Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lego Lord of the Rings Review

While I am a fan of the Lego series, I am aware it is a series designed for children, and I can't say I didn't feel a bit foolish when telling my eight year old cousins I had the same game as them on my Christmas list. With that in mind, I haven't been able to put this game down the past few days.

Lego Lord of the Rings is the first of the franchise to include voiceovers, and with all the actors, including the villains, having returned to do the work they delivered classic lines from the movies splendidly. There were a lot of cutscenes, almost too many, throughout the levels and in between, yet some of the funniest things in the game were in them. At least for the first playthrough, I suggest watching rather than skipping--Peter Jackson even has a couple cameos in Lego form.

I completed Story Mode in less than a week, playing a couple hours a day; that left me at 30% completion. The real bulk of the game takes place afterwards in Freeplay Mode, when the unlocked characters and crafted items are available to find hidden rooms and solve puzzles.

Unlike other Lego games I own: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Batman, Lord of the Rings doesn't have a single hub where a player spends most of their time buying other characters and deciding which level to play; instead, there is an overworld similar to a classic RPG. Not only can I fast travel to a level for Freeplay via the Middle Earth map, exactly like the system I'm accustomed to, I can travel around and explore. For example, after I finished Story Mode, I spent a solid hour climbing around the walls of Minas Tirith in search of Mithril blocks, and I must say, the view from the highest tower was spectacular for a Lego game.

The reason I searched for Mithril blocks is because there's a blacksmith in Bree. Once I've discovered a design in a level or the overworld, I can save up blocks and purchase a Mithril item I help the blacksmith forge. A lot of the items are cosmetic or used solely as hand-ins for the many fetch quests the overworld sports, but not all of them are Mithril. I happened by a rubber duck helmet as a treasure last night, and I had a laugh while the duck replaced Gimli's helmet. My favorite has to be a disco phial I crafted last night, which plays a techno mash-up of game voiceovers, and if you stand close enough to NPCs accompanying you, they'll dance. If I had one complaint about this system, it's that I constantly have to reapply the objects.

After creating a Mithril squeak sword, I wasted time racing sheep and tracking down characters I wished to play as; rather than a shop, the unlockable characters are scattered throughout the overworld. Many of them are familiar, but I was delighted to see Tom Bombadil and Radaghast the Brown made the cut, even if Radaghast looks exactly like Gandalf...except brown. I even found a blacksmith design for Mithril Fireworks--this was handy as it's the only thing I know of that can explode locks and metal--hidden above Gothmog (you'll remember him as the disfigured orc that commanded the Witch King's army against Minas Tirith) in Mordor.

As usual, different characters have different abilities. Legolas shoots targets with bows, can walk on top of ropes and snow, and jumps high. Gimli can smash hard objects, crawl through doors like the hobbits, and can be thrown by the taller characters. Sam can cook or fight with his frying pan, light fires, dig and grow plants while Merry fishes, and Frodo uses the Light of Earendil to brave dark spaces. There are more abilities as the game progresses, which any character, if you have the right Mithril items, can perform without having to switch later on.

Overall, I'm quite pleased with Lego Lord of the Rings. I was almost inundated with things to do after completing Story Mode, and for the first time, it wasn't just grinding through the levels over and over from one hub until I had finished all the achievements. I didn't see or experience any of the glitches I have read about, though I did receive an update before I could play that might have had fixes. At the moment, I'm at 45% completion so I have a long way to go and hours of enjoyment ahead of me--replay is still one of the shining aspects of the Lego franchise.

Friday, December 28, 2012

I Love Reading

As I opened World War Z late last night I sat still for a moment and listened to the wind rattle my window. With all my music and movies and video games, the only time it is quiet in my room is when I read a book; I would include when I sleep, but I usually sleep with the TV on, and I'm aware that I snore.

There's nothing quite like when a book grabs hold of me and I can't put it down, eager for the next sentence, next page, next chapter, staying up to all hours of the night until my back and neck are sore, my fingers hurt, and my vision is hazy. Unlike a movie or video game, where I am forced into one vision as events unfold, a book offers me an escape that is dependent on my imagination alone. I doubt few people, though they read the same passage, envision the same characters or setting. Even the action might vary.

Since I picked up The Hobbit years ago, the countless worlds and people within books have fascinated me, and an author with a knack for turning a phrase is just as intriguing. Reading offers an outlet for the problems and monotony of life, as well as ways to hone my own craft--sometimes, the worst books can help me learn more about the art of writing than a good book. It's a great way to wind down at the end of a day too, and along with experiencing a tale, playing a movie in our minds, we expand our vocabulary, develop better grammar, and discover truths, falsehoods, and philosophies. We think and question the world, a trait I find people that do not read often lack.

