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Location: Annapolis, Maryland, United States
Interests: Movies (I'm a big movie fan), Video Games, Games of any other kind, Anime, 70's and 80's Music, Film Criticism, Kiki's Delivery Service (my personal favorite movie).
Expertise: The Entertainment Business (movies/video games/anime). I'm very knowledgeable about this topic.
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Hello there. This is not a traditional post, per se, but one that I'm using to increase my audience. I'm going to do this by claiming my site on Technorati.com:
Hopefully this will help me get some more visitors, but even before I decided to do this, I was surprised at just how many people from all over the world have visited my site (thank God for Xanga footprints). I'll discuss that a bit next time. Bye for now!
I know it's been a while, but I'm back. Today, I'm going to do a movie and game review, but before I do, I just want to mention that the music last time came from the Route 99 Act 1 stage of Sonic Advance 3. Now onto the reviews. First, a game.
Activision and Luxoflux’s top-selling 2003 open world, Grand Theft Auto-style game, True Crime: Streets of LA has gone CSI on us by setting up shop on the East Coast (complete with new characters) in True Crime: New York City (I looked at the PS2 version, but it’s also on the Gamecube, Xbox and PC). Seeing as I loved the first True Crime game and was intrigued by the idea of fighting crime in the Big Apple, I was expecting good thins from New York City. Instead, I got a buggy and broken piece of junk.
New York City’s storyline puts players in control of Marcus Reed (Avery Waddell), a former gangster turned police officer. After his mentor/partner/father figure Terrence Higgins (Mickey Rourke) is murdered, Marcus is determined to find the killers and get his revenge. Marcus then meets up with Gabriel Whitting (Christopher Walken), a mysterious CIA operative who was apparently a close friend of Terrence. Gabriel is more than happy to help Marcus on his quest; that is, assuming Marcus will help him with some detective work.
In between all of this, Marcus will find himself entangled with some of the story’s supporting characters, including his corrupt father, Isaiah (Lawrence Fishburne), his understanding, but firm, boss, Deena Dixon (Mariska Hargitay), and Victor Navarro (Esai Morales), the NYPD police chief that hates Marcus’s guts.
Overall, the story is well told, well acted, and pretty well written, and will provide players with incentive to play the game to the very end. However, I wondered if the story would be better suited to a movie, especially since the game it’s a part of is so bad and buggy.
Graphically, NYC has some detailed character models and lip-synching in the cut-scenes, but the overall look of the game is below average, especially compared to other open-world games like Destroy All Humans and Spider-Man 2. The game also suffers from a ridiculous amount of technical problems, like constant pop-up, glitchy animations, a brutal and randomly dropping framerate and some of the worst and most egregious clipping problems I’ve ever seen in any video game.
The collision detection is awful, too; sometimes you’ll find yourself trying to frisk a pedestrian that’s standing right in front of you and end up grabbing the guy to your left instead. Also, when you notice someone behind a wall or door (you can usually tell because their bodies are passing through it), you can simply start punching the barrier and manage to inflict damage on the guy standing behind it. It would make sense if all the doors and walls were made of plastic or something, but they aren’t; they’re, quite realistically, made of solid materials! And to think, these collision issues are only a couple of the many problems I noticed playing this game (I’ll talk more about them later).
The controls of the game are no picnic, either, and there are so many problems that I don’t know where to begin. I’ll start with the controller set-up, which is confusing and counter-intuitive (for example, press the L2 button to get in and out of a car). Even worse, you can’t remap the controls to your liking. This is unacceptable, especially when the last True Crime had that as an option. Another problem is that Marcus doesn’t run fast enough, which makes on-foot chases ridiculously laborious and more difficult than they should be. This could have been easily addressed with addition of a run button, but alas, there isn’t one. The in-depth hand to hand combat from Streets of LA has sadly degenerated into just mashing on the attack button. There’s a decided lack of strategy and special combos to perform, which makes the fighting much less engaging and fun than it used to be. The gun-targeting is all right and I like that the precision aiming system from the previous game has returned, but this time, the color coded system (it tells you if the shot will be lethal to your target depending on the location) tends to screw you up, especially during hostage situations.
When driving, you can’t dive out of the car like in GTA, which is especially aggravating when your car is about to explode. Even worse, the time you have to abandon your vehicle before it explodes is unbelievably brief, making it nearly impossible to escape without either dying or sustaining severe damage. The car physics are very unrealistic and sometimes downright laughable; wait until you see a bus spin like a figure skater after being hit by your small sedan. Also, the extra driving actions that you can earn seem to hinder more than help; you’ll find yourself accidentally activating one action when you meant to do another (this often happened when I tried to speed boost, but I went up on two wheels instead, and then the car flipped over).
The technical problems further hamper the flawed controls. I hate that you can’t arrest stunned perps even when you’re standing right over them. The game’s AI isn’t advanced enough to make Marcus move to the proper location to perform the action, which is completely ridiculous. Same goes with getting in and out of cars, entering doors of buildings, picking up guns and/or evidence and so on and so forth.
In the audio department, the sound effects are pretty authentic and help create the mood of the city, but some of the sounds in the game cut out for no apparent reason (the siren is one example). The music of the game consists of about 50 or so licensed tracks from such artists as Jay-Z, Blue Oyster Cult, Redman, Run DMC, The Ramones, Sonic Youth, and many others. However, I didn’t find many tracks that I really enjoyed, and some of them were pretty bad (like Police State, which is basically an unfounded diatribe against Rudy Giuliani).
The voice-overs in the cut-scenes are very well done, but when you’re playing the game, there’s constant repetition that will drive you insane. For example, when you honk your horn in the cars, Marcus has only three phrases, two of which contain the F-Word or one of its derivatives. Also, the pedestrians constantly repeat the same quips over and over, which, again, almost all contain the F-Word or some other profanity. Even the women in this game swear profusely, making the overall use of profanity seem desperate, rather than authentic.
As if all the bugs and glitches I highlighted weren’t bad enough, NYC suffers from some even more severe problems. One time, the camera became locked in place and stopped following Marcus correctly; this eventually allowed me to walk completely out of the camera’s view and I couldn’t see where I was or where I was going. I think I had to reload my saved game because of this. Another time, I got out of my car and tried to start moving on foot… but nothing happened. Marcus was stuck in place and no movement of the analog stick (or for that matter, presses of the buttons) would make him do anything. Again, I had to reload my game (which I could do since the Start button still reacted). And then the game locked up on me twice, requiring me to reboot my system.
Basically, this is what it comes down to: True Crime: New York City shouldn’t have been released. This game is obviously not finished, but somehow, all the problems (some of which I noticed within the first 5 minutes of play) got past the 100+ members of the QA departments of both Luxoflux and Activision. Even worse, Sony (who has to approve each game for quality before release) allowed this buggy disaster to reach the market instead of refusing to support it (I can’t speak for Microsoft or Nintendo, since I didn’t play their versions). Everyone involved in the QA process of this game should be ashamed of themselves and perhaps lose their jobs, since it would seem that they don’t know how to properly accomplish them.
When the game actually works, it’s of average quality. But that’s the problem; more often than not, it doesn’t work properly. Usually at this time, I’d probably demand that Activision recalls the game, but considering how badly NYC sold, it probably wouldn’t make a difference. As it is though, don’t buy or rent this game, because I fear such acts will only encourage Activision and/or Luxoflux to screw us over like this again. 3 out of 10.
Oh, by the way, I went to my local game store recently and noticed that a special edition of this game was released (ala Halo 2 and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory). I looked at the extra features list on the back of the box and noticed “behind the scenes footage of the game’s creation.” After reading this, I then said out loud, and with the store clerk and a couple of customers nearby, “Oh, goody! Now I can see how the developers and QA department failed to do their jobs!” I’m pretty sure that I got a couple of stares, but I don’t really care.
Now, a movie review.
Must Love Dogs is a truly odious romantic comedy that easily ranks as the worst in the genre since How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days. Also, like Donald Petrie’s “masterpiece,” this movie sullies the careers of some very talented actors, some of whom hold Oscar nominations and/or wins.
Diane Lane stars as Sarah Nolan, a recently divorced woman who, as the movie opens, has her entire family over at her house. No, it’s not a family reunion, but an intervention. You see, it’s been eight months since Sarah divorced and the family claims that she’s depressed, moping about, and not being able to adequately function. As such, they try to set her up with a new man.
The main force behind this mission is Sarah’s older sister, Carol (Elizabeth Perkins), but also “helping out” (and I use that term loosely) is her married brother, Michael (Glenn Howerton), her widowed and now apparently polygamist (please don’t ask) father, Ben (Christopher Plummer), and Sarah’s obligatory gay male friend whose name escapes me at the moment.
