Friday, December 31, 2010

The Outsiders

           Left to Right: Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Nameless Guy, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise
If there's one thing to be said for Francis Ford Coppola after his great streak of movies in 1970s it's that he still had a good eye for young acting talent. Even in the Godfather 3 when his infamous Nepotism led him to pick his own daughter for a role and destroyed the movie he still had Andy Garcia when he was relatively young playing an effective role. He also jumpstarted the careers of Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, and Martin Sheen previously. This is the movie of all jumpstart movies, with a variety of young kids who would eventually become stars, except for the main character.

I read the book in the 8th Grade and watched the movie around the same time, it was a fun read and relatively cheesy, the infamous "Stay Gold Ponyboy!" line oft being a thing yelled in random school hallways for humor. Not too bad of a book for a teen focused writer. The basic plot is there's 2 groups of teenagers, the proletariat Greasers and the bourgeousie Soc (pronounced Sosh somehow) in constant conflict. Johnny (Karate Kid) and Ponyboy (Nameless Guy) eventually get into a fight after hanging out with Diane Lane after her boyfriend pisses her off, Ponyboy almost drowns so Johnny stabs a kid to save him and then they run away. Dallas (Matt Dillon) helps them out and tells them where they can hide out for a while. Unfortunately they burn that down on accident and have to save kids to become heroes because they were wandering around an abandoned church for no apparent reason (actually there is a reason in the book but not in the movie and I sure as hell don't remember it). This sets the stage for the final act, a big brawl between the Socs and Greasers as well as a certain young soul dying and offering the last words Stay Gold Ponyboy!

Perhaps Stay Gold meant "Have a terrible career while the rest of us go off and become successful," 1 year later Ralph Macchio would star in the Karate Kid, which is really fucking boring and somehow immensely popular. 3 years later Tom Cruise would star in Top Gun and become the biggest star in the world. Swayze was already something of a star but his dominance of the 80s would continue. Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, and Emilio Estevez wound up having successful careers as well. But not Ponyboy, he stayed Gold, pure of hollywood corruption and Nepotism.

The movie is pretty functional and often unintentionally hilarious. Somehow they packed the book into 90 minutes fairly successfully so the movie moves along rapidly while still having most of the plot points. I suppose it is a lot harder to follow than the book but it's pretty damn straightforward so I think it works regardless. It's far from a great film but I enjoyed watching it again and it is very surreal seeing all those stars as younger kids.

Final Grade: 7/10

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Obligatory BCS post

Ah the wondrous BCS, mysterious system of silliness and profit exclusion. There are several things which are "good" about the BCS, such as intentionally set up games between schools in different areas of the country who haven't played each other before. The Texas OSU 1 vs 2 game of 5 years ago or so was an example of this, and it was competitive throughout with Vince Young eventually winning out in Overtime. There are also some years where the top 2 teams are fairly obvious and you can't really make much of a complaint. However in recent years Boise State and to a lesser extent TCU have risen to a new competitive echelon, but neither has ever risen higher than the #3 seed (and even that seems to be a difficult accomplishment).

One of the things the BCS does to ensure that specific conferences stay dominant is ensure that Boise and TCU play each other in bowl games if possible, if Boise hadn't lost the same thing would be happening this year. Unfortunately that game is just as legitimate of a "National Championship" as the prescribed duel between two larger schools. Boise in particular has done outstanding in bowl games and against supposedly superior conferences and teams, but as of yet has not been allowed to sniff at actually playing in the game. Looking at the future of sports discussion again they also talk about the BCS (naturally) and Joe Pos' take is that it is still a "mythical" national champion, Boise State could have claimed themselves National Champions last year without too much of an issue, apart from not having a crystal football to their credit (though they could just get it from someone else).

Another issue that's brought up is that a college playoff system would be immensely more profitable to the NCAA than the current system is, anywhere from five to ten times as much revenue generated. However, since conferences themselves basically control the system at this point they don't want to hand over control to the NCAA and would rather make less overall as long as they have more fleeting power over the system (and again there is a great fear that Boise and TCU could destroy the better conferences for the most part and make the whole system look foolish. Obviously a playoff system would be fairer and more interesting, with the addition of profit it seems a must for any profit seeking system, which the NCAA undoubtedly is, but it is still very unlikely to happen in the next decade unless something drastic happens.

So, let us all watch and see if TCU can destroy Wisconsin, though I would have preferred an SEC opponent for them. If it happens 10 years in a row or something maybe something will change, albeit TCU is slated to join the Big East in a couple of years making it sort of a moot point. UConn is in the BCS games this year with an austere 8-4 record, we should watch with glee as they get annihilated. Unfortunately I'll be at work while the MSU game is going on, but I'll just watch it online later so I can still write something vaguely intelligent about it. Once Boise State joins the Pac 10 and dominates every year I think the BCS will be reaffirmed in their current position, though if it stays outside there is some vague chance of their success in altering the system a tad.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jade Empire

+++ One awesome area
+ Somewhat unpredictable storyline
+ If you choose the worst possible character and the hardest difficulty the combat system gives the illusion of depth
+ Rolling around is pretty fun
+ Various ways to dispatch opponents
+ Good Soundtrack
+ Impressive graphics, even now
-- Quite easy
-- Combat devolves into the same few button presses in most situations, merely taking longer on higher difficulty levels
-- Very short by 2005 standards
-- Has almost the exact same story as KotoR despite the drastic difference in setting
- Same craptastic moral choice/alignment system as in KotOR

Ah here we are in Bioware land. When entering this accursed place one should always consult the handy dandy Bioware cliche chart. (courtesy of Valnak) And surprise surprise this game fits every one of the extra generic cliches! I replayed the first chapter on the hardest difficulty with the crappiest character, which did actually take a while and some mild amount of effort.

Unfortunately as the game goes on the enemies don't really do any more damage and you get 7-8 times as much health as you had at the start. Even with having to swap multiple styles and avoid nearly every attack it still was more or less the same thing over and over just taking longer. Your attacks also become quicker and more powerful over time, so what originally requires a dodge attack dodge attack string can be replaced by simply spamming an attack while occasionally dodging away from extraneous opposition.

I also replayed the aforementioned awesome area, which is essentially the climax of the game, a gauntlet of first 20 normal enemies than 4 elite troops and then the hardest boss in the game. This was still just as fun as I recall but even on hard I only died once to the boss due to not realizing I wasn't doing any damage in my present style. There are 20+ different styles you can have to fight with, including ranged combat and transforming into certain demons, some of them have better melee range while some of them slow the opponent or drain his chi (mana).

In the case of the boss I simply had to use one style (even though it was almost completely unupgraded) to win with relative ease, punch punch punch dodge repeat. It was still pretty fun, and I'm even slightly compelled to bumrush through the rest of the game to get there again with a different character, but apart from that one area the game is not all that interesting. I replayed this area again, this time powering up that style (having gained a level during the gauntlet), and sure enough all I had to do was spam it over and over to win.

This game has one of the better Bioware storylines, but it still feels extremely stale having played several of the other RPGs. It also only lasts about 20 hours, half as long as either KotOR. I have not played another Bioware game since this one due to my excessive disappointment. IGN gave this game a 9.9/10! While it is of more appropriate length to today's retarded audience it is still an easy, short, repetitive game with that retarded moral choice system built in which changes nothing and does nothing save weaken the plot. Silent Protagonists in RPGs may give you the illusion of "role-playing" but most of the time the only purpose this serves is negating the Protagonist as a major character.

