Friday, March 31, 2017

Captain America: Civil War (2016)


The third Captain America film is more like an Avengers film since most of the Avengers team show up here, including Ironman, Scarlet Witch, Vision and Falcon.  Probably the best aspect was the introduction of new characters before their official standalone film debut, such as Black Panther and Spider-Man.  Civil War does this naturally and you don't feel as if they didn't have enough time to shine.  Furthermore, with such a large cast and considering that each character has their own style, Civil War does a fantastic job of keeping the characters true to themselves while still making the film coherent.  From the humor of Ant-Man and Spider-Man to the more serious scenes between Captain America and Ironman.  Naturally, the biggest enemies in Civil War are the Avengers themselves as there is discord amongst their ranks.  The plot manages to present a plausible reason for the rift, which initially was entering into an agreement for the United Nations to govern the Avengers but eventually evolved to something more personal (and believable).  It is hard to take sides, which was the whole point of the film, both Captain America and Ironman has a point but Ironman here comes out as more negative and harder to side against.  Considering the hype of the fights, it can be a bit painful slogging through the introductory scenes until you get to the point where the two Avengers team battle it out.  Overall, Civil War was a fun movie that holds a bit more depth than you would expect considering the gimmick of the fighting within the team.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Toy Review: Transformers Robots in Disguise (2015) Starscream (Legion)


Review:  #370
Name:  Starscream
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Decepticon
Line:  Robots in Disguise (2015)
Year of Release:  2016
Size Class:  Legion (Wave 10)
Mold Status:  new

JET MODE:


Starscream, as per normal, transforms into a grey jet with blue highlights, and red detailing on the wings.


This is a good jet for its size.  You can make out the robot feet at the back and the robot arms underneath the wings but otherwise, this is a strong mode.


Being a jet and in Legion size no less, Starscream is fairly small.  Above is a comparison against RiD Legion Windblade.  Starscream is significantly more substantial in mass and size compared to her.


A solid jet mode that does the job.

TRANSFORMATION:

A simple transformation but not without it's tricks.  The arms fold up to form the shoulders, and the nosecone sits neatly tucked behind the wings.  It keeps things interesting enough.

ROBOT MODE:


Starscream's robot mode is absolutely stunning with the amount of molded and sculpted detailing.


He has the nosecone on this back as the main source of kibble.


The headsculpt is good.  The air intakes on either side of his head looks great and the various paint applications makes him look very detailed.


Starscream is well proportioned with wide shoulders and well defined limbs.


Despite the look of his joints, the articulation is restricted.  The "elbows" are weird and can only fold forward, while the knee joints can't bend much more than 45 degrees.


The shoulders lift up and down due to transformation joints and that's about it.


A nice robot to look at but maybe not as much for play.

OVERALL:

Starscream is a great toy for its size.  It translates the character into toy form almost perfectly which is quite impressive.  The amount of detailing is great and for the relatively low price, Starscream is worth grabbing.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Book Review: How to Speak Dragonese


Review:  #649
Title:  How to Speak Dragonese
Series:  How to Train Your Dragon - 3rd book
Author:  Cressida Cowell
Read Before:  no
Comments:  The third book in the series improves upon its predecessors and tells a fairly engrossing story.  You still get the stubbornness of the Vikings and the cruder attempts at humor.  However, Hiccup isn’t portrayed as the most useless character, and Toothless is slightly less worthless.  The Romans has hatched a plan and kidnapped Hiccup and he must find a way to survive and get out of there.  Along the way, a few new dragon species with special abilities are introduced.  The story builds up tension until the climax, leading you to wonder how Hiccup was going to get out of this sticky mess and the way he did it was not disappointing.  It ended on another happy ending and seeming a very final conclusion.
Rating:  6.5/10

Monday, March 27, 2017

The American President (1995)


