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Monthly Archives: April 2009

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Much Ado About the Swine Flu

It never fails, whenever the media seems to be short of a big story, we naturally get some sort of hysteria over an all encompassing crisis that’s certain to convince the average couch dweller that the end of civilization is nigh. Right now it’s Swine Flu, the killer epidemic that has already claimed the lives of millions if not billions, and will shortly own its own firm of Washington D.C. lobbyists. Swine Flu has come to America before, which resulted in the death of every single America between the years 1967 and 1972. Luckily new more efficiently made Americans were imported from Sweden and Japan, thus saving America.

So far a single baby from Mexico has died in America of Swine Flu. And apparently a minister who met with Obama. This hasn’t stopped the media from building up the same panic that they did for Avian Bird Flu, that killed every single American between 1992 and 2007, or the Y2K virus that caused nuclear weapons to launch prematurely and blow up the entire planet. So now the media is in full on shriek mode. The Vice Idiot in Chief has warned all Americans to stay out of planes, subways and crowded areas, because apparently he’s old enough to remember the Influenza epidemic. The media of course is only too happy to splash his hysterical nonsense right next to their own hysterical nonsense, sandwiched between photos of people in Mexico wearing generally useless surgical masks.

I can’t help but think that we’d have a much better behaved press if every business that lost revenue because of some media shrillfest could actually sue them for damages. It might breed less reports on THAI FLU VIRUS OF DOOM or WENGER’S TROJAN HORSE WILL EAT YOUR COMPUTER ON FEBRUARY 30 that the press seems positively addicted to. I know responsible journalism went extinct with the dodo and the honest election, but since the American public can’t collectively bitch slap CNN, except in the ratings, maybe it’s time to hold news organizations accountable for baseless hysteria.

Oh by the way Swine Flu killed every single American between 2009 and 2012. Luckily more efficient and weirder were quickly imported from the 8th Dimension.

Star Wars the Christmas Special Comes to Broadway

Following in the footsteps of the terrible idea known as Spider Man the Musical from Julie Taymor, an event that absolutely no one is waiting for, George Lucas’ boundless greed is set to turn Star Wars into a Musical. Now to be fair Broadway is already overrun with Hollywood crap. Disney has turned Broadway into a new revenue source with adaptations of cartoons, Shrek is camping out there too, and Hollywood stars have been infesting the London stage, and to a lesser extent Broadway. All of that however makes some kind of sense, Star Wars the Musical does not.

George Lucas has signed off on Star Wars: A Musical Journey, a two-hour live musical event featuring a Stormtrooper kick line and singing Wookiees John Williams’ Oscar-winning score. The production will blast off April 10 in the U.K. and then embark on a European tour, complete with an exhibition of rare Star Wars collectibles, including never-before-seen models, props, costumes and production artwork. No word when it will visit America. Now if we could only get a musical version of the Star Wars Holiday Special…

Adapting cartoons for Broadway made sense since it could bring in the kiddies. A Star Wars musical spectacular in the UK doesn’t. France maybe, or Germany where they might view as some sort of surrealistic comment on the tragic nature of man. But George Lucas thinks that people will actually go and see singing Stormtroopers and Wookies, for some reason other than to laugh at them. It’s like an SNL skit or Simpsons opening actually coming to life.

I’m sure that George Lucas will wind up making money out of this. I’m also sure that it will be one of those nail in the coffin deals for the franchise. If the prequels and the Clone Wars wasn’t bad enough, or The Force Unleashed, Lucas is now just going whole hog to trash whatever’s left of Star Wars for a quick buck. I don’t know what the man is thinking. He’s only 64, which means he could have a possible life expectancy of decades more. Has he thought about what he’s going to do 5 years from now, when he won’t even be able to move a Star Wars cereal if it was made out of pure uncut cocaine? Oh right, that’s when Indiana Jones and the City of Merchandising Toys debuts.

Where Will The Dark Knight Go Next?

The next step for Batman and Nolan after Batman Begins was always obvious, there’s only one ultimate Batman villain and the Joker card at the end of Batman Begins made it obvious that everyone knew who the focus of the next movie would be. The Dark Knight however left no such calling cards at the end of it, no hints or suggestions. With Ledger dead, a Joker return is unlikely, despite the changed ending, and Two Face appears to be dead as well, not that any Batman movie up till now had done villain retreats anyway, though had Ledger lived they might have made an exception for his Joker.

