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honestgamer It's not all an elaborate ruse, some misguided attempt to establish for myself an online persona of dubious quality. I really am dull. If you don't find that unbearable, though, this is my blog that examines just how truly boring I can be.

Title: Movie Review: Running Scared
Posted: March 17, 2008 (02:32 AM)
If I remember anything about "Running Scared" a year or two from now, I hope I remember that it was the worst movie I've seen this millenium and that I should stay far, far away from it for the rest of my life. It's incredible, really. I didn't think major Hollywood studios still made movies this spectacularly bad. It turns out that they do. They really do.

"Running Scared" is the story of a guy named Joe (played by Paul Walker of "The Fast and the Furious"). At the beginning of the movie, he's one of several people counting drug money in a room. There's a lot of money. There are a lot of guns. Then there are a lot more guns as masked men break into the room brandishing automatic weapons. They dmand the drug money, they force gangsters to the floor and treat them poorly. In general, it's a nasty scene where people say 'fuck' a lot and then say it some more, then add in a few sentences that are made up of almost nothing but 'fuck' for good measure. It's kind of a theme for the movie.

In seconds, though, the tables turn. The guys that were counting money before the assault slice one of the gunmen's ankles and he goes down like a horse shanked by a wolf. It's an all out gunfight. One guy gets his penis blown off at close range, people are diving behind mattresses and taking shotgun blasts to the chests. It's bloody and when it's done, the gangsters find that the thugs who assaulted them... were dirty cops.

Oops.

Joe is tasked with hiding the guns that killed the cops, but he screws up somewhere along the way and his son's friend, the next door neighbor kid, grabs the gun and takes a few shots at his abusive father... who also happens to be a kind-of sort-of member of some faction of the Russian mafia.

Double oops.

From there, the movie focuses mostly on Joe as he chases after the Russian kid and the gun, through one improbable scene after another while people say "fuck" a lot and visit places like a strip club--where full frontal nudity abounds but you wish it didn't because it just ain't pretty--and a park, where druggies are shooting at each other and a hockey rink (where there's a lot of shooting and more swearing).

Lest you think that my problems with the movie all stem from gratuitous profanity, let me assure you that I am fully aware some people talk this way. I just don't want to see it in a movie, that's all. Or I want a break from it. The stream of profanity throughout "Running Scared" just went over the top, then kept going and going. But no, that's not the end of my complaints.

At least as offensive as the profanity were the cheap cinematography tricks and the absurd plot points. There are "Matrix"-style slow-motion sequences, just because. Do they add anything to the movie? No. Do they occur consistently enough to feel stylish? No. They just feel stupid.

And the plot points I mentioned? Something like 5 or 10 minutes of the film deviate from the main story to cover the adventures of Joe's wife as she discovers a husband-and-wife team of pedophiles. Those are some of the most entertaining moments of the film, but they have nothing to do with the story. In fact, they jeopardize its continuity.

I will stay away from spoilers in case some of you still want to see this train wreck of a movie, but let me just say that there are some moments that contradict each other quite badly. Then there are moments that seem so spectacularly sappy that they have to have been thrown in to appease a hypothetical audience of people who care about emotional endings. Ugh! If you can imagine something cliche or stupid or otherwise damaging to a film's value, "Runing Scared" probably does it at least once... probably twice.

So in the end, my recommendation is pretty clear. Stay away from "Running Scared." Far, far, far away. It's 122 minutes long and around two hours of that isn't even worth watching.

1/10
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Title: Movie Review: Absolute Power
Posted: March 02, 2008 (03:03 AM)
There's something about Clint Eastwood. I watch him on-screen and I can't help but care about the characters he portrays. Perhaps it's the way he makes everything look so effortless.

That's what he does in "Absolute Power," a movie in which he starred (and a film he also directed). Taken from what I have every confidence was a best-selling novel, the movie tells the story of an aging thief, estranged from his daughter and about to pull a big heist. Then the night of the event has arrived and he's on the job. Everything is going great... until some serious crap goes down. Suddenly, he's an accidental witness to a murder committed by the President himself. Suddenly he's the annoying fly in the ointment that prevents the cover-up from being perfect.