OK, now here’s the first problem with this movie. Sarah is not moping around and she has no trouble functioning in society. I mean, she’s a kindergarten teacher, and there haven’t been any complaints made about her mood there. Apparently, her family and friends don’t seem to understand that Sarah is completely normal, which is made even more ridiculous when you consider that they see her pretty much every day.
Sarah tells her family that she’s not ready to start dating again right now, but do they take “no” for an answer? Of course not! They constantly push her against her will in all sorts of so-called “funny” scenarios. One scene has Sarah being asked on a date by a mystery suitor only to find out that it’s her father. Another shows Sarah becoming understandably pissed off when she learns that Carol set up an internet personals ad for her (apparently by using some of Sarah’s personal information). Forget about “just trying to help;” the family’s actions are borderline harassment and bring every single comedic scene involving their characters to a screeching halt.
Returning to the plot for a minute, a boat builder/businessman named Jake (John Cusack) answers Sarah’s ad, much to the chagrin of Charlie (Ben Shenkman), Jake’s obligatory smart-ass sidekick. Other characters include Dolly (Stockard Channing), one Ben’s girlfriends who befriends Sarah, Bob (Dermot Mulroney), a conveniently single and hunky father of one of Sarah’s kindergarten students, and… well, Mother Teresa, the dog of one of Sarah’s siblings who is constantly over at her place.
Now that I’ve gotten that pesky plot and character description out of the way, I can now tell you all the reasons why I hated this movie so much. Where do I begin? I guess I’ll start with the most obvious flaw; this movie isn’t funny. Not only does the screenplay have a complete lack of humorous insights about romance or relationships (or anything, for that matter), but all the comedic scenes are embarrassingly desperate. One such sequence has Jake and Sarah frantically driving all around town in search of a shop that sells condoms. In this scene (and many others) the actors wildly overact in the attempts to make us laugh, and they fail.
Oh, and speaking of that ill-fated condom search, this film has a ton of unnecessary and unfunny sexual references/jokes, some of which are astonishingly lurid for a PG-13 rated movie. Sarah’s polygamist father is bad enough (as is the date she goes on with him), but the capper has to be the scene where Dolly gets a knock at her door from a 15 year old boy. It turns out that she’s been chatting with this kid online and thinking she was younger than she was, he bought a plane ticket to come and visit her. Did the filmmakers think this was funny? Did they think that they were being insightful about this extremely serious problem? I don’t know, but they were certainly wrong on both counts.
As far as romance is concerned, there really isn’t much to discuss. Cusack and Lane have good chemistry together, but they (and the possibility for romance) are betrayed by the screenplay, which contains almost every romantic comedy cliché in the book and gives the couple nothing interesting to say or talk about. As you sit there and watch, you’re constantly taken out of the movie, realizing just how fake the entire thing is. Also, to add insult to injury, Jake’s favorite movie is Dr. Zhivago and as I witnessed him watching it (with audible music and dialogue, I shook my head in disgust. This movie doesn’t deserve to even mention that classic by name, let alone show clips from it.
Let me think of some other little tidbits of terribleness. For a movie titled Must Love Dogs, there sure aren’t a lot of canines on display. All the actors in here are completely wasted on such a terrible script. Some of the romantic storylines of secondary characters are introduced (like Ben’s polygamy and Michael being kicked out by his wife), but the movie ends without ever resolving them. On second thought, those unresolved problems might be a good thing when you consider how long this movie drags on for (it’s under 100 minutes, but feels like 4 hours).
The absolute worst element of this movie is its overall message. If you take all the elements into account, from the family trying to force Sarah into dating again, to the constant barrage of sexual material, to Sarah eventually having a one-night stand with a certain guy (not that it matters, but I won’t say who), it would seem that anyone divorced and/or over the age of 40 can only find happiness with someone by your side. Even worse, it would seem that it’s so difficult to find Mr. or Mrs. Right (maybe because you’re old/used property) that you should give up any and all moral and/or personal ideals just so you won’t die alone. Am I reading too much into this? I don’t think so, and I think that it’s a profoundly irresponsible and offensive message to impart, especially in a romantic comedy.
For that final reason alone, Must Love Dogs easily deserves a 0. However, because Cusack and Lane have good screen presence/chemistry, I liked the dog, I didn’t have to pay money to see it, and perhaps because I’m feeling generous today, I’m bumping my score up to a ½ star. But even so, please avoid this one, and believe me when I say that even Dirty Love was a better romantic comedy.
There you go. I hope you enjoy. Talk to you again soon (look forward to some comments about my Currently Playing subject)!
OK, so I kind of lied last time. I said I would discuss only movies this time, but I'm not. Rest assured, I do have a movie review, and it's one of, if not the most scathing and potentially controversial one I've ever written. I also have a review on a brand spanking new video game.
Before I get into all that good stuff, let me reveal my music. Well, OK, it's not actually my music; someone else put the MIDI of it together and another person actually wrote it, but it's the music I used last time. It came from the Genesis version of Sonic 3D Blast and its Volcano Valley Zone Act 2. It's kind of a downtrodden tune, but I couldn't get it out of my head recently.
The tagline came from G4's video game show, X-Play. The ability to create "dancing Wookies" in Star Wars: Galaxies for the PC was something that hosts Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb constantly mocked. Anyway, with that out of the way, onto the reviews, starting with that "special" movie review I talked about.
You know, it’s amazing just how many bad movies come out of Hollywood each year, and it’s even more shocking that many of these stinkers seem to strike gold at the box office. Then, of course, more crappy films are released and people go to see those, as well. It’s a vicious cycle, to say the least. I recently had the displeasure of seeing one of these inexplicable hits; a film by the name of Guess Who. It combines most everything I hate about movies onto one roll of celluloid that should be avoided at all costs.
The first thing against Guess Who is that it’s a remake of an older film. More often than not (and certainly in this case), remakes are not merely worse than the original, but tend to sully the reputation of the classic film we all knew and loved. This one is a retread of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the 1967 film starring Sidney Poitier. In it, a young woman brings her new fiancé, a black man (played by Poitier), to meet her parents. Many (including myself) considered the movie’s willingness to tackle the unspoken (but often frowned upon) issue of interracial relationships to be quite bold and brave. It cut through the racial dividing line and presented a simple, but effective message; no matter what race we may be, we’re all still human.
In Guess Who, one of the main differences is that the races are reversed; it’s a white man who’s marrying a black woman and is going to meet her parents for the first time. And can you “Guess Who” is placed in the role of the man? Well, before I answer that, I’d like you to first imagine a Caucasian actor whose acting talents you think are on the same level as Poitier’s. If you’re like me, you may think of Oscar winning actors, like maybe Al Pacino or Kevin Spacy, just to give a few examples. Then forget about all those talented thespians and take a gander at who was actually cast: Ashton Kutcher. Umm… yeah.
Anyway, Simon (which is the name of Kutcher’s character) he joins his bride to be, Theresa (Zoe Saldana) to meet her mother, Marilyn (Judith Scott) and her domineering father, Percy (Bernie Mac). As far as the rest of the plot is concerned, it’s completely irrelevant.
Sounds OK so far, right? Well, there’s a major difference between this Guess Who and the 1967 one; this one is a comedy. Whereas the original movie played it straight with the ambition of maturely dealing with touchy social issues, this Guess Who wants to be funny. That’s not inherently a problem, since there have been comedies that have seriously and successfully dealt with such controversial topics as race, sex, and so on while still being humorous. Guess Who is not that kind of movie.
Guess Who portrays the issues on display as nothing more than devices to get any laughs it can. The film cares so little about the serious social problems it has the privilege of using that it actually ends up mocking and/or casually dismissing them, something that this critic found grotesquely offensive.
One such social issue is the relationship between the father and boyfriend. From the moment Simon and Percy meet, Percy instantly hates his guts. Forgetting the fact that it’s Ashton Kutcher we’re talking about here, Simon doesn’t seem to be that bad or mean of a guy, but of course, that doesn’t matter to Percy. Well, at least not until the end of the movie where he’s forced to change his tune on a dime just because the screenplay requires it.
These kinds of fractured relationship certainly exist in real-life, and have no doubted come into vogue in the movies because of the success of Meet the Parents. The difference, though, is that the father character in that movie, although a bit gruff and excessive, obviously cared about his daughter’s safety and was at least willing to give her hubby the benefit of the doubt. In Guess Who, Percy is an unfair, close-minded and mean-spirited man who’s actions and attitude is so over the top that he can’t possibly fall back on the “daughter’s best wishes” defense. And of course, since this movie’s a comedy, this could be forgiven if these situations were funny (and perhaps if Percy had an ounce of likeability). They aren’t.
