Video Game Review: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PlayStation 4)

After recently revisiting all of the Peter Jackson film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, I was reminded how much I liked the old Return of the King game for Gamecube. So I saw that this was at least somewhat similar, in that it was pretty much a hack and slash game where you take on dozens of orcs at once. I figured that for $19 I’d give it a shot and well, it won “Game of the Year”, even though everything seems to get that accolade nowadays.

I don’t think I would have been as happy with this if I had paid full price when it came out but for less than twenty bucks, it’s definitely worth the value.

If you are a fan of the Batman: Arkham or Assassin’s Creed video game series, than this should probably be a lot of fun fore you. Now it isn’t as rich and dynamic as those other games but it has similarities in how the action works. The fighting style is very much like it is in the Batman games and you can interact with the environment parkour style like Assassin’s Creed.

I like the graphics and the fluid gameplay. Plus, running around Middle-Earth like a sword wielding maniac is a really good time. I like the Nemesis System within the game and that there is a lot of fun one can have with that cool feature.

However, things do get repetitive pretty quickly in a similar fashion to the first Assassin’s Creed. But as the game progresses and you get stronger, the challenge does become better and some of the more powerful orcs can be a real pain in the ass. So I do like how the game evolves as you play it longer and longer.

I don’t like that the game only has two main maps that you can explore though. They also aren’t very big and each time I got to a new map, I unlocked all of the areas pretty damn quickly. Like ten-to-fifteen minutes quickly.

This feels like a game that really needed to be expanded on and if I just stuck to the story and didn’t get distracted running around killing thousands or orcs, I could have blown through it in an afternoon or two.

But my complaints are why I would’ve been disappointed if I had paid full price. Again, for $19 (or less), it’s worth the money.

I’ll pick up the sequel soon, as it is also rather cheap now. I hope that one at least expands on things in new ways and isn’t just a simple rehash with new maps.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel Shadow of War, as well as the Batman: Arkham game series and the Assassin’s Creed games.

Comic Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Issue #8 – Team Up with Cerebus

Published: July, 1986
Written by: Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, Dave Sim
Art by: Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, Dave Sim, Gerhard, Michael Dooney, Steve Lavigne

Mirage Studios, 45 Pages

Review:

Fans of Dave Sim’s long running Cerebus comic series, as well as the original run on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, should probably be really happy with the end result of this crossover.

I believe that this was the first crossover for either intellectual property and even though it took place in a single issue, as opposed to some mega event like nowadays, it hit all the right chords and worked really well, as two very different worlds collided and fit snugly and organically in the same shared space for 45 pages.

I think that this story benefited from coming out at the time when both creative teams were at their creative peak. Granted, Cerebus evolved and changed a lot but this was more tied to his earlier stuff, where he was simply an anthropomorphic aardvark that existed in a sword and sorcery world of parody. Pairing him up with a foursome of anthropomorphic turtles made for a natural fit, even if one character was like Conan the Barbarian and the other four were ninjas. Regardless, they’re all still badass warriors that come together to help a damsel in over her head.

Out of all the TMNT crossovers that I have read over the years, this one is probably my favorite. It’s also a solid one for Cerebus but I need to revisit his crossover with Spawn to see which of these I prefer more.

The coolest thing about this story is that we get to see the merging of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s art style with that of Dave Sim and Gerhard. It all meshes really nicely and it looks and feels natural. I especially loved the different styles of lettering sharing the same panels.

For real comic book collectors that have an affinity for either of these franchises, this is definitely something you should have in your comic book library. Plus, it’s aged rather well and is still a very worthwhile read.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: old school black and white Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dave Sim’s Cerebus and other Turtles and Cerebus crossovers.

Comic Review: Injustice vs. Masters of the Universe

Published: July 18th, 2018 – January 2nd, 2019
Written by: Tim Seeley
Art by: Freddie E. Williams II, Jeremy Colwell
Based on: Masters of the Universe by Mattel, Injustice by NetherRealm Studios

DC Comics, 153 Pages

Review:

I haven’t played the Injustice video games or read the comic books. I get the gist of it though, so being a long-time fan of Masters of the Universe, I thought that the idea of seeing He-Man and his world mix it up with the DC Comics universe was a cool idea.

However, I did have to go into this with some skepticism, as most comic book crossovers of unrelated intellectual properties usually don’t leave us with great results.

This one was pretty good though. I can’t say that it was completely compelling but the story did a good job of wedging in a lot of characters while managing multiple plot threads. This had many layers to it and all of them kept me engaged.

I think the thing that I liked most about this was the art. It just felt perfect for a Masters of the Universe story, as it reminded me of the art of the old comics they used to package with the toys. It just drummed up nostalgia on a pretty high level and it was very effective.

