Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Inexplicable Movie Review: Beverly Hills Cop II

When it comes to the Beverly Hills Cop series, there is no question that the first film is the best movie. It features the wisecracking Eddie Murphy as detective Axel Foley, and he's forced to leave gritty Detroit for sunny Beverly Hills when his friend is gunned down. Foley lightly screws around with the California cops, who are mired in politics that prevent them from, well, being cops.

Well, the second movie can't come close to matching the intensity and drama of the first. However, it's a much better movie to re-watch when it comes to the series. The seriousness of the first movie is replaced by campiness and Eddie Murphy being a funny son of a bitch. Think of the difference in tone between Rocky and Rocky IV.

Beverly Hills Cop II definitely feels like more of a buddy-cop picture, as Axel doesn't have to gain the trust of Beverly Hills detectives Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold, taking a vacation from the bench) and John Taggart (John Ashton). This leaves more time for ridiculous but funny scenes, like Axel convincing a construction crew to stop work on a mansion so that he can squat in it for the week. Of course, Taggart is a bit suspicious of Axel when he swings by the house:

Axel Foley: Oh, you mean the construction that's going on. Yes, I'm very embarrassed about that. What I'm trying to do, though, is just confine myself to the other five bedrooms. I'm used to compromising my lifestyle.

Sergeant Taggart: Bullshit! You've stolen this house!

Axel Foley: How the fuck can you steal a house? This... my uncle's house!

In the first film, the "silly accessory character" role was filled by Bronson Pinchot as Serge, a flamboyant art salesman. The second film features small roles for a bunch of people, such as Bridgette Nielson as a six-foot asassain, Paul Reiser as Axel's buddy and the only white cop in Detroit, Dean "Quantum Leap" Stockwell, and the first film role for Chris Rock.

Playboy Mansion Valet (Chris Rock): [Axel has just pulled up a cement truck to the Playboy Mansion, where he is met by a valet] Yo, what the fuck is up, man? Check this out. I get ten dollars for cars, I get twenty dollars for limos! What the hell is this?

Axel Foley: My truck. Here's $50. Put it next to a limo.

Speaking of the Playboy Mansion, Hugh Heffner is in this film. It's odd, because he's still pretty spry, since this movie came out in 1987. I'm used to the nearly-vegetative Hugh you see now, not Heff the Playboy. He's pretty solid in his one scene, and thankfully, provides a good opportunity for Axel to riff.

Anyway. The actual plot of Beverly Hills Cop II revolves around Axel trying to unwrap the mystery of a gang of robbers who leave behind alphabet riddles at each crime scene. The investigating mostly takes a back seat to funny scenes and lines throughout the movie, but overall, it's simple and good for the "popcorn flick" tone of the movie. Ground breaking stuff? Absolutely not, but if you're looking for a funny action movie for 90 minutes, then Beverly Hills Cop II definitely satiates.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hey, why the heck am I following you?

A good post over at Fourth Grade Nothing by Ally concentrates on the whole idea of unfriending and defriending and un-following people on Blogger. While I've never unfriended anyone, I can certainly understand why some people think it's necessary. A couple of ex-girlfriends and people I dated have given me this treatment, which made me cry myself to sleep is understandable.

However, the entry did make me realize that I should probably explain myself to the whole blogging community, since I am following (as of this entry) 151 different blogs. The reason why I'm following tends to fall into one of four categories:

1) I know you personally. This applies to my friend Amanda, who lives in Boston and I've been to sporting events with, and my friend Adam, who I've just conversed with online.

2) You're funny. This is a much wider range, and it constitutes the bulk of the people I follow. The first blog that got this treatment, and one that inspired me to get more into blogging myself, was Brick Sexplode (or as the rest of the world calls it, Bricks Explode). Josh is a heck of a writer, and I love some of his lists, like the Top Ten Selfish Sports Teams Since 1980.

Lately, the best funny blog I've been following has been Sadako's Dibbly Fresh, which offers alternating dry and spastic commentary on 1990s fare. Confessions of a Cashier reminds me of my own past time at Dunkin' Donuts. I'm also a frequent commentator at Just The Cheese and Not Worth Mentioning, which is a delightfully random mish-mash of stuff, and 30 other blogs that I don't really have time to highlight individually. A lot of the pop culture critiquing would fall into this group.

3) You write about sports. This group is second to the funny blogs in terms of who I follow. At some point, I started following a good group of Canadian bloggers who linked to one another - Tao of Steib, The Blue Jay Hunter, Sporting Madness, and Sports and the City.

Of course, this led me to poking around for other sports blogs on Twitter. When it comes to Red Sox division mates, I'm a big fan of the Orioles' blog Dempsey's Army. (Note to self: If I ever do a strictly Red Sox blog, it seems the key to success is naming it after a good but non-Hall of Fame pitcher. Tim Wakefield, Mike Boddicker and Bill Lee seem like good candidates.) When it comes to the Red Sox, Off The Monster is a nice balance between passionate fan and logic.

4) I know absolutely nothing about which you write, and I'm interested in expanding my knowledge. This is a much more random group, although there are big segments - fashion and being a housewife - within this group. Generally, I'm following all of the blogs in this group because I saw them leave a funny or interesting comment on a blog from one of the above sections. While I personally might not have much knowledge of school psychologist issues or the newest fashions or housewife stuff, it's interesting to me because the writing is solid.

The defriending cartoon is from here. The "know nothing" picture is from here.

Existential questions about this rap game

On "Justify My Thug" by Jay-Z, which is the 11th track off The Black Album, he remarks that if you shoot his dog, he's going to kill your cat, which is an unwritten law of rap.

1) How can it be unwritten? You just wrote it down and rapped about it.

2) Why you gotta be shooting animals, Jay-Z?

3) Does Beyonce know about this? I feel like this could potentially endanger your relationship. I would keep it on the down-low.

4) How many dogs and cats were shot while you were moving snowflakes by the O.Z.?

Note: I really like Jay-Z, although in typical square fashion, my favorite albums are The Black Album, The Grey Album, his MTV Unplugged performance and his tracks on DJ Hero. Even my street credit is lame - sorry folks.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Inexplicable Video Game Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 4

Remember a couple entries back, when I was talking about how awesome the second and third Ninja Turtles games were for the NES? Well, imagine that excellent, but riding a cool skateboard and eating pizza, because like, that's how totally awesome the fourth Turtles game for the SNES is.

Quite frankly, it's one of the best games for the system, which is amazing since it came out in 1992. Although technically titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, my friends and I just called it Super Turtles. You see, this was a clever double meaning, in that it was the first Turtles game for the SUPER Nintendo, and because the quality was quite SUPER as well. Ha ha ha, aren't I so clever? (Yeah, I'm totally taking credit for it right now.)

Anyway. Besides some obvious technical enhancements, Super Turtles is vastly superior from a planning and layout perspective. Stages feature more thing to interact with, such as manholes, damage-causing traffic cones and exploding gas tanks. While regular enemies are still numerous, bosses feature a life bar, which makes it much more convenient to fight them; you know if you have enough life to fight conservatively or aggressively.

The four turtles each have different weapons and attacks, and slight differences in attack power. You can also now run and use shoulder tackles, and there are combo attacks allowing for throws (more points) and back-and-forth slams (splash damage on nearby enemies). This is in addition to the usual weapon attacks, a jump kick, a slow but strong jumping weapon attack, and a character-specific special attack.

Touching on the technical enhancements – This is by far the best version at capturing the spirit of the animated cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which is what most kids I knew liked about it. The music and sound effects are also spot-on, and heck, they even managed to cram in almost all of the relevant characters from the show. The time travel aspect of the storyline means there are some silly cutscenes that totally fit in with the flavor of the show.