Eastwood's character isn't perfect, though. His first inclination is to run, but of course that changes and the other characters in the movie develop more (with help from other fine actors like Gene Hackman, Laura Linney and Ed Harris). All around, there are strong performances here and I got the feeling as I watched that I could have been entertained if everyone had simply sat around the table talking about the weather. That's the kind of direction Eastwood brings to the picture.

So what is there to say, really? What is there to critique? Well, the movie does sometimes drag on a bit, but never in a way that made me wish it would end. Quite the opposite, actually. It's just over two hours but when it finally wound down I was wishing it didn't have to. I wanted to see Eastwood's character get into more scrapes, and to escape from them relatively unscathed.

"Absolute Power" is an achievement. There have been other movies touching on similar material. There have been thrillers with dynamic leads and Gene Hackman has even stepped in for an appearance in at least one of them ("Enemy of the State" comes to mind), but there really hasn't been another movie quite like "Absolute Power." It's a must-see if you like slow-paced thrillers that take the time to explore the characters, to really build depth to them so that you care about the little things so much that the explosions don't have to level a city block just to hit you in the gut.

Watch "Absolute Power" the next time you have two hours to spare. If you're anything like me, you won't regret doing so.

10/10
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Title: Woo hoo! I got a job!
Posted: February 29, 2008 (03:11 PM)
Today, when I was paying the minimum amount due to keep my cable Internet from going away (because I am broke and have more bills right now than I can possibly pay), the other line beeped in and it was the local restaurant calling.

I'd gone in for an interview earlier this week, and I went away thinking that I wanted the job and that I would probably get it. The interview, I thought, went really well.

I was right. I start orientation tomorrow morning at 10AM. My required outfit? Jeans and tennis shoes. They seem like really great people. I'll be training mostly for stuff around the restaurant, it sounds like, but my regular gig will be delivery driving. That's right: I'm actually excited about delivering food.

Of course, that excitement is because I've been without work for months. I'm running out of games I can sell on eBay without bursting into tears. Bills are mounting. It's not pretty, not at all. So having work now (plus I will get tips on top of an hourly wage) is really exciting. Besides, I like what I've seen of my new employers. They seem like really great people.

The job could still blow up in my face at this point. That's certainly possible, but I hope it won't. I can't afford to spend another few months looking for a different job. My health won't take it. So even though by many people's standards my new job will sort of suck, be happy for me and stuff. I'm back in the work force!
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Title: My grandmother has passed.
Posted: February 15, 2008 (08:18 PM)
Tonight I was driving and my cell phone rang. It was my mom. I asked if I could call her back, because I was driving. She said that was fine. I'm not one of those idiots that gets in wrecks because he didn't know when to get off the dang phone.

So tonight, I got home and I called my mom. The reason she was calling was that my grandmother was 'on the brink,' so to speak. Between the first call from my mom and my opportunity to return it, 'on the brink' became 'no longer with us.'

My mom couldn't talk about it long on the phone, because it was her mother that had passed. And of course, it was hard for me to hear that kind of news and it was hard to hear it from fighting tears.

Death sucks, but I was expecting to get a call like this any day so it didn't honestly hit me all that hard. The worst part is how much I know it hurts my mom, even though she was expecting it too. Worse is that her dad is still alive (in a different home; my grandparents were divorced years ago but remained fond of one another) and probably doesn't have a terribly long time to live on his end.

Anyway, I'm not sure why I'm posting this except sometimes talking about things in a public sort of forum makes me feel better about things.

One final thought: mortality sucks.
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Title: Movie Review: Tideland
Posted: February 14, 2008 (08:29 PM)
Before so much as a single frame of the actual movie "Tideland" begins, director Terry Gilliam takes a moment to set the stage for his potential audience. "A lot of people won't like this movie," he tells us, but he unearths a bright side on the other side of the coin: "Fortunately, a lot of people will." The rest of us, he predicts, won't know what to think.

After seeing the movie myself, I find myself in that last group. "Tideland" is the story of a young girl named Jeliza-Rose, portrayed passionately by young actress Jodelle Ferland (who, if her performance here is any indication, will surely go on to become one of the greatest actresses of her generation). She lives a life that generously might be called 'hellish.' Her mother and father are junkies prone to frightening mood swings and it quickly becomes clear that of the lot of them, the 7-year-old (just a guess on the age, by the way) is the most mature.

