Friday, June 14, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness Review: Sometimes the brightest lights are forged in the darkness

Overall score: 8.5 / 10

3D Review: This score reflects how good the 3D special effects are in the movie. 3/3 means it's absolutely mandatory to see it in 3D. Very rare, sadly. 1/3 means the 3D effects are superfluous and minimal (Star Wars 3D, I'm lookin' atchoo). 2/3 means you'll miss some interesting scenes if you see it sans 3D, but that it won't greatly detract from your viewing experience.

3D Score for Star Trek Into Darkness: 2/3. Why? There were 1 or 2 excellent 3D scenes, but the rest of the time the 3D didn't really "pop out" of the screen enough. A lot more could have been done with debris fields, spaceship battles, etc. and wasn't. 

Pros: Special effects, music, camerawork, innovative use of scenery.

Cons: Writing. A lot of the dialog was forced "I am your friend." (Really?) "I'm dying now. Let's hold hands". And the plot had several holes the size of a warp drive.

And now for the meat of the blog... The review.


Film review:

Sometimes the brightest lights are forged in the darkness. The story of Into Darkness focuses on teaching Captain Kirk some humility. Showing him that he is, indeed, fallible. And in so doing humbling him in the process. The film conveys this message aptly, if a bit obviously.
The special effects are top notch and worth the price of admission. This is definitely one of those movies I would say you could go to just to watch shit blow up. Notable scenes include Kirk & Khan jetting through a debris field comprised of the dead bodies of Enterprise crew members. The movie can be pretty dark, and I love that. Another notable special effects scene is at the very beginning, but it is so amazingly spectacular I'm not going to spoil it. All I'll say is pay close attention when Spock is inside the active, erupting volcano. Overall Special Effects Score: 9.75

The music is pretty much the same as it was in the original Star Trek, which is to say it's great. Orchestral music fits space really well, for some reason. Loved the music. Sound effects were great too. The voices were completely audible even during chaotic battle scenes with vast amounts of explosions. Overall Music & Sound Effects Score: 9

The writing however... Not so good is putting it lightly. Let's start with the dialog. So much of it is forced that it isn't even funny. Here's a note for new scriptwriters: Never have your characters say "I am your friend" or "I am dying now" or "This is goodbye -holds hands-". It's too obvious and cliche and it makes intelligent writers wince.  There are occasional excellent one liners though. I really liked when Kirk asked Khan "Are you ready?" And Khan replied "Are you?" This conveys the air and personality of Khan perfectly. That sense of superiority and knowing more than you're telling. More on that in a second though. Overall Dialog Score: 5.5

Plot writing. Oh, plot. Why did you have to be so silly. Why. Ok where to begin. There are massive spoilers here by the way so if you haven't watched the movie don't read this part. First off, Marcus's whole story was ridiculous. He was supposedly the head of Starfleet, and yet needed to build a military starship in secret? Why? If he truly feared an imminent war with the Klingons, all he needed to do was say that... He's the leader of Starfleet! Rally the people and build all the military vessels you need above board. "In the interests of national security" and all that. Why kill off your best crew and basically resurrect Adolph Hitler when you can just, you know, use the shipyards and fleet that you control?

Speaking of Adolph Hitler, let's talk about Khan. Oh, Khan. For a genetically engineered superhuman that's better in literally every way you seem pretty helpless. You're telling me with a 250 IQ, superhuman strength, the ability to basically ignore damage to your body AND the capability to resurrect yourself you can't handle one lowly human? "But Marcus has my crew members", you say. Well what do you do in a hostage situation? Here's a tip: You generally don't let the hostage takers leave and do whatever they want. All Khan had to do was temporarily disable Marcus's control over his crew members and then kill Marcus. Marcus's replacement, if there was one, probably wouldn't be as willing to sacrifice his life to kill Khan's crew members as Marcus was. I'm no genius and I figured out about 3 different ways for Khan to free himself.

In fact, that was one of the big disappointments in this movie for me, and bled into every aspect of the plot. Khan didn't do enough. The story was split between "the corruption of Starfleet" and "Khan the awesome supervillain". Pick one or the other, please. Never subscribe to the "three villains are better than 2" mentality. You divide up the storyline and wind up with 2/3 mediocre stories rather than one amazing one.

Speaking of dividing... I'll briefly discuss the holes in this movie besides, just, y'know, the whole premise.

