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“The Dark Knight Rises” Review

Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy comes to a close with The Dark Knight Rises, and while it may not surpass the masterpiece that was The Dark Knight, it is still a pretty fantastic movie and a fitting end to a memorable saga.

Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Gotham is enjoying a state of peace due to the Dent Act as we find Bruce Wayne staying out of the public eye, retired as Batman and watching Wayne Industries endure money struggles. All of this begins to change of course as Bane comes in to restore his brand of order to Gotham, as well as break the Batman in both body and soul.

It’s that last part that sets the movie apart. Where Joker and Scarecrow and Two Face either wanted to kill Batman or drive him crazy, Bane is out to break his spirit. He is Batman’s physical superior and can not be taken down with any of the old tricks we’ve seen. At the same time he is cold and ruthless and most importantly smart, making Batman seem as weak as he has ever looked before. We get a very desperate Batman. Tom Hardy does a fantastic job making Bane every bit the badass he is supposed to be (once they fixed the voice issue) and makes it believable and emotional watching him strip Bruce Wayne of everything he knows and loves, which is where the “Rise” part of the movie kicks in. It is the theme of the movie and is taken both literally and figuratively, as each character has their own demons and challenges the must rise above. They lay this theme on very thick. Almost too much so.

Better than Batman and Robin

In this age of cinema you can’t increase the stakes and the scope (and the budget) without  increasing the number of characters too, and Nolan obliges with a number of additional characters. At the forefront is Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle, who is never referred to as Catwoman (good move), and does well in playing the anti-hero. She has good chemistry with Bale and is played very close to the Year One version of the character. Her acrobatics are sometimes a little too flashy and once you start getting her, Batman and Bane on screen at the same time it’s starts to get very comic book-ey. Not to ruin the final act for you, but it’s kind of like this. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does counter what Nolan had been working toward this whole time by grounding Batman into reality. This also applies to the heavily promoted “Bat” flying vehicle which, while it is awesome to see in action, takes reality to the limits.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard also do well as John Blake and Miranda Tate respectively, but the talk about their roles was never about how they would perform, but who they’re characters were supposed to be. ***SPOILER ALERT: To put it mildly all of the rumors we heard about them and the how the movie ends turn out to be true and if you know they are coming you see it from a mile away. However they wait as long as possible to actually confirm everything and do it in such a way that it doesn’t really matter that you know in the first place. A great job in dealing with such a difficult task.***

Make no mistake about it, this is definitely the end of the Bale/Nolan Batman saga and they tie a nice and neat bow on everything to make sure there is nowhere else to take it. Everything that is promised through the trailers and throughout the movie is delivered and done so in spectacular fashion. The movie takes the trilogy full circle, taking you through very similar progressions and set pieces as Batman Begins. The difference is that it does all of these much bigger, and in some cases better. No, this isn’t as good as The Dark Knight, but it is an intense movie with huge set pieces that keeps you on your toes from beginning to end and puts a fine cap on the mother of all blockbuster comic book trilogies.

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The Amazing Spider-Man Video Game Review

If you liked Batman: Arkham City, it will be hard for you not to at least like The Amazing Spider-Man game a little.

After Beenox produced a pair of more linear Spidey games with Shattered Dimensions and Edge of Time, they put the wall crawler back into an open world with the the movie tie-in to The Amazing Spider-Man (which you can read more about here). The game picks up right where the movie left off, and considering that it came out before the movie did, it was quite spoiler filled.

Essentially Oscorp is trying to recover after all of the bad press they got with Curt Connors turning into a Lizard, and they are eliminating all of his research and moving on to nano technology. Then wouldn’t you know it, all hell breaks loose and the city is running rampant with mixed species monsters and psycho robots out to hunt the monsters, and both parties have it in for our red and blue hero. It’s not Shakespeare, but it is enough to keep you going through the game.

Like I said before, this game goes back to what people loved most about the older Spider-Man movie games, specifically Spider-Man 2, and that’s open world web slinging through Manhattan. Like the games before it, this is where the most fun is to be had. Physics kind of take a back seat as you can throw a web in the air and latch on to something no matter how high you are, and soar through the city. There are plenty of side missions and mini games to do, and while they can get repetitive after a while, it’s still fun to just get to all the points on the map via jumping and swinging through the city. There are also collectables to find throughout the game, but for me the best by far are comic book pages. Scattered around the game are pages of comic books. 500 in all. For every 20 or so pages you collect you get access to an old Spider-Man comic. The full issue. They range from Spidey’s first appearance to the first time he encountered Rhyno and so on. I find myself completely ignoring the missions and just looking for more pages.