Final Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

True Grit

Hurray another Coen Brothers movie! Actually they are somewhat hit or miss, but they've certainly made some fantastic movies over the years. You'd think this movie would be No Country plus the Big Lebowski but actually its more a straight western that feels like neither. The film is a remake of a John Wayne movie, and like all John Wayne movies is very straightforward. Jeff Bridges who was certainly Lebowski in Tron is quite a bit different in this and just a general unsavory good guy who also happens to be the greatest gunslinger ever or something. I don't think a film having no surprises is bad in and of itself but I guess some unpredictability is required for true greatness. That said this is an outstanding western and I'll be purchasing it once it hits DVD if only to watch it with captions.

Jeff Bridges speaks with a heavy drunken slur for the entire film so its quite hard to understand about half of what he says though it doesn't much affect your understanding of the situation. I was able to get the gist of most of it so its a minor quibble, perhaps masterminded by the Coens in order to ensure DVD sales and rewatching. Bastards. Matt Damon is rather humorous in his role as he blunders his way to catching someone ever so slightly smarter than he is. I didn't really gather any villainous notions of any of the characters, even Josh Brolin. Though I suppose he's just a moron in the context of the film while still being harsh and cruel. Comparitively Gene Hackman is a dual sided character in Unforgiven who's more or less terrifying. Every character speaks in a more era appropriate fashion like a sort of old english play, which makes the film fairly entertaining if only because it doesn't dumb down the language of the characters to a modern set.

The above mentioned way of speaking adds to the wonderful atmosphere. Within about 5 minutes of the film beginning you are immediately engrossed in the atmosphere, just as No Country for Old Men and Fargo placed you in their respective settings. This is the biggest strength of the film and of the Coens in general. (at least in their better films)  I think this film was intentionally made as a throwback and it has already outperformed its budget which is exceptionally rare for a Western in the modern filmmaking world. It has gruesome scenes but somehow still became PG-13 and the plot is relatively lighthearted throughout so it's not the serious "gritty" (no pun intended) feel that No Country gave you. This is a very good Western, not as good as Unforgiven or The Good the Bad and the Ugly but still quite excellent, probably the best Western since Unforgiven.

As previously mentioned this film has taken second fiddle to the same studio's The Fighter in award promotion, which I imagine is not contrary to how the Coens felt about this film. This movie may be superior to the Fighter but it's not an astonishing movie that must win Best Picture at all costs like Inception or No Country for Old Men, so I don't think if this film receives few awards it necessarily makes it inferior to the other films of this most wonderful year in film. However, the female lead of this film Hailee Steinfeld is only 13-14 and puts forth an outstanding performance as Mattie Ross and should definitely win Best Actress, (or Best Supporting Actress though she's in every scene with the most lines) aside from that only Cinematography seems a must win.

From what I've heard this film is vastly superior to the original while staying true to the plot and scenes, which might again excuse it for having a generally straightforward plot throughout with only the actors and scenery themselves being enhanced. The secondary villain is well played even though he's only in a short role, albeit he seems a decent enough fellow so why he is so loathed by Cogburn is mysterious to me. I highly recommend this film for any viewing audience, as it is perhaps the only Coen Brother's film I've seen that is very family friendly, which is quite refreshing in this era of constant debauchery.

Final Grade: 9/10

Note: I woke up about 4 hours ago and played Red Dead for a while so perhaps this film has drawn me more to playing the Western game genre which includes all of 2 games. Also the quality of this post is therefore somewhat deteriorated, alas.

Monday, December 27, 2010

What happened to the Pistons?

Not too long ago the pistons were a very successful NBA franchise, consistently making at least the East Conference Finals every year, they may not have won a ton of championships but they did beat the Shaq/Kobe Lakers in 2004, so why are they so terrible now? You can see from this graph that every year except for the past 3 they have always been in the top 10 of the NBA power rankings essentially for the entire season. While the Pistons weren't a dynastic team like the Lakers or Spurs they were still a top 5 team for the decade and extremely good in the regular season. Unfortunately those times have ended, but why!?

I suppose age is the biggest reason, though the San Antonio Spurs, a relatively similar team except their Center is an offensive and defensive powerhouse, have aged perfectly well (see this). The largest reason is the offseason recruitments of first Allen Iverson (which was mostly to clear contract space), and then having gotten a crapload of space the further acquisitions of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villenueva.

The biggest issue they had was having payroll space the offseason before Lebron/Wade/Stoudemire etc. hit free agency, so they had to pick up flawed players. Ben Gordon and Villenueva are both purely offensive players, Detroit has played tough defense as their MO since the dawn of time, so naturally they do not function well in the environment, just as Iverson did not.

So then, what is the chance for recovery if any? The pistons need to trade their dead weight within a few seasons and acquire another marquee player, or rebuild from the inside with solid draft classes. Joe Dumars had been an excellent GM up until 2008 (sans the Darko Milicic fiasco) and everyone did applaud the Iverson trade due to the nature of NBA contracts.

The salary floor in the NBA is so high that terrible contracts become a resource to free up cap space before impending free agency. You can't simply run out a terrible, cheap team most of the time as in baseball. Of course as a result of this many of the NBA franchises are losing money every year, as no one watches the NBA and filling even a small arena for a terrible team is unlikely. The NBA was nearing bankruptcy a year ago though perhaps the newly successful Knicks and Heat will change that.

It looks like the best the pistons can hope for for the next 3-4 years is .500 and barely making the playoffs. As I've said before barely any teams are at 500, they're either really good or really bad with very little inbetween, but that doesn't mean the Pistons can not achieve that. After that perhaps they can actually attract a good free agent as opposed to the terrible situation they're in now. Even a terrible team like Miami can attract FA's in the NBA so I don't think it'd be too much of an issue with the Pistons' storied history.

Aside: I've started playing Red Dead in addition to the other 3 PS3 games mentioned, pretty damn awesome and a hell of a lot better than GTA IV.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Xenosaga Episode III

+++ Outstanding Voice Acting (Kos-Mos' original voice returns!)
+++ Awesome soundtrack
++ Very good Storyline until the Third Act
++ Best combat system in the series
++ About as good as jumbling 4 games together could possibly be
+ Poor Character Redesigns from II are fixed, better ones remain
+ Decent Graphics
+ T-elos
+ Margulis is the hardest boss
-- Plot centers around Shion moreso than before
- Fairly Easy
- Margulis and Albedo's respective roles are relatively minor
- Storyline goes from solid to craptastic Boss gauntlet in a rather jarring fashion
- Large amount of Fanservice
- For the first time the censoring is absurd

Let's get this part out of the way as quickly as possible: The plot of the last game of this series, whether it was 3 games or 6 games was going to have a really crappy plot at the end. This is how longwinded inconclusive series go, much like a JJ Abrams Television show. But apart from that the best two characters would presumably be dead before it even started and the only 3 villains you'd have would be Wilhelm, the Red Testament, and T-elos. T-elos is a very solid villain, one might say superior to almost every villain in Final Fantasy games (Delita and Kefka excepted), but hardly amazing even with more development. So, this game's plot not being so stellar at the end is acceptable, and hell it does a better job with a crappy situation than most other JRPGs do with good ones.

