Dragon Age II: Demolicious

Hawke is the man

So on February 22, Bioware released a demo of the RPG Dragon Age II.  I downloaded it.  A good friend asked why not just wait for the two weeks when the full game is released on March 8th, which is a fantastic question. There is some free DLC for downloading the demo, but I wanted to do two more things: One I am going to review Dragon Age II on SDCS.  The second is that I wanted to try the different classes without having to commit to a heavy playthrough.  Let me tell you what I found out.

First you play as Hawk.  Choose this character’s class (mage, rogue or warrior) and gender. You and your family have fled Lothering from the Blight (Darkspawn –they kinda look like an army of Skeletors in this game).  Needless to say they’re nasty and they kill anything that’s living.  The environment looks ravaged.  In playing the original games, Lothering was rather green and prosperous.  The Kokari wilds were green with ancient buildings by the Tenvineter Impirum that lasted for ages.  It’s all gone.

Each class has a talent tree and for the sake of the demo some of them are locked/unknown at the moment, which is fine for me.   I like a little surprise with the actual game.

The Darkspawn: Not ready for their close-ups.

I chose my favorite class, Mage, to play first.  After playing Dragon Age: Origins, and Dragon Age Awakenings, I can tell you that the mage’s skills are more than enhanced for gameplay.  The mage can perform better combat attacks for creatures (mainly Darkspawn in the demo) that get too close, and the spells are a high improvement.

He (or she) doesn’t have the strength of the warrior or rogue for physical attacks however the spells are pretty powerful.  Also distance attacks are pretty amazing.  I was able to use the fire and ice spells (as well as healing, and some of the psychic abilities) just fine.  The controls are a little different, but familiar enough to catch on fast.

As the rogue, this cat is quick and skilled.  I will say the miasma/saboteur tree makes a world of difference in combat.  I am a big fan of distance attacks and having the ability to stun clusters of enemies at once is a good thing.  The rogue moves fast, and has the ability to reappear behind enemies for some backstabbing action.  The rogue moves so fast I almost didn’t think I would keep up with his acrobatics, but I did.

Hawke as a rogue. Dual weapons rule.

The rogue typically uses dual weapons or the bow and arrow.  Tried them both.  All I can say is those who use the bow and arrow tree are able to pick off targets at a distance and even fight up distance.  I was impressed.

As a warrior I am a failure.  While I like the strength and the ability to wield the dual-hand sword, I simply don’t excel here.  No distance attacks.  No high speed. I did get to mow down my enemies by subdividing them.  The gore factor is amped like crazy.  Blood and body parts everywhere.   It’s perfect for the game. I found I’m just a poor warrior.  I was not as flexible as the rogue, and did not give the hardcore blast of power of the mage.  I am no warrior.

The voice acting is superb.  Kate Mulgrew as Flemmeth is a great moment.  She’s different from her appearance in DA:O.  That’s all I’ll say about her.   None of the other characters grated my ears.

The Demo did have some drawbacks.  I couldn’t use the tactics to have the characters use the poultices and draughts to heal themselves restore their mana/stamina.  I did simply take over a party member and made the choice for them to keep them from dying.  Also there was no switching gear except for in the beginning for the rogue and warrior.  Again some talent/spell trees were locked.  Not that I think Bioware’s gonna give all the goods out in a demo.


Melodramatic Vampire Adventures

Louis wants his story told.

In 1994, there was this darling of a film called Interview With a Vampire directed by Neil Jordan and based on a novel by Anne Rice of the same name.  Interview starred, Tom Cruise as the Vampire Lestat, Brad Pitt as Louis emo vampire extraordinaire, and Kirsten Dunst as Claudia, the child vampire.   Damn if vampires don’t look decadent, somewhat mysterious (alluring), and downright lethal killers.  This film masks a potent vision that immortality is not without a high amount of tragedy.

“Decadent” is a key word here, as vampires in this world are very indulgent, and embody the dark fantasy powers that make immortality both exciting and disgusting.  To live forever one must kill living beings.  It’s pretty nasty.   The allure fades quickly.  These creatures don’t seem sensual or magnificent, but dark twisted beings.  In this respect they are  shadows of  the human psyche.