The other issue used and abused here is a far more serious and offensive one: the racial element. I’m not going to lie to you; the characters in this movie are racist. There’s no other way to say it. The way black and whites get along in this movie made me wonder if it was in 1964, immediately after the passing of the important civil rights laws. But it’s not; it’s set in the present day.
Many of the jokes in this movie are race-related in nature and as far as I could interpret, it would seem that the black characters believe whites are the scum of the earth. How else can you explain the scene where Percy and his father trade anti-white slurs with each other? Or when Theresa’s sister notices Simon and asks “Are we being audited?” Or when Simon is forced by Percy into telling “a Black joke” at the dinner table, which basically exposes (or seemingly exposes) that Simon hates black people?
Speaking of that scene, it also shows the film’s willingness to offend both races. Although Percy browbeat Simon into the aforementioned situation, Simon could have certainly come up with jokes that weren’t as appallingly stereotypical and reprehensible as the ones he tells. Or perhaps (and how’s this for a concept?) he could have proven himself to be a better man by standing his ground via his refusal to stoop that low. Simply the fact that he gave in and played along as he did was enough to fully convince me (and without Percy’s help, mind you) that he is racist against African Americans.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the characters that are racist, but I also believe that the film is just as bigoted. It revels in all imaginable stereotypes for both races and seems to condone the contemptible behavior of the characters. Basically, as far as Guess Who is concerned, it’s completely uninterested in saying anything meaningful about or actually exploring delicate issues like race. All it wants to do is use such topics as an excuse for delivering offensive and pitiful comedy and then pass it off as a form of profound exploration of the serious subjects. This is not the kind of message that anyone, regardless of race, should be supporting in any way, shape or form.
Although I’d usually spend this time talking about how bad the writing, acting, and so forth is in this movie, I think you basically get the picture; it’s all bad and there’s not one single redeeming value. I mean, come on; Ashton Kutcher is in this thing, and amazingly, he’s the least of Guess Who’s problems. As far as I’m concerned, the race thing is where it ends for me. This is an evil, mean-spirited and racist movie that everyone who was involved in its making should be deeply ashamed of. In a world with films like Crash and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, that maturely and honestly deals with race and other important issues, a movie like Guess Who shouldn’t even exist, let alone gross over $80 million. It gets a 0, and even that score may be too kind on my part.
Whew, that was a doozy! I know that it's a controversial review and I may get some comments about it, but since I was able to make my opinion clear, that's reward enough for me. Although, I'll also consider it good if I don't get any death threats (but even if I do, that would mean that someone cares about my opinions, even in a hostile way).
Anyway, now it's time for the game review. I was looking around my local video store the other day to see what was worth playing. Unware that it was out, I noticed the game I'm about to review on the shelf. I took it, played a lot of it, and have written this timely review, which I hope you enjoy.
Grand Theft Auto, the game series that parent’s groups, politicians and anti-video game lawyers (I’m lookin’ at you, Jack Thompson) love to single out as the cause of many of society’s ills, is back with a brand new installment. As such, I’m here to tell you what you can expect from Rockstar’s latest sprawling city epic, titled Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories for the PS2.
Yes, I said PS2, and that wasn’t a typo. Liberty City Stories came out for the PSP handheld last October, but for some odd reason, Rockstar decided to bring one of the best selling games from Sony’s portable to a better selling system. If this decision (and the fact that another PSP fave, Lumines, is coming to PS2 and Xbox 360) isn’t a sign that the PSP future is in grave doubt, then I’m not sure what is.
Anyway, Liberty City Stories takes players back to Liberty City, the New York-like town that they explored in Grand Theft Auto 3. Set in 1998 (four years before GTA 3), Liberty City Stories tells the, well, story, of Toni Cipriani, a mafia man who has returned to Liberty after a long absence. He hooks up with Salvatore Leone, a local mob boss, and begins to do odd jobs for him and his associates.
Basically, the plot is the same “man returning to town and getting entangled in the criminal underworld” bit that we’ve seen in all the other GTA games, but the well acted and written cut-scenes advance the story well and kept me from feeling too much deja-vu. And of course, since this a GTA game, Toni’s adventure will involve all of the familr staples: exploring the vast city (with certain parts being closed off for a period), participating in gang wars, committing all kinds of crimes, and meeting up with old and new friends and family, all of which have very “unique” character traits, to say the least.
Liberty City is pretty much the same in 1998 as it will be in 2001, with many familiar locations and landmarks, but gamers will also find some new sections of town to explore, such as Liberty’s version of Little Italy (which will apparently be demolished within the next four years). Although the layout of Liberty City hasn’t changed much, many of the items and upgrades from Vice City and San Andreas have been introduced. For example, you can now access many of the vehicles from those titles, including bikes, which is quite nice. You can also collect some previously unavailable weapons, like the chainsaw and mini-gun, along with some new pieces, like the tomahawk.
If you’ve ever played a GTA game before, you’ll feel right at home with Liberty City Stories. You’ll still be able to explore the big city and complete missions in most anyway you desire. This open-ended format has always been the beauty and selling point of this series and I’m glad to see that LCS doesn’t stray from that formula. I’m not exaggerating when I say that no two people will play the game in exactly the same way. Some may jump right into the missions that affect the storyline, while others may spend the first four hours of play searching for hidden packages and going on side-missions (this is what I did).
And speaking of those side missions, you get the trusty vigilante, ambulance and fire fighting missions that we know and love, some of the ones from the previous two GTAs (like Pizza Delivery), and even a couple of new ones. I personally liked the bike and car salesman ones, where you have to drive your prospective buyer around in a way that compliments what they want out of such a vehicle. Amazingly, some customers are murderous psychopaths who are seeking a set of wheels that can run over pedestrians real good. Or perhaps check out the garbage collection missions; it may not be the best minigame, but it’s probably better to do in this game than it is in real life.
As usual, the audio is quite good, with good voiceovers, ambient sound effects, and good music on the radio stations. However, the music isn’t as recognizable in LCS as in Vice City or San Andreas; I only recognized the classical music on Double Cleff FM. The best station in the game, though, is the talk radio station, which is hilarious and does a fantastic job of satirizing pop culture, social issues, and many other topics. In particular, Rockstar always loves to poke fun at the series’ many vocal critics and public outcry related to their games (read: last year’s Hot Coffee scandal), and thankfully, LCS is no different.
Overall, Liberty City Stories is a worthy entry into the GTA series and players everywhere will purchase it and play it for hours on end (and the $20 price tag makes it even more attractive). However, some may have already bought the game on PSP, and they may not find it worth buying again just for the privilege of playing it on a TV screen. It’s basically the same game on PS2, sans the multiplayer modes. Also, as fun as the game is, playing LCS on PS2 also serves to magnify the myriad of flaws that have plagued this franchise for the last half-decade.
Graphically, Liberty City Stories has the same workman-like visuals that we’ve seen for a while now. Although this game looks a bit sharper than GTA 3 or Vice City, it, like San Andreas, isn’t really a quantum leap forward. Also, it suffers from all of the technical problems we’ve seen in the past games, such as pop-up, frame rate drops, clipping polygons, and a couple of laughably bad animations. The load times are better than the previous PS2 GTAs, but I was kind of disappointed that, after San Andreas, we have to go back to having load screens pop up when entering a different part of the city. Although some of these problems are understandable given that it was ported from a weaker system (the PSP), Rockstar could have and should have taken advantage of the extra power under the hood of the PS2.
The controls have also retained their workman-like quality in Liberty City Stories and that is not a good thing. Although the cars still handle well, the on-foot controls still suffer from a lack of precision. Even worse, many of the additions from San Andreas that improved the on-foot gameplay (like climbing up walls) are inexplicably absent here. Also, the hand-to-hand/melee combat of San Andreas has been removed in favor of the mushy, button mashing system that we had to deal with in the past GTA games.
The worst part of the controls, though, comes from that horrible gun targeting. We all know how terrible the targeting system has been in the past GTAs, and again, LCS illustrates a regression from San Andreas. The color changing target reticule doesn’t provide a very clear picture to the enemy’s health as San Andreas did. Also, when you lock-on to an adversary, the game often locks on to the wrong target, even if you’re facing directly at the guy. Apparently, Rockstar thinks that locking onto a random pedestrian to my left makes more sense than focusing on the guy right in front of me who’s shooting me with a gun (and with almost perfect accuracy, to boot).