They attempted a 3D remake for X-Box Live or Network, whatever it is called. Although I haven't played it, I've heard it's ass, so stick with the original. It ranges for $2 to $30 on eBay, depending on whether you want the box and manual. I wholeheartedly recommend it!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Down on the Farm with the Red Sox - June 27

Last month, I looked at some Red Sox players who would be called up in the event of injury. Since that day, Josh Reddick, Daniel Nava, Felix Doubront, Angel Sanchez and Dustin Richardson have indeed made their debuts with the big club because of the plague-level maladies suffered by the Sox. Frankly, if you see any more injuries at the Major League level (I'm looking in your direction, Victor Martinez), then you'll probably just see the Sox swing some minor cash deals to pave over holes. The only other option in the minors at this point is rushing prospects like Jose Iglesias, Casey Kelly and Lars Anderson.

With that in mind, and since we're near the all-star break, I thought I'd take a look at how the Red Sox preseason top prospects are doing now at their respective levels. I've noted where they were on the Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America lists to start the season.

Ryan Westmoreland, outfielder
Rankings: BP #1, BA #1
Current Level: None

Well, if you haven't heard of Westmoreland's struggles, I imagine that you're not a Red Sox fan. He was diagnosed with a tumor on his brain stem, and underwent an operation on it in March. While it appeared successful, the severity of the operation means there is no guarantees about his future in life, nevermind baseball. I'm hoping the best for him, and you can read more about his progress back in an excellent Providence Journal article here.

Casey Kelly, pitcher
Rankings: BP #2, BA #1
Current Level: Portland, AA

Kelly has been inconsistent so far this year, which is surprising, since he agreed to focus on pitching instead of being a two-way player this year. (In previous years, Kelly also played shortstop once he hit his innings cap for pitching.) His overall ERA is 5.05 in 14 starts. Control is the big problem - He has gone from walking 1.5 batters per nine innings to 3.31 per nine this year. He is also giving up twice at many home runs. While this is a hiccup in his performance, he is still just 20, and he has minimal experience on the mound.

Josh Reddick, outfielder
Rankings: BP #3, BA #3
Current Level: Pawtucket, AAA

Reddick has been up to Boston twice because of injuries, and didn't really impress much there. After a demotion on June 25, he returned to Pawtucket, and he's 1-for-7 in two games. That hit was a home run, so that's good at least. BP's Kevin Goldstein said that he has a case of big league-itis, and his yearly line at Pawtucket has borne that out - a .215 average in 219 at-bats, with a .268 OBP and .370 slugging. He needs a strong second half to be seen as anything more than a fourth outfielder / emergency call-up now, since the next guy is hot on his heels...

Ryan Kalish, outfielder
Rankings: BP #4, BA #5
Current Level: Pawtucket, AAA

Kalish has played his way up to Pawtucket with a torrid streak at Portland. Assuming he doesn't get sent done, in 150 at-bats Kalish hit .293, with a .404 OBP and slugged .527. He was promoted to Pawtucket on June 1, but he's hit only .211 in 11 games. It isn't really cause for alarm yet though, as he spent a couple weeks on the Triple A disabled list because of a hip flexor issue. While he still needs to prove himself in Pawtucket, if he hits like he did in Portland, he probably makes Ellsbury or J.D. Drew expendable.

Anthony Rizzo, first base
Rankings: BP #5, BA #8
Current Level: Portland, AA

Rizzo is currently at Portland, although I'm not entirely sure why. In 29 games and 117 at-bats with Salem, he could only manage a .248 average, and a decent but not great slugging of .479. Those numbers have plummeted in Portland, which is generally viewed as a pitcher's park, to a slash line of 244 / 288 / 406. To be a decent first base prospect, you have to mash the #%@! out of the ball, and Rizzo is currently like a powerless Adam Dunn at the plate. He's averaging a strikeout a game so far this year.

Jose Iglesias, shortstop
Rankings: BP #6, BA #9
Current Level: Portland, AA

The rap on Iglesias coming into this season was that while he was the second coming of Alex Gonzalez or Orlando Cabrera with the glove, his offense left a lot to be desire. He's doing the best to dispel concerns about his bat though, as he is smoking the ball at Portland. He's hitting .306, and while he only has five walks and no homers, the average alone makes him an asset at shortstop. If this list was redone, he'd probably be vying for the #1 prospect honor with Kalish. With Marco Scutaro hitting well in Boston and signed through 2011, Iglesias can be left in the minors for now to solidify his progress at the plate.

Junichi Tazawa, pitcher
Rankings: BP #7, BA #6
Current Level: None

Tazawa had Tommy John surgery on his arm before the season began, and thus, he won't pitch at all this year. His upside looked to be more of a #2 or #3 starter, not a dominant ace, so the surgery probably knocks him down a spot or two from that peak.

Michael Bowden, pitcher
Rankings: BP #8, BA NR
Current Level: Pawtucket

Remember Abe Alvarez? He was a finesse lefty who threw strikes for Pawtucket in three full seasons with them, but he only made one Major League start and four appearances. He was finally cut from Pawtucket in 2008, and he hasn't resurfaced since then. He was always on the fringe for an emergency start in Boston, but he didn't really have overpowering stuff. (Dear Michael Bowden: You might want to study up on ole Abe's career, and ask for your release as soon as you can. In a pitching-poor organization like Kansas City or Houston, you would have already made a dozen or so Major League starts by now.)

Lars Anderson, first base
Rankings: BP #9, BA #4
Current Level: Pawtucket

Anderson was seen as a great prospect following a 2008 season where he hit 317 / 417 / 517, but since then, some injuries in 2009 really hurt his prospect status. He has recovered a bit this year, hitting .355 in 17 games with Portland to force a promotion to Pawtucket. So far though, he hasn't been able to solve Triple A pitching, hitting just .210 in 51 games and 176 at-bats. On the plus side, he has drawn 21 walks, which has elevated his OBP to .307. Unfortunately, he's not hitting for much power, with a slugging of .358. While his prospect status has been revived this year, he needs to start hitting at Pawtucket to be seen as anything more than a bench bat.

Reymond Fuentes, center field
Rankings: BP #10, BA #7
Current Level: Greenville

Fuentes is essentially Ellsbury v2.0, although this doesn't necessarily mean he is an improvement on the original model. In his first full season, he's batting .273, but his OBP is only .325. He has just 10 walks in 227 at-bats, and a slugging of .396, so he needs to work on taking pitches to get something he can mash. His speed isn't in question though - He has 27 steals and has only been caught once. Assuming he can maintain his average as he moves up the chain, he projects as an average center fielder because of his insane stolen base ability, which is what Ellsbury is now as well.

Derrik Gibson, second / short
Rankings: BP #11, BA #10
Current Level: Greenville

In 2008 and 2009, Gibson flashed an extreme eye, with more than 100 points of on-base solely from walks. That has dissipated a bit though in Greenville, as (I'm assuming) pitchers challenge him directly more. As a result, he's still hitting for little average (.239) without the walks to inflate his OBP (.308). He still isn't hitting for any power, as his slugging is a paltry .307, so it looks like he'll be stuck with the Drive until he can hit some of his own. (Ha ha, see what I did there? Priceless, I know.)

David Renfroe, pitcher / third
Rankings: BP #12, BA NR
Current Level: Lowell

Renfroe's first professional season is this year, and so far, it has been rough for the righty at the plate. He's only played nine games and has just 36 at-bats, and only has seven hits and 11 strikeouts. None of the hits have been for extra bases, which is a bit of a disappointment, considering that Renfroe is listed at 6'3" and 200 pounds. He was a high school pitching prospect as well, so there is some who think he might also give that a go, but so far he's only played in the field. Small sample size applies, but so far, Renfroe isn't doing much to prove he deserved the big bonus he got to sign for the Sox.

