Thursday, June 26, 2008

Video games you might want to check out

Okay, as a 35+ gamer, I'm into those titles for my XBOX 360 which are fun, different, and not too tough for an old guy to conquer. I don't actually think I'm that old, I just don't have the patience and time that a 14-year-old has to try and beat a really difficult level boss for two hours straight. As a gamer since the days of the Atari 2600, I'll go head-to-head with any 14-year-old, any day.

With such limited time, I like to get my gaming fix in small bursts, where I can advance in the game without too much trouble, and put it aside until the next day when the kids are tucked in bed again and my wife is occupied with something else.

I've almost finished Grand Theft Auto IV, which I was addicted to for several weeks, playing whenever I could fit it in, much to my spouses dismay. The storyline is rich and interesting, with a few places where the gamer can choose which story branch to take, and there are plenty of side missions and other interesting achievements which keep a gamer engaged right up until the very end.

Unfortunately, I made it to a point where I had only two missions left and one of my son's nine-year-old friends accidentally karate kicked my XBOX, causing the disk to scratch to the point where it no longer will load the game. I sent an angry email to Microsoft, as this is not the first time I've scratched a game by bumping the console, but they don't feel that they have any fault in the matter, so I'm out 60 bucks and the 50-100 achievement points I'd earn by finishing the game. Maybe I can rent the title for a night from Blockbuster just to finish it off -- but I digress.

GTA IV, despite the controversy and hype, is violent, fun, and engaging. It should only be played when the kiddies are in the other room since the characters drop the "F-Bomb" like it's going out of style, though, and I definitely wouldn't recommend it for immature players. The game is just good, (not clean) adult fun.

Another game which I just sold back to GameStop (God I love that place) is Dead Rising. It's a zombie hack and slash game with a free-play design. Like many other free-play titles, there are time limits and missions to accomplish. It is inventive, creative, and often fun to play, but where the game fails is in its saving system. I stopped playing the game because I got to a certain point and hadn't left myself enough time to complete a particular mission that was absolutely necessary in order to advance in the game.

Since there isn't an autosave feature, and it isn't always easy to reach a save point as often as you'd like, my only option would have been to revert to a save point so far back that I'd have to fight two difficult level bosses all over again and hopefully leave myself enough time to complete the necessary mission. I still think it's a good game, but if you buy it, be extra conscious of finding those places to save the game and save often, but be careful, because you run the risk of eating up valuable mission time trying to make it to a place in the game which allows you to save. One way around this would be to switch back and forth between saving on your hard drive and saving on an MU.

For a busy dad like me, though, this one was too time consuming, so I turned it in to buy a few new games like Prey, Conan, and Viking, which I'll review in the coming months.

What not to watch

With three children in our household, my wife and I have little time to enjoy watching a movie together. Somehow, amid the chaos of temper tantrums, bottle feedings, and diaper changes, we actually sat down and watched TWO movies over the weekend, one on DVD and the other on pay-per-view.

After viewing both, I was left wondering what exactly, I felt I was missing.

The first film we watched was "National Treasure 2," which I thought would be fun for us to see since my wife doesn't like action or horror movies, and this was pretty clean fun the first go-around in the franchise.

Let's just say she didn't thank me for renting it. Nicolas Cage, who I've loved in past films, looks gaunt and tired these days, and his conspicuous lack of sideburns and strange hair color are distracting. Not distracting enough, however, to deter us from the fact that the entire film was hokey, predictable, and unsatisfying. Jon Voight walks through his role, as he does in so many roles these days, and the remainder of the supporing cast were stereotypes in a film filled with hackneyed movie cliches such as:

- A character gets millions of dollars, invests it poorly, and then has trouble with the IRS.
- The husband and wife are having problems but, after living through an adrenaline filled adventure, get back together.
- The sidekick who never seems to get enough credit finally receives his due when a tip from his book helps to propel the plot forward.
- The main character does something outrageous (like kidnap the President) and gets away with it scot-free.
- A character must go to his ex-wife because she's "the only one who can help him" after being estranged from her for 30 years. Their bickering is then supposed to be great movie fun!