The framing narrative is interesting.  Louis is so calm and sedate as the world passes him by.   Telling his tale to a stranger appeared to bring him some peace.    He was resigned to his fate as an immortal to an extent.  Let’s talk about the biting for a moment.  This seriously has a sexual aspects going here as fangs penetrate skin with a mix of pain and pleasure. There’s a plenty of biting going on for victims and converts .

Lestat fails to understand what Louis meant by "personal space."

This is a world filled with a bit of melodrama, and about the pain of losing a child, which is not fully thought or acted upon until the child is gone.  Rejection seems to be a silent theme here as well.  Lestat is rejected, as is Claudia, and Armand at different points in the film.

Like many people back in the day I scoffed at Cruise playing Lestat, a true bastard of a vampire. Well he did a good performance.  I’m not here to knock it.  Granted this film isn’t for everyone.  If you like Anne Rice novels, you may or may not even cared to see it adapted to the big screen.  I’ll say Cruise does put some energy and charm behind Lestat.  Clearly the character is meant to enjoy his actions and that comes through here.  Every act is meant to tease and amuse Lestat in some cruel, inhuman way.  He’s elitist, arrogant, and evil. He delights in killing and teaching Louis the ways of vampirism.

Claudia's hunger is only beginning.

While Cruise impressed as Lestat, I think Pitt and Dunst stole the show here.   As Louis, Pitt is melancholy, super emo, and somewhat annoying.  He cannot enjoy being a vampire because he is still too much like his former human self.   While Lestat promised Louis that his transformation to a vampire would “pluck out the pain,” it only seems to intensify his misery.  Louis remains at odds with the world around him.  He takes little or no pleasure from anything around him.    Where vampire films may bring about a doppelganger effect to the character’s persona, it does nothing for Louis.  He’s still brooding.   He resists the urge to give into his need to kill humans for blood/food.

Dunst’s performance is interesting as Claudia.  She’s an efficient killer and her wrath is immense as she feels the pain of not being able to grow past a child’s age into a woman (even though she is thirty).  Her anger and revenge is swift and cruel, and only highlights the tragedy that will befall her.

The Electra/Oedipus Complex comes to mind when one thinks of Claudia.  It is her separation from her two fathers that sends her down the tragic road she leads.   Lestat can be seen as her father as he did turn her.  Louis is the mother figure since he does nurture and care for Claudia.  To Lestat she is a means to control Louis.  Claudia in effect kills her dark father, and knows her mother will abandon her soon.  Louis is so wishy washy that Claudia has to die before any emotion can be pulled from him.   His revenge on the theater of vampires is without pity.  For Armand’s (Antonio Banderas) part in Claudia’s demise, Louis rejects him.

Washing that hair must be a bitch, Armand.

The makeup and effects by Stan Winston are wonderful.   Lestat’s death at the hands of Claudia, and  back from the swamp after Claudia’s failed assassination attempt was creepy as hell.  Claudia’s own ashed body was haunting.  Fire comes into play a few times in this film.  Louis’ manor, Lestat’s home, and the theater where the vampires dwelled.  Perhaps it suggests that   it is the only element the immortals fear, as it kills them.   Fire can mean passion, and passion can destroy the strongest of beings (or redeem them).

I wondered where Lestat was all this time.   He was so pivotal at the beginning of the film, but is barely there when Louis and Claudia leave the States for France.  When Lestat finally pops up again in what appears to be a chance meeting with Louis, he’s lost his impact as a mentor to Louis and as the monster he truly was.   Mind you, Lestat still proves that life is merely a game to him.

Flashback: Best Extended Video Ever

The 1980s came and went along with my childhood, never to be seen from again.  All we have are memories and the 1984 film Purple Rain.  Directed by Albert Magnoli and Starring Prince (as the Kid), Apollonia Kotero, Morris Day, and Clarence Williams III, Purple Rain is at its best a guilty pleasure and nostalgia rolled up into one.

He's cool onstage until Apollonia shows up with Morris.