Despite somehow taking 10 more hours to complete it than I did the first time I still only died once (hadn't played the game in 4 years so I didn't have any incredible advantage or knowledge of the game) despite playing with the dumbest party possible. And of course that death was in a Mech battle so it didn't even matter (only 4 Mechs to choose from all rather powerful). The end of this game has 3 boss gauntlets in a row, the first being relatively solid plotwise and the other 2 being a mess though mildly entertaining.

The second gauntlet is the hardest part of the game by quite a lot, the Black Testament's Mech (ES Dan) is what killed me, so fuck Dan and his worthless tribe. He doesn't really have a gimmick he just powers up by a shitload halfway through and you have to be more careful. Margulis is the boss after this, who has two gimmicks, one of which isn't too hard to figure out but the other took me a while first time through but I did actually remember it this time (or figured it out quickly due to my ES strategy changing after doing that battle). There is an optional Mech battle with a lot more HP and it's not harder than either of these 2, though it is a nice throwback to Xenogears. The easier of his two gimmicks is that he will occasionally hit one mech for 99999 (there are no revives in Mech battles), and that will happen more than 4 times in the course of the fight.
Margulis Boss Theme
Testament Boss theme

The third boss gauntlet which again features T-elos, Red, and (some variant of) Wilhelm, isn't all that hard. I suppose apart from the Optional monster boss which actually is a lot harder than everything else, the Red Testament is the hardest boss fight non-mech but I don't recall ever dying to it regardless. His difficulty is fine, the other 2 are both pieces of cake. The last boss has a fuck you attack that hits your whole party for 16000 damage (non mech battles HP cap is around 5000) and can't be guarded but you have abilities to avoid it or auto-revive yourself by then so it's not that bad. The real glaring issue here is that the first battle with T-elos (the third or fourth boss fight in the game) is harder than this one.
Major Boss Theme 
Last Boss Theme
T-elos Second Battle Theme

I have no problem with boss gauntlets in general as long as they have a consistent difficulty curve and the last few are very difficult (Final Fantasy XIII's last chapter is a really long boss gauntlet where everything is difficult except the last boss, which is weird as fuck), if they're all pretty easy it's just a really boring way to slow down the lack of plot. The first gauntlet in this game is the only one that makes sense plotwise and is basically taken completely from Xenogears' last area. Yuriev would have been the last boss of the third game, with Margulis and the rest of Ormus or a couple of the Testaments (Black) being the respective bosses for the fourth and fifth games (or vice-versa). The absolutely last area actually has an okay plot sequence, but up to that point the boss gauntlet is pretty silly. Hi there, let us fight nobly, noes I can't believe you died repeat.
Normal Boss Theme 
Yuriev Boss Theme

This is probably the only game I can think of that has 4 or 5 different last boss themes tossed in it, which makes the soundtrack pretty kickass. If every one of the bosses was extremely difficult I might be inclined to toss this game a perfect score, but alas. As for action scenes the only person vs X ones are the last area and the Kos-Mos vs. T-elos fights; here's the first one. If for some reason you are compelled to watch the last scenes watch the uncensored version as well, since this game is the most heavily censored. More T-elos and Kos-Mos vs. the Last boss of the second game in the third game somehow or other. Unfortunately Jin vs. Margulis only takes place in Mechs this time, but here's the only one worth watching. I suppose technically with that sword toss he changed the course of the plot.

Summing up this game: Awesome battle system without much challenge to it, Great plot that falls off at the end, and very shiny with good music to boot. (Aside: Final Fantasy XIII's battle system is extremely similar except for taking out the irritating wading through menus part and it's a hell of a lot more difficult.) It is as good as possible given the limitations of forcing 4 games into one. If Xenosaga 2 had been more well received I imagine we'd be on around the 5th game by now, alas. The first game still has Albedo ripping his own head off, the second game has the Jin vs. Margulis fights, but this game is still better in general.

Final Grade: 9/10

Random Favorite Song: Play at Your Own Risk
Last Boss Theme performed Live

Despite this post being around noon I did just wake up so quality should be fine.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

How the [Fred] Stole Christmas

Then the [Fred] thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

Yay another plan post. Since we're nearing the end of the month I'll give you a preview of what's to come in the next month. Stayed up last night till 4 am having realized I wasn't going to have time to finish Xeno 3 by tomorrow.

Sunday ~ Xenosaga 3
The first JRPG discussed with a large amount of fanservice, crazy misogynist Japanese. This review will be a bit more detailed due to the 40 hours I spent going through it again. Somehow I beat it 10 hours slower this time around, even discounting the sidequests and time spent screwing around. I suppose I'm not quite as good as I once was, alas.
Monday ~ What happened to the Pistons?
An NBA post! The pistons won the championship in 2004 and were a more or less dominant team in the east from 2004-2008, why did everything go south following the Iverson trade? Their recovery seems to be in the distant future, despite being a somewhat storied franchise.
Tuesday ~ True Grit
Saw this yesterday, yet another very good Coen movie. For some reason the studio is promoting an inferior film (the Fighter) for awards but here's to hoping some random movie beats out Social Network for Best Picture. First movie I'm guaranteed to buy quickly after it comes on DVD since Inception.
Wednesday ~ Jade Empire
Ah Bioware RPGs... According to a whole shitload of random morons their games are vastly superior to standard JRPGs, except not really. This is a prelude to a post next week for more Bioware hatred to be yet revealed. Bethesda's games are unique and interesting and separate themselves from traditional RPGs, Biowares don't do quite so much. I'm sure if it was "Star Wars: Jade Empire" It'd be the best game ever though. What's an American RPG about Japanese people called? AJRPG? ARPGAJP? The game industry needs more abbreviations.
Thursday ~ Bowl game discussion
Not really a standard complaint about the BCS or anything, just what to watch and what not to watch. TCU was not matched up with an SEC team so the Sacred Evangelical Conference could be safe from certain destruction. Good thing the National Champion's going to have recruiting violations for the hundredth year in a row.

Friday ~ The Outsiders
Another film I've owned for a while but haven't seen in ages. Directed by the director of the Godfather and Apocalypse Now! A huge number of people who would become stars down the road in it, and a great deal of humorous cheesiness just like the book. Stay gold ponyboy!

Month Ahead
The next two series will be Suikoden (III-V) and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, also expect updates to Vagrant Story and Inception vs The Social Network posts. I'm going to return to PS3 games for a while in my own playtime, starting with replaying Resistance: Fall of Man on Hard, then moving on to Assassin's Creed and finally Demon's Souls. Once I finish with those 3 I'll do at least half of another game for the magical blog as opposed to a few hours to refresh my memory.

