Friday, September 27, 2013

Parker Lewis Can't Lose Season 2

When I watched season one of the show again, I was amazed at how many episodes and moments I remembered.  My memories of season 2 were not so clear.  While I remembered the additions of Annie, Nick, and the diner, not too many of the plot lines were familiar to me.  So there wasn't nearly as much nostalgia this time around while watching the episodes, and it's possible that may have affected my enjoyment of this season.

I can understand that the show runners had a desire to change things up, and giving Parker a relationship was certainly one logical inclusion, and a new set is a common second season change for most shows.  I also know from listening to the commentaries of the first season that the network was not too happy that some of the show's trademark antics often equaled really high budgets for a sitcom, and for the second season they were probably forced to tone it down a bit.  Unfortunately, it all adds up to a less enjoyable season than the first.

Annie is not the awful character I remember her to be, though she's also not really a season regular at this point.  She appears in the background occasionally, but primarily her time is spent in three episodes. The first chronicles when Parker meets her for the first time, and how their attraction leads them to want to go steady.  Annie's initially hesitant, but they do end up going out.  It's a fairly realistic episode for how these teen relationships go, it's just that being shown from Parker's perspective, Annie appears to be wishy-washy with no real reasons given for why she's being so hesitant.  The second episode is further on in their relationship, the two month anniversary to be exact, and chronicles their first real arguments, which in true teenager fashion are barely about anything at all.  While once again realistic, it didn't really make for truly interesting television, and was definitely way too serious for this normally silly TV series.  The third and final episode is about Parker and Annie planning to have sex for the first time.  Their planned night alone is quickly ruined by tons of people showing up to the house, and in the end the two of them decide now is not the time anyway.  The problem is that because of the time slot, they're not even allowed to use the word sex and it all just comes off really awkwardly.

As far as Nick and the diner, the problem I have with it is that the show ends up depending on both far too much.  Perhaps it was cheaper to film at that location rather than rent a high school?  But all of the characters spend most of their time there.  Nick, the owner, gives out sage advice to everyone, sometimes cryptically, sometimes not.  You would think they changed the name of the show to "Nick Can't Lose" because the other characters, including Parker, depend on him that much.  It's not awful, but is disappointing.

This season is also tainted by a few episodes that were not handled well at all.  Unlike the video game addiction last season, these are just poorly handled and not resolved in the best way.  Allow me to break them down"

Episode 11: "Love Handles" - The name alone is offensive.  Parker starts talking to a girl online who he has a lot in common with.  They arrange a meet up and *gasp* *horror* she's overweight.  He's immediately cringing at the idea of going to a dance with her, which he asked her to do before they met in person.  Some random "hot chick" asks him to go instead, and he tries to find a way to tell the firsst girl no but he can't do it because he knows it would be mean to do so.  They end up going on a date, where everyone in the diner stares at them agape because OMG Parker Lewis is dating a fat girl!  When Parker talks to Nick about it later, he says he likes her as a friend but isn't attracted to her. Yes, Parker, because you're a shallow asshole, even if you know it's too damn mean to tell her so. But worse yet is that instead of dealing with that, or having Parker stand up to any of the other rude people, the episode switches focus to blame everything on the girl's lack of confidence, as she is the one who cancels the date to the dance because she's too scared to go in there and be stared at.  And this is after a scene where when Parker came to pick her up for that first date, her parents and grandmother had to take pictures because surely as a chunky girl she's never ever been on a date before and they were so excited.  While there's elements of truth here - yes, kids are often that cruel in high school when weight is concerned - I still feel like the tone of the episode is completely off.  They were trying their best to do right, but they failed.

Episode 21: "When Jerry Met Shelly" - This is actually not a bad episode.  Jerry and Shelly are set up by Nick on a blind date (do you see what I mean about the dependence on Nick this season?) and find out they really like each other.  Parker is convinced his sister is just playing Jerry to succeed on a school project, and breaks the two of them up, really hurting his sister.  It's a great episode for Maia Brewton especially as she shows Shelly at that age of not quite a kid and not quite a full blown teenager yet.  The problem is that the whole reason this episode happens is that Jerry is supposedly dateless and has never been kissed before, except that we saw him get together with Rita in "Full Mental Jacket" and the two of them were still together in the episode before this one, "Dance of Romance."  The show is usually pretty good at keeping continuity, so it's really disappointing that they dropped the ball here.

Episode 22: "Geek Tragedy" - Here, geek is still going by the old definition - kids who are smart but socially awkward, wearing glasses and pocket protectors, and having greasy skin.  This episodes pre-dates a similarly themed Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode by five years, showing how unpopular kids literally disappear when not enough people pay attention to them.  Though here they don't turn invisible as much as they are transported to a parallel universe by a masked football player that breathes fire.  The problem here is that once again, the blame is put on the geeks rather than the other people in high school.  It's the lack of confidence in themselves that forces the geeks to disappear, and no attention is paid to the fact that people bully them and treat them like crap, and that it is those actions which make them lose confidence.  Yes, confidence is important, but ignoring the effect bullying has on people is kind of ludicrous.  I realize it's a pretty big topic for a silly sitcom to truly tackle but if you're going to choose to bring it up, I'm going to put it under a microscope and analyze it.

Episode 25: "Diner '75" - After largely staying grounded all season, they suddenly turn the craziness up to 11 with this episode, where a train spills toxic waste outside the diner therefore trapping everyone inside.  There's also an escaped criminal in there with them, nicknamed the Chameleon for his ability to take on the form of anyone or anything he chooses.  While I appreciate the turn back to cartoonishness, the episode ends in a pretty insane fashion - Parker appears to be replaced by the Chameleon, with the real Parker trapped in the basement of the diner.  Add to this the fact that Season 3 will probably never be released on DVD, and that adds a whole new level of odd to this season finale.