I wondered once, if we can consider this film a backstage musical, after all, music is the central focus, and it’s all about “putting on the show.” There’s a new starlet on the scene (Apollonia), and some more than risqué behavior.  Also we got several musical numbers in this film.  Not all by Prince & the Revolution.  If you ever saw the sequel  to PR, Graffiti Bridge (don’t if you haven’t – I still have bad feelings about that film, and Under the Cherry Moon), it does resemble more of a musical film as its shot on a stage and the songs are very much diegetic.

It was hard to think of doing a serious reading of this film, but then again it does represent a place in time where there were multiple artists that I liked: Prince, Madonna, and Michael Jackson.  Each commanded attention.  To keep the focus on Prince, he was on top of his game musically.  His blending of various musical styles into what’s called “Minneapolis Funk” is nothing short of brilliant. Truly the music of Purple Rain rules this film.  The music here is diegetic-part of the story’s world.  People are having a good time to this music.

If Purple Rain did anything, it gave us a glimpse of who we thought Prince was: A talented musician who was douchey to his band mates (He’s a real ass to Wendy & Lisa in the film).  He becomes infatuated with Apollonia, who comes to town in search of something.  I forgot…it’s not really important.  Just know the Kid’s scorn is immense for her when he sings “Darling Nikki” after she shows up in the club with Morris.

I will say Morris Day is a scene-stealer as the Kid’s rival for Apollonia and musically. Day’s band, The Time, rocks the house with their performances of “Jungle Love” and “The Bird.”  That mix of over-the-top arrogance, dapper clothes and charisma actually makes an overt foil for the Kid’s withdrawn, calm emo-jerk persona.

Yeah, he rocked it!

The story is very simple and straightforward.  The acting is even simpler, however I don’t think anyone ever watches Purple Rain for the acting chops.  For me I watch it because it does represent a time from the 80s where the music was tight, and the story of boy meets girl, boy goes through the motions, and then rocks everybody with a song is pure fantasy.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula: The Sublime Power of Eros and Thanotos

There used to be a time when vampires didn’t fake their way through high school to seduce a mopey teenager.  They were quite evil, selfish, and got what they wanted with little care or consequence in the world.  Your virginity be damned, like your soul.  People didn’t come back from this nightmare, or they were so changed one wondered what happened after the film ended.

Dracula represents Christianity vs the Turks in the prologue

So in 1992 a film was released, and boldly called, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  One of its key slogans was, “love never dies.”  Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Gary Oldman (Dracula), Winona Ryder (Mina/Elizabeta), Anthony Hopkins (Van Helsing/Priest), and Keanu Reeves (Jonathan Harker), this film does its best to give us gothic horror mixed with fairy tale motifs, and angst for the centuries.

Doppelgangers are abound in this film.  You will see so many of them.  Look for Van Helsing twice in the film, as well as Dracula, Mina, and Lucy.   Each displays the other self that compliments and damns them.   It’s quite a vicious site to behold.  As we know the other self can be a sight to behold.  More importantly, being a vampire seems to suggest that a person looses their inhibitions, and their humanity.

"Love never dies," yet it did. Bye, bye Elizabeta.

Religious themes cannot be ignored here, as God is brought into question.  After all, when Dracula was human, he fought on behalf of the church. It is the tragedy of his beloved’s Elizabeta (who commits suicide), that causes him to question his faith and his “reward” for fighting on God’s behalf.

Eroticism  plays a sly and sometimes disgusting part in this film.   Dracula seduces Mina, then rapes and kills her friend Lucy.  This visitations to Lucy are brutal, and Dracula does not keep his charming, young form he uses on Mina.  Instead he looks bestial, deadly, and terrifying.  By contrast, he looks young and studly when he visits Mina.  When Jonathan encounters him, Dracula appears as creepy old man whose shadow does stay in place and often reveals what the count is feeling at the time.  The shadow is a classic Jungian archetype, and the other self and unconscious desires do come to the surface.

To say Dracula represents all the aspects wrong with our psyches is a fair statement.  He is the id (switching from Jung to Freud here), and boy is he ugly.  There is a reason we as humans suppress and repress our desires.  Not all of them are fit for the material world.