Fanservice is a very strange and perverted function of Japanese culture. Unfortunately when present excessively it is completely impossible to take certain female characters seriously, and Xenosaga 3 is no exception. I have no problem with small to moderate amounts of it but a large amount becomes quickly disturbing. I really wanted to see all of the female characters half naked for no reason whatsoever, adds so much to the plot! Ugh. The first 2 Xenosaga games are within acceptable limits but the third not so much.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Once Upon a Time In America

I watched the original cut of this film, as the cut that was released in theaters was shortened and rearranged thus making Sergio Leone go nuts and die 5 years later. The original cut is a trim 3 hours and 49 minutes. Roger Ebert has called this "the best film about the prohibition era." Old 70s and 80s Directors Cuts always contain some weird shit somewhere (Apocalypse Now for instance is pretty terrible in DC form), this one has it in the first few scenes of the childhood section (and it's only about 5 minutes or so), but after that the rest of the film is excellent.

There are some disturbing scenes later in the movie but they're rather plot centric and while they could be shorter it isn't anywhere as strange as the earlier portions. Due to the American cut killing 90 minutes of the film and rearranging the way the plot happens the film was not successful in the US, though once it was rereleased on DVD as the extended cut in 2003 it was universally praised again. Presumably it would have been the favorite for Best Picture with the original cut.

This film takes place in 3 different time periods, the first shown being the prohibition era where Noodles (De Niro) and company are at their economic peak, though the downfall of this peak is the first scene in the film so there is a great deal of intrigue about the rise and fall. The second period shown is 35 years later (the aging effect in this film is great, De Niro looks just like he does now except he was 26 years younger at the time) when he returns to where the downfall occurred and discusses the situation with the old bartender of his speakeasy Moe. The third period is when they are kids, which is the shortest and generally worst part though mostly due to the unnecessary scenes. The film cycles between these 3 points of view and weaves an interesting narrative.

Like most gangster movies this movie is more about figuring out the situation than action itself, there are several action scenes but it's a much more contemplative film than an action film. The plot is not mysteriously complex or anything and it's not shown as a Suspense movie so that's not really much of an issue, but it is still very interesting and De Niro is once again excellent. James Woods is also very good in this film and I always thought he was a solid actor though his career hasn't been nearly as amazing as De Niro's. Joe Pesci is in this film for about 5 minutes yet somehow has the fourth credit listing, he's fine in his role but it's sort of difficult to make a judgment about one short scene.

Much like in Taxi Driver and the Deer Hunter De Niro's character is incredibly easy to sympathize with, despite occasionally horrific acts. His life is what the movie is centered around and it is pretty amazing throughout. (well at least when De Niro is actually playing the part, all of the kids are terrible except for one) The cinematography is quite complex as the scenes and eras change rapidly, there's a hidden elevator in the first scene which is later carefully shown with no words to discuss it for instance, several other scenes are effectively shown with the camera. This movie has 5 minute pauses with no spoken words with regularity that seemingly always work well at conveying emotion.

Overall this is one of the better gangster films I've seen, it's not as good as the Godfather but it's a lot better than the Untouchables and Road to Perdition. If only the 5-10 minutes of crappy scenes were cut it could have been almost perfect. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly remains Sergio Leone's finest work but this isn't all that far behind and shockingly isn't a spaghetti western. The best film I've reviewed so far other than Inception.

Final Grade: 9.5/10

Thursday, December 23, 2010

How to Stop the Patriots (Satire)

The Pats almost lost to the Rodgersless Packers somehow so clearly they are in fact mortal, however they still seem to be overwhelming favorites to win the Superbowl. Let's make one thing clear, Bill Belichick is at least a high ranked demon in hell's hierarchy, and perhaps even Lucifer himself. With that in mind I present 3 separate plans of action to stop the madness.
Plot 1: Assassinate Belichick
I'm sure there's around 2000 Snipers sitting around in Afghanistan shooting rocks and morons, but obviously since Belichick is quite possibly Osama Bin Laden as well why don't they come over here and finish the job. Do they not have God given talents for just such an occasion?
Well, it seems to me, sir, that God gave me a special gift, made me a fine instrument of warfare.  Well, what I mean by that, sir, is... if you was to put me and this here sniper rifle anywhere up to and including one mile of [Bill Belichick] with a clear line of sight, sir... pack your bags, fellas, war's over. Amen.
The Patriots would immediately crumble into nothingness as the demonic creation of Foxborough would instantly vaporize with the loss of Belichick. If it is not done he will continue to steal everyone's signals and possibly eat babies to satisfy his hunger. Every  human football coach is a moron, thus proving Belichick is obviously not human and thus subject to much brutality. Save us young Jacksons of the world!
Plot 2: Turn Tom Brady into a Paraplegic

This idea was first offered by the magnanimous Ryan Parker, in his song "Go Gillooly" amidst the ridiculous undefeated season of doom. It is speculated by pundits that the Patriots are even more likely to win this year because the league is so terrible. His wife makes considerably more money than he does, taking out his knees wouldn't be too harsh at all.  Obviously the Patriots are still pretty good since Lucifer would still be on the sidelines conjuring demonic forces to assist him. However, they weren't absurdly dominant with Matt Cassell just competent. As horrifying as allowing the Devil to persist in this realm is I'd say Brady is not too terrible as a second target.
Plot 3: Miracle
Clearly this is the most realistic option, but just sit around and pray for the next 2 months and maybe God will smite Belichick for us, or Tyree will be traded to whoever else winds up in the Superbowl to beat the evil Pats. Peyton Manning, subordinate of the Archangel Michael Tony Dungy seen here:
Could possibly appeal to his Lord and lead the hampered Colts to victory. Perhaps Polamalu could start flying with his very aerodynamic mane and intercept every pass, or Ray Lewis could call his friends to murder the entire Patriots team and get away with the No.1 defense of all time. Anything is possible! Miracle the Packers into the Superbowl where Rodgers will win it by human methods perhaps, somehow make the Bears not terrible, lead the 7-9 NFC West champions to the Superbowl and bestow upon them holy blessings to defeat the demon Belichick. Start Praying.

Aside: Alternative Tron Opinion somehow this guy talks to a camera for an hour+ about movies he hates and actually manages to be pretty funny, not quite as hit or miss as Bob (Transformers 2 review is great). It is spoiler heavy but it doesn't make a difference as the plot is very predictable and very stupid as already stipulated.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Final Fantasy I & II

                       I wish new games had 84 page handbooks
Final Fantasy I
++ Warmech
++ Essentially began the JRPG formula of today
++ Moderately Difficult
+ Some character variety and customizability
+ Somehow managed to spring 12+ spiritual sequels
+ Mindblowing graphics
+ Nuke Spell
+ 30-40 hour long NES game
-- Lots of grinding
- Doesn't have much of a storyline
- Certain generic parties are vastly superior to other sets of parties

It's the rosebowl of JRPGs! Well not really, Final Fantasy is not the first JRPG in general but the familiar formula that we see today originated more or less here. That formula is essentially "grind, dungeon crawl, kill boss, repeat" Eventually a storyline was added to the games but the formula remains unchanged in most JRPGs. (Vagrant Story's formula is more like "dungeon crawl, plot bomb, get massacred for a while, kill boss, repeat") While I could just give it a 10 for originating the formula I'd like to actually review it realistically. The combat is mildly strategic though its mostly all about figuring out which spells/abilities/characters are overpowered and exploiting them to the fullest (again much like every other JRPG since).

Apart from the Warmech the game isn't all that difficult if you grind a bit and pick the right sort of party. If you pick a very weak party type then expect a lot of trial and error until you succeed and of course even more grinding. Naturally trial and error and grinding are both staples in modern JRPGs that are at all worth playing difficult. There are particularly powerful enemies that you can face very early on to powerlevel quickly that I'm sure most people know about, if you do so the game doesn't take quite so long but generally every boss for a while will be easier than those random battles.