So overall, this was a pretty disappointing season for me.  Perhaps the highlight was seeing Juliet Landau appear as Frank's love interest in "Dance of Romance," and that's really not saying too much.  I am still interested enough to try to track down the third season to see if they managed to get the show back on track or not.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Castle Rock Cash In - Firestarter 2: Rekindled

I can understand the appeal for someone to try to make a sequel to Firestarter, particularly one starring an older Charlie.  Her powers will still be with her for the rest of her life, and there are sure to be obstacles related to that.  However, the moment I heard that Rainbird was in this sequel, I was pretty turned off.  He's 100% dead at the end of the book, and he sure didn't seem to make it at the end of the film either.  But apparently they decided to slap some burn scar makeup on him and go with it.  Of course he's once again not played by a Native American either.

"Despite the DVD having a "2" slapped on the title, this isn't so much a sequel to the earlier film as it is an overall franchise reboot. In the first half, we get copious flashbacks to the timeline of that film, with Charlie's father on the run with her, Charline cutting lose with the fire at the farmhouse, and she being both befriended and studied by Rainbird, but very little of it actually plays out they way it did in '84." (Read the rest of Noel's review here)

Having now read Noel's review, I guess I need to at least give this one a shot.  If it contains elements of a reboot, I at least can't be mad at it for the inconsistency anymore.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Amazing Spider-man

You can count me among the many people who didn't see the point in re-booting the entire Spider-man movie franchise so soon after the last series ended.  While I though Spider-man 3 had some serious problems (I'm going to have to properly review the original trilogy one of these days) I don't think it was necessarily so damaged that they couldn't move forward from there.  So I think that's part of the reason why I didn't rush out to see this film in theaters.  I had heard good things from my friends, but I was thoroughly enjoying The Dark Knight Rises at that point and just didn't feel the need to go rush back and see another film.

Finally sitting down to watch it, I found myself dreading having to watch Peter's origin yet again, so I was pleasantly surprised that they decided to go back a little further and show him as a small boy, watching his parents leave.  I think that extra bit did really help to keep the whole thing fresh.  I also appreciated that they stayed a little truer to the comics having Gwen Stacey around.  Eliminating his moment as a wrestler also helped to make the whole story feel more grounded and real.  He felt more like a teenager this time around too.  About the only part of the first half of the movie that didn't feel right was Gwen's interest in Peter, especially when he became a little too full of himself and surly.  I definitely wouldn't be going out of my way to invite the boy over at that point.

The problem is that after treating this all as grounded and natural as a boy given superpowers by a spider could be, they suddenly introduce the Lizard.  The CGI was really poor quality, giving him a ridiculous look, and his control over other lizards and general mannerisms made him seem like he'd fit more naturally in place with a Tim Burton or Joel Schumacher Batman film.  Spider-man films should be naturally a little more light hearted, as that's exactly the kind of superhero he is, and I love the way they always kept him joking through all of it.  I just couldn't get over the fact that the Lizard just wasn't meshing together well with the rest of the film.

One other little thing that bugged me was the death of Captain Stacy.  For one, it seemed far too much of a repeat of Uncle Ben's death, almost suggesting that once again Peter was too distracted to properly help those who needed it.  I know he was trying to stop the banali device, I'm just saying that the moment Captain Stacy said "Go, I got this" I replied "No, you don't" because I could see his death coming a mile away.   There's also the overly long death scene that makes the movie end in a way a little too parallel to the first Spider-man film, with him rejecting Gwen the way he did Mary Jane.  I realize that scene in the classroom was meant to change it up, but it still felt a little too close and is the kind of problem we wouldn't have to deal with if they hadn't insisted on this reboot.

Despite its flaws, I still enjoyed the movie.  I'm also interested in the sequel, even though the villain choice seems a little odd. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Deadpool (video game)

While the game's reviews were lackluster leading up to release day,  I still had hopes for this game.  With his penchant for breaking the fourth wall and his status as a mercenary, Deadpool seemed perfect to make a game around.  The fact that he's a mutant is also a plus, as it guaranteed tons of X-men related cameos.  I managed to find the game at a decent discount for pre-order and decided to ignore the critics and decide for myself.

The humor in the game is top notch, assuming you like it a little crude and overly silly.  He comes off as a completely insane mix between Duke Nukem and Leisure Suite Larry, with an extreme love of violence and lust for women.  Add to that the voices in his head, one screwball insane and the other full of dry humor seriousness, whose words show up on the screen in comic book inspired text boxes, and it's a lot of fun.  I think they also managed to strike the right balance between giving something to hardcore fans and people who are not even remotely familiar with the character, as Jak watched me play some of the early levels and enjoyed it as much as I did.

In terms of gameplay it's a pretty standard hack and slash & run and gun hybrid, letting you switch between using blades or guns to kill waves of enemies and eventually bosses.  The bosses require a degree of strategy but mostly they just come down to "stay alive."  Deadpool has a healing factor that kicks in as long as you can avoid taking hits for a certain amount of time which helps a lot for those of us who aren't very good at these types of games.  The gameplay could easily be considered repetitive but I think the humor does a lot to keep you into it.  There's also a lot of breaks in between, fetch quests and mild puzzle solving, to help break it up a bit.

A recurring theme throughout the game is that the video game company is running out of budget dollars to make it.  I hate to ruin the surprises that happen in these moments, as they are some of the funniest parts of the game.  I'll just say they get very creative.  Another fun moment happens when Deadpool convinces Cable to re-program a sentinel boot so he can travel with it.  The trophy you earn once this section is complete references a certain one level only item you get in Super Mario Bros 3, which was the icing on the cake for this really fun sequence.

Unfortunately, the fun doesn't last forever.  One thing I think this game could have really done without is platforming.  Maybe I'm just really terrible at it, but these sequences were almost always frustrating for me, having to find the perfect angles to get him to jump where I needed him to go.  It's made even more ridiculous by the fact that Deadpool has the ability to teleport, but apparently he only uses it when he feels like it.  There's even a point halfway through the game where they make it so he can teleport twice as far, and they literally just have him shrug at you and tell you there's no good reason why it wasn't at full capacity before.

