Pokémon GO Gets People Moving

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Pokemon GOIt’s been more than a little amusing to see the public bewildered by the sudden appearance of roaming packs of people ranging in age from 7 to 70+, all staring intently at their phones, at all hours of the day.

Pokémon GO, the new free-to-play mobile game which has smashed records since it’s release on July 6th, is based on the perennially popular Pokémon games from Nintendo. It was developed by Niantic and is very similar in format to their previous ARG, Ingress. Many of the Pokéstops in Pokémon GO were manually submitted by millions of users for Ingress capture nodes, re-purposed for the new game.

In this iteration of the game, the Pokémon appear superimposed in the real world via your smartphone’s camera. Players aim the Pokéball with a flick of their finger at a targeting circle around each Pokémon.

Pokéstops are found at small landmarks such as statues and fountains, dropping various goodies such as extra Pokéballs, potions, and eggs that can be hatched. Gyms are sites where public battles are waged between the three factions available to players.

Though it’s impossible to tell what kind of longevity the game will have so early into it’s release, people all over the country have been talking excitedly about being motivated to exercise for the first time in a long will. Particularly inspiring are the people sharing how it has helped them cope with depression or anxiety, getting out of the house and into the fresh air with other players.

While the game is fun and has fostered many positive interactions between people from a variety of ages and backgrounds, I do have to point out that a small percentage of people have been less than stellar ambassadors of this game. With that in mind:

  • DO NOT PLAY WHILE DRIVING A CAR. NO IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW SLOWLY YOU DRIVE.
  • Be respectful of private property, religious sites, and anywhere common sense tells you is an abysmally stupid place to play. Both the Arlington Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum have had to release public statements asking people to stop playing Pokémon GO at their sites.
  • Do not ask children to lead you somewhere they caught a Pokémon; that’s a really good way to end up on the local news and possibly a government list. It’s best not to interact with children at all unless their parents are there.
  • Pay attention to where you’re walking/stepping and be mindful of your surroundings.

 

Patrick Stewart Performs Country Classics For Charity

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With all the stressful goings-on in the world today, it’s nice to take a moment now and then to appreciate the good and the kind. Patrick Stewart, in support of the International Rescue Committee, has released a charity album of five country classics.

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The gag, if not apparent from the website, is that it’s not really a full length album but a small sampler, available for $10 as a digital download from indie music store CDbaby. The five track listing is as follows:

  1. Buttons and Bows
  2. Don’t Fence Me In
  3. Ringo
  4. I’m An Old Cowhand
  5. Here Comes Santa Clause

All proceeds will go to the aforementioned International Rescue Committee. You can read more about them here:

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future.

Thanks to the generosity of IRC supporters, more than 23 million people benefited from IRC programs and those of our partner organizations in 2015—nearly 5.5 millionmore individuals than we were able to reach in 2014.

If you’re inclined to open your wallet for a good cause, you’ll be rewarded with a small but delightful collection of songs from one of nerd culture’s most beloved public figures. Patrick Stewart has been longtime advocate of humanitarian causes, and his latest contribution is inspired.

Spoiler-Free Warcraft Movie Review

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In light of some of the incredibly negative reviews Warcraft has garnered, I’m going to share my thoughts on both the good and the bad. While there were certainly plenty of things the film could have done better (like any film, really), it was still an extremely enjoyable movie that managed to rise well above the expectations and assumptions about video game adaptations.

I think the biggest mistake was how rushed the opening of the film was. While I can absolutely understand the potential motivation they might have had to use the rapid-fire introductions as a way to convey the sense of urgency and danger, it wasn’t a gambit that payed off. Warcraft fans are familiar enough with the characters and setting to nullify this issue, but newcomers to the franchise might find the first 25 or so minutes confusing. After that, however, the pacing finds its footing.

As I mentioned in my crash course on the Warcraft universe, the hallmark of the franchise is the mostly even treatment of the two factions. That said, I think Warcraft would have been stronger for new viewers if they’re started with the humans and used them to ground the audience in the setting and hook them into the world before introducing them to the more fantastic and mythical Orcs. The film did manage to convey that the Orcs were beings of honor who had the same strengths and weaknesses in terms of personality that humans do.

Khadgar movieKhadgar and the portrayal of magic was one of the highlights of the film. I can say without a hint of reservation that Warcraft delivered my absolute favorite use of on-screen magic in film history. If you’re a fantasy fan who leans towards the sorcery aspect of swords-and-sorcery, I implore you to see this film. Khadgar was a scene-stealer who quickly became the highlight of the film. Due partly to the aforementioned magic and partly to his everyman-with-hints-of-greatness-to-come nature, Khadgar was an indisputable success. (And if you end up playing the game, you’ll see why he gets nicknamed “the silver fox” by fans. Hubba hubba.)

