Monday, December 29, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 4 stars to: The Hobbit

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet Combo Pack)

4.0 out of 5 stars The Battle of Six Films, December 29, 2014

We've finally come to the end we've all been waiting for, the one section of The Hobbit novel that really did merit a movie, "The Battle of Five Armies." It's all come down to this: Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) seeks revenge for the theft of his treasure by attacking the townsfolk of Laketown. Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), incumbent king of the dwarves, succumbs to dragon sickness. And Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) uses the Arkenstone, the crowning jewel of the dwarves, as a bargaining chip between the elves, dwarves, and men. A dark army is coming to take the dwarven stronghold, and if the free peoples are to survive they will need to put aside their petty grievances and work together. If there was ever a time and place for a spectacle on the big screen, "The Battle of Five Armies" is it.

Smaug, who was the best part of the second film (SPOILER ALERT) meets his end in this one. It feels a bit anticlimactic. Smaug could have just as easily succumbed at the end of the second film, leaving it a more satisfying chapter. But the showdown between Bard (Luke Evans) and Smaug is thrilling nonetheless as Peter Jackson contrasts family values against that of the rapacious greed.

In stark relief is the real and petty grievances that move the various factions to war. Be it Tauriel's (Evangeline Lilly, an elf in real life) love for Kili (Aidan Turner), Legolas Greenleaf's (Orlando Bloom) rebellion against his king Thranduil (Lee Pace), or Gandalf's (Ian McKellen) attempts to convince mortals of the true threat of Sauron, the familiar characters in this prequel to the "Lord of the Rings" films all make an appearance. We witness the terrifying might of Galadriel glimpsed in the later film, Elrond wield a sword, and even Saruman kicks some Nazgul butt. It's a joy to watch these powerful beings who stood around giving advice in the later movies really cut loose in this one.

There are also visual flourishes that tie all the films together. The more humanoid trolls from the first film stand beside the larger trolls of the "Lord of the Rings." Goblins and orcs work together. Legolas, Tauriel, and even Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) show up to do battle. We even get an explanation for what a were-worm is. Purists may be disappointed by how much Jackson veers from the original story, but the choices made to bolster the narrative are easy to forgive.

There are two scenes where the film drags, both of them involving a character's mental state. There's also the awful Alfrid (Ryan Gage), who is a lot like Grima Wormtongue but with no character development and played for laughs. He's not funny, but it's clear Jackson felt that the tone of the film was so grim it had to be lightened by a cowardly buffoon.

The one character who has little to do in this third chapter is the titular Hobbit himself, Bilbo. J.R.R. Tolkien's narrative didn't thrust hobbits into war until The Lord of the Rings, so Bilbo sits most of the battle out. His actions have far-reaching effects on the war itself, but mostly Bilbo's there to show how incorruptible hobbits really are. Unlike his dwarven compatriots, Bilbo finds no lure in dragon gold.

"The Battle of Five Armies" isn't perfect, but it's a fitting finale to a six-part franchise. The real test will be in years to come when future Middle Earth fans view the films collectively. Will we watch them in chronological order? I look forward to finding out.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 4 stars to: Snowpiercer [Blu-ray]

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Snowpiercer [Blu-ray] Blu-ray ~ Chris Evans

4.0 out of 5 stars Train to nowhere, December 7, 2014

This review is from: Snowpiercer [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)

"Snowpiercer" is one of those sci-fi films that has a seemingly simple premise rife with symbolism. It doesn't really hold up under prolonged examination, but then "Snowpiercer" is more parable than movie.

To wit, global warming has frozen the earth, accelerated by the very attempts to halt it. The last of humanity is huddled on a massive, perpetual-motion train known as the Snowpiercer. But even in this closed ecosystem the old class struggles erupt, from the have-nots in the back to the hedonists in the front. Finally fed up with the inhumane treatment and kidnapping of their youngest children, a ragtag band of rebels decide they're going to fight their way to the front of the train and take it over. They include the reluctant leader Curtis Everett (Chris Evans), his gee-whiz second Edgar (Jamie Bell), determined mother Tanya (Octavia Spencer), security specialist and drug addict Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho), and his daughter Yona (Go Ah-sung).

The battle takes place car-by-car, one bloody guard at a time. Because director Bong Joon-ho is primarily interested in cinematography, logic holes open up a few cars in. Characters stand around in enemy territory (basically, any car beyond the back few) in slack-jawed awe, villains survive who should be dead, and twists are telegraphed with all the subtlety of a freight train. This is one of those films that's big on concept and short on logic.

The biggest problem is that after being betrayed by "civilians" who appeared innocent in the very first upper-class car they encounter, our heroes never learn from that lesson -- they act as if what's behind them is never a threat, only what's ahead of them, despite the fact that they leave an entire train's worth of potential enemies behind them. Of course, to do that would rob the film of its forward narrative -- it would turn into a siege rather than a desperate battle of forward attrition -- so director Joon-ho just plunges ahead and hopes you forgive him.

The logic fallacies are easy to forgive. What's on film is frequently gorgeous, brutal, and inventive. The snaking nature of a train surrounded by a hostile environment opens up a lot of possibilities for protracted combat. The conclusion is rife with symbolism of clenched fists -- the fist of the worker, the fist of the slave, the fist of the oppressor. It just takes a long, winding path to get there, punctuated by weird choices by characters who frequently appear insane. To be fair, there's a toss-off line that the only people who are still alive on the train ARE insane, but that's a bit of a dodge that robs the entire struggle of its urgency.

In the end, "Snowpiercer" doesn't have a lot of nice things to say about humanity. This is one of those movies film critics love to applaud for its edginess. It's a highly ambitious concept film that only partially succeeds. But what it does achieve is still worth watching.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 4 stars to: Exam

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Exam DVD ~ Luke Mably

4.0 out of 5 stars A Modern 'No Exit', December 3, 2014

This review is from: Exam (DVD)

"The Exam" is a minimalist single-room film that could easily be a one-act play. When one of the characters name-checks Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit, we know where this is going. For those not familiar with Sartre's play, three characters show up in the afterlife expecting to be tortured in hell, only to discover that they are stuck in a room with each other. Hell, they eventually conclude, is other people. Director Stuart Hazeldine flips the script: Hell may be other people, but it's the path to Heaven.

