Thursday, August 28, 2008

Review: Mouse Guard: Fall 1152

It has been a while since I last posted a review so I thought I'd do one for a book that I've read before but re-read just recently...yesterday night as a matter of fact: Mouse Guard: Fall 1152.

As I've been too lazy to use my scanner, this will be a fairly short review with not many images. If you don't like words...well, bear with me.

The Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 series came to prominence in 2006 when Wizard magazine chose it as the best indie book of the year. Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 heralds the story of three mice of the Mouse Guard elite, Lieam, Kenzie and Saxon, and their adventures as they fight predators much bigger than them as well as a mutiny.

The Mouse Guard are the defenders, guards, escorts, scouts and bodyguards of the various mice villages in David Petersen's mice world. They keep the borders of their villages safe and they are considered the very best...assign any of the Mouse Guard a task and it gets completed even if it means their death.

Lieam, Kenzie and Saxon discover a betrayal plot to assassinate their queen, Gwendolyn and decide to investigate. They uncover a militia uprising led by former Guard member Midnight who has stolen the legendary Black Axe, a weapon that was used years ago to slay various predators to protect the mice village.

Lieam finds Celenawe, who was the legendary wielder of the Black Axe all those years ago and they return to their village to rescue Kenzie and Saxon, who had been captured by Midnight, just in time to stop the militia that had broken through the barricades and attacked Gwendolyn's protectors directly.

As can be expected, the assassination is stopped but instead of killing Midnight, Gwendolyn decides to set him free beyond the mice village's safe borders where Midnight can fend for himself against the many dangerous predators beyond the borders. Which leads in nicely to Winter 1152, a whole different series.

The six-issue mini-series reads pretty quickly. Apart from issue 5, there isn't a lot of text with Petersen allowing the images to tell the story. And what beautifully crafted images!

Each single issue has a wraparound cover as can be seen in the pictures below. The hardcover has a nice wraparound cover too. What is really unique about this series is that it isn't regular comic book size. It is closer to the squarish picture book size that you get in children's books...which is pretty appropriate since at times it really reads like a picture book though with more mature content!

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 HC cover

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 #1 cover

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 #2 cover

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 #3 cover

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 #4 cover

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 #5 cover

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 #6 cover

Petersen's story is one for all-ages and it's like you're reading a story that's right out of any fantasy setting; Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, the Chronicles of has pretty similar identifiable themes to all of them! But this is the story of MICE and because they are mice and not men, there are some obvious differences.

From the first issue, Lieam, Kenzie and Saxon have to fight one of the mices' scariest and fiercest predators, a full-sized snake. To us humans, a snake can be pretty scary, but at least it's so much smaller than us. Imagine how huge and terrifying a snake would be from a mouse's perspective! It's kind of morbid seeing Kenzie and Saxon destroying the snake's eggs (and little snakes emanating from them!) when they find them. Lieam kills the snake by himself eventually. We also get to see Sadie, another member of the Mouse Guard, fight against crabs in the second issue.

Terrific art and a terrific read. Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 is highly recommended. Even though it's a bit on the expensive side to purchase, especially since one can finish reading the series so quickly, the beautiful art and expansive story is more than worth it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Review: Wanted movie

Went to watch the Wanted movie today. I knew going in it was going to be significantly different from the Wanted six-issue mini-series by Mark Millar and J.G Jones (which I had reviewed two blog entries about continuity, wahey!) so I expected to see less big screen supervillain action and more "realistic" movie action.

Before you read on, here's the obligatory spoiler warning.

If you don't want to find out what happened in the movie, stop reading HERE as there may be some plot points revealed!

The movie starts off almost exactly the same way the comic does. Wesley Gibson (played brilliantly by James McAvoy) is delivering a soliloquy about how shit his life is. His best friend Bobby (who also happens to be his colleague and shares the same cubicle at his workplace) is constantly having sex with Wesley's girlfriend behind Wesley's back. Wesley keeps taking shit from his bully boss...a little more politically correct in the movie being portrayed as a rather obese white female who is, get this, ANOREXIC! Haha!

Wesley then meets Fox (played by Angelina Jolie), who apparently saves him from an assassin, Cross, who had gone rogue from The Fraternity, a league of assassins that had been in existence for over 1000 years. Wesley is asked to shoot off the wings off flies, mirroring the comic book, and then he freaks out, going back to his old life.

But he finds, having had a taste of the adrenaline rush and power that came with wielding a gun in his hand, he could not just walk back into his own life. But instead of yelling a huge "FUCK YOU!" in the comics, he actually pays out his boss in front of all his other colleagues before storming out of the office. Wesley also takes his keyboard with him and to be honest, I was perplexed. Why take the keyboard with him? Was it his? If it wasn't, why not take something else?

As Wesley approaches the exit, Bobby blocks his path and tells Wesley that he did what no one else had the balls to do...tell off the boss that they all hated. Bobby starts telling Wesley that he's "the man", only to get smashed in the face with the aforementioned keyboard...cue one of the funniest and most awesome scenes in the movie.