Oh, Garona. Why did they make poor Paula Patton wear those weird plastic nubs? A character design should always err on the side of caution; being subtle is preferable to distracting the audience. Similarly, the male Orcs had an opposite but equal issue; at times it looked like their massive lower tusks weren’t actually anchored in their mouths.

The humans fared much better. It was a gamble to replicate the flamboyant blue and gold armor of Stormwind, but this time it was a gamble that payed off.

I think the final issue with Warcraft was that the Orcs seemed to have eaten the majority of the budget. Stormwind, Dalaran, and Ironforge got some gorgeous wide shots that really gave an impression of massive size and scale, but many scenes suffered from an almost claustrophobic atmosphere due to very small sets. I went in expecting to see lots of grand sweeping vistas like in Lord of the Rings and it was disappointing when that didn’t happen nearly as often as I’d hoped.

All nitpicking aside, I genuinely enjoyed Warcraft and found most of the reviews to be overly harsh and bordering on the ridiculous. It’s not going to garner any Best Picture nominations, but it was a very solid film for what it aspired to be; a fun summer blockbuster.

A Spoiler-Free Crash Course On The Warcraft Universe

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Warcraft movie

Note: There’s a lot than can (and has) been written on this subject, but I noticed that virtually all the articles I was seeing tended to shrug off the concern of spoilers on the basis that the franchise is over 20 years old by now. While this is certainly understandable, I decided there was a niche for a more general overview for people who want to go in with a blank slate. I have also seen more than a few comments on social media along the lines of, “The Warcraft trailer is so confusing, I can’t even tell who they’re supposed to be fighting!” 

A few things set the Warcraft universe apart from many other popular fantasy settings. One of the most important aspects of Warcraft is that the “sides” (known in-game as the two major factions) are not as cut-and-dried as in traditional good vs evil fantasies.

The Alliance is generally what you’d think of as the “good guys” in more traditional fantasy stories like the Lord of the Rings. Gallant knights in shining armor, gruff but honorable dwarves, etc.

The Horde is mostly made up of races you’d normally think of as the “bad guys,” and in the time period the movie is set in, these are the Orcs, aka the giant green people you’ve seen in the trailers.

The Horde and the Alliance are almost constantly at war in the Warcraft universe, and the upcoming movie will be showing the birth of this decades-long conflict. While “faction pride” is a big thing among fans who like to root for one side or the other, the narrative usually tries to make the point that both sides are at fault; even the “monsters” can be the good guys and even the “good guys” can behave like monsters.

I think this is the part that’s leaving a lot of people who have seen the trailer scratching their heads in confusion. It’s not clear from the trailer who the good guys are or who you’re supposed to be rooting for.

That very thing is the hallmark of the Warcraft franchise. It’s not like the Jedi vs the Sith, the Order of the Phoenix vs the Death Eaters, the fellowship of the ring vs the forces of Sauron, etc. The viewer will be presented with both sides of the conflict, and the narrative will not tell you that either the Orcs or the Humans are the heroes you should root for. That’s what you’re supposed to argue with your friends about when the movie is over.

There is also something akin to a third “faction,” though it’s never really referred to as such. Both the Horde and the Alliance, on occasion, must put aside their differences to fight a common enemy who is forever scheming to wipe out everyone.

This is another hallmark of the franchise. There is an ongoing tug-of-war between those among each faction who cannot forgive the atrocities the other side has committed, and more neutral characters who strive to convince their brethren to work together for the greater good.

And finally, the movie is based off of the original real-time strategy game Warcraft, approximately 30 years before the setting of the extremely popular and more well-known MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing game) World of Warcraft.

If you enjoy the movie and wish to dive deeper into the Warcraft universe, subscribe to the blog and stay tuned for my upcoming posts on getting started in the World of Warcraft game. In the meantime, check out my Top 10 Favorite Places In World of Warcraft. If you’re a former Warcraft player looking to get back into the game, I wrote a post on the upcoming World of Warcraft: Legion expansion due to release this August.

Lore Podcast

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Lore Podcast

Love scary stories? History? Aaron Mahnke’s Lore podcast is for you. Each episode details horrific historical incidents, ranging far and wide across numerous countries and time periods. These biweekly episodes clock in at around 25 minutes each, making them perfect for those days you don’t have large blocks of time to set aside to listen to longer shows.

From some of the earliest recorded accounts of serial killers to a man stranded for months in a tiny room with a corpse, the stories are as varied as they are macabre. There are stories the average listener has never heard of as well as quite a few deconstructions of the likely origins for popular myths and urban legends.

While Mahnke doesn’t get too gory with the details, be advised that the subject matter is inherently gruesome and may not be suitable for younger listeners. And please beware: listening to this podcast could have grave and disastrous effects on your wallet as you get more and more overwhelming urges to buy out you local bookstore’s history section. You have been warned.

