Monthly Archives: August 2016

Spectre

SpectreTitleDaniel Craig as James Bond
Lea Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swann
Christolph Waltz as Franz Oberhouser
Ralph Fiennes as M.
Ben Whishaw as Q.
Naomie Harris as Moneypenny.

I’m not a James Bond fan (feel free to hate on me for that in the comments). I have personally seen six of his movies before Spectre. These six showed me great Bond (From Russia With LoveGoldeneye), good Bond (Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale), and bad Bond (The World is Not EnoughDie Another Day). I haven’t seen mediocre Bond yet. Maybe these movies have no middle ground? Anyway, Spectre is enjoyable, but nothing special.

At any rate, we have series of events that lead to British secret agent James Bond finding out about Spectre, a organization of businessmen who are connected to organized crime and terrorist cells. The Bond girl of the moment is Dr. Madeleine Swann, the daughter of a victim of Spectre himself. Bond and Dr. Swann seek to uncover Spectre but are captured by a secret partner of the group.

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They still haven’t learned to shoot Bond when they have the chance! In over fifty years!

As far as performances go, they’re… James Bond. Competent but not great and barely good. Daniel Craig does do a pretty good job, but has a problem that merits its own paragraph later. Lea Seydoux is not all that good a Bond girl, and I haven’t even seen enough of these movies to rank them all. The eventual bad guy is pretty much just OK. He’s got excellent dialogue, but the delivery is hit-miss. The reason I don’t mention him by name is because it’s meant to come as a surprise.

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Is there any part of the world where Bond hasn’t been? Join us in a few years when Bond head to Saturn!

Bond plots are like acting in Star Wars movies: nothing special but for the purpose they serve, effective. This is no exception. It’s predictable, even in the attempts at mystery, but for a spy action flick it works.

Probably the biggest problem is that Daniel Craig is facing the same credibility issue that Harry Potter and the first six Star Trek films eventually suffered from: Actors are mortal. Because James Bond is a veteran agent, he has to be at least thirty-three. Nine years after Casino Royale, Craig is getting too old to convince me that he’s a stud playboy in between missions.

After actually some action in her debut, the new Moneypenny is a secretary again.

After actually some action in her debut, the new Moneypenny is a mere secretary again. #backtonormal

Maybe this series should move on from Craig, but Spectre remains a good popcorn movie. And in the end, that’s really what James Bond is all about.

Overall: 7 out of 10

Fallout 4

Fallout4TitleOne of the most hyped games of 2015 was Fallout 4. It is the most recent addition to the mega-popular Fallout series. Personally, I find it kind of overrated. These games aren’t bad or even average by any means, but The Elder Scrolls of shooters they are not? Why? Read on.

Plot: 7 out of 10

Another sci-fi plot set in a dystopian future. We’ve seen that a lot. HaloGears of War, and the new Wolfenstein all do this. Well, actually, Wolfenstein: The New Order took us from World War 2 to a Nazi-ruled 1960s, but close enough.

Dialogue is not the best in the world. It’s basically the same kind we’ve seen in all the dark, futuristic games.

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Much more than the usual “loading…”

Still, there are multiple possible endings you can get. This feature (which can’t exist in almost any medium except video games) adds a lot of depth to this game.

Graphics: 7 out of 10

Even the frankly gushy professional reviewers of this game have to admit that it doesn’t look great. While the models of the protagonist look great, other characters, particularly enemies, do not. The graphics are good, just nothing special.

Sound: 6 out of 10

Voice acting is just OK. Neither good nor bad. Gunfire sounds are very generic and plain. Music is fairly good, though, for it (generally) captures the atmosphere.

The dog from Call of Duty: Ghosts is back!

The dog from Call of Duty: Ghosts is back!

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

An open world first-person shooter, Fallout 4 largely delivers. Controls are responsive and areas are designed well. Missions are fun and there’s a wide variety of weapons. The only problem is that some of these weapons have serious problems like taking a while after you hit the shooting button to start firing.

That smiling, prettyboy mascot is seen a lot throughout the game.

That smiling, prettyboy mascot is seen a lot throughout the game.

Challenge: 8 out of 10

A pretty challenging game. Has some really, really tough parts that will have you struggling to the finish. There is an issue with the gap between the difficulty of the regular enemies and bosses being too great, though.

That smiling, prettyboy mascot is seen a lot throughout the game.

That smiling, prettyboy mascot is seen a lot throughout the game.