The final level of the game shares a common problem with a lot of other games I've been playing lately.  Instead of having a true final boss, they just decide to send wave after wave of enemy at you, making you fight three former bosses all at once this time, and so on.  I found myself dealing with wave after wave of the tougher grunts, and then groaning in frustration when I died and found I have to do all those waves all over again because I hadn't hit the checkpoint yet.  After a while, I decided that frustration wasn't worth it when I had plenty of other games to play, and I looked up the ending on Youtube.

Even despite that, I still would recommend this game.  More experienced players could probably get through it easier than I did, and even those who aren't that good will still get a lot of decent laughs out of it along the way.  It's not a perfect game by any means, but it is a lot of fun.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Castle Rock Companion - Firestarter

First off, allow me to show off the amazing new banner that Benjamin J Colon did for me:

And now, on to the episode:

Monday, September 16, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

This review contains spoilers for the film, as most of which I'd like to discuss is the complete story and character arcs.

There was a lot of negativity surrounding Oz the Great and Powerful even before it was released.  A lot of people looked at the trailers and thought it reminded them too much of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, a film a lot of people didn't care for but I personally enjoyed.  That film did have some problems though, and it seems like some of those problems also carried over into this film.

Is Oz the Great and Powerful meant to be a prequel to the The Wizard of Oz (film) or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (book)?  The opening credits give credit to L. Frank Baum, but honestly the only inspiration I noticed was the little china girl and some of the Oz residents.  I suppose you could also say the fact that Oz is a real place and not a dream also makes this in book continuity, but considering they did the trick with people he knew in Kansas having counterparts in Oz you could almost suggest he's in a coma from which he can't wake up.  The dilemma, of course, is that people are far more familiar with the film than they are with the book these days, and so they had to conform to that as much as possible.  I was half expecting one of the wicked witches to end up wearing ruby slippers by the end.  And that's the other side of the coin: they don't have the rights to the original film, so they can't make it a true prequel to that source.

But honestly, my biggest problem with the film was not about the ambiguity of where it was supposed to be set as much as it was that we're dealing with a jerk for a protagonist. For all of his talk of wanting to be a great man, he's nothing more than a liar, a cheat, and a womanizer.  As he's being thrown about inside the twister, he promises to change if he's let out of this - and then promptly goes back to his nasty ways the moment he runs into Theodora and continues to act that way for much of the movie.  Glinda tells us she sees good in him, and even suggests that it's a lack of believing in himself that is holding him back.  But it's more the fact that he willfully chooses to be a jack ass that's holding him back.

There's no denying that his methods to defeat the witches and run them out of Oz is clever, but just because he's turned his means of deception toward the bad guys gals doesn't really make him a hero.  He's still a trickster, or to borrow the phrase from the original book, a humbug.

The movie's misguided attempts at redeeming him are perhaps nowhere more obvious than when it comes to the china girl.  In the beginning while still in Kansas, after witnessing him make a lady float in the air and thinking his magic is real, a wheelchair bound girl in the audience shouts "make me walk!"  Oscar is clearly affected by the little girl, as well as her parents who offer him the meager amount of money they have if he could do something for her.  But because he doesn't want people demanding their money back for the show, he stammers about how he could do it but can't right now until his assistant finally drops the curtain so he can make a get away.  Once in Oz, he runs into the china girl (voiced by the same young actress) with her legs shattered and he uses some glue he has in his bag to put her back together.

That's not redemption, or otherwise making up for his earlier mistake.  Fixing broken china is infinitely easier than healing a person.  True redemption for that moment would only lie in admitting he can't do the things he claims, but he only ever admits such things in private to Finley and eventually Glinda.

Basically, the fact that this movie is a prequel prevents it from having any true satisfying journey for its protagonist, because he has to still be the jerk who hides behind the curtain and forces a little girl to take care of his mistakes for him.  It mostly works as a set up piece, the one glaring annoyance for me being his kiss with Glinda toward the end.

Though I suppose we can fill in the blanks that somewhere along the way she got sick of his b.s. and kicked him to the curb, and that her sending Dorothy away and not explaining that the ruby slippers could get her home immediately was because it was all a plot to get Oz on that balloon and out of the land of Oz for good.  Yes, I think I like that idea.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it's Theodora's story here that is far more interesting to me.  Having never seen/read Wicked, I have no idea how close or far this is from that version of her origins.  But I think Mila Kunis did a great job of showing a young woman who desired to be good, but got led astray by her broken heart and evil sister. 

I also think it was very wise of them to have the final climactic battle of the film be between Glinda and Evanora.  I saw some complaints online about how this film is all about a man coming to Oz and the women being helpless around him, and that's just not true.  While Theodora may be temporarily swayed by him, both Glinda and Evanora see him for what he is immediately, and they are the two powerhouses in Oz.

While there are some good acting performances and beautiful set design, I left the film disappointed over all.  Back in March, Disney approved a sequel for the film, and honestly, I have no earthly idea what they would do.  I would greatly prefer to see some of the other Oz books adapted into film instead.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Accomplishments and failures

I took last week off of work, like I do every year.  It's a bit of a no brainer.  Thanks to Labor Day and our revolving schedule, I use 3 vacation days and end up getting 9 days off from work in a row.  I started doing this shortly after purchasing my own home, so I tend to call it Home Improvement Week.  My goals aren't just limited to housework though, I try to get other things done too.

