A year and a half after The Hunger Games released, its sequel, Catching Fire, has arrived. First of all, the sequel is definitely darker and bleaker then the first one. The winter setting definitely helps with the latter. In spite of the darkness, there is a thread of hope that runs through the story. Try as President Snow might, he cannot extinguish the people’s hope that Katniss provided the spark for. And while the movie is different in tone than the first, Catching Fire is also very similar, as it contains a few training scenes and then a new arena and new, more diverse tributes. The book itself was my least favorite of the trilogy because it was more like a bridge between halves, and the movie is pretty close to the book. They left out a few major plot points in the movie that were in the book. The most notable changes were: (1) the bread telling the tributes when to break out of the arena, and (2) in the movie Gale is whipped for tackling Thread, not for having a turkey . The filmmakers also left out the people from District 8 that Katniss meets in the woods that established the possibility of District 13, though they did establish the possibility in another way. I thought they handled some of the book’s more questionable scenes well, and the characters are well-represented. The new peacekeeper armor makes them look better, though a little more like Star Wars stormtroopers, and the hovercrafts are the best part of the technology. Also, the movie’s ending is much worse than that of the first one. The best way I can describe the first one is “we’re done for now, but there’s more”. Catching Fire’s ending is more like a cliffhanger that feels more like “we know that we’re successful so now you have to wait a year for the next one”. There was a better, slightly earlier spot to end it that was still a similar type of cliffhanger but would have been more satisfying to me than where it did end. But when it’s all said and done, the movie falls just short of its predecessor, getting 4 out of 5 from us. We will both be going to see the next two installments even though we’re really not sure how they could split Mockingjay into two parts.
It’s November, and another Marvel movie has just hit the big screen…Thor: The Dark World. While interesting, the first one wasn’t the greatest of the Marvel films, so how did this one stack up overall? More on that later. First off, The Dark World is definitely darker in places than the other Marvel movies, but also humorous. There are some great scenes, usually including Loki (esp. one where he changes himself and Thor to look like other characters) and of course Stan Lee’s cameo. The story itself is interesting, and Malekith is a great villain. We saw the movie in 3D and it was worth it, and not just for the extended Captain America: The Winter Soldier trailer. The Aether is one example of where the 3D helped, though the film wasn’t shot in 3D (the credits list the conversion team). There isn’t much to complain about, just some language and some scenes revolving around Eric Selvig, who’s not quite right in the mind anymore. The mid-credits scene sets up future films, as always, and we won’t spoil that. The end of the post-credits scene is humorous and somewhat unexpected. And to top it all off, there will be a tie-in episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airing on November 19th. As for our final ratings, the movie gets 4.5 from me and 4 from Masked, putting it above Iron Man 3 and below The Avengers. Between the two of us, Masked and I think Captain America: The Winter Soldier will take the top prize.
ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. attempts to bring the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to every TV screen that’s willing to tune in. Is that a good idea, or should they have stayed content with just movies? It helps that they have the Avengers director/screenwriter Joss Whedon at the helm again. Partially due to this, Avengers references abound. It’s also great to have Coulson back, though it’s hinted that there is more to his survival than what is actually said in the pilot. The introduction shows flashes of each Avenger’s trademark and almost all six are alluded to at some point. And even though this is television and therefore lower budget than a movie, there is still a good bit of cool tech. There are scanning robots, special weapons, and all kinds of futuristic data displays, and this was just the first episode. One difference between the movies and TV is the amount of overdubbing effect used for the Extremis virus. Though there are some inappropriate jokes, Whedon’s screenwriting is for the most part enjoyable and entertaining. The pilot episode’s plot is easy to follow, but the viewer might also get involved in trying to figure out how different elements fit into the MCU. The ending sets up the next installment with a compelling cliffhanger, and I know I’ll be tuning in again. Masked has since seen the second episode, and guesses that each episode will most likely have its own problem to be solved because the man from the pilot doesn’t show up. Based on the pilot, I give this show 4.5 out of 5, as does Masked. Take away some of the objectionable content (namely language) and it could have earned a full 5. I’ve seen mixed reviews online but would tell anyone who’s interested to at least check out one episode. And it can only get better as we get to know the new characters a little better.