The American President is a romantic drama which has the current President Andrew Shepherd fall in love with Sydney Wade Allen, a lobbyist.  With election day coming up and a myriad of issues to face, his romantic affair affects his ratings.  This is because he is a widowed with his wife passing away three years ago (which was stated to be one of the reasons he was elected), and now his character is being called into action.  It plays into the theme of the political elections where it is more of a popularity contest rather than actually caring about the policies and what they stood for.  The romance is at the forefront of a lot of the scenes, and so it can be somewhat of a turn off at times as you feel the President is acting irrationally.  However, in the end, it all turns out well as the President addresses what he truly believes in.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Toy Review: Transformers Generations Titans Return Bumblebee


Review:  #369
Name:  Bumblebee
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Autobot
Line:  Generations - Titans Return
Year of Release:  2016
Size Class:  Legends (Wave 3)
Mold Status:  new

VEHICLE MODE:


Bumblebee transforms into a compact yellow car reminiscent of his G1 self but more sporty.


It's more obvious in pictures but there are two different shades of yellow, the roof where it is painted, and the natural yellow plastic.  The clashing shades is annoying.


The figure comes with a card as with others in the line.


Being in Legends class, Bumblebee is fairly small.  Above is a comparison against Animated Activators Bumblebee.


As part of the Titans Return line, Bumblebee has some interactivity with Titan Masters.  In his case, you can open up the roof (but this also takes a part of the vehicle's rear with it), to reveal a spot for one to sit in.


Apart from the mismatched yellow paint to the plastic, this is a solid vehicle mode.

TRANSFORMATION:

Converting Bumblebee to robot mode is very simple and it is as you'd expect.  The hood forms the feet, the side forms the arms and the body collapses somewhat to form the torso.  Going back to vehicle mode is a bit tougher as you will struggle to snap together all the pieces to where they should go and hold together.

ROBOT MODE:


Bumblebee's robot mode is a strong one and conveys the character very well.


He is a bit more buff although from behind, you can see some of the hollower sections, including the back of his head (which is disappointing).


The headsculpt is good, his head can swivel side to side.


Once again, he is a little bit smaller than Animated Activators Bumblebee.


Articulation is quite good although he has short stumpy arms that isn't helped by the protruding shoulder kibble which often gets in the way.


This is a clean robot mode overall, and thanks to his large footprint, very stable in most poses.


A solid robot that is a good representation of the character.

OVERALL:

Bumblebee is a good toy with two strong modes.  The vehicle mode is only let down by the mismatching paint while the robot mode is let down by the shoulder kibble.  Otherwise, this is one of the best Bumblebee toys we've had.

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Book Review: "Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?"


Review:  #648
Title:  "Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?"
Series:  All the Wrong Questions - 4th and final book
Author:  Lemony Snicket
Read Before:  no
Comments:  The conclusion to the All the Wrong Questions series is a satisfying one.  With all the teasing through the series and including the most of this final book, the revelation of Hangfire’s identity, his plan and his fixation on the statue of the Bombinating Beast is truly engaging.  It takes a while to get to the conclusion though, with a lot of scenes that serve as red herrings and even though it is portrayed as supposedly part of the larger more complex plan, it doesn’t lock into place perfectly.  It has an intriguing beginning when Lemony follows his chaperone in the middle of the night and then boarding a train with seemingly all the characters that Lemony has ever encountered.  The majority of the novel takes place on the train, with Lemony trying to solve a murder mystery subplot.  The twists and turns kept you guessing until its high profile conclusion.  Unfortunately, it leaves many questions unanswered and ends with many injustices remaining.  Nevertheless, this is the best novel in the series.
Rating:  6.5/10

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (PSP)


The Legend of Heroes:  Trails in the Sky is a JRPG in a long-standing series, most of which was Japan-only.  Trails in the Sky was translated into English and released for the PSP in 2011, which is surprising by nevertheless welcomed.  It is the first chapter in a trilogy.  The game is is presented with a camera that sits approximately at a 45 degree angle overview.  It is 2D-ish but the environments are rendered in 3D.  You can rotate the camera using the shoulder buttons but if you have a Vita, mapping it to the right stick makes it so much more natural and easier.  The game uses the 2D view to hide things so it is a good idea to do a thorough sweep in each area before moving on.  The battle system is interesting as it mixes some tactical elements such as the grid movement system.  However, since characters can move quite far, there are only some instances where you end up "missing" a turn due to monsters being out of range.  Trails in the Sky has a turn-based menu system system where characters can attack, use Crafts which are special attacks using Craft Points earned, Arts which is basically magic using EP, and the ability to use items.