Overall: 7 out of 10

That’s right. As already indicated, I don’t think that Fallout 4 is God’s gift to video games. It’s unimpressive on the spectacular side and the gameplay isn’t perfect. It’s still a good game, just not an excellent one.

Trump’s pathetic excuses

 

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Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy in Donald Trump’s warped mind.

I tried. I really tried to make Donald Trump the focus of only a third of my 2016 articles. But he keeps saying and doing stupid things. And this keeps putting him in the news. So I just can’t help but keep writing about him.

I'm addicted. Send help.

Or I’m just addicted. Send help.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave since the conventions, you know they went well for Hillary Clinton. Weeks after her acceptance speech, the Real Clear Politics polling average has the election going 47.8-41 Clinton. Is that skewed, as some have argued all year with shades of the “Unskewed Polls” people from 2012? If so, it’s in Trump’s favor as an obvious outlier, LA Times/USC (two post convention polls having Trump within a single point and the one before that was Trump +7) is counting towards the average. This may be more like an 8-10-point race.

So what has Trump’s response been to this? Admit that maybe insulting too many significant groups was a mistake and apologize? Take the Republican leadership’s advice and restrain himself? I kid, I kid. In fact his latest bombshell is that Clinton is going to cheat her way to victory.

Forget the statistical rarity of voter fraud. Forget that no significant case of voter fraud associated with the Clintons in their four presidential elections has ever made prime time news. With the way things are going, why would Clinton feel a need to cheat? Why take a chance on it becoming an October surprise that outrages the public, turning that big lead topsy-turvy?

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Electoral fraud generates backlash!

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Electoral fraud generates backlash!

Let me give an example. The New England Patriots are viewed by most fans as the Dick Dastardlys and Muttleys of professional sports. Their long list of cheating scandals includes rigging coin tosses, jamming headsets, spying on other teams, and of course, deflating balls. My personal view is that since the Pats couldn’t even get away with deflation for long, the others require too deep a conspiracy. But when do you hear at least the rumor? At the 2014 AFC Championship. When they face the archrival Jets who almost always keep it close. When the Steelers come into Foxborough. Is there anything about cheating when they predictably wipe out San Diego, da Bears, Jacksoville, or Houston? No. Why? Because they don’t have to cheat to win those games. See, right now, Donald Trump is da Bears and Hillary Clinton is da Pats.

"Wait, Chicago went 5-11 in 2014 and you thought we cheated them. We cheat teams that have any business being in the same stadium as us. Wait, I didn't say that!"

“Wait, Chicago went 5-11 in 2014 and you thought we cheated them? We cheat teams that have any business being in the same stadium as us. Wait, I didn’t say that!”

Point to ponder: if Trump really is one of the last real men in America, as many of his supporters assert, why can’t he seem to stop bitching and whining when things aren’t going his way?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

StarWarsForceAwakensTitleDaisy Ridley as Rey
John Boyega as Finn
Harrison Ford as Han Solo
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca
Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren

So how does the first Star Wars movie in the post-Lucas era fare? Pretty well. It’s the first installment in a sequel trilogy, which is what many believed should have been done in the first place when the series was resumed after a long hiatus in 1999. Personally, I think the prequel setting offers great possibilities. But if you were going to keep this going, you obviously had to go forward at some point. As it turns out Star Wars: The Force Awakens goes forward in more ways than one. While it isn’t the best in the series, it’s up there.

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The evolution of stormtroopers.

It’s thirty years after Return of the Jedi. The Empire is as distant a memory as the Soviet Union in real life. But just as the ashes of the Union have Vladimir Putin trying to bring it back, so too does the Empire have a group known as the First Order. Led by sith lord Kylo Ren, it is looking for a MIA Luke Skywalker and hunting a droid named BB-8 that knows his whereabouts. After making a great escape from the Order to a nearby planet, BB discovers four people: a scavenger named Rey, a reformed stormtrooper named Finn, and fan favorites Han Solo and Chewie.

The nightmares of Hayden Christensen’s atrocious performances are over. Everyone does a decent-to-good job of playing their roles. It’s great to see Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher playing their own characters again, and Daisy Ridley and John Boyega make great new additions to the cast.

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Fun fact: White nationalists boycotted this movie because of this guy and the “fact” that all humans in this universe are white. Except Lando, Mace, Capt. Panaka, a bunch of Rebel pilots of color in Return of the Jedi…

By now the special effects of Star Wars have their own unique feel. Do this movie’s effects capture that feel? Yes. Would they work even outside this series? Yes, particularly the “crossguard” on Ren’s lightsaber. Very cool.

