Monday, March 26, 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games


I've been looking forward to this one. Here's my story with the books: I've read the first one, that's it. The others are on my list, but I'm not there yet, so please don't spoil ME if you choose to comment. Also, I have no idea of the context of the others as well.
Now that that's out of the way, the movie was spectacular. Two and a half hours of everything I could have possibly asked for. I do not plan to recap the story for this one, I think it's worth seeing yourself. Honestly I think even the trailers spoil too much.\

Plot: I'm a big fan. It's emotional and yet physically present the whole time. It's a potential love story wrapped up in and concealed within an action movie, with sci-fi/fantasy elements everywhere. I'm not reviewing the book though, so let's see how they implemented it.
In my opinion, perfectly. It's been a while since I read the book, but I thought they hit every single key point that they needed to. However, my family disagreed a bit. They pointed out that the film needed more to tell in District 12 at first, and that the ending was greatly abbreviated. In my opinion, both of these are for the best. The bit at the beginning was sufficient to give us the background we needed and establish the relationship with Gale, but too much more of that could have been dreadfully boring. I will admit that they tore the thing with her father out of the film pretty effectively, with only the one reference to it. But honestly, unless the father thing becomes a more major element of the sequel books, I don't think it was really that important in the first book. As for the ending, I firmly believe that the film ending is sufficient and not noticeably contradictory. Excepting a piece on the train home, everything that was taken out works better as an opener to movie two than as a closer to movie one. It worked as it did in the books for a reason. In the books, especially the first book, Suzanne Collins had no idea if the public would like her book enough to warrant the sequel she wanted. To try and tilt the results toward that, she wrote in the cliffhangers, the loose ends and problems like Gale's anger, and put them in so that people would ask for a book two to get answers. If she had just left it, it could have been a standalone. Now, here's the movie. The series is already complete - and the difference is that the studio KNOWS it will do the book 2 movie, regardless. Everybody's contracts were signed before release even. They don't need to string you along to get you to come see Book 2. In fact, they CAN'T do what Suzanne Collins did. They CAN'T rely on people's curiosity because people can just go read the books to get the answers. Since there's no incentive to string you along, it's okay to condense the movie a bit and cut off a bit before the actual book's ending.
That said, I can't wait to read Book 2. I'm pretty sure there were a few things in the movie that were lead-ins to book 2, things that Collins couldn't have come up with yet. I'm thinking of the, um, the District 11 thing. I hope that's cague enough to not spoil anything.

Acting: Yeah, they pretty much hit the nail on the head. Actually, so did the casting department - every single character looked and behaved exactly as I imagined. My family thought Peeta would be taller, but I didn't. I think "looks meak but secretly a physical powerhouse" was the right look. Seriously, I have no complaints. Effie Trinket was so amazingly close to my own mental image it's scary. I'm also a big fan of Stanley Tucci as Caesar and the actress for Katniss.

Design: They perfectly hit the futuristic Capitol look and how it contrasts the rustic, poverty-stricken District look. I will say that a few of the designs looked a bit much like a retro sci-fi film than a real thing, but hey, the future is weird. And apparently very pink. Seriously, there was bright pink everywhere!
I wanted to stop for a moment and talk about her dresses. Her parade dress wasn't quite what I was think for her, a bit weirdly angular. The interview dress was stunning, and that was more along the lines of what I'd imagined for the parade as well
Also, Wes Bentley(playing Seneca Crane)'s facial hair was really cool, great design there.

Music: Hell yeah! It's really good. I downloaded the score right after I got home. It's bloody fantastic. I hope the rest of the score gets released soon. My connected the guitars to the Firefly/Serenity sound, and the beating drums to the Halo sound.