Again, I know that it’s a PSP port, but they could have fixed these problems for the console version, right? I mean, the PS2 does have a second analog stick, does it not? Needless to say, the broken targeting system is going to be responsible for a large majority of your gun battle deaths and as a result, you’ll find yourself dropping as many F bombs as the characters in the game do (if not more).
If those control problems weren’t bad enough, Liberty City Stories suffers from many of the same bugs and glitches that plagued Vice City (AKA the series’ buggiest installment). Non playable character AI has some embarrassing moments of stupidity, particularly when they try to get in your car. Sometimes, they’ll get confused and run into walls (or the car itself) repeatedly until I have to move the car myself to help them find their way. Yeah, they couldn’t just, you know, walk around the car and open the door themselves.
Additionally, I hated the times that my gun wouldn’t fire, even when I hit the fire button. I locked on, pressed the button, my guy did the shooting animation, but no bullets came out and my enemy (who was blowing me to bits during this process) was infuriatingly not injured or dead. Suffice to say, I ended up dead pretty quickly. Unbelievable.
Many of Liberty City Stories problems become even more obvious when you realize that some of the series’ imitators are doing a better job with the fundamentals than Rockstar did here. For example, EA’s The Godfather had far superior graphics, hand-to-hand combat and gun-targeting than this game does, and it came out over three months earlier (and it was on the same system). If anything, this is proof that Rockstar has some serious problems that they desperately need to address in Grand Theft Auto 4 and that they can’t rest on their laurels like they did here.
Liberty City Stories is certainly a fun and enjoyable game and the price is right, but the problems really drag the experience down. If you have to pick up a GTA-like game to hold you off until GTA 4 comes out, I'd say that assuming you're not on a budget, check out The Godfather first and then give this one a look I give Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories for the PS2 an 8 out of 10.
OK, I'm done for now. I hope you enjoyed. I'll be back with more reviews as soon as I get time to write them. Bye for now!
Man, it feels like it’s been forever since I’ve written something here. Oh wait, that because it has been forever since I posted last. Well, that is if you feel (as I do) that forever is 4 months. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again; that’s what college does to you.
Thankfully, I have more time in between my summer classes to write here a bit more and I think I’ll start to do so more often. However, I’m aware that I said that last time and I barely posted. OK, then, I’ll at least try to post more often this time with reviews of my two main interests: video games and movies.
Regular visitors of this site know that I put up background music with each new post, and even if you don’t care, I still like to inform readers of what they’ve been listening to. As usual, it’s video game music, and this track came from Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, a 2D platforming game from the N64 that I loved.
Speaking of 2D platform games, today, I have two reviews today of classic compilation titles that consist mainly of 2D platforming titles. You know, it seems that recently, I’ve been reviewing a lot of these classic compilations, like Sonic Gems Collection and Midway Arcade Treasures 3. On the positive side, though, it would seem that I’m getting better and better at reviewing these kinds of games, and that is definitely a good thing. I’m also getting better, I think, at writing and revising the essays I write (whether they’re entertainment related or not), which I guess is a side effect of my college work. But enough about that; I’ve got stuff to review!
Actually, the first game I’ve reviewing today is actually a game I’ve already reviewed here. However, this review, I think, is much more polished and detailed than the old one I wrote. It’s of Sonic Mega Collection Plus.
If you’ve ever seen The Tonight Show, you may know of a regular segment called Headlines. This is where host Jay Leno looks for advertisements or other items that contain a spelling error or other discrepancy that provides a laugh. For example, the warning on my glue gun warns users of the hazards from leaving the device plugged in after use: “Always unplug after suing” (it’s supposed to say “using”). I mention this because Leno often refers to the business advertisements (such as those for supermarkets) by stating how they offer “a hell of a deal.” If Leno ever found himself using that line to describe a video game, I wouldn’t be surprised if the subject happened to be Sonic Mega Collection Plus from Sega for the Playstation 2 and Xbox (I played the Xbox version).
This $20 compilation disc gives players access to 20 different Sonic (or Sonic related) games. A little mental math will tell you that it’s like paying $1 for each game, which is a nice deal, especially when you consider that used copies of the game’s original cartridges typically cost about $5 or so. I know I’m starting to sound like a late-night infomercial here, but I really can’t stress how much gameplay your $20 will provide.
Sonic was responsible for putting Sega on the map back in the 1990s, so it’s only right that a Sonic compilation like this one would contain all of the series’ main games. The franchise’s premiere title, Sonic the Hedgehog, and all of the important Sonic sequels (Sonic 2, Sonic 3, and Sonic and Knuckles) are included in Mega Collection Plus. These games have each stood the test of time wonderfully and they all ferfectly showcase the unique features that helped the Sonic franchise stand out, the most important of which would certainly be the blazingly fast sense of speed.
The four aforementioned games shot Sonic and Sega to stardom, so it came as little surprise to see the blue blur also appear in a couple of spin-off titles. Sonic Spinball (the Genesis version) took the pinball elements of Sonic 2’s Casino Night Zone and turned it into a full-fledged pinball title. The familiar flipper fundamentals (like bumpers and multipliers) were all present, but Sega added some cool twists to the formula, including full control of the pinball (who is appropriately portrayed by Sonic) and some cool boss battles. Although some people don’t like Spinball very much, I was a huge fan of this game back in the day and being able to play it again on this disc brought back many pleasant memories.
Sonic 3D Blast is widely regarded as the black sheep of the series, due to a reduced lack of speed over the original Sonic games, the fact that Sonic Team (the developers responsible for the original Sonic games) did not make this game. Also the term “3D” in the title was a bit of a misnomer; although 3D movement exists, it’s viewed from an isometric perspective, thus lacking the dynamic camera systems of true 3D games. However, I don’t mind that too much, since this approach to 3D gameplay was really the only option possible through the Genesis’s limited power (the Saturn version, on the other hand, was a different story). The Genesis version of 3D Blast is included here, and although it’s not the best Sonic game ever made, it’s far from the worst and can be pretty fun if you can accept it for what it is.
The other Genesis spin-off included is Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, a version of the popular Japanese puzzle game Puyo Puyo with Sonic characters thrown on top. Like all good puzzle games, it’s very easy to understand and learn, but hard to master and very addictive. Although a puzzle game is not what most would expect (or want) from a Sonic game, Mean Bean Machine is still lots of fun and provides a dash of gameplay variety to this mostly platform game-centric collection.
You also get a couple of unlockable games here, with the first three being the Lock-On versions of Sonic 2 and 3, and the Special Stage collection that comprised the Locked-On version of Sonic 1. The rest don’t star Sonic at all, but one contains a character that was made famous in the Sonic series.
That character (and game) is Flicky, the Genesis port of the 1980s arcade game. Basically, it plays like a cross of Sonic 3D Blast and Mappy. It’s like 3D Blast in the way that you collect little birds and bring them to a secure location, and it’s like Namco’s game since you also have to collect items while avoiding and attacking the evil cats that are bent on killing you. It’s kind of disappointing that the included Genesis version was only an arcade port, and the game certainly isn’t for everyone, but it can be fun and addictive if you can get a grasp on it.
Another unlockable game is Ristar, which was developed by Sonic Team and Yuji Naka, the same people behind the original Sonic games. An adventure game released in the Genesis’s twilight year of 1995, it’s been all but forgotten over the years. That’s a shame, because Ristar is one of the best Genesis games ever made. Honestly, this game is so good that I’d tell people to buy this compilation just so they can play this hidden masterpiece.
Now, all the games I mentioned thus far were also included in the “plus-less” Sonic Mega Collection on the Gamecube, so one may ask why they should pick up the PS2 or Xbox version instead. Well, there are 8 extra games on Sony and Microsoft’s versions of the game, and some of them are kind of cool.
6 of the extra games come from Sega’s Game Gear handheld, and they include Sonic the Hedgehog (it’s different from the Genesis version), Sonic Labyrinth, Sonic Chaos, Sonic Drift (it was only released in Japan), Sonic Blast (again, it’s not the same as the Genesis’s 3D Blast), and Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. The last game on that list is basically the same as the 16-bit version, but has a cool puzzle mode, which helps make it the better of the two versions. The others are generally good, but inferior to the Genesis titles (even the original games) and some, like Labyrinth and Drift, are pretty lame.
