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Tag Archive: Art Schmidt


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Review by Art Schmidt

Peter Jackson’s final installment of his screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel The Hobbit is a breathtaking piece of film which aspires to the almost insurmountable heights that his masterpiece The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King achieved.  The goal is a worthy, if almost unrealistic one, and Jackson spares no expense in trying to soar to those heights where he took us ten years ago.

I’m of two minds about this movie, and have been struggling to combine them into a single piece for you, our faithful readers.  But like Jackson with this trilogy, I am not quite up to the task.  And so, like Jackson, I will split something that should be in a single piece into multiple pieces, and although I am aware that they will likely not equal the sum of what a whole, single review should, I will try nonetheless because I have too much to say on the subject and am utterly unable to edit myself.  Much like a certain director we all know and admire.

Review by a fan of fantasy cinema

The Battle of the Five Armies is a really good film.  Is it great?  Well, that will be up to each viewer, honestly.  It is big and bold, and gives good screen time to the multitude of characters we have come to know over the course of the last two films in the trilogy.  The movie opens where the previous film left off, a different approach from other films in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies, which tended to open with flashbacks or clever recaps to bring the viewer back into the world of Middle-earth which may have faded slightly since the previous film.  Not so here, as the audience is plunged directly into the story right where we exited it last year.

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The dragon Smaug, scary and crazy in the second Hobbit film which bears his name, is magnificently rendered and feels vibrantly alive in the dark theater, the screen aglow with dragonfire and the air electric with his howls of rage and vengeance.  Benedict Cumberbatch captures the right amount of menace and vanity, bringing the drake alive in ways that superb CGI just could not do on its own.  The poor people of Laketown would surely stand in awe of Jackson’s creation if they were not fleeing for their very lives before it.

Martin Freeman knows how to play the everyman, which is essentially what Bilbo Baggins represents.  An everyday man who is snatched up from his comfortable if boring life and thrown headlong into the exciting, unpredictable and oft-times dangerous unknown.  His subtlety and good humor shine through his portrayal of the Hobbit and it is to Freeman’s credit that he can simultaneously stand up to the chiefest and greatest of calamities and also stand up for himself to Thorin, pointing out the sickness that everyone else can see but dare not mention.  The dwarves are also a humorous, entertaining lot, but far too much time would be required to provide the multitude of them a lot of individuality or backstory.  The few who are selected for the spotlight are well worth the time.  Lee Pace, Richard Armitage and Luke Evans play three leaders of different races whose loyalties lie to their people but with widely different styles and personalities.  As with the previous films, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as Elrond and even Christopher Lee as Saruman himself all put in appearances, though not in a way most might expect!

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DM Guide

Review by Art Schmidt

Every gaming nerd in the world has stories about their first D&D game, their first (and usually favorite) edition played, their first character, first group, etc.  I won’t bore you with any of mine (I’ve got some pretty awesome ones, though!) but suffice to say I have been playing D&D since before the hardbound books, so it’s been a long time.  My first Dungeon Master’s Guide was the 1st Edition book, all two hundred and thirty-two glorious, black and white, densely packed pages of it.  It opened up worlds of possibility for my friends and me.  We spent endless hours exploring magical realms of perilous danger and heroic adventure.

I ran most of the games, as I had the Dungeon Master’s Guide (or “DMG” in gamer parlance) and a burning desire to create my own worlds.  We played the printed adventures, or modules, and then I created my own.  The DMG was a great help in this, chock full of tables, charts, and endless descriptions of magical items, weapons, ancient relics and fearsome villains.  I do not know how many tablets of graph paper I went through in my teenage years, but I always had some pages tucked in my text books, my folders, or folded up in my pockets, covered in lines and boxes representing mines dark and deep, full of orcs and dragons and swords of flame.

First Ed DMG

Remember 1979? We didn’t even have Atari back then. This was the BOMB!!!

Having spent the majority of my gaming years running games, versus playing characters, I have owned and used every edition of the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide (except for 4th Edition, and to be honest that’s not out of any dislike for that system but due to a lack of desire of any of my gaming group at the time to make the move from 3.5).  And I’ve loved them all, though at varying levels of love.  The original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) Dungeon Masters Guide (note the lack of the possessive apostrophe; this was 1981 for sure) was a genuine first love, wide-eyed and unjudging and incapable of believing we’d even been blessed with such a magnificent gift.  It literally opened up worlds of imagination for millions of gamers world-wide.  Never mind that the book itself was a jumbled mess of disparate information, random thoughts shoveled into a solid form so quickly that no thought was given to organization or flow.  It didn’t even have chapters, but did we notice or really care?  Heck no!

