Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 2 stars to: 300

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

300: Rise of an Empire (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Combo Pack) Blu-ray ~ Sullivan Stapleton

2.0 out of 5 stars Soggy Mess, March 25, 2014

It's become clear that popular movie franchises have a morbid immortality -- you simply can't kill them off, even when every character in the movie dies. This is why "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" -- which concluded with the entire planet being nuked -- was followed by "Escape from the Planet of the Apes." So perhaps it's no surprise that "300," a movie based on a comic book based on the real life Battle of Thermopylae, spawned a sequel. SPOILER ALERT: 299 of the 300 didn't make it. But a little fact like that wasn't going to stop director Noam Murro from making "300: Rise of an Empire" based off Frank Miller's unpublished graphic novel Xerxes, which was inspired by the real life Battle of Salamis.

The first problem is that there is no Gerard Butler. The sight of digitally-added abs is no longer quite as thrilling when it first debuted in "300," but leading man Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) does his best surrounded by his fellow Athenians. The primary difference between the Athenians and their bloodthirsty Spartan brethren from the first film is that they talk a lot more. Themistocles is single-handedly responsible for killing King Darius I of Persia (Igal Naor) with a well-placed arrow at the Battle of Marathon. Puppet master Artemisia (Eva Green, a whirlwind of blades and bosom) encourages Darius' son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) to seek godhood and wage war on the Athenians, due in no small part to her own thirst for vengeance at having her family slaughtered by them. So in short, the slaughter of the first film is pretty much all Themistocles fault.

The first few minutes of "Rise of an Empire" provides a satisfying explanation as to the freaky weirdness of the Persian army from the first film. Yes, Xerxes really is a supernatural giant; yes, he really does have cat-like monsters and giants in his employ; and yes, this is all pretty biased against Persians but when you loosely base a movie off of historical events, someone ends up being demonized. Unfortunately, some of this narrative is robbed of its urgency because we're to believe second-in-command Artemisia is behind it all. So yeah, "300" is also all Artemisia's fault.

What ensues are a series of naval battles that are essentially land battles with boats. Instead of firing arrows at each other, the Greeks close to melee combat by ramming. Instead of just waiting until the Persians close and stay safely on the shore, the Greeks engage them in the water with a much smaller force. And instead of using brilliant tactics to engage the enemy, the Athenians use a CliffsNotes version of history: fog, land-locked territory, and a bunch of other feints come from seemingly nowhere. This is all supposed to be Themistocles' doing, but it's hard to believe him; his abs speak louder than his words.

All throughout, Themistocles keeps trying to get the Spartans back into the fight by having long, stilted conversations with Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey). This has the added unwelcome effect of Gorgo narrating different parts of the film with grave dialogue that seems like an Ancient Greek word association exercise.

There's a subplot with Athenian fathers and sons that lacks any gravity due to the actors involved; a girl power sex scene in which Artemisia attempts to forcibly seduce a bewildered Themistocles; and not enough Xerxes. Seriously, when you have a gold-skinned giant leading your army, a hellcat warrior in designer outfits pales in comparison.

The "300" franchise's primary claim to fame is its blood and gore, but the special effects are subpar here too. Characters don't so much explode with blood as they eject it from random places on their armor -- it looks like painted-on special effects. Because the film lacks much in the way of 3D-ness to justify the price tag, there is always stuff floating in the air -- ashes, blood, dust -- anything to enhance the 3D experience that isn't there.

If "Rise of an Empire" was its own film, it would be merely be a platform to let a bare-chested Eva Green gloriously tear up the scenery. But as a sequel to a superior first installment, it's a soggy mess.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 4 stars to: Trista, Female Warrior (1) Miniature

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Trista, Female Warrior (1) Miniature by Reaper Miniatures

4.0 out of 5 stars a female knight who really, REALLY likes wolves, March 8, 2014

Patrick Keith's sculpt is a female knight who really likes wolves. I mean, really likes wolves. She takes the theme to new heights by wearing a stylized wolf on her shield and a not-as-stylized wolf head on her shoulder. She wields a hand-and-a-half sword with just one hand and a shorter blade dangles from her hip.