The game works best when the action is kept outside

Speaking of the missions, this is probably where the game suffers most. They are very straight forward, and also very easy. Half of the stages turn into beat ’em up sessions while the others are stealth based. Sound familiar? Both tactics are almost identical to Arkham City. There are stealth take downs from above and enemies that are equally aloof. The combat system is exactly the same. Hit the attack button to build combos, web shooters act as batarangs to stun enemies, and your spidey-sense kicks in for dodging much like the caped crusader (although I think we can all agree RockSteady took that from Spider-Man first). That’s all fine and still fun, but it is just too easy. First off the game really spoon feeds you everything. It will tell you when to use your web, when to attack, when to stop, everything. There are bosses that I beat using just the attack button. I didn’t realize he was the final boss of the level until the end. In a word, it’s anticlimactic. I recommend using the hardest difficulty setting if you want any challenge at all. The other problem with most of these levels is that it sticks Spider-Man inside, away from where the game is at it’s best. Not enough of the game is in the open world, which is a shame.

The Amazing Spider-Man game also lifts Arkham City’s navigation and upgrade system among other things. You have physical and tech upgrades that you earn points toward individually. The map is in the same style, with locations marked off to continue the story, then side missions marked in other areas. There are random muggings to stop as well. Snipers on the rooftops. Audio logs to find through out the game. I can go on and on. I know Arkham City didn’t invent any of these ideas, and they are all used in some fashion in most games, but it looks so similar and works in such a way that it has to be mentioned.

Graphically the game is a mixed bag. Spider-Man looks great, and when you are running around the city does too. The major New York land marks are there, with comic spots like the Daily Bugle and Oscorp tower thrown in as well. However when you look too closely you see how it is a little dated. Again, this is a movie tie-in so I can’t expect too much, but it is just one more thing that holds this title back.

Despite it’s shortcomings, The Amazing Spider-Man is a fun game to play. Much like the movie, this game brings Spider-Man back to his roots and mostly succeeds in spite of it’s flaws. If you aren’t a comic book fan it’s worth at least a rental. If are a comic book nerd like myself, it’s worth your money just for the comic books you can collect. You’ll spend more than enough time after finishing the main story looking for all of the comic pages in New York City.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” Review

Be prepared true believers, The Amazing Spider-Man is the best Spider-Man film to date, and might even be better than The Avengers. Yeah, you read that right.

Not everyone was exactly anticipating it like the Marvel string of movies or especially The Dark Knight Rises, but the reboot of the Spider-Man movie franchise is here and it is superior to the old model in virtually every way. You just have to kind of forget the old model exists to fully appreciate it.

I would normally say something about spoilers here, but if you saw any of the Sam Raimi movies or read any Spider-Man comics in the last 50 years, you pretty much know exactly what to expect here. Peter Parker is a dork who gets bit by a radioactive spider, gets powers, learns responsibility and everything else you know. The early stages of the movie can almost be swapped frame for frame with the previous series. Parker gets denied by women, Flash Thompson is a jerk, Peter embarrasses Flash in school, Ben Parker teaches life lessons about responsibility just before dying in a way that Peter could have inadvertently prevented (c’mon you had to know that was coming, right?). On the surface there is very little new. This is inevitable considering we know the characters and the story so well. However when looking closer, you’ll realize that the reboot handles all of these things a lot better.

Flash Thompson has more depth than just being a one note bully. Uncle Ben and Aunt may are much more detailed that before. Ben doesn’t just spew out one liners about being a good person. It comes out more organically. When Peter starts to develop his costume you see the transition from ski mask to the full suit. It makes it become almost believable that it could exist.

Then there is the new. Where we all scoffed at the tagline about “the untold story,” The Amazing Spider-Man does look deeper into Peter’s parent’s, who are scientists who knew too much about whatever it is they knew. The science background lends itself to make Peter the genius that we know from the comics, providing another difference from the trilogy. This reboot is much more faithful to the comics than anything before it. Peter is able to develop the web-shooters on his own, just like in the comics. The background of his father combined with some good timing make it seems much less impossible when he figures out all of the things he pulls off. The photography is there, but just as a hobby instead of going straight to the Daily Bugle. Why doesn’t he go there? Because he’s in high school! Where he belongs!

The other two main differences in the reboot are that he is in high school for the entire film, and Mary Jane Watson is nowhere to be seen. Again staying true to the comics, the love interest in this film is Gwen Stacey. Peter’s first love. This is important as to have one less thing to directly compare to the original films. The other thing it does is let the characters have some fun. Where things got awfully dramatic for Spider-Man the first time around, this time he is a lot more fun loving, and a lot of it has to do with Andrew Garfield.