Still that leaves a shrinking list of possible Batman villains and I suspect that Nolan and Goyer themselves don’t know the answer to this one yet. When Tim Burton tried to follow up on the Joker, he did a decent job, but Danny DeVito’s Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, really didn’t quite fill the gap left by Jack Nicholson’s Joker, and it showed. Still on the scale of emotionally relevant villains, Catwoman seems a likely visitor to a Dark Knight sequel, showing the more intimate involvement of Batman and the villains he fights in a Dark Knight sequel that might focus on the lines being crossed between hero and villain, as both become symbols and myths, following up on some of the exchanges between Batman and the Joker.

The Penguin though was always a weak and somewhat silly villain. Still with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Nolan seems to be following the two villain pattern of the earlier Batman movies, well some of them anyway, since Batman 1989 had only the Joker and Batman and Robin had an insane collage of villains and heroes and circus clowns. So who does that leave us with? Nolan may not pick the Batman villain with a lot of name recognition, as Batman Begins showed us. So it’s quite possible that a Dark Knight sequel may feature Catwoman but also a villain few expect to show up and that the public is not familiar with. And if rules are to be broken, a return by Ra’s Al Ghul can’t be ruled out entirely. The man is immortal after all.

Six Days in Fallujah, Are War Games Disrespectful?

The whole hue and cry raised over Konami’s Six Days in Fallujah makes me wonder why it’s okay to create war games based in the Vietnam War or WW2, but not a simulation of an actual war going on now. Sure there’s the cry of “Too Soon”, but the idea that making a game about a subject automatically trivializes it, doesn’t hold true anymore. Sure some older people hear game and immediately think of Pong or Atari, but computer and console games today can handle serious subjects in a way similar to that of a movie. Yes there are no shortage of shoot and giggle arcade games out there, but there are also games like Far Cry 2, that are up there with serious dramas in handling issues going on in parts of the world today.

The Vietnam War was if anything uglier than the War in Iraq, but EA could release something like Battlefield Vietnam, which is a long way from being respectful of veterans and is nothing more than a shoots and giggles game developed by Swedes who got all their ideas about the Vietnam War from watching Apocalypse Now and Platoon. There’s every sign that Six Days in Fallujah would have been something quite different from Battlefield Vietnam or the numerous Call of Duty or Medal of Honor WW2 shooters that are nothing more than counterstrike maps using a catastrophic world war as a background. Unfortunately however the game industry remains ridiculously oversensitive to criticism, and Konami folded.

Of course I’m sure a year from now some Swedish or Russian or Croatian developer will put together an Iraq War game that is nothing more than a shooter, and will not be the product of consultation with veterans, and will not actually tell a story about the people who were there. But it will fly by under the radar and no one will care very much. And that is the problem.

Futurama Bender’s Game DVD movie review

All the Futurama movies have had that stretched out element that reminds you of a stand up comedian with a half hour set who just Bender's Game Futuramarealized he’ll have to make the jokes stretch for an hour and a half, but on Bender’s Game the stretch marks are really obvious and very much in your face.

While the first two Futurama movies were certainly flawed, they at least had a big idea behind them, from time travel to deism. Bender’s Game has nothing like that. Instead Bender’s Game is nothing more than a mediocre Futurama episode with another story about Mom trying to take over things, stretched out with an extended Lord of the Rings and generic fantasy quest parody. There’s no big idea, but even worse there’s not even much in the way of comedy.

To shoehorn in the long fantasy quest parody, the first half hour of Bender’s Game brings us long unfunny scenes of the Professor’s clone and Hermes’ son playing Dungeons and Dragons. Arguably Dungeons and Dragons jokes are a little dated in the age of World of Warcraft, but so is an extended parody of the Lord of the Rings movies in 2008, and half of the jokes that fill Bender’s Game.

Bender however becomes obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons, until he actually believes he’s living in an imaginary fantasy kingdom and has to be institutionalized. Meanwhile Mom, who now runs an energy conglomerate, has cornered the market on Dark Matter, which the professor can undo by bringing his anti-crystal close to her crystal, the mission that will fill the rest of the movie. But not until even more tedious stories about Leela entering a demolition derby and getting a shock collar to control her anger are wrapped up.

