Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Review round-up: inFamous, Gran Torino, Street Sweeper Social Club

Gran Torino- I finally got around to checking out Clint Eastwood’s latest offering and man have I been missing out. My one gripe with the movie is that practically everyone in it can’t act for $#!+.

Seriously, there are some awkward scenes here where I’m fairly sure Eastwood, donning his director’s cap and speaking in that gravely tone, told the actors “I want you to explore your characters in this scene. No script. Just give me some honest to goodness, real life drama, damn you.” They failed miserably, but the good news is that Eastwood is so awesome as a racist half-crazed ex-soldier you really don’t care how wretched everyone else is.

Shot well and mostly great writing. Dirty Harry scores again.

Street Sweeper Social Club- What happens when you form a super-band featuring Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and The Coup’s Boots Riley? The answer is “not very much.”

Morello does some nice guitar and bass work, but it’s all standard fare. Riley’s lyrics are pretty tight (Flow-wise. I’m not being hip here), but sometimes he tries to cram too many words into a single sentence. Other than a few standout tracks, “100 Little Curses” and “Promenade” come to mind, there’s not much worth revisiting here.

I was hoping for something meaty and revolutionary and, sadly, SSSC delivers neither.

inFamous- This game deserves a full post, but I’m lazy and you probably don’t want to read much more anyway. I’m doing this for both of us...You're welcome.

Following the story of a bike messenger named Cole, inFamous is a living story of a man coping with great power and a city struggling to survive after a tragic event wipes out thousands and leaves those still living cut off from the outside world.

Other than side missions needing a bit more variety, inFamous is absolutely fantastic. The world is large and breathing, the story is comic book awesomeness and the powers you earn come at a great pace and, by the end, leave you feeling like a real-life hero (or villain.) The controls are intuitive and the platforming is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. You’ll have a blast climbing, grinding and flying around literally everything in the city.

The dual karma moments give you the chance to save the city or watch it burn and, while some “serious” moments come off as laughable, the different powers granted to the good and evil sides are diverse enough to warrant at least two playthroughs. When the game clocks in at about 15 hours, that’s quite a bit of electric bang for your buck.

More so than anything, inFamous is an absolute blast to play. Minus a few bugs inherent in such a big, open game, you’ll marvel at the amount of polish that went into creating one of the best action games to come out this generation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Dirty rock with sass and class

Often called the YYYs by those much cooler than myself, I was once again late to the awesome-party when it comes to listening to these guys. Since I liked every song I had heard from the group on the ole’ radio, it seemed only natural that I finally dip my toe in and check out a full album.

Luckily, I’m gifted with wicked friends who are willing to make legal backups of their own CDs for me to look after for them. So instead of just one album, I was bombarded by all three of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ offerings at once.

As I was told to expect, the debut Fever to Tell had the best all-around music. The sound was gritty, the lyrics were spunky, punky and sharp and the experience was one of solid rock.

Show Your Bones was a nice middle ground with some poppier hits mixed in with the gruff tunes reminiscent of Fever.

To most, though, I would recommend the more recent and self titled offering Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Full of radio-friendly dance numbers, it also sports a nice collection of slower, more thoughtful ditties to help listeners gauge whether or not they are ready for the backlog.

Though if you like what you’ve heard on the radio for the past few years, such as myself, you should be in for a treat no matter which route you take.

There's no need to make comparisons to other bands since vocalist Karen Orzolek is nothing like what you've heard before.

The sound is solid and often complex, which can be a a bit of a workout for your ears the first time through. If you stick with it, though, there will be a moment where everything sort of clicks into place. Further listens will bring goofy grins and new discoveries as each song pulls back the layers for further exploration.

Call it punk. Call it alternative. Call it artsy. Call it whatever you want. The simple fact is that it's great rock music. Period.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Monday mini-movies: Whack-a-kitty edition

Since most of the recent monday mini-movies have been of the violent variety, I decided to change up the pace a bit this week with something overwhelmingly adorable.

Prepare to vomit cuteness, folks. Seldom is animal cruelty so very, very right.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rejected T-shirt ideas: Pawned

This latest offering in the staticechoes.com rejected t-shirt line will never appear at retail. The subtle, yet effective, parallels drawn between the wizard's game of chess and a popular term in nerdy gaming dialogue are too far outside the realms of normal folks' comprehension.

