Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Now Playing: Network

I had a big long post already worked up and then my computer crashed and took it with it. Everytime I've used Blogger recently it's had an auto-save on it but apparently it wasn't working tonight.

Good job, asshats.

The short version is that I flat out loved this flick and am frankly amazed that I managed to get all the way through both film and journalism school without having seen it. Fortunately I've rectified that and it's absolutely going in my rotation of frequently watched flicks.

While I agree that Peter Finch is brilliant as disgraced newsman Howard Beale, I disagree with giving him the Oscar over Robert DeNiro in Taxi Drive. In hindsight, that's just plain wrong. Faye Dunaway on the other hand deserved her Oscar and more for playing a woman so obsessed with ratings and network shares that she can't stop talking shop even in the middle of sex.

There is one bravura scene after another, but my favorite has to be one towards the end of the film where the network executives (lead by a blue suit wearing Lance Henriksen in one of his first roles) are re-upping their contract with a modern communist guerrilla organization. Their leader can't stop complaining about getting squeezed on the syndication rights and hearing that sort of talk considering the situation had me in stitches.

This is on everyone's Top 10 of All Time lists for a reason, folks. If you've never seen it then you simply must do so. It's even more relevant these days when the television they spoofed in the 1970's could well be the television of the present day.

Now Playing: The Office (BBC Version)

It wasn't until the very, very end of this series (and by "end" I'm refering to the Christmas specials that capped the Wernham-Hogg saga) that the show clicked for me. Up to one specific moment I considered the series was an amusing, sometimes laugh out loud funny, sendup of the daily monotony of the office environment populated by a quirky and confused lot of characters each with their own problems.

What I wasn't prepared for was one of the best, and most subtle, romances on television. The ending was an emotional suckerpunch that stunned me because of how well the show had defined and shaped each individual character. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Office was a two part series that aired on the BBC a few years ago that chronicled the daily goings-on of a paper company in Slough as seen through the eyes of a documentary crew. Everything about the environment screamed redundant hell and that's what the brilliant creator-writer-star Ricky Gervais focused on. The minutia in the every day life of photocopying, invoicing, and tracking costs of paper reams provided ample opportunity for Gervais' character, office manager David Brent, to ham it up and act like a rock star god for his fellow employees. The catch is that everyone hates Brent because he's so much of a boor that no one can stand him, yet Brent remains completely oblivious to it.

The heart of the series though was the relationship between Tim (the brilliant Martin Freeman), a sales man, and eternally engaged receptionist Dawn (the equally brilliant Lucy Davis). The way these two circle around one another provided the beating heart of the series, and if it wasn't for the terrific performances from both actors it would never have worked. Freeman deserves to be in everything because his simple looks, gestures, and under-his-breath comments are never short of gaspingly funny. Witness his look of sheer aghast horror in season two when his pregnant co-worker mimicks the position she and her husband used to conceive.

My Fair Lady actually walked into the office to see why I was roaring laughing.

The show is never as consistent as Monty Python's Flying Circus was which is why I disagree with people who put this in their Top 10 Funniest Shows Ever lists. It tends to be more consistently amusing than consistently hilarious, but then you'll get something like episode four from the first season where it's physically impossible to keep from hysterically laughing as Tim, Brent, and sidekick Gareth (Mackenzie Crook) sing along to "Free Love On The Free Love Freeway." Words simply cannot do that episode justice.

"Gareth, get the guitar."

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Now Playing: The Dukes of Hazzard

I have only the fondest of memories about the old show as does any male who grew up in the early '80's. I recall my tin trash can with the General Lee flying through the air while Boss Hogg shouted after the Duke cousins for foiling his latest scheme. I'm sure somewhere on the can Roscoe P. Coltrane was shaking a fist at the sky.

But on the back was none other than Daisy, Goddess of the Short Shorts. Catherine Bach could lay a young boy out cold with a glance, or cause him to spontaneously combust by bending over. It was the simple pleasures the show reveled in, none more obvious than using an orange Dodge Charger to defy gravity at least once every episode. It was never the smartest show, but it was entertaining for 5 to 12 year olds everywhere.

Which is exactly who Warner Bros. aimed the film version at and they managed to bullseye their target. I'm a big fan of Broken Lizard, especially their horror knock-off Club Dredd, so their involvement in the film meant I had to at least check it out. Color me surprised because it wasn't a disaster by a long shot because in spite of Stiffler and Jackass living up to thier eternal namesakes, they captured the soul of the show.

It remains silly, simple fun and stars an orange Dodge Charger that defies gravity. In the special features the stunt coordinator even says as much when he explains the show was "All about the car!" What cracked me up even more was how the majority of stunt people involved in the shoot were among the heavy hitters in Hollywood. They had the stunt doubles for all the major A-list action stars, as well as the creme de la creme of professional stunt drivers were all involved and for one simple reason.