Battles are easy to pick up and with the grid movement, it adds in another layer of strategy in terms of being able to distance yourself from enemies.  However, it is confusing in the beginning with the difference between Crafts and Arts.  There is a column on the left side of the screen during battles to show the attack order and turn bonuses.  Every so often, a particular turn will have a bonus such as a guaranteed critical hit or HP healing and the player can manipulate their characters' turns to a degree such that they receive the bonus and not the enemy.  Annoyingly though, using Arts will take two turns.  One turn to start casting and then one turn to deal the damage.  During the time in between, monsters can take the chance to interrupt you.  This makes the timing of healing Arts much more crucial.  The story is told in four chapters plus a prologue.  Each chapter taking place over one region of the world which is quite big.  The plot takes place in the Kingdom of Liberl and follows Estelle and Joshua who are adopted siblings . They follow in their father's footsteps to become a Bracer.  A Bracer is a professional as a part of the Bracer Guild who completes quests to help out people.

Estelle and Joshua's father goes missing and the two go around the world searching for him.  Naturally, during their journey they discover a more sinister plot.  Each chapter has a subplot which adds to the larger overarching arc of the game until it wraps together in the final chapter which is where the story really starts to grip you.  With that said, the prologue was a tad bit slow in terms of story and gameplay but afterwards it builds up the momentum and will soon become addictive.  The story is not huge in scale but the journey of the two and how they grow becomes entangled with the player's heart.  The long prologue also acts as the tutorial, teaching you the basics of the game which is complex and meaty so it will take a while to get accustomed to what each features mean.  During the game, various other characters will join as party members but they will all eventually leave.  The only true permanent team members are Estelle and Joshua.  Only in the last dungeon can you pick and choose which of the playable characters form your four-character party.

The story is told via text and dialogue.  There is effectively no voice acting except for some shout outs during battle when characters use their special moves.  This means there is a truckload of reading and coupled with the optional books and NPC dialogue, that's a lot of text.  You travel through the five major cities which are connected by numerous interconnected maps.  There is loading time between each smaller map but they are not too long.  The annoying part is that if you want to do all the quests or even just go through the story, you will constantly be walking back and forth along these long paths which is time consuming and a bit mundane.  There is no fast travel.  As you progress through the story, you also cannot go back to the region of the previous city, leading to a lot of missable items and events.  Enemies roam the battlefield and a battle initiates only when the party comes into contact.  This is harder when you have a full party of four as the characters trail behind you like a snake, making it all the easier to accidentally come into contact with an enemy that you wanted to avoid.

The sidequests come in the form of Bracer Quests which is also the main way to get money.  These are usually fetch quests, escort missions or beating certain monsters.  Money is hard to come by in the beginning of the game, be sure to sell equipment as otherwise there is no way to upgrade all your equipment.  Some of the quests can be obscure and it requires a lot of reading in order to find out how to begin the quest and what you need to do.  The game is a good difficulty provided you do most of the quests and don't run away from all monsters.  There is a tough final boss battle which requires good strategy and a bit of grinding.  However, it is a manageable challenge although it dragged on for a while due to the high HP.  The ending is strong but it is also a cliffhanger and some backstories of the characters are not revealed.  These are left to be addressed by the sequel instead.  Coupled with the music, these last ending scenes genuinely make you sad that you've finished the game.  Overall, The Legend of Heroes:  Trails in the Sky is a strong solid JRPG.  While some of the game mechanics and story doesn't wow you too much, it combined into a powerful and emotional ending that gets you hyped up with the sequel.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Wag the Dog (1997)