We see Bobby's face turn towards the camera in slow motion, with blood flying from the mouth. But that's not the only things that are flying. Some characters fly off the keyboard and they careen beautifully in the air in this order, from left to right: F, U, C, K, Y, O. But there aren't TWO "u"s on a keyboard! So we also see a tooth fly out of Bobby's mouth, complete with the roots and with that tooth looks it...yes it is! A "u". Hilarious!

Some of the dialogue in the movie I recognised immediately since it was verbatim from the comic book. I laughed when Wesley tells us that Bobby is "shtupping" his unfaithful girlfriend on "an Ikea table I picked up for a really good price". As Wesley complains about his pathetic life and the fact that his father abandoned him when he was seven, he suggests that his father perhaps realised "that he'd just fathered one of the most insignificant assholes of the 21st century". In fact, when that line was being delivered, I actually mouthed it out in the cinema, word for word, since it's one of those lines that I just remember from the comic!

There are some major differences in the plot points between the comic and the movie. In the comics, The Fraternity is the league of supervillains that have taken over the world. In the movie, it's a league of assassins that had been in existence for 1000 years. As there are no supervillains in the movie, we don't see Mr Rictus, Solomon Seltzer or any of the other villains that we've read about and loved. In fact, the only two main characters that have made the transition from the comics to the movie are Wesley and Fox.

The Fraternity in the movie is headed by Sloan (played by Morgan Freeman...who swears twice during the movie! Absolutely awesome! Can you just imagine the regal driver from "Driving Miss Daisy" saying "motherfucker"? No? Then you've got to see this to believe it!) and gets his team of assassins to train Wesley to become the cold-blooded killer they know he will eventually become. Because of the lack of supervillains in the movie, they've got able-bodied replacements assassins to conduct Wesley's training.

We find out that Wesley's Dad in the comics is The Killer, who faked his own death so that Wesley can step into his shoes and stop being the pussy that he is in life. In the movie, we find out that the assassin who gets killed at the start of the movie isn't The Killer, who I'm sure most people think is, but is instead just another assassin, Mr X. In fact, Cross, the guy who's out to kill all the rest of the assassins in The Fratenity, is actually Wesley's father!

Cross found out that Sloan had actually been manipulating The Fraternity into doing his dirty work to for power and political reasons and wants to kill Sloan and anyone loyal to him. Slowly but surely, Cross is whittling down The Fraternity's numbers so Sloan concocts this story to dupe Wesley into pursuing Cross, knowing that Wesley, Cross' son, is the only person Cross will not kill.

Of course, Wesley finds out that he has been betrayed and wants vengeance against Sloan and the rest of The Fraternity. I'll leave it at'll need to catch the rest of the movie to find out what happened!

One of the most controversial things from the Wanted series was the ending which some readers thought was Mark Millar taking a pot-shot at them and saying they had no lives or mind of their own. What that ending did was challenge the reader to get out there and do something with their life.

While the movie doesn't have an ending that was as strongly worded as "this is my face while I'm fucking you in the ass", like the comics, there's a message at the end that's directed straight to the movie goer. Wesley starts delivering a soliloquy again, saying how his life has changed and he's made the most of it, and asks the viewer:

"What have you done in your life lately?"

Friday, August 8, 2008

Review: Bully: Scholarship Edition

Over the last two days, I've been playing the story mode of Bully: Scholarship Edition on the Nintendo Wii.

I've always been a fan or Rockstar games (though their Rockstar Ping Pong was pretty crap...and I played it only once! And State of Emergency was the pits too) so I get excited whenever a new Rockstar game gets released! Bully was actually by Rockstar Vancouver, but hey, it's still under the Rockstar banner.

I had played the original Grand Theft Auto all those years ago and while I never progressed past the third or fourth mission (hated the stupid bird's eye view from the sky), I found it just so fun having the freedom of choice in a world which was populated with gangsters, gunmen and people with violent tendencies!

So when I read about how groundbreaking GTA3 was on the PS2, I just had to try it out for myself. And I was absolutely blown away...I actually just completed the main story all on its own without doing any of the exploration of Liberty City and the side missions. And it was such a rivetting experience living in a full fleshed out 3D world where you had so much freedom just doing whatever you want outside of the main storyline missions, I went back and did it all again but this time, with the side missions!

And then GTA: Vice City came out and that is still my favourite game of all-time. The music was just to die for...combine that with the gameplay and you have a surefire winner for this child of the 80s! I purchased GTA: San Andreas when that came out but believe it or not, it still remains in its packaging to date and I haven't even played it yet!

When I heard that GTA: Liberty City Stories would be released on the PSP, I actually got a PSP just so I could play it and relive being in the world of GTA3 all over again. And then GTA: Vice City Stories was released...with even BETTER music than in Vice City! In fact, the only GTA game that I don't actually own is GTA4, and that's because I don't have either a PS3 or Xbox.