Here's what I managed to get done:

  1. I had about 15 empty cardboard boxes just hanging out in my attic, miraculously with no signs of roaches or mice building nests out of them.  Some of them were boxes from electronics (does anyone else even notice when items tell you to keep the original box for warranty purposes?) but others were boxes I had used in my move four years ago.  I don't plan on moving again for years and yet I was holding on to these things "just in case."  They are now gone, and I have a lot of free space in my attic.
  2. I also took down the Halloween decorations while I was up there.  They haven't been put up yet, I'll probably wait until October for that.  But I hate going in the attic so now they are in the spare room.
  3. Dad came over with his edger and took care of my severely overgrown grass and helped me fix the edger I bought last year and used once before it messed up.  He also brought the pressure washer and I started cleaning up the driveway and some of the house exterior.  It's technically not complete.
  4. I recorded my video segments for my Firestarter review and also guested on an I Hate/Love Remakes episode about Scarface.
  5. Hung up some paintings/pictures that have literally been leaning against the wall for months waiting for me to do just that.
  6. Put my suitcases back in the closet that have been sitting out since the SGC trip in June.
  7. Took down and threw out the mini-blinds in my bedroom that Bad Cat aka Logan had ruined by chewing up the strings that hold them together. I decided to just stick with the light blocking curtains for now.
  8. Cleaned up my Mac hard drive by moving a lot of stuff to the external drive.  Between Targeted and my video reviews, it fills up fast.
  9. Cleaned the bathroom and the kitchen.  I'm a serious procrastinator when it comes to taking care of this kind of stuff, but I'm trying to keep up a better schedule with it from now on.
  10. Filed and shredded a bunch of documents that were making the office look like a disheveled mess.

All in all, that's quite a bit I got done, along with streaming a lot of video games during the week, seeing a show with my friends, having Ethiopian food with my brother, and going out to the movies to see Riddick.

As the subject suggests, I did screw some things up too.  They're really not that serious, but they did end up seriously upsetting me at the time, so I figured they were worth writing about in a "what have we learned" sense.

I wanted to try my hand at cooking steak to see if I liked it.  After having strange carnivorous cravings (I usually eat far more veggies than meat) I thought it might be time to try steak again, but didn't want to spend a lot of money at a restaurant for something I might not like.  So I bought some thin eye of round steaks and started looking up how to cook them.  Somewhere along the way I guess I got mixed up.  I tenderized them by marinating them, and was all set to put them on my grill when I pulled the lid off it and found the plates looked rusted.  With that out of the window, I was looking online and saw most people suggested slow cooking.  So I scrapped the idea to make them that night and instead put them in the crockpot the next day.  I think the page I was reading online must have been referring to an eye of round roast or something, because those steaks ended up so badly dried out they were inedible.  Very disappointing.  I think I'm going to stick to making roasts and hamburgers from now on when I want red meat, because I'm pretty good at making both of those.  I'll find a moderately priced steak at a restaurant and try that instead before I try making another one at home.

The other failure was related to streaming video games.  We're still in our infancy with doing this, and very much figuring it out as we go along.  In trying to figure out what games to do, the discussion inevitably comes up that RPGs are just right out of the question.  This isn't something just Jak and I talk about, I've seen it discussed online, both in relation to streaming and let's plays.  They're boring and tedious, is the usual reasons given.  The problem I have with this generally accepted idea is that I really love RPGs.  They are my favorite type of video game.  Beyond playing a lot of them, I've also spent a lot of time watching other people play them.  I watched my brother play when I was young, and near the beginning of our relationship, Jak and I tried to play through the entire Final Fantasy series and we traded off who played which game, which meant I watched him play half of them.

I understand there's nothing interesting about watching people grind to level up, but I thought that maybe an RPG that didn't take long amounts of level grinding could still be interesting.  So even though all the signs were telling me not to do it, I insisted on streaming Final Fantasy Mystic Quest one night last week.  In an effort to add more to it, Jak and I added the stipulation that whenever we saw the overworld map, we would pass the controller.  It didn't help.  We had a few people watching at first, but they all politely told us they had something to go do and signed off after a while.  Jak and I ran out of things to say, and while we had originally planned to make it to the second crystal, I elected to turn it off after the mini-dungeon before it.

I got really, really depressed afterward.  I knew the odds were against me, but I had really, really wanted to make it work, to prove that these games were fun and likable.  Because I love them, so why wouldn't other people want to watch them?  No one likes to be proven wrong, even when they know the odds are against them.

So why did it go so horribly wrong, even though I thought for sure the game was fun?

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is an entry level RPG.  While this does mean remarkably less level grinding and no random battles, it also means everything about the game is simplified, including the story.  You enter a scene, someone tells you to go somewhere and get something or talk to someone, end scene.  From there you fight enemies until you find who/what you're looking for, and you're immediately given another task to go complete.  While there is a bit of humor, there's no real emotion to the story at all.

The way the game gets around the "no random battles" aspect on the overworld is by setting up battlefields.  You enter a battlefield 10 times, fighting 1-3 enemies and gain gold and experience.  It's abbreviated level grinding, but it is still level grinding.  And once you get inside the dungeons, the enemies are there and blocking your path so you fight them to continue.  While there are fun sound effects and adorable graphics as the monsters change as they take damage, it still equals repetition that isn't necessarily the most fun to watch.

Perhaps, if Jak and I had been doing this a lot longer, we could have kept the commentary flowing seamlessly regardless of the duller game play.  But we found ourselves running out things to say, and then realizing the large gaps of saying nothing was just making me all the more self conscious and making me do that thing where I was blurting out stuff I shouldn't just for the sake of filling up space.  My disappointment was pretty evident in my voice, and no one wants to listen to a person complain or even worse whine about things.  This last part in particular is why I deleted the stream from Twitch's archive of the show and only have a copy as a private file on my youtube page that no one can see.

So as of tonight, we'll try again.  Zelda II is a hybrid between a sidescroller and an RPG, so while there's a lot of action elements there are also points in the game where you have to grind for experience to give Link a chance to survive.  Jak is the only one playing this time, and he's already done a bit of grinding, as much as you can without really starting any of the true levels of the actual game. But we'll run into that point again, and this time we decided it might be fun to get some people on via Skype, to keep conversation going while he does that.  Time will tell how that goes.  I'm hoping well, as we'll essentially just be chatting with people while having the game as a backdrop.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Parker Lewis Can't Lose Season 1

Some shows disappear into obscurity for good reasons, and others get forgotten when they truly shouldn't.  Parker Lewis is definitely in the latter category.  I was nine years old when the show premiered, and I'm willing to admit that my initial attraction to the show had everything to do with cute guys.  Corin Nemec's dimples and Billy Jayne's rock star looks certainly got my interest and made me want to watch, but the quality of the show is really what held me there, and what makes the show enjoyable even many years later.