Where Maguire looked like Peter Parker right off the page of the comics, Andrew Garfield shows much more of Parker’s personality, while still maintaining that look. Not that it was all his fault, but Maguire’s Parker was more of a nerdy man. He wasn’t specifically clever, just corny. Garfield is legitimately funny and interesting as Peter, and is pretty noble and cool well before he ever gets bitten by a spider. Being a high school student definitely helps as it let’s Peter just be an awkward teenager. The only critique I have is that Peter comes off as a bit of a horn-dog. Like I’m talking creepy at times. I can give him a bit of a pass though since he’s supposed to be a teenager, and he’s creeping on a Gwen Stacy being played by Emma Stone. Even Uncle Ben agrees she’s a looker. Stone plays a solid Stacy. Her and Garfield have good chemistry together and work the high school relationship tension as well as they can. I think we are at the end of the rope though for Emma Stone playing a 17 year old girl. I don’t care how good of an actress you are, you can’t make me believe you’re not legal with those stockings young lady. Martin Sheen and Sally Field due Uncle Ben and Aunt May justice as well. As I said before, both characters have more depth than they previously did. May is much less fragile this time around, and Ben can handle himself too. Someone finally realized that they are Peter’s aunt and uncle, not his grandparents.

Of course what superhero movie is complete without a villain. To keep things fresh we have the Lizard, who had been teased throughout the Sam Raimi movies. He, more than any other character, follows the same path as the previous movies. Like every Spider-Man movie villain before him, Lizard is a sympathetic character who chooses the wrong path in pursuit of success. There isn’t much to the Lizard, who isn’t exactly at the top of Spidey’s rogues gallery, but he also doesn’t overshadow Spider-Man, who is the real star here. His alter-ego, Dr. Curt Connors, is played by Rhys Ifans. Ifans essentially takes the place of Norman Osborn in the first film (for now). Connors becomes a father figure to Peter, which creates drama on both sides when they have to fight each other. There isn’t much too him, but he does enough to move everything along and give Spider-Man someone to fight.

That is where The Amazing Spider-Man separates itself from movies like Iron Man. Tony Stark had a very engaging introduction to his character, but he never really had a challenge on his hands. Here, Spider-Man has some great fight scenes with the Lizard, and the action comes off looking really well in 3D. Overall, The Amazing Spider-Man spends a little too much time retelling a story we have already seen several times before, but they have enough additions and revisions to put this among the best movies (not just superhero movies) of the summer.

The Avengers Movie Review

For seven years we have watched Marvel Studios pump out movie after movie. Each one teased us a little more on what was coming. A movie combining four different franchises? Never done before. The Avengers promised to be the Smash Bros. of summer blockbusters. Could it be done? Would the final product pay off in the end? Well after almost a decade of waiting, I can tell you that it can, and it most certainly did.

The Avengers is pretty much a 143 minute money shot. Pretty much all of the Marvel films had that one moment that made the entire audience applaud in geek pride. Well The Avengers does that almost every 20 minutes. There are big reveals, huge set pieces, familiar faces in despair, with some real drama thrown in. And that’s just the prologue.

If you saw either of last year’s Marvel films (Thor and Captain America), then you have an idea of the plot already. Loki comes back to steal the cosmic cube (the Tesseract in the films) so that he can take over the universe. Nick Fury then assembles the Avengers (see what I did there?) in a last ditch effort to save the day. But guess what? They don’t get along initially. Will they overcome their differences to keep Loki from destroying the universe?

SO MUCH AWESOME ALL OVER!

Of course they will! It’s a comic book franchise turned summer blockbuster. You know damn well what is going to happen. That’s not the point though is it. In the process of getting this team together you get every possible confrontation you ever saw in the comics and wanted to see on screen. Captain America vs Iron Man, Hulk vs Thor, Black Widow vs Hawkeye, it’s all there. You get just enough of a taste of what everyone can do individually that get the sense that they are all equal, which of course is the point. It then makes it that much sweeter when they eventually work together and form a cohesive unit against the bad guys. This of course is headlined by the movies primary money shot which is the money shot to end all money shots.

While everyone gets their screen time and chance to shine, it’s the Hulk that surely stole the movie. Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is great. Where Ed Norton, who I like a lot, played a man on the run who happened to be a scientist, Ruffalo plays Banner as a scientist first. Also, like all of the characters in this movie, Banner is more of a smart ass as well (even Tony Stark). We get teased with the Hulk for most of the movie, but when he finally shows up, he’s here to stay and totally worth the wait. The Hulk does something every time he is on screen that is amazing, and by the end of the movie is he is on screen a lot. You might even see a little more of the Hulk in The Avengers than you did in The Incredible Hulk. You will find yourself simultaneously in aw and laughing at the awesomeness of what the Hulk is capable of.