Alex Wilson, pitcher
Rankings: BP #13, BA NR
Current Level: Portland

Although he's only in his second professional season, Wilson is already at Portland because he's 23 and dominated Salem earlier this year. In 11 starts and 55 innings there, he struck out 50 and only walked 15. While Prospectus thinks his future is as a reliever, the Sox are letting him start for now. He needs to build on his success at Salem with Portland. His overall line of a 6.28 ERA is deceptive - He got shelled for seven runs in his first start, but in his two starts since then, he's given up three earned runs in 11 innings. Stamina is definitely a concern, since he didn't make it past the sixth in either start.

Stolmy Pimental, pitcher
Rankings: BP #14, BA NR
Current Level: Salem

Pimental hasn't excelled so far this year, continuing a trend of disappointing performances as he has moved up the Red Sox chain. He has gone from a 2.90 ERA in 2007 to 3.14 in 2008, 3.82 in 2009 and 4.54 this year. His strikeout rate has fell and walk rate risen along the way, suggesting that he's no longer a starting pitching prospect without a significant breakout.

Che-Hsuan Lin, left field
Rankings: BP #15, BA NR
Current Level: Portland

Speaking of continuing trends, Lin still isn't hitting for nearly enough power in the minors to be seen as a viable corner outfielder in the majors. While his on-base is 100 points higher than his average (.261 vs. .366) thanks to a good batting eye, his slugging is a paltry .310. He either needs to move to shortstop or bat .300 to be a viable option in the majors. Lin doesn't add enough on the basepaths (seven steals vs. nine caught stealing) to make up for his lack of power in a corner, especially with Kalish ahead of him on the depth chart.

The old prospector photo is from here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

At The Commercials: This girl looks kind of like Christina Ricci.

Just a quickie today, but doesn't the girl in this ad look sort of like Christina Ricci? Straight down to the massive forehead, and large... um, personality. The commercial itself is kind of funny too, which is a bit of a rarity from a generic chain like Lowe's. I especially like the part with the garage door opener.

Lowe's other commercials leave a bit to be desired, although I must say that they are quite good at casting "obtainable hot" chicks in them. They have this one with a tall, bespectacled redhead. She's cute, and the commercial is mildly funny, if a bit annoying toward the end. There is another one with a cute mom and clerk finding the mom's daughter a purple shade to paint her room. This one confuses me a bit though - The mom is freaking out a bit about the daughter wanting to paint her room that color, but it looks like a normal shade of purple to me. Why all the frontin', mom?

Friday, June 25, 2010

More on the intricacies of basketball strategy, or, eff convention

In the past, using my experience as an impartial scorer and scoreboard operator for some local basketball contests, I've advocated a "feed the best player no matter what" strategy. Quite frankly, bizarre basketball strategies intrigue the heck out of me, since I believe the game is based far too much on a rigid sort of "play the right way" philosophy that minimizes most teams' chances to win.

Therefore, I eagerly devoured a story from Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker that I just stumbled upon tonight. Basically, if a bad basketball team wants to win, it should press constantly, and especially the inbounds pass. (Note: This is a long read, but if you have an interest in basketball, military strategy or just good writing, then it is worth it.)

Gladwell's interviews backup a hunch I've had for a while - The press is the best defensive basketball strategy. Like Rick Pitino's story in the article, I've also seen David almost upset Goliath, although on a much, much smaller scale. When I was 10 or 11, the best player on my rec team fouled out, and we were down by 15 points with about six minutes to play. We were one of the better teams in the league, strictly because of him, so the chances of us winning were really bad. (How good was he? I was probably the second-best player, and I averaged something like six points a game. Yeah, I was a stat nerd even back then. On the plus side, I had more than 10 boards a game, I'd guess.)

Because the best player had fouled out, our coach basically decided to just let us play the rest of the game, so it was me and four bench players doing a full-court press. Lo and behold, we rapidly got back in the game, and probably could have won if not for the clock running out on us. I ended up with 18 points, pretty much all on putbacks and lay-ups after he had fouled out. (It remains a high for me in any game where score was kept. So ends Steve Greenwell Recreational Basketball Glory Days Storytime.)

So yes - Pressing for the entire game instinctively makes sense to me as a winning basketball strategy. On the college level, Division III school Grinnell uses a variation of what is described in the article. This eHow article provides a pretty good rundown of it, and Grinnell has used that to compile 73-46 record the past five years, even though 1) they don't recruit great basketball players and 2) everyone knows what they're going to run.

However, even Grinnell's methods leave something to be desired. First, they don't really play conventional defense - If someone beats their press, they've content to let them get a layup. Grinnell doesn't really try to create the Rush, as Pitino's teams try to do; Grinnell is playing its own game altogether and doesn't give a shit if you score, because frankly, you're just getting in the way.

Second, Grinnell teams work in shifts regardless of player quality. Pitino doesn't play all of his guys equally - He worked the hell out of his better players like Sosa and Antoine Walker. Yeah, because you play a certain style, it means that you won't get the elite basketball players looking to showcase their skills. (I was shocked that only one Pitino player, the aforementioned Walker, had made an all-star team, but that made sense.) However, this doesn't mean that you should be happy with inferior players taking shots away from more efficient options.

How would this translate to the high school level? I imagine that a coach in a weaker league, such as Rhode Island, could dominate the competition by just pressing all the time. Except in rare instances, most of the state does not have Division I basketball prospects, so pretty much all the teams have guards that would be rattled and worn down by a constant press. Personally, I'd love to try it out at some point, but I don't really have the means or ability to be a basketball coach at any level right now. Something to shoot for when I'm older, perhaps.

For an exhaustive description of Pitino's press, and a lot of other basketball strategy, check out this site. The rec basketball photo is from here, and before anyone asks, sorry, it isn't me. It is just a random Google Images thing.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I don't give an eff if you're not watching the World Cup.

See? The World Cup brings people together.

As the title of this entry implies, I have a bit of an issue with some sports fans. Namely, people who are proud that they're not watching a sporting event that billions of people across the world watch.

Now, I'm not a huge soccer fan. Outside of the World Cup, the only time I catch a game is when literally nothing else is on television. I like the peaceful noise in the background, assuming those blasted vuvuzela aren't involved, that a soccer game provides. Do I think it's the world's greatest television sport? Not especially.

However, I don't understand the knee-jerk, deeply rooted hate some people have for soccer and the World Cup. Yes, ESPN is running a lot of publicity for it. Summer just started folks, so if you're not into the World Cup, your other "summer storylines" are baseball, Lebron and Wimbledon. I don't think its fair to slam ESPN for covering the heck out of the World Cup, since it is the biggest event going and appeals to many casual sports fans in the same way the Olympics do.

On my way to work today, all the morning show guys on WEEI wanted to do was complain about soccer. Listen, I can understand that some people just don't like the game. As I previously said, I'm not the biggest soccer fan in the world. I don't understand the desire for others who allegedly hate the game to spend vital radio time making unfunny jokes about it. (Between this and the constant politics talk on Dennis and Callahan, I mostly listen to music in the mornings instead of WEEI.)

The thing I find oddest about this is that the hosts and callers seemed proud to really, really hate soccer. I dislike carrots and Sex and the City - It's not like I take a deep pride in ether. They're just facts. They also mentioned their extreme dislike of the metric system, which always seemed to me like a perfectly reasonable system, so maybe I'm just not enough of a xenophobe.

