In The Reading Lounge

Every library has them. Every patio could be considered one. And entire bookstores are labeled them. I’m speaking of nice, relaxing lounges where anyone can sit down, have a cup of coffee or soy strawberry frappe, and read a book in their spare time. Lounges are half the reason of what makes reading so rewarding; finding a place worth sitting down and just getting absorbed into any preferred book.
Why I bring up the meaning and purpose of a reading lounge is because they help me, personally, get deeper invested into what I’m reading. When I’m in a selected lounge, everything synchs together fluidly. I understand things better instead of re-reading certain sections of chapters twice and looking over past details. It all snaps and connects perfectly.
As of this writing I am sitting in my personal lounge at home, reading two special books. The sunlight is shining directly on the pages, the white wooden table to the left of me with a nice cup of hot cocoa. What better way to read? And what better way than to discuss the books I’m reading?
Both are radically different from one another; one is an anthology of zombie stories and the other a fictional Norwegian detective novel. The zombie anthology, The Living Dead 2, is an original collection of new fiction and short stories that delve into the complex depths of zombie lore. The Norwegian detective novel, The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbo, is part of a nine-book series, and a very descriptive adventure of finding a serial killer in Oslo, Norway.
I want to discuss The Devil’s Star first because I find it to be one of the more interesting novels I’ve read this year. I’m still in the process of reading through it, but what I’ve read so far is intriguing and thought-provoking. It covers the troubled life and misery of one detective Harry Hole, who suffers from alcoholism and inner personal conflict. During his miseries, he’s given the task of hunting down a serial killer who kills women and severs off their ring finger and placing a red star-shaped diamond underneath their eyelids. At the same time he works and collides with another detective, Tom Waaler, who he believes covered up the murder of one of Hole’s partners. What I find most interesting about the book thus far is the heavy noir feel of it’s narrative; talking place entirely in Norway, the details and structure evoke a sense of mystery around every corner, providing that true inspector feel while staying at a steady pace with its story and characters. And the truly funny thing about it all is that this isn’t the first book in the series, yet it feels like it could stand on its own feet as a separate standalone novel. This is primarily due to its excellent pacing, and I’m only half way through. All in all, for a mystery novel, not only does it keep me guessing but it qualifies as one of the more mind-opening books so far in my collection.
Now for the zombie anthology. Oh, the zombies. I can never get enough of them, to tell the truth. For the past couple of months I’ve been on this zombie kick, watching The Walking Dead, playing zombie-related games, and reading tons of zombie fiction to take notes for my own zombie story. But it’s in these anthologies that show just how unrelenting and captivating zombie fiction actually is; both The Living Dead and The Living Dead 2 show excellent renditions of how we portray zombies, how the media portrays them, and how other cultures view them (I read the first Living Dead last year and each story blew me away). I wouldn’t consider the stories in The Living Dead 2 higher up than in the original, but they come pretty close. There are 37 stories in total and I read about 2-3 a day, each one more refreshing than the last. Ever wonder what happens to zombies when they die in the most painful of ways? It tells you. Ever imagine how the zombie apocalypse would affect other countries other than us? It’s right there.
After I’ve completed both books, I’ll give my final opinion on what I thought of them here in the Lounge. Along with several other books over time.

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Plugged-In Games Review: Far Cry 2

Lately I’ve been playing a lot of FPS (first person shooter) games, mainly Halo and Borderlands. Growing up young, Halo was the only true game that mattered on the Xbox at the time. After Halo 2 was released, 2005 strolled right around the corner, and a new game was let loose; it’s name was Far Cry: Instincts. Sure, it was violent and gruesome, and I was only 15 at the time, but it was a hell of a fun game when it came to giving players the option of how to play the game their own way.

That was back in 2005, and two years later in 2007 a new Far Cry game was announced, simply as Far Cry 2. When released in 2008, it was met with acclaim, but also criticizes such as changes in gameplay and a much more realistic approach. I was instantly intrigued by the ideas it brought to the table this time around, but did it equal out to a great game in the end?