The other two games don’t star Sonic, but were developed by Sega Technical Institute, an American branch of Sega that was the main force behind Sonic 2. Comix Zone is a side scrolling beat-em-up in the vein of Streets of Rage, but it has a distinct comic book setting and many cool and fitting visual touches. However, the game has some serious flaws, like always having only one life, no password or other save method, and ridiculously unfair and impossible ways to avoid damage. I especially hate that you take damage by hitting items in the environment (like boxes) and there are times when you’ll have to do this in order to progress. Although you won’t die from hitting the boxes, I found myself completing sections like the one I described with only a sliver of health and no healing items for the rest of the level, meaning that I’d need to finish without getting hit by any enemies, which is nigh impossible. Personally, I wasn’t a huge fan of this one, and I’d rather play Streets of Rage 2 instead.
The final game is an innovative oddity called The Ooze, which allows players to play as a pile of radioactive goo and complete the levels by completing some puzzles, avoiding hazards (like drains) and attacking enemies in very unique ways. The game definitely has a learning curve (and no tutorial to help you out), but if you can get the hang of it, it’s pretty fun, albeit difficult (I can’t get past the boss in the first world of the game; if anyone can help me out, drop me a line).
Now that you know what games you’re getting, let’s talk about the fundamentals of compilation discs, which developers often tend to screw up. The first issue comes from how accurately these games are ported from their original versions and thankfully, Mega Collection Plus does it pretty much perfectly. You may find some slight sound differences (particularly for some of the Game Gear games), but most probably won’t even notice and those who do (like me) won’t be too upset by any of the discrepancies.
Next up, we have to see if the interface is well designed and easy to navigate, and again, this compilation passes both tests. And finally, we have the extra features, which are also very nice. Along with tons of Sonic artwork and comic book covers, you get a free virtual issue of the Sonic Firsts comic book from Archie Comics, which makes for a fun read. On top of that, you also get some very informative and fascinating videos showing the various steps in the development process of two cut scenes from Sonic Heroes. Very nice indeed.
Along with all that material, there are some nice touches here and there, such as the inclusion of virtual versions of the old instruction manuals (yay!) and the new ability to save at will in all the games. The save feature in particular, is extremely useful, especially for games that originally had no such option (like Comix Zone).
Despite all this gushing, I do have some problems. One of the best Sonic games of all time, Sonic CD, is not included on this disc, which is disappointing given the glut of negative feedback regarding its omission in the Gamecube Mega Collection. I also didn’t like that the two best Game Gear Sonic games, Tails’ Adventure and Sonic Triple Trouble, are not present on this disc, as they could have easily taken the place of the sub-par Drift and Labyrinth.
However, the biggest problem with Mega Collection Plus is the system for unlocking the hidden games. You basically have to play the normal games a certain number of times before the game appears. The only realistic way that you can quickly earn these titles is by going through the extremely laborious process of opening each game, waiting for Sega screen to appear, quit the game, and repeat, ad nauseam. Why couldn’t they have been awarded from completing tasks in certain games (like finishing them) the way Capcom did with their Mega Man collections? The worst part of this is that you have to go through all this to unlock the awesome Ristar, and unfortunately, they made that the final game you can unlock. That’s just wrong.
Even with its faults, Sonic Mega Collection is one of the best compilation games released, especially since it contains many great games for a budget price. However, you may want to go on the Internet to find out how to unlock the hidden games yourself and/or pay someone to go through the painful unlocking process for you. But even if you do it yourself, the reward (Ristar) is well worth it. If you’ve never played the Sonic games before, then go out and buy this game immediately. If you’re a hardcore Sonic fan, you’ll probably find Sonic Mega Collection Plus to be a good investment, particularly given the nice extras and the ability to have all the Sonic games on a single disc. I give this game a 9 out of 10.
Oh, and one final note to those who are wondering which version to pick up given the choice. They’re both exactly the same, but I’d probably favor the PS2 version because I find that system’s controller to be very well suited to 2D games like the ones included here. Having said that, the games still play well with the Xbox controller, so those who are restricted by their console can rest easily.
OK, one down and one more to go. This next compilation is also part of a classic game series, but unlike the Sonic one, I’ve never reviewed Mega Man X Collection before. Enjoy.
Capcom had a hit on their hands with the original Mega Man Anniversary Collection, a compilation that catalogued the original 8 Mega Man console games. Seeing that the GBA version of Anniversary Collection never saw the light of day (it was supposed to compile the 5 Game Boy Mega Man titles), the only way Capcom could release another Mega Man collection is by taking games from one of the franchise’s many spin-off series. This is exactly what Capcom decided to do, and thus, we now have Mega Man X Collection, available on the PS2 and Gamecube (I checked out the PS2 version).
Mega Man X Collection takes the first 6 games from the Mega Man X franchise and brings them together on one disc for $30. Although this may not seem like as great of a deal as the original Mega Man collection, there are few things you should know. First, many of the games on this disc are more recent than the original Mega Man games (the most recently released game here came out in 2001) and second, most of the X titles have become extremely difficult (and expensive) to acquire in their original forms. For example, Mega Man X3 for the Super NES runs for well over $100 nowadays on eBay, so I certainly appreciate being able to purchase that game and get all the other X titles for a good fraction of the aforementioned price.
To sum up the main plot of these games (because it’s basically the same in each one), players control X, a futuristic version of our favorite blasting blue boy. A robot who fights evil robots known as Mavericks, X takes his cues from Dr. Light’s successor, Dr. Cain, and is assisted in his quest by other Maverick Hunters like himself. His main ally is a red colored robot with long blond hair named Zero and his main enemy is a man named Sigma, who is the leader/creator of the evil Mavericks. X’s main goal is, of course, to defeat the Mavericks and their conniving leader.
The X franchise, at its core, plays much like the original Mega Man games. X still traverses 8 unique boss stages, finds special items, collects the weapons from fallen Mavericks, and works his way to Sigma’s heavily fortified fortress. Unique to the X series are new moves (such as climbing walls) and the ability to upgrade X’s robotic architecture to learn new moves/attacks, both of which add a little bit of spice to the tried and true Mega Man gameplay.
The first game is Mega Man X, the one that started it all (I think I’m legally obligated to use that phrase at least once when discussing these classic game collections). Released in 1994, this game certainly stands the test of time over a decade later, with well designed levels, tight controls, inventive bosses, great music, and colorful graphics.
The next game in the series, Mega Man X2, hit the SNES in 1995, and it too, is a very enjoyable game. It plays almost exactly like the first title, but has enough new elements, upgrades, and surprises to keep it from being a typical carbon copy sequel.
The final SNES game, Mega Man X3, came out in 1996. It adds the requisite new powers, weapons, and bosses that players expect, but also allows them the opportunity to play as Zero for the first time. It’s certainly very cool to play with a character that can slash enemies with a green lightsaber, but X3 is still primarily Mega Man’s game, which probably explains why Zero can’t earn any upgrades or fight bosses.
Mega Man X4, released in 1997, marked the futuristic blue bomber’s debut in the 32-bit realm and the team at Capcom certainly took advantage of the Saturn and Playstation’s extra power. Better graphics, more advanced audio and bigger levels aren’t exactly surprising upgrades, but I wasn’t expecting to see high quality anime cut-scenes with voices. Also, the role of Zero was strengthened in X4, and players can now venture through the entire game with him. Even better, Zero plays completely differently than X, since he can only use his saber to fight enemies (he could also use an X-Buster in X3). This change presents a completely new dimension and level of challenge to the gameplay, since you’ll now be required to move closer towards enemies in order inflict damage on them. Because of this, it’s well worth playing through the game at least twice; once with X and another time with Zero.
Mega Man X5 came out in 2000, and looked and played much like X4. However, there were a couple of new moves and items to collect, and the game presented the element of time to the gameplay, with a 16 (game) hour time limit (you’re trying to prevent a space station from crashing into earth). Also, unlike X4, you have the ability to switch characters in between missions, instead of being stuck with the same character for the entire game. Although a good playing game with some nice music from the previous X games, the absence of some features from X4 (like voiceovers and cut-scenes) seemed to indicate a lack of effort (or new ideas), even though Capcom had 3 years to make X5 (compared to the single year window for the others).
The final 2D Mega Man X title, X6, was released in 2001, and in this game, it became pretty obvious that the series was running out of ideas. Gameplay was basically a carbon copy of X5, and although it’s still a decent game, much of the inventive charm found in the previous X titles is missing here. On top of that, a lack of new additions make X6 feel like what it is; a rehash of X5 that brings no innovative ideas to the table. In addition, the story was really starting to become melodramatic and heavy handed with its anti-war message. What is this, Michael Moore’s new movie? And don’t even get me started on some of those boss names, like Infinity Mijinion and Metal Shark Player. Oh, wait a second; I just got myself started.