Overall this game is still relatively playable even now (though you can get the Origins version/rom if you want it to look a bit better), which is an accomplishment in and of itself. Unfortunately its not all that fun or challenging after the first time. Unless you're powered solely by nostalgia I'd recommend going through once just for the hell of it and then moving on to something better.

Final Grade: 8/10
Final Fantasy II
+ Has a storyline!
+ Somewhat experimental
+ Feels slightly unique despite never being released in the US until the early 2000s
+ Introduces Dragoons
--- Dumbest leveling system imaginable
-- Moderately Easy
-- Physical abilities dominate spells

No, not Final Fantasy IV starring Kain and Cecil, Final Fantasy II of only Japanese release fame. For whatever strange reason they decided to confuse us by not confusing those young americans in the 1990s by calling IV II and VI III. This game isn't too horrible, but it is not the happy nostalgia journey of the previous game by any stretch of the imagination.

To level up in this game you just hit your opponent several times and hope at the end of the battle that you get a stat boost. To boost defensive stats you wait until they hit you. At least in the newer versions this results in beating the shit out of yourself to get infinite HP boosts and defensive stat bonuses while still occasionally getting attack bonuses. If this were not an option I can't imagine how tedious the grinding would be. As a direct result of this you're much more likely to wind up with physical attacks being much more powerful than spells, a horrid precedent that seems to be quite popular even now. Spells are the "Fantasy" part of these games in combat but yet just whacking someone slowly with a sword is generally how you kill shit the fastest, alas.

Once you figure out the levelling gimmick you can boost everyone's stats in every random battle and have no real incentive to fight more difficult enemies than the starting areas,' you can overlevel the entire game at almost the beginning and then steamroll the rest. Yet another dangerous precedent that seems all too common these days. While this game is far from unplayable its still not remarkable in any way except for the failings. It does actually have a plot and characters that talk though, so that's a bonus. Of course that plot is pretty much drivel, but it's an NES game so that's fine.

Final Grade: 6/10

A few days ago I emerged victorious in the semifinals of my Fantasy Football league despite being down 40 points with one part of my team to go. The Chicago Bears defense! With 4 sacks, 3 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, and a Kick Return TD I somehow emerged victorious.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tron Legacy

The first Tron was visually impressive with a weak storyline and while I have childhood memories of watching it repeatedly all I remember is the visual part of the film. This film is no different, though I do think it is better than the first film simply due to the technology available. I saw it in 3D and this film is ostensibly the best film in 3D since Avatar. I haven't seen any other movies in 3D other than Avatar so I really couldn't say, it works in 3D but I imagine it would work in 2D as well.

The biggest weakness this film has is the half hour of exposition and blah that it starts out with, there is literally no reason why they need the corporate plot about Encom or any more background about Tron than ~5 minutes of discussion which could take place in the gameworld (and kind of does), this was also a weakness in the first film but much less glaring than it is here. Once the hour or so long race to the finish begins, signified by one kindly gentlemen pulling out his pimp cane and shooting people with it, the movie is completely riveting the entire time.

Since this is a disney movie the plot is 100% predictable, even from the first 30 minutes or so while the reveals aren't given until an hour later. I don't think this is much of an issue but some people might find it to be silly. The movie has done moderately well at the box office (whilst Narnia is still raking overseas so there may yet be another film) with 43 million, but it has to sustain for a few weeks like Avatar did to reach any significant milestone. I think Disney will make a sequel as long as this film gets ~200 million domestic or so, which considering it only has to realistically compete with the god awful Gullivers Travels is not outside the realm of possibility.

To recap: the plot sucks, there's a half hour of pointless exposition, and the film still manages to be better than the first in every way due to incredible special effects and a unique world to view (with Daft Punk handling the soundtrack no less). There are several things which are hinted at it in the process of the movie that are incredibly more interesting than the movie itself, some sort of Tron/Real World crossover for instance would be amazing.

The Pirates movies didn't go off the cliff of shittiness until the third one and while that series had little or nothing to improve upon in the first film I believe this movie has quite a bit, so hopefully the series does get better over time. There's also not an absurd amount of cleavage and innuendo, which is always nice for the kids and not breaking the fourth wall. If nothing else see this movie so the next movies give you a connection to the characters and for the sole purpose of being visually awed. If you like Jeff Bridges/ The Big Lebowski I'm sure you'll like him playing God in this movie as well.

Final Grade: 8.5/10

Bob's review is once again pretty good, just watch the Watchmen review if you don't think he's going to be terrible at some point though.

Two incredible panel discussions that haven't received a lot of press with Bob Costas, Bill James, and Joe Posnanski: The Future of Sports | Q&A

Monday, December 20, 2010

Parity in the three Major Sports


Surely the NFL, that famed league of parity, has extremely varied teams who are successful each year! Actually not so much. Looking at the past 10 years we have merely 7 different Superbowl winners, as the Patriots and Steelers have won multiple games. The Colts and Ravens have also won, thus narrowing the "Surprise team" victories down to just 3. Aside from Superbowl victories you can count on several teams to succeed every year and several teams to suck every year. Quoting this article:

"The fact of the mat­ter in today’s NFL is that four teams — all in the AFC — have held an iron grip over the NFL for more than a decade. Den­ver, Indy, New Eng­land and Pitts­burgh can be counted on year after year — with the occa­sional excep­tion here and there — to stand among the very best teams in the league. Those four have won 11 of the past 14 AFC titles. They’ve won six of the past eight Super Bowls and eight of the past 12. Over the past 15 years, the AFC’s Big Four have filled 19 of 30 spots in the AFC title game."

 The Broncos of course have faded a fair amount since then but the other 3 teams are virtually always good, so are the Ravens, Eagles, Cowboys (down year this year to the amusement of all), and Chargers. I'm not sure what inspired the NFL to promote itself for parity but every year we see the same teams succeeding and the same teams failing. The Lions, Panthers, Cardinals, Texans, Bills, Bengals, Browns, 49ers, and Redskins are almost always bad. The Bengals had a few good years between decades of sucking, whoop de doo. So, seeing that parity is a myth one hopes and dreams that announcers will stop blabbing about it and how important the salary cap is in creating it.

                 Phil was too lazy to wear an XI hat this year

Well, the NBA is slightly different in that it wants good teams to succeed to promote itself. Generally speaking no one watches the regular season of the NBA, not even people from the cities where the teams are (though I've watched about 4-5 Heat games this year out of curiosity), so for that month and a half of playoffs they need a lot of press behind specific players and teams to generate attention (i.e. Lakers Celtics or Lebron vs Kobe). However the NBA still does have a salary cap in place.

Looking at the past 10 years the Lakers and Spurs have won 7 of the past 10 championships (and 9 of the past 12), with only the Heat and Pistons being genuine surprise teams as the loaded big three Celtics won it a couple of years ago. Just looking at the West only the Dallas Mavericks have managed to even get to the finals in 1 year out of the past 12, every other year belonging to the Lakers and Spurs. Once again as with the NFL there are consistently good teams and consistently bad teams, but the NBA is perhaps the worst offender of the major sports in this regard, as the playoff teams are almost the same every year, and certainly the successful teams in the playoffs are. Looking at the current standings there are 3 teams around .500 and 14 teams that are in excellent shape for the playoffs and the rest are in horrible shape. We're barely 1/3rd of the way through the regular season and half the teams looked to be mostly eliminated.

