Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Ray Rice scandal demonstrated the folly of celebrity worship

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CelebrityWorship2 Not Heroes.

I must say, I have actually found a bit of humor in the Ray Rice domestic violence story. Not the wife beating, I assure you. I’m talking about how foolish it has made the… how can I put this lightly… uncritical fans of pro athletes and other celebrities look. I always find it amusing when celebrities people considered to be heroes for no better reason than that they were in the public eye (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Brett Favre, Chris Brown, Robert Blake, Mel Gibson, etc.) get in one kind of trouble or another. Because it shows us that these are not, in fact, special people but are actually flawed people just like you and I. The bonus is those who still refuse to grasp this truth.

Again, that is not to say that I condone the domestic violence involved here. Ray Rice beat up his wife, a terrible deed by any standard. I’m just pointing out that it serves as a powerful refutation of one of those myths that are obviously false but that the masses still never allow themselves to question.

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So while everyone loved seeing this little bastard die in Game of Thrones, many would have bowed to him in another age.

There had already been indications that the National Football League had covered up this incident, but now damning evidence has been revealed: the NFL was apparently sent a recording of Rice punching out his wife back in April. Needless to say, this goes against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s version of this scandal. I believe there are two possibilities here:

1.) If Goodell didn’t know of this, he is not in control of the NFL.

2.) If he did know, he tried to whitewash the incident to protect a member of the “good ‘ol boys” club.

Either way, I frankly fail to see why Goodell should be Commissioner of the NFL. He should instead be informed that he is wished well in future endeavors if he is not guilty of obstruction of justice.

A good heave-ho of justice?

A good heave-ho of justice?

But not everyone feels the same. The CBS Sports story I linked you to included a comments section in which many of them were quick to defend Goodell. One classy individual even said, “Who gives a crap?” Granted, comment sections often have many irrational people. But it’s likely that many others in this society would agree that Goodell’s position, not his actions, define his character.

The same is true of Ray Rice and other celebrities in trouble. We deify celebrities. Period. I’m not saying that these celebrities didn’t earn their money, but I don’t feel as though they are owed any more than that. It is apparent many disagree with this concept. In most news interviews of celebrities, the interviewer will have a stupid-ass grin. Why? Because he feels that he is in the presence of a superior being.

Well, that thinking is not for me. A celebrity in trouble is just a celebrity in trouble. But that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein®: The New Order_20140815041823Every once in a while, a game based on a long-dead series hits the shelves. I believe the floodgates were opened in 1998 by the revival of Metal Gear, despite adding the word “solid.” Since then, DoomTomb Raider, Street FighterNinja GaidenDonkey Kong Country, and Mega Man have come back from the dead at one time or another. Why? The idea is that enough time has passed that the rejuvenated brand will be a new thing to the newer gamers. As for the vets, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the versions serve as a bridge between generations.

Wolfenstein, though, is something different. As a series it can be traced to the days of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong (notice a lack of the word “country”), for Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein are games in the old maze genre. Adding a stealth twist to it, their influence is not to be underestimated. Regardless, Wolfenstein 3D’s 1992 release was simultaneously the series beginning to many and the first reawakening. Partly responsible for creating the industry-redefining first person genre, it is by far the most remembered Wolf. Since 2001, the franchise has made more sporadic returns. The New Order just happens to be the most recent. Does it live up to the lofty legacy? Let’s see…

Plot: 9 out of 10

We’re starting out promisingly enough. We begin with Captain B.J. Blazkowicz, pilot Fergus Reid, and Private Probst Wyatt, all part of an attack on Nazi Germany during World War II. They are captured and put in a mad scientist’s twisted experiment. Part of the experiment calls on Blazkowicz to choose either Reid or Wyatt to be killed. I told you the scientist was mad! Circumstances leave Blazkowicz in a vegetative state. He is revived in 1960. Unfortunately, we discover that the Nazis won WWII and now rule the world. The primary game is about Blazkowicz and the rest of a new resistance against the Nazis trying to cause a coup.