Violence: I need to address this because it's causing a ruckus. What on earth is so bad that you can't see in any other PG-13 movie? It's got a lot of very implied violence, and we see some kills, but it's nothing new. The film IS very intense, and the personal nature of it is unsettling, but this is just a modern day extreme arena fight. Yes, the folks in it are young. But really, it's not the violence is glorified. It's presented in a way that we abhor the violence, and so does Katniss and Peeta and all the protagonists. If the violence was a good thing, I'd see the argument. But this is FIGHTING violence. It uses it as a way to generate anger toward the fascist totalitarian Penam, and I think all of these themes are significant. The violence is a means to an end of relating these themes, and it does it better than anything else could have.

The Flaw: Only one thing is actually flawed in any particular way in my opinion - shaky cam. There's a little bit too much of it. I'm usually fairly tolerant, and I can see why it would be used to generate that jittery, adrenaline-fueled frantic pace of a lot of the scenes, but they went a bit overboard, mostly during the first scene of the Games themselves and during the finale.

Verdict: This is a short review because I can't really find anything wrong really.
Watch This Movie If You Like: Movies. Seriously, if you like movies as a whole you can probably find it within yourself to like this. Also if you're a fan of the books.
Don't Watch This Movie If You're Expecting: I dunno, mindless action or stupid comedy? I'm drawing a blank on what else you could be expecting that would ruin your experience.
Final Grade: 9.5/10, A

If you're wondering what to expect next, I'm almost done with the second Phoenix Wright game so I'll do a short review of that soon, and I should be playing Dungeon World again with my buds this week sometime so I'll put up my Session 2 notes. I'll also be uploading my first impressions and annotations on the DW Beta 2 rules. Now go see The Hunger Games!

End Recording,

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Movie Review: John Carter


So I went to see this today and was...hmm. I want to say I was pleasantly surprised, but I wasn't really that surprised. I got what I was expecting, and my expectations happened to be high enough that it was significantly enjoyable! So know that up front - this is a good movie and is worth seeing. Background time though.

The Basics: Made by Disney, Joh Carter stars Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, stars in the upcoming Battleship) and Lynn Collins (True Blood, also X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and is directed (and written by!) by Andrew Stanton, whose work includes Pixar films Finding Nemo and WALL-E. The movie is based on A Princess of Mars, a classic pulp novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The story has had a hand in inspiring the Star Wars franchise as well as James Cameron's Avatar, and has had numerous attempts to actually make it into a feature film, but this is the first successful complete adaptation. I feel it important to note that I have NO knowledge of Burroughs's original text, so take my words in that context.
The Plot (essentially spoiler-free!): Mars isn't a dead planet but a dying one. The planet is dominated by two city-states, Helium and Zodanga, which have been at war for a thousand years. The leader of the Zodanga, Sab Than, receives a godly weapon, The Ninth Ray, and begins single-handedly winning the war. He declares that he'll agree to a cease-fire if he can marry the Helium princess, Dejah Thoris.
Back on Earth, it is 1881 John Carter has died. His estate is transferred to Edgar Rice Burroughs, along with a secret diary containing the story of the film (which we are to assume will be changed to a book and later released by Burroughs, which is pretty cool). The story talks about how in 1861, post-Civil War, John Carter is hunting for gold in Arizona when through a series of events he ends up on Mars. Due to the lower gravity there, he happens to be super-strong and can jump huge distances (since our muscles are built for our environment, so they'd be stronger to compensate for our higher gravity). His first encounter is with the giant four-armed green alien Tharks. Through events he gets tied into the conflict with Sab Than, and that's as far as I'm going to go without spoiling.