Rather than grasp the clever (oh-so-clever) play on words and imagery, the average viewer would instead assume the shirt had something to do with the selling one's goods to a man stationed behind a fenced-in register for a fraction of what said goods are actually worth.

Alas, staticechoes' genius is once again its own worst enemy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Hangover- Echo reviews it

If what happened in Vegas truly stayed there, we'd never get movies as entertaining as The Hangover.

The setup is simple: Three guys take their best bud on a crazy bachelor party trip to the city of sin to have one last hoo-rah before locking on the ole' ball and chain. A blast (apparently) was had by all as the guys get wasted beyond comprehension and wake up unable to remember anything from the past 24 hours. The vast majority of the film follows the three friends, played by Bradley Cooper (Nip/Tuck), Ed Helms (The Daily Show) and Zach Galifianakis (stand-up comedian), as they try to figure out what happened the night before in order to find the missing groom-to-be.

When you wake up to a tiger in the bathroom, a missing tooth, a live chicken strutting around the motel room and a veritable tower of beer cans stacked to the roof, clearly there's a lot to figure out. Thankfully, while a missing automobile serves as a key plot point, nobody ever asks "Dude, where's my car."

Given the premise, I honestly wasn't expecting much from this one. The three stars are mostly new at this sort of thing and the concept has been done a few dozen times. It was a wonderful surprise, then, that I was laughing through the entire film.

Cooper is charming, vulgar and well-cast as the kind of guy who gets his friends to leap before they look despite the likely unfortunate consequences. Helms is hilarious and reminiscent of Steve Carell in all his awkward and repressed glory and Galifinakis is a visual and comedic delight. While I'm sure writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore penned quite a bit of the film's best gags, Mr. G's delivery felt more ad libbed and, thus, had a huge payoff. It's hard not to grin just looking at the guy.

What could have been the expected frattish bullcrap crammed into the majority of these types of films (there's some of that, sure), is instead a great addition to buddy films and comedies in general.

If you're in need of a buttload of laughs, you have no reason to miss out on this one.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

UFC 99: Echo calls it

We’re almost to the century mark for UFC and boy howdy has the sport come a long way. (I now say “boy howdy,” fyi.) I’ll reminisce more about the evolution of UFC and the sport of MMA in general next month when the 100th event occurs, but for now, we’re talking UFC 99: The Comeback.

Mirko Cro Cop’s trouncing of relative newcomer Mostapha Al Turk is set to kick things off. Likely to be one of the least exciting fights of the night, I predict Cro Cop will steamroll Al Turk in short order. I’m fairly certain the point of this bout is to help the Croatian build up a little confidence and help ease him back into the UFC. Then again, if he’s fighting like he was a year or so ago, he could get his head caved in again.

Spencer Fisher is fun to watch, but I don’t know enough about Caol Uno to make any real predictions. Should be a fun fight to watch.

Marcus Davis and Dan Hardy, however, are two equally matched fighters with nearly identical records. I’m hoping for some real fireworks here. Davis can toss some hurting bombs. And if anybody is in need of a face wrecking, it’s a mohawked guy nicknamed “The Outlaw”. Just sayin.

Once again, I know too little about Ben Saunders to know if he’s going to stand a chance against Mike Swick, but his undefeated record is likely to be tarnished after Saturday night. Swick don’t mess around.

Then we get to the fight that has me scratching my head the most. Cain Velasquez is young and strong, but he’s unproven. Cheick Kongo, on the other hand, is a freaking powerhouse. Velasquez is an accomplished wrestler, but I feel comfortable saying it’s extremely hard to bring out the grapple game once Kongo has ripped off both your arms and begun beating you about the head with the bloody ends.

The big fight of the night has me a bit anxious. I love both Rich Franklin and Wanderlei Silva, so I want to see both of them win. Likewise, I don’t like seeing either of them lose. Silva has a brutal standup game and can deliver devastating strikes, but Franklin is scrappy and has no problem shoving his knee through the back of your head. As long as it’s a battle, I’ll be comfortable with this fight going either way. Franklin wants to prove he’s still one of the best and Silva could use a win right now. My heart says Franklin is going to wow, but my head says Silva is going to catch the former high school teacher with a vicious slew of blows and send him to beddy-bye land. (And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you hedge your bets.)