2nd Edition was more like Puppy Love; it all looked good on the outside and added in a lot of things we thought we wanted, and we knew we were supposed to love it because we loved the game.  But the mechanics weren’t completely sewn together and there were some issues with over-powered spell casting classes.

DMG version 3 dot 5

If they made a Guide to all of the 3.5 Edition rule books, it would be thicker than the DMG.

3rd Edition was a nostalgic love; it was a brave new departure from the old standard but the system was broken from the get-go.  The wildly popular Edition 3.5 was a rebound love;  3rd Edition was dysfunctional and a rough break-up, and 3.5 was a welcome bowl of ice cream and a warm blanket.  And it worked very well.  But after years of fluff and bloat, the system became unwieldy and overly complicated.  Especially so for players and DMs who wanted to focus on story, but had to acquiesce to players who wanted to min-max their way to a War Hulk or Shadowcraft Mage build which everyone knew would eventually break the campaign (and the story!).

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Monster Manual cover

Wizards of the Coast gets an “A” for effort

Review by Art Schmidt

So let’s cut to the chase, shall we?  Your time is valuable and so are your hard-earned gold pieces, unless you are a thief, in which case let’s face it, it’s not really your gold no matter how hard you “worked” to pick that fat merchant’s belt pouch (c’mon, be honest, we both know it’s true).  The 5th Edition Monster Manual from Wizards of the Coast (or WotC, for short), which goes on sale on the 30th of this month, is a well put-together book, with tons of classic monsters in it, and is really a must-have for anyone looking to run a homebrew 5th Edition game, or looking to convert any of their existing modules/adventures to 5th Edition.  Go out and buy it, though please do not pay the $49.99 suggested retail price.  Most game stores and online retailers will have it for around $30, including Amazon.

Okay, so… if you are still reading this then I will assume that: (A) you don’t fit the Dungeon Master description I used above, (B) need some more convincing, or (C) you have some time to kill right now.  Either way, cool.

The book itself is nicely bound with thick high-quality covers which are a must for a book that’s primarily going to be hauled around from game session to game session in a book bag, backpack, plastic tote or other means.  So, it’s going to see a lot of handling and miles (unless you are nice enough to be hosting the game, in which case, Huzzah to you!!!), and it should take the abuse quite well.

Monster Manual excerpt A

“Knock, knock.” “Who is it?” “Land shark.”

The pages are also high quality, thick glossy paper stock and the book is lively and colorful throughout.  I was not a huge fan of the background on every page which was introduced in 3.0, but in this series of books (the Players Handbook and Monster Manual so far, anyway) WotC is not placing thick borders on every page which in previous versions squeezed the content and gave it a skimpier feel (lots of artwork, less content).  The Monster Manual is chock-full of good information and continues their current trend of combining good humor and retro-elements into the content, as was done in the Starter Set and the Player’s Handbook.  The references to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Emirkol the Chaotic and the Demi-Lich Acererak are nice touches and an appreciated wink to both older gamers and the previous creators and contributors who have helped keep the game going for so many years.  I especially like the disclaimers at the beginning of each book so far, which are quite humorous and show that while the WotC Team took its work seriously, they didn’t fall prey to taking themselves so.

You will find nearly every classic monster you could ask for in the book.  And while at 350 pages it is a hefty brick of a book, its usefulness to the Dungeon Master can’t be denied.  From the mandatory entries of giants, dragons, fiends, elementals, constructs, undead and humanoids of all flavors, to the more exotic modrons, yuan-ti, the warring githyanki and githzerai, and the ever-present but rarely used axe beak, the book has a ton of monsters across the spectrum of challenge ratings.  (Seriously, how many times have you encountered an axe beak in all of your adventures?)

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By Art Schmidt

I was having lunch with a friend the other day and we were talking about comic book movies and the slow transition of the formulas for the ones which have succeeded to television format. My friend was grumbling about the lack of costumed heroes on popular shows such as Arrow or the new Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  I have to admit, I hadn’t really noticed the lack of costumes in those shows, loving the first season of Arrow despite very few folks with traditional comic book costumes, and enjoying the first couple of episodes of A.O.S. (can you acronym an acronym?).