The rest of Bender’s Game is dedicated to the gang trying to break into Mom’s arctic fortress only to be sucked into the fantasy universe, for an extended fantasy quest parody, which also holds the only funny elements in the movie. Unfortunately that means waiting around for the last half hour to get any laughs that don’t involve Mom’s sons posing as owl exterminators or Dr. Zoydberg pulling keys out of the professor’s stomach with a magnet.

And it’s Dr. Zoydberg’s occasional bits and the return of Roberto that are the only reliably funny things in Bender’s Game. Bender’s Game has all the staples of Futurama movies, the outdated references, the stretched out episodic feel to the whole thing, the bits of pointless cartoon nudity to remind everyone that we’re not watching this on FOX anymore, and the B Stories that aren’t funny and don’t really matter. But Bender’s Game has nothing to transcend those flaws the way previous movies did. There’s no big idea, just a half-assed series of stories divided up among the writers, that with their failure makes you really appreciate what the previous Futurama movies did right.

From lovely Cyrodil, it’s the annual State of the Empire address

Thank you ladies, gentlemen, inbred nobility and assorted other creatures,

The Empire’s situation is very grave indeed. The entire continent is overrun by freakishly huge rats and oddly aggressive crabs. Not only is the Emperor dead, but the population of Cyrodil appears to have dwindled to about several hundred people, of which about ten percent are actually Bandits, Daedra worshipers and members of the Dark Brotherhood or talking upright walking cats.

This is a serious situation as we cannot possibly hope to maintain any kind of functioning Imperial capital with so few people. Our average city barely has two dozen people, half of whom are guards. It’s hard to tell what makes our cities into cities rather than towns or villages, except our willingness to be deluded into thinking that a high wall and a big cathedral surrounding a dozen houses and four shops is somehow a city rather than a tiny village. Meanwhile what little villages we have left have turned into underground people who worship primordial evil beings, which is just bad for everyone.

Recently it has also been brought to my attention that every single fort on Cyrodil is deserted and filled with the undead. With only one city standing between Morrowind and the Imperial City, Morrowind could easily overrun us in a matter of days, if they only had more than a thousand or so people themselves to spare for an invasion.

This population shortage also puts Cyrodil’s traditional native industries, such as selling looted weapons, paying ridiculous prices for pieces of flowers that can be easily picked and hunting through ghost and skeleton filled temples, at great risk. Additionally Cyrodil no longer has any mines, only derelict mines.

At this point I’m not even sure why Oblivion is bothering to invade us, they could probably just wait a generation for us to die off on our own, since we don’t actually have any children and aside from Vampires and Orcs, we consist of species that cannot and should not reproduce together.

Nevertheless I would like to commend those who keep the Arena matches going, diminishing what little population we have, particularly the part of it that can actually hold a sword. Also to the inventor of Ardorks’ Unremovable Underwear which is responsible for our population problem and lack of children, your attempt to preserve morality may have doomed us all, but it was still a noble gesture.

Thank you all, and I’m moving to High Rock.

The Incredible Hulk game review

What if you remade Grand Theft Auto starring the Hulk? That’s the not so secret premise of The Incredible Hulk game. A Sandbox game with Wanted levels, selective missions and lots of easter eggs to find scattered around the Marvel Universe version of Manhattan, The Incredible Hulk game is a hybrid between a platformer and Grand Theft Auto, incorporating many of the latter’s gameplay features. The problem is that the game borrows both the good and the bad, giving you a large city to play with and saddles you with boring missions, some of which require you to escort or protect whiny and annoying characters and their lab equipment all within a narrow time limit. And for any game designers taking notes, that’s the difference between imitating Grand Theft Auto and learning the lessons of Grand Theft Auto.

Despite many of the annoying missions, The Incredible Hulk still boasts a ridiculously fun concept, giving you a somewhat smaller version of Manhattan to play with. Climb the Empire State, King Kong style or tear off a lampost and swing it around as a club while battling a giant 10 story robot sent by the evil Paragon corporation. Fight City Hall by smashing it to pieces, every building is destructible, or race through Central Park leaping over the trees.