When I don't read, I don't have an urge to write. When I'm not writing regularly, I also stop drawing; I get bitter and depressed and lose hope, so I try to always have a book in waiting. I have asked for books every Christmas and birthday since I was eleven, and the only problem I have this time of year is trying to decide which book to read first.

This past week, I have had my new books stacked on an end table near my TV chair. As I have done every year prior, I rummage through them, flip the pages, smell the paper, read the inserts, the first and last sentence, and the blurbs from critics while I debate which book it's going to be. Am I going to combat an army of zombies or should I revisit Pennywise's torment of children? Should I hear the call of Cthulhu or better my knowledge on 1930s gangsters?

I love reading--I wish everyone did.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Still Here

As I expected, I woke up today on 12/21/12 at the same time as yesterday to a bit of rain hitting my bedroom window. I yawned, stretched, and went downstairs to make coffee, remembering there were people in the world that thought the apocalypse was supposed to have arrived.

This isn't the first time the end was nigh, and it certainly won't be the last. As seen in this comprehensive list of predicted apocalypses there have been upwards of 50 times in my 32 years of life that I should have been witness to doomsday. Other than the confusion over the Mayan calendar, Y2K was probably the most hyped.

I recall spending New Year's Eve of 1999 in a drunken haze...partying like it was 1999, but we were not gathered as a last hurrah. I was with my friends, home on break from college as if it was any other holiday. At midnight, the closest we came to a worldwide meltdown of computers and technology was when my friend shut off the lights and music and screamed, "Y2K!" For the people that didn't have their tongues and lips occupied or weren't previously engaged in one of the upstairs bedrooms, we laughed and cheered and resumed our celebration.

That's not say I believe life on earth, specifically human life, is eternal. Earth itself is not eternal. There are plenty of things in the universe that are not supernatural capable of wiping us out: nuclear war, a global-killer meteor, an enormous volcanic eruption (I recently read this might be what did in the dinosaurs), and a pandemic. I'm sure there are others as well not coming to mind. Of course, assuming humanity somehow survives for millions of years without a catastrophe, either our sun will feast on us or a collision with the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy will end our planet--maybe we'll have colonized other planets by then, but suffice to say, life and earth are finite. If, against all logic, earth and humanity remain beyond our sun's duration, there's always that pesky, supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way, ever-growing and sucking us all inward to places unknown.

Is the end near; can it be predicted? I'm skeptical of both. I'll remain so, until there is either a zombie at my door or the trumpets of angels blast from the sky.

Monday, December 17, 2012


I drew and framed this character from my fantasy novel for my dad as a Christmas present. Famini is a caretaker of sorts, a halfling that watches over the Nem Forest while guarded by a host of mischievous Tengu. His design came to me from looking at the negative space in a drawing my older brother did years back; I saw unintended forms and faces and sketched them into a notebook my senior year of college. Famini's face, along with his flower-hat, was among them.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review (Spoiler Alert)

There was a time in my life when I hated books and thought they were boring. In the fifth grade, that changed. I picked up a copy of The Hobbit from a shelf in the back of the classroom. The book's cover and the table of contents had been torn off; every page was battered. It just so happened a day later I came down with the flu and had to stay home. While I recovered, sitting in my bed and watching TV, the power went out. Too weak to play with toys, I opened The Hobbit and read it start to finish in a day. I have loved books, especially fantasy, since that moment.

Knowing that, one can imagine I yearned for a movie about Bilbo Baggins' adventure as much as I was apprehensive and concerned about its treatment on the big screen--last night was a wonderful experience. Even at a midnight showing, the crowd was lively. They clapped and cheered and laughed throughout, and I caught myself on several occasions with a huge grin as the actors delivered lines and songs from the book, word for word.

An Unexpected Journey was somehow faithful and different at the same time. Peter Jackson, wanting to flesh the story out a bit more (I don't blame him as The Hobbit is only 300 pages) made the decision to include lore from the appendices, unfinished tales, and the Silmarillion. I knew this going into the film, but I didn't know how much was going to be added.

Spoilers below!

I think the largest change was making Azog, the Goblin King of Moria, a major antagonist. While Azog's son, Bolg, was in The Hobbit--he still will be for anyone worried that Jackson may have merged father and son into one character--Azog was supposed to have died at the Battle of Azanulbizar, slain by Dain, son of Nain. Here too, Jackson swapped Nain and Dain for Thrain and Thorin, but I don't hate this move. For me, it was interesting to have an antagonist, a prominent one, tail Thorin's company on the first leg of their journey. It also made sense to me that the dwarves were forced to seek shelter with Elrond, instead of going willingly, and Jackson has now presented us with a war of families within the war of races.