Instead of three characters we have eight. They are there to take a test in what can only be described as the world's worst job interview. It starts with some terse instructions from the Invigilator (Colin Salmon) about the rules: 80 minutes, one question, and they are not to talk to the Invigilator (watching on security cameras), the armed guard, spoil their paper, or leave the room. To break any of the rules is to be immediately disqualified and tossed out into the real world, which from the dialogue of the interviewees appears to be an awful place suffering from a pandemic.

The film breaks the characters down, "Reservoir Dogs"-style, into archetypes by color. There's the unctuous soldier/gambler Brown (Jimi Mistry), the icy Blonde (Nathalie Cox), the noble Black (Chukwudi Iwuji), the scheming Brunette (Polyanna McIntosh), the analytical Dark (Adar Beck), the hyper-aggressive alpha male White (Luke Mably), and the unresponsive Deaf (John Lloyd Fillingham). There's a ninth character, the guard (Chris Carey) who is perhaps more important than all of them. He takes the role of the bellhop in No Exit, a mannequin that seemingly has no purpose but is as much a part of the room as the furniture.

Nothing in "The Exam" is an accident. Every item on screen is relevant. Like No Exit, there's a paper knife equivalent that is presumably there for some other purpose but, because of humanity's basest instincts, is ultimately used for violence. "The Exam" spins conspiracy theories with glee and allows its interviewees to dive down the rabbit hole. There's nothing on the sheet, so how do you beat the exam? Does winning constitute beating the abstract concept of the exam itself, or just defeating all the competitors? Do you even have to? Is there even an exam?

"The Exam" is as much nightmare as it is scathing critique of the business world as its cutthroat worst. Or at least, that's how it seems until the very end, when it becomes clear that this is all for a more noble purpose. It is a "harrowing of hell" that has a more complete (if less existentialist) ending than Sartre's work. And that's okay. As a sci-fi film in just one room, it manages to spin more drama out of 80 minutes and eight people than most big-budget movies.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 5 stars to: Big Hero 6

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Big Hero 6 Amazon Instant Video ~ Scott Adsit

5.0 out of 5 stars Science is the real hero, December 1, 2014

This review is from: Big Hero 6 (Amazon Instant Video)

My family is well-acquainted with the Man of Action team of writers from their work on the Generator Rex, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Marvel's Avengers Assemble cartoons, so we were excited to see their movie debut with "Big Hero 6." My seven-year-old boy was not disappointed.

That said, the film isn't quite about what you might think from the trailers. It's not so much "a boy and his robot" as it is "a boy helps form a super-science hero team, one of which happens to be a robot." "Big Hero 6" doesn't refer to a person, it refers to the team of six heroes, all of them powered by cutting-edge sci-fi technology. One of the powerful and welcome messages that comes through in this film is that the pursuit of science is important, but it is only as good or bad as the person wielding it.

Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a 13-year-old robotics genius who lives with his Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph) and older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney). Hiro is fond of engaging in illegal robot fighting to earn some money, which Tadashi recognizes is the wrong path for a prodigy like his little brother. He encourages Hiro to apply to the robotics lab at Tadashi's university, where the entrance exam is determined by a science competition. Hiro enters his nanobots.

Nanobots are game-changers and the power Hiro demonstrates is both breathtaking and terrifying. It's not long before a fire breaks out at the competition, a tragedy that results in the loss of the nanobots. Hiro mopes about, listless, until he accidentally stumbles upon Tadashi's crowning achievement: Baymax, an inflatable medical robot dedicated to helping people. You can see where this is going, right?

Hiro slowly unravels the mystery behind the fire -- BIG SPOILER 6! It was no accident -- and creates a team of superheroes by retrofitting Baymax and drawing on the collective genius of Tadashi's colleagues. There's Fed (T.J. Miller) the stoner who likes kaiju movies with a fire-breathing suit to match; Gogo Tomago (Jamie Chung) who uses electromagnetic wheels as skates and weapons; Wasabi (Damon Wayans) who wields laser cutters on his forearms; and Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) who has a purse-full of sticky goo bombs.

The heart of the movie revolves around Baymax. He is a soft, huggable helper spawned from the ideals of Tadashi -- but his armor and weapons are all Hiro's youthful rage. Baymax waffles between these two ideologies throughout the film, but it's ultimately Hiro's choice to be a hero.

The superhero tropes don't always make sense (Wasabi's laser hands seem like the worst power) but it's easy to overlook in light of the beautifully rendered, diverse futurescape that is San Fransokyo. It also features a kid who overcomes his challenges with science. My son gave it five stars.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 4 stars to: Dank Cells, The

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Dank Cells, The by Pre-Painted Fantasy Terrain 28mm

4.0 out of 5 stars A tough cell, November 24, 2014

This review is from: Dank Cells, The (Sports)

Talien (AKA Tal) the satyr paladin and Maleficent (AKA Mal) the half-fiend/half-fey sorceress are scoping out the set of their new show -- with a special look at Legendary Realms' terrain, Dank Dungeon Cells and Accessory Pack.

Tal: I like this place. It has character. I think it will make a great new set for our upcoming super secret new show.

Mal: No.

Tal: Oh come on, Keep an open mind! Look at this place -- it has doors, beds...

Mal: ONE bed. This is a dungeon, you realize? It's right there in the title. DUNG-eon. Notice the first part. And the buckets in each cell. Ugh.

Tal: I prefer to think of it as a bunch of cozy studio apartments.

Mal: Are you a vagrant? Because only a homeless person would think that.

Tal: But look at how much the place has improved! The production crew has done an amazing job of painting this to resemble the Dwarven Forge tiles.

Mal: So basically, this place is less uglier than it started. That's not really an improvement.

Tal: Look at this luxurious bed...

Mal: I can't stop looking at the ten buckets.

Tal: Well you need to go somewhere...

Mal: There are only six cells, unless you count the seventh SUPER-SPACIOUS cell that barely fits the bed in it. I say again: TEN BUCKETS.

Tal: And these steel doors. The detail!

Mal: You do realize that there are no windows in them? It's pitch black when you close the door.

Tal: I like it dark when I sleep.

Mal: And during the day?

Tal: It's very secure.

Mal: You're just not going to give up are you?

Tal: I can do this all day.

Mal: Okay fine.

Tal: Fine let's use this set?