The cliches went on and on and on like this and it felt like a film that was written by a couple of film students by using a dozen other popular films as templates. It's too bad, too, because the first "National Treasure" was hokey but in a fun and interesting way. Unless you're bored and there's nothing else on the hotel pay-per-view, skip this one.

That same fateful weekend, we watched "Fools Gold" on pay-per-view. My wife enjoys a good romantic comedy, and she enjoyed that other fine piece of cinematic art that Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson made - "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days."

Well, as I said, she enjoys a "good" romantic comedy, and neither of us cared for whatever this was supposed to be. Think of "Romancing the Stone" meets "Into the Blue" meets...hell, meets "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days."

But the only thing it shared with the great Kathleen Turner/Michael Douglas film mentioned above was the fact that there was a male and a female lead who end up in bed together. Other than that, it fell FAR short. It was so close in fact, actually to 2005's "Into the Blue" that it could almost have been the same script with a little light comedy added. Unfortunatley it was even worse than that horrible Jessica Alba film.

The only reasons I could see for these two to even make this movie was an attempt to capture the magic of their previous film together, and also the film's tropical setting where McConaughey could spend most of his screen time with his shirt off (which he LOVES to do in this one, folks.) You can also tell he REALLY enjoys the constant dialogue eschewed about his sexual abilities. This was truly a vanity piece for Mathhew to indulge himself in, and oh yeah, I'm sure the paycheck didn't hurt either of the main stars, either.

One other thing bothered me, and that was the presence of the great Donald Sutherland. Not to take anything away from him, because I think he's great, but he was completely wasted in this one. I think he was bored, too, because he chose to do the entire film with a British accent. Maybe he was able to immerse himself into the film by creating such a layered character that he could forget what a ludicrous plot and horrible execution of it he was involved with.

Again, please skip this one unless you're stuck on an airplane and its the only thing showing. If you must watch it, at least you'll get to see Kate Hudson in a bikini for part of the picture, and of course a mostly shirtless Matthew McConaughey, if that's the sort of thing you're into.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hulk improves on the original

I got to see the "The Incredible Hulk" in a media preview screeing in Sacramento with my son this week, going into the film with low to medium expectations, especially after what I consider to be a disaster with the 2003 Ang Lee version starring Eric Bana.

As the new lead, Academy Award nominee Edward Norton struck the proper sensibility for the character of Bruce Banner, the tortured scientist who is struck with gamma rays, leaving him with a Jekyl and Hyde condition which has him alternating between himself and his alter ego "The Hulk" whenever someone makes him mad. Fans of the comic book and multiple animated series, as well as the live action version starring Bill Bixby will enjoy the little touches put into the film paying homage to those other incarnations of the franchise.

Where the 2003 version waited far too long to introduce a good view of the title character, this newest entry gives us a healthy taste of the Hulk right in the opening credits, followed up with the full body views within the first 25 minutes. There were far too few action sequences in the first film, but this one made up for that defecit with good action scenes in the beginning and final fight sequences, and only a bit of a slowdown in the middle, which still did little to detract from the overall fun of the film.

While it would be hard to take down the mega-hit of early summer "Ironman," I would place "The Incredible Hulk" firmly in third place at this point in the summer movie enjoyability scale, with the fourth installment in the Indiana Jones franchise in second place. I recommend this film to anyone with older grade school children, and thirty-somethings like myself who grew up appreciating comic books, super heroes, and the accompanying animated programs which made growing up in the 70s and 80s so much fun. I'm calling this "the summer of Marvel," and wish the new movie studio lots of luck as they move on to other projects such as "Captain America," "Hulk" and "Ironman" sequels, and "The Avengers."

I look forward to all of them with the same glee I had when peeling open the cover of a new comic book back in the days before cable TV, next generation video game consoles, and computer generated movie effects.