But the more I thought about it, the more puzzled I was.  Why weren’t there more costumes in Arrow?  Certainly Deathstroke’s mask was a pivotal prop in the series, and the Dark Archer had a cool getup, but they weren’t costumes so much as work attire fitting the villain’s nature.  And of course A.O.S. is a show about normal people, super spies and highly-skilled to be sure, but not superheroes.  And certainly without costumes outside of May’s black leather suit, akin to Fury’s normal wardrobe and the attire seen by many personnel aboard the Heli-carrier in The Avengers.

Speaking of which, The Avengers is a perfect case in point.  The evolution of the superhero sans costume.  I’ll get back to that in a minute.

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Creepy Little Girls part 11

The writers at borg.com have one fear in scary movies that seems to trump all others–creepy little girls.  From The Shining to The Ring to the new gothic horror flick We Are What We Are, we’d all just as soon duck in the corner and cover our heads than to watch another movie with the single element that makes you run out of the theater or jump out of your seat every time some evil filmmaker writes them into a script.

We’ve discussed this strange horror element before here at borg.com, with Elizabeth C. Bunce’s review of The Alphabet Killer and her list of Halloween video recommendations, in Jason McClain’s preview of The Woman in Black, in my Halloween recommended viewing list, in Art Schmidt’s favorite horror film list, and Jason McClain’s video recommendations.

We Are What We Are

All in, we’ve logged 11 scary flicks with one or more creepy little girls–enough so that we think it qualifies as its own sub-genre–and not only do we acknowledge them we recommend them, too.  They are The Ring, The Exorcist, Let Me In, Paranormal Activity 3, Watcher in the Woods, The Sixth Sense, The Shining, The Alphabet Killer, Turn of the Screw, The Others, and The Woman in Black.  Yes, they give us the heebie geebies, but if we want to see something that gets us to lift up our feet in the theater seats, it seems the secret weapon for filmmakers is clear.

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Review by Art Schmidt

One of the latest of fantasy pulp novels from Wizards of the Coast, owners of the Dungeons & Dragons brand of games and fiction, the Stone of Tymora is the latest offering from internationally famous best-selling fantasy author R. A. Salvatore and his son, Geno Salvatore.  Or rather, it was written by Geno and ‘overseen’ by his father, according to press releases and interviews with the authors.  The Stone of Tymora compilation was released October 2, 2012.

Originally published as three separate novellas (The Stowaway, October 2008; The Shadowmask, July 2009; and The Sentinels, October 2010), the compilation entitled Stone of Tymora follows the adventures of a tween orphan who has a powerful artifact tied to him while still in swaddling clothes and spends his youth alternately fleeing the artifact’s curse and then struggling to find a way to rid himself of it.

 

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To get to borg.com’s first anniversary it actually took us 366 days because of the leap year.  And what a year it has been!

So what do we have to show for 366 daily posts–our attempt to keep you up to date on what is going on in science fiction, fantasy, and entertainment news?

Jason McClain and Elizabeth C. Bunce

We interviewed some great people, like DC Comics artists Freddie Williams and Mikel Janin, writers Sharon Shinn and Jai Nitz, and Star Trek insider Penny Juday.  In our “Sneak preview” series we reviewed the pilots for new TV series ABC’s New Girl and NBC’s Awake before they were broadcast on TV.  We gave you our take on several opening weekend screenings of a big year in movies from Cowboys & Aliens to Green Lantern, from the last Harry Potter film to Daniel Radcliffe’s first big adult role in The Woman in Black,  to the day of Marvel Comics movies that led up to the U.S. premiere of The Avengers We shared the first images released of The Hobbit and Total Recall We reviewed new books and classic sci-fi books in our “Retro reviews,” from Philip K. Dick, Ian Fleming, Michael Crichton, Rex Stout, Ernest Cline, and Richard Stark, and several non-fiction books about the “behind the scenes” of movies.  We covered Comic-Con International, Wondercon, Planet Comicon, Free Comic Book Day and the early release party for Avengers vs. X-Men We reviewed dozens of new comic book series, from Morning Glories to Terry Moore’s Rachel Rising and a whole slew of DC’s New 52 reboot, as well as Marvel Comics’ limited series events.  Along with that we’ve kept tabs on our (and hopefully your) favorite things like Doctor Who, Star Trek, Walking Dead, Peter Jackson, baseball, Community, Benedict Cumberbatch, the Syfy Channel, USA Network, James Bond, Batman and Green Arrow.  We’ve posted lots of original comic art to get an eye on the creative process of the artist, and we loved discussing genre costumes, including the latest news about incredible screen-used prop and costume auctions.  We’ve also taken a closer look at science fiction movies with our “Anatomy of science fiction” series, featuring iconic images, and the evolution of space suits in film.  And to give you ideas for movie watching from the archives, we provided our “favorites” and “best of” series, revealing our recommendations for overlooked TV series, Halloween flicks, favorite fantasy films, best adaptations, favorite characters, and best art of Alex Ross and Frank Cho.  We’ve profiled favorite genre stars like David Warner, John Carpenter and Mark Sheppard.  We’ve reviewed new compact discs from some of our favorite celebrities, Hugh Laurie and Zoey Deschanel, as well as new fantasy video games.  And finally, we’ve talked about borgs from every sci-fi franchise out there, and even how borg technology as cutting edge science affects humans in real life.