Almost four years passed between Decyfer Down’s 2009 release Crash and their newest album, Scarecrow. Did the time help or hurt this band and this CD? Well, let’s start with the attention-grabbing album art. In case the picture isn’t clear enough, the heart reads “Greed, Envy, Hate”, but then the scarecrow has a Bible in its pocket. What’s wrong with this picture? The title track speaks to this. As for the band’s sound, it has changed. In addition to the title track, other notable tracks include “Westboro” (no explanation needed), “Fight to Win” (the first radio single), and the opener “Memory”. On some tracks it’s definitely more noticeable, like the almost-country intro to “The River.” Overall, I think the CD has more of a southern rock feel than Crash. It definitely deserves my 4.5 out of 5 rating, right up there with Skillet’s Rise and Disciple’s O God Save Us All. It also scores high with Masked: 5 out of 5. It was hard to pick a favorite song, as each one spoke to me in different ways, but my favorite has to be the closer, “So in Love”. As for Masked, his favorite is either “Scarecrow” or “Bleeding Lies” because of the songs’ dynamics. If you like your rock, pick this one up!
I had no idea what to really expect with this set, so I was quite excited to see it arrive on my doorstep last week. (Though a package from Denmark is always great!) It’s been a few years since my last large Technic set, but I knew a little bit about the original model released last year. When I found out I was getting this set, I did some digging and discovered that it was probably going to be pretty cool. The design on this truck/muscle car really does a lot more for me than the SUV style original model. The build was thoroughly interesting, and the functions are quite fun. I can see myself using this quite often. Nice job Rm8, I really like your new cover design! And a big thank you to Eurobricks and LEGO for letting me review this set! I can’t think of much else this should be able to do. And what it can do makes quite an extensive list. The design is very nice, like I’ve said it looks much more like a muscle Price wise, I think it is decent. If the price was $150 or so, I think it’d be a little bit better. There is quite an array of parts in new colors here.
Were you to ask either Masked Builder or myself about Percy Jackson: The Sea of Monsters, we would both sum it up in one word: interesting. Both of us have read the entire Percy Jackson series, and the movies really don’t compare. Sea of Monsters itself is probably my least favorite of the series as a book and the movie only kind of does the book justice. Does that tell you anything? As a movie, it works okay except for the ending, which is unsatisfying and forces the studio to make at least one more movie (really, a bad choice). For the most part, the last fight scene does resemble the book though. It’s just the last five minutes that aren’t good. When the credits rolled, I’m just thinking “that’s it?” Given that The Lightning Thief also barely resembled the book, I’m not sure I can pick which one of the two is better. At first, I would say this one, but as I think more, they’re about equal (or maybe the first is slightly better). Something about this new movie just seemed to be lacking. On the positive side, there was well-placed humor and some good themes. Sea of Monsters was better than other movies I’ve seen though, and were you to pick through our archived posts, you could figure out where this one sits. I’ll give it 3.25 out of 5. Masked gives it 3 out of 5. I read somewhere online that we can only expect one more movie. I would have rather seen these first two made better so we could have all five, with the last one or two being more like the books, even if they earned a PG-13 rating.
When I first saw the June 2013 wave of Lord of the Rings LEGO sets, this one, the “Council of Elrond”, was the one that screamed “must buy!” So, did it live up to my expectations? I’ll save that for the end. First, the basics. This set is the second step up in price for the wave ($29.99), right after the $12.99 “Wizard Battle”. Opening up the long, narrow box (not as square as the “Mirkwood Spiders” box), one finds that it is pretty packed full, though there are only two bags. And even though LEGO Shop shows a brick separator, it doesn’t come with one, which is really no great loss. Minifigure-wise, besides the same Gimli as previous sets and an alternate-faced, cape-less Frodo, this set comes with two completely new figures: Elrond and Arwen. These two alone make the set worth getting. One note: both of their hairpieces are rubberized, but fit the figures perfectly. As for the rest of the set, the structure itself is great! The build is long enough to provide an hour of deliberately slow building. Thankfully, there are only four stickers, three for the chairs and one for the hidden Eye of Sauron. Interesting parts include the orange leaves, and micro-fig statues (not new, but still cool). The set also includes two Stings, three One Rings, two elven swords, and two bows (one’s mistakenly meant for Arwen, who never has a bow in the movies; I’ll probably end up giving one to Tauriel). Overall, this has to be one of my favorites of the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit sets I’ve gotten, if not my absolute favorite. Though not exact, it captures the essence of the scene from Fellowship of the Ring. It just begs to be displayed; perfect for any Lord of the Rings collection!