Before long, mommy dearest (Jennifer Tilly) is convulsing from a bad drug trip that leaves her a corpse. Jeliza-Rose's father (Jeff Bridges) is frightened and proposes a flaming monument in her honor, a suggestion Jeliza-Rose warns him doesn't make much sense. He relents and the two head off to escape the scene. They arrive eventually at an old house out in the middle of a sprawling countryside, where the rest of the movie will play out. Before long, Jeliza-Rose meets a mysterious woman and her 'mentally challenged' brother. Since Daddy is a non-factor back at the house, Jeliza-Rose makes the best of a bad situation and forms an uneasy acquaintance with the two strangers.

Most of the movie is about that relationship, and about (as Terry Gilliam notes in his introduction) the resiliancy of children. As he says, they have a tendency to bounce back. That's what we as an audience are expected to greet with interest: Jeliza-Rose subjected to one horrific encounter after another. We're supposed to chuckle at her wide-eyed innocence throughout the film as she mixes drugs for her junkie father, as she engages in debates with doll heads and as she begins to search for fulfillment in the inept young man who lives in the house across the way.

Entertaining some may find "Tideland," but it's hard for me to do as Gilliam instructs and put aside prejudices. It's hard to say that a child's wide-eyed innocence is inherently good and beautiful, to accept that as a constructive message from a film like this.

And quite frankly, when the movie isn't shocking a person with uncomfortable situations, it's rather dull. A little girl talking to her dolls hardly makes for thrilling cinema. As remarkable as the performances are, this amounts to a movie you watch when you want to find yourself challenged but not particularly entertained. Then the credits are rolling with as close to a fairytale ending as a grim production like this can manage, and you're presumably supposed to kick back and say "Now that's entertainment!"

Well, it wasn't entertainment for me. It felt a lot like watching "Schindler's List," really. I was challenged and left both movies thinking, only in the case of "Tideland," I'm not sure what I was even supposed to be considering. That children escape into imaginitive worlds to escape the harsh world around them? I didn't need a film to tell me that, and I don't need "Tideland." Odds are pretty good that you won't, either.

4/10
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Title: A way to promote your blog...
Posted: February 02, 2008 (03:45 PM)
This thread is the result of me deciding to promote my blog a bit more. It's something I encourage you all to do, if you're interested in getting more exposure for the stuff you post (I realize that not all of you are, so ignore this post if you don't want your blog to reach audiences outside HonestGamers).

Anyway, there's a popular site called Technorati that apparently does a lot to promote the various blogs around the Internet. You can find it here.

Signing up is free, and once you've done so you will be able to create a profile and then 'claim' your blog. Part of that means making a new post in your blog that contains an HTML link (which the Technorati) site provides. Here is my link:

Technorati Profile

Technorati then spiders your blog and will eventually link to it from the service, which other users can then apparently search by topic. So for example, my movie reviews might now reach a much larger audience, plus any news I choose to share in my blog about the HonestGamers site.

For me, that's obviously a big bonus, and maybe it even is for some of you. My personal hope is that as more people browse Technorati and find out about HonestGamers and its blogging system, they'll feel inclined to join and share in the fun. It's just one way to promote our content and services (not to mention my reviews, in my case, since my blog links from them). I'm all about that!
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Title: Some links have moved...
Posted: February 02, 2008 (12:13 AM)
If you've been to the site's main page lately, you may have noticed that some links have moved. This has prompted some of you to ask what's going on, and to suppose that I was "just being a dumb dick." However, that is not the case. I actually had a good reason for moving things around.

"But Jason," some of you may say, "we were used to the links in their old places."

I know. I know. I was the same way. Then I saw the light. Then I came to understand the (potential) value of rearranging. Did I do it for the money? No, I didn't do it for the money. Or did I?

The reason the links has to move comes down to Google. As you know if you've been reading my blog, I'm looking for ways to bring more traffic to the site. I've come to the conclusion that the way to do this is to make sure that Google has a good idea just how much great content we offer. Our problem isn't a lack of content, not by a longshot. Rather, it's the limited traffic.

So basically, the time is always right to optimize the site for search engine performance. And as you might know, search engines like Google place less emphasis on meta tags than they did five years ago. That's because unscrupulous webmasters spam words that have nothing to do with the site, just in hopes of attracting an audience and satisfying advertisers. Therefore, search engines now pay particular attention to content, and particularly the content that first appears when a page loads.

