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Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Oh Smaug the stupendous, I was not prepared for your magnificence. The Desolation of Smaug is one of those rare film adaptations that just might outdo the version on the page. Now is not the time for such judgments, the film does leave some fun parts from the book by ralph lauren france the wayside, but by the closing moments of the film only the truest of ardent Tolkien fans will have cause to complain. The 3D Imax was once ralph lauren soldes again an experience well worth the inflated price and the film keeps you wanting more right up to the end.

The story picks up with Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan) and his dwarf companions still being chased by Azog and his cronies. The immediacy of the danger following the dwarves carries right chemise ralph lauren through Mirkwood forest. Beorn is no Tom Bombadil and does make a brief appearance as well. In the book, Mirkwood was a harrowing journey for the dwarves but it was a ralph lauren femme long drawn out march that would not have been as captivating on film. Still. I would have liked to see Bombour fall in the creek. While the journey through Mirkwood was truncated it still kept the grim forest as it should be, and gave Bilbo the chance to name his sword.

While Mirkwood was shortened the rest of the locales were expanded. With the addition of Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) the elves and their motives were laid much more clear than they were in the original text. With the orcs a more present threat in this version Legolas gets his chance again to slide across the ground on various items. Sadly Orlando Bloom did age in the last ten years but there isn’t much that can be done about that.

Lake Town, at the foot of the Lonely Mountain had its characters expanded on as well, but with mixed results. Parallels will surely be drawn between characters from Rohan in The Two Towers, with a doddering Lord and a sniveling spy for an assistant: moncler coats uk though Alfrid is no Wormtongue. Overall the sequence added some interesting new twists that kept the brisk momentum and urgency of the quest going.

The problems of the movie pale when compared to the advantages of showing what Gandalf got up to after leaving the dwarves at the entrance to Mirkwood. Gandalf still disturbed by the riddle of the Morgul blade heads off to seek out the Necromancer in the ruins of Dol Galdur. The scenes are everything that one could want when a wizard goes off to see about a Necromancer and Benedict Cumberbatch brought his A-game to the role of the Necromancer, but he brought his A+ performance to his role as Smaug: even though both performances were motion-capture with the end result having no resemblance to the actor.

When Bilbo enters the lonely mountain alone on the pages of Tolkien’s book it is one of the highlights of all of Tolkien’s work. When he enters the chamber where Smaug has been hording all the gold on the Imax screen it is breathtaking. Smaug the dragon of course knows when one piece of his gold has been touched, magic ring or no and the scene when Bilbo awakens Samug was expanded and all of the magic and awe with it. Smaug is an awesome presence on the Imax and Freeman did a phenomenal acting job against what was surely a plain green screen. His reactions sold it as much as Smaug was a terrifying delight to behold.

Another departure from the page was the way the dwarves treated Bilbo through this section in the book. On page the dwarves and Thorin pretty much went back to treating Bilbo like an encumbrance. In this version they are a bit more appreciative of Bilbo it suits this telling of the story considering much of that was during the Mirkwood toil. Still in the end the dwarves go above and beyond to prove they are loyal to their favorite burglar.

While the film clocked in at around 161 minutes it was a fast-paced story that didn’t drag. The small problems with expanding the story were overshadowed by the end result of expanding the parts of the story that needed expanding for the big screen experience. This film outdid An Unexpected Journey on all fronts, from pacing to storytelling. It will be a hard film for The Hobbit: There and Back Again to beat next Christmas. Desolation of Smaug may just be a contender for a top spot (or the top spot) in the Peter Jackson adaptations of Tolkien’s work.

Holiday beauty tips

It’s almost Christmas, how exciting!
However, with holidays comes stress. No matter how hard you try, the holidays can sometimes bring you down. Trying to find the perfect gifts, having the budget to buy the perfect gifts, planning parties and going to parties.
Lets face it. These are stressful times. And most of us students don’t have the budget to spend a day at the spa… or have time.
I have three simple “Do It Yourself (DIY)” beauty tips to relieve stress right before the holidays. All of these stress relievers are easy, cheap and…

The holiday sweater conundrum

There are two types of typical holiday parties: the formal gathering, and the tacky holiday sweater soiree. Younger generations of holiday partiers tend to prefer the tacky sweater route. It’s inexpensive, it’s fun, and it’s much more comfortable when waistlines get tighter from overconsumption of holiday goodies.

