Monthly Archives: January 2016

Iowa here we come!

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After several months of sound bites and debates, we are on the verge of the Iowa caucuses. It is but the first step towards deciding the nominees for national leadership, right? Not exactly.

In the early going, winning a state tends to give a candidate a surge moving into the next contest or contests. This is why Rudy Giuliani, considered by many to be a shoo-in for the 2008 nomination, went on to win zero states when losing both Iowa and New Hampshire caused him to plummet into nothingness. So don’t believe anyone who tells you that Iowa isn’t important. They are just trying to build long-term political excitement or worse, cover their asses on predictions that have since made them look stupid.

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For instance, I gave Donald Trump an 85% chance of flaming out in my piece on him months ago.

Now, it is absolutely true that not every nominee, since the importance of the primaries/caucuses was radically expanded four decades ago, has won Iowa. But all have prevailed either there or the very next state, New Hampshire, save two. Those candidates were George McGovern and Bill Clinton. Both turned in better than expected performances in one or both states that caused the media to judge them the moral victors and gave them, not true winners, the momentum. The extremely close 2008 Democratic nomination was a split between these states that set up a long series of win trades that kept the race going until shortly before the Democratic National Convention.

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So despite what some are saying, I wouldn’t expect a brokered convention.

In other words, winning the first two states may be tantamount to winning the nomination. If they go separate ways, expect a difficult race.

So how are things shaking out? Donald Trump seems to be favored to win in Iowa. Since he has long held a commanding lead in New Hampshire, the Republican race could be over quick.

The Democratic race could be tighter. Bernie Sanders has long been an overwhelming favorite in New Hampshire and Iowa is looking close as well with Hillary Clinton enjoying a slight edge. If there’s a split, the smart money’s on Hillary because we then go to the South and Southwest, where she should rise again because the blacks and Hispanics, who support her over Sanders by large margins, are much more numerous in these regions. On the other hand, if Sanders wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, he may, again, surge enough to survive a swim in challenging waters.

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Actually, I figure if either of these old people throw a right cross, they’re tired out.

I have one complaint about this. Is it right for Iowa and for that matter, New Hampshire, to have so much influence on our nominations? I mean, these are states with a combined 10 out of 538 electoral votes. If these states won’t give up their power so we can have all the primaries and caucuses on the same day, can we at least merge them all into two or three days so no state is insignificant? No? Well, that sucks!

Ant-Man

Ant-ManTitlePaul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man
Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne
Michael Douglas as Hank Pym
Corey Stoll as Darren Cross/Yellowjacket
Bobby Cannavale as Paxton
Judy Greer as Maggie
Abby Ryder Fortson as Cassie

To explain the existence of Ant-Man, you must first ask the question: which major Marvel superhero has not gotten their own movie? Well, let’s go down the list:

  • Spider-Man
  • The X-Men
  • The Hulk
  • Daredevil
  • The Punisher (OK, he’s an anti-hero, but let’s not get picky)
  • Elektra
  • Ghost Rider (yeah, he got a movie)
  • Iron Man
  • Blade
  • Fantastic Four
  • Thor
  • Captain America
  • The Avengers (some of whom had their separate films)
  • The Guardians of the Galaxy

Is that all? Why, no! More obscure films about Dr. Strange, The Man-Thing, and Howard the Duck also exist. The point is that after so many years of the movies, Marvel is beginning to run out of new characters to adapt to film. The only choice is to start making movies with smaller names. Ant-Man, is an example of this need, though it do very well at the box office despite this drawback.

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We know this is a kindly rather than grumpy old guy because of the teapot

The main character, Scott Lang, is one of those thieves with hearts we sometimes see in cinema. Scott has been released from prison and seeks to become a productive member of society. Unfortunately, society is less than forgiving, so Scott is unable to find gainful employment. He instead joins a group of thieves. What Scott steals turns out to be a weird-looking suit. He tries it on and shrinks to the size of an insect. This is too much crazy for Scott so he takes it back, getting himself incarcerated again. He is visited by scientist Hank Pym, inventor of the suit. Seeing that Scott isn’t a bad person, Hank gives Scott the choice of prison or being busted out, and with the help of Hank and daughter Hope, use the suit to become the world’s smallest superhero. It’s implied that there’s really no choice because Hank will be putting this plan into motion regardless and Scott will be a wanted man either way.

A bug's Life!

A bug’s life!

Yeah, it’s a rather complicated plot for a comic book movie. As you may have guessed, it is quite far-fetched at times. There are some decent interactions, particularly with Scott’s ex-wife and estranged daughter, but they are hampered by mediocre dialogue and misfired humor. Also, the relationship between Scott and Hope is forced, not to mention predictable.