*Gasp* the league of reverse parity where the Yankees and Red Sox buy the World Series every year! Looking at the past 10 years there have been 9 different champions in the MLB. 9/10! Not only that you could classify 5-6 of those teams as surprising victors. The Red Sox and Yankees are great teams every year but that is almost it in the entire league, several other teams are consistently good but not consistently great and there is no real dynasty team out there. The MLB has no salary cap or limitations on spending, so why then is it the fairest league in recent years?

Well, in terms of the regular season the 162 game schedule pretty much ensures the better teams will make the playoffs (and only 8 teams get in) so each of those would point to a particular type of team being successful, the big market big budget teams. However the fairest draft system in professional sports coupled with the most elaborate minor league system allows for the development of cheap talent which is usable for 5-6 years allowing the rise of previously always terrible teams like the Tampa Bay Rays. There are a couple of teams that are almost always terrible but at least it isn't half or one fourth the league like the other 2 sports.

Ignoring the regular season why is it more random teams win the World Series than not. As Billy Beane would say "It's fucking luck!," in general because hitters always have a higher failure rate at the plate than success (and failing 6/10 times is considered excellent) it is quite random over a small sample size how well one particular team will do against another. Hence this year where the Phillies lost to the Giants and the Yankees lost to the Rangers and the Rangers lost to the Giants in the World Series, thus ensuring that from the Championship series onward the underdog won every single game. 

The best team in the league might have at most a 35% chance of winning the world series upon getting into the championship series and the worst team will have at worst a 15% chance. (unless they're the Gardenhire Twins or the Bobby Cox Braves of course) While the playoffs are something of a crapshoot (particularly the Division series) it is still quite entertaining every year to see different teams succeeding. At any rate baseball is definitively the fairest sport over the past 10 years, no salary cap and very little disincentive to spend as much as you want if you're the Yankees or Red Sox.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Xenosaga Episode II

+++ Storyline is still great
+++ Voice Acting is excellent, though slightly deteriorated from the first game
++ Most difficult game in the series
++ Extensive sidequests (other games have very little in this regard)
++ Introduces an excellent supporting character (Jin)
+ Impressive Graphics
+ Fantastic final area
+ Much improved Mech combat system
--- First quarter of the game is a tedious slog of boredom
- Battle system is interesting, but winds up making most of the early random battles more difficult than the early bosses
- Character redesigns are hit and miss
- Kos-Mos' new voice is terrible
- Margulis fight could be made a lot harder
- Second Miltia song is AIDS

No, I haven't managed to replay this whole game in 5 hours, but I may play it in the future still. The game gets to be very fun if you make it past the first 5-6 hours of tedium as you slog through random battles that take much longer than boss encounters and run around Second Miltia blabbing to people. For some reason Namco (and later Namco-Bandai) felt that making the character run around for 3-4 hours was essential at the start of each of these 25-30 hour games, though it only feels especially dragging in this case. The first 30 minutes is actually pretty action packed and entertaining, but after that the facepalms will come, most assuredly.

This game, particularly the North American version (3 exclusive bosses) is actually around 60-70 hours long as opposed to the typical 30, and that is due to the massive sidequest areas that open up after the end of the game. Unfortunately these areas aren't quite as well designed as the last area of the main game which is awesome, but they're still a nice diversion.

As for the action scenes, some of the best ones are here. Though unfortunately nothing compares to Albedo ripping his own head off (and nothing does in any other game either), we do have more entertaining crap from him here as well (uncensored in Japanese). As that might tip you off a lot of this game and the next game occur in the past, since explaining the plot macguffins without actually going there would be pretty impossible. Fortunately we do have this badass fight between Jin and Margulis (Japanese)that, naturally, happens in the first 30 minutes. And here's another one (Compilation with the spiffy music background) much later. I suppose its debatable whether a scene in the next game is better but those opponents are certainly vastly inferior in terms of character design. Yep, Margulis is pretty damn awesome. There's quite a few other awesome scenes that are pretty spoiler-heavy as usual.

This game also has the best ending out of all three games, even though it sort of leaves it up in the air like the previous version. At least a foe is presented and defeated (not Margulis) and he has some interesting characteristics about him. Also some further reconciliation with another longstanding character, and more connection to the overall plot is had. Sans Albedo's craziness in the first game this game actually has a more interesting plot, which I guess is natural given that there isn't quite as much exposition in the beginning.

Unfortunately despite the game's strengths it did not sell all that well, while the first game hit Greatest Hits fairly quickly this game never did and there were several hundred thousand units unsold. I attribute this to difficulty and the extensive boredom served in the first part of the game, but just as every other game in the series it can arguably be labeled the best of the three due to the advantages it holds. The ES (mech) combat system is actually very well done and interesting from the start, hence it is almost copy/pasted into the third game. However due to this game being commercially unsuccessful the third game is basically a bandaged up apology that has several faults due to the nature of merging 4 planned games into one.

Final Grade: 8/10

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Controlled Chaos

 The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemies. ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

Hurray another plan post. How many things can I possibly give 8/10? T'is a wondrous question. There will actually be some continuity in this week's set, apart from excessive use of particular genres so far.

Sunday ~ Xenosaga II
Ah, the saga continues. What went wrong this time around? Not as much as I implied earlier, this game isn't too bad it just has an extraordinarily tedious opening quarter or so. I do seem to recall the end being fantastic though and I'm somewhat more encouraged to start playing it as opposed to just reviewing it straight off. I'm about halfway through Xenosaga III now playing in the most retarded fashion possible (i.e. Acquiring physical abilities for Magic based characters, very little use of Kos-Mos) to see if I die once and it has been moderately challenging thus far. I'm not one for silly JRPG challenge runs but since I was going through it again anyway I may as well make it somewhat interesting.
Monday ~ Parity in Sports
Looking at the past 10 years which sport of the top 3 is the fairest and how much does a salary cap have to do with it? Is it the NFL with the absurdly dominant Patriots and Steelers, the NBA with the Lakers and Celtics, or the MLB with the Red Sox and Yankees?
Tuesday ~ Tron Legacy
Going to see this with my brother in law today in 3D (but probably not I-Max), in direct competition with Narnia for worst movie I see this holiday season! I've heard it's incredibly visually impressive and sucks in most other regards, but *gasp* so did the first Tron.

Wednesday ~ Final Fantasy I/II
I probably won't bother replaying these as I mysteriously lost my copy of Origins some time ago and the old version of II hasn't been translated as far as I know. I intend to only do one Final Fantasy per month and as I've said before going to do XIII next month so I'll probably alternate oldest with newest each month. The next one I'm likely to play through is V but I'll probably revisit XII for 5-10 hours, just long enough to kill Yiazmat again.

Thursday ~ How to Stop the Patriots
I think we can all agree that Belichick is not of this world. With the concussion of Aaron Rodgers it appears the Patriots will have beaten almost every competent team in the NFL by the time I make this post, what hope is there to stop them once more? Miracles and mischievous plots ahoy!