Trista is a pretty good role model for other female warriors with one exception. Unfortunately being an admirer of wolves does not extended to wearing sensible hair -- Trista insists on wearing her locks in a ponytail that flows over her shield just asking for a monster to grab it.

Michael J. Tresca gave 4 stars to: Nienna, Female Elf Ranger (1) Miniature

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Nienna, Female Elf Ranger (1) Miniature by Reaper Miniatures

4.0 out of 5 stars More ranger than elf, March 8, 2014

Werner Klocke's Nienna has an identity problem. On the one hand she is a ranger, which means she wears a cloak and carries a bow. On the other hand she's an elf, which means...well, we have no idea if she's really an elf since her proportions are similar to a female human and her ears are covered by a cloak. So perhaps Nienna can simply be a ranger.

But on that count she does her job well. Nienna has a leaf motif throughout her attire and a wing-hilted sword. She's not just a ranger, but one of the good guys. And in case it wasn't clear that she's fond of the woodlands, she's standing on a stump.

A suitable sculpt for more ranger than elf.

Michael J. Tresca gave 5 stars to: Halbarand, Cleric (1) Miniature

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Halbarand, Cleric (1) Miniature by Reaper Miniatures

5.0 out of 5 stars a cleric who really likes his book, March 8, 2014

Halbarand is a cleric who really likes his book. Sculptor Tom Harris has taken pains to show just how much Halbarand really, really loves his book, by tying him to it -- literally. Either that, or Halbarand's book has a mind of its own and the chain is really a baby leash for the animated book.

In any case, Halbarand is that rare cleric who looks dignified because of his moustache (facial hair, yay!). Dragonlance readers might be reminded of Sturm. Halbarand's warhammer, plate mail, and flowing cloak round out the cleric image. An awesome sculpt for a cleric who takes his religion very seriously.

Michael J. Tresca gave 5 stars to: Elquin, High Elf Adventurer (1) Miniature

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Elquin, High Elf Adventurer (1) Miniature by Reaper Miniatures

5.0 out of 5 stars The "Mike" of Reaper miniatures, March 8, 2014

You know what it's like when you have a popular name, like Mike, and every time you're in a group there's inevitably some guy who has the same name but is cooler than you? Comparing Elquin the Daring, a human who doesn't seem all that daring, to Elquin the High Elf Adventurer, it's clear that "Elquin" is the "Mike" of Reaper miniatures.

The elf Elquin is better in every way. He's not just a wizard, he's a multi-class warrior badass who uses a polearm instead of a simple wizard staff like that OTHER guy. He carries potions in a bandolier across his chest along with a scroll quiver -- Elquin acts like a spellcaster who treats his magic like warfare.

Also, he has awesome hair. So it's totally understandable if The Daring would rather not be in the same room with The Adventurer. A great sculpt for any elf wizard who likes to hit people too.

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

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Mason Thornwarden (1) Miniature by Reaper Miniatures

3.0 out of 5 stars I had no idea he had a beard!, March 8, 2014

You might have noticed that the number one way you can tell that a sculpt is a ranger by his hooded cloak and his bow. Bobby Jackson's ranger sculpt fulfills all the ranger obligations. As an added bonus, he even has a beard -- a small amount of facial hair is rare on miniatures, probably because the detail doesn't show up well. And that unfortunately holds true for Thornwarden.

Until I saw the painted versions of Thornwarden on Reaper's site, I had no idea he had a beard. There's also details along his arms that are easy to miss. This is one of the few sculpts that probably suffered in transition from metal to the Bones format. Still a good ranger, but not a particularly exciting one.