Art Schmidt and CJ Bunce

We think we like what you’d like, so we’ve tried to help you get the most out of entertainment by recommending to you the best sci-fi, fantasy and entertainment out there.

A personal thanks to professional writers Elizabeth C. Bunce (fantasy author, intrepid TV reviewer and fangirl), Jason McClain (Hollywood columnist and master of myriad musings) and Art Schmidt (diehard genre fan and fantasy realm connoisseur) for their great contributions and getting us more than 250,000 site visits and hundreds of positive feedback comments in only our first year.

Thanks for reading!  Year 2 begins tomorrow…

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

By Art Schmidt

Marvel Studios’ newest and boldest superhero movie yet, The Avengers premiered on Friday in North America.  To celebrate the superhero team-up movie five years in the making, AMC Theaters nationwide offered an all-day Ultimate Marvel Marathon in select venues, previewed here last week, showing all five previous Marvel Studios super heroes movies, in order, leading up to the midnight premier of The Avengers:  Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger.  I reviewed the movie Saturday here at borg.com, but now I want to share the most excellent movie-going experience I had at the Ultimate Marvel Marathon.

I had been to AMC special events before; they carry the Fathom Events series, including the excellent Lost panel I attended prior to the series finale.  I had also previously attended their all-day screening of the extended versions of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was discussed here at borg.com.  So I knew AMC would do this event right, but even I had no idea how Mighty it would be.

Early Thursday afternoon, the theatre was packed and there were tons of fans sporting their hero gear, many throwing props to their favorite heroes from both within the Marvel and DC universes and without (one guy sitting near me had on an Archer T-shirt, which I thought was hilarious.  Several fans were wearing Justice League gear, like silent cries for DC to follow in Marvel’s footsteps and begin work on a similar movie featuring their favorite DC characters.  There were several good costumes floating around, including a convincing Tony Stark in party tux and a great home-made Thor outfit which drew lots of cameras.  The folks at the AMC 30 Theater I attended the event at had things well planned out.  Marathoners had lanyards and special 3D glasses provided, and a limited supply of a free special issue of The Avengers comic book.  There were activities planned including trivia in between each movie and select prizes for the correct answers (posters, additional 3D glasses, and masks).

Before the showing of the first movie, Iron Man, the AMC hostess took a favorite character survey among the “Big Four” Avengers (the ones who have had their own movies thus far) and though it was close between Captain America and Iron Man, Tony Stark pulled it out during the second round of voting.

When the lights dimmed, the surprises were far from over.  Before each of the five movies leading up to The Avengers premier, there were short “debriefings” shown featuring none other than our favorite S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Phil Coulson.  He provided brief reviews of the movies’ main characters, personalities, and the circumstances leading up to them becoming involved in The Avengers Initiative.  Before Iron Man, Coulson did a very funny bit throwing out a copy of Tony Stark’s own description of himself (in a very thick binder), and then showing Coulson’s own single-page description which was entirely inked over, being heavily redacted by the government.

There were very big cheers when each movie started, and huge laughs during all of the funny scenes in every movie.  The crowd was loud and raucous, and the carnival atmosphere was everything I had anticipated and more.  It was like being in the middle of a gigantic, six-hundred person nerd love-in, and everyone was loving it.  When Stark announced “I am Iron Man” at the end of the initial movie, you couldn’t hear yourself think over the huge cheers.

When Nick Fury came in for his first cameo at the end, the theater filled with an unexpected electricity his final words: “I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative.”  That scene took on a whole new meaning for the assembled crowd of fans, and the cheers were deafening.