This lasted for six issues but I feel like it could have been better if it was a bit longer. While it works well in the space it was given, I felt like some confrontations were rushed through and some of the action suffered a bit. There were just some cool ideas here that could have been explored just a little bit more than they were but I don’t want to spoil the story details for those who want to read this.

Overall, this was pretty damn good. Tim Seeley told a fun story within two very different worlds that I love and the art was perfect for what this project was trying to convey.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Masters of the Universe crossovers and the Injustice comics, as well as regular Justice League stories.

Film Review: Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Also known as: Conan II, Conan: King of Thieves (working titles)
Release Date: June 29th, 1984
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Mako, Tracey Walter, Olivia d’Abo, Sarah Douglas, Andre the Giant, Pat Roach

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“How do you attract a man? What I mean is, suppose you set your heart on somebody. What would you do to get him?” – Princess Jehnna, “Grab him! And take him!” – Zula

I don’t think I’ve ever met a single person that prefers this film to its predecessor, Conan the Barbarian. That being said, this is still an enjoyable flick that’s pretty cool to revisit once or twice a decade.

The Conan character is cool and almost everything he’s been in has been good. This film fails to live up to the one before it but sequels rarely do. That doesn’t make it bad, it’s just a movie that was really lacking in overall quality and intensity because the studio realized that this character had young fans and thus, we got a PG movie instead of something with a solid R.

The special effects were a mixed bag. Some of it looked pretty bad but certain things, even if not spectacular, still had an enchanting allure about them. For instance, when the ghost-like dragon steals the princess, it’s a very dated looking effect but it has a real dreamlike quality to it that just works. Also, even though the mirror room sequence was shot under too many lights, it still felt otherworldly and mesmerizing.

The monster effects weren’t very good and I think having a bunch of bizarre creatures in this, sort of dragged down the rest of the movie. The picture tried to be more creative and ambitious than the first one, where the only real creature was a giant snake, but all the monsters looked rubbery, clunky and not very inspiring.

Also, the story is a mess. I’ve seen this film at least a half dozen times and I still don’t know what the hell is going on in half of the scenes. I feel like a lot of context and exposition was left on the cutting room floor.

What makes this film work for me though, is the cast. I pretty much like everyone in this film and the chemistry between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Grace Jones is stupendous. I wish they had done more movies together when they were both in the prime of their careers.

Tracey Walter was good in the film; he’s a character actor that popped up in a lot of stuff in the ’80s and ’90s. I also enjoyed Sarah Douglas, who I wish was in more movies back in the day. Olivia d’Abo did a decent job for this being her first movie. I think the only weak person in the main cast was basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, who was never much of an actor but at least he gave it a shot.

This is directed by Richard Fleischer, who would also helm Red Sonja, a year later. He had a really interesting career, as he directed so many different styles and genres of film. He also directed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Soylent Green, Fantastic Voyage, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Doctor Dolittle, Mandingo, Amityville 3-D, the 1980 version of The Jazz Singer and lots of classic film-noir pictures.

Basil Poledouris returned to score the movie but this one isn’t as memorable as the first film’s iconic music. This film’s theme isn’t as powerful and just lacks the extra oomph that Conan the Barbarian had.

If you enjoy the Conan franchise, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. I still feel compelled to revisit it from time to time and I’m always glad when I do.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Conan the Barbarian, the Conan the Barbarian remake, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.

Film Review: Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Release Date: April 2nd, 1982 (Sweden)
Directed by: John Milius
Written by: John Milius, Oliver Stone
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Sandahl Bergman, Ben Davidson, Gerry Lopez, Mako, William Smith, Max von Sydow

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Edward R. Pressman Productions, Universal Pictures, 129 Minutes

Review:

“Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to Hell with you!” – Conan

Conan the Barbarian is a hard movie to top in the sword and sorcery sub-genre of fantasy. It really set the standard in 1982 and it also spawned innumerable ripoff films, mostly from Europe and mostly schlock. A few wannabe Conan pictures were good but there’s too many to address when I’m here to specifically review this film.

This is also the superior Conan film, as its sequel didn’t live up to this one and its remake, decades later, was lacking the lightning in a bottle that made this film special.

When I was a young boy, I looked up to this film. I looked up to Conan and his struggle and his fight to seek out justice for himself and eventually, the world he lived in. In 2018, this would be considered a film that exudes “toxic masculinity” while being dismissed as shit by third wave feminists and male apologists. Sorry, but Conan, even fueled by revenge, was a flawed hero that went on to be a king, against all odds, and continually vanquished the evil in his world. In fact, this film got me into reading Conan comics, as well as the original stories by Robert E. Howard.

Conan the Barbarian is a balls out, unapologetic action film about one badass dude that’s not just going to take the bullshit of tyrants.

Now the film, like its title character, has its flaws. But compared to other big action movies of the time, those flaws aren’t as bad and not as apparent.

The acting is what you would expect from a Schwarzenegger film, the direction is much better than average and the special effects are actually great for a 1982 film that didn’t have a massive budget.