Those are all the X titles included here, but I forgot to mention that you get a 7th special game in this collection, as well. It’s Mega Man Battle and Chase, a PS1 cart-racing game (kind of like Mario Kart, but in the Mega Man world) that came out in 1996. However, only Japanese and European audiences got to play it, apparently because Sony of America wouldn’t allow a US release. The game’s appearance in X Collection marks its North American debut and after playing it, I have absolutely no idea what Sony’s problem(s) was. Back in the day, Sony’s anti-2D game policy was no secret, but why’d they strike down this 3D racing game?
Not only is Mega Man Battle and Chase’s inclusion a very nice bonus, but it’s also a legitimately fun game, unlike some of the unreleased titles from other compilations (like Sonic the Fighters in Sonic Gems Collection). The game has a good sense of speed, snappy music, and takes advantage of the license well. The best part of Battle and Chase, though, is the single player Grand Prix mode, where you race against other characters, and upon defeating them, steal their car parts for use on your own vehicle. The hook is that each part has its own special property, such as increased acceleration or better traction, so the ability to mix and match adds a brilliant touch of strategy to the game.
Like most compilation titles, X Collection has some extra material. The bonuses here are pretty nice, running the gamut from remixed music tracks, Mega Man artwork, and hidden tricks for the games, such as the Fireball upgrade in Mega Man X. In addition, the requirements for earning these bonuses are tied to completing objectives in the games, a concept that every compilation developer should be taking notice of (I’m looking at you, Sega).
X Collection also boasts a couple of nice improvements over Anniversary Collection, including a more user-friendly interface (no more moving Mega Man around the menus) and a better saving system (you can now save multiple files for each game instead of one). It’s certainly nice that Capcom cared enough to look at the flaws and negative feedback from the first Mega Man collection and rectify many of those issues here.
The porting of these games is pretty much perfect, and in the case of the graphics, it’s even better than perfect. For the SNES X games, Capcom actually went back and removed the slowdown that was present in the original cartridge version, a highly commendable decision that I hope future compilation game developers imitate.
The controls translate equally well and this collection further proves just how well suited the PS2 controller is to these 2D action/platform games. The only real control problem I had was that my hands began to hurt after a while from reaching over to press the Circle button to dash; you may want to change the dash button to the more comfortable R2 button (keep in mind that this won’t work in X1 and 2; don’t ask why). That reminds me; for Nintendo fans who suffered through the illogical layout in the Gamecube version of Anniversary Collection, take heart knowing that you can now customize the controls to your liking.
The sounds are almost perfect, but there are some slight discrepancies. For example, X’s shout of “Hadoken!” when throwing the fireball in X1 was removed from this port. Why? In addition, and this isn’t sound-related, some mild profanities were added, which is strange, since the original Mega Man collection removed the use of the word “damn” from Mega Man 7 (it was in the original SNES game).
Despite the nice things I’ve said about the porting thus far, I have a major bone to pick with Capcom regarding Mega Man X3. The version of the game included on this disc, regrettably, is not that of the 1996 SNES cart, but that of the Japanese only PS1 version. Now, it’s cool to have this version in the US for the first time, but why’d Capcom choose to put this one in over the SNES one? The PS1 game is basically a straight port of the SNES version, with the only additions being brief and unnecessary anime cut-scenes without voices and real instrument use for the music.
Speaking of the music, what the heck happened? I expected that the use of real instruments would enhance the classic cartridge tunes, but the music quality has actually deteriorated. The biggest problem is that the tempos of many tracks have been completely messed up; some move too fast (the Neon Tiger stage), some move too slow (the Blast Hornet stage), and some sound nothing like the old SNES tunes (the introduction level; boo-hoo). The tempo issue, in particular, completely ruined the musical experience for me, and amazingly, made me nostalgic for the old MIDI music from the cartridge version. Actually, take that back; the music ruined the entire X3 experience for me, seeing as some of my nostalgic feelings were nowhere to be found when playing it.
To be fair, X3 still plays fine, and the upgraded sound effects are decent, but the more I think about the music, the more upset I get. I mean, Capcom could have done an amazing job of improving the music via the media upgrade (like Tommy Tallarico did with the CD versions of the Earthworm Jim games), but they blew it big time.
I have to admit that Mega Man X Collection may find itself in the same boat as Sonic Gems Collection, in the way that it may appeal more to fans of the series than the original Mega Man collection did. But even if that is the case, X Collection is still a quality compilation in its own right. Capcom continues to lead the industry in showing just how to put a compilation title together (with the extras, interface and what not), the price is certainly right, and most of the included games are quite good, with even the worst ones still being decent and completely playable. Mega Man fans won’t go wrong picking this up, and it’s certainly worth a look for anyone else who may find themselves interested or curious. Mega Man X Collection gets an 8 out of 10.
You know, I’m typing this in Microsoft Word right now, and I’ve noticed that I’ve written 8 pages worth of material. This is a sign, I think, that I either have a lot on my mind, I’m very dedicated to what I do, or I’m insane, probably all three now that I think about it.
Well, I guess I better do my homework and fold my laundry now, but I’ll be back soon, and I think I’ll do a couple of movie reviews then. As for the new piece of music, here’s a hint to what it is. It comes from one of the games included in the compilation games I reviewed today. See ya for now!
Hello again. I’d like to thank the people who have been leaving me kind and supportive messages recently. It makes me happy to hear that I’m entertaining people with the stuff I write about here, and it makes me want to write about movies, games, and other entertainment even more. Thank you.
Anyway, I was thinking a lot about what I would discuss today. Would it be the usual gaggle of movie and game reviews? Well, kind of, but I’m going to mix it up a bit by talking about some either sub-par or outright awful movies and/or games. I decided this after watching Ebert and Roeper’s Worst of 2005 show. After seeing their opinions on the best film had to offer in 2005, so now, it was time to hear the absolute worst. After I saw the show, I went back to finish a movie review that I had started quite a while ago. I noticed that the movie in question (Surviving Christmas) was one that I hated. So, here is the long awaited (not really) review of that movie, along with a couple of other reviews But first, I want to list Ebert and Roeper’s complete lists of the Worst Movies of 2005, just cause I found interesting (and I have to say, Roger was quite creative with his):
Roger’s Worst of 2005
1. Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo
2. The Dukes of Hazzard
3. Dirty Love
5. Son of the Mask
10. Fantastic Four
Richard’s Worst of 2005
1. The Dukes of Hazzard
2. Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo
4. The Longest Yard
6. Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous
7. The Man
8. Guess Who
10. The Legend of Zorro
Since I haven’t seen enough movies from 2005, I can’t really make a worst of list (I can barely make a best of list right now), but I will say that I agree with Richard’s #1 selection, The Dukes of Hazzard. I’ll do a review of it some other time. Other movies I hated from last year include Son of the Mask, Empire Falls (which I did review), and Racing Stripes. Again, I’ll review those another time.
OK, now it’s time to put on the latex gloves and start digging for crap. Now, admittingly, not all of these items were released last year and some of them are not generally considered bad movies. These are just my personal opinions. First up is Surviving Christmas.
Considering that we recently celebrated Christmas, it should only make sense that I find myself talking about a holiday related film. However, most may not remember Surviving Christmas, a film that bombed so badly, that it came out on video two months (to the day) after its theatrical release (10/21/2004 to 12/21/2004). I remember hearing that this movie got bad reviews, so you know what that means; I just had to see it. I did so (actually, I saw it twice because I forgot all about it the first time) and I'm here to tell you that, yes, it is as bad as you've heard and this is coming from the guy who saw Gigli... and liked it.
The second time I saw this movie, I made sure to take notes so I wouldn't forget how bad this movie is and so I wouldn't have to watch the damn thing a third time. OK, now what was this movie about again? Well, I remember that it starred Ben Affleck as Drew, a businessman who gives his girlfriend, Missy, a trip for the both of them to Fiji for the holidays. Instead of being grateful, she gets upset and angry, stating that Christmas is a time for friends and family and that she wants to spend the holidays with her folks. In her anger, she leaves him. Wait a minute; if she wants to spend Christmas with her family, why doesn't she just take Drew with her to do so? Why does she act offended when getting such a thoughtful gift as cruise tickets? Are there people out there who actually act like this?
