Thursday, December 2, 2010

Review wrap-up

I have once again fallen behind in reviews. Rather than flood the site with a bunch of posts that, let’s face it, would be far too long-winded (I love to hear myself type), I’ve decided to round everything up here and spare just a paragraph or two (or five) per item.

It’s a real mixed bag, as I’ve got a CD, a comic, a movie and a video game all here for your consideration. (Spoiler alert: They were all pretty fantastic.)

Mumford and Sons: Sigh no more
I heard the tune “Little Lion Man” by Mumford and Sons on the radio a couple months ago and did my damndest to remember the name of the song and/or the artist, ultimately forgetting both. That happened twice more, causing me loads of frustration. I was near my computer the next time I heard the song and immediately logged on to just download the whole album and be done with it.

Mumford and Sons is an English band that plays southern folk rock…That exists, right? Heavy on harmony and driven by some wicked banjo plucking, this album took a bullet train straight to my heart, where it dug in deep and refuses to let go. I know how dramatic that sounds, but it’s true. If a band were to sit down and say, “Okay, let’s make an album full of all the things Ryan loves about music,” Sigh no More would be it. I can’t recommend it enough.

Kick-Ass 2, issue 1
The comic dream team of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. are back to continue the story of the world’s first real super hero and, for a first issue, it does a good job of setting the scene and getting everyone ready for what will undoubtedly be another brutal romp through six bloodsoaked issues of action, humor and fun.

Having seen the Kick-Ass film a few times since I concluded arc one of the comic book, I actually had to go back and read the books a second time because several key plot points from the two were so different. Once I had everything straightened out, I was ready to tackle the beginnings of this new story.

Mindy is trying to lead a normal life while secretly training Dave to become a better crime fighter on the side. More heroes are coming out of the woodwork, so it only makes sense to get a super team going. Once again, it looks like Mr. Ass is getting in way over his head.

The book looks as good as ever and, save a few forced bits of edgy dialogue, the writing is exactly what you would expect. If you enjoyed the first series, there’s absolutely no reason to miss out on this one.

From Team Ninja Theory, the folks behind PS3’s ill-fated Heavenly Sword, comes another epic tale of brutal combat and adventure in this year’s Enslaved. Sadly, Enslaved has too much in common with its predecessor in that it was a rather great title that received next to no attention from the gaming universe. Everyone claims they want innovation and variety in their gaming but, after they’re done on the message boards, it’s apparently back to playing whichever FPS is the hot ticket of the day.

Based on the Chinese folktale, Journey to the West, Enslaved follows Trip and Monkey on a journey…um…to the west. It’s the future and the world as we know it is in ruins, overrun by countless killer machines. Trip needs to get home and, being the tech savvy backpack she is, manages to hack a headband that forces the giant and brutal Monkey to obey her every command.

Using some creative single player co-op gameplay, you then spend the next 10 or so hours solving puzzles using teamwork, leaping through platformer-friendly environments and going ape$#!% on loads of killer droids.

The camera is zoomed in a bit too tight and, like the controls, is often a pain to deal with. The scenery, while beautiful, is a little rough around the edges, but the facial animations are some of the best out there. That, coupled with great voice acting and motion capture, create a chemistry between the two main characters that’s impossible not to enjoy.

The writing is solid, even if the story does take a turn for “really?” in the closing moments. In short, it’s not perfect, but for fans of lush environments, solid combat and characters you actually give a damn about, Enslaved is a winner.

127 Hours
If James Franco doesn’t at least get an Oscar nomination for his role in 127 Hours, there is no justice in this world. Director Danny Boyle, too, deserves loads of credit for crafting a film that makes two hours in a hole fly by.

Franco plays Aron Ralson, a hiker/biker/climber who lived an unbelievably true story wherein, while performing a tricky bit of spelunking, fell in a crevasse and got his right arm trapped under a massive boulder. The film is perfectly paced and builds to a truly intense climax. It's beautifully shot, surprisingly funny and absolutely entertaining. If you can find a theater showing 127 Hours, you should definitely check it out, even if you do get shortchanged by about 125 hours worth of content.

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