It was a prime time show, but would have felt just as easily at home on Saturday mornings thanks to its cartoonish feel. Creative camera angles, zany sound effects, and the trademark pixelized wipe leading to and from the commercial breaks gave the series a distinctive feel.  If the creators of Scrubs didn't watch this show, then it's just an extreme coincidence that they happen to create a single camera show with a lead character who frequently narrates to the audience and is known for flights of fancy.  While Parker Lewis certainly takes a large amount of influence from Ferris Bueller as a high school kid who always outsmarts his principal and is one step ahead of his younger sister, the show didn't take long to develop into its own unique twist on things.

The influences don't end there.  Jerry, Parker's freshman sidekick, wears a trademark grey trench coat that he can pull anything out of at a moment's notice.  Sound familiar?

But more than anything the show is just smart, funny, and at times really heartfelt.  While some of the early episodes rely a little too heavy on Deus Ex Machina to get everything back to normal at the end of the half hour, many of them are actually resolved logically if not always realistically.  Parker has cameras set up all over the school and seems to be able to convince news crews to record whatever he wants in order to assist in his latest scheme, but all that leads to the cartoonish quality of it all.  He's Bugs Bunny in brightly colored shirts, and it works.

The one character who is probably written the most inconsistently throughout the first season is Larry Kubiac.  They clearly wanted to use Abraham Benrubi as often as possible, and I don't blame them, as he's a great actor and has that wonderful imposing frame.  But he switches from being a bully (sometimes with a soft inside, sometimes not), a Of Mice and Men Lennie simpleton who only wants to eat, and a good guy who is more intelligent than his appearance suggests depending on what they need him to be that episode.  While it certainly shows off Benrubi's range it makes it a little confusing.  Especially when the rest of the show has a clear continuity, with references made to events in past episodes throughout the season.  I'll be interested to see when I get to my season 2 re-watch if they settle on a personality for him.

Like most first seasons, this one takes a little while to get its footing, but once it does it comes on strong.  I was particularly impressed with one of the later episodes that faced video game addiction.  I was ready to be annoyed with it, certainly.  So many 90s sitcoms had a "video game addiction" episode because it was the new popular media that people didn't understand.  This one starts off pretty similar - Jerry is shirking his school work and his commitments to his friends because he just can't stop.  The guys try a few different things to make him break the habit, and when none of them work, they finally gather up his cartridges and handhelds and plan to run them over with a steamroller.  Realizing he has a problem, Jerry volunteers to do it himself.  Having done so, Parker applauds his self control - and hands him a Game Gear.  He points out the benefits of video game playing, and their other best bud Mikey points out that it's not the game's fault, it's the person playing.  While the turnaround comes pretty late in the episode, I was glad to see them admit it all the same.

There's also no denying that this show is dated.  The clothes, the hairstyles, the fact that the guys wear swatches, the constant use of video tape and the fact that Parker's parents own a video store place it firmly in its time period.  Like a lot of early Fox shows, they also make references to the network and the other shows that were on at that time.  But I don't think any of those would make it impossible for someone to get into it now.  The show really has its own language, and there's a surprising number of guest stars here that help keep it surprising and entertaining.

My memory tells me that the show started to get lame once they gave Parker a steady girlfriend, which happens toward the end of the second season.  I have a sneaking suspicion that was just young me being jealous though, so I'm looking forward to watching those episodes and seeing how well it holds up.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bioshock Infinite

While I fell in love with the original Bioshock soon after purchasing my Xbox 360 and ran through the sequel shortly afterward since I just couldn't get enough of it, I was originally hesitant to purchase Bioshock Infinite.  A large part of what I had loved was the creepy atmosphere of Rapture and how the game had combined the first person shooter genre with survival horror.  Infinite on the other hand was set on a floating city, and I didn't think that open world would excite me as much.  I was also nervous about the need to navigate the skyline, something that originally sounded a bit like 3D platforming, and various mentions I'd seen where they were trying to make the game more challenging by not giving you all your special powers to access at any given time.  Since I'm not that great a player, I wasn't sure if I would be able to make it through the game.

However it was many glowing reviews that primarily focused on how good the story was that inevitably drew me in and made me decide to give it a chance.  Since I'm writing this review, you can probably guess that I was in fact able to beat the game, and you are right.  Of course, I did play on easy difficulty, but that's pretty much a given for me when we're talking about games.

While it has been a while since I played the other two games, I feel confident in saying that they did up the difficulty this time around, at least for my own personal skills.  You're not really limited on your vigors (aka magic) as once you find a vigor you have the skill - it's just that you only can have two at the ready to switch between.  But you can easily jump into your inventory of them and select another one when you need it.  What you are truly limited on is your guns, as you can only hold two at a time.  You're able to store all kinds of ammo all over your person to the point that a real man wouldn't be able to move because his pockets would be so stuffed, but we need realism so no you can't hold a pistol, shotgun, and a machine gun.  Don't be silly.  This is a fairly minor complaint though, as at least on the easy setting, your enemies drop their guns and there were also tons of other guns just lying around waiting for me to pick them up.  It's difficult to do that in the middle of a fight, but not impossible.