Mal: No. Fine, I'm not doing this with you. Pick another set or I'm not doing your stupid show.

Tal: Well, I knew it was a tough "cell." Get it?

Mal: ...

Tal: Wow you must really be angry. On to the next set!

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: Wizard's Scrying Chamber

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Wizard's Scrying Chamber by Pre-Painted Fantasy Terrain 28mm

3.0 out of 5 stars Beware the algae!, November 24, 2014

This review is from: Wizard's Scrying Chamber (Toy)

Talien (AKA Tal) the satyr paladin and Maleficent (AKA Mal) the half-fiend/half-fey sorceress are scoping out the set of their new show -- with a special look at Legendary Realms' terrain, Arcane Scrying Chamber and Accessory Pack.

Tal: Okay, so maybe the Dark Dungeon Cells wasn't your cup of tea, but this place...

Mal: What's that smell?

Tal: Look at that majestic fountain!

Mal: You realize you have to clean the fountain. What's that in the fountain?

Tal: The beautiful green patina?

Mal: That's algae. Gross.

Tal: And look at all this reading material! What beautiful craftsmanship on this bookshelf. It would make a nice backdrop for--

Mal: I don't think so.

Tal: Well you can at least scry on people. Wouldn't that be fun?

Mal: We can't fit large guests in the room. And it still smells like wet dog in here. Or is that wet goat?

Tal: Believe it or not, I am not the cause of your nasal distress today.

Mal: Today.

Tal: So no on this room?

Mal: You almost sold me on the algae-covered fountain that hasn't been turned on in centuries.

Tal: Is that a no? I can't tell anymore. Where are you going? Okay, so that's a no...

Michael J. Tresca gave 4 stars to: Deadrising 3 Sledgesaw Hammer Pen Miniature Replica October 2014 Lootcrate Exclusive

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Deadrising 3 Sledgesaw Hammer Pen Miniature Replica October 2014 Lootcrate Exclusive by Capcom

4.0 out of 5 stars a nice conversation piece at your desk, November 24, 2014

Loot Crate is a monthly service in which you receive geek-friendly merchandise at a discount, grouped around a particular theme. This month’s theme was Fear, which is an opportunity to throw in everything about monsters and zombies the Loot Crate team could think of. I divvy up the Crate amongst my seven-year-old boy and four-year-old girl. This pen is the highlight of the set, a cobbled-together weapon that's also a pen from the video game Dead Rising. This quote from my review of the first game summarizes my love/hate relationship with Dead Rising:

"DAY 44: I did it! I beat the main bad guy by spinning around like a top, backslapping the bad guy with what has to be the stupidest move in gaming combat history. But I beat Dead Rising! Take that, only-one-save slot! Take that, crashing-all-the-time processor! Take that, stupid forced story-timeline! I did it! I did it! Did I mention I love this game?"

Dead Rising is known for taking Ash's insane gadgetry from the "Evil Dead" series (and "Army of Darkness" specifically) and applying it to the zombie game genre. And what more could you ask for than a buzzsaw connected to a sledgehammer? Practical, amIrite?

Anyway, the buzzsaw doesn't spin. It's the first thing I tried to do when I opened the box. My son did the same thing, so it seems like the natural response to seeing a buzzsaw is testing if it moves with your finger. The pen disconnects so that the buzzsaw acts as the cover, and the sledgehammer is the pen. This is a little impractical -- the buzzsaw is easy to lose as it doesn't go on the other end of the sledgehammer. The pen is also very light. But on the plus side you can whack your coworkers in the forehead with this faux sledgehammer and not do any damage. Cons include the pen being useless against zombies.

I like it. Not sure how much I'll use it, but it makes for a nice conversation piece at your desk.

Michael J. Tresca gave 1 star to: Mega Man Mini Helmet Replica Grey Nov Loot Crate Exclusive Capcom Smash Bros.

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Mega Man Mini Helmet Replica Grey Nov Loot Crate Exclusive Capcom Smash Bros.

1.0 out of 5 stars Where's the rest of him?, November 24, 2014

Loot Crate is a monthly service in which you receive geek-friendly merchandise at a discount, grouped around a particular theme. This month’s theme was Battle, which is pretty much a video game focus on a handful of first-person shooters and scrolling beat-em-ups. I divvy up the Crate amongst my seven-year-old boy and four-year-old girl. The girl wanted the helmet...until she opened the box.

As my daughter put it, "where's the rest of him?" This is another one of those collectibles, like the coin, that doesn't really do anything. For a crate all about battling, there's a remarkable number of non-functioning items, and this helmet is a new low. It's not a Mega Man figure, it's just his helmet. That's it. Just a helmet.

Oh you can get a variety of Mega Man 2 colors (red, green, blue, gray), but it's JUST A HELMET. It comes with a stand, so you can show your helmet off. You can't play with this (or even beat someone up with it, although I suppose if you chuck it at a sibling hard enough it will make a dent), so it gets one star.

Michael J. Tresca gave 5 stars to: Ninjas Vs Pirates Lootcrate November Shirt Medium

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Ninjas Vs Pirates Lootcrate November Shirt Medium

5.0 out of 5 stars For fans of pirates. Or ninjas. Or both., November 24, 2014

Loot Crate is a monthly service in which you receive geek-friendly merchandise at a discount, grouped around a particular theme. This month’s theme was Battle, which is pretty much a video game focus on a handful of first-person shooters and scrolling beat-em-ups. I divvy up the Crate amongst my seven-year-old boy and four-year-old girl. The boy immediately seized this shirt and ran away with it.

Long-time Loot Crate fans have seen this before. It's basically a character made out of words. In this case, it's two different characters put together, so you get two different sets of words in the shape of pirates and ninjas. For a seven-year-old boy, this is pretty much nirvana -- even if the shirt is practically dress-sized on him (when are you going to offer kids sizes, Loot Crate?).

If you're not a fan of ninjas and pirates, you won't like this shirt. Then again, if you don't like at least one of those archetypes, why are you subscribing to Loot Crate? The boy gave it five stars.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: Familiars (6)

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Familiars (6) by Reaper

3.0 out of 5 stars That Familiar Show reviews the Hawk, August 21, 2014

This review is from: Familiars (6) (Toy)

Tal: Well, it finally happened. This is the final episode of "That Familiar Show."