If you are looking for a tacky sweater, there are plenty of options in Hamilton. For starters, most Thrift Stores, such as Talize or Value Village carry an array of sweaters. Currently, Value Village is completely out of holiday sweaters, but they have offered up another unique alternative. They have assembled bags of Christmas fare, such as garland, pins, and ornaments, for the DIY enthusiast to create a sweater that is sure to stand outt. A bag of these goodies, some thread, and a sewing needle is all you need.

Talize has created a small section near the front of the store to display tacky holiday clothing. However, weeding through the racks of regular clothing, one can find several options for both men and women. They are affordable, and come in a variety of colours and patterns. For those who are looking to add only a little bit of holiday to their wardrobe, Talize has several holiday themed ties.

As the tacky holiday sweater has become increasingly popular, there are online shops that offer an array of options, such as christmassweaters.ca. The sweaters on this website are arranged by category, but are at a higher price point. Another more affordable option online is myuglychristmassweater.com, where you can find several options for under $35.

If you’re looking for a holiday sweater that’s a little bit more fashion-forward, Forever 21 in Lime Ridge mall offers a selection for men and women, at between $20 and $40.

Whether or not you’re looking for tacky, ugly, naughty, or stylish, festive dressing is very accessible at all price points when you know where to look.

The X-com project

X-Com: Enemy Within is the new definition of how to make a game expansion. They didn’t just add 40 maps and make up for the one cloud in the sky of Enemy Unknown (a repetitive lack of maps), they didn’t just add a new storyline filled with missions, they went even further than just adding two new classes of soldiers that change the game; they did all that and they took the time to tweak almost every other area of the game while weaving all this new content into the original storyline rather than just tacking on the levels at the end. This expansion can even keep the veterans with hundreds of hours of gameplay under their belt busy.

The new maps add much-needed variety to the mission lineup, but the game is changed even more by the addition of Meld; an alien artifact that now gets dropped at random places around the mission map. Soldiers will have limited turns to pick up the Meld, forcing players to take more risks with their already fragile lives. The Meld is then used in genetically-enhancing soldiers and amputating soldiers to become MEC (Mechanical Exoskeleton Cybersuit) soldiers. The moral lines no longer matter when aliens invade and the world governments get together and authorize the shadowy X-Com Council. The soldiers seem willing at any rate.

Genetically-enhanced soldiers can gain aim bonuses and protect themselves from mind attacks while leaping to tall places: though many of their bonuses are designed to keep them alive rather than enhance their attack. The MEC soldiers take over from the unmanned SHIV (Super Heavy Infantry Vehicle) as the front line of assault. The SHIVs can still be manufactured, but MEC soldiers have a wide variety of attacks from a flamethrower to grenade launchers and even powerful claws that rip through cover and send the weaker enemies flying. SHIVs no longer seem as important to keeping the squad alive when there are MEC soldiers to stand on the front lines.

On the base side of things this means two more labs to take up space and drain power, adding a new element of strategy in base design. During the play-through for this report, the alien containment, genetics and MEC labs were all available at once and hard choices had to be made about which important facility had to be built first, all while satellite uplinks were still the highest priority for the base. Once the facilities were built there were more choices to be made about which enhancements and MEC out-fittings were the priority with limited amounts of Meld.

Two new aliens were added, the Mechtoid and the Seeker. The Seeker is a mass of tentacles that will attack soldiers left on their own, choking them. They aren’t much of a threat, just one soldier set on “over watch” will dispatch them with ease if he or she hits. The Mechtoid is one of the small Sectoids (think small classic “grey” aliens) in a MEC suit, often with a Sectoid or Sectoid Commander hanging around the corners shielding it with their mind. They are more of a threat than the Seekers but once a X-Com squad has more than one MEC unit they are fairly easily dispatched. MEC units get lots of health but they can’t use cover so if they are used too recklessly they won’t survive despite their advantages.