The audio production aspects are professional quality and the narration is smooth and pleasant.

If you find you just can’t get enough of Lore, rejoice! The podcast is currently in development to become a television show. Mahnke also writes supernatural thrillers.

My Top 10 Favorite Places In World of Warcraft

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In preparation for the upcoming release of Warcraft on June 10th, I though I’d take a moment to share my favorite locations in the World of Warcraft. Feel free to chime in with your own favorite places in the comment section!

The Plaguewood

10. The Plaguewood

Located deep in the Eastern Plaguelands, the Plaguewood is one of the spookier places in the game. Massive, sickly, pock-marked mushrooms tower over dead ground patrolled by various Scourge monstrosities. The rain that beats down seems like it would add to the oppressive atmosphere rather than bring life to the bleak landscape.

Hellfire Peninsula

9. Hellfire Peninsula 

Granted, the actual terrain of Hellfire Peninsula is about as ugly as it gets. But the sky is second to none. Three moons hang in the perpetual black of space with streamers of light. The shattered remnants of the land that broke apart still hover bizarrely in air, and the edges of the zone plummet off into the nothingness of space in a vertigo-inducing tableau that makes for one of World of Warcraft’s most haunting landscapes.

Frostfire Ridge

8. Frostfire Ridge

While I enjoy all of the various snow zones in WoW, Frostfire Ridge stands apart for the winning combination of lava pools and billowy snow drifts. It’s one of those zones where I always readily imagine exactly what it would be like in real life. Walking along, bundled tightly against the uncompromising cold, and coming upon the heat of of those pools like an oasis in a desert.

Ramkahen

7. Ramkahen

Set against the backdrop of endless dunes and wind-driven sands, Ramakhen is a haven to travelers attempting to traverse the Sahara-inspired zone of Uldum. Towering statues rise up from a lush tropical paradise. Broad sandstone buildings sit around courtyards where the locals host open-air markets, offering up their wares in colorful stalls. Did I mention that those locals are cat-like centaur people?

Kezan

6. Kezan

Kezan is the starting zone for the Goblin race. Sadly, it can’t be re-visited after the player finishes up all the Kezan quests. It’s fun and obscenely tacky and I just can’t get enough. It’s a big departure from the more serious and traditional fantasy-inspired starting zones, making it a quirky little palate-cleanser. Wooden pink flamingos and lawns of Astroturf abound. Multicolored string lights are draped around metal buildings, and empty cola cans are sprinkled liberally throughout. Flamboyant animal print decor abounds, and the Goblins love their poolside parties, complete with inflatable pool toys.

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Nimona Review

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Nimona

Noelle Stevenson manages to juggle “adorable” and “bloodthirsty” like a pro acrobat with Nimona, dazzling readers with a story that’s alternately funny and heartbreaking.

Nimona 2In this webcomic turned graphic novel, the titular Nimona is a young shape-shifter seeking work as a sidekick to Ballister Blackheart, aka “the biggest name in supervillainy.” She begs him to let her help with his plans against his archnemesis Goldenloin, usually acting more as a loose cannon that he must scramble to control than a helpful assistant. Whether she’s in her normal human appearance, a fearsome dragon, or a shark with a respectably large set of breasts, she’s generally the more aggressive character, and much of the story revolves around the supervillain having to be the voice of reason and mercy.

The setting is a fun mash up of old-timey fantasy, steampunkish fare, and even a few modern touches. It’s a world with dashing knights in shining armor jousting on noble steeds, spooky Victorian science labs, and television news broadcasts. I loved how Stevenson mixed and matched from multiple time periods freely to create her own unique world instead of just plonking down her characters in a cookie-cutter setting.

The pacing and length were both solid. Nothing felt rushed or dragged out, and I felt like I got my money’s worth for the $12.99 price tag.

While Nimona does at times turn darker than its whimsical beginnings would lead you to believe, it’s not a story that revels in misery. It’s balanced and mature, neither being too dark nor so light as to lack real substance.

 

 

Lattes With Leia: A New Star Wars Podcast

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Lattes With Leia Lattes With Leia is a brand new podcast from Amy Ratcliffe and Dr. Andrea Letamendi. Amy is best known for her work on Star Wars.com, Star Wars Insider, IGN, and The Nerdist. Dr. Letamendi is the psychologist behind The Arkham Sessions, a podcast that offers psychological analysis of Batman: The Animated Series . Both are popular panelists at conventions like San Diego Comic Con and Wondercon, and Dr. Letamendi did a TedX Talk on the psychology of superheroes.

To paraphrase a bit from their introduction at the beginning of the episode, Lattes With Leia aims to be an inclusive show free of the “true fan” mentality that can be so repressive in some fandom circles. It will focus on the female point of view. Rather than chasing down all the latest news, it will be more of a conversation about the fandom and the deeper meaning of the stories and characters.