Mal: It's your fault we've been cancelled.

Tal: MY fault? How is this my fault?

Mal: Can we just talk about the familiar today?

Tal: Fine. Introducing the rare and definitely interesting HAWK. It's a HAWK. It FLIES. It's standing there on a ROCK.

Mal: The problem with small flying familiars is that they have two profiles: sideways, which means they look like oblong lumps, or full on with wings out.

Tal: This happens rarely in real life -- it's more likely the creature has its winged tucked at its sides -- but all of these options would be rather boring.

Mal: Which is why this hawk appears to be standing on a rock with his wings outspread.

Tal: I think the hawk is flashing me.

Mal: You think everything is flashing you.

Tal: I'm a satyr, give me a break.

Mal: You never let me forget. Speaking of never letting you forget, let's talk more about how this is all your fault.

Tal: You know, the hawk's posture is similar to the bat familiar we reviewed earlier.

Batman: I was just going to say that.

Mal: GASP!

Tal: Oh great, he's back.

Batman: I'm Batman.

Tal: We know.

Mal: I KNOW!

Batman: This hawk reminds me of somebody I know...

Hawkman: Yeah, it reminds me of Batman.

Batman: Want to get out of here?

Mal: Totally.

Tal: Oh great. Well, that leaves me and...

Hawkman: Want to get out of here?

Tal: Uh, no thanks.

Hawkman: I was talking to the hawk.

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: Familiars 2 (6)

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Familiars 2 (6) by Reaper

3.0 out of 5 stars That Familiar Show reviews Reptus, the Winged Serpent, August 21, 2014

This review is from: Familiars 2 (6) (Toy)

Tal: Welcome to the first installment of "That Familiar Show"! And boy are we kicking things off with a doozy. I'm Talien, your favorite satyr paladin.

Mal: And I'm Maleficent, your least favorite half-fey/half-fiend sorceress. No not that one. I'm the original. Anyhoo, today's familiar is Reptus, the winged serpent!

Tal: Really? Reptus? That's a bit obvious don't you think?

Mal: What? What's wrong with Reptus?

Tal: Calling your winged serpent "Reptus" is a bit like calling your frog familiar "Froggy" and your bat familiar "Batty" -- it's does a disservice to the familiar's other special abilities, like being able to fly.

Mal: Is this how this show is going to be from here on out? We're going to argue about names?

Tal: Fine, go ahead.

Mal: Are you sure? Are you finished?

Tal: Yes. I'm good.

Mal: Okay. It may be that Reptus is named after the cult classic "Q: The Winged Serpent," a movie about a believed to be an incarnation of Quetzalcoatl making in New York City. Not so silly now, hmm?

Tal: Uh huh. I'm sure wizards will tell monsters that as they're being devoured: "But Reptus is inspired by a film nobody saw!" Turns out there are winged serpents in D&D -- they first appeared in the 2nd Edition Al Qadim supplement and then later in the Forgotten Realms. You can get them with the Improved Familiar feat.

Mal: However you use him, Reptus will keep on providing flanking, evading damage, and sharing touch spells...

Tal: While you ignore his awesome heritage.

Mal: His nome de plume, you might say.

Tal: Nope. Wouldn't say that.

Mal: I can see now that agreeing to do this show with you was a mistake.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: 47 Ronin (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD with UltraViolet)

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

47 Ronin (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD with UltraViolet) Blu-ray ~ Keanu Reeves

3.0 out of 5 stars Zombie Boy apocalypse, August 8, 2014

“47 Ronin” is based on a true tale about samurai who went to insane lengths to exact their revenge when their daimyo was disgraced. Masterless, they pretended they were drunkards and craftsmen, all in a bid to avenge their master’s honor. When the plan did go into effect, all but one of the samurai died, judged too young by the Emperor to commit seppuku. “47 Ronin” is very, very, very loosely based on the original tale, and features far more monsters, magic, Zombie Boys, and Keanu Reeves than the original source material.

The shame of it all is that the original 47 Ronin tale is an engaging story of fatalistic honor without any embellishment. But this is Hollywood after all, who associates Keanu with all things Asian – in the same way Tom Cruise somehow ended up being “The Last Samurai,” Reeves is thrust into Japanese folklore. The scriptwriters at least worked hard to make him fit with the cultural aspects of a mythical Japan – he was trained by the Tengu, the long-nosed bird people who supposedly taught martial arts in the mountains. Folklorists have sometimes associated Tengu with Westerners who may have settled in the mountains in Japan, so it makes as much sense as any other explanation that Reeves’ character hails from there.

The story hews loosely to the original tale, except that the bad guy has a witch at his disposal (who is actually a shapeshifter), and supernatural foes abound: animated suits of armor, the aforementioned tengu swordsmen, and of course oriental dragons. You get the sense that this film was meant to be an Asian version of "Lord of the Rings," and at least when it comes to special effects it succeeds.

But it’s not a film about Keanu Reeves. American audiences aren’t likely to be happy with what amounts to an ancient Japanese form of suicide-by-cop, in which our collective 47 ronin willingly go to their deaths by flouting authority with the sole purpose of avenging their master’s honor. This is a beautiful film, but it’s not an upbeat one.

Also, Zombie Boy speaks a handful of words and appears for less than 30 seconds in the movie. His inclusion is cynical marketing at its finest, which is perhaps part of why audiences punished “47 Ronin” so severely. It’s a film marketed all wrong trying too hard to gloss over a strong story at its core. Wrong audience, wrong approach, but still a visually engaging film.

Michael J. Tresca gave 2 stars to: Knights of Badassdom [Blu-ray]

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Knights of Badassdom [Blu-ray] Blu-ray ~ Peter Dinklage

2.0 out of 5 stars Biting the LARPing hand that feeds it, August 8, 2014

You can see the appeal of a film like “Knights of Badassdom” to a crowdsourcing geek audience. It’s got heavy metal, role-playing games, and live action role-playing games. Add in Peter Dinklage as a player named Hung, an “Evil Dead” homage, and gratuitous shots of Summer Glau’s rear-end in fishnet stockings and you’ve pretty much got a hit on your hands. Or you should anyway. Unfortunately, “Knights of Baddassdom” looks like it was filmed in a day and due to sloppy editing, never really rises above a hodgepodge of geek bait.

