#XboxDone

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Let me start this off by saying up to this point I have been strictly bipartisan when it comes to consoles - tripartisan if you count Nintendo, but this isn't what this is about.

When the PS4 was announced I couldn't have been more underwhelmed.

Today's Xbox One reveal, however, was the epitome of disappointing.

Seriously, what the heck?

I'm not interested in next gen for TELEVISION. Good god, I don't even pay for TV to begin with. I buy a gaming console for GAMES Microsoft. GAMES. Not live TV, voice control and freaking Skype.

Not to mention this bullcrap requiring installs and a preowned fee. Yeah, way to shoot yourself in the foot you greedy fools. Meanwhile I'll sit here and watch Sony's stock skyrocket and mourn the loss of what was once a good thing.

If somone can convince me that this isn't complete and utter folley, then please do.

So disappointed. You know what they say, 4 is better than One.

#xboxdone

Star Trek : Into Darkness - Film Review

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Star Trek : Into Darkness

 

You are a pawn, Kirk. You can't even guarantee the safety of your own crew.

There's no denying 2013 is a good year to be a sci-fi fan. Offerings like Oblivion, After Earth, Pacific Rim, and Riddick all promise to keep fans of the genre quite happy. However, its J.J. Abrams sequel to his masterful 2009 Star Trek reboot that is arguably the most anticipated release of the year, and rightfully so.

The 2009 film was an accomplishment; successfully modernizing the series while remaining decidedly true to what Star Trek is expected to be. Now, four years later, does the sequel, Into Darkness live up to its predecessor?

That all depends on what sort of film you want to see. 

If youre all in for an action-filled, gut-wrenching adventure featuring the cast and characters you love from the reboot, then this is the movie for you.

The sound design is some of the best Ive experienced in recent memory. From photon blasts to screeching metal to warp drives, its unbelievably immersive. Jarring, subtle, soothing, adrenaline inducing, loud, its what sound in a film like this should be.  Everything even simple punches have a weight and realness to them that is often overlooked in films.

This beauty extends to the musical score as well. Haunting melodies and rising crescendos are superbly placed to manipulate the mood to exactly what the viewer needs to feel at the time, whether that be wonder, dread, or excitement.

The returning cast members from Pine to Urban to Quinto to Pegg to the superb Bruce Greenwood - are every bit what they were in Star Trek 2009, and have arguably improved in their roles.

Quinto's Spock has noticeably grown, as has Urban's Bones McCoy. Pine's Kirk is a less explicit progression, but has successfully shaken some of the annoying frat-boy persona he exhibited in Trek 2009, which in itself is an accomplishment I can applaud.

The new cast members serve their roles for the most part minus Alice Eve, who seems perfectly content to act as a hollow shell placed in the film to be nothing but eye candy.

Benedict Cumberbatch's Khan, on the other hand, is a force to be reckoned with; Vastly superior to 1982s Khan played by Ricardo Montalban, this new Khan is a sight to behold.

Equally menacing and relatable, there were many instances in the film that I truly felt for him and thought he was justified in his villainous actions. Cumberbatch's brooding, emotional portrayal is one the better characters in the series history, and I can only hope hell somehow be used again in the future. As engaging as he was, the final turn-about of his character arc was sadly predictable.

That is where we come to the bulk of what is wrong with Into Darkness

For all its victories, the film was almost too familiar for a returning fan like myself.

It leans on its source material 1982s aforementioned The Wrath of Khan like an ugly crutch, all too often borrowing plot points and twists in unneeded ways.

2009s reboot also did this, but in a far less greedy way, and ultimately managed to be original and surprising. Into Darkness does not succeed in this regard.

While the story is serviceable; if youre an old fan, chances are youve seen a lot of it before. This means many of the scenes meant to evoke shock or suspense may ring hollow, because you already know the outcome.

 On occasion, Abrams has an inspired stroke, and instead of lifting a plot point, turns it on its head and gives us a legitimate twist that we can appreciate, but too often he eschews this in favor of trying to play to our nostalgia.

I was much more impressed with Oblivion's story line and unique ideas than I was with the script of Into Darkness, which is rather sad. Star Trek has always been more of a thinking-mans sci-fi, but this new film falls squarely in the action/thriller department. If youre looking for a good thought-provoking romp through the future, I recommend Oblivion.