The plot is pretty good. Because this isn't a review of the original text, I'll try to stick to reviewing how they handled it. In general, it was handled well, but most of my complaints about it boil down to one point: it was BEGGING to be longer. Not too much longer, but a bit. As is, it's 130 minute long, and bumping it up to two and a half hours would have solved so much. A lot of scenes, ESPECIALLY in the first half, seemed disjointed or abrupt in the transitions. They slotted together in weird ways, and just a minute more of lingering in various scenes, or explanation, or even a few more minutes of backstory in the beginning would have done a LOT to help. The second half isn't nearly as touched by this.
It felt like a lot of the time it was assumed that the audience has a basic understanding of the source text. In general though this wasn't an issue, this is a nitpick. The story is good. The only other issue I kinda have is that is was VERY pulpy - while this is, of course, the way the original book was written, the world has changed and pulp isn't really a singificant genre anymore and could have used some writing around it to make it seem more like a modern sci-fi and less like a retro sci-fi, though I suppose that's valid too. It was advertised as modern sci-fi though. They should've made a big deal of its retro-style, that'd be good. That's presentation though, not an issue with the content itself.
The 3D: First: The 3D is NOT BAD. It didn't make the film unenjoyable in any way. In fact, I basically forgot the glasses were even on.  However, I wanted to mention that I think the film would have been better without it for two reasons, and no, neither of them is "I hate 3D". The first is the darknening. I don't know if this is a universal, but our theater's 3D glasses are shaded slightly so it makes everything darker. The movie has some brilliant bright colors, and it would be even stronger if I could fully experience those colors. The other thing is related to how they do the 3D, by blurring things according to distance. In some of the large sweeping shots near the beginning that establish the setting, it would have been nice if they hadn't blurred out the back. I know it wasn't the focal point of the scene, but with all that amazing scenery it needed to be unobstructed by blur. Again though, this didn't make the movie worse, it just kept it from obtaining an even higher success.
The General Performance, and Dialogue Writing: Well, it was pretty good. Nothing particularly wrong with the acting at all, though I liked the Tharks' acting even moreso than that of the humans/red martians. The dialogue was pretty cheezy a few times, but in general was pretty good. Needed some more exposition woven into it (which could have helped with my own feeling of disjointed-ness).
The Art Direction: LOVED IT. Best part. It was everything I wanted in planetbound sci-fi art direction. Everything was so Star Wars and Avatar and familiar yet new. The Tharks were easily my favorite design, they're large and tough with those tusks, the four-arms makes them instantly alien, and their tech and culture (along with painted bodies) just really spoke to me. Additionally, that dog thing that bonds with John is hilarious and cute and alien. The riding beasts of the Tharks were very much familiar, a combination of Star Wars' banthas, Avatar's giant beast things, and real life rhinos. It felt RIGHT, like it could be real. I wish there were some bird creatures though.
The tech design was cool, pretty steampunk-y and industrial. The overall shape of the flying crafts were cool. The costumes were pretty good overall (and I have more to say about those in a moment). The environment felt like a fantasy mars, and was a great, if relatively unoriginal, rendition of the wasteland world. The Therns reminded me a lot of the Priors from the last couple seasons of Stargate SG-1, as well as Fringe's Observers.
I was immediately reminded of Frank Frazetta and Gerald Brom. I've had personal exposure to a lot of Brom's works through D&D's Dark Sun setting, and Frazetta's Conan paintings obviously were huge inspirations. The costumes were very Frazetta feeling, particularly the wedding dress Dejah wears. everything really benefited from that red-filter feel that's always permeated those works and Dark Sun and Conan and all.

All in all, I think it was an excellent movie. Flaws in places, but forgivable due to the genre. It's been stated that it's the first of a series (I don't recall, but it might have been a trilogy idea), and I think that's a pretty do-able thing. Also, as the story goes on, the less it will have to explain the world each time, so the disjointedness will go away. I'll be going to see the sequel.
Watch This Movie If You: Like sci-fi, like pulpy over-the-top action, are a fan of the original work, or love Frazetta and Brom's work.
Don't Watch This Movie If You're Expecting: Something truly original or stunning, poignant dialogue.
Score & Grade: 8/10, B+ (maybe A-).

On a final note, at the very end it gives us an image of Mars and the words JOHN CARTER OF MARS appear over it before fading to credits. Why was this not the title? Seriously. John Carter of Mars is an even better title than John Carter. Whatever though, that's taste.