Throughout the showings of the movies, there were big cheers at the first appearance of each of our beloved heroes, and Marvel-ous applause every time a Stan Lee cameo occurred.  When the Hulk kicked a heavily souped-up Captain Emil Blonksy into the tree in response to the “Is that all you’ve got?” the crowd roared the loudest it had thus far.  And things only got better.

The folks at AMC posted pictures on their Facebook page throughout the day and evening which fans happily scanned through on their smart phones in between shows.  The great crowd even made Iron Man 2 enjoyable, with lots of applause and laughs especially at the expense of Justin Hammer, played with gleeful scumbaggery by Sam Rockwell.

The last three films, Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers were all shown in 3D.  Agent Coulson’s debrief prior to Thor ended with the instruction: “The time has come to put on your S.H.I.E.L.D.-supplied enhanced eyewear for three-dimensional presentation”.  Big laughs at that one, like good little Junior Agents, we all did exactly as we were told.

The movie Thor actually played a bit more corny against the others, or perhaps kitschy is the right term, when viewed along with the other films, especially the little New Mexico (?) town that never quite looks or feels quite real (as compared to Asgard, which was incredibly well-conceived and heavily detailed).

And thanks to free refills for large drinks and popcorns, the lines were never short at the concession stands all day long (nor for the bathrooms!)

The debrief prior to Captain America contained more humor, with Coulson beaming like a little kid as he shared with the audience that Captain America was his favorite hero.  “I have all of his trading cards,” he nearly gushed, before quickly regaining his composure and asserting, “But enough about me.”  Little did we know that this bit would play directly into the plot of The Avengers.

Just before the premiere of the main event, at midnight the AMC folks led the entire audience in singing “Happy Birthday” to an audience member who was turning 21 at midnight.  The song was accompanied by huge cheers and applause, and I know we made that guy’s day.

And then the main event started, and it was a great present for us all, birthdays or not.  AMC did this event right, a great movie event for movie lovers, and I’ll be sure to be on the lookout for future events such as this.

(Photos copyright AMC Theaters 2012, reprinted from their Facebook page)

Review by Art Schmidt

Overall this is probably one of the best Marvel Studios has produced thus far.  Despite the multitude of heroes and personalities on the screen, which could have easily lent itself to a convoluted, overly-busy and confusing plot, the movie sails right along with only a few minor bumps in dialogue or story.  The tight script by director Joss Whedon manages to bring out the individual personality of each character, as well as showcasing each ones strengths and, in most cases, their weaknesses, without anything feeling like it was shoe-horned in the middle of a scene or duct-taped onto the end of a conversation.  It all flows exceedingly well, to both Whedon and Zek Penn‘s credit.

Early on, many questioned Whedon’s ability to transform from a televised series format where he’s had his greatest critical and commercial successes with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Dollhouse, to the big screen, despite having written stories and/or screenplays for several films including Toy Story, Alien: Resurrection, and Serenity.  Well, The Avengers have assembled for what is currently Earth’s Mightiest Movie, and Whedon has answered all of those critics with a guttural roar heard all across America yesterday:

“Joss SMASH!”

Smash, indeed.  It appears some records are about to be smashed, judging by the movie’s world-wide tallies and first-day numbers in the United States.

In fact, it may very well be Whedon’s experience with television’s shorter episodic format that enabled the director to write such crisp, fast-paced exchanges between the characters, expressing multiple points of view in relatively short conversations without feeling pithy or trite.  Of particular note is a scene mid-way through the movie, as the Team wrestles with each other’s hidden objectives and priorities, trying to make sense of how they can possibly agree on even one thing, much less begin to work together.  S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury’s agenda is questioned, as is Thor’s long-term plans for his captive brother Loki, played again with devilish delight by Tom Hiddleston.  Steve Rogers (a.k.a Captain America) questions Tony Stark’s patriotism, and Bruce Banner tries to remain out of the fray altogether, because in reality he doesn’t trust any of them.  And it is Banner who aptly frames the team’s troubles with the quip showcased in the previews: “We’re not a team…  we’re a time bomb.”

Of particular note is newcomer Mark Ruffalo, taking up the role of Bruce Banner formerly portrayed by not one but three other actors, the fairly straight-forward scientist on the run character (“David” Banner) that Bill Bixby gave us in the seventies TV series, the brooding scientist with the weight of the world on his shoulders as portrayed by Eric Bana in Ang Lee’s The Hulk, and the mousy, sensitive fugitive we were shown by Edward Norton.