The thing that really makes this film more superb than it would have otherwise been is the score by Basil Poledouris. Conan the Barbarian has one of the coolest and most powerful themes in film history. It isn’t just the title theme that’s great though, it’s the music throughout the entire picture. It just sets the mood and pacing right. It accentuates the action and subtly gives life to the slower bits.

My only real complaint about the film is it does feel drawn out too long. They could have fine tuned it, whittled it down by 15 minutes and it probably would have moved at a brisker, more energetic pace. There are a lot of action sequences and there are a few moments where you feel like you’ve reached the big finale, only for the film to stretch on more. But don’t get me wrong, all the action bits are damn solid.

The opening sequence of this film is powerful, beautiful and breathtaking. It is the best shot and best paced sequence in the entire movie but it really draws you in and makes you want to go on this long journey with the hero. James Earl Jones, no matter how many times I have seen this scene, is still absolutely chilling.

Conan the Barbarian is a film that couldn’t be made in quite the same way that it was in 1982 with Hollywood politics being what they are.

Although, I could be wrong about that, as the new Conan the Barbarian comic by Marvel surprised me in how badass and brutal its recent first issue was. But maybe that’s only because it speaks to a particular audience that Marvel knows they’d lose if they messed with the formula.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Conan the Destroyer, the Conan the Barbarian remake, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.

Film Review: Ator, the Fighting Eagle (1982)

Also known as: Ator l’invincibile (original title), Ator the Invincible (informal English title)
Release Date: October 7th, 1982 (Italy)
Directed by: Joe D’Amato
Written by: Joe D’Amato, Michele Soavi
Music by: Carlo Maria Cordio
Cast: Miles O’Keefe, Sabrina Siani, Ritza Brown, Edmund Purdom

Filmarage, Metaxa Corporation, 98 Minutes

Review:

“I love you.” – Ator
“And I love you.” – Sunya
“Why can’t we marry?” – Ator
“Ator, we are brother and sister.” – Sunya
“I’ll talk with our father.” – Ator

I’ve only seen one other Ator movie, the second one, as it was featured on an old episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. That was released in the States as Cave Dwellers.

This one is the first picture in the film series and it was also featured on MST3K. In fact, it’s the sixth and final episode of the most recent season.

This is a bit better than Cave Dwellers but it is still a steaming pile of shit. It almost plays as parody but I don’t know if that’s intentional. I’d assume that it’s not and that it’s just a really horrible Italian ripoff movie, as the Italians have mastered horrible ripoff movies and unofficial sequels of just about everything. They have weird copyright laws over there.

Anyway, there isn’t a single thing in this film that really redeems it on any level. We’ve got a full checklist of terrible shit from the acting, the sets, the costumes, the direction, the cinematography, the lighting, the score, you name it.

The story isn’t very coherent and the script is friggin’ bizarre. That could be due to things being lost in translation during the English dubbing process but it probably still falls on the quality of the script.

This was tough to get through, damn boring and it just made me want to watch Conan the Barbarian or The Beastmaster.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other Ator movies and other Conan ripoffs.

Comic Review: Marvel Premiere Featuring Man-Wolf

Published: December, 1978 – February, 1979
Written by: David Anthony Kraft
Art by: George Perez, Frank Giacoia, Ricardo Villamonte

Marvel Comics, 38 Pages

Review:

I’ve been picking up old issues of Marvel Premiere lately. Mainly, because this anthology series predates the era where I first started reading comics and because Marvel’s ’70s fantasy stuff is pretty rad.

This Man-Wolf story was released over two issues, starting in the month I was born. Also, the Man-Wolf character is pretty damn cool when used in the right sort of story. This is definitely one of those stories, as this is where he becomes the super powerful Stargod.

The thing that really sold this for me though, was the George Perez art. His style has always resonated with me and his art was one of the factors that really got me into comics. When I first started drawing, I mimicked Perez a lot.

I think the thing that makes this a pretty cool story though, is the fantasy setting. Man-Wolf ends up in a weird place and becomes a god to a crew of barbarian type heroes. When you see him unleash his raw power, it’s absolutely ridiculous.

On the other hand, he was almost too powerful for this story and when the big showdown with the baddies happens, it felt a bit lazy in how easy it was for him to basically just turn into a friggin’ magic bomb. But I’m not complaining because the badassness of it is stronger than how convenient it was. Plus, it works for the narrative, as this was more about Man-Wolf becoming Stargod than fighting generic fantasy villains.

This was a really cool story to pick up. I think it would have been better though, if it was spread out over four issues and gave us a bit more depth and character development for Man-Wolf’s allies.

But comics are supposed to be fun escapism and that’s exactly what this is.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Man-Wolf stories from the era, most notably the issues that feature him in another Marvel anthology series, Creatures On the Loose.