As an adaptation goes, the film doesn’t stay as faithful as one would like to believe to the source material, however I will say that Coppola went for a different route than most Dracula films I saw before it.  This go round, Dracula knows love, and ultimately love can redeem him, as it was love that cause him to spite and curse God, resulting in his transformation into a creature of evil.  This film definitely goes for the artistic, emotional side of storytelling with some commercial concessions.  Bram Stoker’s Dracula cannot be accused of lacking style or ambition.  Noter the use of the old school Pathé camera when Dracula comes to England.   It’s a street scene that again emphasizes the techniques, which reinforce the atmosphere.

The prologue sets the stage well with who Dracula was before he became a creature of evil.  Here the fairy tale motifs come alive: We have a warrior prince, a princess, love, yearnings, and one ugly curse.   Lucy’s buried in a glass coffin that is straight out of Snow White. The fight scene in the prologue is a little odd as it takes place in shadows against a reddish-orange sky.  The scene reminds me of stage plays where color could be used to show emotion.

Poor Lucy get's "turned out" just cause Dracula wanted it to happen.

Much is made of blood and contamination in the film.  If it reflects society, AIDS became a major issue.  Its not surprising someone who needs blood to live is at the war with the world around him who has no real idea he exists.

Note several of the editing and special effects in the film.  When Lucy is revisited by Dracula t some point the film is reversed.  Her moves appear unnatural.  Likewise when Van Helsing confronts Lucy as a vampire, and she backs into the coffin, the moves again appear unnatural.  The cut away scenes from circular and round shapes add a distinct, otherworldly feel to the world.

While this film makes a strong connection to love and redemption, make no mistake Dracula is very evil.  He and his wives suck the blood of babies, he kills and kidnaps Jonathan in order to seduce Mina (whom he believes to be reincarnated version of his lost love, Elizabeta). He rapes, then murders Lucy out of spite of Mina’s rejection of him for Jonathan.    Being a vampire is gory, unholy, and to a great extent ugly.  Dracula has many brides, but he only has eyes for Mina.  Sadly love can’t make him whole, just make him see the error of his existence.  Also turning Mina is something of a bitter struggle as Dracula confesses to Mina, it’s not pretty.

Is this what they mean by "short end of the stick?" Ouch.

Color is abound in this film as it takes on multiple energies.   Note Lucy’s colorful and somewhat outlandish outfits (in fact several of the outfits are more artistic that historically accurate).  The night outfits Lucy and Mina were to bed are sublime but out of place for the era.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s score, composed by Wojciech Kilar, plays a key part in providing the atmosphere with some extra demented, gothic emotions.   The music moves from serene, elegant, to sublime.  There are simply moments where the one realizes there is danger in the score itself.   Such heartbreaking melodies with somber elements to emphasize the romance and tragedy.

There are a lot of downers in this film as well so don’t think this is all a love-fest.  Keanu’s accent is terrible.  I wish someone told him to keep his American accent.  It would have fit him (and the film) better.   Instead when I hear it, I laugh.  I love Oldman’s accent, but not everyone falls for it.  A friend suggested it’s overplayed, and his hairdo and get ups are so over the top you may laugh (be warned Jonathan Harker laughs at Dracula and gets a sword in his face for his amusement).

The ending could have been, much, much, stronger because it’s clear that Mina is in love with both Jonathan and Dracula.  I thought Jonathan and Mina’s confrontation was weak considering he fought so hard to get back to her, and she turned Dracula away to be with Jonathan.  Mina plays both ends of the fence here.  She may need the closure like Dracula, but she half-asses it.

If you purchase the DVD or Blu-Ray, the commentary and extras were worth it for me, as Francis Ford Coppola and his son Roman Coppola discuss the visual effects for the film.  There is talk of the screenplay, director’s commentary, and some behind the scenes goodness I enjoyed.  If you like your vampires evil and with a touch of redemption, then this the film for you.  Mind you, nobody gets what they want but Dracula in the end, and the accents are grating.