Joe (Ryan Kwanten), a heavy metal rock singer who has a decent job as a mechanic, gets dropped by his hottie girlfriend who is more interested in a man with career aspirations. I’d like to point out that at no point in the film is being a mechanic apparently considered a viable career, one of the insidious aspects of a film like “Kings of Badassdom” – apparently being a mechanic means you do nothing all day but goof off.

Downtrodden, Joe is bolstered by his two friends, the aforementioned Hung and Eric (Steve Zahn). And by bolstered they roofie him with a combination of drugs and booze, dress him up in armor, and drop him off at a Live Action Role-Playing game (LARP).

One thing “Knights of Baddassdom” gets right is how LARPs actually work. It takes great glee in making fun of the supposed epic nature of the LARP conflicts, despite the fact that they’re essentially taking place in a park and a parking lot, respectively. Unlike other movies about LARPs, “Kinds of Badassdom” makes it a point of showing that referees are an important part of the game. Ronnie (Jimmi Simpson) is an egomaniac, invoking shades of “Zero Charisma,” who is endlessly mocked for being caught masturbating to the picture of a succubus from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. This is a thing – original D&D books frequently showed women’s breasts in art, and it was often the first exposure young boys had to nudity (ah, the days before the Internet).

These two plot points -- lusting after a fictional monster and breaking up with an awful girlfriend – come to a head when Eric uses a real mystical book written in Enochian to accidentally summon a succubus that takes the shape of Joe's girlfriend. Hilarity ensues.

The succubus goes around having sex with people (for some reason, this always happens off screen, despite the frequent use of swear words, drugs, and alcohol abuse) and then killing them by tearing out their hearts and eating it. Our heroes are called on to become true heroes by using actual weapons (totally not allowed in a LARP) to defeat her.

Of course, things get worse before they get better. The problem is they get unbelievably bad when the succubus turns into a huge demon who proceeds to slaughter half of the LARPers. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone could have a happy ending after that, but “Knights of Baddassdom” hopes you don’t notice, and culminates with a rock battle that proves bards really are the most important member of the party.

It’s the execution that suffers. The rock music isn’t that great. The demon looks like a guy in a monster suit, which is a real problem when everyone else looks like guys in monster suits. The demon has a big, vaginal-like opening that looks like it was probably supposed to do something in the movie, but never does. It’s all very Freudian and not particularly rewarding.

The other problem is the women in this film. There are just two: Summer Glau, who only joined to keep an eye on her mentally ill cousin (and frequently dodges the same branch, a scene used twice in the film) and “the bitch” girlfriend, in the form of a succubus on the night of their prom. The phrase “bitch” is used frequently, and despite the bevy of female LARPers in the background, not one of them has anything to do besides die. The one other female who has a speaking part cheats on her boyfriend after having a threesome and then promptly makes out with the succubus in the middle of the woods, despite the fact that she’s spattered with gore. This film doesn’t just fail the Bechdel test, it didn’t wake up on time to even take it.

“Knights of Badassdom” has a pro-gaming message that’s undermined by its attempt to create stereotypes of characters: the slacker/rocker who is a lot more successful at life than the film gives him credit for, the athletic hottie who has almost nothing to do besides be the future girlfriend, and the “bitch” who has a philosophy that LARPing is a waste of time -- a theme the film subtly endorses. According to "Knights of Baddassdom," the only people who are good at a LARP and deserve a happy ending are the two people who didn’t want to be a part of it in the first place.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 5 stars to: Guardians of the Galaxy [Blu-ray]

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Guardians of the Galaxy [Blu-ray] Blu-ray ~ Chris Pratt

5.0 out of 5 stars 'Farscape' meets sci-fi 70s album covers, August 6, 2014

It's hard to know what to expect from a movie about abducted-by-aliens schlub-hero Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), bloodthirsty barbarian Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), talking raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper)...and oh yeah, talking tree Groot (Vin Diesel). Groot is the least weirdest thing about this gleefully absurd film, and it's thanks to the 70s soundtrack that it all gels together like a retro sci-fi album cover.

At a glance you might think that the emotional heart of the film would be Quill, who was abducted by aliens shortly after his mother died. But it isn't, because Quill's the least important character of "Guardians of the Galaxy." It's actually about friendship and family, despite the wildly varying differences between the unlikely heroes -- or if we're being honest, criminals. Everybody has a sad sack story that they bring with them, and they gradually come to realize that when the universe is at stake, being a self-absorbed violent psychopath will lead to a very short existence. What starts as a simple plot to sell an orb for profit turns into a galaxy-spanning threat as Kree radical Ronan (Lee Pace) gets hold of the Power Infinity Stone with the intent of destroying the Nova Corps home world of Xandar. And thus our ragtag band of misfits are forced together by circumstance and their own stupidity to finally stop surviving and start standing for something more important than themselves.

If that was all "Guardians" was about, it would be a fun film but merely a rehash of what's gone before, notably "Farscape" and "Star Wars." But Peter Gunn's style is indelibly stamped on it, using music against gonzo backdrops to make the movie a love-letter to 70s tunes. It's a joy to watch.

Every character spits out their sob story in paragraphs of dialogue, but the movie clicks along so jubilantly it's easy to swallow. This is how we learn each character's back story, which amounts to: "I had a messed up family life." When they all realize they have this in common, they start to form their own family -- even Groot, who manages to convey more with his only catchphrase "I am Groot" than Quill and Gamora put together.

Of all the characters, the centerpiece couple -- Quill as womanizing rogue, Gamora as damaged antihero -- are unfortunately the weakest. Pratt tap dances the line between being a doofus and a believable rogue but frequently stumbles into goofball territory. Zaldana plays her usual archetype of violent maniac in a tiny, sexy package, but her conversion to good guy status is the least believable of the bunch because we don't really feel her internal pain nearly as much as we see Quill's, or hear Drax's, or witness what was done to poor Rocket's body.

The movie's most poignant scene is not between the two aforementioned humanoids, but between Drax and Rocket. The two don't get along -- Drax calls Rocket a "thing" at some point -- so when they are both sitting together, overcome with sorrow at the loss of their families, Drax tentatively, cautiously, but gently strokes Rocket's head. The reaction from Rocket (I must emphasize, a CGI ANTHROPOMORPHIC RACCOON) feels incredibly real. In that single moment we capture Drax as the father he once was and Rocket as the damage soul he is. Gamora and Quill got nothing on these two.