Friday ~ Once Upon a Time in America
I just bought this movie, another of the De Niro 1976-1991 run of greatness. De Niro is possibly the best actor in that period than any other in history, even Marlon Brando, and that run of films even includes my favorite movie. Could it be The Untouchables, where he has a fairly minor role and bashes some random guy over the head with a bat (Baseball!), perhaps Goodfellas, of Ray Liotta fame, Raging Bull, or the Godfather Part II? Actually I haven't seen Raging Bull either, but this particular film seems to be the least heralded of the bunch while still retaining a good deal of critical respect.

Why don't I play more game types or watch more diverse films you ask? Well in terms of JRPGs my old objective with games used to be waste as much time as possible, so naturally the most longwinded and sometimes tedious games would appeal to me. I do have a quite varied set of games now, but much of my PSX/PS2 library consists of said JRPGs. In terms of films I will see random action movies in theaters but for the most part I'll only watch classics at my house, and very few of the specifically arthouse variety. You may find most of the movies I review to be quite violent, but such is simply a way to reassure myself of a glorious fountain of testosterone and manliness.

Random Favorite Song: Don't Fear the Reaper
Random Game Song: Silly Techno gibberish

Friday, December 17, 2010

First Blood Review

First Blood is not so much an action movie as it is a sort of survival horror for the police who want to chase down Rambo after he enters a town and does absolutely nothing. These overzealous cops manage to trigger Rambo's memories of Vietnam and afterward he hides in the mountains and decimates the local police force, taking care not to actually kill any of them but merely injure them severely. In fact during the entire movie only one person dies, only indirectly due to Rambo.

It is relatively believable that the best special forces soldier could probably run circles around local cops and national guardsmen, so it is not like the later rambo movies where he magically survives getting shot at by 50 people and still manages to kill all of them. There may be some unrealistic portions but in general the film is quite different than its sequels.

The later movies are difficult to take seriously but this one evokes much more effective themes about war and how being a competent soldier was/is a thankless job in the current United States. Vietnam veterans weren't treated with much compassion and while Iraq veterans presumably are I don't think this is universal. Regardless of political viewpoint I still think soldiers deserve to not be tossed in jail randomly and to be treated better when they go nuts and maim and injure entire police forces. The Colonel in this movie would certainly agree. Speaking of which they had several superior actors lined up to play the Colonel but wound up with the esteemed Richard Crenna, whom you've no doubt never heard of. He does a functional job as the colonel but it would be interesting to see this movie if it had more than a couple of great actors.

The biggest strength of the movie is the camerawork, this is pre CGI of course so almost every shot is from a real location. You get to see much of the Washington countryside as Rambo ascends a mountain to flee from the overzealous police. While the film eventually settles in relatively mundane locales for the first hour and 10 minutes the locations are just as impressive as the action, which again comes in quick bursts.

The book about this movie has Rambo killing dozens of police officers before dying in the end, but Sylvester Stallone refused to take the part unless he was depicted as heroic. Hence he kills almost no one and is only arrested at the end, ready to line up for the enormously successful sequel a few years later. This film is the strongest of the Rambo movies but still has some apparent flaws that prevent it from being a masterpiece.

Final Grade: 8/10

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Absurd Baseball Contracts

                           Let's all point and laugh at the Yankees
Theeeee Yankeeeeeees loooose... Theeeee Yankeeeeeeees loooooose... Hurray! With Cliff Lee signing with the Phillies for the most money per year (though he still left around 18 million on the table) the Phillies are now an absurd Juggernaut in the NL and the Red Sox retain their advantage in the AL, while the Yankees are no different then they were last year except that their already aging team is one year older. Cliff signed for 5 years/120 with a 15 million option for the 6th year. This is the highest per year for any pitching contract, but how does it compare in terms of terribleness with other deals?
      Player            Team Money (in Millions) Years
Alex Rodriguez New York Yankees $275   2008-17
Alex Rodriguez Texas Rangers 252   2001-10
Derek Jeter New York Yankees 189   2001-10
Joe Mauer Minnesota Twins 180   2011-18
Mark Teixeira New York Yankees 164   2009-16
CC Sabathia New York Yankees 161   2009-15
Manny Ramirez Boston Red Sox 160   2001-08
Troy Tulowitzki Colorado Rockies 157.75   2011-20
Miguel Cabrera Detroit Tigers 152.3   2008-15
Carl Crawford Boston Red Sox 142   2011-17
Todd Helton Colorado Rockies 141.5   2003-11
Carlos Beltran New York Mets 137.5   2008-13
Alfonso Soriano Chicago Cubs 136   2007-14
Vernon Wells Toronto Blue Jays 126   2008-14
Jayson Werth Washington Nationals 126   2011-17
Barry Zito San Francisco Giants 126   2007-13
Ryan Howard Philadelphia Phillies 125   2012-16
Mike Hampton Colorado Rockies 121   2001-08
Jason Giambi New York Yankees 120   2002-08
Matt Holliday St Louis Cardinals 120   2011-16
Carlos Beltran New York Mets 119   2005-11
Ken Griffey Jr. Cincinatti Reds 116.5   2000-08
Kevin Brown New York Yankees 105   1999-05
Carlos Lee Houston Astros 100   2007-12
Albert Pujols St Louis Cardinals 100   2004-10

 Ugh I hate Excel. So how does Cliff Lee's deal and the other deals of the offseason stand up? Cliff's and Crawford's are pretty good, nowhere near as good as say Pujols' deal or even Manny Ramirez's deal, but still pretty solid. Long contracts are strange in baseball because they go about 4 or 5 years beyond the players' maximum effectiveness for no apparent reason. Even though the economy sucks Baseball teams still managed to sign 4 100+ Million dollar contracts this year. Okay, so which of these contracts is terrible? Arguably most of them actually, but sticking to the objectivally terrible ones.
#1 Barry Zito
Single Handedly lead the San Francisco Giants to the World Series championship of last year... by not even being put on the postseason roster. Zito's deal looked terrible at the time but he has had a losing record, a terrible ERA, and has been nothing more than a $5 million innings eater as opposed to an $18 million Ace. Fortunately for the Giants they've had good young pitching from their own system to compensate.
#2 Vernon Wells
This deal was universally panned before last year, but he did have something of a comeback season and could go on to somewhat justify the deal, still he hasn't hit his decline phase yet at which point he'll be terrible in center field and even worse at the plate.
#3 Alex Rodriguez (Second Deal)
The Yankees have had some comically bad deals over the years but this one is perhaps the worst. Coming off his best or second best season they handed him 10 more years at the age of 32. Baseball peak age is around 25-29. However Geriatric A-Rod will be running out there at the tender age of 42 and still attempting to break that Homerun record, so far he's already declined and seems unlikely to hit more than 35 a year till the end of the deal, and while that would break the record he still has to decline further to less than 20 per year. Even if he did break it it would be in spectacularly pathetic fashion. He's also a huge douchebag.
       A-Rod has two pictures of himself as a Centaur on his bedroom wall
#4 Jayson Werth
Jayson Werth has never been a superstar player, so it boggles the mind why the Nationals paid him like one. Actually they had to to afford any free agent since they're so terrible, but seriously he's a 32 year old player with less than 3 full single years at the major league level, he's bound to suck by year 3 or 4 of this deal, and while the Nationals may be good by then due to consistent last place finishes giving them the No. 1 overall pick, this deal still looks horrible.
#5 Ryan Howard
Ryan Howard signed his 5 year/$125 million deal after signing a 3 year/$60 million deal a season before, he'll be 32 when this portion of his pact even takes effect, and presumably only hit around 30 beans a year for the rest of the contract. Why exactly the Phillies felt motivated to sign him 2 years before they needed to for double his value is anyone's guess, "Face of the Franchise" I suppose. He's not even the best offensive player on his own team.