If you don't like soccer, stop spending hours lecturing your audience about why they shouldn't like it. Instead, talk about something you do enjoy - It's not like the Boston sports landscape lacks interesting topics to talk about, between the Celtics recently losing in the NBA finals and their uncertain roster situation, the Red Sox surging, and the Patriots' uncertain contract situations in Brady and Logan Mankins.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Inexplicable Movie Review: Clue

I touched upon this briefly with my Chevy Chase entry yesterday, and the lovely Sadako from Dibbly Fresh offered some support for my opinion, but I'm a big fan of the movie Clue. Released in 1985 to little fanfare, a surprisingly good cast headlined by Christopher Lloyd (Professor Plum), Martin Mull (Colonel Mustard), Michael McKean (Mr. Green) and Tim Curry (the butler) spices up the proceedings.

The plot of the movie is based vaguely on the popular board game. All the characters and weapons from the game are in the movie, with the additions of a butler, a foxy maid, a cook, a cop, a singing telegram, and the characters' host, Mr. Body. Of course, the game is just a game, so the movie invents the idea that they're all being blackmailed for various misdeeds by Mr. Body.

These misdeeds range from the heinous to the silly and funny. Specifically, Mr. Green is being blackmailed because he's gay, which lends itself well to several 1980s style jokes. The plot itself is very contrived, as seemingly everybody is connected to everyone else like it's a god damn Agatha Christie novel, but the strong work of the actors keeps things fun.

However, a gimmick no doubt killed the film at the box office. See, the creators had the great idea of giving the film three different endings, with only one being the “real” ending. Therefore, to fully experience the film, you'd have to watch it three times. However, the only difference between the broadcasts was the five to 10 minute ending segment, meaning you'd pay three times for 15 to 30 minutes of extra content. (In 1985 dollars, this was about $12, but still, time is money!)

This “special feature” probably hurt the film's take, but it gives Clue an odd, campy sort of replay value. In VHS, DVD and television airings, all three endings are now tacked on at the end and differentiated by cue cards. I first saw the movie on Comedy Central around the turn of the century, when DVDs were still sort of rare. As a result, every time it came on I felt like I was watching something special and different. For similar reasons, I loved when Hulk Hogan broke the fourth wall in Gremlins 2 and shouted at them to resume the movie. (Also, Hulk Hogan is cool, brother!)

The Clue movie picture comes from this pretty good blog about... Only Good Movies. The Hulkster picture is from this blog reviewing American Gladiators.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

NXT doesn't suck just yet! And Fatal Four-Way thoughts.

At the end of last night's Raw, it looked like the three-week NXT angle was in danger of jumping the shark. Vince McMahon was laughing in the ring with the seven wrestlers, triumphant in orchestrating yet another double-cross on one of his long-time enemies, Bret Hart. Frankly, McMahon as the ringleader of the group would have been trite and expected for his character.

Luckily though, the angle didn't end there. McMahon's laughter faded into nervous energy, and then, he was flattened by the crew he thought he controlled. I loved this part, as it established that the NXT wrestlers were going to play by their own rules, as opposed to McMahon's. They are currently being portrayed as a rogue faction in the WWE, one that can't be trusted, which I think is the right role for them to play. The next step will be getting them involved in some actual matches, as opposed to just eight-on-one beatdowns of wrestlers and ring personnel.

Raw saved what was a pretty lackluster fatal fourway PPV on Sunday night. While most of the undercard matches were good, the two main events left a lot to be desired. The Smackdown fatal four ended with Rey Mysterio as champion, which is a pretty lackluster result. I don't think most people take him seriously as a champion, not in a match that also had Big Show and CM Punk, both better choices for the belt.

I actually liked the ending of the Raw fatal four, with Sheamus getting a lucky victory out of the match. It would have been better booking for Edge to win that way, but hey, Sheamus has shown himself to be an opportunist in the past, and willing to cheat to get ahead. The match itself ran too short though, considering there wasn't a match over 15 minutes on the entire card, if I recall correctly.

Touching again on the undercard, The Miz was incredible with his rap slamming R-Truth, and his mannerisms throughout the match. He then got into it with Randy Orton the next night, which was awesome, although it only seemed to serve as a way to further the angle between Orton and Edge. Drew McIntyre also had a good match with Kofi Kingston, even if it was a rare reverse screw job on a heel.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hey, Chevy Chase used to be funny!

Insert obvious joke about Chevy's career.

Since he's now been relegated to a minor supporting character on Community, it's easy to forget that Chevy Chase was once funny. Heck, all of his best work - Caddyshack, Fletch, Saturday Night Live - came out either well before or near my birth date in 1984. (I'll wait for some of you to come back from hanging yourselves.)

His demotion isn't exactly undeserved. Even on Community, his character has seemingly been scaled back because he simply isn't as funny as the younger comedians. Because he kind of looks the same, it's easy to forget that he's 66, and that a lot of his former SNL co-stars either work reduced schedules (Bill Murray) or are similarly damaged by drugs (Garrett Morris) or are dead (Belushi). Chase simply surviving to this point, given his immense cocaine problems in the past, is surprising.

However, I recently stumbled across the old Chevy Chase NBC specials on the Internets, and it is amazing how much of a fastball he had then. From 1975 and 1977, there is a dry sort of humor that is well ahead of its time. There is stilted, awkward dialogue, the sort of which Adult Swim and Space Ghost and Archer would use 30 years later, along with traditional sketches. The drug humor is also far toned down from the first season of SNL. (People tend to deify that first season, but for every great Samurai Delicatessen sketch, there is one where everyone is loaded and slurring through their lines.)

I'm guessing the specials are so good because there are only three of them. Heck, even Charlie Murphy was great for two episodes of Chappelle's Show. Without Dave and Neil Brennan editing? Eh, not so much. The specials give a glimpse at Chevy's incredible talents, and it is just a shame so much of it vanished up his nostrils.

On an unrelated note, the specials also have a really, really young and hipster Martin Mull in them. It's hard to imagine him as an actual comedian now, given all of his supporting roles - he has been in 111 freakin' things! I'll always remember him as Col. Mustard from the Clue movie though, which only I seemed to love.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Buy My Crap: Ring of Hell an ineffective hit piece

In the bookstore last week, I was initially intrigued by Ring of Hell. By Matthew Randazzo V, it billed itself as an authoratative look at the sadistic business of pro wrestling, and what led to the downfall of "The Crippler" Chris Benoit. I flipped through it a bit at Barnes and Nobles, and since it was only $12, I took the plunge.

However, actually reading the book reveals it to be a pretty sub-par hit piece. Randazzo's background is as a true crime writer and historian, according to his Wiki page and the back of Ring of Hell, but the book is long on hyperbole and short on original reporting and facts.

I know this because I'm a wrestling geek. I'd estimate that 60 to 75 percent of the information in the book is recycled and slanted from other sources. This includes shoot interviews with Kevin Sullivan and Kevin Nash, information from Chris Jericho's much better book Around The World In Spandex, and various dirt sheet publications and books. Frankly, all of these individual sources of information are better than Randazzo's collection.

The main problem stems from his point of view and writing style, which oozes off of every page. Randazzo clearly detests the wrestling business. Now, this doesn't necessarily prevent him from writing a great wrestling book, but he injects the personal opinion into every paragraph. As a result, the entire text reads like an angry pulpit delivered by a preacher as opposed to well-researched material.

Frankly, the facts of the case speak for themselves. Benoit was a loner who was so obsessed with making it in professional wrestling, and so addled by concussions and other brain damage, that he never scaled back his own steroid usage despite watching his idols be turned into monsters and corpses. All of that is indisputable from the factual record, therefore, you don't need to embellish and demonize the wrestling business on every page.

Randazzo also has a severe problem with sourcing. At various points, he attacks Nash and Bobby Heenan, only to later rely on them as information sources. If you're going to tear at someone for being dishonest, it seems silly to then turnaround and use them as a source five pages later. Also, because of my knowledge of the source material, I know that Randazzo is picking and choosing what parts to use in his own text. He has no problems quoting Nash about drug usage, but then rips him apart for his booking, without any defense from Nash.