In one of the iconic battle scenes, the Enterprise is in warp, and Marcus's ship starts fighting Kirk's ship in warp. Ok. Cool. Then something happens, though. Marcus's ship destroys Kirk's shields, blows a hole in the Enterprise, and it flips sideways. I'm no physics major, but I'm sorry, inertia dampeners or not, the forces of the universe would tear that ship into very very tiny pieces. Also I'm pretty sure all of the air and people would be sucked out of the ship, considering that it's, you know, moving at warp. Regardless of the "emergency bulkhead doors". You're welcome to write a physics treatise on the alternate laws of physics in Warp if you want to but I'm operating on something approaching reality.

There are a couple of other sketchy points too. At one point Kirk gets irradiated by entering the warp core and basically shoving it into place with his feet. He receives enough radiation (Over 100 REMs to be scientific) to make all his organs immediately fail. Then, a plot device is used (Khan's blood) to resurrect Kirk. One small problem, though... Kirk is still irradiated. Radiation has a half life of about 50-,10,000 years, depending on the type used. So I guess in the third Star Trek movie there's no Kirk because he has brain cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer etc? Or if Khan's blood magically removed the radiation, I guess it would be great to store quarts of that stuff so no one important can ever die...

Anyway enough venting. You can see that I didn't believe the storyline writing was exactly spectacular. Overall Plot Score: 3/10

Overall though, the rest of the movie makes up for the weak writing. There's enough shit blowing up to keep guys entertained all day long. There's also some romantic, if poorly written, bits in there for women with the occasional light/funny scene. Wow, that came off incredibly sexist. Oh well too late now. Inb4 male chauvinist pig comments.

Conclusion: I would definitely recommend seeing this movie. It's a summer blockbuster, and has special effects far beyond the already high bar set for those types of movies. It's a roller coaster ride. You're not there for the story of the ride. You're there for the ride. Recommendation: Watch it in theaters.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Florida Vacation!! :D

Hey all,

Just a quick update. On vacation in Sarasota, Florida! Woooo! I'll recommend a few restaurants from St. Armand's Circle and things then back to the beach:

1. Cha Cha Coconuts. Get the Calypso Chicken Wings & Onion Straws. Amazingnggggg Jamaican food. Calypso wings have a nuanced flavor and a residual heat that isn't overpowering. Onion straws are just yummy. Make sure you order extra sauce on the chicken wings if you're feeling brave or like a lot of heat.

2. Tommy Bahama's Macademia Nut Goat Cheese Mango Salsa appetizer. I wouldn't recommend the entrees, they're overpriced and only some of them are excellent. The goat cheese is the best I've ever had, ever. I'm a cheese nut so that's saying a lot.

3. Blue Dolphin Cafe. Best Eggs Benedict and Blintzes you'll ever have. Also, here's a secret: They do grilled butterscotch muffins, but only if you specifically request them. Same with blueberry muffins. A grilled butterscotch muffin is one of those things you have to try before you part this mortal plane.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Alternatively I can get an upper respiratory infection and be in bed for over 12 days. That works too.

Ok so for reals I can blog now. Lol. Sorry guys got a really bad upper respiratory infection. So this blog will be about how I helped my immune system fight it off and make myself feel better.

So here we go. Home remedies that actually do kinda work and why:

1. Gargling with salt water, especially when slight symptoms first present themselves. Mix about 1 teaspoon - 1 tablespoon of salt into one 8 ounce glass of water than heat it until it's warm/hot but not scalding. Gargle repeatedly with the water and spit it out. Rinse repeat, literally. What does this do and why does it work? You're creating an iodine solution, and by heating it it helps remove the virus containing mucus in your throat. Additionally, the salt water is antiviral/antibacterial. So you kill all of the virus in your throat, removing some of your symptoms and helping your immune system fight it off. I've actually prevented colds by gargling with salt water the instant i had a semi scratchy throat. Gargle with salt water 2-3 times daily until symptoms disappear.

2. Nyquil, sudafed, advil, tylenol etc. Getting a minimum 8 hours of sleep keeps your immune system functioning optimally. The more sleep the better.