Wag the Dog begins two weeks before a Presidential election, with the current President caught within a scandal.  In order to diver the media's attention away such that the President can be reelected, the character Conrad Brean approaches movie producer Stanley Motss to help stage and fake a war with Albania.  It seems like an outrageous concept at first, but throughout the film, you can see how the media reacts and how this imaginary conflict ends up feeling like reality.  The plot of the film focuses on things going awry and how Conrad and Stanley works hard to divert disaster after disaster in order to keep the farce going.  While it can feel stale at times with not much seemingly happening on screen, Wag the Dog has a deeper more subtle atmosphere that keeps you watching.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Toy Review: Transformers Robots in Disguise (2015) Bisk (Legion)


Review:  #368
Name:  Bisk
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Decepticon
Line:  Robots in Disguise (2015)
Year of Release:  2016
Size Class:  Legion (Wave 8)
Mold Status:  new

VEHICLE MODE:


Bisk transforms into an orange fictional sports car.  It is a distinctive vehicle and even at this small size, has a lot of character.


This is a well formed vehicle overall, the back exposes the hinges required for transformation but not too bad, at least it is not empty space.  The only play value here is rolling him on the table.


Being a Legion classed figure, Bisk himself is fairly small.  Above is a comparison against RiD Legion Optimus.


A neat vehicle that does a great job at this small scale.

TRANSFORMATION:

Converting Bisk into robot mode is simple yet elegant.  Considering how distinctive his robot mode is, the designer did a great job at replicating it in this size.  The transformation is basically a simplified version used for the Deluxe with the sides forming his arms, and the back unfolding to become the legs.

ROBOT MODE:


Bisk's robot mode is lobster themed and while the straight arms look a bit awkward, they're much better in hand.


The vehicle hood tucks neatly into his back, and this is the only piece of kibble.


The headsculpt is a bit undefined which is understandable at this size.  The antenna is thick to prevent breakage and the head itself is fixed.


Bisk is one of the shortest Legion toys out there.  He was always depicted as a hunchback though so the smaller size kind of suits him.


Perhaps the most impressive piece of engineering is that the designer bothered to include a separate hinged piece to complete the claw.  They could have been lazy and not do this but this really helps define the claw arms that's distinctive to the character.


Poseabilty is hurt the most due to the straight arms lacking any elbows but otherwise, Bisk is pretty articulate.


The knees can bend thanks to transformation although the short legs makes it hard to keep Bisk in dynamic poses.


A brilliant robot mode that captures the character perfectly.

OVERALL:

It is surprising at how well the characters translates into a toy at this small scale.  Bisk is a fun figure that's impressive at the same time.  Bisk is definitely a highlight of the line.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Book Review: The Kill Order


Review:  #647
Title:  The Kill Order
Series:  Maze Runner - 4th book
Author:  James Dashner
Read Before:  no
Comments:  The Kill Order is a prequel to all of the Maze Runner books.  Reading through The Kill Order, you can tell that the writing has improved astronomically and the pacing is much better although there are still many things left to desire.  The events are more captivating and you genuinely care for the new characters that are introduced.  From the very first moment Mark, Trina and Alec were introduced, you knew they were doomed just because of what happened in the Trilogy before it.  The Kill Order goes through quickly how the sun flares destroyed civilization and then follows on how the remnants of humanity are surviving in the harsh post-apocalyptic world.  The main characters are likeable and you can feel the same fear and hopelessness they feel when their lives are turned upside down once again.  We get to slowly see how the Flare virus was unleashed upon the world, although the rationale behind using it was sketchy at best.  The author tried to add too many things into the plot that it feels weird and unnecessary, from cults to deranged people, nothing was consistent.  There were several moments where the constant violent and fights will start to feel generic and lose their momentum but the ending was excellent and serves as a fantastic conclusion to the story.  However, once you finish the book, you feel as if the original Maze Runner novel was a standalone and then the author just backfilled the plot for the novels afterwards since all these events feel completely different in tone and intention.
Rating:  7/10

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Dave (1993)