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I had no idea that the Woodstock mindset went all the way back to 1960.

All this is done very well. The above premise is made to be every bit as scary as you’d think. There’s a bit, for instance, where an undercover Blazkowicz is being studied from across the table by a Nazi leader as we wonder: will she know? Not unlike the chill we got in the part of The Lord of the Rings in which a nazgul is literally on top of the hobbits he is searching for. Also, character development is excellent. Whether it’s shown through the all-American soldier Blazkowicz or an African-American guy who finds it difficult to be excited about beating the Nazis since the America he remembers was the segregated version.

There is only one big problem with the plot. The choice between Fergus and Wyatt that Blazkowicz must make doesn’t have much effect on the plot.

Graphics: 7 out of 10

The characters and structures clearly make use of high technology, but the detail could use some work. Faces, for instance, aren’t bad, but they’re not particularly realistic or all the PS4 and Xbox One could handle.

Brutalizing Nazis like so is very satisfying, perfect graphics or not!

Brutalizing Nazis like so is very satisfying, perfect graphics or not!

Sound: 8 out of 10

I must say, this game sounds good. Voice acting is quite convincing and as needed, dramatic. I also think that the music, environmental sound, and of course, gunshot sounds are very impressive.

Gameplay: 5 out of 10

So far, I’ve had almost nothing but compliments for this game, right? Well, here is where things get more negative. We have generic first person controls. The only particularly unique parts are dual wielding and a cutting laser. The former is cool, but the latter is a boring delay that hurts the experience.

Blazkowicz dual wielding assault rifles calls for serious suspension of disbelief.

Blazkowicz dual wielding assault rifles calls for serious suspension of disbelief.

The other issue is that the missions have unimaginative design. It’s little more than ducking behind objects and coming out to shoot again. A rather weak stealth system isn’t helping.

Challenge: 3 out of 10

This game kind of drifts between easy and hard quite a bit. There’s a lot of inconsistency. On top of that the missions tend to be short and with fewer firefights than most shooters, despite some wandering around. Some missions, believe it or not, actually have little or no action. They’re missions that revolve around fetching things for others. Granted, those things are well-hidden, but this reeks of filler. Except, of course, for the dream sequences that allow you to briefly revisit Wolf 3D.

Flatness aside, this as much a relief as nostalgia at times.

Flatness aside, this is as much a relief as nostalgia at times.

Overall: 5 out of 10

Wolfenstein: The New Order is alright, but it is by no means a worthy successor to the classics. There’s some good and some bad. I don’t think I’m so pumped for the next attempt at this series.

The Lord of the Rings, Volume 1

LOTRVol1TitleConsidering my user name, it’s surprising that I have gone two years of blogging without reviewing anything Lord of the Rings. I have made a few references to this franchise, but that’s it.

Better late than never. The subject of this review is a shitty Super Nintendo game based on the first book in Tolkien’s trilogy. Lame sidequests, confusing dungeons, an unreliable method of attack for most of the game, and the single worst party system I have ever seen make for a miserable experience. I understand that this is very loosely based on a PC game of the same name. I haven’t actually played said PC game, but I doubt it’s worse than this.

Plot: 4 out of 10

In giving credit where it’s due, I must say that Interplay’s programmers seem to know the story. If you don’t skip to the title, you see introductory video that ends with Gandalf telling Frodo to gather Sam, Pippin, Merry, and take them and the One Ring to the elven town of Rivendell. The game is also true to the book. It even includes Tom Bombadil and the barrow wights, both of which were absent from the last decade’s movies (whereas this decade’s Hobbit trilogy is actually adding stuff to justify three movies for one book).

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I see Hobbiton is as much of a hick town as ever.