The book is at its best when it simply reports as opposed to moralizing. For example, it points out that Benoit was using steroids since he was 17 or 18, and it also detailed his path through the Hart Dungeon, Stampede Wrestling and New Japan before ending up in WCW and the WWF. All of this I found interesting, and it would have been better if I didn't have to pick at the good parts through seething hate.

With all that in mind... If you want to buy my copy, it is up on The entry is here. Like with my past auctions, if you win, I'll throw in something small and silly as a bonus.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Belatedly Liking Stuff: "Yeah Yeah Yeah" by New Politics

I never quite know when new music comes out. For example, I heard the above song on our local alternative rock radio station, WBRU, late last night when I was coming home from the newspaper. It is by New Politics, and it is called "Yeah Yeah Yeah", which strikes me as a bit of a silly idea given the immensely popular band of the same name. (By the way, Karen O? I'd hit it.)

Suffice to say, if I'm writing about the band, you can guess that I'm a fan. "Yeah Yeah Yeah" has a sort of raw, loud energy that reminds me some of the bands I liked as a kid and teenager. You know, kind of like The Strokes or early Everclear, before they realized they could make $80 billion doing stuff like "Father of Mine".

Poking around the Internet, it seems like the single was just released in May, and they don't have a full album out yet. I typically worry that when I talk about a band I've recently started liking, it can be way after the fact that they actually started becoming popular. For example, Vampire Weekend has multiple albums out, but I wrote about them in February 2010 oblivious to this fact.

Therefore, let me recommend New Politics before they become super-duper popular. Heck, that video only has about 13,000 views on YouTube, which is several million short of what it should have. It's the pretty standard "low budget" video, with just the band singing in a room, but it works for the gritty rawness of the song. Check it out, fools! (And p.s., treat your mother right.)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Inexplicable Movie Review: Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead

One of the first women I ever recall being attractive was Christina Applegate. However, it wasn't from her inspired performance as a dumb blonde on the Ed O'Neill vehicle Married With Children. Nope - I remember her from the cinematic classic Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead.

According to the release date, I was seven when the movie came out in June of 1991. I know I didn't see it in theaters though, so I was more likely in the eight to 10-year-old range.

(Note to any kids reading this in 2020: Back in the day, we had these blocky things called "tapes", which were played by a boxy black thing called a "VCR". Don't ask what VCR stood for, because nobody knew. Anyway, how your parents acquired new movies was via having two old VCRs, and then while one tape played, you used the other VCR with a blank tape to record. Normally, you rented the tape from Stop & Shop... Yeah, they rented movies back in the day, well, them and Almacs. What's Almacs? ... nevermind, I'm sorry I started this whole aside.)

Anyway, Don't Tell Mom starred Applegate as Sue Ellen Crandall, and as you can imagine from the title, a babysitter does die in the film. However, from the title and the beautiful Applegate's presence, you'd think it was some sort of silly teen slasher. Not true! It is instead more of a 1980s "we left the kids alone!" neglect film. Imagine Home Alone without the violence, or a 1980s film teenager film where you actually see the parents a bit.

Specifically, Sue Ellen's mom is in the film for about five minutes. Sue Ellen just wants to veg out and tan in the warm summer months of California, but mom leaves her and the rest of her kids with the world's bitchiest babysitter for two months. Mom is going to Australia for some reason. In true 1980s / 1990s movie fashion, it isn't really explained how a single mom with five kids is able to take off the Australia for a couple months, and on top of that, how she can also afford to leave a big wad of cash with the babysitter. Also, for what it's worth, the babysitter dies in her sleep in the first 20 minutes. The kids leave her body in a trunk at a cemetery with a note attached: "Nice old lady inside. Died of natural causes."

The rest of the family is a hodgepodge of stereotypes. Kenny is a heavy metal loving stoner of an indeterminable age, 15-ish Zach loves the ladies, 13-ish Melissa is a tomboy and young kid Walter loves game shows. Kenny and Sue Ellen (who is billed as 17) get the majority of the screen time though.

Don't Tell Mom isn't actually a good movie, but it is good in the way that The Wizard is good. It is shameless and unapologetic 1990s fluff, straight down to the generic clown fast food restaurant that Sue Ellen is forced to work at to make ends meet. She goes from this to being able to bluff her way to a fashion job, based on her forging the resume of a fashion executive. (One confusing aspect of this plotline: If you were a fashion executive, wouldn't you just take one look at Christina Applegate and go, "Hey, maybe you should give the modeling thing a try!")

Of course, since Sue Ellen is living a lie, this results in 1) a funny transition period and 2) a conniving co-worker catching her in the lie and 3) a final scene where she succeeds wildly anyway, but is busted and forced to come clean. All of this happens, and oddly enough, David Duchovny [right] is involved in one of his first roles as a lecherous sort of advertising executive, or some made-up bullshit like that. Go figure.

Again, none of this is high cinema. However, it is a great flick, and Christina Applegate sure does look hot in it, and there is a fashion show at the end that also features some other good-looking friends of hers. So, yeah, the movie has that going for it too, which is nice.

The Almacs photo come from this excellent site, which has a bunch of info about the old Rhode Island chain. The top photo comes from an Entertainment Weekly slideshow thingy on the best movie titles.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hey, that's my car! ... wait no it's not...

I drive a white 1998 Corolla. Usually, this is a good thing to me. It gets really good gas mileage, and while the top (practical) speed is "only" 85 to 100 miles per hour, the car is so light that it easily accelerates and zips around on a good weather day. The maintenance and repair costs tend to be low as well, since everyone is so familiar with the car and there are plenty of new and used parts for it floating around.

However, there are also 500 billion of my car floating around. In fact, today, I almost broke into a car, because I didn't realize until I was touching the door that it was not my car. Then, I drifted to another car in the lot, before realizing that wait, that wasn't my car either - I had parked another row down.

I have not done a scientific survey yet, but I feel pretty confident when I say that the late 1990s and early 2000s Corolla is the most god damn popular car of all-time. (Example: One time I went to Wal-Mart, and I parked between two white Corollas. I'm hoping that the first person who came back noted how tricky I was, but it's not like I hung out and waited for them.) Also, since Corollas almost never break down, there are still plenty of them on the road. Plus, there are tons of Chevy / Geo Prisms still out there, which are essentially clones of the Corolla.

Therefore, this is not the first time I have felt a touch of amnesia from not being able to find my own car. It has happened a couple times before, even though 1) I have a huge crack in my windshield and 2) there are several newspaper loads on my backseat. You would think both would make my car easily distinguishable, but no - I never realize I have both until I'm practically upon my car.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

That's Entertainment - Rolling Stone and other best of lists

I'll cop to something right here and now - I love lists, especially when it comes to music. There is something about them that makes me want to download and experience the music involved, whether they be super official or on my friend's blogs. In fact, if you're looking for some good indie music lists, I recommend checking out Cousin Brandon's Mr. Hipster Blog (he also loves to talk about LOST), or 500 Rad Records, run by my friends RM Cresser and Pat Aguiar.

My taste generally runs a lot simpler than theirs - I go for cheesy power chords, melodies and just flat out heavy noise. I also like a ton of bad music that would be banned by anyone with a modicum of taste, like Limp Bizkit, Ke$ha, Paramore and The All-American Rejects. As a result, I've always been a big fan of the various lists done by Rolling Stone, since they generally contour to the generally margins of my acceptable taste.

The only place I generally don't overlap with them tends to be the artists documented as Jann Wenner's pet favorites from the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, I think a lot of the music from that generation tends to be overrated and beloved because of the inebriated nature of the listeners.