To see how it all turns out, be sure to tune in this Saturday as the broadcast will be live at noon (Fighting out of Germany) and repeat at the normal time of 7 p.m. For more info, drop by ufc.com.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Brutally bullcrap

During E3 last week (well, technically it was outside of E3. But you get what I mean), it was announced Activision was suing to put a hold on EA publishing the upcoming rockfest of awesomeness known as Brutal Legend.

Here's a little history for you- Tim Schafer is one of those guys hailed to be a genius in the gaming industry. His games have always been critical hits and fan favorites, but they've never really sold that well. So years of developing wicked-cool games later, and Schafer and his studio, Double Fine, are hard at work on their latest offering, Brutal Legend. When the game's publisher is about to go under, Activision swoops in and looks to be saving the day.

Instead, Activision decides to cut Brutal Legend free, leaving it publisher-less one year before completion.

Enter EA.

I like to think of 2008 as the year EA started being cool again. Giving a brilliant game director and his staff a chance to make it to market was just one of the many things they got right and, crushed by the news Activision had given BL the axe, I was ecstatic to hear EA at least had enough faith in Double Fine to see their project through.

This whole series of events, it turns out, helped build up quite a bit of extra momentum behind the game. What was looking to be another underground hit from Schafer has since become a huge blip on most gamers' radar. With EA pumping out the press releases and Brutal Legend getting the attention it deserved, things took another step forward at E3 when BL appeared as a huge advertisement on the side of a building in downtown San Fran. The game was also playable on the floor and loads of magazines, websites and bloggers gave the title a nod as one of the best of show.

Now that Schafer is looking to finally get his dues, what happens? Activision comes in with a suit claiming they still have a right to publish the game. Can you believe that? They had so little faith in the game they cut it loose, but now that everyone's buzzing about Brutal Legend, they realise there's dollars to be made and try to pull a switch-er-roo.

I could go on forever about how shoddy this is, but I'll just keep things nice and simple. So what's the point of this post, you may be asking.

F#^$ Activision. That's the point.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monday mini-movies: Monkey fight club edition

The first rule of monkey fight club is you do not talk about monkey fight club.

The second rule of monkey fight club is that a dog will always get pwned by a monkey.

...Stupid dogs.

Friday, June 5, 2009

E3 2009 retrospect

It's time for a look back at the past week of gaming goodness known only as E3. What makes this post different from what you'll find on other web sites? The fact you will not see the word "megaton" anywhere in here and the fact I will not declare a "winner" of E3. No matter what the fanboys may think, they don't actually give out trophies at E3.

There were about a billion pieces of information to digest from this year's show. Here's a condensed (sort of) version of what I took away from it.

Microsoft- Microsoft had a good show this year. With games like Crackdown 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Alan Wake, Splinter Cell: Conviction and two new Halo titles (cause, you know, we need more of those) on the way, those gaming on the Box have some great titles to look forward to.
Alan Wake has taken forever in development, but the hands-on looks make it seem like the wait will be worth it. My only problem here is the fact L4D2 is coming out so quickly. Rather than bring out another game one year after the first one, why not take another year or two and make another revolutionary shooter?

Microsoft "stole the show" again with the announcement of Metal Gear Solid: Rising for the 360 (and PS3/PC), but I feel like too many people have put too much stock in that single announcement. Analysts have been heralding the death of third party exclusivity for a couple years now, this blogger included, so I'm not sure why this shocked anyone. More on Kojima's titles and Project Natal later in the post.

Overall, Microsoft's conference was the most exciting, but I was underwhelmed on the gaming front.

Nintendo- For the second year in a row, I find myself saddened by Nintendo's "we have your money already, enjoy these crappy games and a half-assed conference" approach. Thankfully, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Metroid: Other M (being developed with Team Ninja!) and Golden Sun DS at least give me some hope for Nintendo gaming in the coming year.

Otherwise, Wii Motion Plus, Wii Sports Resort, etc. has me groaning rather than wanting to pick up a Wii-mote anytime soon. (Edit: I completely forgot to mention Sin and Punishment 2 for the Wii and Scribblenauts for the DS. Two more gems on a pile of poop known as the Nintendo presence at E3.)

Sony- While Sony still felt a little too professional with their presentation, their game library at least perked up my ears. On the PS3 front, I was delighted by what I saw from God of War 3, ModNation, Final Fantasy XIV, Uncharted 2 and Team Ico's (!!!) The Last Guardian.