Having soldiers survive from mission to mission is still as important as ever: rookies tend to fall apart in the field and the new customization features make it easier to tell soldiers apart in the field at a glance. Soldiers can now be given gear of various colours and the voices have been updated to suit the multi-national nature of the X-Com squad. The soldiers’ names can still be changed, and the mission equipment selection screen now gives players the option to strip all unused soldiers of gear, saving players from the frustrating process of going through the solider list to find who has that Med-kit or Plasma Rifle as they had to in Enemy Unknown. Soldiers can now also receive medals that further enhance their abilities.

The graphics of Enemy Within work well for the game and look nice, but they (wisely) aren’t the high-end graphics that push systems to their limits. This allows for X-Com to be multiplatform with ease, with ports for Xbox 360 and PS3, Enemy Unknown was even available for tablets, though there seems to be no word on when and if this expansion will appear there as well. A couple of glitches with the sound also seemed to be fixed. While playing Enemy Unknown on this reviewer’s rig whenever a soldier yelled “They’re falling back!” it was a sure sign the squad was about to be rushed. There is also a bit more tension while shooting, as not all kill shots will trigger the kill shot animation.

If all this seems a bit daunting, worry not, there are plenty of tutorials that explain all the new additions and the missions start easy, even the EXALT missions. Oh yeah, by the way, aliens aren’t the only enemy anymore. As the expansion name hints, a group of humans calling themselves EXALT have been taking alien technology for themselves and have started their own little war against the X-Com Project across the globe. Also, the aliens will mount an attack on the X-Com base itself leading to a highly tense mission that starts in the mission control room.

All of this together is an impressive addition to an already densely-packed game with UFO vs. X-Com fighter craft attacks, base planning, research and engineering, and turn-based combat with all sorts of perks and funding hanging in the balance. The difficulty levels are varied from Easy up to Classic and even Impossible, and of course Iron Man mode which automatically saves all your decisions on and off the field on one master save file without the option of making another save file in case of a drastic mistake. The game is customizable to every player level and with the new expansion all the levels except easy seemed to be ramped up just a little bit more.

Another nice feature to the game is the option to continue playing Enemy Unknown without the new expansion even after installation for new players who want to dip their toes into the franchise without jumping straight in the deep end.

The team lead by legendary Civilization head designer Sid Meier did a fantastic job in making this a unique and exciting game experience with lots of different options and surprises throughout the story of the game. The only cloud in the sky with all the new soldier enhancements is that by the time the squad is ready to assault the alien mother ship at the end of the game, they are mechanized and genetically enhanced to the point that they can steamroll over most opposition. With the addition of two inventory slots for each soldier they can also all be equipped with mind shields (except the MECs) making even the bridge of the alien mother ship slightly toothless.

X-Com: Enemy Within is a worthy addition to an already highly-praised franchise and would make the perfect gift for any lover of strategy games, young or old. The franchise may have been away for a few years, but no more. X-Com is back and it is still improving on itself every time they stick to their strategy roots.

Review: Frozen

The kingdom of Arendelle gets Frozen over. (Photo: Walt Disney Pictures)

Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Frozen tells the tale of two princess sisters, Elsa and Anna. Elsa was born with a Midas touch of ice, and when she and Anna are playing one day, Elsa nearly kills Anna. After that accident, Elsa stays in her room for a decade, until her coronation day. Her powers are kept secret from the entire kingdom of Arendelle, including from Anna, who lost the memories of them.

At the coronation ceremony, Elsa loses control of her powers and sends Arendelle into an eternal winter. Elsa flees and secludes herself in a faraway ice castle. Anna ventures after her, to convince her to thaw the land out.

Frozen represents a near-perfect fusion of modern Disney and early ‘90s Disney. It covers similar territory as Tangled, but brings back the theatrical musical numbers that were once a staple of animated Disney fare. The songs are insanely catchy and grandly operatic, recalling classics like “Part of Your World” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” And the cast of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, and Jonathan Groff are all magnificent.

As great as the songs are, they’re almost all in the first 45 minutes. The movie loses a little of its magic in the second half, once the characters stop breaking into song. As well, at just 90 or so minutes, Frozen’s a little too lean for its own good. An extra 20 minutes in the third act would’ve made for an even more powerful movie with a stronger ending.

Minor quibbles aside, though, Frozen is nearly flawless entertainment that not only redeems a disappointing year for animation but gives Disney its best animated film since The Lion King. If this is the future of Disney, Pixar may soon lose the crown.