Where Far Cry: Instincts told a survivor story of escaping off an island full of mercenaries and monsters, Far Cry 2’s story is much more streamlined and to the point. It takes place in a modern day Africa, where we, as the player, choose from nine different characters, each with their own bios and look. Despite the variation, none really differ from one another. With the given character choice, the player is thrown into a hostile world where Central Africa’s government has collapsed, leaving two factions, the UFLL (United Front for Liberation and Labour) and the APR (Alliance for Popular Resistance), to fight over land, money, and ultimate conquest. Amid this internal crisis, the player is given a mission to hunt down an arm’s dealer known as the Jackal, who is secretly arming both sides. After a brief but tense introduction from the Jackal himself, the player is thrown out into the world with one purpose: to infiltrate both factions and play off of their goals and interests with one another, only to find and kill the Jackal and complete the mission given to them.

While much more complex and intricate than it’s predecessor’s narrative, Far Cry 2 delivers a dark and morally upsetting glimpse into a world infested with corruption and betrayal. They say money is the root of all evil, and that philosophy is the law of the land here. While not emotionally engaging to where caring about any of the main characters matters, it does place the player in a very depressing and unforgiving setting where every decision dictates what happens and who comes out on top. Each decision curves the story in a certain direction, up to a chilling climax that seems fitting for the cutthroat theme that is presented throughout the whole game.

Far Cry 2’s gameplay follows the traditional FPS standards. There is a wide assortment of guns in the arsenal to choose from, ranging from assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, grenade and rocket launchers, flamethrowers, and machine guns. All are used to heavy effect and the game never gives the player a weapon that will only be used once. Since the game takes place during the end of a government, the weapon selection will be quite varied and open. Vehicles also are what matter in the game world, as they allow the player to travel the vast expanses of the world in short order. Jeeps, boats, and humvees all make an appearance. As with the open world, the players are given the freedom to explore a solid 100 kilometers of African wilderness. Both the UFLL and APR control their own areas in the game world, making open travel cumbersome and challenging. No on-foot or in-vehicle exploring goes by unnoticed for too long. This is determined by the smart yet somewhat oblivious A.I. (artificial intelligence). At times, Far Cry 2 features some impressively tenacious enemies which put up a fair fight in numbers. They call out the player’s actions, react to every bullet, and run to cover like average soldiers of war. They can even take advantage of the players’ weaknesses when given the chance. But, it all comes with a price. Although smart in numbers, they’re dumbfounded when alone or surrounded. They’ll often stand still while the player’s bullets wiz by, walk directly into the line of fire oftentimes, and even jump in the way of vehicles. In one instance I had an enemy chase me down a hill, only to fall to his own death while I watched. Despite their smart behavior and tactics, they still act like average video game A.I most of the time.

Far Cry 2’s gameplay goes even further with it’s missions and treasure hunting. The story is primarily told through numerous faction missions involving extortion, infiltration, theft, full scale assault, and even surprise scenarios such as dropping a bomb from a bridge onto an enemy ship. From time to time the game mixes things up, keeping it all fresh to the player. Treasure hunting adds another chunk of time to the overall gameplay. Throughout the game world, diamonds are hidden in caches, out in the open, in buildings, and even underground. Hundreds of them. Diamonds are also the currency of the game, for the player will earn a fair amount of diamonds after completion of each story mission.

A powerful element of Far Cry 2 is the realistic approach to how everything ties together. Fire plays a powerful role in the game, with explosions and the flamethrower starting very realistic fires that will burn down the environment in short order. While it serves as the player’s greatest strength, it can also be their strongest weakness. During combat, any gun in the players’ possession has the chance to break down and jam, causing huge lulls in the heat of battle that could mean life or death. They can even blow up in the players hands, resulting in the search for a new weapon. It will undoubtedly frustrate some people, but after using a gun for so long that never gets cleaned or checked it’s obvious to see why the developers took this route. A critical part of the game, and without question the most bizarre and rage-inducing, is concept of malaria. Right from the outset, the player is infected with malaria and must pop a pill every 30-40 minutes in real time to stay alive, otherwise succumb to death, even while the guns are blazing. Malaria could kick in at any minute, even while shooting, driving, or worse, swimming. In order to dodge certain death the player must perform fetch quests to purchase more pills. This occurs regularly throughout the punishing experience that is Far Cry 2.