As for the PSP, a $250 price tag on the PSP Go seems about $100 too expensive, but titles like Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Final Fantasy Dissidia, and PSP iterations of Soul Calibur, Motor Storm , Little Big Planet and Resident Evil should keep this blogger's PSP powered on for quite a while. It's about damn time we're seeing some new big titles for the handheld.

Sort of the opposite of Microsoft, I thought Sony's show lacked a bit of heart, but the game library was insane.

Motion control: Am I the only one who thinks this is a dead end street? I'm not talking about on the Wii, obviously. They did it right the first time and it's paid off well for them. As for Microsoft's Project Natal, I wasn't too impressed. I'm not talking about the hardware, understand. But as it applies to gaming, outside of casual titles, I fail to see a proper application.

Ignoring the fact that camera control means nobody other than the player can be in front of the lens, taking the controller out of the game is not the answer to deeper gaming experiences. You just can't substitute a well-evolved controller for motion sensing, and moving your body around takes more thought than pushing buttons, thus taking you out of the experience.

The Burnout demo, for instance, was said to be pretty accurate when a person stood in front of the camera and acted like they were holding a steering wheel. I don't know many gamers who are willing to deal with "pretty accurate" for very long and, I'm sorry, but shy of waving your arms about, how do you boost? How do you brake? How do you hit the gas for that matter? How do you drift, power slide, or anything else without drastically dumbing down the game? I'm not trying to nay say here, just calling em as I see em. The technology is brilliant and will have its uses in gaming to an extent, but when it comes to playing hardcore titles, Natal just ain't gonna slice it.

And Milo was the most scripted piece of BS I've ever seen. I would have been dandy with that presentation (impressed even) if it was shown as a "this is what we can do with Natal." But it was shown as a demo of something that's been designed and works and, maybe I'm being a conspiracy theorist here, but it looked like a load of rubbish to me. Faked through and through. Be honest about something rather than insult my intelligence and I'll give credit where credit is due.

And then Sony introduced their glowing-sphere-magic-wands. While I think one-to-one control could be sweet, and buttons on the controller is moving in the right direction to melding gameplay and motion control, again, I just don't see it taking off. Gamers are tired of peripherals and anyone who wants motion control already has a Wii.

If either of these products ever see the light of day, I expect there will be a crop of titles, some might even be brilliant titles, hitting the market shortly after. After that, both will shortly fade from memory. I'd like to be proven wrong. I really would.

Hideo Kojima: If there was a "man of show," it would be Kojima-san. He appeared at the Microsoft, Sony and and Konami events and revealed three games- Metal Gear Solid- Rising, Metal Gear Solid- Peace Walker and Castlevania- Lords of Shadow. Sadly, his studio is only producing Castlevania, but a boy can dream about how wicked a Kojima Belmont game would be.

This only scrapes the surface of E3 2009, but I've gone over the word limit here. While I didn't feel like there were a lot of big, new titles announced, I leave this week feeling good (mostly) about the gaming year ahead. No matter what console you play on, portable or plugged into your TV, you should have enough to keep your thumbs sore.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Games to get in June

There are quite a few games to look into this month. Even the Wii has something hopefully worth checking out. Let the summer rent-a-thon begin!

9th- Prototype (PS3, 360)
16th Ghostbusters (Everything and the Atari)
23rd- Overlord 2 (360, PS3)
23rd- Monster Hunter Freedom Unite (PSP)
23rd- Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor (DS)
23rd- Resident Evil Archives (Wii)
23rd- The Conduit (Wii)
30th- BlazBlue (360, PS3)
30th- Fight Night Round 4 (PS3, 360)

Given our options, my "buy" recommendation is going to Prototype in June. And then we can't forget the triumphant return of Ghostbusters, now can we?

PSP owners finally get to play MHF with other people more easily, BlazBlue could be an awesome return to form for 2D fighters and The Conduit is the Wii's latest stab at being taken seriously by the "hardcore" crowd.

Ignoring the not-so-hardcore sunglasses the main character wears, if The Conduit can provide a solid first person shooter experience with a well-rounded offering on the online front, Wiisters might finally have something to brag about in the fragging department.

Movies to miss in June

Well June is a pretty dry month for movies. This means few good movies and, thankfully, even fewer bad movies. So few, in fact, I had an internal struggle adding one of these two movies to the list so as I could beef it up a bit. Go ahead and guess which one that was.