For a site like HonestGamers, that content is the text that appears in the very top bar of the site. So basically, for awhile we've been giving Google mixed signals by promoting the different systems we cover. That's good, but it's more important that the site deliver a consistent message about its focus (which is less about a few systems listed in that bar and more about the reviews, guides, cheats and other content we offer).

So basically, switching things around was something I felt needed to be done for Google... so that we can bring in more users and share our excellent content with the people who will want to see it but don't know that we exist. As an added bonus, the consoles we cover now catch the eye more prominently as a person loads the site, so that should in theory improve the amount of interest from casual visitors.

These changes aren't necessarily final, but everything I checked online seems to indicate that within 3 or 4 months, this move will result in significantly improved traffic. It's worth trying, I figure, so I hope you'll understand why I made a change that must have been perplexing to many of you. I'm not just screwing around on the site for the heck of it. I'm making the changes that will have the best long-term impact possible. This was one of those changes.
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Title: The feel of gaming
Posted: January 31, 2008 (04:52 AM)
I spent something like an hour tonight, locked in half-hearted debate (on both sides, I'm sure) with bluberry. He was arguing that the Xbox 360 provides varied experiences beyond what I called 'testosterone-fueled' fare, while I was of course asserting just the opposite.

The discussion ended with bluberry going to bed, pretty disgusted (I think) about having spent most of an hour in that fashion. I shared his disgust, but that's how my evenings sometimes go when I'm coding on the site and there's not much better to discuss. Toward the end of the conversation, though, things turned in a direction that got me thinking about my history with games, and just how much of it comes down to feelings.

As I told bluberry, I used to think that my distaste for Genesis games during the 16-bit era was just me being a Nintendo fanboy. Certainly, I could for the most part only own one system and that happened to be the Super Nintendo. I did buy a used Genesis after awhile, but then I sold it because I didn't find enough games that interested me. I figured my Nintendo loyalty was blindsiding me. Now I own a Genesis again and have for a few years. I've played more games on the system and I've looked into a lot of its classics. And though I can easily go back and play the right retro games for the first time and love them--no nostalgia entering the picture at all--I usually find that isn't true of old Genesis titles.

I've realized recently that it comes down to their general 'feel.' I just don't enjoy what they have going for them. Take a game like Contra: Hard Corps, which I believe may be the best in the series from an impartial sort of perspective (if one can even exist in these matters). To me? It looks completely blah. I just don't like the visual style at all and it just doesn't look like the sort of game I can really care about. Contra III? Love the visual style.

This may prompt some of you to shout "Graphics whore!" in my general direction, but I can assure you it's nothing technical. I love a beautiful new game and I love a really old retro game that by today's standards looks like crap. It's all about aesthetics, and the unique effect they have on me individually. Castlevania IV? Doesn't look good to me. Castlevania: Bloodlines? Looks pretty okay. Castlevania: Dracula X? Looks awesome! Obviously, the actual gameplay on these titles doesn't necessarily match, but those aesthetics have already spoken. Zelda III? Looks fantastic to me. Hard to imagine it looking better. Ys I & II? Doesn't look bad. Doesn't look particularly good, either. Again, it's nothing to do with gameplay. I like playing both games, but there's that aesthetic constantly in the back of my mind as I play Ys and it does impact things for me.

So basically, the color palette or the design sensibilities of Genesis third party developers... something about it meant that most Genesis games just genuinely did not appeal to me. I didn't really have any deep hatred for the system, when I look back... just indifference. It was that other system and sometimes really cool stuff like Shining Force II came along--awesome game--but then I'd forget about it for a year or so. That's how it always went.

That's repeating with the Xbox 360. I own one and I like it. There are good games sometimes. But most of them, those same games I called 'testosterone-fueled', don't appeal to me. I play something like Dead Rising and I have fun with it, but it can never truly be that game that makes me praise the Xbox 360 as a fantastic system. It's not as bad as things were for the Genesis, of course. I can name three or four Xbox 360 games I'd definitely miss if the system disappeared, and for a long time I couldn't say that about the Genesis. But still, it does feel a bit like a repeat.