While Far Cry: Instincts was a marvel back with the original Xbox, Far Cry 2 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC delivers with its presentation. The African landscape itself is an absolute beauty in its moments, with water, trees, and sky looking vibrate and life-like. Character models also share this same characteristic. The wide arsenal of weapons also delivers explosive results. Sound design is also incredible, with realistic and powerful gun effects that are at times ear-deafening with full surround sound on. The music feels appropriate when the action builds up, even during the quieter moments of exploration. With a beautiful presentation also comes a few issues. Screen tearing and random pop-in are common, and the frame rate can also dip when the action picks up, or when the player drives at high speeds while in a vehicle.

Far Cry 2, while gritty and outside the norm of balls-out FPS’s, remains a solid first person shooter with interesting gameplay mechanics. The perfect balance of realism, intensity, and heavy action speaks volumes for how intense a FPS can be. It’s a learning curve to be sure but deserves the attention of anyone looking for a challenge. albeit a often frustrating one.

PROS: – Deep, dark storyline.
– Unique gameplay elements keep things challenging….
– Awesome presentation helps players dive even deeper into the experience.

CONS:
– …..unique gameplay can also drive most people insane.
– Some occasional stuttering in the presentation.
– Lack of emotional investment in the characters themselves.

8.9/10

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Important Announcement

 

For the past month, I’ve been unavailable. I’ve kind of put WordPress on the back-burner, instead focusing on a small project of mine. Starting here on WordPress put the inspiration in me to reignite an old project that has been in development for a few years, and I can gladly say it’s near completion.

Since September of 2009 I have been working on a short story, developing ideas for something that I wanted people to take seriously and get into. At that time I never wrote a short story before, so I was aiming for nothing but darkness for awhile. I wanted to write a story about, what else, zombies. Yes, I know, it’s becoming irritably overrated in today’s world. But it feels necessary right now to write out my vision of the zombie lore.

Before The Walking Dead aired on television screens, there’s been this idea in my head that I felt needed to be told. And it still does. I won’t go into too much detail about the vision as a whole, but I can offer a simple synopsis for anyone who may be interested.

Much like The Walking Dead, the core idea of this story is to focus on characters and emotions. The quote-on-quote “zombies” are more like that ominous threat that looms in the background and push the characters to achieve their goals, but also force them to choose between their own safety and their own self-preservation. It sounds like typical zombie fair when I mention it, but I went as far as I could possibly go to make it unique.

One of my favorite shows of all time is Lost, and what made the show visionary were the flashbacks of all the main characters (even some supporting characters). The flashbacks made the viewers understand and love, hate, like, and loathe the characters for who they were, but it also revealed who they were and who they would become later on in the show. I was inspired by the flashback idea and wondered, “what if someone added flashbacks in zombie fiction, and put a completely new angle on how we view characters surviving in a zombie apocalypse?” The idea sounded amazing when I first thought of it in 2009, but not long after The Walking Dead aired, I was demotivated because someone took from an original source material and started a TV show off an amazing idea. Even if they didn’t fully utilize the flashback idea, it still remained one of the most engaging dramas in current television.

Fast-forward three years later, I have gone through dozens of drafts, beginning stages, and character arcs to find a proper start for the short story. I went through at least six different openings, with each one sounding less and less believable. I felt like my project was never going to get the legs I wanted it to walk on. Up until last April, I finally found the much needed opening I’ve so desperately searched for. And 24 pages and a total of four years later, I have breathed life into my project. It still has a week’s worth of editing to go through, but it will OFFICIALLY be done on March 15th of 2013.

One reason why I delayed so much with this project was the thought of it being ignored and passed by, with hardly any attention given to it. I don’t strive to have everyone praise it or hate it, only to know that there is another amateur and upcoming author out there who wants his work to be known. Four years later and after all the pessimism, I feel like it’s ready to be seen by anyone who wants to see it for themselves. I would never have released it knowing it wasn’t yet ready to be seen, and now I know it’s time to reveal my baby.

