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HIDING BEHIND THE S.H.I.E.L.D.

ABC Playing it safe with their new Marvel Comics’ branded drama.

Though not by much, the cast is in point of fact much more colourful than the image would suggest.

Though not by much, the cast is in point of fact much more colourful than the image would suggest.

Marvel’s movie machine has been in full swing over the past few summers, and few shows have generated as much buzz as Avengers bi-product Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Produced by geek hero and veteran TV showrunner Joss Whedon, the show benefits from having some of the star power behind the Avengers movie. Part super-hero action series and part government agency procedural, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. looks to be attempting to attract a broad audience while staying true to the subject material. The result of which is a surprisingly safe show somewhere in between sci-fi action romp and spy agency procedural.

Leading the ensemble cast is Clark Gregg, reprising his role as Agent Coulson. Gregg has been a supporting player in almost all of the recent Marvel comics’ movies and provides the star power to the project. Beyond that there aren’t many names of note, with the exception of a brief cameo by Cobie Smulders returning to her role of Agent Maria Hill from The Avengers and some Whedon alumni from past shows (J. August Richards and Ron Glass) the core cast is mostly comprised of untested talent. Despite this, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t turn into the Coulson show, and the supporting cast does a decent job of holding up their end while Gregg shines in a role he has come to own inside and out.

The plot of the pilot is not the most original setup, it opens with a pretty rote superhero origin setup, super powered man saves woman from a burning building, catching the attention he’d rather not get the attention of. This cues Coulson and his S.H.I.E.L.D. team to seek him out and find out what’s at the centre of his super-powery goodness. In their search the team abducts Skye, a vocal ‘hacktivist’ part of a group of anarchists known as the rising tide. Her capture and recruitment become the secondary story of the episode which ties itself nicely into the main story of tracking down the conflicted super human who is battling with the morality of his situation and cannot decide whether to abuse his power or to try to be a good man. Ultimately, the story is passable but not incredibly strong, it is clearly more about setting up the assembly of the team and the events of the plot seem to have little consequence.

When it comes right down to it, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a solid pilot with a lot to like about it. The production is clearly impressive, with high quality special effects both on the practical and the post production side of things, the camera work looks slick and clean and the acting is strong all around. The writing leave something to be desired but there is still charm in the dialogue. It looks very promising that Marvel and ABC will have a hit on their hands with this show, though it may not be the Whedon product die-hard fans have come to expect.

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Return for a Prequel

Hello all,

It’s been a long, long hiatus but I’ve decided to drag this blog out of retirement due to overwhelming demand (sort of) for my incisive opinions and poignant critical thought. Okay honestly a friend wanted to know what I thought of a movie…either way here we go!

On the agenda for today, Prometheus! The Ridley Scott helmed pseudo-prequel to one of science fictions most beloved franchises Alien. Shrouded in mystery and viral videos leading up to the opening Prometheus really captured my interest long before knowing anything about it. Make no mistake though, this movie is firmly rooted in the same universe, though it’s perhaps debatable as to whether or not it’s directly connected to Alien specifically.

Image

The most important thing I can say about this movie is that it is absolutely not a re-hash of Alien. Gone is the grimy claustrophobic atmosphere of the Nostromo, filled with countless dimly lit corridors lined with bundled cords (pretty sure it wasn’t up to code) and instead is the sleek and stylish Prometheus, which acts as much less of a character that shapes the movie than the first film’s iconic towing ship.

The basic plot of the film is in the near future archaeologists discover a link between ancient cave paintings all over the world that lead them to a planetary system out in space somewhere. They theorize that these paintings suggest this is the home of a space travelling civilization that aided or possibly even created humanitiy. A team of scientists depart in search of the home world of these Protheans creator aliens aboard an expeditionary vessel (prometheus). Pretty much at this point I need to stop describing to avoid spoilers but essentially shit gets real.

The movie is slick and well paced, something that was easily my biggest concern given it was a Ridley Scott film. In the past Scott has been responsible for some of the most enjoyable movies I have ever watched however his recent form has been really poor, and I pretty much gave up after the three and a half hour directors cut of American Gangster. Though the runtime on this movie isn’t by any means brisk (126 mins) it never feels like it’s stalling out, it reveals information to the audience at a steady pace keeping the viewer engaged throughout. 