Unfortunately, much of the game has you on corny “fetch” quests. Your first trial by fire is finding the glasses of Sam’s father in caves near Hobbiton. Also, Aragorn refuses to join the party until you find him a herb called Kingsfoil. All this was clearly just padding the length of this game. And with quests that make the Fellowship of the Ring a bunch of errand boys?

Graphics: 1 out of 10

The landscape is plain, dull, and repetitive. When reviewing these old games, it’s necessary to take into account the hardware limitations. But other SNES action RPGs could at least do faces of characters on the overworld. This game just places masses of light peach where faces should be.

On the other hand, the character portraits in the sub-menu kind of look fine, “kind of” being stressed.

How he dressed in books. Peter Jackson obviously wnt for the more conventional dwarf look.

Pretty tough guy, seeing as how he hides his face under a hood.

What really drives the graphics down is what drives the graphics of so many RPGs and action RPGs down: the repeating of so many things in dungeons. As a result, it’s very difficult to find where you are when you need to go back the way you came. This makes it best to make a map for actually not excessively complicated dungeons.

Final note: this category will be factored more strongly than usual, since the graphics help ruin the gameplay

Sound: 2 out of 10

The songs are overbearing attempts at violin-like vocals. Moreover, some of the dungeons don’t even have songs, just environmental noises that the SNES’ sound processor can’t replace with music.

Gameplay: 1 out of 10

Just like in the Zelda series, You can move up, down, left, or right and use medieval weapons to attack enemies. There are healing Mushrooms, weapon upgrades, quest items, but instead of special weapons, there is an experience system that enables character to get stronger by fighting. Odd that you can’t move diagonally since this was 1994. Also, the controls are a bit on the clunky side. Much worse is how slowly the hobbits’ daggers are to come out. It takes an instant after Pressing Y for the target to be hit and the dagger takes as long coming in as going out. This is a constant aggravation throughout the game. I’m really not sure why Interplay made attacking with the hobbits such a chore. Is it to show that they are lousy fighters? I would think that their low starting levels would make this point well enough.

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Plus, notice the difference in the range of leftward and downward strikes. Truly a model of consistency!

The game gets a little better halfway or a little more than halfway through when Aragorn joins in Bree and becomes the leader. He functions like a generic action RPG protagonist. OK, his move controls are flawed, but he slashes his sword properly. It’s just that getting to him is not fun because the way the hobbits stab is awful. What’s even more awful is that Legolas has no way of attacking. That’s right. He seems to function more as a human, er, elven shield than a combatant. How does this happen? What system of checks and balances did Interplay have?

But these are only the minor problems. There are many available characters. You or I might choose to let the player switch between them, but that’s not how Interplay does it. All the characters are active at all times. When you hold R, control switches to your comrades, leaving your main character inoperable. Who the Hell thought this was a good idea? First of all, how would you go about controlling this many people at once? Second, your… friends have stupid A.I. when not in effect that causes them to bump into things or fight enemies they come in contact with in an inept way that gets themselves killed. Actually, they are such a hindrance/annoyance that maybe the worse outcome is that they don’t die.

Miserable friendly A.I. is a frequent failing in these western RPGs and action RPGs. Here, however, it contaminates the game all by itself.

Challenge: 3 out of 10

There is no way to revive a dead character, so feel free to let the weaker characters perish. Unfortunately, you can’t go it alone because if Frodo or Aragorn die, the game’s over. Also, the game never ends if Gandalf dies before the “you shall not pass!!!” moment.

If the truth be known, this game wouldn’t be so hard if the gameplay wasn’t so awful. No joke. The enemies seem as stupid as your comrades. So the game is perfectly beatable if you draw maps for dungeons or look them up online. Frankly, I doubt that Interplay meant for this game to be as difficult as it is. As it stands, it is one of those games that are hard only because the gameplay is a damnable plane crash.