Here, on WordPress, I am sending the word out: for anyone who wants to read my short story, please email me at glenndrizzt09@yahoo.com and I will send you a RTF file of my story to you as soon as possible. I’m not looking for people to praise it, I’m only looking for willing people to invest time into reading it and giving me an honest critique.

Once I have completed the editing stage on the 15th, I will send out copies to anyone who has emailed me. Thanks once again.

- Ryan

 

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A Book For Your Thoughts: What the Greatness of Reading Can Achieve

Disclaimer: Due to all the activity that has been taking place over recent weeks, I’ve delayed my posts for quite some time.

Who else can agree that books are amazing? More than just amazing, I would think. More like essential to understanding everything that revolves around this thing we call life. Anyone who has picked up a book, magazine, read an online article, or bibliography will get the idea. Reading, to me, is that barrier of knowledge that is constantly updated and refreshed due to every reading source that is read and absorbed. There is so much that reading can accomplish in one’s life and education, and that is a proven fact.

My personal experience of reading has been one incredible journey thus far. Currently, I own over 300+ books in my collection and they cover a wide range of genres and stories. Almost every week I add an additional two or three books to my ever-expanding collection, mainly because, yes, I’m a pack rat when it comes to books. I don’t know why I constantly buy books because I’m always behind in reading. When I’m reading one, I buy ten more before finishing it. It’s almost like I’m overwhelmed by I don’t care. The reasoning is I like having that power in the palm of my hand. That when I’m reading one selection from my wide collection, I always think about all the other books waiting to be read, and it’s a monumental feeling knowing that it’s all there waiting to be read at my command. I’d like to compare it to being a millionaire and having more money than you can spend, but it’s still there when you need it whenever you want it. That’s how amazing my collection of books is to me; that no matter how big it gets or overwhelming it may seem, it’s still a vast amount of power that just keeps growing and growing.

Of course, when I was a kid I hated reading. I found it to be pointless and believed it wasn’t need in life when there were more important things to do. But over time, I started to shift away from that stupid belief and planted my nose firmly between the opening spine of a book rather the computer. And trust me, it was an excellent transformation. Because of reading, my English skills have improved on a huge scale and my spelling and grammar has been praised by teachers. When I started my career at my first college, Kankakee Community College, my English, History, and Science teachers said my grammar and English levels were already at a +300 college level, which makes a difference when I was already attending a community college that required a 150. All thanks to reading.

Some of my friends usually point out “books shouldn’t be recommended, only optional”. While that may be true in some cases, they should never be just an option.

Since books are just as big a part of my life as anything else, I will, on occasion, post reviews of certain books in my personal collection from time to time. Just keep in mind that reading a book here and there is never a crime; it’s more of an open welcoming.

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Sorry For The Early Inconveniences

My apologies for me not posting in the past couple of weeks. Things have been incredibly handful over here, family issues involved. I will also not be posting this weekend, and I won’t be available until at least next Wednesday. But I do plan on updating my posting schedules after everything clears up on my end.

Recently, my sister had a C-section with her 5th child and the doctor’s notified us that there was a possibility that she won’t survive the delivery of her baby. She did manage to have the baby early and did last through the delivery, even with a huge loss of blood. But the baby isn’t that great of condition, so I’ll be flying out to Virgina with my family to go see her and be by her side.

Please keep the baby, my sister, and my family in your prayers. We are optimistic about the end results, but we are still clutching at straws.

Thank You

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Little Mini-Update Regarding Some Plans

A little over a week ago I started my blog here on WordPress, and I’m super excited with the content I’m putting out later on. I’ve already got drafts ready for upcoming posts, with a new one coming out tomorrow sometime that will kick-start the Book section of posts. Then from there on out it will be randomized on what I post about, between film, film, and books.

But right now I would like to take the time to thank anybody who’s visited my homepage, view, liked, and commented on my posts. It really is a good feeling when someone reads another person’s work that they’ve spent time on. It really is. And hopefully my future posts garner a lot more attention in the next upcoming months. I’m excited even thinking about it. I would also like to take this brief moment to let you, the viewers/followers, that if there is anything that you’d like me to talk about or review or discuss, feel free to let me know.