Ruffalo gives us a character more true to the Banner of the comics, nerdy and analyzing, shy around people and reluctant to get involved, with much hand wringing and avoiding eye contact, even when the camera isn’t squarely on him.

The Hulk himself, finally, comes into his own in an odd way, with hints that Banner now has at least a tiny bit of control over the beast.  The CGI Hulk is a rare cinematic treat, fun to watch, exhilarating with his combat acrobatics and both vicious and funny to behold in all his rage.  He definitely grabs both some of the movies best action sequences and its funniest sight gags.  Whereas many studios anymore give away the best parts of their movies in the previews in an attempt to trick an audience into the seats, The Avengers saves the best stuff for the theater, and I won’t be so callous as to spoil one single juicy bit of it here.  I will say that when Banner tells his “big secret” to Black Widow and the rest of the team during the finale, it drew some the biggest cheers of the night.

Although now in an apparently steady relationship with Pepper Potts, played in a few brief scenes by Gwyneth Paltrow with the warmth and grace she brings to every role, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is at his most self-centered and narcissistic throughout the entire film.  Which of course is to say at his most fun, especially for the audience.  His cooler-than-thou attitude grates against almost every other member of the “team,” and much of the early in-fighting amongst the team is either attributed to, or enflamed by, Stark’s ingratiating self-importance.  Again, to the audience’s delight.

Despite the excess of charisma, Iron Man does not end up leading the team, of course.  That honor goes to Captain America, although next to the high-flying and alien-smashing abilities of the other “big three,” the star-spangled man in blue tights seems, as times, a bit under-powered.  But the Captain’s confidence and, ultimately, loyalty to his teammates is what brings out his leadership skills, and the others end up swallowing their pride and prejudices and looking to him as their quarterback, their general, their Captain.

Chris Evans does a skillful job of maintaining Cap’s Boy Scout innocence amidst the highly experienced and jaded folks around him, even when faced with deadly threats and other-worldly beings.  Steve just pitches in and helps, whether it’s assisting Iron Man in getting a rotor repaired, sneaking around S.H.I.E.L.D.’s vaults to uncover their secrets, or directing New York’s finest to execute their duty to protect and serve.

“Why should I take orders from you?” one veteran police sergeant asks dubiously.  The response is pure popcorn delight.

Chris Helmsworth recites Thor’s Olde English dialogue with clarity and ease, and though at times you can almost see the words in your head in the fancy font used in the comics, it rolls off of his tongue naturally.  The God of Thunder actually feels more real in this movie than in his own, partially because the other heroes bring him down to Earth a bit (no pun intended), but also because of the balancing effect of the Hulk.

As Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson has enough to do and gets plenty of screen time, even discounting the shots of her character walking away from the camera, but compared to those who have super-natural (or super high-tech) abilities, her martial arts and weapons skills seem flashy but inadequate.  As one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top operatives, however, she in right in the mix and given some tough assignments, like dealing with Banner / Hulk and figuring out how to ultimately stop the bad guys at the end.

Hawkeye suffers from a similar fate (played by Jeremy Renner), although his trick arrows do bring some surprises and satisfying butt-kicking moments.  His arsenal isn’t as tricked-out as in the comics, but his skill comes across (especially when he’s eyeing his targets a full forty or fifty degrees from where he’s aiming his bow) and his automated quiver is a fairly neat addition to the Avenger’s arsenal.

Samuel L. Jackson has been playing Nick Fury with his own unique brand of quiet cool through almost all of the Marvel movies leading up the this, and I was looking forward to seeing him in some action sequences in The Avengers.  Though Fury does unleash some on a few bad guys, his role is mostly as the S.H.I.E.L.D. administrator and liaison to those in power calling the real shots.  Too bad, maybe next time.

All in all, the movie aims to please and hits the mark dead-on, with tons of thrills, laughs, great action sequences, characters who sound intelligent and a story that makes sense.  Usually with superhero movies, you’re lucky to get any three of those things and call your money fairly spent.  Well, Joss Whedon and company have assembled the entire team and anyone who enjoys action / adventure movies should walk away with a huge grin on their face.

Be sure to wait until after the credits for a great nugget!  I won’t give it away, but it is unlike any of the others Marvel has planted at the end of the movies leading up to this one.  And joyously so!