End Recording,

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dungeon World - Session 1 Actual Play

So we started Dungeon World today! As I'd mentioned, the older plan of playing Apocalypse World was foregone since Kris isn't big into the post-apoc genre, but old school D&D is totally cool with us. Curtis wasn't in the gang today, but we're joined by old friend Kenny! Kenny played with us through high school and we drifted apart about a year ago. I was able to get him to come back, and he enjoyed it, so hey, got a member back! Anyway, here's the basic rundown.

The Cast -
We used 3 classes, The Cleric, The Fighter, and The Thief.
The Cleric - Played by Kris, his name is Grizwald (I know, wizard-y, but hey, it works). He has sharp eyes, strange hair, flowing robes, and a thin body. He's human, so he gets a Wizard spell on his spell list. He's good as well. He has Str13, Dex11, Con15, Int9, Wis17, Cha8. For his deity, we twisted the exact rules a bit and gave him 2 domains since I believe those are purely descrriptive, so his god has the domains of Bloody Conquest and Civilization, and has the precepts that his religion believes in sacrificial rites and trial by combat. We decided that the god's name was Bale - and he looks like a demon. It became established through the game that Bale IS a demon king(more devil, I suppose), and that Grizwald is simply deluded as to his deity's purposes - he thinks Bale believes in destroying savages and bringing the law of society upon the barbarous heretic nations. In truth, Bale is just plain tyrannically evil. Grizwald has a holy symbol that looks like a demon's head, carries a Mace of Sharpness (this is a reference to an older campaign, its a flanged mace, but instead of each flange it has axe heads), leathor armor, and 5 rations. His bonus wizard spell is Contact Spirit, which I love.
The Fighter - Played by Daniel, his name is Dim Orlak. He has hard eyesm wild hair, scarred skin, and a built body. He's neutral, and a dwarf. His stats are Str17, Dex13, Con15, Int8, Wis9, Cha11. His signature weapon is an ancestral battleaxe at close range, and it's sharp (and I'm realizing right now he misread, he should have two enhancements and doesn't. Whoops). It is ornate. His story is that he is of Clan Orlak, a powerful dwarven clan, and he was heir to it. His father died and his uncle married to become his stepfather and take control of the throne (yes, very Hamlet). Dim lived up to his name and led a failed coup, by which I mean he and a couple buddies went and gave a rousing speech to the local army to try and gain their support, at which point they were arrested. After being broken out (see Bonds) he was forced to leave the dwarven lands, but not before he stole his father's ancestral weapon, Hrothgar. Hrothgar is bejeweled all along it , and is hefty and powerful. He wears plate armor.
The Thief - Played by Kenny, a man born with the name Shank had no other possible paths in life - Crime was his destiny. Shank has shifty eyes, a hooded head, a cloaked outfit, and a lithe body. He's neutral - really neutral, its not him lying. He's human, and he has Str13, Dex17, Con15, Int9, Wis8, and Cha11. He carries a shiv (what else?) and a dose of bloodweed poison, as well as his 30 uses of dungeon rations and his leather armor. Kenny came a bit later than the rest of us, so we didn't spend a huge amount of time with an individual backstory, we figured the bonds would fill that out.
And of course, The Dungeon Master, me. I've never run AW or DW before, and while somewhat daunted by some of the principles, I'm gonna give it my best shot. I also have 0 experience with true old-school D&D, btw. None of us do.
The Bonds - Now that you know them individually, here's their interconnections.
Grizwald: Dim+1, Shank+1. Shank has insulted my deity. I am working on converting Dim to my faith.
Dim: Shank+2, Grizwald+1. Shank owes me their life, whether they admit it or not. I have sworn to protect Shank. Grizwald is soft, but I will make them hard like me (it was pointed out numerous times how innately sexual this sounds).
Shank: Dim+2, Grizwald+2. I stole something from Grizwald. Dim has my back when things go wrong. Grizwald knows incriminating details about me. Dim and I have a con running.
So here's the story. Shank is in prison for undecided reasons in the dwarven lands. Dim does his extremely ill-advised coup and ends up in that same prison. Shank helps him to bust out, and in the process Dim saved Shank's life. Dim then swore to protect Shank for the help in breaking out, and Shanks knows that Dim's got his back. A couple months late, they're in a different land and meet Grizwald on the street. Dim and Shank perform their usual con - Dim talk and distracts while Shank picks their pocket. Shank steals the holy symbol from Grizwald, who notices and stops him (hence, Shank has insulted my deity and I stole something from Grizwald. And because Grizwald knows this, he knows incriminating details). They end up partnering (I'll be digging into this later) and workign together. Grizwald knows he'll never get Shank on his deity's side because of the law thing, but he's trying to convert Dim. Dim is constantly training and pushing Grizwald, trying to harden him up.