Dave is a comedy film where Dave Kovic, who is a lookalike to the current President of America, is tasked by the Secret Service to actually become the double for the President in public appearances.  Of course, the film plays into the fact that the President has an extramarital affair and ends up having a stroke so Dave ends up impersonating the President himself.  It is your typical plotline whereby Dave improves the current political situation and is your everyday person, doing some good in the world.  Dave's charming personality wins over a lot of his staff, except for the Chief of Staff who was planning to use this opportunity to become the President.  While the humor doesn't come gushing, it is placed in strategic places to remind you that this is still a comedy film, but that you can still take the film seriously.  As with a lot of these types of film, the ending can feel abrupt and unsatisfying but overall, an engaging film.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (PS3)


Need for Speed:  Hot Pursuit was released in 2010 and is the sixteenth instalment of the Need for Speed series.  As a semi-reboot/remake of the older game with the same name, this is a racing game where you can play as either the racer or the police.  Hot Pursuit is more in the vein of an arcade racer so the player can feel free to drive aggressively and carelessly smashing into other cars and into the sides of the road.  The main mechanic of the game is that there are police cars chasing illegal racers with weapons to boot.  There are two single player game modes, one as the racer and the other as the police.  There are 60 events in racer and 48 events in cop which is set in the fictional city of Seacrest.  The game takes place over one big map but each mission carves out a specific route which gives some variety.  Some routes will end up feeling familiar but portions of it will still be different.  You will race through various different types of environments including cliffsides, deserts, urban areas and mountains.  Races take place in different times of the day which will naturally affect the amount of natural light and the draw distance.

Events will have different weather effects such as thunderstorms, rain and snow.  These affect the road too as for example, cars are more slippery to handle in the rain.  The graphics are wonderful and the tracks aren't busy enough to distract you from the race, you're able to make out where you need to go very clearly.  As a racer you will play through time trials, normal races and hot pursuits.  Hot pursuit is the mode where cops will be chasing you with the aim of destroying your car and arresting you.  Hot pursuit is definitely the mode that provides the most fun.  In these races, you have at your disposal four gadgets:  turbo but pushing to top speed over a limited time; an EMP blast to temporarily disable cars; spike traps to destroy cars behind you; and jammers to disable the tracking by cops.  Unfortunately, the rubberbanding effect of the AI is noticeable since it is very hard to keep your lead unless you're amazing at the game.  It is difficult to retake your place until you're behind long enough for them to slow down.  It feels somewhat unfair at times given that you can crash and three cars will overtake you yet when the AI crashes, they seem to respawn almost immediately travelling at high speed.

The uneven difficulty is even more frustrating when your car is travelling at the max 180 miles/hour and yet the other racers are easily outstripping you from behind.  That being said you do feel your skills improving with each race.  Hitting other cars and the sides of the road will damage your car.  Crashes will occur at which the screen will shift scenes to show the crash.  While the crashes look cool the first few times it gets annoying very soon and are distracting.  It is frustrating when oncoming traffic comes out of nowhere in the last stretch before the finish line and you end up dropping from 1st to 4th.  The events get more difficult towards the end as a racer and the tracks become longer and longer.  This is horrible for hot pursuit style events as your car can't handle enough damage to last the whole way when the cops constantly hound you and do roadblocks and spike traps.  To give you an edge your car can drift around corners and use nitro to increase acceleration.  You gain nitro as a racer via dangerous driving like slipstreaming, driving against oncoming traffic and finding shortcuts whereas as a cop the nitro gauge builds automatically.

For the cop events, you will naturally be playing as a cop in hot pursuit to take down the racers using a variety of weapons.  Two of the weapons are shared which are the spike traps and EMP but the other two weapons are unique being the ability to call on a roadblock and calling on the help of a helicopter.  There are two other modes such as time trials but with a twist as you get a time penalty for every hit your car makes; and one-on-one pursuits which are much more challenging.  On the whole, the cop missions seem to be easier but there are still some frustrating moments such as the AI just seeming so overpowered yet when the roles are reversed you are so weak.  There is a bit more variety in how the AI behaves during cop events as the racer that you're chasing will randomly do u-turns or unexpectedly take a different route.  As you win races and complete events you will earn Racer and Cop levels.  Moving up the levels will unlock new cars and other perks.  The frequent unlocks keeps you going to the next race.  Hot Pursuit gives a great sense of speed at its best.  The handling is fine and easy to pick up, it's just that you will crash a lot which breaks the flow of the game at times.  There are no car customization and tuning although you can pick car colors.