Perhaps the greatest testament to this movie was that despite everything thrown at you, from metal power suits to super soldiers to aliens to gods, at no point did it seem too over the top. Everything, and I mean everything, was giving reason and purpose and dosed with just enough reality that you buy that it could possibly almost kinda happen. A big part of this was just from how everyone referred to each other. No one calls Iron Man, Iron Man. They call him Tony. Hawkeye is just Clint. Their “superhero” names are only veiled at for the most part. Thor is Thor of course but you get the idea. The point is that by making such detailed origin stories that explain all of the details of how each individual entity came to be, The Avengers is able to get away with concepts and ideas would normally be completely unbelievable, yet we’re still able to accept them.

The Avengers puts its foot on the gas from the very beginning and never lets go. The best thing I can say is that I didn’t want it to end. If I had to nitpick I would say that if you didn’t watch the previous movies you might get a little lost, but it was made for you anyway and you’ll be very entertained regardless. It’s everything that’s right about the summer blockbuster and I’m pretty sure I’ll be seeing it again as soon as possible.

Also the post credit scenes are amazing.

Paranormal Activity 3 Review

Paranormal Activity 3 opened to a record $54 million dollars for an October debut. Money is great and makes the film a commercial success for sure, but was it any good?

A prequel to Paranormal Activity 2, which in itself is a prequel to the original Paranormal Activity, PA3 wastes no time getting us back into familiar territory. Sisters Katie and Kristi, yes those sisters, discover old tapes left by their recently deceased grandmother. The tapes are from their childhood, and they mysteriously have no memory that they ever existed. Before they get a chance to watch them the tapes are stolen. We then see the tapes. The rest seems like a toned down version of the first two films.

The tapes go back to a young Katie and Kristi, living with their mother Julie, and her boyfriend Dennis, who is a wedding videographer (see where we’re going with this?). Dennis and Julie begin hearing noises and guess what Dennis decides to do? If you guessed hire someone to inspect the house, I’m sorry but you are wrong. If you said film the whole thing using his all of his video equipment, DING DING DING, we have a winner!

If you’ve seen the other two movies, with the exception of plot points I won’t spoil for you, you pretty much know the drill from here. The “spirit” in the house gradually makes it’s presence more and more known day after day, culminating in a final scene that aims to scare the pants off of the entire audience. The main problem is that while the story is fairly interesting, excluding some plot holes that pop up when connecting them to the other 2 films, the scares just weren’t there for me. I can recall 5 moments that had a legit scare factor. The rest of it is just waiting for those moment to come up. Sure there is something to the scenes just telling us an entity is in the house, but those points never really amplify like they do in the first two.

Part of that could be due to the acting. While the entire cast does a fair job throughout the movie. Some of the reactions to the scares borderline on being funny instead of scary. I didn’t expect to laugh so much during one of these films. The other part could just be direction. After two movies, there is only so much that could be done. Perhaps the decision was made that suspense was the best scare left, and they put plenty of it in there. As for the ending, it definitely provides the scares, however it also completely changed the whole way that I look at the series. Unfortunately I can’t say that it is for the better either.

If you are new to the series, then PA3 delivers adequate scares with a twist ending. However if you are a Paranormal Activity veteran, expect pretty much the same movie you’ve already seen twice before, with a ending that adds a whole new outlook on the series. Overall, an okay movie. Entertaining, but I won’t exactly be having troubles getting to sleep tonight.

 

Food Review: Denny’s Mac ‘n Cheese Big Daddy Patty Melt

By Mike,

If there is one thing I like in my food it’s everything. I’m big on combining my foods to create one explosive delicious bite. Well it turns out the people at Denny’s can read my mind because here is the Mac ‘n Cheese Big Daddy Patty Melt. How about an ingredients roll call?

Heaven on a plate
Mac 'n Cheese and beef and fries, oh my

1 hand pressed beef patty
Mac ‘n Cheese
melted cheddar cheese
zesty frisco sauce
grilled potato bread

Throw in some seasoned fries and you got yourself a whole lot of tasty. You also have a whole lot of calories on your hands (1690). But as we all know, calories are delicious so bring it on!

 

Look at all the magic inside
A perfect balance of beef, mac, and cheese

But how good is it really? On their own the parts are just so so. The Mac ‘n Cheese is creamy but plain. The patty is your basic burger patty. Cheese is cheese and so on. But together, the damn sandwich comes alive. There is just enough Mac ‘n Cheese in each bite so that you know it’s there, but not too much that it overpowers the beef or the cheese. Every element compliments each other, and impressively, it doesn’t fall apart when you eat it. Also impressive is the portion size. Not that it is big, but that it is just right. By the time I was done I was not stuffed, but I sure was satisfied.

Well done Denny’s. I’ll see you again the next time I’m driving through New Jersey in the middle of the night.