Since I'm not a fan of shooters, the combat sections were definitely my least favorite part of the game.  I would find myself wishing to just continue the story instead of having to fight through yet another wave of enemies.  While it may just be the fact that this type of game play was a near constant struggle for me, I'd also say that the combat is not well integrated into the story.  Sure, the bad guy wants to stop us by sending his men after us, and there is also a revolution going on so there are bound to be fights that you're going to stumble into.  I just never felt like slaughtering all those men was really important to the main story of trying to help Elizabeth escape.  Or maybe it's just that the fights don't really change at all throughout the game, the only differences being that the men eventually have heavier armor on and have more brutal weapons.  I know that's largely the point of shooters, but I guess what I'm saying is this should have been something more like an adventure game where more focus could be put on using puzzles to unwrap the complexities of the story.

That disconnect meant that I probably didn't take full advantage of the vigor system like I should have.  I found myself being really impatient and just trying to shoot everyone.  It was quite frequent that I saw the message "Remember to use your vigors!" after a fight because the game was chiding me for not taking advantage of them.  So what I'm saying is I may have made this game harder on myself than it needed to be.

The story itself is worthy of the praise it's getting.  While definitely not Rapture, Columbia is a well built world that has its own atmosphere, relying more on shock this time around rather than creepiness.  Once again, they've put music to great effect to aid the atmosphere, using both old songs of the time period along with re-imaginings of modern songs done in the old style to go along with the fact that this is set in an alternate universe from our own.  Some of the songs are so different that I didn't recognize them at first, and I hope they are able to release a soundtrack at some point so I can have them all.  There is an "inspired by" soundtrack, but it doesn't have any of those great covers on it.

Then there is the journey of our protagonist Booker and your companion Elizabeth.  They went to great lengths when the game was being promoted to assure you that you would not have to protect her the entire time throughout the game, and that she was not just there to be a love interest.  They were not lying.  Elizabeth actually ends up being more like a game genie code almost, the way she will toss you ammo and first aid during battle and then coins while you are exploring areas.  She even points out where to find lock picks in case you are rushing through an area and miss them yourself.  She also does not have a health bar at all.  There were times when I had to laugh because she was supposedly taking cover from enemies but she was actually more in their way then I was.  Lucky for her the bullets just passed right through her.  Her help does have limits though, especially the further you get into the game.  There were times when she would shout to me "I'm still looking!" which I'm guessing is probably some time related bit of code where she wasn't  going to give me another freebie for a certain amount of time even though I was running low.  But she saved me more often than not, and at some points of the game I didn't see any point in purchasing ammo when I knew she would just give it to me once the fight started.

Despite my occasional frustrations, I mostly blame them on myself and my poor skills at playing these types of games.  People who are more comfortable with shooters would probably have a much easier time of it.  While the final battle is a sharp increase in difficulty compared to a lot of what you have been doing previously, it's not impossible.  And the fact that it is a battle rather than a specific boss makes for something a bit more interesting  than this type of game normally throws at you.  The story most definitely makes it all worthwhile, and it hits some great emotional notes while also having a bit of humor tossed in thanks to the Lutece twins.  If you follow me on twitter, you may remember Jak and I pretending to be them on my birthday this year.

The rest of the review under the cut will deal with spoilers for the end game.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

X-men: Omega

If you're thinking that this cover is hideous, it's because those shiny foil special covers don't scan well. 

Magneto stands alone against Apocalypse, doing his best to give his X-men time to put their plan into effect.  Elsewhere, Angel is also making his own last stand.  He finds Karma shortly before she dies and goes on his own suicide mission to bring down the defenses blocking the X-men from entering the complex.  With those down, both they and Nate are able to get inside.  Cyclops and Jean, meanwhile, are trying to make their way out, but Havok is still on their tail.

The Shadow King informs Apocalypse that the humans have launched nuclear missiles in the southwest, killing everyone there, and more are on their way to hit New York as they speak.  Nate appears and takes on Holocaust while Magneto joins the X-men approaching the M'kraan crystal.

When Destiny nears it she can see the alternate timeline clearly and knows what they must do.  She, Bishop and Illyana must go inside, sending Bishop back to stop Legion from killing Charles Xavier.  Colossus is not happy with losing his sister again so soon, but Illyana is willing to go in order to help create a world with hope.  Colossus shatters Iceman when he tries to block his way, and is at least temporarily held back by Gambit as his sister enters the crystal with the other two.  She opens a portal for Bishop to enter, while Magneto pulls together stray pieces of metal (that are all conveniently red) to build some armor for himself while he takes on Apocalypse.

Havok has caught up to Cyclops and Jean, and he blasts his energy through Jean, nearly killing her.  Cyclops calls his brother an idiot, telling him that Jean's telekinetic powers were the only chance they had of holding off the nuclear missiles headed toward them.  Havok would instead rather blah blah on about getting revenge on his brother, and somehow does manage to kill him (I say somehow because they show him blasting Cyclops with his powers, even though they established he's immune to that) before Weapon X appears (falling ahead of the missiles) and stabs him in the back.  He's able to say goodbye to Jean before she dies.  And the narrator tells us that Logan thinks of a legendary bird who could rise from the ashes, but sadly his Jean is no Phoenix.

Bishop has made it back to the past, but he is temporarily waylaid by himself.  Meanwhile Colossus is still trying to get to his sister.  Kitty stands in front of him, trying to block his way, and trusting in their love, she doesn't phase as he approaches.  He keeps coming and crushes her.  Gambit does what we all wish we could and throws a charged dagger at Peter.  Peter transforms back into human form in despair, as his sister emerges from out of the crystal.  He begs her forgiveness for what he has done, and tells her that he only thought he was brave until he met her.  As angry as Colossus' actions have made me through out this whole story line, I have to admit I got a bit misty eyed at this moment.

Guido still has young Charles, but Rogue touches him and absorbs all his strength away from him, and sends it right back to him in a devastating punch before rescuing her son. In the past, Bishop pushes himself aside and makes his way to Legion.  The two of them make contact and it starts a psychic wave going between them that allows Legion to see just what his actions here will create.  It also somehow kills him.  With his death, the X-men who traveled to the past with him are sent hurling back to their present.