Anyway, now Drew's depressed and he wants to have a nice Christmas. He can’t spend the holidays with his family because he doesn’t have one anymore. So he does the next best thing: he travels to his childhood home in the suburbs and finds that a new family is living there. He offers Tom Valco (James Gandolfini), the father of the household $500,000, I think it was, and in exchange, Drew will be able to live with Tom and his family for Christmas, thus getting some of that good ol’ Christmas spirit back into his life. Despite seeming like a gruff SOB, Tom agrees to let this obnoxious stranger that he’s just met sleep under the same roof as his wife. Drew then meets Tom’s wife, Christine (Catherine O’Hara), who seems to be drifting away from her husband, and his Brain (Josh Zuckerman), who spends pretty much all of his time sitting in front of his computer jackin’ it to porn.
Things are made more complicated when Tom and Christine’s daughter, Alicia (Christina Applegate), unexpectedly shows up (isn’t this how it always works in these kinds of movies?). She thinks (rightfully so) that her family has gone crazy by letting a guy they’ve never met live with them. As you can probably expect, Alicia and Drew hate each other from the moment they met, which can only mean one thing; these two people absolutely, positively must fall in love with each other by the film’s end. And if that prediction turns out to be true, then we have to get a scene where the old girlfriend shows up right on cue to create conflict, and in the case of this movie, this will also have to result in multiple cringe inducing incest references that have no place in a PG-13 rated picture.
OK, so I wasted all that time discussing the plot, but you know what? Basically, this movie has no plot whatsoever. I swear if you were to take a collection of your old Christmas time home movies and paste all the different footage together in random order, it would be more interesting, funny, and comprehensible than Surviving Christmas.
Now, about those notes I took. Basically, they cover every single thing that I hated about this movie, and considering that it’s kind of a long list, I better get started on it now. I already covered a couple of these problems, like the incest references and Brain’s porn addiction, so I’ll mention the orchestral score of this movie, which is so whimsical and flourishes after each joke as if we were too stupid to understand that it was meant to be funny. Well, it isn’t, and you know you’ve got a bad comedy when you have to rely on the film’s score for the humor. That brings me to the film’s biggest problem; it’s not funny and it’s boring. Considering that being funny and interesting are the two most important elements in making a good comedy and that this movie fails that test, I may as well end the review right now. But I’m not going to.
Instead, I’ll give you some examples of humor that fall flat in Surviving Christmas. There’s a scene where the characters are going sledding and Brain states that “It’ll be fun... in a Sonny Bono kind of way.” One character states how she believes “poor Mexicans are so bright and vulgar.” Brain and his pot-smoking grandfather (well, actually, a guy playing his grandfather; don’t ask) find themselves looking at internet porn together and stumble upon pictures of Christine, which the grandfather finds arousing. As for how sexy (well, allegedly sexy) photos of Christine ended up on the internet, again, don’t ask. Now, don’t get me wrong; I can handle tasteless and offensive comedy, but if that tasteless and offensive comedy isn’t funny, I have a problem with that, and that’s exactly what’s wrong with this movie.
As far as the performances go… well, I guess it’s par for the course because most of it isn’t very good. In the case of Catherine O’Hara, it’s not her fault, because she’s a very talented comedic actress (see any of the Christopher Guest films for proof) who has nothing to work with here. James Gandolfini also comes out of this mess mostly unscathed, since he’s merely emulating his Tony Soprano role and because it’s the only element of the movie that results in a small chuckle. Ben Affleck doesn’t fare as well, though, since his character is an obnoxious guy who most people would call the insane asylum on before letting him into their home. And Christina Applegate? I’m still not sure if she’s a bad actress or not, but why is it that she seems to be in the worst possible comedies nowadays? After starring in The Sweetest Thing, Anchorman, and now this disaster, I’m starting to wonder whether she should take acting classes or fire her agent. Perhaps she should do both.
Either way, you can probably tell that I barely survived Surviving Christmas, and that I’m glad I was able to escape from it with my life. If your in-laws show up next Christmas and you really hate them and/or want to bore them into a coma, then by all means see this, but why not entertain them with good recent Christmas comedies instead, like the whimsical and family friendly Elf or the tasteless, but hilarious Bad Santa? Surviving Christmas barely survives my wrath with half a star.
Man, I’ve forgotten how much fun it is to trash a bad movie. I guess that explains why my whole post today is dedicated to just that practice. Actually, I’m taking it a step further for my next review, as I cut up a movie that won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Gus Van Sant’s Elephant won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2003, a year that was considered by many to be the worst in the festival’s history. I don’t find that very hard to believe for two reasons; one, because that year saw the worst rated in competition film ever (The Brown Bunny by Vincent Gallo), and two, because Elephant won the top award against the far better Mystic River. OK, I’m not sure that history was really necessary, but it’ll help make my point of why I hate this movie so much despite the awards it has won.
This movie tells the story of a normal day at a Portland, Oregon high school that will eventually be terrorized by a Columbine-like massacre. Actually, scratch that; the carnage that occurs is pretty much exactly like the murders in Littleton. Anyway, the movie constantly changes the viewpoint to different characters at different times of the day. For example, we see a relatively pudgy girl who seems to be a social outcast who works at the school library, a blond boy who has an alcoholic father and how it’s affecting him, and many others who are basically just living through another day of school.
Meanwhile, two male students have planned a massive assault on their school and this is the day that they will be carrying it out. They prepare by playing violent video games (first-person shooters mainly), watching documentary footage of Adolf Hitler, and stockpiling guns and pipe bombs. Why are they doing this? Well, the movie doesn’t really give any specific reason, which is fine by me.
What isn’t fine is that the movie is, for the first hour, a sanctimonious exercise in trying to turn normal everyday activities into some kind of showy piece of art. There are scenes in this movie where we see the camera follow a character as they walk away, and the camera just sits there and we watch them walk and walk and walk and walk until they’re literally a dot on the horizon. It’s only after they completely get out of the camera’s view that we finally go on to something else. These shots sometimes go on for about two or so minutes, but it feels like forever. During them, I just sat there thinking, “OK, I get it. Let’s move on, already.” These scenes, as well as others, draw so much attention to themselves, trying to be so important that they took me out of the movie.
The last 20 minutes chronicle the massacre itself and just like the Columbine shootings, it’s quite painful to watch. However, in this movie, the murders came off to me feeling cold, cynical and exploitative. Although this may be the approach that Van Sant was going for, I was offended and kind of sickened by the way that the movie seems to linger on the pain and suffering that these kids go through.
As far as the killers’ motivations, no explicit answer is given, but I was unsure of just what Sant was trying to accomplish. Does he believe that everything and perhaps, nothing is to blame? I think so, and agree with that idea, but he seems to hint that certain elements are more to blame than others, particularly the killers’ absent parents and the violent video games they played. Maybe I read it wrong, but that’s feeling I got and I never felt that Sant was simply looking at this situation without trying to ask questions about why it happened. This movie felt to me like a pathetic attempt to try and make school shootings into something of an art form. That can probably work, but I think that you have to show some sympathy for the victims and perhaps empathy for the killers and Sant does no such thing here.
Some other problems I had with Elephant were with the amateurish acting; the entire cast is comprised of normal high school kids and non-actors, and man, does it show. Even when the secondary characters are reacting to the fact that their school is under attack, they read their lines casually, as if they couldn’t care less about it. The scene where the two killers kiss each other passionately in the shower made no sense to me and seemed completely unnecessary (some have cited this as an example that Sant, who is a gay man, was needlessly injecting homosexual politics into this story, but I can’t tell). Also, I’m not really sure if logic is supposed to be inserted into a movie like this, but I found the way that the killers got access to their guns to be ridiculous, especially when UPS comes by to deliver it. You know, there’s probably a return address on that package giving the deliverer a good idea of what’s in the box and yet he allows a kid under 18 to take the package without asking for an adult (or even the kid) to sign for it? Also, I’m surprised that when they test their new piece in the garage, no one hears the gunshot noise (it’s actually pretty loud). Also, why was movie called Elephant? Because we just happened to see a picture of an elephant on the wall of the killers’ room?
None of this really matters, but considering how much I hated this movie, taking it apart in any further way is enough justification for me. I found Elephant to be boring and exploitative trash that tries to disguise itself as a form of artistic expression. If this was the best film Cannes 2003 had to offer, then I have no trouble believing the accounts that it was the prestigious festival’s worst year in history. Elephant gets ½ a star from me.
OK, my last review today is of a video game called Midway Arcade Treasures 3.
Considering the success that Midway has had with their first two Arcade Treasures collections, it should come as no surprise that we now have a third disc of classic Midway arcade games to enjoy. I was personally excited about Midway Arcade Treasures 3 (available on all three consoles, with the Xbox version being the subject here) when I heard that it was to be comprised exclusively of racing games from Midway’s coin-op catalogue. I’m a huge arcade racing fan, with such Midway racers as San Francisco Rush and Hydro Thunder being personal favorites. Those two classics and a couple of other games are present on this disc, but this collection overall is sub-par.