If I was going to talk about an issue I had with it, it would probably be with the script, which was competent but far from stellar. Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (Creator of the hit show Lost) the story does a great job of creating a world that causes the viewer to ask a lot of questions, however it doesn’t answer too many of them. That can be a polarizing thing in itself, while some appreciate the mystery, personally I am the type of person that wants to have a good understanding of how things connect to one another. The part of the writing I found most frustrating though was in some of the character writing. There are points where characters act completely irrationally and seemingly out of character for no good reason at all. The chief instance I will refer to only as ‘the curious biologist’ which had me baffled as to why that character would behave as he did. There is also a lot of chaos that gets introduced for seemingly no good reason, and while the story ends with a reasonably well wrapped up resolution, I couldn’t help but feel most of what took place didn’t have any real reason to as far as the audience was concerned.

Ultimately though, I have to say the film was a very good experience. I was impressed by the stellar cast, and floored by the stimulating visuals. I can honestly say it’s one of the best science fiction movies I have seen in recent years, and while the story had it’s flaws I am already anticipating a directors cut blu ray with extended footage and commentary to puzzle out all the intricacies the movie laid out. It is a smart, tense, beautiful movie. Though still early in the summer, of all the blockbusters that have buzz surrounding them, this might be the most intriguing of them all. 

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Hiatus

Though I’m sure not many of you have noticed but I have been on a little bit of a hiatus for the past few months.

I have decided to re-release the Blog in a way that is more focussed and will come back with a fresh coat of paint and a whole new general feel.

For any of you wondering, I will be focusing the blog exclusively on video game related materials and will be looking to add posts from other writers to add some extra material and some varied writing styles into the mix. anyone interested can email me at theblunderblogs@gmail.com

Keep checking in folks, I hope to have the new improved blunderblogs hot off the wordpresses and on your screen shortly.

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Thoughts on Madden 11

To summarize the nature of this post I’m going to start off with a little football metaphor here:

Madden takes the snap, he drops back in the pocket…looks for his man. HE THROWS DEEP…TOUCHDOWN! But wait! There’s a flag on the field, and the play will come all the way back…

For all you reading this that aren’t football fans I’ll sum it up for you, the game is excellent in a lot of ways, almost a complete success…but then something happened and it just ruined everything for me.

So to set the scene, I got the game a couple days ago, eager to enjoy the full version after several weeks of playing the demo over and over again. So in it comes and after feverishly ripping off the plastic and putting the disc into my PS3, when I am prompted immediately to input my redemption code entitled my ‘online pass’ which enables online game modes such as online franchise and get this…head to head.

So I was going to review this game but as soon as I saw this I thought WTF? apparently, one of the perks of buying a shiny new copy of madden 11…is the ability to play online? Yes, and in fact this was not the first game to do so. As Joystiq reported a few months back, EA sports has instituted the online pass as a branch of the company’s ‘Project Ten Dollars’. Essentially, in a bid to reduce the amount of used game sales, EA seeks to draw in consumers to buy new copies as opposed to used by offering additional downloadable content. While on paper that sounds fine, in practice this essentially means gimping the game upon resale. Online play has already been established as a fundamental element of next generation sports games, to now deem that content as bonus material is an obvious cash grab and only serves to hurt the consumer.

First, let’s examine the logic behind this move. By not having online play in the used copy out of the box the gamer will in theory decide it is better to buy a new copy due to a perceived better value. However, that’s kind of depending on two things, one that the cost of the used copy combined with the cost of buying an online pass is the same or more than the new copy, and two that the player cares enough about this gameplay to want to shell out the extra money. Considering that, is it really such a safe bet that this online pass will really get people buying new copies? or for that matter hanging on to them?

After some thought, I don’t really think so. Here’s why, for starters the price of used games will always reflect a level of savings that’s relative to the original product. Therefore, if new copies go for 69.99, used copies will be priced accordingly to compensate for the need for the online pass meaning used games will most likely be priced at 59.99 or even 54.99. As well, a yearly franchise like Madden or Tiger Woods does not hold lasting appeal for gamers to hang on to, I mean why the hell would you hang on to Madden 11 if you plan on buying Madden 12 the following year? The point here is, if someone doesn’t play their game, they will trade it in regardless of if the value is reduced. Hell, sports games lose their value faster than any other type of game already due to their yearly nature, so I ask you WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO MAKE THAT WORSE EA!?