Overall, Into Darkness is lacking in comparison to its older brother - and it seems to its competition this year as well. I will give credit to its final act, which was superbly engaging and had a pair of wonderfully executed twists though they may be lost on newcomers to the series.

The film is lots of fun, and if your introduction to the universe was the 2009 Trek, then you will likely be perfectly satisfied with this merely adequate sequel, but if youre a veteran of the world, you may be a tad disappointed.

In closing, I cannot help but feel let down. Into Darkness was engaging while it lasted and had plenty of great moments. The humor was frequent enough that it prevented things from ever becoming too dark, while also keeping its distance during the most dire of situations; and as previously stated the final act of the film was a superb ride.

Yet, there are so many little things that while competent, were not astounding. So much potential literally brimming around the surface of the display, but never being fully realized. Does it deserve a place in your collection? Yes, though perhaps not on your classics shelf. Into Darkness will find itself much more comfortable alongside contemporaries like Prometheus or Terminator : Salvation.

E. C. Cook 2013

7.5/10

About guns, not games

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Heads up. I am neither pro-gun nor anti-gun, these are simply my thoughts on the issue that everyone is so caught up in recently. I am however, firmly against the idea of attempting to solve an issue with such a broken excuse of a plan as "ban one of the things they can use" and so this is largely an argument against so called "gun control"

 

Reader discretion advised.

 

Lets start with some statistics. Get your reading glasses.

 

According to Dr. Gary Kleck, criminologist at Florida State University, between 800,000 and 2,500,000 crimes are stopped by guns each year. Regarding accidental shooting deaths per year, that number is in the 14,000-17,000 range.

 

Intentional killings? Were looking at around 12,000 homicides in 2011, with only about 8,000 being firearm related.

 

So out of roughly 300 million firearms owned by civilians in the United States - about 100 million of which are handguns, belonging to around 80 million individuals - a whopping 0.0026% of these weapons are actually used as murder tools, whereas 0.083% are used to prevent crimes.

 

There were over 19,000 deaths by accidental drug overdose in 2004. The majority of these deaths were from prescription drugs, not illegal drugs. Banning prescription drugs makes as much sense as banning guns.

 

The most liberal states in regard to gun policy do not experience nearly as many homicides as states with tight gun control.Shouldnt places like Vermont be rife with mass shootings? Or maybe availability of guns isn't the problem after all.Many states such as Alaska, Vermont and New Hampshire have very liberal gun laws, if availability of guns is really the root of the problem with mass shootings in this country it seems like these states where it's really easy to get a gun should have more problems.

 

The efficacy of gun control legislation at reducing the availability of guns has been challenged by, among others, the testimony of criminals that they do not obey gun control laws, and by the lack of evidence of any efficacy of such laws in reducing violent crime. Analysis of the impact of gun control laws, by Kleck, covered 18 major types of gun control and every major type of violent crime or violence including suicide, and found that gun laws generally had no significant effect on violent crime rates or suicide rates. Other studies have found no association between gun ownership and suicide.

 

In other countries, other methods of suicide are used at even higher rates than the U.S., so gun availability may affect the method used but not overall suicide rates. University of Chicago economist Stephen Levitt argues that available data indicate that neither stricter gun control laws nor more liberal concealed carry laws have had any significant effect on the decline in crime in the 1990s. A comprehensive review of published studies of gun control, released in November 2004 by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, was unable to determine any statistically significant effect resulting from such laws.

 

Speaking of other countries, lets talk about Switzerland.

 

Gun politics in Switzerland are unique in Europe. Switzerland does not have a standing army, instead opting for a people's militia for its national defense. The vast majority of men between the ages of 20 and 30 are conscripted into the militia and undergo military training, including weapons training. The personal weapons of the militia are kept at home as part of the military obligations; Switzerland thus has one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world. In recent times political opposition has expressed a desire for tighter gun regulations. A referendum in 2011 rejected stricter gun control. Why? Because laws dont matter.

