Five more for the BluRay collection

Birthdays have to be good for something, so why not for adding more movies to my collection?

So, in honor of my having surivied another year on this planet, I picked up five more Bluray movies: the Hulk, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, and James Bond Set 1.  I was originally just going to get Dr.No on Bluray, but then I saw the 3 disc set, and as I did not have any of the three in the set, I picked that up instead.  Now on to the individual stuff….

 

The Hulk:  This is the second attempt at bringing the Hulk to the big screen.  This is not a sequel to the previous Ang Lee version, but an attempt to reimagine the character, and bring it in line with the Marvel cineverse that being formed.  This version is no better and no worse than the Ang Lee version, it’s just different.  I’m still not buying Ed Norton as Bruce Banner, and I didn’t like William Hurt as Tunderbolt Ross or how that character was handled.  I also did not like how Abomination looked.  It was too Resident Evil for me.  All I could think of when I saw Abomination on screen was “Heck I took him out with three rockets,” as he just looked so much like the Tyrants in RE (the video game).  I did enjoy the use of the old TV series musical cues (ncluding the theme music), the references to the TV origin, how the Hulk was rendered on screen (he no longer looks plastic), and several other “fan boy” references. 

As for watching this on Bluray, it’s worth while.  Between the sharpened image, the digital sound, and the extras, this is a worthy pick up.  The extras have some interesting documentaries and behind the scenes stuff, and anyone interested in digital animation will have a field day.  I must say though, I no longer sit through anything where Joe Quesada or Tom Breervoort have anything to say.  Their prattlings just annoy the crap out of me, and I will skip over anything with them in it for more than 0.000000000001 seconds.  I get enough of their patting themselves on the back elsewhere, I don’t need it or want it here.  These shorts on the comics need to focus more on the original creative teams, and less on the pompous jackalopes that currently run thinsg at Marvel.

Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Crsytal Skull:  First off, this movie is not as bad as it has been made out to be.  Yes, it gets somewhat ridiculous, even for an Indiana Jones movie, but it’s still far better than Temple of Doom.  It could have been handled better, but there was a time factor at work here. 

Harrsion Ford is still great as Indiana.  It was good that the role took into account his age, matching the character’s to it roughly.  It was nice to see Karen Allen return as Marion Ravenwood as well.  The way Shia LaBouef’s character, “Mutt,” was handled is questionable.  His first appearance was just way too reminiscient of Marlon Brando in the Wild Ones for me.  And even though the story line was extremely hokey, even for an Indy movie, it did work in an Indy kind of way.  I just wish the ending was different.

I have not gone through all the extras as yet.  There are the usual shorts on making the film, the casting, etc.  I’m sure that once I do, I will have yet another reason to want to smack George Lucas around like a red headed step child. 

The movie itself is superb to watch in HD.  The effects and cinematography really get a chance to shine through.  The sound is solid, as it’s done in Dolby Digital, and is impressive with surround sound.  As with just about any movie made in the past three years, watching it in an HD format is the preferable way to do so.

James Bond Set 1:  This three disc set includes Dr.No, Live and Let Die, and Die Another Day.  It could be renamed as the “Bond debut set,” as each movie is the first appearance of three actors who play Bond (Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan).  I really wanted a copy of Dr.No, and as I didn;t have the other two movis in this set already, I went with this for $89 rather than Dr.No alone for $35.

Bond fans should rejoice at this set, and the other set which has Goldfinger, Thunderball, and For Your Eyes Only.  The prints have been digitally restored and cleaned up, the sound remastered, and in a few occasions, errors corrected.  The colors are now bright and vibrant, the details, even on the 1964 release Dr.No , are impressive.  Much like with The Fifth Element, these are now probably “better than in the theater.”  All three are more than enjoyable to watch in the new HD Bluray format. 

The extras here though are wat really makes this set shine.  The documentaries on how the franchised got started, the back story of Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli, how Sean Connery got the role, etc are all very well done, and enjoyable to watch.  You also get bonuses like Roger Moore as Bond on the UK TV show “Mainly Millicent,” as well as “lost” documentaries and footage.  There are also select scenes tied to specific characters you can access, where you get just the scene that features that character.  The breakdowns are by Bond, Allies, Women, Enemies, Combat, and Q. 

anyone who claims to be a Bond fan, and has a Bluray player would be remiss in not getting this set, even if you already own them on some other format.