In the end the only person getting screwed here is the consumer, used copies will still be sold in stores, the only difference will be that they’ll sell for cheaper and customers who bought their shiny new copies will get even less for them when they eventually trade them in. Though it’s fair that EA would want to combat the rampant used game sales which give them absolutely zero profit and instead line the pockets of retailers like GameStop who are the largest distributors of used games in North America.

cheers to Marcel Hoang for the pic

I’m not sure how exactly publishers should get gamers to hang on to their games, though in fairness who is to say that they have to? Consumers don’t have bottomless pockets, and if the cost of business is having thousands of gamers enjoy your game second-hand well then suck it up you soulless bloodsuckers!

To everyone reading this my question to you is, what do you think game publishers and developers should do to reduce used game sales/cut down on piracy/liberate cash from gamers wallets?

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Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Bloggerfan

This is not a review, I cannot stress this enough…

This is instead, a recounting of my thoughts and feelings following my viewing of Edgar Wright’s newest film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Why is this not a review then? well to be perfectly frank, because I am entirely too biased to review this movie.

First off, I love Scott Pilgrim, as you may know if you read this post I wrote a while back. Secondly, I love Edgar Wright, both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were fantastic movies in my eyes. Thirdly, there is hardly an actor in the film I didn’t already like before seeing the movie, from Michael Cera right down to Jason Schwartzman…so yeah, you can see why I wouldn’t be exactly a reliable review to go on.

However I will go on to write about how and why I loved this movie, because frankly it’s my damn blog and what better things have I got to do on a Sunday morning?

So, the movie. Set in the heart of downtown Toronto Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the story of a slacker in his mid twenties who has fallen in love with quite literally the girl of his dreams, and in order to win her heart he must first defeat her 7 evil exes. you still with me?

So the movie is based on a series of comics written and illustrated by Torontonian Bryan Lee O’Malley. The comics themselves were unique and original for their blend of video game themes, hipster scene setting, and manga inspired art. The story is covered over 6 volumes and over the course of the story the characters grow and mature, leading to what I felt to be one of the most satisfying endings in a series of graphic novels.

As for the movie, Wright does a fantastic job of staying true to the style of the comic, blending comic book sound effects cleverly with stylized video game references and sounds (like some classic 8-bit Zelda) as well as a soundtrack filled with the lo-fi garage and indie sounds which O’Malley was inspired by when writing the books themselves. The result is a fast paced off-beat adventure that plays out as a sort of romantic action comedy…thing. Though some elements of the comics are omitted and the chronology happens a little different from the graphic novels, the movie resounds as one of the purest adaptations of a comic into a film in my eyes if for nothing else for holding true to the feel of the comic. Wright does a fantastic job of keeping the story larger than life while keeping the characters very grounded, as in the comics, the story is about taking a relatively mundane love story and turning it into something exciting and surreal by portraying it through a sort of generational mind’s eye. Ultimately, the movie captures this feeling every bit as well as the comics did.

If I were to complain about something, it would be that the movie tries to cram a little too much into too short a timeframe. The end comes off feeling a bit rushed as they race to find a conclusion within the 112 minutes they had to pull 6 years of storytelling off. It’s still good, but it’s frenetic and doesn’t linger on any particular thought too long. I can’t say this is a film for everyone, this is the sort of movie you have to go in with a pretty open mind, if you’re coming in a skeptic, you’re probably going to stay skeptical. It’s the kind of movie that will either sweep you off your feet, or leave you completely nonplussed, wondering what the hell just happened. If you’re the kind of person who waits for the Oscar nominations to come out before deciding what they’re going to rent (and you know who you are!) then you almost certainly will not like this movie. Is is serious? no. Is it gripping? no. Will it entertain you? quite possibly.

While I’m on my tangent I’ll do a quick little mention of all things Scott Pilgrim that have been released recently.

First, Scott Pilgrim volume 6 came out last month and as I have said it was excellent, the conclusion to the series proves to be in my mind O’Malley’s finest effort. The characters have developed extremely well and the finale is one of truly epic proportions.