The Proposal- Yay! It's another odd couple film wherein two people who hate each other (you know, like the boy and girl on the playground who won't stop poking each other with sticks) end up having to pretend like they're in love. This was probably funnier when Adam Sandler and the King of Queens did it. But probably not by much. I sure hope they fall for each other and get married for reals by the end of the movie. Gosh, that would be super and totally unexpected.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen- I know this isn't going to sit well with some of you, but seriously, the first Transformers film was barely acceptable. That, coupled with the fact I like upsetting people, and we have Transformers on the list. Feel free to argue in the comments section. Just remember that doing so will create a permanent digital copy of your sins.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Review warp-up: Eminem, Green Day, Up, Drag Me to Hell

For those on the fence, still trying to decide which electronic entertainment to consume, here's the latest batch of reviews in the world of movies and music.

Eminem: Relapse- Em' has been gone four years now, battling a drug addiction and keeping a low profile. While this time in exile has given the troubled rapper something new to talk about, I find myself almost longing for the days every single song had to do with his ex-wife, Kim, or his abusive mother. I guess you could call the drug problem a theme in Eminem's latest offering, Relapse. If that's the case, violence, misogyny and homophobia are also themes. The problem is, this no longer feels edgy. Instead, it comes off as a kid who used to be popular for coloring outside the lines desperately waving his arms around in need of attention. If you can get past the B.S., though, the album is okay. Not great, but I hated it less after further listens. The formula is bland (Chorus-chorus-verse-repeat) and the beats are mostly unoriginal, but songs like "We made you" and "Beautiful" help to wash away some of the monotony.

Green Day: 21st Century Breakdown- Green Day reinvented itself with American Idiot and continues to do so with 21st Century Breakdown. The lyrics ooze with punk ideals and clever jabs at society, government and the digital generation, but the sound is something more akin to classic American rock. It's an interesting mix and I for one dig it. This rock opera follows Christian and Gloria on a trek though middle America as they struggle to find their place in this world as the last remaining rebels of the "class of zero." The inclusion of a story tying the massive list of tracks together works well and the songs all flow together nicely, but while the music is mostly good, nothing here (save "21 guns") blew my mind. If you're an old school Green Day fan who hated American Idiot, this will make you hate them even more. If you enjoyed the change of pace from Idiot, however, you should feel likewise about this latest offering.

Drag Me to Hell- Sam Raimi's latest horror romp is easy to describe: gut-bustingly hilarious and stomach turningly grotesque movie awesomeness. It's basically Evil Dead for a new generation. It has all the slapstick horror and sweeping shots you would expect from a Raimi film, but it's more cohesive and has a story that probably took more than thirty minutes to write. Alison Lohman is glorious in her role as a cursed loan officer, reminiscent of the great Bruce Campbell in her reactions to the multi-colored $#!+ plowing into the proverbial fan. It's a very physical role and she handles it well, giving all the right subtleties at all the right moments and even underacts the role a bit, similar to what you would see in B movies of old. If you're tired of what passes for horror films these days and want to see something refreshingly familiar yet altogether new, drag yourself to a theater and get ready for a wonderful treat. As the credits started to roll, I actually forgave Raimi for Spider-Man 3. THAT'S how good it is.

Up- I'm not sure how they keep doing it, but Pixar has struck gold yet again with Up. The story is grand and fantastic, the cast is small but adequate, the music is sweeping and the writing is 100 percent top shelf. Grumpy old Carl Fredricksen is probably the creative team's best character yet; human and complex. Within ten minutes of watching the film, you know exactly who he is and what drives him. A quick montage with brilliant musical accompaniment manages character development most films can't muster in a full runtime. While the basic story is simple- Carl wants to get his house to Paradise Falls in South America and does so with the use of thousands of balloons- there are so many layers present you'll be wowed by the number of interconnecting plot points and references to moments you had nearly forgotten about. Up is a triumph highlighting Pixar at the top of its abilities and should be considered an early contestant for Movie of the Year. I loved it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Monday mini-movies: RC attack edition

I had a great weekend seeing Up and Drag Me to Hell (reviews a-coming), so I'm not exactly sure why I'm so mean-spirited today, but this video made me laugh long and hard.

I mean, that's a poor, defenseless bikergirl getting pwned by a four-wheeled machine of face-death. I should feel sorry for her, right?

I should. But I don't.