And the Wii? The Wii is home to the games that I'm having fun with. It's home to the games that have that certain 'feel' for me, the sense of wonder that games provide for me when they're doing things right. No, it's not a technical thing. But the games FEEL right. I have fun playing them and I'm not being disracted by the atmosphere or some vague variable I can't even put into words. I like the Wii better than the Xbox 360. I like it better because it feels better. As vague as it is, as stupid as it sounds and as stupid as it looks when I type it as an entry in my blog, that's what it really comes down to. I guess it'll have to be good enough for me.
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Title: Someone thinks we're dumber than we are...
Posted: January 24, 2008 (06:27 PM)
Today, I got an e-mail about a scam repayment program the Nigerian government is offering. The problem--the e-mail explained in very broken English--is that many Nigerian con artists (in the e-mail called 'hoodlums') have been taking money from foreigners in various e-mail scams. Primarly Americans were affected, it reported, with 60% of the thefts based in that area. The Nigerian government is so ashamed that it is now offering $100,000 to each victim. Apparently, I was named as a victim by one of those people arrested in connectino with the scam, and now I can receive compensation by simply forwarding my bank details to the gmail address from whence the message came.

...

On the one hand, this scam is genius. The people who have been frauded are probably very sore about it, and I can imagine some stupid old rich woman saying "Well, finally they'll get what's coming to them and I'll get what's coming to me!" After all, anyone who receives this message and responds has likely proven a capable victim once. Why not twice? It's just... insulting. Are people really so stupid that this newest scam will work? Unfortunately, there's a good chance the answer is "Yes."
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Title: Movie Reviw: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Posted: January 24, 2008 (02:47 AM)
Clint Eastwood has been making movies for a long, long time. Several of them I saw as a kid. Then there were some I didn't, like "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," which is in theory the best one to ever bear his name. I say "in theory" because I haven't seen every movie he's ever been in, and because "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly," while an interesting film, isn't always my cup of tea.

For starters, there's the plot. I've heard it summarized as the story of three guys looking for a cache of gold, and certainly there's that element. Many of the scenes we see revolve around that, but there's a lot of other stuff going on. There's (rather pointless) commentary on the Civil War, too. Then there are a bunch of scenes that build character and are perhaps interesting on that level, but that don't really add a whole lot to the movie as a whole. They're the reason it lasts three freaking hours.

As the movie opens, some nasty looking cowboys are creeping up on a building to ambush the man inside. However, things go wrong and the nasty dudes wind up on the floor with lead in their stomachs as their quarry jumps out a window. The story switches next to some guy in his pueblo about to sit down for a meal when a stranger shows up at the door. From there, the owner of the pueblo tries to talk his uninvited guest out of killing him, but it proves a pointless endeavor and the body count is really going. Most of the movie proceeds about like that, following separate threads as three cowboys--"The Good" played by Clint Eastwood and two other guys played by no one I recognized, what with this being a spaghetti Western--are true to their names. There's lots of double crossing, a little bit of gunplay and a lot of the same main song being repeated until it is ground into your skull.

So, what does the movie have going for it? Well, the cinematography is at least interesting, though the land is barren enough that looking at it gets old after awhile. There are some unexpected funny bits, too, which keep the audience engaged in some instances where things begin to lag. The actor playing "The Ugly" provides some nice comical relief with a few funny lines, though not in an in-your-face sort of way. Clint Eastwood is also very quiet and is addressed as "Blondie" throughout most of the film. All of those things will either appeal to you or they won't, and that's where for me the movie faltered.

I guess I just like a movie with forward momentum. At three hours, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" is hardly the longest movie I've ever seen, but there were times it felt like it was. That was really my biggest issue. There simply were too many scens that drug on a bit longer than they needed to, and there were some moments--even some with action--that didn't really do much of anything for the movie. I kept feeling like some careful scene cuts would've shortened things up by a half-hour and made for a much more watchable film.

As it sits now, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" is an interesting movie that most people might do best to watch in two sittings. The second half really picks up nicely and is an interesting movie, but people like me will probably find their spirits broken about halfway in. I'm glad I watched it through to its conclusion--since not doing so would've caused me to miss most of the movie's truly great scenes--but this is definitely a case where there's too much of a good thing. With a clearer focus, this could have been a truly fantastic movie. Instead, it rambles too much... sort of like this review. At least I can end the review early without missing anything, though.

7/10
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