Next the game, Along with the movie was a downloadable release on the PSN and Xbox Live for Scott Pilgrim vs The World the game. The game is a true homage to the old school beat-em up. With an all 8-bit art style the game looks like something you would have played on a Nintendo and has all the staples of the genre. The game supports up to 4 players of local co-op and sports an level up system which provides a surprising amount of depth for such a seemingly simplistic game. Dabblers be forewarned though, the game is hard as hell, and without co-op it can be absolutely infuriating as you spend a good 20 minutes hazarding a level, only to die and start at the beginning all over again. However all in all its a great experience and a true throwback that still manages to keep it fresh. This screenshot should say it all:

I know, cool right?

and lastly the soundtrack, yeah it’s awesome…get it…and all that.

as usual I’ve droned on entirely too long…I’ll shut up now.

Update: you can get a little tidbit of Scott Pilgrim here by checking out Scott Pilgrim vs The Animation


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It’s Raining It’s Pouring

So one of Sony’s most anticipated exclusive releases came out last week and I have had the pleasure of borrowing it off someone else to play it. I am speaking of course about Heavy Rain, The highly enigmatic noir styled murder mystery game by Quantic Dream. Over the weekend I got the chance to really sit down and sink my teeth into this game. So gather round children, while I tell you a tale!

Lame North American Cover

Now writing about this game is going to be tricky for me, chiefly for two reasons. First, it’s not a game in the most conventional sense, more of what the game designers themselves label it as interactive drama. This is to say, its a choose your own adventure story in video game form. Secondly, the game’s appeal is mostly in the unraveling of the mystery and as such divulging too much about the story would potentially ruin it for you. Given that I am prone to prattling on in my reviews going into at times excessive detail this will challenge me, and I will do my best to walk the fine line between description and spoiler.

So to give you a brief overview of the premise, the game is set around a string of murders being committed by the origami killer who’s m.o. seems to be drowning children. The game is narrated through the perspective of four different characters which you will interchange between throughout the various chapters. As the game progresses, more and more details are unraveled by the games multiple protagonist until leading up to the games climactic final scene. Through the game you play as: Ethan Mars, the family man and architect, Norman Jaden, a FBI investigator, Scott Shelby, a private eye hired by the victims of the origami killer to investigate the murders, and Madison Paige, a photographer.

Gameplay in Heavy Rain is a sticky issue for me to address, because it’s very minimal. The game is based mostly on quick time event interactions while scenes play out, with your correct cues or misses effecting the particulars of the scenes choreography. While some of the decisions you make will have a profound impact on how the game plays out, most of it is really just token interaction, as you will do menial tasks like dry off after a shower or push your kid on the swing set. The little touches add a bit of attachment to the character but it is minimal at best. There are also several times where you will find yourself walking around, this is by far the game at its worst. The control is clunky and often you will find yourself getting turned around or walking in the wrong direction because of how poorly the mechanic works. It’s a minor flaw, however it is a glaring one which will seem to constantly make itself apparent. There are scenes where you get to search for evidence and later examine it with Jaden using CSI gadgetry that seems to fall somewhere between Batman and Minority Report, this is probably some of the most engaging gameplay and I found it to be a fun challenge to try to divine out as many clues as I could, using my holo-files.

ARI the forensic program Jaden uses in Heavy Rain

The Future of Internet Porn?

Without going into too much any detail, the story is an entertaining one. The mystery is maintained throughout the game, with several red herrings and plot twists to keep the player guessing. Speaking for myself, when I discovered who it was I was quite surprised because I had already suspected and then dismissed the person as not being the killer. The plot moves at a deliberate pace constantly taking strides to draw you in and become emotionally attached to the games many characters. The tactic is effective, as suspenseful moments had me itching to hit the cues and make sure my characters got through unscathed. When someone dies in this game, you feel it.  Such feeling is rare in a generation of games fraught with shoot em ups and hack and slashers, where someone dying is nothing more than another multiplier on your combo. The point is to feel cinematic, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call this Oscar worthy, it certainly achieves its ambition.