Overall: 2 out of 10

I can’t even say, “I’ve played worse,” because the only SNES game I’ve played that was worse than LOTR, Volume 1 is Bebe’s Kids. But to me, the scariest part is that this game only covered the Fellowship of the Ring, meaning that Interplay was planning two sequels. Oh, crap…

No, wait. This game tanked and the sequels got the can, saving me from having to play them. My condolences to you readers, but there’s plenty of other shitty games for me to slog through for you in the future.

This game may be the worst LOTR-based game ever. Games like The Two Towers (PS2/Xbox/Gamecube version) and The Battle For Middle-Earth do justice to this series. Just don’t play this piece of shit!

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

AmazingSpiderMan2PosterAndrew Garfield as Spider-Man/Peter Parker
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy
Jamie Foxx as Electro/Max Dillon
Dane DeHaan as The Green Goblin/Harry Osborn
Sally Field as Aunt May
Colm Feore as Donald Menken
Felicity Jones as Felicia
Paul Giamatti as Aleksei Sytsevich

Here we go again. Just a few months ago I reviewed the first installment in the rebooted Spider-Man series. I thought I would have to wait a while to review the sequel because I wait for them to hit the various home formats. But The Amazing Spider-Man 2 came to Blu-Ray pretty quick, so I am already reviewing it.

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Stopped himself just in time!

The first movie ended with Spider-Man being told by Gwen Stacy’s father just before death to not involve Gwen in the danger of the life of a costumed crime-fighter. Despite his love for Gwen, Spider-Man has respected this last request. Unfortunately, his avoidance of a love relationship with Gwen is driving them apart as friends as well.

Sounds like the central plot of Spider-Man 2, doesn’t it? As I noted in my review of the first Amazing Spider-Man, it’s worth noting that these familiar elements would still be new to younger folks who didn’t see the Sam Raimi trilogy. Besides, there are a number of improvements. For example, Andrew Garfield is a better actor than Tobey Maguire.

Still looks kind of like an MTV romance, though.

Still looks kind of like an MTV romance, though.

Sadly, this isn’t as good a movie because of everything that’s going on. Here’s a list:

  • I mentioned that the deteriorating relationship between Peter and Gwen is a pretty big part of the movie. This leaves Peter in a now-or-never situation when he learns that Gwen has gotten a scholarship to Oxford, meaning that it’s now or never for Peter to say if he wants Gwen (Oxford is in England).
  • Spider-Man saves a guy who ends up in an accident that turns him into Electro, a man who can control and drain electricity. This also changes his appearance and he ends up turning on society when everyone is frightened by his appearance and even Spidey tells him to let the police help him, which he takes as a betrayal and loses it.
  • Aunt May struggles with the emotional and financial pressures of raising a kid by herself. Also, there’s a dark secret about Peter’s parents that was always kept from him.
  • Harry Osborn becomes the head of Oscorp after his father, Norman dies of an illness. It is hereditary, so Harry suffers from it as well. Since Spider-Man can heal quickly (although he’s not Wolverine or anything), Harry asks for a bit of his blood to use to develop a cure. Spider-Man knows from The Lizard and Electro that this stuff can drive you mad, so he refuses.
  • The Oscorp board hates the Osborns, so Harry is set up to look like he illegally covered up Electro’s accident, resulting in Harry being deposed from Oscorp.
  • After Electro is captured, Harry frees him and agrees to help him with whatever he is planning in return for helping Harry getting his own mutation to amp up his healing and save him. Together, they discover a serum that Norman had invented that turns Harry into The Green Goblin.

That’s a lot of stuff. Too much, in fact. And notice that fully half of the elements involve the secondary villain. Is it that hard to use only one villain in a superhero sequel? Because there’s really too much going on here basically because of it.

Still, the ending sequence is much stronger. The action is great and the use of Gwen is rock-solid. There’s even an effective emotional moment that ties everything together.

Samuel L. Jackson, electrified!

Samuel L. Jackson, electrified!

(Before you instinctively criticize, it’s a joke. I mentioned that it’s Jamie Foxx playing Electro up above.)