Contact me at glenndrizzt09@yahoo.com or reach me on Facebook to suggest topics if you so choose. Feedback is also much appreciated.

For the brief amount of time I’ve been here on WordPress, I must say it’s an adrenaline rush every time I type and post something. This goes out to anybody who’s noticed me so far. Thank you very much.

- Ryan Nicholas Glenn

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Film Hub Review: “Batman Begins”

 

Batman BeginsSeeing as how this is my first official review on my blog, I figured why not make it a Batman-related topic? I’m a huge Batman nerd and love the character and the psychological and philosophical themes that are attached to him. He is without question the the most complex comic book character ever, so why not make multiple films all about the one and only Batman?

Tim Burton’s and Joel Schumacher’s approach at Batman have been hit or miss. Tim Burton’s vision and gothic sense of imagery applied a dark canvas of Batman and what goes on in his mind, while Schumacher’s approach has been considerably less so. Schumacher’s only effort was putting plastic nipples on the Batsuit and delivering gay overtones to Batman’s character, which definitely upset alot of people. “Batman Forever” is a decent attempt at making Batman seem wacky and foolish, while “Batman & Robin” completely trashed the series and ran it into the mud, Batsuit nipples along with it (thankfully). That was back in 1997, and the time would soon come when Batman would get the inevitable reboot it so heavenly deserved after Schumacher’s major slip. And that’s when a man named Christopher Nolan stepped up to the plate.

Upon seeing “Batman Begins”, I had no prior knowledge to Nolan or his work, but seeing as how it was Batman I was super excited to see what Nolan did with the character. Would it best Burton’s dark approach? Would it rise above Schumacher’s previous failure and relaunch the series? Would it have nipples on the Batsuit again? All these question rolled around in my mind up until I actually saw it. Was the Dark Knight ready to return?

“Batman Begins” tells a very personal and affecting story of Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale), son of Thomas and Martha Wayne and heir to his fathers’ business. As the origin story began, Bruce falls into a pit behind his family’s home and is attacked by bats, which suddenly instills fear into Bruce and makes him dreadful of bats. Shortly after, when his parents are murdered by a killer in a back lot alleyway, he is left with the pain of enduring heartache. Alongside his parents’ deaths, his father’s business, Wayne Enterprises, waits in the midst of Gotham’s uproar in crime, led my mob bosses and criminals running amok in the city. Thanks to the high crime rates and deep levels of corruption, Gotham has become a hopeless and without proper law. As Bruce ages, he slowly dives into the criminal underworld, traveling around the world to understand the life of a criminal, as he doesn’t want his life back in Gotham. Thanks to his travels, he is captured by Bhutanese soldiers and transported to a prison to pay for his crimes, far away from home. But when a visit from a man named Henri Ducard frees him from prison, Bruce sets off on a trek to control his fear and anger and use it on those who would bring fear into the fearful, ultimately culminating in him becoming the Batman to save Gotham from an uprising that only he could see coming.

From what I just described, it’s easily apparent that “Batman Begins”‘s story is much more complex and put together this time around. The story was constructed so well that it lends alot towards making us believe Bruce Wayne could be a real person and Gotham City could very well be a real place. Thanks to the realistic approach Nolan took instead of Burton’s gothic tones and Schumacher’s goofy design, it makes “Batman Begins” so much more enjoyable when it follows the rules. The story goes into dark places for Bruce Wayne, showing us a more somber and dilated Bruce Wayne than ever before. His decisions actually have impact and his emotions are obviously twisted to their maximum extent when he’s met with a tough choice, such as his code for not killing. And his slow but ultimate transformation into Batman makes him that much more compounded, but he still must learn to respect the “symbol” rather than blatantly using it to make himself happy. This quandary is one the more stronger presences in this film because it conflicts with Bruce’s character, and we want to see him make the right decision and succeed at doing it. This particular Batman story is all about Bruce Wayne and the birth of Batman. And that’s exactly what we get.