By Art Schmidt

Boy, hunting bounties through the galaxy is thirsty work.  But it’s satisfying, like a hot shower on a winter day.  Of course, you have to keep returning to the bitter, cold world, but hey, at least your hair looks nice.  Am I right?

Being a Bounty Hunter in Star Wars: The Old Republic has been a blast.  Since the game launched just over three months ago, I’ve been planet-hopping fairly nearly non-stop, and the game does not disappoint.  There have been two major updates (i.e. New Content) in these first few months, with the promise of regular content adds continuing.  Each class in the game has its own storyline, and in my case I’ve played several.  I think the Bounty Hunter is the class I’ve had the most fun with so far.

Why, you ask?  Well, let me see if I can explain…

Of all the cantinas, in all the settlements, on all the planets in the galaxy, all I could find was this dive.

From the time I first arrived on Hutta, I knew this was the kind of life I had always wanted.  No more punching keyboards and time-clocks for me!  No more PTA meetings, no more neighborhood barbeques, no more meals that weren’t deep fried or baked in marinara, no more fresh breath.  I was going to dedicate every waking hour that I could to being the best bounty hunter I could be.

 

This loser was planning to skip out on the Hutts. But the Hutts don’t like skipping. It doesn’t agree with their BMIs.

After running errands for the Hutts and taking out a few small-time bullies, I got my first real assignment.  Some guy was trying to escape the planet and his gambling debts to the Hutts, and they were none too happy with him.  So I settled the score on their behalf.  Once I had established myself as a world-class bounty hunter (in one corner of Hutta, at least), I was on my way to joining the Great Hunt, the annual galaxy-wide competition among elite bounty hunters.  It’s winner-take-all, and by take all I mean you have to kill not only the folks on the bounty list, but also your competition.  Talk about full contact!

I take all my holo-calls in miniature. It reminds me I’m better than everyone else.

Once I had established my credentials (and pocketed a bunch of credits), I finally got my ticket punched for the Great Hunt.  Hike-two Hutt sponsored me in the Great Hunt, and I was accepted into the contest, but not before my trainers were killed by a cheating Mandalorian slimeball who wanted to win the Great Hunt himself.  All that was left of my team was the techie Mako.  She was the least experienced of the team (besides me), but she was easy on the eyes and handy with kolto, so I let her tag along.

Imp shuttles are cheap and available to anyone. Just like my loyalty.

I hopped aboard a shuttle for the Imperial fleet Space Port where I was hoping to learn a few new tricks and make a reputation for myself.  Also, I didn’t have my own spaceship yet, and all of the cheapest shuttles connected through Fleet, so I really didn’t have a choice.  Mako complained about having to ride in my lap on account of I could only afford one seat, but I’m saving up for a shiny new blaster I’ve had my eye on.

Dromund Kaas had a sun once, but the Emperor thought it was spying on him and banished it.

The Great Hunt is run out from Dromund Kaas, the Imperial home world.  It’s rainy and gloomy most of the time, like the Imps who run the place.  But they’ve got plenty of credits to spend, and they don’t shy away from hiring the right kind of hammer to nail down their problems.  I like hammers.  I had to bag three high-level bounties on Dromund Kaas to get past the first round.

I framed this one and sent it home to mom. Now she won’t return my holo-calls.

But I was feeling pretty good about my chances.  I felt so good, in fact, that I pulled the ears off a gundark.  The bounties were spread all over the planet, and without my own personal speeder it was difficult getting around.  Luckily Mako is good at navigating, and I’m good at shooting things, so we make a good team.

 

Mako says I never take her anywhere nice. Look how my blaster fire reflects off that waterfall! That’s romantic, baby!

Halfway through the last bounty, Mako did start complaining that she hated Dromund Kaas and she wanted to leave.  Leave?  This planet wasn’t paradise, but the credits were rolling in, and my reputation was almost tangible.  And it so happens there were plenty of Republic spies around for me to keep in business.  She just doesn’t appreciate me.

Well, with my bounties bagged and my credits in hand, it was time to swipe one of my targets’ starships and blow this Popsicle stand.  Hey, he wasn’t using it anymore…

I’m pretty sure I can download the flight manual for this ship off the holonet...

Next target was a sneaky smuggler as famous for ditching Republic customs officials as he was for double-crossing the Imps.  Apparently he double-crossed the wrong Sith Lord and landed himself on my target list.  His mistake.