In the AoA, Nate manages to kill Holocaust by plunging a shard of the crystal into his chest.  Magneto summons up all the power he can muster and literally tears Apocalypse in half.  I guess he does so using the iron in his blood?  In the last few moments before their world disappears, Magneto holds Rogue and Charles close and once again thanks Charles Xavier for changing his life and teaching him that a dream was worth fighting for.

Overall, a thoroughly action packed issue that serves as a good end to the event.  There are little bits I left out that are there to explain how the Sugar Man and this version of Beast end up back in the main timeline, and Nate stabbing Holocaust is supposed to explain how he was able to crossover as well.  Those were all their attempts to keep what happens here still relevant for a while, but beyond X-man's series lasting for a few years I don't think much else came of that.

There were far more repercussions related to things that happened in the main reality shortly before the crystal blinked it out of existence, like Wolverine plunging a claw into Sabretooth's brain and Rogue and Gambit kissing, but considering how long it's been since I read those issues I can't say I remember much more than that.

Looking at it as a whole, this was a decent event.  There were low points (Generation Next, Factor X, X-Universe) but there were also high points (Morph, Abyss, Dead Man Wade, Rogue and Carol Danvers being awesome).  I also think it's just a fun jaunt in an alternate apocalyptic reality, a place where you can see characters killed off in the blink of an eye.  But I'm also very glad that they kept this to only a four month experience.  Anything longer than that would have been a little too much.  I would like to visit the events they've had since then that continue the story.  I'm pretty sure there is a moment where Jean does become the Phoenix, and that is probably how they manage to explain how everyone isn't dead like they originally end it here.  Whenever I get a chance to read those issues, perhaps I will write about it here.  For now, I'll be glad to take a break!

Friday, September 6, 2013

X-Universe #2

The heroes we saw enter Mikhail's ship last issue are all planned to be experimented on and enhanced in the same way Murdock was, but it's a very dangerous process that kills most people subjected to it.  They choose to operate on Stark next, trying to remove the arc reactor from his chest so they can use it to power the ship.  However this plan backfires and temporarily overloads the ship.  This was actually the plan of the humans all along, and they use it to escape and also release the other humans who were captured on board.  Donald Blake injects Tony with adrenaline straight to his heart to revive him and let him escape as well.

Mikhail is currently meeting with the remaining members of the Human High Council which are Mr. and Mrs. Trask and General Ross, asking if they will agree to let him rule Eurasia.  They're not interested, and Mikhail has one of his minions shoot Moira point blank in the face.

Murdock is watching over Empath who is keeping the humans devoted to Mikhail, when the two of them touch hands accidentally.  For the first time since being enhanced, Murdock feels something, and in experiencing all the pain around him, he kills Empath and therefore breaks Mikhail's hold over everyone outside.  Ben and Sue fly around in ships trying to rescue as many humans from the chaos as they can while Tony realizes that the nuclear missiles have been launched.

Blake takes on Mikhail despite his injuries and is able to send the mutant to his death. Banner becomes the Hulk for a time, attacking the heroes, but when Stark says he needs Banner, that's apparently enough to change him back.  Victor wants to use the missiles to destroy Apocalypse, but Tony says "None of us ever set out to be Avengers."  Yeah, they went there.  Gwen also punches Von Doom in the face for not bringing Blake back with him.  Since earth is about to become a nuclear wasteland, they aim their ship toward space, hoping for the best.

I did my best to do a high level summary here, because once again this issue is slam packed full of characters with a lot happening all at once and it really makes it all very confusing.  Perhaps if you were reading Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Fantastic Four around this time period it might make more sense, but I wasn't so I can't say for sure.  Much like Generation Next, this is another part of the crossover that just isn't worth collecting.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Weapon X #4

The Human High Council is trying to convince Gateway to help them, but it takes Logan showing him up close and personal a young girl being killed in cold blood to make him agree.  We see a brief scene with Apocalypse and one of his minions called Rex, which is mostly there to let us know that the technology that Donald Pierce and his crew are covered with does not let them die easily.

While Gateway and Weapon X sit on the top of one of the airships, Pierce comes flying inside and reveals that Brian Braddock was a traitor to the human cause because similar to Guido, he was infected with something near his heart.  He tries to fight back now, but he's too late and is killed by Pierce.  Pierce has also resurrected Carol, seemingly merged her with parts from Vultura, and sends her up after Gateway.

Carol is just too cool to be completely controlled though and she begs Logan to kill her so she can't fulfill her orders.  He doesn't have to though, as Pierce comes up and decides to kill her instead of waiting around to see what will happen.  Logan's good arm has been hurt, and Pierce thinks he's got this one won when Logan lets him in on a secret - he may have lost his arm, but his claws were sitting in his forearm when Cyclops cut off his hand, so they are still there.  He stabs Pierce in the gut and seemingly kills him again.

Gateway prepares an extra huge portal to try to get the entire armada through to attack Apocalypse.  As is the norm for these, what happens is to be concluded in X-men Omega.  There was also a brief mention in the issue that Apocalypse has not heard from Mikhail at this point, and we'll here what he's up to first in the next issue.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Amazing X-men #4

Quicksilver's team arrives to where they are keeping Bishop, and they split up.  Storm goes to save Bishop directly, while Quicksilver and Banshee go in search of Jamie Madrox to stop the Madri.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Gambit and the X-ternals #4

This issue's sequence of events jumps around in time a bit as we follow multiple groups of people.  For the sake of clarity I'll present it all in the order it actually happened.

Gambit, Lila, Guido, and Jubilee all made it back to earth, with Rictor still trailing behind them.  Gambit and Lila go one way while Guido and Jubilee go another.  Jubilee has the crystal shard.  Rictor follows Gambit, so Jubilee and Guido are supposed to make it back to the X-men to give them the shard.  On their way through the tunnels they run into Nanny and Charles.