"Guardians of the Galaxy" isn't perfect -- the friendship message is a subtle as a punch in the face -- but it's 100% dedicated to being fun. What more could you ask in a summer flick?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: Maleficent (Blu-ray)

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Maleficent (Blu-ray) Blu-ray ~ Angelina Jolie

3.0 out of 5 stars Pales in comparison to Frozen, July 14, 2014

This review is from: Maleficent (Blu-ray) (Blu-ray)

My family has a special relationship with the character of “Maleficent.” My wife has long used the eponymous villain from "Sleeping Beauty" as an avatar for games and web sites alike. This was back when Disney villains received little attention and merchandise featuring their likenesses was rare. As a result, we have virtually everything with Maleficent on it (at least, Maleficent only without Aurora). As Disney has begun to reimagine its vast archive of characters on shows like Once Upon a Time and even the Wicked Witch of the West gets a fair shake in “Wicked,” it was perhaps inevitable that Maleficent would get the same treatment. We approached the film with some trepidation.

It’s helpful to understand that “Maleficent” is about Maleficent first and foremost. That means that if something happens in the plot of “Sleeping Beauty” that doesn’t focus on Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), the scriptwriters simply discarded it. The motivation for Maleficent’s curse was originally about not being invited to the christening of Aurora (played in this film by Elle Fanning), but by the time “Maleficent” gets to the same point as the animated film she has quite a bit of baggage to unload in that single curse.

In short, Maleficent was violated by a man, King Stefan (Sharlto Copley). Other bloggers have pointed out how this reduces Maleficent to a “woman scorned” and that’s definitely a problem for the film. Maleficent’s hatred for Aurora changes over time as she comes to realize she has no beef with the girl; the three fairies charged with protecting her are frighteningly incompetent (at least twice it’s clear Aurora would have died without Maleficent’s intervention). In other words, everyone but Maleficent is a moron.

There’s also an addition of her crow Diaval (Sam Riley), who Maleficent turns into other shapes at a whim: wolf, horse, man, or even a dragon. No special effects budget is spared in this portrayal, which makes all of these forms crow-like. Along with the faerie realm that Maleficent decides to take over in her vengeance, the CGI is breathtaking.

The other problem is that Maleficent never really gets the emotional resolution we hope for. Her conflict with Stefan isn’t really about him at all – it’s about saving Aurora. There’s no dialogue between Maleficent and Stefan that gives us the satisfaction that she's able to moved one. Jolie seems to play Maleficent so aloof as to make her mostly mute, so we have to settle for smiles and glares to fill in the blanks.

In the end, “Maleficent”’s biggest challenge is in being different from other Disney films. The conclusion would be revolutionary if it weren’t for the fact that “Frozen” did it first and better.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: Zero Charisma

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Zero Charisma DVD ~ Sam Eidson

3.0 out of 5 stars Only a minor stat boost, July 13, 2014

This review is from: Zero Charisma (DVD)

"Zero Charisma" was a crowdsourced film, presumably by geeks who long to see a role-playing game true to the spirit of gamers everywhere. The good news is that “Zero Charisma” gets a lot of things right. The bad news is it gets so many things right that there are several plot threads that are never really resolved that make for an unsatisfying ending.

Scott Weidemeyer (Sam Eidson) is the old school game master everyone loves to hate. If you've ever played Dungeons & Dragons, you know him well: the DM who house rules everything, argues on message boards, gets thrown out of hobby stores, and rules over his players with an iron fist. Scott's not particularly lucky with the ladies, but he’s got a place to game (his grandmother’s house) and he’s not afraid to use it.

The players around the table are all gaming archetypes: the hopeless nerd, the aspiring creative types, the guy with a family who is constantly battling with his spouse over his game time. When that player realizes that it’s the game or his spouse, he gives up the game. Worse, Scott's mom has returned and has plans to take over his grandmother’s house and move her into a home. Scott's sweet gaming pad is about to disappear. Reality, in essence, comes crashing into the long-standing fantasy world Scott has so meticulously created.

Thus begins a quest to find a new player. This is no easy feat, and there are plenty of opportunities to sneer at younger generations of players who came to D&D fantasy tropes by way of World of Warcraft. In the end, it’s a different archetype that finds his way into the gaming group: the hipster douche in the form of Miles (Garrett Graham).

This new breed of gamer has a successful career in a creative field, runs a popular blog, has a hot girlfriend, and treats D&D like a fun past time the same way other people treat a card game. He doesn’t take it too seriously.

Mile's acceptance in the group soon overshadows Scott, who inevitably finds himself compared to someone with much higher Charisma…and failing the opposed roll. Miles is everything Scott is not, and it’s not long before this rift comes to a head that involves a Gary Gygax stand-in, a philosophical argument over the purpose of playing role-playing games, and a lot of heavy metal.

The problem with “Zero Charisma” is that because of how it was edited, it shambles unevenly along. Considerable attention is paid to glances from Mile's girlfriend, who at one point appears to be flirting with our anti-hero. This plot point goes nowhere, despite the camera frequently zooming in on her expressions. There's also a lot of emphasis on people filming the climactic battle between Miles and Scott that again, goes nowhere.

The climax, which takes place at Miles' party, is meant to reveal the true douchery by showing that while Miles is happy to game with the nerds, he doesn’t really consider them friends. This isn’t really so much said as implied, as not all the other players are invited to the party. It begs the question though: so what? Is it really that big a deal if Miles doesn’t invite people to hang out socially? Additionally, the rest of the players never find out they weren’t invited. What should be a climactic emotional showdown becomes something of a slap fight.

Like the film “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Zero Charisma” asks what kind of happy ending can there possibly be for the mistfits of the world. Unlike that film, “Zero Charisma” has an answer and it’s not particularly satisfying. Instead of growing as a person, Miles keeps the game the same and just changes out the players.