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PS3 Game Review: Rock Band 2

I picked up Rock Band 2 when I purchased Bioshock.  As we already had Rock Band, I was able to just buy the game, as the peripherals were unnecessary.  I have not tried any of the new peripherals, so I on’t be commenting on them here.  Though I am contemplating getting a new guitar controller, and using my current one for bass on the rare occasions we have a fourth person to play.

As for the game itself, there’s not a whole lot new here.  It’s the same game play as in Rock Band (or Guitar Hero or Sing Star), and will be very familiar to anyone who has played before.  The background screens and intros are bit nicer, cleaner, but that’s pretty much it.  Though the new drum tutorials, covering “fills” and such are a very welcome and nice addition.  They are much more “in tune” with actual drum skills.

There are a few new things in addition to the drum tutorials.  There are challenges in game, each based on difficulty and instrument type.  You need not play the instrument for that challenge to complete it.  Completing challenges will give you additional fans and cash, as well as unlocking additional challenges.  The tour aspect is also changed somewhat.  Instead of having separate solo and band tours, it’s all one now.  You need not have all members of a band present to play, and people can join in between sets. 

The two big things for RB2 are the new song list (over 40 new songs), and the ability to port over your existing Rock Band songs.  In addition to the original Rock Band songs (they can be “ripped” from the original disc), all of your dowloaded content will transfer over.  So you won’t need to repurchase or redownload what you already have.  The new song list is impressive, and features all original recordings, no covers.  A very wide variety of musical genres are covered here, from classic rock to metal to progressive to punk.  Some of the song choices are interesting, as they are not the songs form certain bands I would have chosen.  Even so, it was very cool to see Steely Dan, Judas Priest, and Squeeze all on the disc. 

If you already have Rock Band, and the peripherals, you will not be disappointed by just purchasing the stand alone game.  All the original peripherals work just fine with the new game, so there’s no need to rush out and get the new ones, or splurge on the package.  If you enjoyed the original, you will also be quite pleased with the new game, if only for the new songs.  This is also a good way to jump in if you held off on buying the original.  This is still a great “family” game, supporting up to four players, and is a greta way to be introduced to some different mucial styles and bands (for both young and old alike). 

 

8.5/10

PS3 Game Review: Bioshock

Every so often, a game comes along that “has it all.”  It doesn’t happen all that often, maybe once or twice a year, more likely every two years or so.  Last week I picked up the the PS3 release of the formerly Xbox exclusive title Bioshock.  Folks, Bioshock is “one of those games.”  I now know what all those fams of the Red RIng of Death machine were crowing about.

To put it simply, this game is nearly perfect.  It has anything a gamer could want.  Gorgeous graphics, superb sound-voice-music, easy to handle game controls, and an engaging and intelligent story line.  The last bit is especially rare for a First Person Shooter (FPS), as most just concentrate on the action, with a broad over arching story line that really is just window dressing.  Not here though.  The story line is part and parcel of the whole game, and is as integral a part of it as the shooting or puzzle solving.  You can blast through the game in traditional FPS style, but you’ll be missing out on a whole world of interesting bits that really make this game special.

The basic story line is this: You’re on a plane in 1960 that crashes in the Mid-Atlantic.  You surface among the wreckage, and see what appears to be a small island with a strange looking lighthouse on it.  You are the only survivor.  Now you must survive.  From that point on, it really starts to get good.  I’ve tried to come up with a way of describing the story wiht out giving away any spoilers.  It’s tough to do, but I’ll give it a try.

If you take one part LOST, one part Metropolis (Fritz Lang), one part Lord of the Flies, one part Heart of Darkness, and have it directed by David Lynch, you come close, but still miss.  It gets even harder to describe the story line, with out having the visuals of the in game environments, the music playing in the background, the ads and postcards in the loading screens, the look and design of the various enemies in game, the various radio transmissions and diary entries you find in game.  It all works together to create a wonderful and immersive world for the game.

In terms of technical aspects, I have seen few games as beautifully rendered as Bioshock.  It’s actually fun to just look around in game, especially through the windows at the sea surrounding the city.  The dynamic lighting really makes this work well.  The sounds just add to the experience.  The music is period to a degree, when not original compositions, and provides a somewhat eerie feel to the setting.  The sound effects are well done, from gun shots to steps, to electrical wires shorting, to water falling.  The voice acting is top notch as well, even though I only recognized two names in the actors list (juliet Landau and Armin Shimmerman). 