Regardless, I took a spin with their list of the 500 greatest songs as of December 2004, and found plenty of gems I had never heard before. For example, the title of this entry and the video linked at the top is "That's Entertainment" by The Jam, a solid British band. Other songs I "discovered" or remembered to get my hands on included:

"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by The Beatles
"Maggie May" by Rod Stewart
"I've Been Loving You Too Long" by Otis Redding
"Anarchy in the U.K." and "God Save The Queen" by The Sex Pistols
"Bring the Noise" by Public Enemy
"Higher and Higher" by Jackie Wilson
"Alison" by Elvis Costello
"Complete Control" by The Clash
"I'm Waiting For The Man" by The Velvet Underground

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

NXT angle kinda, sorta continued on Raw

I was a bit disappointed with Monday night Raw's follow-up on last week's absolutely insane beatdown of John Cena by the NXT wrestlers. While the beatdown was addressed by pretty much anyone of significance on the roster, I thought some aspects of the response went too against character.

There were two big physical spots involving the NXT crew, after their initial microphone spot. First, when John Cena was in the ring addressing them, they came in from the crowd again, only to be fought off by most of the Raw roster. This also involved Seamus with a steel pipe, and he later explained that he didn't want some interlopers coming in and preventing him from beating Cena himself.

This explanation felt very “meh” to me. Seamus suddenly cares about fair play? The previous couple of months, he had been kicking people in the face after matches. I think the angle could have been just as effective without him or Randy Orton, a face or tweener with an edge, involved at all. I also thought that the NXT guys looked like punks when they ran from the ring, being chased through the back by... Santino, of all people? Ick.

However, the conclusion of the show was again very strong. The action abruptly cut from the in-ring stuff to GM Bret Hart being kidnapped and put in the back of a limo, which repeatedly crashed on purpose, in an attempt to get Hart to change his mind about firing all of the NXT guys. These actual crashes were somewhat lame, but the menacing NXT wrestlers hovering around the limo and the abruptness of it all made it work, much like the previous week's invasion.

Also, addressing the "firing" of Daniel Bryan / Bryan Danielson - I definitely think it will be revealed as a work. Although Wade Barrett is officially recognized as the leader of the NXT guys, Danielson is the guy most over with fans. Therefore, I think he re-signs with the WWE, and somewhat brilliantly, his firing will only make him more popular with anti-Cena and anti-WWE fans. The WWE can be stupid with its decision-making at times, but it would shock me if Danielson wasn't back sooner rather than later.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Two very Good Guys spice up Monday nights

Remember Colin Hanks? I kind of do. Besides being the spawn of one of the greatest movie actors of the past 30 years, Colin also had a pretty good performance in Orange County, an MTV Films produced movie that was about a kid rejected from Stanford due to a screw-up by his brother (Jack Black).

(Note: While MTV the Network has gone to shit, MTV Films is a shockingly respectable company. You can check out the full list here, but the highlights include Jackass, Murderball, Coach Carter, Napoleon Dynamite, 200 Cigarettes and Varisty Blues. A lot of their films are clearly meant as popcorn flicks or cheap grabs at the teen audience, but even then they're simply better made than much of the other crap that gets shoveled to theaters.)

After Orange County, Colin laid low... Actually, that's a bit of an embellishment on my part. He had minor roles and starring roles in 20 other productions, but I haven't heard of most of them except Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny, which I was scared off from seeing because of the horrible reviews. However, I'm glad Colin laid low because he is now starring in The Good Guys, a buddy cop drama / comedy airing Monday nights (tonight!) on FOX.

Set in Dallas, the show follows Jack Bailey (Hanks), a cop that is so straight-laced and conservative that he offends everyone else in the department. He is stuck on the minor crimes beat because he is such a by-the-book snob. Of course, he is partnered with Dan Stark (Bradley Whitford; the Internet tells me he was the mild dude on The West Wing), which is funny because they're completely different! (Thanks to Joel McHale for the assist on that one.) There is also a cute DA, played by Jenny Wade [right], that is the ex of Jack.

Yeah, the premise has been done a million times before. But imagine The Good Guys as a successful version of the Starsky and Hutch remake. Jack is the anchor of the show, as his persona lends itself easily to being tweaked by Dan, who is nearly incompetent. Examples: He has a deranged fear of computers, as one point threatening to kick a laptop while interrogating it, and also suggesting that they ask people on the street to identify a random phone number instead of using Reverse Look-Up. Dan's main investigative methods consist of sleeping with ladies and getting drunk. “This is called good cop, drunk cop... You're the good cop.”

None of this is high concept. But as a summer show, it fits the bill pretty well. Check it out when its on tonight at 9 p.m. Last week's episode is also shown tonight at 10 p.m. on FX.

The Good Guys logo is from here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Baseball Prospects: Sometimes I'm smart!

At this time two weeks ago, I was looking at some Red Sox prospects that could be called up. While I was initially off on Josh Reddick - he got called up for a short stint - I was correct in assuming that Daniel Nava would be up if another outfielder got hurt for the Red Sox.

Jeremy Hermida fractured his ribs in the outfield collision with Adrian Beltre the other week, so the Sox called up Nava to take his place, after a short stint from Reddick. (For what it's worth, Reddick played in five games and got two hits in 11 at-bats, so he's not really ready for prime time. Likewise, Boof Bonser has sucked with the Red Sox as much as he did with the Pawsox.) Nava has done a bit better in his first impression, smacking a grand slam in his first Major League at-bat Saturday, and following it up with another two hits today.

The freaky thing about Nava was his pre-game interview with Sox radio announcer Joe Castiglione, which I heard in my car yesterday afternoon. As the interview was ending, Joe told him to swing at the first pitch he saw and knock it out of the park. In the second inning, Nava came up with the bases loaded, swung at the first pitch he saw, and launched it into the bleachers!

I'm hoping his other goal comes true soon - Nava always leaves a ticket at the box office for Erin Andrews of ESPN. He originally did it one day while he was playing with the Pawtucket Red Sox, as a bit of a joke, and he and his teammates have kept up with it ever since. Since it sounds like he might actually get to meet her now, the strategy has paid off quite well for him.

As far as Nava's chances of sticking in the big leagues, they seem pretty slim. Once Hermida or Jacoby Ellsbury gets healthy, the Sox have to make a roster decision between Darnell McDonald and Nava. McDonald has the inside track, since he can also play center, and also because he's out of options. The Sox can send Nava back to the minors without having to put him on waivers, I believe. So, if Nava wants to stick in the majors, he needs to continue smacking the snot out of the ball. I hope he does so, since other aspects of his background, like getting cut from his college and independent ball teams, make for a great story.

The Nava pic is from WEEI.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Inexplicable Video Game Review: Mega Man Soccer

In honor of the World Cup and my love for retro junk, let's talk about Mega Man Soccer. Back in the 1990s, Capcom was basically known for two things - Mega Man and Street Fighter 2. They also had some minor successes, such as the Breath of Fire series, Final Fight, a bunch of fun Disney adaptations, and Ghouls and Ghosts.

Notice that there was not a sports game on that list, nevermind a soccer game. Yet for some reason, when Capcom thought of ways to spin off the Mega Man series, they somehow settled on soccer, of all things. This seems especially odd given that the game isn't that popular in North America or Japan, as compared to other sports. Why not Mega Man Baseball or Mega Man Football? In both of those games, having robot players would have a much greater effect.

Anyway, there are several fundamental problems with Mega Man Soccer. First and foremost, the soccer action really sucks. It's almost impossible to dribble any significant length of the field, which is also truncated as compared to a regular soccer field. The regular shots also suck, and it's impossible to score unless you do it on a rebound.