 

In a 2001 study, it was averaged that about 420,000 assault rifles (fully automatic, or "selective fire") are stored at private homes in Switzerland. Additionally, there are some 320,000 semi-auto rifles and military pistols exempted from military service in private possession, all selective-fire weapons having been converted to semi-automatic operation only. In addition, there are several hundred thousand other semi-automatic small arms classified a carbines. The total number of firearms in private homes is estimated minimally at 1.2million to 3 million.

 

In 2005 almost 29% of households in Switzerland contained firearms of some kind.

 

The yearly average for gun related homicide in Switzerland? 40 cases.

 

All this being said, murder rates - and crime in general - are far more strongly correlated with poverty than gun laws or rates of gun ownership.Rural and suburban areas have far more guns per-capita than cities do; yet cities have a large majority of murders. It's an issue of poverty and lack of opportunity, paired with mentally or emotionally unstable human beings. The same factors that cause most crime.

 

The solution requires education about gun safety, improvement of mental health care availability and quality, as well as dealing with socioeconomic issues that lead to crime and violence. Not trying to prevent tragedy by banning one tool that can be used in evil when countless other tools may achieve the same effect.

 

If you have to restrict items from people and not people themselves to prevent acts of destruction, then that's a failure among society. Why is it the only thing people have a problem with people dying from is guns? No body advocates such changes when somebody bombs a building, hacks someone up with a machete, chops a head off with a knife, stabs twenty plus children in a school or flies a pair of jetliners into the World Trade Center. We didnt ban airplanes or box cutters did we now?

 

It's easier to make a homemade bomb or stab someone in the throat than it is to get a firearm. Fully automatic rifles are difficult and very expensive (upwards of $20,000 for a registered M16) for civilians to legally acquire in the US. The "special skills" required to make a homemade bomb are "mix fertilizer with diesel fuel", but media sensationalizes shooting in such a way that murderous gunmen become anti-heroes instead of horrible monsters, and we blame the tool they chose instead of the person executing the act.

 

This is the problem.

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey - Film Review

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Where to begin. I'll start by saying what everyone is itching to hear. Yes, The Hobbit is a superb piece of filmmaking. Peter Jackson has once again brought Tolkien's Middle-Earth to life in a truly fantastic way. The Hobbit is a wonderful experience much akin to visiting an old friend and at the same time making new ones. It's fantastic, it's gripping, it's beautiful, and the expanded focus on Tolkien's lore is a joy to watch. The decision to include the subplot involving the Necromancer, Dol Guldur and the wizard Radagast the Brown is one of the greater ideas to be included, and I'm excited to see what other details from the appendices will be brought into the trilogy.

The returning performers - Sir Ian McKellen in particular - are as perfectly in character as you remember from the original Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and the addition of a few brief cameos from favorites like Frodo Baggins and Saruman the White are a welcome surprise. McKellen's return as Gandalf is masterful. There are several "You shall not pass!" moments that remind you of just how formidable an opponent the Grey Wizard is, and his returning wry wit is a highlight of McKellan's performance.

The new cast members, on the other hand, are a bit of a mixed bag. On the whole, the company of Thorin Oakenshield - and Thorin himself - are great in their respective roles, though a handful of the characters' designs border on silly rather than fantastical. Characters like Balin, Dwalin, Kili, and Fili ring true and are a joy to behold as they bring the story to life. Other members of the dwarven company such as Bombur, Bifur, and Nori are still entertaining, but they come across as a bit larger than life at times - no pun intended. Richard Armitage's performance as the leader of the company, Thorin Oakenshield, is a great highlight of the film. Armitage embodies the dwarven prince as if he were born for the role. From the intense battle scenes to the late night song-gathering in Bilbo Baggins' home, Thorin is ever the staple member of the group, capably pulling the viewer back into the fiction whenever a particularly unfeasible happening occurs. I could not think of a better choice for the part.

As well, Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins is an inspired decision. I was apprehensive when I saw he was chosen for the part, as my previous experience with his work was limited to the comedies Hot Fuzz and Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. Both great films in their own right, but not at all the tone of cinema I was expecting for the prequel to the excellent LOTR trilogy, so naturally I was skeptical of how Freeman would present Bilbo. Thankfully, he brings the character to life in a believable and lovable way, perfectly portraying the reluctant, somewhat neurotic hero. He may not yet be Elijah Wood's Frodo, but he is within reach of that high standard. When we finally see Bilbo obtain the One Ring, and consequently engage in a game of riddles with the creature Gollum, everything at once feels familiar and fantastic, bringing to mind fond memories of the previous films.