An unabashed love of that car. Which takes center stage about three quarters of the way through and from that point on I was in Hogg heaven. It's obvious that every person on screen was too because the ways they use the car are magnificent. From the moment when they try to leave the University of Georgia on through the end that car is the star and it shines as only the General Lee could.

Up to that point you have Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott relentlessly mugging, while Jessica Simpson has exactly one good scene (you'll know it when your jaw hits the ground and your tongue rolls out). The actual acting is left to Burt Reynolds (Boss Hogg) who obviously doesn't care what film he's in, and the great MC Gainey (Roscoe) who laughs maniacally while never coming off as dangerous. It ends up being nothing more than a silly story about another land grab attempt by Hogg and the Dukes have to win a race in order to stop him. It's as silly as it sounds, and exactly like the show.

What sold it for me was how they used the narrator, the way they used the car, and the blatant silliness of Broken Lizard star Kevin Heffernen who's hysterically funny in this. It's enjoyable, silly fun and worth at least a Netflixing.

Inconvenient Timing

Here's what going to E3 results in: A massive lack of sleep and time to write up all of your personal coverage. The week before, during, and after E3 absolutely kills any personal time you may have, or think you have, and this is especially true if you actually work the convention. I've seen people compare it to other things but unless you're actually there in the thick of things you have absolutely no idea of the amount of work covering that beast is.

Which is why this article at The Escapist is mandatory reading. It captures the excellent love-hate relationship veterans have for the show and the month of May in general. Everything game-wise gets announced or rolled out then instead of parceled throughout the year. As such, all of us who cover it in a professional sense dread May like the coming of a typhoon. We know it'll kick our teeth in as it does every year yet we gladly stand in the path and say, "Please sir, can I have some more?"

All of this is the long way of saying my personal life is about three weeks behind thanks just to this one week event. Now add onto that My Fair Lady's graduation from law school that same weekend, chase it with an endless series of parties, and top it off with plenty of family events and exhaustion is a kind way of describing my current frame of mind. Heck, my writing guide even called the other day to ask where I'd been and once My Fair Lady finished explaining just the short-hand version he wished us luck and hoped to see me again sometime in his life.

On the flip side, Gaming Trend has been doing very nicely thanks to all this E3 coverage. We strive for excellence and made an extremely solid showing on the floor this year with the publishers and developers so hopefully that will translate into some exclusives and such. It's nice to be a part of something for so long and see the fruits of your labors actually get noticed and respected by the industry.

As for the movie reviews here I have several I'm working on now. Some have been dazzling while others are just mediocre. Since it's sort of a slow day at the office I'm going to see if I can't knock out at least two of them today with more on the way. Here's hoping real life allows it.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Sony & Common Sense Part Ways

Games Industry.Biz posted a story today that gives completely undeniable proof that Sony and common sense have officially fallen out:
In an interview with Japanese website IT Media, partially translated by IGN, Kutaragi said: "This is the PS3 price. Expensive, cheap - we don't want you to think of it in terms of game machines."

"For instance," Kutaragi continued, "Is it not nonsense to compare the charge for dinner at the company cafeteria with dinner at a fine restaurant? It's a question of what you can do with that game machine. If you can have an amazing experience, we believe price is not a problem."
The full story is right here.

Let me take a moment to point out that for all of us and everyone else who was actually at E3 the response to Sony and the PS3 was unanimous: Are you out of your f&*#in' mind?!?!?

There is no way on God's green and verdent earth that I'm paying $500 for a gimped, non-upgradeable console, let alone $600 for the full version. Bear in mind that when held side by side, the Xbox 360 and the PS3 illustrated IDENTICAL quality. So why would I pay $200+ more for Sony's latest version of Betamax?

Sony has lost it completely. This is one of the most stunning instances of corporate hubris this century has seen, and that's saying something. No one cared that Sony had playable PS3 games on the floor. Let me say that again just to clarify for the hard of reading:


It's not like it was close. This E3 was an unmitigated disaster for Sony in the United States and anyone who says otherwise wasn't there or is in denial. There is no middle ground. All of the demos we saw for the next generation of console games were impressive, but when your chief rival has a console out for $200 less than yours and shows off tons of second-generation titles and all you do is say you're better than they are then you're doing it wrong.

I never thought Microsoft would completely clean Sony's clock but at the same time that's mostly Sony's fault. Sony is so convinced of its own superiority that they think just because their name is on the console we'll buy it. Take another look at that price tag, hombres, because that's the price beyond which no one but the early adopters will pass. The PS3 is going to be a disaster the likes of which Sony hasn't seen in a generation and this one is entirely on them. The goal of the PS3 was never about high-def gaming, it was always about forcing Blu-Ray onto a market that neither wants nor cares about it. Everyone is more than happy with current DVD tech, and the revelation that HD-DVD upconverts existing DVDs to look even better than they do now all combines to make me laugh at Sony.