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“We need a relationship in this movie and I don’t care how we get it!”

One nice thing about this movie is how it handles Ant-Man’s shrinking. Although we generally don’t think of superheroes as small, we’ve got a good thing in a small package here. Strong effects and camera angles enable a feel for shrinking that Honey I Shrunk the Kids could never have possibly managed. This also allows for some excellent small vs. big fights (one of which is with a briefly appearing Avenger known as The Falcon).

All said, Ant-Man has its ups and downs. It’s neither good nor bad. OK, mediocre, and so-so are good ways to describe it.

Overall: 5 out of 10

Super Mario Maker

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Beware, Super Mario Bros. ROM hackers, for you may now be out of a job. Well, not entirely. There’s still no one else out there that crosses this series with other franchises. But as far as simply making your own games based on the old 2D era Mario graphical/gameplay schemes, people will find it easier to use Super Mario Maker.

Super Mario Maker is precisely what its name implies. You use it to make your own Mario games. The way it works is that you choose the scheme of one of the four following games: Super Mario Bros.Super Mario Bros. 3Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros U. Basically, anything that appeared in one of these games can be used to make your own game. Although you are restricted to making only a level (called courses) at a time, your profile does appear on Course World, where all the uploaded levels are put. So you can still do multi-parters as some do.

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Is that guy in the white shirt an homage to the Angry Video Game Nerd? I think he is.

There are a couple of built-in courses. First there’s the 10 Mario Challenge. This gives you ten lives to go through eight new levels. There’s also the 100 Mario Challenge, with gives you a hundred lives but the levels are twice as numerous and three times as hard. These modes are challenging and fun, but they are not the main nerve of the game.

The main event is, of course, courses made by other owners of the game. They vary in quality, obviously, but many are good. What helps here is that people have a lot of freedom in how they make their courses. As a result, there’s a lot of weird courses. I mean “weird” in a good way, as the craziness has a certain rebellious charm. Why? Because you know that they would never come from Nintendo itself.

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The giant koopas from SMB3 are back!

The replay value in nearly infinite. Already there are hundreds of homemade courses with more to come. It would be all but impossible. to play them all, so there’s something new no matter what. You can pop this game into your Wii U once a week and guarantee that you will have some new courses to download and play.

As a result, this game will carry years of fun for you. When there’s a practically unlimited number of levels to play, you’re not done until you either want or need to be.

I’m not saying that there’s no room for improvement. The ability to make courses starring other characters besides Mario (although some makers do unconvincing shoehorn jobs anyway) would be nice. Hopefully, this will be a future in sequels, should they be made. But for now, I’m pleased with what I got.

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I got killed by a goomba! Whoa!

You might notice that there are no categories for this game review like there are for all the others. That’s because everything depends on the course that you’ve downloaded. Thus, no need for them to explain why Super Mario Maker rules!

Overall: 9 out of 10

Mortal Kombat: Annihilation

Note: sorry about the quality of the pictures. My recording equipment wasn’t working quite right.MKAnnihilationTitleRobin Shou as Liu Kang
James Remar as Raiden
Talisa Soto as Kitana
Sandra Hess as Sonya Blade
Lynn Williams as Jax
Brian Thompson as Shao Kahn
Musetta Vander as Sindel
Reiner Schone as Shinnok
Deron McBee as Motaro
Irina Pantaeva as Jade
John Medlan as Ermac
Marjean Holden as Sheeva

Mortal Kombat: Annihilation has to be one of the most disappointing movies to me. Sure, I’ve seen a few — only a few — that are worse, but this one is a sequel to one of the 5% of movies based on video games that don’t suck. As a veteran gamer, I hoped that things were beginning to change, but then this unbelievable piece of shit came out.

One thing I can give this movie over other game adaptations is that outside of the incredibly stupid decision to make Earth thunder god Raiden and Outworld Emperor Shao Kahn brothers (I’m not kidding), this movie actually isn’t disloyal to the game. The writers clearly chose to base this movie on Mortal Kombat 3, in which our world has been merged with Outworld and taken over. The problem is how this story is executed.

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That’s right. They ripped off the Wonder Woman spin.

For one thing, there are too many characters. That looks like a large cast up there, but the reality is that Johnny Cage, Scorpion, the younger Sub-Zero (don’t ask), Nightwolf, Baraka, what appear to be distant cousins of Reptile, Mileena, Smoke, Cyrax, Noob Saibot, and Rain are all in this movie for extremely brief periods before they are killed. And Sub-Zero and Nightwolf are actually presented as major characters before they just disappear without explanation and are never mentioned again. Additionally, Johnny Cage had been a very big character in the original. Here he dies in the opening minutes. Killing off a major character is one thing, but without any time to build up to it?