For ease, I'm running The Bloodstone Idol, since Basic didn't have any monster generation rules that I saw, and I just wanted to see what they're giving me.
We started in a tavern in Blackmoore and I primed them on the local situation with the Hall Under The Hill, the goblins fighting lizardment, and Grunloch through the local bartender. Shank stole a bit out of the register while the others were distracting the bartender, and afte he did this we realized that we hadn't highlighted stats.
I don't perfectly recall who gave which, but Shank ended with Dex and Cha highlighted, Dim had Str and Wis, and Grizwald had Con and Wis.
The gang turned in for the night to set out for the hall the next morning. Grizwald communed for Bless and Cure Light Wounds. Around noon, they arrive at the hill. They go striding over the crest of the hill to look at the entrance and get spotted, first thing. Goblins and Lizardmen both. Shank immediately tucked himself away behind some rubble, but the other two were entirely exposed. As Grizwald cast Bless on himself (successfully), they could hear the lizards yell out "Look at this, those fool goblins got some mercenaries to fight for them, those cowards!" Hearing this, Dim charged the two lizards who had stepped out, each with large hammers. It...did not go well. Dim ended up on his belly with the lizards over him. Grizwald quickly dashed forward and threw up his mace to block and ended up reducing the damage enough to nullify it on Dim, as well as opening up the lizard and slicing up its arm with the mace's blades. Shank took this as his cue to skirt around his rubble and appear out of nowhere to backstab the lizard, killing it instantly. The goblins at this point could be heard muttering things like "Wait, we hired guys? Did Glug do this on his own? They're killing lizards, might as well help out." and started peppering the region in bolts. Some rather exciting combat ensued, including two more lizards coming out, one with hammer, the other with sword and shield. Combat continued, and numerous times things looked pretty grim for a couple of them. I didn't kill anyone - I could have, but I felt that I wasn't getting the numbers right and that I might have been dealing with the stuff a bit wrong. It also didn't help that other than Shank they rolled awful. Dim failed just as often as he succeeded, and since he was hack-and-slashing all the time it meant lots of pounding on him. After a while, a goblin came roaring down the hill yelling "They're not our men! Get 'em!" and the goblins joined in the fight. Shank broke off and took him down, but for the rest of the fight there were an irritating pair of crossbowmen constantly shooting, along with two goblin warriors. The PCs got swarmed. Both Grizwald and Shank were at 1 HP at one point, so there was some frantic spellcasting going on. Once the goblins and lizardmen were dead, the crossbowmen ran off. It was, all in all, a nasty fight, but they came through alright in the end. Grizwald levelled, and took Inquisitor, which made sense for Bale. As a petition, he sacrificed the alters and some of the things in them to Bale, and was visited by his god in his mind. In a world of blood and fire and brimstone, he sat upon a throne surrounded by skulls, and announced that he was pleased, and he removed the -1 to casting Grizwald had incurred, as well as adding a +1 to the Discern Realities check he was doing. We decided that Bale wasn't even TRYING to hide his evilness - it isn't a trick. Grizwald is just entirely oblivious. Dim and Shank have been trying to show Grizwald the evil, and it just isn't working.
After the discern realities check, they arrived in the Hall. I played out the Steward and its obnoxiously welcoming greeting, and they decided to take the spiral stairs (they saw the corridor, but didn't go down it to see the ropes or Idol). They stopped off on the landing with the vault doors, and while picking the lock, Shank noticed runes outlining the door that matched ones on the wall around the door. A spout lore check got that it was set to go off when the door is opened, though they didn't know what it did. They did it and went in, and by accident triggered the Ghost appearing (also levelling Dim, who took Merciless). It wasn't even aware that it had died, it thought they were here to sacrifice him, or to free him. He reacted with anger to each attempt to tell him he was dead. To try gaining some info, Grizwald used Contact Spirit to call an aspect of his deity, which ended up taking the shape of a classic shoulder-devil. Honestly it wasn't too helpful. At the end of the session Kris still has like 4 hold to use though, so he may still have some use.
When he tried to leave, he stuck on the exit, since the runes that had activated were a Spirit Barrier effect. Dim swung his axe through him to prove that he was dead, and the ghost changed. He became more spiritlike, his anger triggered, and he started terrorizing. Dim swung again, and did some damage, but not enough to do too much hurt on it. It swooped through Dim, and was hovering over Grizwald (who'd fallen over in the action of the change, which was accompanied by the walls shaking) when Shank shoved his blade through it, accidentally hitting Grizwald too. Grizwald decided that was enough, and concentrated a red ring of energy and together with the aspect blasted the ghost with Inflict Light Wounds, which did enough to totally kill it. After re-ordering themselves, they settled in to begin a search of the room. We ended session.
Shank knew Dim better, Grizwald knows Shank better, and Dim knows Grizwald better. I don't recall our exact reasonings, sorry.