On the other hand, Nintendo pwned both Microsoft and Sony by convincing the entire convention that their console was a must-own on Day 1. I've never been an early adopter for anything anywhere, but I want a Revolution (I refuse to call it the Wii) the second it's available. Having played with the controller, I'm an absolute believer. Should the developers program this gem correctly we could be looking at a smorgasboard of extremely fun games. If Nintendo also lets us download and own previous generation titles, then I'll sing hosannas from on high. It's unbelievable as to just how responsive and intuitive the controls for the Revolution are until you try it yourself.

As for Microsoft, I still can't play my existing library on the 360. Should they correct that with the backwards compatible list by this time next year, I would definitely upgrade. There are too many things coming down the pipe that are must-owns. Combine that with the beautiful functionality they're adding to the XBL Marketplace and that's the system to have in the house right next to the Revolution.

The PS3 can sit outside in the cold where it belongs. With 200+ titles for the PS2 coming out by the end of this year alone, I have exactly zero reason to upgrade for the cost of both a 360 and a Revolution. Besides, since Microsoft also will have Grand Theft Auto 4 on the 360 next October Sony is in dire straits.

But hubris won't let them see it.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Now Playing: The Rock

I recently re-played Half-Life 2 to get ready for the expansion pack this June, and the Nova Prospekt sequence got me in the mood to watch this 1996 gem again. For you non-gamers, that level is a massive run-down prison complex that you must infiltrate to save a friend. Running across the cracked and faded linoleum tiles made me think about the famous washroom scene in The Rock so naturally I had to re-watch the whole thing which I haven't done in years.

Dear God I love this film. It's massive, overblown, and the simplistic script is wholely underdeserving of the fetishistic attention to detail director Michael Bay brought to it. But all the bombast in Bay's arsenal combined with this story to make for a hell of an entertaining film. And Ed Harris was robbed of an Oscar nomination for this, by the way.

The story has a Marine black ops team gone rogue capturing Alcatraz Island with 81 tourists as hostages and aiming 15 poison gas missles at San Francisco. The Feds and the Pentagon send in a Navy SEAL team along with Nicholas Cage at his highest strung and an ex-convict-SAS-all-around-badass Sean Connery to take out the missles. Of course, things don't go as planned and it builds to the washroom scene that has me on edge every single time I see it.

The SEALs under Michael Biehn's command infiltrate the prison through the showers but the Marines are tipped off by a nifty motion sensor (that later has a cameo in Bay's Bad Boys II). The Marines cover the SEALs from above the showers and Harris and Biehn have a magnificent verbal sparring match and the normal intensity of both actors rises considerably. It's obvious from the start what's about to happen but the tension of the scene just keeps escalating and escalating past the point of no return. Harris and producer Jerry Bruckheimer both point out in the commentary that Brig. Gen. Francis Hummel was one of the toughest parts Harris ever played, and knowing that the guys on both sides of the issue are good men caught in a bad situation only amplifies the sheer fury of the sequence.

Can you tell that's one of the scenes I'll watch over and over again?

I always wished the film kept some of the SEALs alive and they, along with Cage and Connery, continued to fight the Marines through Alcatraz but sadly it was not to be. What remains is watching Connery kick ass while Cage plays a funny second fiddle to a guy who has no problem throwing a knife into an enemy's throat. Bay's talent for showmanship and Americana is on full display especially at the end of the film when he beautifully shoots the Bay City in all its considerable glory. If you've never seen it, I highly recommend it.

A Perfect 10? Um, Not Quite.

I recently acquired Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal in a trade and right from the start it felt like developer Insomniac Games was off theirs. I never played the first one, loved the second one, and loved the fourth one, but this was my first exposure to part three. The odd sense of humor, deranged supporting characters, and wildly inventive weaponry is all in place but it still feels like the team was spinning their wheels a bit. They came back strong for part four, but this one gets an 80 percent from me.

Yet on the cover is a bolded quote from PSM saying it's a "Perfect 10!" The only thing missing from that is OMGWTFLOL!11!1!!! I swear these people get four levels from an early build as their sole review copy and because they want more freebies they fellate the developer. I realize I may sound like a hypocrite since my score for Space Rangers 2 was used in the marketing campaign for the US release, something I'm damn proud of by the way, but that was a review from the heart for a game that was obviously built as a labor of love.

Now compare that with what is in essence a yearly update. I admit to loving the R&C series deeply because when those games connect I could play them for a month at a time. There is a mind-boggling amount to do and collect in all of them but Up Your Arsenal feels... arbitrary. Like there was a looming deadline so they just recycled everything from the first two games, made up the plot as they went along, and called it a sequel. At least with the next one, Deadlocked, they tried something new and it worked extremely well.

At least I didn't pay for it is the best thing I have to say. Oh, and bring back the plasma whip for the fifth game, guys. That thing rules.