There were some minor tweaks as well, which I felt were altered to speed the flow of action sequences; they were: the dwarves taking the trolls head-on before capture rather than one or two at a time, a battle between dwarves, orcs, and wargs on the plains, no guards at the exit to the Misty Mountains' caverns for Bilbo to slip around (instead Bilbo debates whether or not to slay Gollum), and goblins did not burn the trees Thorin's company climbed up.

I was absolutely thrilled by the additions to the story. Radaghast the Brown proved an even better character than I anticipated, adding humor and action, and we were given a council between Saruman, Elrond, Gandalf, and Galadriel. The Battle of Azanulbizar was a complete surprise, a welcome one at that. Even though we got to witness the fall of Erebor, the attack on Dale, and a glimpse of Bard as a child, Jackson was also tricky with how much of Smaug he showed us, saving the complete reveal for the sequels.

I heard a person behind me complain as we left the theater that the story in the beginning was slow, yet as a Tolkien enthusiast, I was delighted to see Bilbo and Frodo plan for Bilbo's birthday party, and I smiled throughout the unexpected party as dwarves flipped plates room to room and sang and Bilbo struggled with his decision to join Thorin as a burglar. After all, there are thirteen dwarves to introduce, and having read the book multiple times, I can still struggle to name them all. Plus, Martin Freeman's portrayal of Bilbo was perfect.

To anyone that has read The Hobbit, I think you'll be happy with the care Jackson gave to its scenes, from the Thunder Battle to "Riddles in the Dark," as well as Gandalf and Radaghast's use of magic. My brother always complained Gandalf never used enough spells; I think he'll enjoy these movies more than the Lord of the Rings Trilogy--I know I do, despite being an avid hater of prequels. Unlike the trauma I experienced leaving The Phantom Menace, I was giddy and jabbering when I left An Unexpected Journey.

My only problem is the long wait for the next two installments, but if they're as good as the first and the world doesn't end, the wait will be worth it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Funny Things on the Internet

While catching up on season 4 of the Misfits, some of my Facebook friends posted links that made me laugh.

The first one is a montage of women doing silly, embarrassing things. It's basically a whole bunch of homemade videos with just women falling down, smacking their faces, and attempting dumb stunts; I was reminded of America's Funniest Home Videos while watching. In between laughing, I cringed a bit; some of the videos look downright painful. Here's the video:

Second, here's a list called, "50 Funniest Tweets of 2012." They're not all winners, but the one that caught my eye was, "I like women the way I like my Star Wars: at least 29 yrs old & never having had Hayden Christiansen in them."
A friend posted an ad this morning. Seriously, who would buy:

As a bonus, here's my new favorite blend of Charlie Brown and Batman that the Facebook page Nerds Do It Better posted yesterday.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas Tree Hunting

After trying to back out of going with my dad to find a Christmas tree, I wound up standing outside in rain and mud while he debated which of the two trees he was interested in buying. We had driven twenty minutes, because my dad was convinced that shop would have fresher trees than the shop two minutes from the house. Of course, he went with the opposite tree I pointed at, even though, at least to me, they basically looked identical. Apparently, he liked a particular branch on the tree he chose, which had about 100 needles that were white.

I was sent off to follow the employee with our tree while he bailed it, and then I was told to tie the tree to the roof of my dad's SUV. I have never tied a tree and spent about twenty minutes doing all sorts of knots, twining the rope over and under and around rails on the roof of the SUV, as well as the tree trunk, all while trying to seem cool and look like I knew what I was doing in front of a pretty girl that passed by--only to have my dad come back outside with another employee that undid all of my work. That's not to say I did a good job. I'm positive my knots would have resulted with a Christmas tree on the highway, but, had I known from the start my dad was going to ask an employee, I wouldn't have bothered, and the pretty girl wouldn't have laughed when the employee said, "This is a mess."

Once tied, my dad and I got into the SUV. He started the engine, and I asked, "Did you tip that guy?" to which he responded, "He doesn't need a tip. He owns the place." The drive home consisted of me trying to figure out how my dad could possibly know the guy that tied the tree was an owner and not just an employee, along with me repeating, "You should've tipped him, even if he was an owner."

At home, I untied the tree, carried it into the garage, and noticed I was covered in sap. In this moment, my finger, despite being washed three times, is sticking to my keyboard. I smell like pine. My jeans and hoody are in the wash, also covered in sap...and I just noticed there are pine needles clinging to my shirt, which will soon go in the wash.