Well, it went pretty good. I'm having a bit of trouble with a few things.
1) This is a chronic issue of mine - I have a hard time with premade adventures. It just makes me feel iffy while running one.
2) I wasn't sure what to the monsters be doing when it came around to them. A lot of the time it seemed like just arbitrary damage punishment, but there wasn't a ton else I could think of doing.
3) Should NOT have highlighted Cha for Shank. While it would have been interesting, he didn't get to use it really. Parley in and of itself seems very hard to fit into a situation, unfortunately, and Shank really fell behind on XP. There wasn't really a place here for him to be sneaking/infiltrating either, so he wasn't getting alignment XP, and since Backstab is Str, he wasn't getting any there either. That's one thing I would shift, I would make Backstab Dex for us.
4) I had a hard time habitually referring to them by character name. It's never been a practice in our group, and its being troublesome to adapt to.
5) More than anything, we've never played anything with this much "The rules come from the fiction." We made it work, but we didn't get too far into that. I think some more in-character work would help with that a bit. We definitely agreed that our heads were in the fiction than in our Dogs game, though not as much as our 3:16 game. We're working on it, and we all admitted that we're all lacking in it some, and that it will come with some practice.
6) The monsters in the original did enormous amounts of damage - I would have TPK'd fast. I shifted them down at advice from Story Games, but I wasn't sure how far, so it's a guess. Now that most of them are level 2 though I seems like I'm dealing too little damage again since they're massively strong at this point (d10+d4+1 fighter damage, +1d6 if he takes a blow) so my monsters don't live long unless I use large groups. I hope the Beta's monster creation rules are nice for this.
7) I need to get better at describing these rooms. That's why I usually like to just invent as I go, in this case I want to try to keep it mostly to what the book has. In the future, beyond the Idol, I'll probably have a bit better time with this, but still. I also wish the only plus in all their Int, Wis, and Cha stats wasn't Grizwald's +2 Wis.

Oh well. I'm looking forward to the next round. So far Kris' deity is the coolest thing for me. Kill of the night goes to Shank for Assassin's Creed'ing a dude.