Every other character in the film is also given a realistic tone and made believable. Jim Gordon (played by Gary Oldman) is a beat cop surrounded by dirty cops and is one of the few remaining beacons of peace left in Gotham before Batman arrives. Bruce’s love interest, Rachel Dawes (played by Katie Holmes), is also believable in that she works as an assistant DA to help put Gotham’s criminals behind bars. She is an original creation for this film, which is a smart move by Nolan as it makes it much more believably that Batman can remain interesting without strictly using just characters from that universe. Alfred Pennyworth (played by Michael Caine) is portrayed excellently, while Lucius Fox (played by Morgan Freeman) does just as equal a job as everyone else, despite the minimal screen time. Even the choice villains used in “Batman Begins” are given a realistic shine, such as Scarecrow.

Gotham City in “Batman Begins” has been absolutely nailed. In Burton’s version, Gotham was displayed as a city run by business men more interested in accepting crime for what it was but not letting it stop their political campaigns. Schumacher’s was much more radical, almost appearing cartoonish and oddly lit and colorful, with bizarre and exotic architecture. Nolan’s vision of Gotham is precisely what Gotham should be: alive with business men, but run down by mobs, corruption, and poverty. It’s all the more noticeable when Chicago is used as a location for shooting most footage. Gotham really does look like the kind of place that one would fear to go thanks to its reputation. The city itself feels like an actual character rather than just a background setting. This is essential for storytelling, as its the object for Bruce Wayne to don the cape and cowl as Batman and have him defend the city and bring it back to its prime.

Being a re-imagining of Batman, his equipment and appearance must also be remade. No longer does he drive the customized V8 super-charger that was the original Batmobile, instead resorting to what is only known as the Tumbler. Once a military vehicle used for terrain purposes, Bruce’s intellect and inspiration has turned it into a giant black tank that would intimidate even the most excited of cops. His suit also receives an upgrade from the standard Batsuit nipples and rubbery costume to a Kevlar-based body armor that he customizes and eventually shapes into his own Batsuit. This level of ingenuity helps the realism, as a normal Bruce Wayne would have to buy his own parts and them assemble the suit and gadgets himself. It speaks out for his character and helps drill him further into reality.

The actors in “Batman Begins” do an admirable job at complimenting the characters they are portraying. Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman does a remarkable job at grounding the character down and giving him emotions that properly fit the psychology of the character. Gary Oldman as Batman’s partner, Jim Gordon, is just as satisfying to watch. Michael Caine as Alfred is a real treat, for he gives a performance that puts any incarnation of Alfred before Caine to shame. And Morgan Freeman does what he does best: making the audience love him. Liam Neeson also has a big role in the film, and he stands his ground as a very convincing and settled character.

Seeing as how the spirit of the comic was fully implemented, I cannot go without leaving a simple complaint behind. The action is very rough; rough because it looks brutal and violent, yes, but also rough as in roughly shot and too up-close to tell just what the heck is happening. This is the case for most fight scenes in the film, the worst offender being the final fight.

I’m very pleased to announce the respect I have for Christopher Nolan for taking on a project of this magnitude. Nothing like this have ever been seen before in a Batman film. Nolan handled everything with deft hands and applied the right amount of realism to make us believe in Batman’s struggle. “Batman Begins” is such a marvelous attempt at restarting the Batman series and has all the right mechanics and cogs of a dark, somber tale within the mind of a troubled human being. By stripping Batman down to the important parts, Christopher Nolan rebuilds a new, better, superior vision of the titular character by placing him on stable ground and having him survive on his own. For me being a Batman nut, it’s the best Batman film yet (until 2008 came around the corner) and a true homage to the Dark Knight.

PROS:
– Amazing origin story that carries alot of emotional weight
– Hyper-realistic characters that seem every bit as real as the actors portraying them
– Exceptional acting and writing
– The choice of grounding it to reality = one of the smartest moves in filmmaking

CONS: – Fight scenes are shot too close and often hard to tell what’s happening
– Batman’s voice may appear awkward and exaggerated to some
– Ending scene is the worst kind of good tease.

OVERALL:       9.1 / 10

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