There is little difference between the robot players, except that they have different special power-up shots that you can use. For each team you beat, you get access to a player, which gives you more special shots and makes things easier. However, the game is pretty easy anyway, since you can go up by a goal and easily play keep-away the rest of the match.

Frankly, Mega Man Soccer sucks. However, because it sucked, it didn't sell that many copies, but because it's got Mega Man in the name, some people still want to play it. Therefore, it sells for $20 to $100 on eBay! Speaking as someone who has played and beat the game, its actual value is about $2.50, as any of the FIFA games for the SNES are far better.

Visit my friend Mike for comprehensive World Cup coverage

I'll have an actual entry later tonight, and I might actually blog about soccer, depending on the outcome of the game today between England and the United States. However, if you are looking for some timely, good write-ups on most of the games, check out my friend Mike's blog here. He's a sophomore at URI, and a sports writer, and he's doing a pretty good cup covering all of the various games so far.

Also, because I really like the game, here is a picture of Nintendo World Cup.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Following up on Glee

My entry the other night on Glee brought up some questions and remarks from Danielle and Amber, so I thought I'd elaborate some more. (And as a note, I totally mix up the names of the teams all the time. I just know them as Will's Glee Club and Vocal Adrenaline, who I compare to the Russians in the Miracle on Ice, or in Rocky IV.)

Regarding Sue, I find her outburst of support for the kids out-of-character because it wasn't hinted at more throughout the season. There could have been a more gradual softening than her voting for Will's Club, and granting them the practice space for another year. I think the only times they hinted that she had a heart this season were 1) her relationships with the mentally-challenged sister and Cheerio and 2) when she was rejected by Will and the newscaster.

I find Rachel and Finn a bit boring and implausible, just because of how much they've gone through during the season. I don't think there is a ton of chemistry between Monteith and Michele in their scenes together, so ideally, I think it would be better if they got new beaus.

As far as Journey goes, heck, I love Journey. However, they definitely feel a bit effed out now, between The Sopranos ending, the beginning of the Glee season, and their constant presence at every college party I ever went to. I was looking forward to a funkified finale, but instead I got Journey. boooooo.

Glee can be cheesy, yes. But typically, it skews toward cheesy when it comes to the numbers and format, and not so much the interpersonal relationships. I just felt like it all resolved itself a bit too neatly in the final episode. The birth scenes were awesome, but having Rachel's mom adopt Beth seemed like a convoluted way to keep her involved with the show.

As far as Mercedes and Quinn go... meh. Yeah, I guess you can say their feelings for one another crested with the pregnancy song and dance the previous episode, but even then, it felt more like a meeting of the minds as opposed to a lasting friendship. Like Rachel's mom, it felt like a convenient bow so that people wouldn't be asking, "Hey where the heck is Quinn going to live?" If anything, I'd prefer for her to strike it out on her own, except that I can't remember how old she is on the show.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Random make-up linkage

I don't really know why my entries aren't posting properly lately. If I had to guess, I would say gremlins, since they ask pesky creatures. Ruining movie openings, eating after midnights, ripping up wings of airplanes... You just can't trust the filthy vermin.

Anyway, as a result, I'll just link to a WWTDD story about my gal Jennifer Love Hewitt. Now, if she was actually in Wonder Woman, it would be the first time I actually watched something with Jennifer Love Hewitt in it. I didn't watch Party of Five, I don't watch The Ghost Whisperer, and I've never seen any of her horrible movies or listened to any of her music.

But... Beyond the incredible looks, she just strikes me as a nice person. She's old enough that she seems to have missed the "hey let's become big huge sluts!" generation of Hollywood, and although I'm still upset that she let Jamie Kennedy toss it into her, it does show that she's not that hung up on looks.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A sweet and sour Glee finale

So, we've reached the end of the Glee journey for this year. The final episode was a mixture of good and bad, or sweet and sour, to me. Imma break out the good ole bullet list for this, just like a good ole weekend newspaper columnist...

- I liked that New Horizons didn't win, or even place, at regionals. The cheap cop-out to the season would have been to have them win, so I was glad the show didn't take that step. It definitely would have neutered future seasons, giving them one less overall goal to go after, and necessitating more "omg drama!" storylines.

- That being said, I thought Sue Sylvester voting for them to win, and getting them another year, was a bit against character. However, the show pulled it off the best they could, by having the other three judges go even more pompous than her. Nice cameo usage of Olivia Newton-John, Josh Groban and the other dude, too. Also, unlike some on the Internet, I do think that Sue read the right winners off the card.

- I found Vocal Adrenaline's performance kind of lame. And also, wasn't the plan for New Horizons to do a funk number in regionals? That just happened last episode! I don't even think it was acknowledged that they were dropping it, just that Will's love for Journey would mean that they'd be doing that instead. Ultimately, it was probably a good choice, but still.

- Regarding the whole Quinn pregnancy angle, a lot of it was pretty unrealistic. So, Rachel's mom is adopting the baby? That's convenient. As was Quinn's mom dumping the dad and showing up just in time for regionals. As was, heck, the whole sudden BFF relationship between Quinn and Mercedes. Was I just not paying attention throughout the season, or were all of these sudden developments? However, a lot of the delivery room scenes were pretty humorous.

- I did like that Quinn and Puck seemed to bond a bit with the birth, and that Quinn still had the courage to go through with the adoption anyway. Again, the "cheap happy" route would have been for Quinn to keep the baby.


- Finally, Will and Emma. I've gone from being a big fan of them getting together to being quite "meh" on the whole thing. I think Will came off more as Psycho Ex in the finale than actually a good dude. I don't really think that they match up particularly well in terms of actual personality, even if it does seem like it should work on paper. I contrast the whole thing to Community, where the writers saw that the leads didn't actually have much romantic chemistry, so they decided to audible the whole thing in the finale. Glee needs this sort of audible too, with Will either hooking up with Rachel's mom or a yet-to-be-introduced character that he connects better with. (Rachel and Finn have the same problem, but to a lesser extent.)

Anyway. Despite my nitpicking, I thought this was a solid but unspectacular finish, which is perfectly reasonable for an ending. It was still miles better than the finale of Modern Family, which is appreciated.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Inexplicable Video Game Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Two well-received entries that I've done lately have been on the NES and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Well, what could be better than COMBINING the two to create a bastard child of awesomeness? Practically nothing, I say!

- Firstly, the initial Turtles game is already covered pretty well on the web by the Angry Video Game Nerd. You can watch his video here. It was one of the first games I ever owned, and while I thought it was OK, it has a punishing difficulty level because of the poor play control.

Also, as the Nerd points out, it has almost nothing to do with the series as a whole. You fight Shredder and the Technodrome toward the end of the game, and Rocksteady and Bebop at the start. The rest of your time is spent doing crap like fighting flaming men with some weapon called a "scroll" that no one on the show actually uses. Oh, and you also have to go through an insufferable water level where you defuse bombs, and every god damn thing on the screen can kill you.

- In contrast, Turtles II: The Arcade Game and Turtles III: The Manhattan Project are both excellent. At the time, Turtles II featured fresh-for-the-NES style arcade action, and a difficulty level that was tough, but not impossible.

Turtles III was more of the same. It was a little bit easier overall, but still very playable, and each turtles now had their own special move, as opposed to the generic jump slash of the second game. You could also lift enemies with your weapon and toss them.

Both games also did a much, much better job of including characters and boss enemies from the show and movies. Specifically, the second one ended with a showdown with Krang and Shredder. The only quibble I have with both games, which is a small one, is that the distinctiveness weapons are taken away. Especially in two, all of the attacks are generic, regardless of the length of your weapon.