But enough about the Grand Theft Auto series. After all, this is supposed to be a review of Bully! I actually played the PS2 version a couple of months ago, despite the game having been released some time back, so I knew what I was in for. In Australia, there was this huge uproar about the game title so they actually renamed it as "Canis Canem Edit" which translates loosely to "Dog eats dog" or something like that.

In fact, if you want to read about the controversy Bully has generated, check out the Wikipedia entry:

Bully/Canis Canem Edit video game

Bully isn't anywhere close to as violent as the other games from the GTA series. What it does offer though is that same free-roaming expansive world that's now a trademark for most Rockstar games.

You play the title role of Jimmy Hopkins, who has been expelled from numerous schools and gets sent to Bullworth Academy, the strictest and worst school this side of America. Jimmy has a bad rep and sending him to Bullworth is the last resort for his mother and stepfather to "educate" him.

Strangely enough, with all the bad press that the game has received worldwide, one would think that Jimmy just goes around beating up other kids and bullying them into submission. On the contrary...Jimmy actually gets picked on and bullied by the other kids once he steps into Bullworth Academy! Jimmy doesn't take to bullying kindly though and thus kickstarts his adventure...fighting back, playing pranks on the other students and trying to romance the schoolgirls.

In the PS2 version, gameplay was fairly straightfoward especially when it came to the fighting, since you'd just mash a couple of buttons and you'd be beating up the other kids trying to bully you. The Wii version is much more order to throw kicks and punches, you actually thrust the Wiimote and the nunchuk forward! And there are combo moves, all of which are executed superbly with the Wii contollers. It makes sense that if you want to throw a punch, you should be doing it properly and not mashing a button!

And with the Wiimote innovation, you get to do other things that seemed unnatural in the PS2 version. The Wiimote is used as a targetting device when it comes to using the slingshot. When you use the camera, you can also use the Wiimote. Those who are used to the PS2 version and have moved onto the Wii version will find the changes a bit unnerving initially, but with an hour or so navigating the Bully world with the Wiimote and nunchuk, you'll feel it's as natural as it can possibly get!

The best thing about the Wii version? There are four extra classes: Biology, Music, Geography and Math. And there are extra missions too! With the four extra classes, I've found that everything is spaced out more evenly. In the PS2 version, I found that I had completed ALL the classes and I wasn't even halfway into the game. In the Wii version, I'm just about at the halfway mark but I've only graduated from two classes: Biology and Music, and still have at least one or two more classes for the rest before I'm done with them!

And the new classes are pretty fun too! Biology involves you to dissect various animals with the Wii controller...something that I can't imagine being done with an Xbox360 or PS2 controller! So you get that whole "Trauma Centre" feeling and gameplay. In Music, you get to play percussion instruments and try to shake the Wiimote and nunchuk in time with the music. Very Dance Dance Revolution with the Wii controllers!

Math is just like playing Brain Training or More Brain Training where you select the correct answers as quickly as possible. Geography is probably the toughest of the four classes as you need to have some working knowledge of world locations or you'll find yourself failing the class! You are given flags of countries or states and a map and you need to assign the flags to the correct country/state. Thankfully, when you point the cursor over the flag, the name of the country/state will actually appear at the bottom. I can't imagine how much more difficult it would be if you were running blind and had to try and identify the flag as well!

I did extremely poorly in the second Geography class where you needed to assign American state flags to the appropriate region they were located. What do I know about American geography? That's the one thing I didn't like...I knew where California, New York, Texas and Florida were, but the rest were pretty much a crap shoot. Either I could go grab a map of America and cheat or I could just randomly assign the flags to a state and try and remember what it was! Everytime you got something wrong, 5 seconds would be taken off the countdown clock. Took me four or five tries before I passed the class!

I really loved the Music class. It's just so fun trying to keep in time with the music! In fact, there's a new mission called "Nutcracker" during the Christmas period where you'd perform one long medley of Christmas songs. And that was absolutely awesome...I was laughing away in the background while playing the xylophone and humming to the Christmas songs I recognised!

Speaking of new missions, there are quite a number of new missions in the game as well. There are at least four new missions during Christmas including the aforementioned "Nutcracker". The other missions I played involve helping out a drunken hobo who believes he's Santa Claus! I really enjoyed the mission where he asks Jimmy to take out "the competition" and I went around causing mayhem, destroying Christmas props, Santa's sleigh, candy canes, presents, etc. And beating up midget "elves" was pretty funny too!

Still have quite a long way to go before I finish the game. But it's an extremely gratifying experience playing it. I thought the PS2 version was fantastic...but the Wii version just blows it out of the water and is an A-grade game. If you haven't tried out Bully before and want to just have some fun in a free-roaming world, get it today!

Here are just some screenshots of the game...I've got some of my own screenshots which I've saved and maybe I'll share them one of these days.