Speaking of Gollum, though his screen time is brief, it is the epitome of what we expect from the character. A tortured soul, kept captive by his "Precious", lovable, funny, and tragic. His scenes are some of the most memorable of the film, and it will be interesting to see if and how he will be used in the next two installments.

Visually, the film is a treat. Set design, cinematography, costumes, and most of all, the lighting, all come together in a truly beautiful splendor, creating some of the most visually glorious scenes I have had the pleasure of seeing in quite a long time.

For all this though, the film is not perfect. The screening I viewed was in 3D, which for the most part was handled well, but in action heavy scenes it often resulted in horrendous amounts of motion blur. As well Peter Jackson has filmed The Hobbit at a whopping 48 frames per second. That's twice the rate if normal films, and the hyper realistic frame speed can at times be jolting and hard to follow. I spent the first ten minutes or so of the film wondering if the characters were hurrying through their scenes before my eyes adjusted.

As well, there is a much, much heavier focus on the use of CGI this go around. Most of the creatures, Orcs, Wargs, Goblins and the like are mostly if not entirely CGI instead of the beautifully created work that the WETA Workshop provided in the original films. Most of the time this isnt a terribly large issue, but often enough, it's distracting and unneeded. One central villain in particular is entirely made of CGI when his appearance could have just as easily - and more believably - been accomplished with make-up and prosthetics. As well, many of the creatures have received makeovers, now only slighlty resembling their counterparts in the original trilogy. Goblins especially - truly threatening and horrific in The Fellowship of The Ring - are small, white skinned bat-like beasts this time, and far less frightening than we remember. When we meet their king, what should be an intimidating experience is instead laughable at best, and disgustingly goofy at worst.

Because of small discrepancies like these, the overall result feels more lighthearted, less dark, and arguably less mature than its predecessors. I would have preferred the tone to be more in keeping with grit and psuedo-realism of the Return Of the King, but this is more preference than anything

All in all though, the return to Middle-Earth is a triumphant one. I am greatly looking forward to the rest of the trilogy. A year is far too long to wait to experience the rest of this wonderful cinematic adventure. This is one Unexpected Journey you don't want to miss.

8/10

Why Hate When You Can Love?

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I am not a Christian. Shocked? You may be. But allow me to expand upon this statement. I am a follower of Jesus. I believe in and love him with all my being. But I prefer this title over the term "Christian" because of the unfortunate and awful connotations the word brings up. I am not ignorant to the horrific reputation Christians have earned- yes, earned - for themselves and for Jesus himself. Christians, by and large, especially here in America, are thought of as bigoted, hateful. highly politicized, right wing, republican, gun-toting, flag-waving, war mongers. This perception, unfortunately, is not entirely misplaced.

So, I must first apologize on behalf of Jesus' followers to those who have been victim to this version of Christianity, we are not all like that. I petition you to shun that visage of the "American Christian" and perhaps dig a little deeper. Most of us are rather likable people, and will get along with quite well. We probably won't even knock you over the head with a 20lb Bible. Probably.

I am, of course, a horribly imperfect person. I am also a Jesus follower. But I am by no means a racist, hateful, highly politicized, war-mongering bigot.

Neither is Jesus.

In fact, actually following Jesus requires unconditional love for all people (including enemies, and those whose life choices may be in direct conflict with our own beliefs), rejection of violence, rejection of faith in politics and rejection of patriotism. In short, the exact opposite of the traits american Christians are notorious for. I'm not suggesting these should be your ideals, per se, merely pointing out that an authentic pursuit of Jesus is, sadly, quite different from that of public perception.

This blog is by no means meant to convert any of you to my way of thinking, merely to bring to light one of the more egregious false advertising scams in the world today.

I sympathize with the fact that Jesus-followers believe some crazy-sounding things. Yes, I believe Jesus is God, I believe in a literal, corporeal resurrection of the dead, I believe a personal, loving God created the universe, etc. I sincerely believe in all these things, but I do not hold these beliefs over the heads of those who reject them. I do not believe that these beliefs make me, in any way, better than any other human being. I do not believe that those who reject my beliefs are idiots or that they should be treated differently. In fact, I believe that Jesus wants me to love and serve everyone, especially those who deeply disagree with me, without an agenda to make them more like me. My faith is not so shallow that those who disagree frighten or offend me.