The visuals are inconsistent, but they range from being breathtaking to acceptable. Being a game where the player mostly takes the backseat while the story unfolds you would expect nothing less. Its obvious playing the game the focus was on the characters and more specifically on facial animations. The tactic is extremely effective, as the vivid visuals allow for unparalleled levels of emotional range through facial expression. Environments look gritty and real, typically having a dingy feel. Throughout the game it is raining, which is represented very effectively, with a sort of hazy look to outdoor environments. The game does suffer from it’s limitations however, with moments where more nuance physical interaction ends up looking like a scene played out by your kid sister with her Barbie dolls…

Take me Ethan, take me now!

The sound is phenominal, and it certainly helps to create the heightened tension in the atmosphere that makes the game so gripping. Music is well used with a recurring brass driven theme that seems to come in and out at strategic moments, creating a gritty noir cinema style. Voice acting is also excellent, with one caveat which I will get into in a moment. The actors almost all do an excellent job of hitting their marks and using effective emotional range to make the characters believable. However one problem I found was that given that the game was developed in France, the use of European voice actors in a story voiced with north american english makes them sound at times very bizarre. I have to admit there were moments where emotions were supposed to run high but I ended up finding myself giggling at the odd accent characters were speaking in.

wat else can I du? I need to save 'im!

All in all the game is not without its flaws. If you’re a hardcore gamer looking for a game that will take playthrough after playthrough to master, this game is not for you. However the unique experience offered is something I really feel anyone can enjoy, and for the hardcore gamer I would even still suggest renting the game and running through it at least once. Heavy Rain continues Quantic Dream’s attempts to fuse video games and cinema to create an interactive cinema experience. The story makes the game in this case, and while it does have a couple of plot holes and at times borders on the incredulous, it is overall a very entertaining story. I really enjoyed playing this game, and I think this sort of game will become more and more prevalent over time, engaging a different audience from the modern warfare players, that allows for something you can casually enjoy and get sucked into a story.

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On Tragedy and Loss

Hello loyal readers,

Today’s post will not feature the cavalier attitude I take in most of my entries, though there are many interesting things I could share my thoughts on I can’t help but feel as though they would be trivial and pointless given present circumstances. If you’re lost, let me shed some light.

Yesterday morning, a woman was stabbed to death in a halfway house in Toronto. I don’t feel the particular desire to chronicle the details specifically so if you want to know the full report you can find it here.

While this story is a tragedy in itself, this news was especially jarring for me because this person was the mother of a close friend. I don’t want this to statement imply this is about my anguish or grief over her loss, because it is not and to do so would be incredibly selfish. I simply feel the need to share my thoughts in writing because frankly I am incapable of talking about things like grief.

It is truly profound the impact death has on a community, most especially when it is tragic and unforeseen. There is a ripple effect of emotional turbulence. Speaking personally I am hit hard because it troubles me to think how hard it would hit my friend, and so those I express my feelings to are affected by me albeit much less so, and so on. I am not sure what element of tragedy that makes people stand up and take notice so much, why it pervades every news station and worms its way into seemingly every day of our lives. I like to think it’s because people long to feel connected to one another and a sense of loss does so more than possibly any other emotional sensation. Reading the news coverage online I was touched to see several comments offering condolences to the family (though not all were so respectful but there are always those that seek to deviate). Though on first impression it may seem selfish or even macabre to be so enthralled by such terrible events, I think the motivation is ultimately benevolent at core. I believe most people want to help those that suffer through terrible tragedy.

It is hard for me to be optimistic though, in the face of such a terrible occurrence. Considering the nature of her work for this woman to be killed in such grotesque manner is inconceivable. I can’t help but ask, how could this happen to someone with such kind and compassionate of intentions? Events like this call into question the greater purpose of life and make me wonder just how such awful things can even happen. Given the nature of the circumstances it would seem altogether likely that her killer will also end up with minimized punishment since he was in all likelihood mentally unstable. I ask you though how does that seem right? Regardless of whether it was completely premeditated or in a fit of passion how can we return balance after such an injustice?

I apologize if this isn’t cohesive, a large part of me writing this is purely and simply cathartic. Beyond all else, more important than any of my rants though, is to remember the pain this family is experiencing and to respect the great work this woman had done.

Dmitry, you are a dear friend and my heart goes out to you and your family.

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