Going into Pacific Rim, both Masked Builder and I expected epic, mech-based conflict and little in the way of plot. We were pretty much right. The movie’s plot is simple and only really serves to tie the characters together. Why, you ask? Pacific Rim is really character driven, and that word “character” also includes the Kaiju and the Jaegers, especially the United States’ Gipsy Danger, the “hero” robot of the film. The movie definitely draws you into this futuristic world and makes you feel for the human characters while being awed by the monsters and robots. Without spoiling the ending, I’ll just say that the character development definitely impacts the conclusion. To fully appreciate it, we as the viewers have to feel for the characters. Guillermo Del Toro did a pretty good job of making the characters seem real and relatable. In addition, themes of teamwork and sacrifice serve to give purpose to the movie, instead of giving viewers a constant, grinding monster/robot slugfest. There is also some well-placed humor, but not too much. The soundtrack is epic and very fitting, and has a repeating theme piece that’s kind of catchy. My only other complaint is that a few of Raleigh Becket’s (played by Charlie Hunnam) lines are a little dry or flat (not totally convincingly acted), but his voice fits both the narrations and his character perfectly. And Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), Jaeger leader, gives a rousing speech that makes you want to cheer even after hearing it in every single trailer and TV spot. As for the ratings, I give it 4 out of 5 and Masked gives it 4.5 out of 5. We’d both see it again, and there are parts of the world (such as the “Drift”) that could be delved deeper into, but still…we’re not sold on the idea of a Pacific Rim sequel.
There’s something about Pixar movies. I was just about to write that Monsters, Inc. is one of my favorite Pixar films, but I realized I would say the same thing about Up, Cars, the Toy Story trilogy, The Incredibles, Wall-E and Ratatouille. As much as I’d like to analyze each movie and figure out what makes them resonate with me (and many, many other people), I don’t think I would get a satisfactory answer. There’s something mysterious about the way good art affects human beings. I think Pixar is very good at telling stories that ring true, even though the characters are very different from us. That, perhaps, is why I enjoy them so much. Let’s leave it at that. So, being such a big fan of Monsters, Inc., I was naturally excited when I learned that a prequel, Monsters University, was to be released this year. The story follows a young Mike Wazowski as he visits Monsters, Inc. on a school field trip. After meeting a “Scarer” on the Scare floor of the huge facility, Mike is resolved to attend the acclaimed Monsters University (MU) and become a Scarer himself. About thirteen years later, Mike steps onto the campus of MU for the first time, determined to study as much scaring as possible. As he settles into the dorm, he meets his roommate, the nerdy and socially awkward Randall “Randy” Boggs, who has a knack for camouflaging to his surroundings like a chameleon. On the first day of scaring class, Mike meets the carefree James P. “Sulley” Sullivan, who thinks his natural scaring talents give him the right to forego study. Mike looks down on Sulley because he won’t study, and Sulley looks down on Mike because he isn’t very scary. These shortcomings are noticed by the severe Dean Hardscrabble, who ousts them both from the scaring program. Mike and Sulley, dissatisfied with their new major, decide to enter the physically challenging Scare Games. Hardscrabble, the founder of the games, makes a deal with them: If their team (comprised of a motley crew of non-scaring majors) wins the Scare Games, they will be re-admitted into the scaring program. If they lose, Mike must leave Monsters University. The plot continues with lots of twists and surprises – it definitely isn’t predictable! While some prequels and sequels are huge disappointments, Monsters University lives up to Pixar expectations. While it isn’t at the same level as it’s predecessor, it still delivers with a good story, great voice acting and beautiful graphics (the short before the movie is amazing). Keegan and I both agree that this film is a 4 out of 5 stars.
When I first saw the commercial for Wendy’s new pretzel bacon cheeseburger, I couldn’t wait until I would be able to try it. Now that time has come, and I couldn’t be happier, especially since Wendy’s previously discontinued my favorite sandwich, the bacon deluxe. The first thing I noticed is that this new hamburger comes in a special box instead of being wrapped in the usual paper packaging. When I opened the box, an obviously-pretzel bun greeted me, though the roll was so dark I thought it might be burned. But upon biting into the juicy goodness, I found that it tasted fine. The hamburger is accompanied on the bun by cheese and bacon, of course. In addition, Wendy’s has added honey mustard (my favorite sauce) and romaine lettuce instead of iceberg lettuce. There were also tomato and onion, but I removed those, as I never eat them. Sadly, there are no pickles, but next time I might ask for some. Altogether, the taste is very good; this has to be my new favorite sandwich at Wendy’s, and I am glad to kick off this review category with a score of 4.5 out of 5, as the burned appearance of the bun may turn some people off. It could have only been my personal sandwich, but the bun could look the same everywhere. Anyway, I’m glad that this sandwich has been rolled out across the country, and though I don’t eat out much, I will get this every time I go to Wendy’s until they discontinue it. If you like bacon on your hamburger, get this sandwich! Let’s hope this thing’s not really limited-time-only.