It is my sincere belief that Jesus needs new PR. I find it a terribly upsetting irony that by and large the equal rights, social justice, creative and expressive community of artists here in the states are so hostile towards Jesus. In reality, the majority of artists' sentiments of peace and love, kindness towards animals, and hope in the face of death are not at all dissimilar to the way of Jesus. The american Christian sentiments of war, anger, retribution and judgement, on the other hand, have more in common with Satan than they do with Jesus. Those "god hates gays folks are NOT Jesus-followers. The people who would have you believe God hates homosexuals and disapproves of interracial relationships are DEAD WRONG. His heart breaks for them every moment, he longs to wrap them in his arms and just love them.

I guess all this is to say, though I do not seek to correct or convict you with this letter, I do hope to convince you that many of the people who you might instantly associate as hateful, stupid bigots, may not be. We are by no means a religious lot. On the contrary, we think the myth of a Christian religion is an incredible fallacy. We are a subversive movement of rebels and lovers with an insatiable desire to see the world's wrongs righted, the world's hungry fed, the world's widows and orphans cared for and most of all to see that those with no joy and no love receive both to the point that their cup runs over. We believe that this is what Jesus is after, not unquestioning minions who conform to arbitrary rules and regulations, but a group of rescued lovers who are deeply loved and who love others.

It's true that many who claim Jesus would have you believe otherwise, but know that Jesus himself warns against them. When you rail against their type, I believe Jesus rails with you.

But do not hate us all. Why hate when you can love?

Warrior

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I watched the new film "Warrior" just now. I must say, I went in with high expectations, and Warrior exceeded all of them. Such a superbly made film. Hardy and Edgerton were phenomenal, and the supporting cast did a great job as well. The writing was great, soundtrack beastly, and cinematography sublime. This is without a doubt my pick for film of the year. I've always been a fan of underdog sports flicks, but this one... Rocky who? Forget the Titans. Warrior was the most engaging, moving film I've seen in a long, long time, and I watch a lot of movies -you have to when you review them. Warrior is simply a modern masterpiece of cinema. I actually cried during the final scene, something I've never encountered while watching a movie before. I will be buying this one, without a doubt.

Anyone else seen it? What were your thoughts? Did you find it as engrossing and unforgetably moving as I?

The Great Console Exclusive...

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...Is irrelevant.

Afterchatting withsome PS3 users the past few days, I had to make this topic. Mainly to state my full opinion on the 360 vs PS3 argument.

Allow me to discuss the big "exclusive" games.

For the Xbox 360, we have...

The Halo Series

Crackdown 1 and 2

Dead Rising

Fable 2 and 3

The Forza Series

The Gears of War series

Splinter Cell Conviction

The Viva Pinata series.

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For the PS3...

The God of War series

The Gran Turismo series

The Infamous series

The Killzone series

The Little Big Planet series

Metal Gear Solid 4

The Resistance Series

SOCOM series

Uncharted series

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Most every other "exclusive" has been ported to the other console, or is available on PC. So in effect, for any exclusive you name, it has a similar title, of equal quality, on the other console. Similar. Not identical. But similar nonetheless.

For example.

Viva Pinata & Little Big Planet

Gran Turismo & Forza Motorsport

Halo & Killzone

Resistance & Gears Of War

Splinter Cell & Metal Gear

Naturally there a handful of exceptions. For instance Uncharted or Fable. But on the whole, comparing the two consoles based on their exclusives is a pointless endeavor. In all reality, you can get nearly the same experience from either console. It comes down to which interface you prefer, and whether you care what games your friends are playing.

I love Playstation. Have since the PSx. But after playing with both of this gen's consoles, I found that Xbox had a more appealing interface for me. Not better. Just more appealing. The same went for the games I planned to play. Halo and Splinter Cell were going in interesting directions that SOCOM was not. I regretted not being able to play MGS or Uncharted, but 360 simply offered me - not necessarily you, but me - more options.

It's a matter of taste. A matter of opinion. Not a matter of superiority.Ciao!