Alas, The last scene in the movie is a real rip! You how everybody hates those endings that stop inches short of text that says, “to be continued…” Take the ending of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The theater I was in went “Awww!” when the dragon flew towards a city to terrorize it, followed by the end credits. Well, this movie ends as a battle between Spider-Man and yet another villain appears. We’ll have to wait for part 3 to see him. Greedy assholes!

I found The Amazing Spider-Man to be good but not great. The problem was how little new stuff it brought to the table. So it’s ironic that this movie is hurt by the sheer amount of ideas it uses. Still, we had a great end sequence that could have made it good. But I can’t rightly rate is as such because of how it ends with a defacto commercial for The Amazing Spider-Man 3. For shame!

Overall: 6 out of 10

The Hunger Games

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Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen
Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Meelark
Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne
Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket
Donald Sutherland as President Coriolanus Snow
Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy
Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman
Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane
Lenny Kravitz as Cinna
Isabelle Fuhrman as Clove
Amanda Stenberg as Rue
Jack Quaid as Foxface
Alexander Ludwig as Cato
Willow Shields as Primrose Everdeen
Paula Malcolmson as Mrs. Everdeen

Anyone ever seen that old George Carlin stand-up in which he suggests that we send prison inmates to the newly vacated, fenced-in states of Kansas, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado? If not, here it is:

The Hunger Games is sort of like that, except that unlike Carlin, it’s deadly serious. Based on the Suzanne Collins novel of the same name and set in a negative future, The Hunger Games is about a world in which aristocracy rules. To dispirit the population, certain teenagers are rounded up and imprisoned in a training camp to compete in The Hunger Games. The Hunger Games, now in their seventy-fouth annual run, are broadcast for all to see. In fact, the people running The Hunger Games seem more concerned with how many viewers and sponsors they get than the lives of the competitors.

The first thing I noticed as I watched was that the cinematography is extremely refined. The camerawork is just right, the look is convincing, the timing is all effective, and they capture the gloomy feel of the film.

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Even in the makeup.

The performances are good. Not great, but solid. Jennifer Lawrence is about the best in the starring role of an adolescent girl, Katniss, thrown into dangerous situation. Not that the character is helpless. All the contestants in The Hunger Games have gotten some training, so Lawrence shows an appropriate mix of innocence and aptitude.

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She’s got you in her sights!

The real theme of this movie is that survival is important, but not at all costs. There are a few existing friendships between the competitors, but the rules state that almost all of them must die (hence why the cast above is so damned big). Other contestants have single-minded drives to win. So there’s quite a bit of tragedy in this movie.

There is also a romance between Katniss and another contestant, Peeta. This involves reversal of traditional gender roles as it ends up being Peeta who is held hostage at one point. Katniss and Peeta also must grapple with the very real possibility that The Hunger Games could very well force them to fight each other to the death. The fate of those who would force kids into such a contest will no doubt be resolved in the sequels (full disclosure: I haven’t seen Catching Fire as of this writing, so I don’t know how much headway it makes).

This is a mostly great movie, but one criticism I have is that the aristocrats running The Hunger Games and control the kids are too obvious in their fascism. The opening minutes make it clear that these kids are being fed propaganda to keep them in line. The problem is that the overlords make an insufficient effort to hide their true intentions. I guess this is so that even the shallow, no-substance-but-pot teen stereotype would understand what was going on, but for me, it doesn’t look like any of my favorite villains will be in these movies.

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When I first saw a picture of this character, I thought she was a clown. True story.

Luckily, the good and neutral guys and girls (“girls” is obviously necessitated by the star, not that it arguably wouldn’t be anyway) provide enough conflict and drama that the villains’ unconvincing propaganda doesn’t have the impact that it should. I really can’t come up with an excuse for not having seen The Hunger Games until recently, only that it’s a great fantasy film.

Overall: 8 out of 10