- This post is just about the NES games, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention some other games. Turtles IV (or whatever silly name it has) is great, and although it can be really easy, it's easily the best of the hack-and-slash Turtles games. Likewise, the actual arcade version of Turtles II is excellent.

On the flip side, all of the fighting games stink. Steer far, far clear of them.

The Turtles in Time photo is from here. The picture at the top is from these neat entries on the Turtles.

Monday, June 7, 2010

S$#@ gets real on Raw

Holy crap - Did we just see the return of the Attitude era on tonight's Raw?

I won't have pictures up until later, but after seeing that insane ending tonight, I had to scrap my planned entry and instead write about Raw. If you haven't seen the episode, then don't read any further, because the ending is legitimately shocking...

... Anyway, the NXT guys came down to ringside and essentially beat the crap out of everyone, interrupting the main event match of Cena vs. Punk. The beating they put on Cena, and the announcers and ring crew, was savage and brutal. It reminded me of the old school beatings the NWO would put on WCW wrestlers and crew, back before they got bloated with a red and black faction, and with 500 members.

Since none of them talked outside of Bryan Danielson screaming, "I'm better than you!" at John Cena, their intentions aren't entirely clear... which makes it all even better. The whole attack came out of nowhere, and the unconventional nature of it - the wrestlers so pissed that they were literally ripping the ring apart - definitely heightened the rawness of it all. In a day and age when everything is leaked on the Internet ahead of time, this was genuinely shocking.

I think the rest of the show set the tenor for the surprise at the end. By that, I think the WWE went way over-the-top with cheesy and bad skits, like the A-Team and Dusty Rhodes fighting Roddy Piper, to lull the audience into complacency. I also liked the nice, unintentional touch of the little kids at the end yelling, "Mr. King!" Again, it heightened the realism of it all.

A few random observations: No second generation stars were involved, and it was all the younger NXT guys, so I wonder if that will become part of the angle at some point. I also wouldn't be surprised if they pick up a member or two from the roster, someone like Bourne who has indie roots.

It'll be interesting to see where the WWE goes from here. This was about as perfect of a start to an angle as you can get, so hopefully, they don't screw it up. It might even be a smart move to run NXT tomorrow like an old NWO invasion show, to keep the angle in everyone's mind.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Dear NES, how did I ever beat anything on you?

Back in the day, I used to be a voracious devourer of video games. (To some extent, I still am; this entry is significantly delayed because I was powering through the end of Final Fantasy: Dissidia.) Of course, my first game was Super Mario Brothers, followed closely by Duck Hunt and World Class Track Meet, since all three were on the same cartridge. This game was so prevalent that used game stores refused to even give you $1 for it, and actively turned me away when I just tried to give them my copy.

From an age I can't even remember, to about 16 or 17 (when the pursuit of and mostly failure of getting girls took over), I played anything I could get my hands on, with an emphasis on RPGs and adventures. At this point, I had a NES, Game Boy, SNES, N64 and PSX (in roughly that order), and once I hit 18 I picked up a PSX and Genesis on the cheap. I picked up a PS2 my senior year of high school, and this carried me all the way through college.

However, reflecting back on all of this gaming, two questions sprung to mind. The first is relatively minor - How the heck was I ever exposed to a NES in the first place? I dimly recall that my friend Brian had a NES, along with a couple dozen games, but I also remember that I also had one at this point because I would always try to borrow games from him. (Back in the day, the only way to get new games was to shell out $50 for them, bum them from friends, rent them from Stop and Shop, or look through the classifieds. Funcoland wasn't around in Rhode Island until I was 17 or 18.)

I have no other memories of my early gaming, except that it happened, and that one night my day snuck a rental copy of Super Mario Brothers 2 in under his coat, which I had been nuts about playing. Its release date was October 1988, meaning I was around 4 or 5 at the time.

Secondly: How the heck did I ever actually beat any of these old RPGs and adventure games? I did have a subscription to Nintendo Power, but only for a couple years. The Super C issue was my first in May / June 1990, and I never even owned that game. I'm positive that the magazine helped me through some tricky parts in Castlevania 2, and it and my parents helped me with Shadowgate. (Incidentally, this is the only game they both ever got really into. My mom played and beat the original Dragon Warrior, which came free with Nintendo Power for a little bit.)

However, I distinctly recall beating Zelda 2 on my own, which required doing esoteric things like finding magic to turn yourself into a fairy to get through certain keyholes. The same thing happened for Zelda 1, although my aunt did show me how to use bombs. (Give me a break - I was like 5.)

The later Dragon Warrior games? All me, with no help from guides or Nintendo Power, and in the case of the second one, no instruction manual. The third one did contain a nice little guide in it, but it was fairly linear anyway. The second one was a monstrous ordeal, where you basically had to sail your little ship around the world and hope you didn't accidentally land on an island way too tough for you.

Past the NES generation, games began to self-regulate and clean up their act a bit. While you could get stuck in Final Fantasy 2/4 if you didn't play for a long time, and thus forget what your current task was, generally the people in your party could tip you off. The same thing goes for the third installment, which was also much more linear than people want to claim. This gameplay clarity made it a lot more frustrating when a game was a throwback, like Breath of Fire 2, which had plodding pacing and randomly made you use characters that sucked (looking in your direction, Sten and Jean).

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Things I've learned from Food Network and Top Chef

There are some universal cooking truths that I've picked up from watching all of the various programs on the Food Network, and Bravo's Top Chef. While I'm no master cook, these sort of tips aren't really about my own cooking anyway - More of a reflection of the shows themselves. On to the list, in no particular order:

1) The Food Network has so many random shows that nobody ever suspects that they're on Throwdown. I've probably seen at least 20 episodes of this show, and nobody ever says, "Wow, since when has the Food Network had a show about the best hot dogs produced by pregnant Middle Eastern women?"

I have a lurking suspicion that it is because the Food Network has so many shows that are actually shows that do not sound like shows. You know, like the one about people making high-end cakes, or the various competitions they show from across the states, or the one where the fat guy with the bleach blonde hair eats greasy diner food and shockingly always likes it. Oh, and they always had an awesome Japanese cooking game show that they turned into a lousy American version, and also, a show where they specifically looked for the worst cooks in America.

At this point, if Food Network knocked on my door and said they were giving me a show, I wouldn't doubt them. "Oh, you're trying to get that important low-paid, mid-20s demographic? Sure, let me just dust off my recipe for lamb shanks in Keystone Light..."

2) The cooking ability of a female Food Network chef is inversely proportional to her hotness. Giada De Laurentiis? I didn't even know she was a cook until seeing her show a couple of times. At that point, I noticed that she did indeed have a spice rack underneath her rack. Likewise, Rachel Ray and Sandra Lee are varying degrees of "easy on the eyes" but clearly inferior cooks to others on the channel. However, there is a corollary to this...

3) Hotness matters not on Top Chef for ladies, but it helps if you're a dude. The greatest proof I can offer is that Tiffany (season one) and Casey (season three) both made the finals. However, it invariably seems like the dreamier Top Chef men make the final rounds at a higher percentage. The best example of this was Sam, who just made me turn a little gay as I thought about him. (Sorry for that TMI.) But there was also Fabio of the glorious accent, and the stoic cool of season one's Harold.

4) In any cooking competition, it is a bad idea to do rice or a risotto. Every single season, someone gets eliminated from Top Chef or Top Chef Ripoff (the Food Network star show) because they do a shitty rice or risotto. If you are on one of these shows, please don't attempt a rice or risotto.

In the past, dessert also fit into this category. However, the contestants wizened up to this, as some of the challenges specifically called for making desserts, and the cooks and judges on the various shows acknowledged that people had troubles making desserts.

The picture of Giada is from here. The Flay picture is from this blog.


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