Of all the things I love about Christmas and the Holiday season, which is an extensive list, the act of going out and getting a real tree has and always will be my least favorite. Even when I was a kid, I wouldn't want to go tree shopping; I'd get bored and sit in the car with my toys.

I'd kind of wished I still had toys to play with today, maybe a G.I. Joe or a Ninja Turtle, regretting I didn't bring my smartphone.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Movie Quotes Used in Life

Warning: Contains strong language.

This morning I wrote on someone's Facebook, and for the next fifteen minutes my phone buzzed from responses while that person linked a slew of random songs and movie scenes. In response, I posted one of my all-time favorite quotes:

Side note: Bobby Cannavale, the actor that yells, "Cut the shit!" deserves an Emmy for his work on Boardwalk Empire; Gyp Rosetti was the highlight of a slow season that didn't pick up until the finale.

As I replayed the scene, laughing every time, I wound up thinking about people using movie quotes in real life. Usually, they're quotes from comedies. I don't know how many times I've heard, "You're my boy, blue!" screamed in public. Will Ferrell's movies are probably the most quoted, at least in my circle of friends, especially Step Brothers and Talladega Nights.

Throughout high school, one of my buddies was always saying, "I love redheads," and "That's what I love about these high school girls: I get older, they stay the same age," from Dazed and Confused. He also enjoyed a random, "All right. All right. All right."

When the Hangover was big, everyone ran around calling each other a, "Re-tard." I have friends that have incorporated the phrase, "Classic," into their vocabulary, just like Alan, and it can only be contributed to the movie, because the word usage was not there prior.

At a recent stag party, I found my friend--he's an avid Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas fan like myself--in charge of the raffle, accepting money and saying, "Take the ticket. Take the ticket." Later in the night, when cornered by a dull story, he interrupted with, "Tell me about those fucking golf shoes."

Via Facebook, I discovered someone had even been in trouble with the law over a movie quote. In response to not helping him with a robbery, though he knew the culprit, he made a status update that was reported to the police by one of his friends. The status update, taken from Tropic Thunder, was:

I succumb to quoting movies as well, finding it an interesting game to see if anyone can recognize them. When I first died in the Elegon fight in Mists of Pandaria, not realizing the floor vanished and dropped characters into a deep pit, I wrote, "We all float down here," which is a line from Stephen King's "It." One other player got it. Over the summer, I found myself quoting Due Date and telling a friend, who could barely stand up let alone light his cigarette, "You better check yourself before you wreck yourself."

These days, I'm hard-pressed to find someone that doesn't use movie quotes in daily conversation, gatherings, or online, especially if they're around my age or younger; I've even heard my uncles drop a few lines now and again, though it seems to be less common with older generations. I can't recall either of my parents quoting a movie, and I think that might be because they did not experience media and technology in the same way.

So, who out there has quotes they either enjoy to use or are sick of hearing? Are they any stories of quoting mishaps or people you know that have never used a quote?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Weird Mood

Last night I received a text from my sister letting me know she was going to be putting her dog to sleep today, a dog I had spent a lot of time with, and I had a dream that set the tone for my entire day; it was one of those dreams where nothing really seemed to happen, yet it was full of emotion.

In the dream, I was at a drinking party in a field of tall grass, similar to ones I went to in high school, and all the people there were friends that I was no longer friends with. Although the moon and stars were out, there was enough light to see into the distance. Everything was a shade of blue. I walked around with a Solo cup filled with beer in my hand and watched people talk by bonfires, watched them laugh, watched them kiss; then I decided to leave and walked down a dirt road. On both sides of the road, cars were parked under tall trees. I followed the road, passing faces I recognized and stopped at the end of a long line. From there, I waited, and I overheard a girl I once knew say, "He had so much going for him then. Now..."

I woke up confused and looking around my room, thinking someone had knocked on my door. Since getting out of bed, I've been in this weird introspective state of mind. I'm not happy, not sad; I'm somewhere in between, thinking about choices, thinking about the way things used to be and how they are, thinking about friends I used to talk to and places we used to hang out at, thinking about mistakes, thinking about things I did right, thinking about last October and sitting under a bright orange moon as my sister's black lab wandered around the yard somewhere in the dark, crinkling leaves that had fallen to the ground.

A weird mood indeed, if the movie Project X, which I watched in an attempt to shift my thoughts, had me staring at my TV in a semi-jealous daze. It also led me to discover The XX's "Intro" at the end of the film, and the song is amplifying my feelings, getting them out of me. In this moment, the tune is a panacea.

Sometimes, it's good to feel like this and work through it and explore and think and wonder, asking the important questions while teetering between hope and despair. Sometimes, the subconscious needs to realign, speaking through dreams.