One issue I do have with this movie is that everything comes together way too conveniently. For instance, one of the people, specifically Rey, that BB finds conveniently happens to have strength in The Force. Also, to justify Force rookie Rey defeating sith lord Ren in a lightsaber duel, Chewie gets a shot on him.

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Very lucky for a garbage girl who’s covered in bandages.

Still, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a pretty good movie. A very worthy beginning to the sequel trilogy.

Overall: 8 out of 10

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)

SonicTitleOne of the most beloved video games of all time? Certainly. The top reason for by far the hottest run in Sega’s history? Most likely. The beginning of the golden age of the Sonic the Hedgehog series, if not all things Sega? Actually, not entirely true. While this is a really good game, it set up one of the oft-sighted reasons for why the series has fallen apart in the last decade: too gimmicky. You see, the Sonic character was marketed as a hedgehog with a ‘tude. While successful, this led Sega to ever-changing gimmicks, not the least of which was the creation of more and more characters. One of the complaints raised by some is that Sega has gotten too convinced that gimmickry is necessary and been afraid to simply make a Sonic game. Well, the overwhelming success of that “hedgehog with attitude” concept is part of why Sega seems determined to incorporate newer and newer quips into the series.

A scarf? Um, yeah.

A scarf? Um, yeah.

That being said, although it looks tame compared to the first three or four sequels (hence why the numbers aren’t too high), the original Sonic the Hedgehog is worthy of the fond memories it inspires in gamers.

Plot: 6 out of 10

If there’s one thing these games don’t do well, it’s story. The 3D games started to do it well. Then someone got the “bright” idea of having Sonic have implied sex with a human (keep in mind that these aren’t exactly the kinds of games that should attempt to drive parents away). The idea is that a super-fast hedgehog is fighting Doctor Eggman, a scientist who kidnaps animals and turns them into robots, with which he plans to take over the world. You don’t know this without reading the manual. Keep in mind that this was years after Ninja Gaiden invented the cutscene.

Alternate plot: Eggman's robots keep stealing Sonic's loot.

Alternate plot: Eggman’s robots keep stealing Sonic’s loot.

Still, as you may be able to tell from the title screen pictured at the top of this post, the attitude selling point is effective and put Sega on the map. That’s worth an above average rating.

Graphics: 9 out of 10

Although the Sega Genesis was always inferior hardware compared to the Super Nintendo, you’d never know that from how much Sega did with less for its in-house games. And this is a prime example; everything looks so clear, the backgrounds so convincing, that Sega really couldn’t improve too much on them in the sequels. Well, until better technology was developed, anyway.

Sound: 8 out of 10

Sound is really good, too. The songs are great because they capture the “cool kid” sense that Sega wanted to get across. Same with the sound effects, which were reused in the series for some time. One issue I have is the boss song. It’s kind of… meh.

F*ck the laws of physics!

F*ck the laws of physics!

Gameplay: 8 out of 10

The controls are pretty simple. You move around and can build your speed up to huge proportions. You can make spinning jumps that do damage even if you don’t land on top of an enemy. Additionally, you can collect rings to allow you an extra hit before dying.

In my review of Alex Kidd in Miracle World (Alex Kidd was Sega’s flagship franchise before Sonic), I protested that its controls were awful That is not the case here, thankfully. Sonic handles just great. The occasional speed boosts threaten to ruin the controls, but Sega wisely designed the levels so that you don’t get hit during these boosts. This makes for a fun, fast-paced experience.

Challenge: 6 out of 10

OK, this could be better. This is a rather short game and waits awhile to get challenging. This hurts the thrill because you can blaze through half of it with ease and in short order.

Eggman, you gotta take the time to build sturdier stuff. You want this to go on for a quarter-century. Oh, wait...

Eggman, you gotta take the time to build sturdier stuff. You want this to go on for a quarter-century? Oh, wait…

Not to mention that the so-called “good ending” you get if you cleared all the bonus areas on route to completing the game is minimally different from the bad one.

Overall: 8 out of 10

OK, so it’s not the best game in the series. But as noted, it is one of the most historically important games ever made! Despite its shortness, there is plenty of fun to be had. And I think you’ll agree that it’s quite a bit better than what this series has been doing lately.