End Recording,

...Beta? Dear Dungeon World writers (or whomever handles submissions to the Adventurer's Guild), I confirm that the email I am signed up on your website with is cmmc. It's my parent's email and not explicitly tied to here or to the email account I used to send this to, so I thought it worth confirming that this is indeed the same person ;)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Movie Review: The Artist


I don't even know what to say. I've only ever seen a couple black-and-white films(Citzen Kane and Double Indemnity), and have never seen a silent film. I wasn't at all sure what to expect, and was somewhat worried. Yeah, I knew that it was covered in awards, but there was a bit of fear that that was just critic snobbery.
It wasn't.
The Artist was an incredible film. The theater was almost empty - there were 6 of us in there total, and I was the only one under 50. Of course, it was 11:00 on a Tuesday, and the movie isn't exactly the type to attract the kids. It's been rolled out into theaters very slowly, and that 11:00 time was the only one not in a VIP theater. However, the silence in the theater was actually perfect - it let the movie dominate and let those truly silent moments (as a silent film can tend to have) really hold power.
Now, I'll try to keep spoilers free, but if you're super-worried skip to the Watch This If... at the end.

The Basics & Plot: The Artist is a black-and-white silent film made with modern film technology (minus the 3d, thank god). It centers around George Valentin, a French silent film actor (as in the character is an actor) in 1927. It follows his downfall as he refuses to leave silent film and enter the talkies, the new era of non-silent films. The co-star is Peppy Miller, a fan of Valentin's who, after a chance encounter with him personally, becomes an actress herself. She, on the other hand, is one of the first to embrace talking films. She becomes a star, hugely famous, while Valentin falls into obscurity. The story follows this storyline along and I don't want to descend into spoilers.
The plot is very good. It works perfectly to let that old-school feel come through, and has the whole range of emotions being expressed really well despite being unable to use sound. It's believable as well - none of the twists were contrived or unrealistic.

The Quality: Rock solid. If I could see old movies in HD, I would. There are a lot of clever, cool-looking shots, the costumes are all outstanding (I read an interview with the guy, who's done work on numerous other amazing films, and he talked about how it's especially hard to costume for films like this since a lot of the time, you rely upon color to give impacts, emotions, effects, and such, and without color to rely on you need to make really expressively impactful costumes to convey the feel you need), and the fonts on the text cards was surprisingly nice. The actors all knew exactly what they were doing to communicate through silence, which was amazing since I don't believe any of them had ever done it before, and I don't think the director had either. Amazing stuff.

The Music: Always felt at ease with the film. It lined up just right, sometimes even syncing to footsteps. It was strong and creeping/scary at times when it needed to be, and other times was very light and fun.

Some scenes of note: This section contains SPOILERS, skip to the Watch This If... after this if you like.
The Nightmare: This scene had sound. Holy cow. It was sound in a silent world, and he was the only one who couldn't speak. It did a great job of communicating his fear of the world starting to talk around him, and since the sound was only used in this scene and at the end, it was exceptionally powerful.
The Gun: Yeah. This was very good. Super-tense, you could believe it was happening, and Peppy's driving also delivered that tension. The BANG titlecard was perfectly placed. That moment of sheer terror for Valentin, and then oh, it was Peppy. It got out of the tension very well too. The dog falling over was the perfect touch of humor to lighten the mood, and the way it had been done before made it not feel like a cheap laugh but instead like, "well of course that would happen."
The Dance: The one at the beginning where he's doing the back-and-forth with Peppy where they can't see each other, not the one at the end. It just had that fun feeling, and the choreography was amazing.
In Front of the Crowd: At the very beginning, where he's grandstanding. Just hilarious, especially with the wife. Freaking egomaniac.


I'll be honest, this is a hard review. Reviews are supposed to point out the good AND the bad, and, well, I can't think of any bad. I'd like to have seen a better conclusion to the wife thing, and that's the only thing I can think of.
This movie is pretty much flawless. Is it for everyone? Not quite. Nearly everyone? Hell yes.