“Zero Charisma” is a fun film for gamers, but it could be so much more. In the end our hero only raises his Charisma a point or two.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 4 stars to: Edge of Tomorrow (Blu-ray)

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Edge of Tomorrow (Blu-ray) Blu-ray ~ Tom Cruise

4.0 out of 5 stars Game Over. And Over. And Over..., June 16, 2014

The conceit behind "Edge of Tomorrow" is grounded in American's increasingly foggy memories of D-Day. In short, the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy by sending thousands of young men into the meat grinder of the heavily fortified Atlantic Wall in which it was a triumph simply to remain standing. Dumped into a churning surf, facing withering gunfire, grunts were lucky to survive the first minute of the invasion. "Edge of Tomorrow" works overtime to ensure we keenly feel those stomach-churning moments by playing them over and over and over again.

But to reproduce a modern D-Day requires a few alternations to the modern timeline. The aliens, known as mimics for some reason, have landed in an asteroid strike in the center of Europe (not an unheard-of possibility these days). The aliens spread out and it's up to our heroes, led by steely-eyed heroine Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), to hack her way through the enemy line in a counteroffensive. There's just one problem: the allied invasion can't possibly succeed.

The error in judgment begins with technology. The troops are outfitted with "jackets," inspired by the GE Hardiman project (a suit my father swears he saw in action on a carrier once when he was in the Navy). Overconfidence in the modern jacket's abilities leads to the very wrong assumption that minimal training is necessary. This proves all too deadly on the battlefield -- the mimics are insanely fast swirling balls of tentacles. Engaging them in any hand-to-hand combat is obviously unthinkable, but very few people actually know what it's like to fight one. Enter Major William Cage (Tom Cruise).

As it turns out, the reason she is such a vaunted hero is because Vrataski slaughtered a dozen mimics in one battle; her victory was possible only due to a very set of plot-stretching circumstances, and it's not until Cage appears that the allied forces get another shot at replicating it.

And replicating it he does. Cruise plays Cage as a coward, a personality affectation noteworthy only because it's Cruise playing against type. In typical "Choose Your Own Adventure" fashion, Cage is in a situation where no matter what he does, he's going to war. He learns to eventually game the system, and he and Vrataski share a secret with just one day to make a difference.

Two themes run throughout the film: heroism is a team effort, and love is about shared experiences. The grunts that go into battle with Cage eventually become a key part of saving the world. And the center of the film is as much about the relationship between Cage and Vrataski as it is about winning the war. To Cruise's credit, he conveys Cage's emotional states more with his eyes than his words, from steely-eyed determination to murderous rage to tender affection. For a film about war, "Edge of Tomorrow" finds its heart in those quiet moments when Cage struggles mightily to keep Vrataski alive despite the knowledge she will die a hundred times over.

By the time Bill Paxton shows up, it truly is "game over." Only in this game you can save first. A fascinating film marred slightly by its tidy ending.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 5 stars to: X-Men

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

X-Men: Days of Future Past Amazon Instant Video ~ Michael Fassbender

5.0 out of 5 stars A welcome course correction, June 5, 2014

I had my doubts about “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” For one, it’s the seventh installment in the series (yes, really, counting the Wolverine movie). For another, it’s a mash-up between 2006’s retro “X-Men: First Class” and “X-Men: The Last Stand.” In a fashion similar to the Star Trek franchise reboot, “Days of Future Past” is an entire retcon of the events of “The Last Stand” – an opportunity to forge a new path with younger actors that isn’t beholden to the main storyline. Fed up with the many nonsensical plotlines of “The Last Stand?” Loved the ruthlessness of “First Class”? Then you’re in luck, true believers!

“Days of Future Past” features a dystopian future in which mutants are hunted by Mark II Sentinels, capable of instantly copying any superpower they encounter. Their directive: protect humans from mutants at all costs. Unfortunately, the definition of a mutant rapidly expands to include those with the potential to have mutant offspring, and it’s not long before the shapeshifters are killing off most of humanity. Desperate, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian Mckellen) team up with Storm (Halle Berry), to use Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) powers to send Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back in time to 1973. It’s all to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating the creator of the Sentinels, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), which sets off the chain of events leading to Sentinel apocalypse.

This leads to a fun series of acting exercises in which young Xavier (James McAvoy) and young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) must be convinced by taciturn Wolverine (still Hugh Jackman) to work together. There’s just a few problems: Xavier’s a drug addict and Magneto is in a super prison. And oh yeah, they hate each other’s guts. Enter Peter Maxmioff AKA Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who is like the Flash with worse hair. It’s also the best part of the film.

The fun of a retconning film like this is that all bets are off. Older characters can die without permanently damaging the franchise, new characters can forge their own paths, and everything that was old feels new again. Although there are always plot holes in a time traveling film, it’s easy to forgive them as director Bryan Singer repairs the wreckage he left behind when he fled the helm of “X-Men: The Last Stand” to lead the dreadful “Superman Returns” and left it to Brett Ratner to pick up the pieces. I’m not sure this film is enough for fans to forgive Singer, but it’s a much improved course correction to the franchise.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 5 stars to: Captain America

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Amazon Instant Video ~ Chris Evans

5.0 out of 5 stars Where will we fight injustice?, June 2, 2014

It’s hard to make a guardian government agency these days without someone believing that, no matter how well-intentioned the individual agents are, there’s something fundamentally corrupt about it. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” a franchise deeply rooted in American jingoism, takes this cynicism head on with its titular hero in a way that feels surprisingly modern.

Our hero, Steve Rogers AKA Captain America (Chris Evans) does what good soldiers should: he follows orders. So when he discovers that his companion Natasha Romanoff AKA Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) has an ulterior motive during a standard counter-terrorism mission, Rogers suspects something is up. This dichotomy -- Captain America forthright and public, Black Widow secretive and in the shadows – is a theme that runs throughout the film that parallels the challenge of the modern whistleblower: should we fight the creation of these privacy-invading organizations in public or release secrets illegally like Edward Snowden?

Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) prefers the latter, and he uses Black widow as a tool to get to the truth. When he gets too close, the truth attempts to rub him out in a thrilling car chase sequence with a hovercraft mode that conveniently won’t kick in when it’s needed most. With Fury presumed dead, Cap and Black Widow track down the contents of a mysterious flash drive, where they discover that when a global event threatens the authority of the world’s superpowers (the alien invasion from “The Avengers”) it reasserts itself with terrible force in a way reminiscent of fascism…the kind of fascism Captain America fought in World War II. His idealism has never felt more relevant.