The actual game play is straightforward standard FPS game play.  Your view is that of the character, as if you’re looking through their eyes.  Your viewing control and movement controls are separate (the left and right joysticks on the PS3 controller).  Most of your combat is controlled through the Left and Right “shoulder buttons” on the controller, giving avery “natural” feel to it.  The four traditional controller buttons are used for healing, reloading, jumping, and interacting with the environment.

Combat is also typical of the genre.  You face the enemy you want to get rid of, press the R2 button to fire, and they go away.  You get a selection of weapons to choose from, gaining them as you prgress through the game: Wrench, Pistol, Shotgun, Tommy Gun, Crossbow, Grenade Launcher, Chemical Thrower (Flamethrower), and a camera (more on that later).  You can also have a selection of ammo types for each weapon (except the wrench and camera), that have different effects, and do more or less damage to some enemies.  The one difference here is the use of special powers, or “plasmids.”

Plasmids are genetic upgrades to yourself, that give you special powers.  Most of these are typical ESP type powers.  Plasmids are controlled by using the Left shoulder buttons, in exactly the same way as the physical weapons are by the right ones.  It is very easy to switch between Plasmids and weapons, which is important, as you can only have one or the other active at a time.

You can upgrade yourself, and your powers, and your weapons in a semi-RPG style.  While there are no levels, you can “advance” yourself in game.  While not required, I wouldn’t advise trying to get through the game without upgrading.  Upgrades to your health and “Eve” (used to power your plasmids), are gained by purchasing them from special vending machines in game using “Adam” (gained through game play from specific creatures).  You also have a number of “slots” in a couple of categories for “gene tonics” which can give you special abilities as well.  You can unlock additional slots from the same vending machines as your health upgrades, so you can equip more. 

Vending machines are important in game.  Very important.  It is from these machines that you get items to heal, additional ammo and Eve Hypos, as well as your character upgrades.  There are also other stations you can use which can heal you (or you can blow them up for a first aid pack), stop the security bots and shut off alarms (for a cost), allow you to “invent” ammo and items, swap around your plasmids and gene tonics, or upgrade your weapons (one use only on one weapon only). 

There are a lot of machines to deal with in Bioshock.  And almost all of them can be “hacked.”  Hacking will give you a beneficial effect based on the type of machine you are hacking.  If you hack a vending machine, the cost of items will be reduced, and additional items may become available.  If you successfully hack a sentry robot, it will follow you around and attack your enemies.  But this i where my main complaint about the game comes in.

Hacking is a board puzzle, where you have to redirect the “flow” from a starting point to the right outlet.  You reveal tiles and get a new connection piece.  You can swap the one piece at a time from the board to a holding box.  The problem here IMO, is that the randomness of what gets turned over can be too much of a “game breaker” at times, more so with the higher difficulty hacks.  Even with high level tonics equipped, I found many of the hardest hacks to be too hard, and the random aspect in several cases made the hack impossible to complete (the target outlet surrounded by alarms and short circuit tiles).  Fortunately, there is a way aorund this, the autohack tool, which can be found or made in game.  You can only carry so many of them however, but it does mean you can avoid frying yourself (you get hurt if the board short circuits), and avoid nasty alarms.

My only other complaint about this game is minor.  The initial load time, when first installing the game is a bit long, and some of the level shift loads can be a tad long as well.  At least during the initial load there’s some nice classical jazz to listen to, and during the level loads, there are some helpful and entertaining postcards to read. 

as I said above, you can blow through this game pretty quick, as many veteran FPS players will.  But in doing so you miss out on everything that really makes this game a cut above the rest.  You will miss out on the diary entries from various residents of Rapture, which will tell you the main story not only behind the city, but how it got to where it is when you arrive.  You will miss out on some stunningly created environment views (more impressive even than those in Oblivion).  It took me aorund 20-25 hours of game play to complete a first pass through the game, and I didn’t get everything.  Plus, there is replay value here, in that in game actions can effect how the story line plays out.  There are at least two things I intend to do different my second time through.