The PS3 version doesn't require any installation but maybe it should have included the option as there are noticeable load times.  It's annoying when it still takes 15 to 20 seconds to load a level when you select replay from the results screen.  Furthermore, if you've unlocked something at the end of the race, you cannot select replay and have to go all the way to the menu before being able to select the race again.  The other main single player mode is the free-roam.  You will have access to the whole of Seacrest and it is fantastic to explore since during a race you might not get to appreciate the attention to detail the tracks have.  In free-roam, you'll have the chance to discover little side places like an airport or how the different roads intersect.  Of course, there is an online mode and you can see your friend's times in each event to build a sense of competition.  The online mode is effectively dead which is to be expected.  Overall, Need for Speed:  Hot Pursuit is a really fun game.  It has its fair share of frustrating moments that you must persevere and improve your skills in order to progress.  Nevertheless, the sheer amount of fun and crazy driving makes Hot Pursuit an easy racing game to recommend.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Dimension W (2016)


Dimension W is a 12 episode anime based upon the manga of the same name.  The premise of Dimension W is that the fourth dimension was proven in 2036, which is in addition to the standard three spatial dimensions X, Y and Z, called Dimension W.  Based upon this, the series could have had a heavy physics approach but ends up taking the more fantastical approach to the power of the new dimension which is beyond what you'd expect.  Naturally, mankind has managed to harness of the power of Dimension W, mainly to create items called Coils that extract the seemingly infinite source of power from this dimension and convert it into electricity.  These coils take on the shape similar to a flattened nail.


The plot takes place in 2071 and follows Kyoma, a Collector whose task is to track down and retrieve illegal coils.  Coils are solely made by the New Tesla Corporation and are heavily regulated with unofficial coils being illegal.  The world has changed with the invention of coils, as they are used to power everything from cars to cellphones.  One night, Kyoma meets a robot called Mira who ends up joining him to track down illegal coils.  What differentiates Kyoma from the rest of the characters is his dislike for coils.  He sticks to using old fashioned non-coil technology and weapons.  Of course, this makes it all the more ironic when he is partnered with Mira, whose very existence is based upon the coil that powers her and allows her to function.


While Kyoma is somewhat ordinary as a character, Mira is the highlight of the series.  Yes, she is a robot, but she is apparently the most sophisticated robot ever created, closely mimicking a human from the appearance, texture and even personality.  There will be plenty of times where Mira doesn't act like a robot.  Furthermore, she is inexplicably cute and useful, having a good dynamic with Kyoma.  Unfortunately, Dimension W does feel somewhat episodic with various self-contained plots in each episode but the overarching plot isn't that clear on what it is supposed to be.  Then again, the series does a good job of getting you sucked in from the first episode when it explains the abilities of a coil, and further mysteries are quickly introduced.  The answers are slow coming though but there are plenty of side distractions along the way that you don't mind it too much.


As the series goes on, you come to realize that Dimension W is more than just another spatial dimension or just something to electrical power from.  It holds many more properties which transcend it to something more akin to an alternate reality.  For example, it can hold memories in time and the characters keep going on about how the dimension holds different possibilities and alternate realities that did not come to realize, thus converting it into energy.  Kyoma's backstory takes the focus in the second half of the series, fleshing out the character a it more and allowing the viewer to finally understand his actions.  While his past relationships aren't that saddest ever, you feel for the guy.


The build up towards the final two episodes were probably the best in the series since it finally explained a few things.  With that said, Dimension W felt like it never reached a peak though.  Overall, Dimension W starts off strong with a promising premise but quickly plateau's and never really lifts its games.  While that doesn't make Dimension W a bad anime, you can feel at times that it isn't going to where it wants to that quickly.  Mira ends up being the one that keeps it all together, from the light fan service to her innocent personality.  Watching or not watching Dimension W is up to you, as you're not missing out either way, Dimension W ends up being stuck between good and bad, becoming average in the process.

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