But like most sandbox games, there’s only so much freedom you can take before you get bored, and while The Incredible Hulk offers an incredible setting, it doesn’t do very much with it. The missions run the gamut from the redundant to the frustrating and miss the point of what the Hulk is all about, which isn’t taking cell phone calls and escorting scientists around a map. The in game voice narration from Ed Norton doesn’t help by reminding you that is a game tie in with a movie that was equally clueless about the Hulk and its audience.

Like most movie tie in games, you shouldn’t go in expecting too much from The Incredible Hulk. The graphics are shockingly bland and crude. The city, despite featuring both real New York City and imaginary Marvel universe landmarks from the Apollo Theater to the Daily Bugle, is generic. But that doesn’t mean the game still isn’t fun as long as you don’t expect it to offer much beyond the sandbox play. And once you’ve exhausted the fun of jumping off the Chrysler Building or navigating Manhattan by rooftops while dodging armored troopers hunting for you, you’ve also exhausted everything worthwhile about the game.

Martin H. Greenberg – Good for Science Fiction or Bad?

With the shrinkage of short story markets, once the major place for the development of new Science Fiction and Fantasy talent, you might suppose that Martin H. Greenberg’s endless themed short story collections are actually good. Except of course that Martin H. Greenberg mainly recycles commonly read stories by recognized authors, which lets them get paid for the reprint and creates an incentive for already well paid authors to keep writing short stories in a marketplace that rewards them better for simply sticking to writing novels.

It’s one justification for Martin H. Greenberg’s endless story collections that he edits the way compulsive gamblers play cards. Unfortunately it’s the only one. The con for the pro that Martin H. Greenberg lets professional authors get paid twice is that his short story collections are invariably terrible. Occasionally a good short story will somehow sneak in to a Martin H. Greenberg collection, probably because it was written 50 years ago by Isaac Asimov. But overall Martin H. Greenberg’s short story collections attract bad and outright overly reprinted stories the way lightbulbs attract moths, with the same destructive outcome.

Somehow it wasn’t this bad a decade or so ago when Martin H. Greenberg had a bunch of short story collections under his belt but they weren’t too frequent or too egregious. Lately though it seems as if Martin H. Greenberg turns out a dozen of them a year and that may be an exaggeration but not that much. Last time I stopped by, I saw at least four new ones and the covers alone made me slightly nauseous. The problem is that there are actually good short story collections out there, none of them however have the name Martin H. Greenberg on them. Martin H. Greenberg has become the Burger King of SF and F short story collections and the results are the same tasteless reprocessed junk.

Can Star Trek XI Make It?

Ahead of release the hype is tracking really well, many Star Trek fans seem to be accepting J.J. Abrams’ semi reboot of the franchise and going well back into the prequel stage, so much so that Paramount seems ready to move ahead with a series of movies set around the same cast. Of course not too long ago the hype for Watchmen was tracking fairly well, that is until actual audiences who didn’t work for AICN saw the thing and realized how terrible the actual movie was. For now the Star Trek XI (I hope Abrams isn’t going to pull a George Lucas and try to date it as Star Trek -1 or reset all the existing movie numbers by 1 or 3) reviews are good. The movie certainly looks shiny, though since it cost more than twice what Nemesis did, I’m not surprised. I just remember warning about the folly of Nemesis, and Star Trek XI seems to be suffering from some major errors in judgment too. Paramount and Abrams think they can beat the problem by spending enough to attract a large enough audience, breaking Star Trek out of its own ghetto and turning it into a major franchise again. They might be right, but economically they’re more likely to do Watchmen’s numbers all over again with a big opening weekend followed by major falloff.

Monsters vs Aliens, a Victory for 3D?

Monsters and Aliens was supposed to be part of the new wave of 3D movies that would help theaters stem the wave of people watching stuff, legal and illegal on the internet, or just buying the damn DVD. But if that was the plan it doesn’t seem as if it worked too well. 3D didn’t seem to be a very big draw for Monsters and Aliens, and the movie actually opened slightly below where Dreamworks’ previous animated kids movie, Madagascar 2 did around the same time last year. Sure maybe selling a giant woman battling aliens is trickier than selling a bunch of cute animals who want to get to Africa, and Madagascar 2 was actually a bit of a surprise hit, but it also follows a trend of diminishing returns, at a time when box office openings are actually getting bigger. And it suggests that 3D and IMAX aren’t the answer. Sure they might spice up the experience, but integrating 3D into the movie viewing experience is still only going to be a gimmick. Not the solution.

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