have to say the 90s animated series did it best.¬†To be honest, I don’t think there’s ever been a perfect Spider-Man movie yet. The Sam Raimi movies forgot the character’s wisecracking personality, and the¬†Amazing Spider-Man movies almost completely ignored his job at the¬†Daily Bugle and everything else that goes into balancing his double life. The 90s cartoon¬†manages to pull off both, even though the writing style and overall performance leaves a lot to be desired; it’s very corny and child-orientated, but once you get used to that, the storytelling is actually pretty solid ‚Äď in fact, probably better than most of the movies. The¬†Spectacular Spider-Man comes more highly recommended, so I’ll definitely check out that show¬†when I get the chance. But until then, my impression is that the 90s cartoon, despite its flaws, represents the character and his mythos best.¬†Hopefully,¬†Spider-Man: Homecoming will break the mould and give us¬†the perfect incarnation of the character on the big screen.
__Believe it or not, I even liked the animated film¬†Thor: Tales of Asgard (which is about a teenage Thor) better than the live-action¬†Thor movie, which came out the same year. Still, the film version of Loki eats any of his animated counterparts’ lunches in half a second. And¬†again, I have high hopes for¬†Thor: Ragnarok.
__But one instance where I can confidently tip the scale over to the live-action side is¬†Iron Man. There are two animated¬†Iron Man movies¬†‚ÄstThe Invincible Iron Man and¬†Iron Man: Rise of Technovore¬†‚Äď and neither of them are very good, despite the fact that the former gives us a proper depiction of the Mandarin. So in this case, the¬†Iron Man movies win by a landslide. Not only are they more passionate and earnest films, but Robert Downey Jr. turned the character into such an icon that, when it came to voicing Tony Stark on¬†Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Eric Loomis had no choice but to imitate him.
__Speaking of which,¬†The Avengers is another case where the live-action movies blow the animated ones out of the water. I don’t think I even need to say any more. The Joss Whedon masterpieces put both the¬†Ultimate Avengers movies and¬†Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow to shame.
__But what about the TV series The¬†Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes? One advantage that a TV show has over a movie is that it has so much more time to flesh out the characters; that’s the main advantage that I think the¬†Spider-Man and¬†X-Men cartoons had.¬†Avengers EMH also has plenty of time to tell a much more involved story at a leisurely pace. Not to mention, my favourite character on the show ‚Äď Janet van Dyne, AKA the Wasp¬†‚Äď has yet to be topped in the MCU. Still, the quality of the¬†Avengers movies, particularly their razor-sharp humour, is undeniable, and they do manage to tell their stories in just the right amount of time to feel perfectly concise and give you a magnificent rush. I’d say both the movies and the show are equally good.
__(And, for the record, I like the Guardians of the Galaxy that appear in one episode of EMH *far* better than the movie version.)
_
__Well, this post ended very different to how it started! ūüôā I’m not sure how well my mindset came across in the text, but my attitude did a complete 180 over the course of writing this. I started out determined to rip into the DCEU and beat those movies down, but I ended up feeling pretty positive about the movies and shows I was talking about. That really sums up the difference between the Marvel movies and DC’s: unlike Warner Bros., Marvel Studios not only respects their characters, but fully embraces everything that makes them so inspiring, which I think is why their movies are so universally popular ‚Ästas opposed to the DCEU movies, which are divisive at best.
__Final words‚Ķ Generally speaking, I do prefer what’s being done in animation¬†‚Äď I’m not going to deny that¬†‚Äď but with the right creative team and the right resources, comic book superheroes and their mythos¬†can be done justice in any medium.
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