Watch This Movie If: You like humor, drama, or tension. If you like old-school B&W movies, silent films, or just want a good time.
Don't Watch This Movie If You're Expecting: A mindless action film. If you don't expect that you should be fine.
Score and Grade: 10/10, A+.

If you have the chance, go see this movie.

In other news, RPG group is meeting tomorrow for Dungeon World! So freaking excited. Also I'm buying tickets to Go Play NW (and indie tabletop RPG convention in Seattle) tonight! First con ever. That's at the end of June though. Also, going to see John Carter on the weekend, so another review'll be by soon.

End Recording,

Friday, March 9, 2012

Pixel Art: Arachne's Spider with Dawnbringer's Palette

As a primer for any of the few people who actually read this blog, pixel art (if you don't already know) is a special form of digital art focused on the precise pixel level. While digital painting and photography technically use the pixel as the medium, they are not pixel art. Pixel art (or it's smaller-scale cousin spriting) is an art form that concentrates on the placement of individual pixels and clusters of pixels. It is made primarily with the pencil tool, rather than the brush tool. Automatic tools such as the brush's automatic anti-aliasing and filters are typically forbidden. It is often characterized by a limited palette and a smaller size due to the tight focus.
I've been doing pixel art for probably seven and a half years now. I'm not half bad, if I may be so bold. I showcase most of my work on Pixeljoint, so if you'd like to see it I'll drop off the URL.

Oh my goodness I'm actually posting art. Been in a pixel rut lately (aside from a sprite project I'm keeping under wraps for now), been doing this piece off and on for a few weeks, taking up maybe 5 total hours of dedicated work.

To explain the title: Neither the lineart nor the palette is mine. The lineart is by Arachne, of [link] Check under pixel art, this one is on Page 1 of the sorted linearts. I've done work on Arachne's lines before, and will almost certainly do so again. There's a lot there to work with, and it's so strange and interesting! The inspiration to go back and use one of Arachne's lines actually came from crackerss on deviantart, who did one a bit ago and reminded me of them.
The palette is by Dawnbringer, who won the Pixeljoint palette contest for it, so I thought I'd give it a stab. You can see his article on the palette here: [link]

At first I was suspicious of how the palette was working, the colors didn't harmonize right in my mind, but on zooming out I really like how they work. I ended up having an internal debate over whether or not to use an additional color; it changes the look a bit, and I'm not sure which is better to me, so I'm going with the fewer color count as the main. Here's the alternate:

Am I entirely happy with every pixel line? No, I don't think so. There's some mess in there, but to be totally honest I like that look a bit, it makes it look a bit more organic in my mind that way, since I don't think I go into jaggy territory anywhere. I'm aware that with the depth thing in it the face/mouth should be darker, but I wanted it as a focal point as well as the rest so it gets to be a bit brighter. Aside from that I'm quite happy with how it handles depth, that's something I'm usually bad at. I'm also aware of some clashing textures - the front leg in particular is strange. The top part is almost too textured, the bottom part not enough. Overall I'm happy with it, and I hope you guys like it too.

As usual, small crits will be fixed, large things will be considered and th advice incorporated into future pieces but likely not this one. It took maybe 5 hours, and the shown version has 10+trans colors (alternate has 11+trans). Made in GIMP. Palette by Dawnbringer, lineart by Arachne.

Hope you all enjoy the piece! Let me know if you like me posting my art stuff here, I'm pretty much just stretching to get ANY content out right now. I'm not actively gaming anything, and the next session of RPG is slated for next Thursday. Due to Kris' iffy-ness over the post-apocalyptic setting, we've switched from Apocalypse World to Dungeon World - close, but in a fantasy setting instead. I still plan to play Apocalypse World at some point, probably on the side with a slightly different play group so Kris doesn't need to play games he doesn't want to. I've successfully recruited Kenny, who played with us all through high school, so I'm excited to game with him again. Bro will likely not be playing, at least for the first session, due to a scheduling mishap. So hopefully I'll have some stuff up here soon for you guys!

End Recording,