This game is rated M (Mature).  Heck, I got carded when I bought this.  I can’t get carded at a bar, or the liquor store, but for a video game?  You betcha!  But that’s for another day.  The game rating is based on the level of violence and gore, which is prolific, but almost necessitated by the story line.  A “clean” version just wouldn’t work.  But the story line itself is a very mature one as well.  Not for the usual reasons (sex, violence), though there is some adult language, but for the themes and concepts that drive the story.  The ethical, moral, ideological, and philosophical concepts, ideas, and dilemnas proposed in the story line will be lost on anyone who hasn’t taken at least a high school ethics or bioethics course.  It’s that involved, and that thought provoking.

I can’t reccomend this game enough honestly.  I would classify it as a “must have” for any PS3 owner over the age of 16.  This is better than CoD4, and while not the same value as Oblivion, it is still that good, worthy of the $60 price tag.  So go get it now.  Don’t wait.  Don’t even finish reading this.  Don’t turn off your computer or even your monitor.  Grab your keys and go get this game now. 

 

9.8/10

Conratulations to the Tampa Bay Rays

Well, they’re in a fight right now in game 1 of the World Series, but they did earn the right to be in this series.

They won the Al East Division out right, and have played extremely well through out the entire regular season.  They continued that trend in the play offs, taking out first the White Sox, then the Red Sox.  I, and many others, could give a laundry list as to why the Red Sox lost that series.  But it still wouldn’t detract from the season the Rays have had this year. 

Joe Maddon is growing on me.  I didn’t know all that much about him before he took the Rays job, but between last year and this year, I’ve gotten to see more of him.  And honestly, I like what I see and hear from him.  Yeah, he looks like a high school principle, but he doesn’t sound that way.  His press conferences are actually interesting and even entertaining to watch and listen to.  He doesn’t over analyze things, or over hype things, gives credit where credit is due, and admits when he makes a mistake.  Of course, this sort of attitude means he couldn’t manage in any major market, with the possible exception of LA and Boston.  He’d be crucified in NY or Chicago.

 

So here’s to hoping the Rays win it all.  It would cap a perfect season for Tampa Bay, and a “feel good” story in Baseball.  Rays in 6 people.

Blu-Ray Movie Review- Iron Man

Iron Man is one of the few movies that I’ve actually seen in the theater in recent years.  It was worth the price of admission, which is a rarity these days.  I was thoroughly impressed with the creation of Jon Favreau, Robert Downey jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, and Jeff Bridges.  This is exactly how one should go about updating a character created in the 60’s.  The genius that is Stan Lee, Don Heck, Jack Kirby, et al, is that the characters they created, are virtually timeless.  All they need is updating, not reinventing like so many self righteous writers and artists want to do.

I went out on Tuesday to get this one on Blu-Ray, as the visuals and effects just demand a high definition treatment.  Watching it on Blu-ray, on a high def TV is simply outstanding.  Like in the case of The Fifth Element, in some ways this way is better than in the theater.  The picture is superb, and lacks many of the flaws that creep in when shown in a theater.  Details that get lost in initial theater viewings shine through, with no blurring or graininess.  The Captain America shield on Tony Stark’s work bench being one of the treats that is far more visible (at least to me) on Blu-ray rather than in the theater.

I’ve only gone through the extras on disc 1, as I got the 2 disc set.  The Hall of Armor is interesting, but doesn’t really provide much, except for real geeks, and even then, the details on the amrors provided is less than satisfying.  The documentary on Iron Man is interesting.  While it’s entertaining to watch, it is just a propaganda piece for Tom Breervort and Joe Quesada and what they’re currently doing at Marvel.   There’s not enough of the build up of Iron Man and Tony Stark prior to the recent Civil War and Ultimates series.  And other than Stan Lee, there’s no mention of Don Heck (WTF?!), or Jack Kirby.  They get credit in the movie, but not in the documentary?  Shame on you Marvel!

The deleted and extended scenes aren’t all that impressive either.  Some are entertaining, such as the Dubai Party, but there’s nothing there that would have made the movie better than it already is.  As my PS3 is not hooked up to the net, I haven’t done anything with the BD-Live aspect on the disc.