Surprisingly the Yankees don't dominate this portion of the list sans A-Rod's catastrophic deal, but the real question is how much does Albert Pujols sign for next offseason. He is, after all, one of the top 5 best players of all time and still quite a bit more effective than essentially everyone else over the past 4 years. He would've won the MVP last season if the Cardinals had won their division and he certainly deserved it as much as Votto. Ideally he'd have had 4 consecutive MVPs going into free agency, but oh well. My old guess was 5 years/$175 million, but he could just as easily get 10 years/$300 like A-Rod (he has a $25 million incentive for breaking the HR record) while presumably not decaying as badly as he did. He is worth 2-3 times as much as Ryan Howard at the same age I'd wager, so why not toss him 5 years $375 million just to be fair? Bahahaha.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Colony Wars: Red Sun

+++ Excellent Music
++ Space Flight controls well
++ Good amount of mission and environmental variety
+ Graphics are good enough to still be playable
+ Developed by Psygnosis
+ Solid Voice acting
+ Competent Storyline
+ Impressive Scale
+ Intuitive weaponry
- Fairly Easy
- Not as long as the two previous games in the series
- Cutscenes are 5 seconds long
- Can get repetitive

I picked up this game quite randomly way back when, but I must have played through it more than once. As I went through the first 10 missions or so in preparation for this review I recalled pretty much every voice in every cutscene so while I don't remember actually doing it I must have played through this game multiple times. This may be the sole reason I look forward to space combat games, as most newer flight based games have painful controls and try to simulate reality, wherein no fighter jet ever shoots down another that goes the same speed. Air Superiority fighters are simply too fast to control well and don't make for very fun gameplay, the same is true of Rogue Squadron for the Gamecube. Of course that game got very high scores through some magical means, despite being a pain in the ass to control and only being 10 missions long. This game on the other hand is about 50 missions long.

I played until the first semi-difficult mission and still enjoyed the satisfying sound of blowing up a huge ship with my miniscule fighter (and the graphics were certainly still bearable). I was worried about not having analog control but the game still functioned quite well even having not played ti for ages. While Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge was pretty fun, Rogue Squadron failed miserably in that regard. From memory I recall this game having a few pretty tough missions but always winning in a similar fashion by simply flying as far away as possible and unloading my strongest missile weapons at whatever was giving me trouble, provided the mission involved blowing up a huge ship. There's one mission I recall where two factions go to war (while neither side is actually the evil antagonist behind the scenes) and there are 10-20 Capital ships on either side which was always very impressive, and I'm also fairly sure you had a choice of which side to blow up.

Another thing that makes this game (and earlier games in the series) shine is the variety of weapons, you can get over 40 different things attached to your ship to enhance shield regeneration, damage exclusively shields, damage the hulls of opponents, or to damage both. Flares, which are almost a necessity, deter oncoming missiles which set off an alarm when they're launched at you. There are also grapple beams, stunning weapons, and a variety of other weapons/tools available for your use.

Opposing Ships and other enemies may have turrets mounted upon them which you can destroy independent of the carrying device. One of the missions I did required you to blast the turrets off the back of relatively docile animals without actually killing them, which I thought was pretty creative. It is quite the shame that the space combat genre has fallen by the wayside and Call of Duty can still manage to sell 10 million copies in a couple of months without changing anything at all about the series. Alas, at least the PS2/PSX's massive libraries still have plenty of secrets to hold.

The developer for this game, Psygnosis, made numerous games for the PSX before moving on to just racing games for the PS2/PS3, one of those games is Team Buddies, which is incredibly awesome. Possibly the best squad based game ever made. I was unfortunately never able to find it for purchase though I did eventually beat it while renting it from a store. If I were able to find it I'd certainly play it again and write a review for it, but chances are it's still relatively impossible to find, alas. Psygnosis is one of those outstanding developers who are no longer able to take risks and make interesting games due to the prohibitive cost of making video games now, a truly saddening chain of events.

Final Grade: 8/10

Edit: Apologies for the lower quality of this post, It was posted in the early afternoon due to oversleep/pressing issue when I finally awoke, alas. Now you have 2 poor posts to mock at least.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This entire series is actually quite interesting, after the first one did exceptionally well they expanded the budget for the 2nd one immensely. However the 2nd failed to reach sales expectations despite an enormous budget, so Disney stopped funding production of the third film, allowing Fox to pick it up shortly thereafter. As a result it has been a while since the last one was released so this film fills a bit fresher by default. Every one of the actors that returns from Prince Caspian is quite a bit older (I believe there were 4 years between filming) and they all act surprisingly well.

The visual effects are very impressive, and the setting upon a boat is pretty much always interesting to me. Naval movies like Das Boot, Pirates of the Caribbean (first one mostly), and Master and Commander are very interesting due to atmosphere alone. The film also introduces a new character, as once you "grow up" you can't return to Narnia so the primary 2 actors from the first 2 films don't show up for more than cameos, who is an annoying sort of comic relief that matures due to an interesting "transformation" midway through. He is the main character in the next book in the series, and since the rest of the series is fairly difficult to translate to film except for the Horse and his Boy I highly doubt that this movie will have yet another sequel. It hasn't done well at the box office so far either and is obviously about to get crushed by Tron, but it is an interesting series even if you don't take kindly to religious allegory.

CS Lewis used these books to show Christianity to his children in a fanciful manner, as is well known, but he didn't make it seem as though Christianity was the prohibitive only way to Heaven, thus making the books very readable to the modern eye and also making the films relatively politically correct. However this film has a strange idle line of dialogue right at the end that, while it doesn't point to Christianity, is still strangely out of place in the context of the film. This second opinion (from a fairly hit or miss reviewer, this one was right on though) doesn't seem to take much issue of it, presumably because he knows how the series shows other religions as viable as long as the worshipper is pure, even if the religion itself isn't. I've always thought highly of CS Lewis, and while it gets tiresome hearing fundamentalists cite him over and over it's still pretty humorous considering how little he'd agree with them.

Okay, great visual effects, interesting monsters, naval setting; what's not to like about this movie? Well, the witch is the best character by far in the first 2 films and only appears for brief cameos here, that hurts fairly bad. The plot itself is more or less a loosely tied together chain of events with a loosely tied together chain of people, and the primary villain is vague throughout (even though the climactic battle is great and the monster plays a much larger role than it did in the book), Liam Neeson is still present as God Aslan but he doesn't say a whole lot that's riveting. The best character is either a rat or a dragon, if that gives you an idea of how strange the plot is formulated. Overall I like the film and I wish they could continue even though they'd have to change casts every time from hereon out.

Final Grade: 7.5/10