This is when we find out that Guido is a traitor.  He was captured by Apocalypse's men and a device was implanted on his heart that would kill him if he didn't do as they asked.  He was supposed to kill Gambit as a way to get to Rogue which would then get to Magneto.  Guido was willing to do this because he hated Gambit and loved Lila.  When he sees Charles, he realizes that's an even better way to impress Apocalypse, so he destroys Nanny.  Jubilee manages to grab Charles and run, but Guido pursues them and eventually is able to take off with both Charles and the shard, leaving Jubilee buried in the rubble.

At the same time, Rictor lets slip to Gambit that he is not worried about where Guido and Jubilee went because he has ways of tracking them, which tips Gambit off to the possible double cross.  He goes back instead of escaping as planned, and Guido, Rictor, Gambit and Lila all end up in the same space.  They see him with Charles and the shard and realize what he's done.  Rictor uses his powers to bring down the tunnels all around them.  Guido uses his strength to hold the place up for as long as he can, so Gambit has a choice - save Lila or grab the shard and Charles.  He chooses Lila.

Rictor is also dragged back to Apocalypse, who is pissed at him because Rictor was so focused on trying to catch Gambit that he didn't realize Charles and the shard were far more valuable.  Apocalypse kills him for his stupidity.  He didn't have to worry though, because Guido was able to save both and brought them to Apocalypse himself.

Dazzler and Exodus arrive in the tunnels, originally looking for Charles but they find Gambit and Lila instead, and Exodus mentions he senses a third life form, which I believe is how they are telling us that Jubilee is still alive.  The end tells us the story will be continued in Amazing X-men #4.

So the main hint for the sudden betrayal in this issue is the way they felt the need to mention once per issue that Guido was still in love with Lila.  That's not really that much of a hint, really, but I guess it works as proper set up.  It's still kind of a let down though, as it feels like they're adding in unnecessary conflict at the last minute just to make things a little more difficult for the X-men in X-men Omega.  It's nice to see Gambit finally treating Lila properly and being able to love her fully, even though the only reason why is the silly notion that he gave up his love for Rogue to the crystal last issue.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Factor X #4

In order to free the prisoners from the pens, Jean and Scott must take out the six telepathic brains that are lulling them.  On the way they run into the Bedlam Brothers, who decide this evil stuff is for the birds and they might as well help them out.

Their plan is successful, though Jean is largely exhausted from knocking out the brains, they are at least able to get the prisoners moving.  Beast is almost taken out by the creatures he's made in his experiments, but he's still quick and agile and even throws in a "Oh my stars and garters" before throwing them into his primordial soup and making an escape.  Havok tracks down his brother and Jean, and the two brothers fight, resorting to physical violence after it is once again pointed out that their powers don't hurt each other.  Cyclops knocks his brother out and decides not to kill him even if it means he'll track them down later, because he's tired of killing.  Havok eventually wakes up and vows to finish this once and for all.

Elsewhere, Apocalypse sends some of his men after Angel to shut down his club and take him in.  While the club is shut down, Angel makes a quick getaway thanks to a flamethrower and an empty elevator shaft.

I was genuinely surprised to find that the relationship between Scott and Jean here is actually pretty heartfelt and touching.  Their reasons for getting together feel more true and romantic than I've seen in a lot of other places.  They're not necessarily in love, per se, but Jean has inspired Scott to be a better man, and she is able to recognize the good in him despite where he is in life.  It's downright sweet.

Beyond that story development there's also a ton of action here, and it helps keep the story moving.  The constant battles feel a lot like the final climax of an action film, where the stakes are high and people reveal what side they are really on.  For a series that started off boring me to death, this one ended strong.

However you might notice that I didn't include a single scan for these issues beyond the covers, and that's because I personally don't care for this art style at all, with very thick lines and an overabundance of shadows.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

X-Man #4

So apparently my deduction at the end of X-Calibre #4 was slightly off, as it seems that the Shadow King is able to fracture himself a bit, and they only killed off a piece of him.  A part of him is still alive and letting Apocalypse know that Domino failed to kill Nate.  This makes Apocalypse pretty pissed off.  But he can't do anything about Nate right now, because he's busy torturing Magneto.

Nate meanwhile is fighting Sinister.  Or perhaps the better word is attacking, as Sinister is not fighting him back.  He's not the least bit bothered by the fact that Nate is tearing a big whole in his middle, and instead starts telling Nate about his past and why he was created.  Sinister engineered him from the DNA of Cyclops and Jean Grey as a living weapon to destroy Apocalypse.  Once Sinister and Apocalypse both wanted to evolve mutants to an even higher state of being, but now Apocalypse only wants death, and therefore Sinister wants to stop him.

Nate is not too happy about finding out his true purpose in life, and tells Sinister he has no interest in helping him.  He somehow beats him up using enhanced strength from his telepathic powers, and this is enough to make Sinister bleed and finally die.

After saying goodbye to Sonique and Soaron, Nate searches for Magneto and finds him with Apocalypse.  As he reaches Manhattan, he runs directly into Cyclops and Jean Grey, and as much as he didn't want to believe Sinister, seeing these two in front of him makes him realize they really are his parents.  Jean can also sense it and offers for him to join them.  He tells her no, that he must face his destiny.  He goes off in search of Apocalypse.

Seeing Sinister's appearance in this issue reminds me of why he was one of my favorite villains.  Sinister doesn't care about any of your foolishness because he is both smarter and stronger than you, and he already set his plan into effect 35 minutes ago, if you know what I mean.  He's the type of villain who is a villain because he's willing to take extreme measure to meet his goals.  But that also means he's willing to admit when he screws up, and can even sometimes work on the side of good if it suits him and the people involved are willing to trust him.  And even if they don't, he'll probably find some behind the scenes way to fix it as he wants anyway.

Beyond that, the meeting with Cyclops, Jean, and Nate reminds me an awful lot of moments that happened in the animated series when they ran into Cable and Jean realized what was going on, so that was kind of neat.  Otherwise, it's largely set up for leading into X-Men: Omega, so there's not much else to say.
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