The Imps have a ray shield covering their entire base on Balmorra. Rumor is it’s to keep the civilians in.

The trail led me to Balmorra, a dusty rock-strewn backwater engulfed in a civil war where the Imps were trying to help the rebels overthrow their government.  And guess who was helping the government?  You guessed it, the Republic.  Man, these guys should just go to war already.  On second thought, that might mean less creds for me.  Scratch that thought.

Republic Cruisers look much smaller up in space...

While I was hunting down my prize, some Sith wannabe offered me a pile of credits to infiltrate the nearby Republic ship yards and steal the plans for a prototype starfighter, while rigging the goody-goodies prototype craft with explosives.  I didn’t care for the way she kept breathing through that big mask on her face, but hey, credits are credits.  Besides, she used my three favorite words in the same sentence: explosives, steal, and credits.  Even Mako agreed it would be easy money.

I think that ship’s name was Apollo, or something...

It was.

While doing the Imps dirty work for them and reaping a large pile of credits, we were able to sniff out the bounty we had on Balmorra, and take out our competition along the way.  Once his head was claimed, we took a shuttle back to the spaceport and prepared to get our next assignment in the Great Hunt.

Imperial shuttle craft. They’re boxy, but safe.

On the way back to Dromund Kaas, we encountered some Republic patrol craft, but they were no match for my D-5 Mantis.  I call her Trixie, but only when Mako isn’t in the room.  Mako’s the jealous type, and unfortunately I’ve got a lot to be jealous of.  What can I say?  Everyone has their cross to bear…

Hey, watch out for that astero- Oops, never mind.

Trixie and I made short work of those pesky Talon fighters.  Talon, yeah right.  I de-clawed them one after the other.

Next stop was Nar Shaddaa, and believe me, never will you find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.  Well, actually I hear there is one, but I haven’t seen it.  Plus, Nar Shaddaa has two things that other place doesn’t: neon and air conditioning.  I’m thinking of buying a timeshare here.

It’s like Sin City, only on the whole planet, so there’s nowhere to wash your hands.

Again, the Imps needed some expert assistance in blowing some stuff up.  I think it was a Republic-something, but I could be wrong.  The credits, however, were so right.  Plus, we bounced in and out of so many cantinas I got to finish my World Adrenal Tour.  I got a free T-shirt!

All your secret Republic base are belong to us!

I didn’t stay on Nar Shaddaa long, though.  I couldn’t bear the thought of blowing up too much of it, and every time I walked into a Cantina or a massage parlor credits kept leaping out of my pocket.  Once the bottom line starts to drop, it’s time to hunt somewhere else!  Also, Mako kept nagging me, something about my eyes always crossing, so we finished up there pretty quickly, claimed our bounty, and moved on to Tatooine.

Darth Anus here wanted me to polish his boots, so I told him to stand in a pile of bantha poo-doo. I didn’t know lightsabers could be thrown with such accuracy!

Tatooine.  What a dump.  A hot, sweaty, sandy pit that I couldn’t believe anyone lived in.  I mean, what kind of people are going to come from this place?  Certainly no one who will ever be of any importance.  Our prey here was a slippery double-dealing merchant and scoundrel who went by many names.  I called him Reward Worthington.  He was certainly difficult to catch up to!  He gave Mako and me the slip not once but twice before we finally cornered him as he was about to jump onto his ship.

When we found him, he begged for his life, but in a cool, hip kind of way.  He had proven to be rather resourceful, so I let him join my crew under an assumed name and took some of his DNA to prove I’d bagged him for the bounty.  No one was the wiser, and I got a clever new crewman.  I’ll have to remember to keep him away from the hyperdrive controls.  And my personal safe.

I had to purchase Mako a new wardrobe so she didn’t melt in the heat. I spared every expense.

One other upside to Tatooine, besides the new crewman: Mako was able to get a good tan.  With my profits from the bounties and other work I did on that sandpile, I was able to purchase a shiny new green speeder.  I think it’s called Ubrikkian Striker.  I’m going to call mine Slave 1/2.  Don’t ask me why, I just like the name.

I left everything on Tatooine just as I found it: in the dust!

Claiming that last bounty made me the winner of the Great Hunt!  There was much fanfare!  There were many credits!  There was crying and weeping!  I’m glad my mother wasn’t there to see me.

So the first hundred days in The Old Republic has been a blast.  Let’s see if the next couple hundred can stay just as interesting…

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