3. Tea with honey. The tea soothes the throat and breaks up mucus, the honey boosts your immune system.

4. Go outside. Sunlight boosts your immune system. Some houses also have too much carbon dioxide built up within them, which weakens your immune system and cognitive processes. Getting fresh air helps with this. I don't have any science to back me up, but I wonder if going into a heavily wooded area helps even more air-wise. Because you're surrounded by trees that 'exhale' oxygen rather than cars etc.

5. 5-10 minutes of exercise per day. If you do no more than 10 minutes of light exercise like walking every day, it boosts your immune system. Don't do more than that as it will weaken you instead!

So there ya go. All of these apply to pretty much any illness. Enjoy! :)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Hey look! I have free time! This will actually be a blog again!

That's right. I'm really going to start writing on this thing again. As my first blog post in a while, I've decided this should have some interesting stuff in it too. Ok interesting stuff:

A. If you're looking for new TV shows to try, I highly recommend the following. I'll also explain why:

1. Person of Interest. It has the best combat sequences I've seen in a modern setting. Really crazy shit happens, all the time, and it's wildly entertaining. (Mild spoiler warning) For example, in one scene, the protagonist (named John) is arrested and put into a police car with a corrupt cop. The cop drives John out into the desert to execute him. John calmly pulls a flashbang out of his jacket pocket, pulls the pin and tosses it under the seat driver's seat of the car. Good stuff.

2. Game of Thrones. It's epic LotR style fantasy in a realistic setting featuring breathtaking scenery and acting. Need I say more?

3. Orphan Black. I won't spoil anything about this one. The main character is absolutely beautiful, it's a really well written sci fi story and it's by the BBC. I highly recommend it. The mystery is kind of the point of the show so if I said more it'd ruin it.

B. Random cool sciencey information:

1. The average human brain can contain over 2.5 petabytes of information. Each petabyte is something like 1,000 terabytes.

2. One night soon, we're going to have a 'super moon' - the moon will be at the closest point in relation to earth that it's been at in years. Big moon incoming!

3. China has started large scale efforts to steal technological secrets from the US using cyber warfare. Regrettably they're succeeding. But what should we do about it?

Ok, this is long enough for now. I'll write another one of these soon(TM). Night folks.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Upcoming League of Legends $2000 Alienware Tournament

Hey everyone, just wanted to talk about my Alienware Tournament Team, the League of Shadows, for a bit.

We're associated with the Ghosts of the Revolution guild, linked here:

We're playing for over $2,000 in prizes in a single elimination tournament. Meaning one loss, and you're out.

I can play any role, which is critical in a tournament.

Additionally, you have to have the right attitude. That's key. Have to be positive. There's a quote I love in regard to life that I will leave all of you with:

"Whether you believe you're going to succeed, or you believe you're going to fail, you are right."

Monday, April 16, 2012

Video Game Journalism: Is It Corrupt?

After analyzing over ten different reports on the video game journalism industry, I can confidently state that this industry is partially corrupt. Video game journalism is a relatively new field, and closely tied to the rapidly growing video game industry.

Here are some interesting facts: A rating of 89% versus 90% in a video game review creates a difference of several thousand game sales. This means that a rating difference of one percent can cost a company around $200,000. Now imagine the difference between a review of 60 and 85. Video game journalists acknowledge that PR companies regularly try to bribe them, sometimes successfully. They also state that PR and video game companies can manipulate journalists. These companies can hold a moratorium on video game reviews until the product is released, unless the game gets a review of over 80%. This allows video game companies to cherry pick favorable reviews in advance of a game’s release. As with every other type of online journalism, having an exclusive is crucially important.

Intriguingly, a recent news article regarding video game journalism corruption was released by Metacritic. Metacritic is a website that acquires every single review of a given game, and then provides an average rating from all those sources. The administrators of Metacritic said they were removing several websites from their rating system for “corrupt practices”. They also said certain reviewers “Can absolutely be bought.” Metacritic would not name the particular sites they were removing.

Are these attempts at bribery something that is rare, that only unscrupulous companies do? No. In a recent press conference with a crowd consisting primarily of video game journalists, Microsoft promised everyone attending that they would get an Xbox 360 Elite for free. This item is valued at roughly $600. The story was reported by one journalist who said he was returning it, and felt that this type of bribery occurred far too frequently.

On average, freelance video game journalists make $26,000 a year. Not exactly a huge amount of money. PR companies acknowledge they use a “carrot and stick” strategy with video game journalists. They offer them monetary incentives of some kind for favorable reviews, and deny access if the reviewer gives a game a poor review. These incentives also include incredible vacation opportunities which the journalist could never afford on his or her own. Understandably, these incentives can be extremely difficult to resist.