The games included in MAT3 include Hydro Thunder, San Francisco Rush: The Rock, San Francisco Rush 2049, Off-Road Thunder, S.T.U.N Runner, Race Drivin’ Super Off-Road, and Badlands, and now, I’m going to discuss them one by one.
Hydro Thunder is based on the popular 1999 boat racing game. In the arcade, this game had a very unique set-up in arcades, featuring a steering wheel and a throttle that can be pushed back and forth. On the throttle’s side was a button that you used to activate the boost power-ups you’ll find in the game. The version of Hydro Thunder included here is a port of the Dreamcast version released at that system’s launch and unfortunately, it still suffers from the same issues as before, and even some new ones. Let’s start with the framerate, which remains absolutely horrid in the two-player mode, to the point that it’s almost unplayable. The one player game runs better for sure, but I noticed that this version seemed to bog down a bit more than I remember on the Dreamcast. This hurts the game’s incredible sense of speed and feel of adrenaline that was so crucial to the success of the arcade game. Also, because the cool throttle/steering wheel set-up couldn’t be (or just hasn’t been) emulated for the home, it kind of makes Hydro Thunder lose a bit of its appeal, originality, and ultimately, some of its fun factor. Still, it’s a decent port and if you don’t have the Dreamcast version already, this is a good alternative (assuming that purchasing the arcade machine isn’t an option, which for most of us, it probably isn’t).
San Francisco Rush: The Rock was the arcade update to the original Rush game, introducing new cars and courses, including Alcatraz (AKA The Rock). Despite being released in 1997, this game holds up surprisingly well today. This version is a straight port of the arcade game, meaning that it’s been perfectly preserved, albeit sans the steering wheel. The framerate on this game is fantastic, locked at a silky smooth 60 fps, which, if I remember correctly, is actually an improvement over the coin-op version. On the down side, because of the nature of linked machines with the coin-op, there’s no multiplayer here at all, which is kind of a drag. Also, because it’s a straight arcade port, the extra incentives for replay value found in the home version of San Francisco Rush on the N64 are absent. Even so, this is one of the few games on this disc that stands the test of time.
San Francisco Rush 2049 was the final Rush game to appear in arcades. It took the original formula that made the previous games in the series so great, and added a futuristic look and feel to it. Also, even though this was an arcade game, Midway brilliantly added some replay value by allowing players to join Team Rush. Through this system, players could put in PIN number and have their own game file on the hardware, where all the unlocked cars, tracks, and achievements would be saved. When players came back to play the game again, they could simply put in their number and have access to all the extras that they’d previously unlocked. The version included here is a port of the excellent Dreamcast version from 2000, which included all the tracks and cars from the arcade game, but added new modes like Circuit, Stunt, and even a Battle Mode. In addition, special coins have been hidden in all of the levels that can be collected for some cool bonuses. Also, unlike the original Rush game on this disc, multiplayer is present and allows support for up to four people. This game is almost worth the price of admission alone; that is, assuming you don’t already own the Dreamcast version. The only flaw I could come up with for this port is with the load times, which I don’t remember being so horribly lengthy on the Dreamcast (actually, now that I think about it, they weren’t ever this bad).
The fourth game (and the final one that’s of any value on this disc) is Super Off-Road, an ancient top-down perspective racing game from the late 1980s. Here, you race a monster truck around various courses and try to win races to earn money. You can then spend this cash to upgrade the speed, acceleration, shocks or other attributes of your truck. For an arcade game released in 1989, I’m pretty impressed on how much customization is allowed, from the truck upgrades, even to the options of inputting your birthdate and country of origin. The perspective and the controls take a bit of getting used to, though, and some may die laughing at the prehistoric graphics and audio. Still, I found this game to be oddly addictive, and the multiplayer (for up to four) is quite fun. Along with the original game, you also get the arcade expansion pack, containing an extra vehicle (dune buggies!) and a couple of new courses, which helps to improve the replay value.
What about the other four games included? Well, they’re hardly what I’d call “treasures.” Badlands is decent, but it’s exactly the same as Super Off-Road, except that it takes place in a post-apocalyptic universe and now, you have a gun on your car. However, that firearm doesn’t really add anything to the experience, and given the choice, I’d rather just play Super Off-Road again. Off-Road Thunder is basically Hydro Thunder with monster trucks, but the framerate is so bad that it almost gave me a seizure. In addition, there’s some awful butt-rock music and the multiple modes feel way too similar to the normal rally races. The Demolition feels like a poor man’s version of Road Rage mode in Burnout 3, and the flag races? Well, even South Park Rally did that element better. S.T.U.N Runner is all right, with shooting gameplay in a futuristic vehicle that floats around futuristic tube environments, but I never felt the need to go back to play it again. Besides, it’s not even a racing game, and those early polygonal graphics are painful to look at.
The worst game on the disc, though, is easily Race Drivin’. It was apparently an early attempt at a real-life car diving simulator back in 1989, and in this day and age, it’s hilariously bad. The angular polygonal graphics look hideous, making the cars, trucks, and every other graphical element look like they were constructed out of a bunch of painted cardboard boxes. When you crash, the windshield gets a huge crack in it and you see a hilariously awful instant replay of your crash (and explosion) accompanied by some equally amusing music. The controls are unresponsive, especially when you attempt to drive the manual stick-shift cars. Ironically, I’ve recently started to drive in real life and I find it easier than driving the virtual ones here (even though the real car I drive isn’t a stick-shift). The only reason you’ll ever want to play Race Drivin’ more than once is so can make fun of it; seriously, it’s that pathetic.
OK, so those are the games, but as a collection, how does Midway Arcade Treasures 3 stand up? Not so well, I have to say. It looks and feels like developer Digital Eclipse put very little time and effort into the interface and extras for this one. The menus are really clunky, bland, cheaply made, and not very user friendly. Extra features? What extra features? All you get is a picture and transcript of some (but not all) of the games’ promotional material, a credits option, and a trailer for the new Ed, Edd and Eddy game. Although you can upload your best times/scores for each game on Xbox Live (only on the Xbox version), let’s be honest; most of these games aren’t the kind that you’ll want to brag to others for mastering. There are no unlockable games, options or modes, and there aren’t even any interviews with some Midway employees. Considering that this is the same developer behind both Atari Anniversary Edition and the first Midway Arcade Treasures game (which both had video interviews and many more features than this game), the lack of extras is unacceptable.
As far as graphics and audio goes, it’s basically on a game-by-game basis and I pretty much covered everything about that above. As far as the ports of the games go, it’s basically the same, although each of these games is the same as I remembered them (at least the ones I played before). I mentioned the loading problems with Rush 2049, but the whole collection suffers from lengthy access times, particularly for opening the games themselves. The controls for the games again vary by each game, ranging from decent to terrible, but the Xbox pad responds quite well to the Rush games and Hydro Thunder (not surprising, since two of those games are ports from the Dreamcast, which had a controller similar to the Xbox).
Unlike the previous Arcade Treasures games that gave you about 20 games on each disc, there are only eight to choose from here. While this is somewhat understandable considering that some of the games here are more recent than the offerings in the first two Midway collections, it’s also a problem when you consider that half of the games here aren’t worth anyone’s time. Why didn’t they include Off Road Challenge, Arctic Thunder, or any of the Crus’n games instead? Those games are far better than the likes of tripe like Race Drivin’.
Overall, I was very disappointed with Midway Arcade Treasures 3. It feels like a rush job and the good games included on this disc deserve better treatment. As far as classic game compilations go, it’s not as offensively bad as the Sega Smash Pack on Dreamcast, but it’s still below average and is, at best, only worth a rental. Even at $20, the only way I could recommend people buy it is because they don’t have either one the Rush games or Hydro Thunder already on another system (like Dreamcast). And yet, I personally fall into that category and found myself feeling a bit unfulfilled by this purchase. I’m giving Midway Arcade Treasures a 4.5 out of 10.
By the way, the music last time came from a rare N64 game called Mystical Ninja starring Goemon. If you want to know more about this cool game, check out the Overlooked Games section of my reviews site (click "Reviews," "Folder Directory," Video Game Reviews, and then "Overlooked Games). The tagline was a little joke of those Aleve commercials. You know, the ones that say "two Aleve work all day. It would take eight Tylenol to do that," except my reviews replace the Aleve.
Well, I think that about does it for today. Don't expect too many updates for here on out, since I'm back to work with my Ethics and Health college courses. Still, enjoy what I've typed here and thanks again for all the kind comments. See you later!