I haven’t as yet gone through the extras on Disc 2.  Looking at the box, the Making of documentary should be interesting, as should the one on the Special effects.  I could acre less about “The actors method” or Robert Downey’s screen test.  Same with commentary tracks.  They just don’t provide me with anything special, or appeal to me as a selling point. 

For those with Blu-ray players, this should be a “must have.”  Beyond the eye candy aspects, it’s just a great movie.

Wii Game Review- The Force Unleashed **UPDATED**

It’s been a long time since I bought and played a Star Wars game.  The last one I bought and played I think was Force Commander, which was mediocre.  I was hemming and hawing over getting this game.  I wanted something new to play, but was hesitant to take the plunge.  As of right now, I’m glad I did.

I’ve got about 5 hours of game play in at the moment.  So far, things have been pretty good, and highly entertaining.  The story is fairly simple, and pure Star Wars.  You play as Darth Vader’s “secret apprentice,” tasked with aiding Vader in his attempt to over throw the Emperor.  The initial story arc has you running errands for Vader (eliminating troublesome rogue Jedi), and facing several trials.  Star Wars fans, or even just those familiar with the movies, will recognize many of the locations, from the Jedi Temple on Coruscant to Kashyyk, and several movie characters make appearances (Shaak-Ti, Bail Organa, and of course Vader and the Emperor). 

Now, I’m quite sure that the game is more visually stunning on the PS3 or on a XBox, but I doubt it has quite the same game play.  On the Wii, the game is of average graphic quality.  It’s solid, but definitely not “next gen.”  Even so, it is more than adequate for the game.  But you shouldn’t be getting this game on the Wii for the graphics.

The best reason to get The Force Unleahed on the Wii is for the game play.  I had my doubts and worries about how well the Wiimote and nunchuk would work with the game.  I shouldn’t have worried.  This game works etremely well with the Wiimote and nunchuk set up, and is probably better for game play than a PS3 or Xbox controller.  You move using the joystick on the nunchuk, and use the Wiimote for swinging your lightsaber.  Yes, you do need to swing the Wiimote like you would a sword.  Be warned, this can get very tiring on your arm, especially when surrounded by 15-20 stormtroopers.

Force powers are also better suited IMO to the Wiimote-nunchuk set up.  Some powers, like Force Push, rely on you “pushing” the Wiimote or the nunchuk forward.  This would be very much unlike the set up on a PS3 or Xbox controller, where all your actions, combat or force powers, would just be a series of button mashes.  Even “complex” powers are not that difficult to execute, as you use at most 2 buttons and some sort of movement with the controller set up.  If anything, with the Wiimote, many of these will seem “natural,” as the use of a button in combination with a movement makes a degree of “sense.” 

The game has no levels per se.  Instead, you find “power ups” that will increase your force and health bars.  Higher levels of force powers are unlocked as you progress in the game, as are skills like “blaster fire blocking.”  As you eliminate enemies, you gain advancement points, which can be spent to upgrade your force powers to higher levels.  You also can’t die in game.  Or at least not that  I’ve found.  If you get “killed,” you get resurrected and lose a percentage of your accumalted advancement points.  Some enemies will be respawned as well, or if in a boss fight, the boss will regain some of it’s lost health. 

On teh whole, this is not a “instant classic” of a game.  But when it comes to Jedi based games, this one is hard to beat, especially on the Wii.  The lightsabre fights alone are fun with the Wiimote, swing madly and cursing your opponent.  The “finishing moves” that can be triggered in Boss fights are at times extremely enjoyable to watch, once triggered, such as crushing an AT-ST with the force into a ball of scrap.  Combine this with the very easy and natural way of activating force powers, and this becomes very addictive very fast.  The sections between boss fights can get a bit tedious and repetetive, but so far, the boss fights have more than made up for it (if I never see another Rancor again, I will be very happy).   There is a multiplayer (2 player IIRC), Duel Mode, but I have yet to do anything with that.  Other than having unlocked several characters for use with Duel Mode, I’m unsure how it works.

8/10

**UPDATE**

I’ve now finished the game.  Well, at least the first time through.  It only took about 10-11 hours to complete.  That was a bit disappointing, given how engaging the story line was, and how much fun it was to play.  Even so, I am playing through the game again, this time with all the costumes and force powers I’ve unlocked.  This is making all those early missions (so far) much easier.  And there is something entertaining about rampaging through levels as a super powerful Jedi.