How do they fit all those characters into the movie? Easy. Almost no attention seems to be paid to plot, just action. For example, Indian shaman Nightwolf tells Liu Kang that to become ready to beat Shao Kahn, he must first pass three tests. Of these tests, one doesn’t happen and another involves someone who turns out to be a spy working for Kahn. A ninja named Rain is briefly the general of Kahn’s extermination squads, but is executed. For incompetence? No. We’re told that he actually has some hot kills to his credit. He’s executed because he didn’t waste time making those targets beg for mercy first. And of course, “blink and you’ll miss them” characters go crap-in-hand with bad plotting. I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

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Once upon a time, bald heads were considered pure evil.

What does this movie do right? Well, the music score is a chore to listen to. If the song isn’t taken straight for the prequel, it’s an overbearing, faddy, song.

The acting? Some of the worst I’ve ever seen in my life. Only returning players Robin Shou and Talisa Soto turn in remotely passable performances. The rest are absolutely horrible. There are many athletes and models in the cast whose performances are either halfhearted or extremely over the top.

"I'm sure if I just work hard, my career won't be criplled by this piece of shit."

“I’m sure if I just work hard, my career won’t be crippled by this piece of shit.”

CGI is reasonably good for the 1990s. Then again, the centaur Motaro is an extremely awfully created monster. They absolutely have to use jump cuts and narrow the scope of the camera so that it’s not quite so obvious that Deron McBee is not wearing a costume. So the special effects could use work as well.

What happened? I think I can tell. Everything about this movie indicates an almost total lack of effort. Mortal Kombat was in a real down period by 1997 and it’s resurgence was still five years away. It seems that New Line thought that time that this movie could be profitable was over but had gone too far in production to back out.

Despite that, I saw Mortal Kombat: Annihilation in the theater. Despite all I’ve said about it, there was one truly enlightening moment: when Scorpion stared at those of us in attendance and yelled, “Suckers!”

Overall: 2 out of 10

Power Blade

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“I’ll be back.” “Hasta la vista, baby!” “Kill me! I’m here! Kill me!”

Reviews of little-known games are important. They raise awareness that these games wouldn’t otherwise have. Of course, this can work in the negative as well, like how Cheetahmen II and Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing have become cult “classics” because of scathing reviews when they should rightfully be forgotten and buried. Would Power Blade fall into that category if more knew about it? Don’t bet on it. This is a rock-solid title in almost all aspects.

Plot: 4 out of 10

In the distant future the world is controlled by a huge computer. Eventually, that computer goes haywire and takes over. An agent named Nova is assigned with shutting down the computer to save the world.

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Actually, this is a perfectly believable version of what would happen if the Internet permanently crashed tomorrow.

What reduces this plot below the status of a generic, mediocre, video game story is being assured in the ending that Nova’s superiors will “be more careful and not surrender control to a machine. The combination of the admission that it’s their fault and assurance that they’ll do fine in the future is rather hilarious.

Graphics: 8 out of 10

Although Nova’s face could use a lot of work, the graphics are otherwise excellent. Great detail and lighting make for one the greater-looking NES games.

When plant life and robotics meet. Wait, what did I say?

When plant life and robotics meet. Wait, what did I say?

Sound: 9 out of 10

The music has a very techno feel appropriate to the sci-fi setting. It’s extremely well-composed. Sound effects are pretty good, too.

Gameplay: 10 out of 10

Nova throws boomerangs that can be powered up by way of items that increase their range and the number you can throw at once. He also gets grenades that kill everything on the screen at once.

The human down below is a spy who decided that it was best to hide in the middle of trouble.

The human down below is a spy who decided that it was best to hide in the middle of trouble.

Controls are responsive and fluid. They feel just right. Furthermore, the level design is quite creative. These two factors make for a great experience.

Challenge: 6 out of 10

The only real issue is that the game is too easy. The sci-fi feel and great controls make it fun, but that fun is decreased by the fact that it’s not unrealistic to beat it in two or three days. Regular enemies are predictable and bosses are just a joke. NES-hard is not exactly what I’d call this.

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Just one of the enemies that look way tougher than they are.

Overall: 8 out of 10

Despite its easiness, Power Blade is a true diamond in the rough that deserves recognition. Here’s hoping it makes it to the Wii U Virtual Console at some point.