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

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Grave Wraith (1) Miniature by Reaper Miniatures

3.0 out of 5 stars A translucent miniature that shouldn't be translucent, March 8, 2014

This review is from: Grave Wraith (1) Miniature (Toy)

The appearance of wraiths have pretty much been set down by Lord of the Rings' Ringwraiths, so there's not much to your typical wraith except a shroud and a sword. Sculptor Bob Ridolfi mostly sticks to the script, with a headless wraith wielding a rune-scribed sword. And in case it's not clear as to the miniature's title, a little grave is part of the wraith's base.

What's odd is that this miniature is translucent. Ringwraiths are invisible inside their cloaks, but casting this miniature in all green translucent plastic means his cloak is invisible. You could of course paint the cloak, but that defeats the purpose of having a translucent miniature in the first place.

Because Dungeons & Dragons wraiths are entirely incorporeal, this miniature is hews a bit closer to the D&D version. I chose to just paint the wraith's hands, his sword and the nearby grave marker, which makes for an interesting contrast.

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: Labella DeMornay, Banshee (1) Miniature

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Labella DeMornay, Banshee (1) Miniature by Reaper Miniatures

3.0 out of 5 stars More a shout than a scream of horror, March 8, 2014

Banshees have always been known as a wailing spirit, the sound of which heralded death. It doesn't necessarily mean that a banshee wailing CAUSED death, but that's a case of a narrative vs. system. Julie Guthrie's sculpt stays true to form, a fairy (in this case an elf, as indicated by her pointed ears) rising up into the air with her mouth open in a scream. Well, sort of.

DeMornay's mouth is open, but it's not really a scream. This isn't a shriek of horror so much as a shout. DeMornay has a belt and neckpiece that looks appropriately elvish. I painted her skin, but left her hair and ghostly accoutrements transparent, which created a distinctive look.

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

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Spirit (1) Miniature by Reaper Miniatures

4.0 out of 5 stars exactly what you need for your ghost, spirit, apparition, or whatever, March 8, 2014

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

Sculptor Jason Wiebe gives us a bog-standard spirit, which is probably the most useful of the translucent green miniatures. He's just a head and skeletal hands protruding from his robe -- but adding a little bone color is all he needs to menace adventurers in whatever capacity the Dungeon Master can come up with: apparition, ghost, wraith, etc.

This spirit may not be that exciting, but he's exactly what you need for your ghost, spirit, apparition, or whatever.

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

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Ghostly Summons (1) Miniature by Reaper Miniatures

3.0 out of 5 stars More a set-piece than a miniature for a tabletop game, March 8, 2014

This sculpt by Julie Guthrie has it all: a summoning circle that doubles as a base, spirits rising up out of the ground, and three naked women tangled up in an ethereal orgy. Or something.

The women really come to life with a little paint, keeping the green translucence to the mist and their hair. Of course, painting them an off green blends them nicely with the surrounding mist and keeps the feel of buoyancy (to the mist...and the women).

This is one of those sculpts that's more a set-piece than a miniature for a table. It looks good, but I'm not entirely sure when and where you would use it. Could make for a nice diorama though.

Michael J. Tresca gave 5 stars to: Night Spectre (1) Miniature

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Night Spectre (1) Miniature by Reaper Miniatures

5.0 out of 5 stars Do skeletons ever really look sad?, March 8, 2014

This review is from: Night Spectre (1) Miniature (Toy)

At first glance Julie Guthrie's sculpt looks like a hunk of translucent green plastic. It's not until you start adding color to the skeletons (and only the skeletons) that you see the beauty of the miniature.

There are several different skeletons, all rising up in a swirling green mist. The fun of a translucent sculpt like this is in preserving the see-through areas while painting the relevant parts, and a simple application of bone color does the trick. The skeletons don't look happy either, but then do skeletons ever really look sad? I guess they're always smiling...

The only challenge with this sculpt is the peculiar size. It's more like a wall of bones (larger and more appropriate than say, the translucent red wall of fire). As such it would need to be appropriately based for a D&D game.