Here are a few tantalizing examples of “incentives” offered to video game journalists by PR firms and video game companies: An all-expenses paid vacation to a tropical island, where they would live in a mansion for a few weeks while writing their review. For the game Grand Theft Auto 4, journalists were given the opportunity to fly to a professional driving course and race in expensive cars. The explanation by the PR company involved was that “this would allow them to feel like the main character in Grand Theft Auto 4.”

Of course, video game journalists try to defend themselves against these charges. Especially journalists from large magazines or websites like Game Informer or Kotaku. In a 100 page report I read in which several journalists with over ten years’ experience in the field were anonymously interviewed, some interesting points were acknowledged. These journalists said that while they felt “they weren’t biased,” they are beholden to PR companies and video game companies regarding what questions they can ask in interviews. If they mention “unacceptable topics” PR companies nix in advance, they lose access to that company for interviews in the future. This allows these companies to dictate what information video game interviews and initial impressions contain. That is why pretty much every preview you ever read about video games will say “it’s the next big thing” and that it “will be amazing”.

The simple fact is that video game companies control access to their products. They can use advance review opportunities to help journalism companies flourish, or never speak to them again if they write unfavorably about a product. They can offer underpaid journalists vacation opportunities they could never afford otherwise. There are even cases of direct cash in hand bribes given to journalists. Don’t worry though, because most video game journalists will tell you they’re unbiased and that the industry is fair. In my experience and through the research I’ve studied, this is a blatant falsehood.

Video game journalism corruption is a prevalent issue in the industry at this time. Hopefully in the future more thorough watchdog websites and news services will call out journalists who accept “carrots” from PR companies. Perhaps in the future as video game journalism becomes more mainstream and established the corruption issue can be resolved.

As it stands, you should look at most video game reviews with skepticism.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Kerbal Space Program and Games that Educate

I’m a big fan of video games that educate you about a subject while entertaining you at the same time. Dismissively named “edutainment”, the problem with some of these games is that they focus too much on the learning and too little on the entertainment. This is a trend that some new games are starting to break. Kerbal Space Program is a prime example. There’s an image from the game on the left.

Kerbal Space Program is a video game about building and launching rockets into space. You can even go to the moon and back if you have the willpower. I say willpower because just like in real life, getting to the moon is impossibly hard. One small error made when constructing your rocket and you’ll watch helplessly as it breaks apart, dooming your astronauts (named “Kerbals”).

Kerbal Space Program is an incredibly detailed game. I learned almost as much about rocketry from this game as I did from a college level astronomy course – wow! It’s one thing to listen to a lecture regarding the differences between solid and liquid fueled rockets and quite another to place the thrusters on a spaceship and see the difference yourself.

Kerbal Space Program also gives you all the tools real astronauts use to pilot a spaceship. After you’re done constructing a finished spacecraft, you can have all the joys of taking it into space and trying to fly to the moon. You have to deal with yaw, pitch and roll as if you were a real pilot. You even have a gimbal that is used to keep your spacecraft oriented in the right direction.

Kerbal Space Program is one of a variety of games which mix entertainment with real-world education in a fun way. Other examples of this include Moonbase Alpha, a game created by NASA and designed to show you what operating a moon base would be like. Or America’s Army, designed to introduce you to how it feels to be in the military – including going through boot camp. Microsoft Flight Simulator is another example of a game which mixes education with entertainment in an enjoyable fashion.

Even games that weren’t built from the start with a goal of educating gamers often do so. Resource management is prevalent across many genres of games, and studies show that resource management “bleeds through” into real life resource management – like economics or time management for example.

Games like Kerbal Space Program can teach you about the minutiae of a subject that presented any other way would be dry and boring. Constructing a rocket and realizing that extra parts cause drag, or that fuel-to-thrust ratios are critical to a successful rocket launch are things most people won’t learn about or consider. Opportunities to learn a lot of detail in a fun way simply didn’t exist before. With the invention and development of gaming technology, the ability to learn about a subject in a fun way is growing rapidly. It wouldn’t surprise me if in the future the majority of learning took place in video games. If edutainment leads to a more thorough knowledge of the subject matter for students, why not?