And that’s what makes “The Winter Soldier” so great. What could easily be a dated concept feels fresh because the issues Captain America grapples with have changed names, countries, and titles, but are still lurking in the shadowy corners of our beloved institutions. Just don’t watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. first – the concurrent episodes give away the entire plot.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 4 stars to: Godzilla (2014)

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Godzilla (2014) DVD ~ Aaron Taylor-Johnson

4.0 out of 5 stars Getting the big things right, May 28, 2014

This review is from: Godzilla (2014) (DVD)

First, the good things: “Godzilla” has learned from its predecessors to nail all the elements that King of All Monsters true to his origins. He’s big, he fights monsters, and yes he breathes radioactive flames. It seems Godzilla and other giant prehistoric beasts like him feed off radiation and emit electromagnetic pulses, which has the dual effect of making the monster modern and uniquely immune to modern tactics.

But this is a movie interested in going beyond Godzilla’s story to tell our own: through Hurricane Katrina, the Northeast Black Out of 2003, and the 2011 Tohoku earthquake/tsunami/Fukushima nuclear accident. Taken separately, any one of those mass horrors would be inconceivable. But now Godzilla seems comforting in comparison, a convenient scapegoat for why bad things happen to good people.

“Godzilla” humanizes the titular monster by bringing his presence down to human scale; forget his atomic breath, tidal waves wreak havoc when he steps out of the ocean. The Brody family is at the center of it all, first with atomic plant supervisor Joe (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) and then later with their adult son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), an explosive ordinance disposal officer. But we we’re watching the movie to see monsters fight, and after a long series of teases where Godzilla retreats into the massive debris clouds, we finally get some kaiju action.

Godzilla’s foe is a Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism (MUTO) that has the aforementioned appetite and powers of a monster feeding off the radiation of the Earth deep below ground. This means that any nuclear weapon a tasty snack for pregnant MUTOs (there’s a breeding pair) to consume, which makes them very interested in human affairs. What ensues is a game of nuclear football between the American military, the MUTOs, and Godzilla.

Along the way Ken Watanabe as Ishiro Sedrizawa stares cryptically into space while muttering about alpha predators and the natural world, the military fires uselessly at 300+ feet tall monsters, and two critters that look an awful lot like Cloverfield often pop up out of nowhere. There are moments where “Godzilla” stretches the bounds of the realistic terror it tries to impose -- like when an explosive ordinance disposal officer knows how to perform a HALO drop – but then we hear that Godzilla roar and all is forgiven. This is a reboot worthy of the franchise.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 4 stars to: Seoni (1) Miniature

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Seoni (1) Miniature by Reaper Miniatures

4.0 out of 5 stars I would have thought Seoni was a druid, May 18, 2014

This review is from: Seoni (1) Miniature (Toy)

At first glance, I would have thought Seoni was a druid. I'm not entirely sure why this is, but it might have something to do with the flowing attire and staff she's wielding. Wielding a staff usually the figure is a caster, but since she doesn't have a broad-brimmed hat or flowing robes, druid seems like the next logical choice. No matter, Bob Ridolfi's sculpt follows Wayne Reynold's (WAR) art closely, although in fact she's in a far more dynamic than WAR's.

As always, WAR has a lot of sleeves that cover wrists and ankles and seem impractically attached. This isn't obvious when Seoni stands still, but in a pose like this miniature, it looks like her clothes might just slough off her any second.

Despite those quibbles, Seoni's pose makes her an interesting miniature that stands out from the typical sorceresses and druid types.

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: Valeros (1) Miniature

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Valeros (1) Miniature by Reaper Miniatures

3.0 out of 5 stars his massive mug keeps smacking him in the groin, May 18, 2014

This review is from: Valeros (1) Miniature (Toy)

Valeros is angry. Bobby Jackson's sculpt makes it clear that he wants to kill somebody with his longsword and short blade. His picture is considerably less dynamic than this sculpt, which shows a pensive Valeros thinking about drinking. The sculpt is definitely post-drink, and it's highly likely the reason that Valeros is so mad is his massive mug keeps smacking him in the groin.

This is one of those cases were the sculpt is an improvement over the original art. Despite his impractical attire (Valeros will use two blades but not put his mug in a safe place), it's a fun sculpt.

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: Amiri, Iconic Female Human Barbarian

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Amiri, Iconic Female Human Barbarian by Reaper Miniatures

3.0 out of 5 stars nothing about her that screams barbarian, May 18, 2014

Amiri is one of Pathfinder's many iconic characters, picking up where Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 left off. Iconics have been sorely lacking of late, and they embody an opportunity to easily summarize what a class or race is all about just by looking at them. And Amiri's case, it's apparently watching a lot of anime.

Amiri, created by Wayne Reynolds (WAR), has all the trademarks of WAR, including a lack of visible ankles or wrists. She wears impractical piecemeal armor that leaves her stomach vulnerable, which seems like a bad idea -- but it's okay, she's a barbarian. The real issue though isn't her poor clothing choice but her massive blade that's bigger than her.

Amiri's not a bad sculpt, but there's nothing about her that screams barbarian. That's not the fault of the sculpt so much as WAR's, but it still makes for a curious sculpt.

Michael J. Tresca gave 2 stars to: Vermin - Beetle Swarm MINT/New

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Vermin - Beetle Swarm MINT/New by Reaper Miniatures

2.0 out of 5 stars Painting them blue and gold certainly made them look cool., May 18, 2014

The scarab beetle swarm isn't all that common -- it's a staple of mummy bad guys everywhere. So while it's a welcome sculpt, it suffers from the same problem all of Reaper's "swarm" sculpts have -- it's not large enough to qualify as a swarm. Additionally, there's not really much of a need for scarab beetle swarms.

Painting them blue and gold certainly made them look cool.

Michael J. Tresca gave 2 stars to: Vermin - Rat Swarm MINT/New

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Vermin - Rat Swarm MINT/New by Reaper Miniatures

2.0 out of 5 stars Not a great sculpt and too small to be very useful, May 18, 2014

This review is from: Vermin - Rat Swarm MINT/New (Toy)

This sculpt, like the spider swarm, suffers from the same problem: it's too small to stand in as a swarm. Swarms are ten-foot square in Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, so you'd need four to create a suitable swarm and you unfortunately only get two. The rats are suitably detailed, if a little chaotic -- it can become difficult when painting the swarm as to where one rat's tail ends and another begins.

Not a great sculpt and too small to be very useful.