Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Movie Reviews: Hunger Games, Hobbit, and Hawking

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1: Jennifer Lawrence is back as Katniss Everdeen in this third - but only penultimate - installment of the young adult book series. Lawrence is brilliant as usual, but she does little here, sharing screen-time with an assortment of other characters. Primary is Julianne Moore as the rebel leader Alma Coin, with major appearances by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as former gamesmaker turned rebel Plutarch (he died a week before filming of the sequel finished),  Donald Sutherland as capital tyrant President Snow, Josh Hutcherson as Peetah, Liam Helmsworth as Gale, Woody Harrelson barely on-screen and missed as Haymitch, and others.
A lot of the book is missing again (like all of Katniss' rebellion against the rebellion) and scenes that were "off-screen" in the book were added, like the rescue attempt in the capital. It's two hours of preparatory work for the next movie, politics, and posturing, with a few low key fights. It should not have been a standalone movie. It's enjoyable, if only because of the fine acting or because you enjoyed the books. You won't understand anything if you missed the previous movies.

The Theory of Everything: A movie that hits its mark, this is an adaptation of Jane Hawking's book Traveling to Infinity, which tells the story of her life with renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. If you live in a mall, and so don't know who Stephen Hawking is, he is the most famous theoretical physicist in the world for two reasons: 1) he developed much of the theoretical framework for the origin of the universe as a big bang, as well as how black holes emit radiation, and 2) he has been locked in a wheelchair and nearly immobile since his first year as a doctoral student.

Having been written by Jane, the story covers as much of her commitment to, and struggle to live with, Stephen, as it does his amazing work and triumphs. Unfortunately, knowing as I knew where the story went, I wasn't happy with where it went, but that's life; Jane makes it all seem as nice as possible, and the movie ends before we get into the troubles Stephen experienced from 1995 to 2006. Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen to perfection in an incredibly difficult role, and so does Felicity Jones as Jane, as does the rest of the cast. It's a biopic, well done, brilliantly acted, and nicely paced, but more about their relationship then about the universe.

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies: I really don't know what to say about this. There were less unbelievable things performed by Legolas (just one scene tower/bridge). But there was still the ridiculous love story between girl elf and dwarf. Many of the story elements were taken from the end of the The Hobbit, but I got lost several times with the back and forth decisions of the Elf King. And wasn't there a second orc army that was on its way to attack? What happened to it?

There were many omissions from the book, changes that didn't seem justified, and of course all the added material. With the exception of the above mentioned romance, the additions were fine; I just couldn't follow all of them. The acting was good and some scenes, such as Gandalf tapping out a pipe, were cute or funny.

Again and again, the bad guy (or dragon) took time to talk to his prey or Look Cool before delivering the final blow, and again and again that delay was fatal. The dwarf army leader had an outrageous Scottish accent, but it was kind of funny. The greedy cowardly human guy was funny once or twice, but his appearance on screen was the same joke repeated, and it got boring. It was hard to understand why everyone not only let him live but kept entrusting him with responsibilities when he always abandoned or forgot them. The "gold fever" that possessed Thorin was far worse than the influence of the ring on Bilbo, and its resolution wasn't entirely clear.

The last half of the movie, which were battle scenes, one-to-many fights scenes, and then a host of one-to-one fight scenes, also got to be predictable and ... well, not boring exactly, but not really tense. I knew what was going to happen on the ice flow before it happened. I knew that the guy who looked dead wasn't really dead and was going to make one last attack, even though there was no logical reason that he wasn't already dead nor why he would pretend to be dead except to "surprise" the audience. I also knew from the book who was going to die, so that defused the suspense.

Was it good? Eh. It had some good characters who were not explored in depth, and some great cinematography, of course. It was sorta good. Kind of. Maybe.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Lume and Lumino City: Video Games Made of Paper, Cardboard, Motors, and Lights

Lumino City is a video game made from videos shot of handmade paper-craft, cards, lights, and motors. It took three years to construct and is the sequel to 2012's equally artistic and intriguing Lume.

What do we call a game that plays like a video game, but it made out of physical objects in the way that board games are made? Obviously they are video games. But they are something else, the same way that The Dragon's Lair was a video game but also a choose-your-own adventure movie.

Come to think of it, what do we call a board game made from computer graphics, like what we play on an iPad? Obviously they are board games. But they are something else, especially when the game adds a little something extra that is hard to reproduce in the board game equivalent, like animated piece movement.

So often we see copies of the most obvious products that our tools can produce. Artists use tools to create new things. The Lume series is art: not because the paper-craft or constructions are art (though they are), not because the game-play is art, but because the combined experience opens up new worlds, makes us think differently, and speaks to us about what it means to create. And it's awesome.

This is not the first video game created from non-computer graphics media. For example, The Neverhood is a 1996 game made from (crude) claymation.

This year also brought us Crafty Arcade's iPollute ...

... as well as The Dream Machine.


Monday, December 01, 2014

The Best Chanukah Game is on Sale

Candle Quest, the best Chanukah board game, is on sale (25% off) at Victory Point Games. It's the first discounted game in VPG's Christmas Sale.

Go now and buy several copies to give to your friends and family as presents. Go, go. I'll wait.