As someone who tries to balance staying spoiler-free with finding places online to discuss Star Wars, I’m glad to have a podcast that will offer an emphasis on discussing existing elements rather than focusing on obsessing over every scrap of news regarding the upcoming films. And having followed Amy on Twitter for several years, I feel confident in assuring people that if and when they do discuss any of the upcoming films, she’s the type to fact-check and squash rumors when people on social media start getting carried away with repeating un-sourced speculation as fact.

The first episode, A Rey Of Hope, focused–as you might have guessed–on Rey. I enjoyed in particular the psychological underpinnings of the character rounding out the discussion and providing extra layers.

At an hour long, it was a good length for the show: enough time to really sink their teeth into the topic at hand and short enough not to drag on. The only negative I can report is that the premiere episode of Lattes With Leia will make you want to open your wallet and head back to the theater for another viewing of The Force Awakens.

 

The X-Files Returns (Spoilers)

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This discussion of My Struggle, the first episode of the new X-Files miniseries, contains multiple major spoilers. It is intended for viewers who have already watched the episode. 

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I wasn’t a fan of the X-Files when it first aired, but I’ve picked it up a few times on Netflix. Despite not considering myself much of an X-Files fan, I was very excited when I heard about the mini-series I’ve been looking forward to having an opportunity to jump into the fandom.

It started off strong and took an unfortunate turn to the ridiculous at the very end that almost completely overshadowed all the interest the rest of the episode generated.

The performances were solid, from Scully’s exasperation to Mulder’s scruffy rebelliousness to Tad O’Malley’s brand of obnoxious ultra right-wing sensationalism. The actress portraying Sveta, the “alien” abduction victim, offered a convincing performance, straddling the line between conveying how traumatized she’s been and successfully giving the viewer the feeling that she was holding something back.

Overall I came away with impression that the actors were grimly trying to overcome the silly direction the episode careened towards. It’s a pity that their acting had to be good in spite of the script rather than emerging organically from the story.

The big reveal was by far the weakest part of this episode. The entire speech, complete with a frantic montage of various real-world disasters, came out of left field and felt both rushed and forced. While the ship we saw earlier was certainly amazing and opened the door to a lot of questions, the leaps in logic from its existence to a decades-long global conspiracy responsible for virtually every crisis from droughts to the September 11th attacks were so awful they were almost funny, and not in a good way.

Further, I’ve always looked in askance at stories that take real life tragedies and give them a hackneyed chain of fictitious causes. And yet another of my least favorite tropes rears it ugly head when Mulder’s informant refuses to inform because…reasons. While the sage-withholding-knowledge trope is at least partially understandable in some fantasy and more traditional hero’s journey tales, in a story revolving around real-world FBI agents it’s just nonsensical and contrived.

I enjoyed the majority of the episode enough that I’ll continue watching the rest of the miniseries, but I’m hoping fervently the subsequent episodes improve on the disappointing end to the premiere.

 

Spoiler Free Review of The Forest

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The Forest felt like it squandered a lot of potential. It’s a movie that felt as if it really could have been scary if handled differently.

Natalie Dormer played twin sisters, a wild-child school teacher (Jess) who went missing from her teaching post in Japan and her more grounded and stable sister (Sara). Once Sara finds out that her sister was seen going into the infamous Aokigahara Forest, she wastes no time flying to Japan to find her. She meets up with a journalist named Aiden (played by Taylor Kinney) who introduces her to a guide (Michi) familiar with the forest.

The tone for the majority of the film felt more like a thriller than a supernatural horror. There was a lot of running around in foliage with the characters acting disproportionately afraid of the surroundings compared to lack of things to be afraid of. What few actual scares existed were often pulled solidly from American rehashes of Japanese horror. And of course Japanese schoolgirls abounded.

I’ve seen Natalie Dormer’s performance praised as the redeeming quality of The Forest, but I sadly feel compelled to disagree. While I’m usually a fan of her work, her performance was wooden and at no point did I ever believe she was playing two characters. There was regular Natalie and then Natalie with dyed black hair. Taylor Kinney as Aiden was the more memorable and compelling performance.

The ending was, ironically, the part I enjoyed most, since I often find that even good horror films often fail to stick the landing. There was a memorable and bittersweet twist that was by far the most successful part of The Forest.

For anyone curious about Aokigahara itself, there’s a Japanese documentary up on YouTube. I originally watched because I saw several people claiming that it was a much more respectful film about the subject matter, but in all honestly I’m a bit skeptical about how well it succeeded in that regard. It appears on Vice, a YouTube channel that’s big on documentaries with click-baity titles and intentionally sensationalist subject matter: