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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: The Manchurian Candidate
Posted: January 02, 2008 (02:55 AM)
Denzel Washington is good at being a sympathetic character. In "The Manchurian Candidate," which I believe reading at some point or another is a remake of an earlier film bearing the same name, he puts that charisma to good use portraying a soldier named Ben who remembers a horrific night in Iraq when he and his men came under attack... then were saved by a comrade at arms. As the movie progresses, though, he begins to think that--implausible as it may seem--those memories aren't quite right.

"The Manchurian Candidate" was supposed to be a thrill ride. To me that suggests car chases and shootouts, but there's remarkably little of that in a movie that is more about intellectual stimulation than anything. Certain plot twists are a bit on the absurd side if you stop to think about them, though, so it feels like the movie is tugging the viewer in too many directions at once. On the one hand, you're supposed to appreciate the deep message the film theoretically delivers, but then you're not supposed to think about it hard enough that you start looking carefully at certain improbabilities in the plot.

To keep a rein on the direction your thoughts wander, director Jonathan Demme spends a lot of time showing things we don't really need to see. A lot of it is simply misdirection, no doubt meant to distract you so that you're too busy sorting through everything to realize that the core story hardly makes sense. There's also far too much introspection. Each main actor at some point in the movie gets a chance to look thoughtful, bewildered and horrified. Each long hallway is thoroughly explored, each throng of people lazily panned. Sometimes, it's just a bit much. In fact, almost every scene could've been improved if a few seconds or even the occasional minute had been shaved away completely.

Of course, saying anything more about the plot would be doing you a disservice if you choose to watch the movie for yourself, so I won't touch on just what makes things both interesting and unbelievable. "The Manchurian Candidate" is as much about surprises as it is about scenes that don't know when to quit, and frequently delivers plenty of both. Whether or not that makes it a good movie or not will depend on your preferences, of course. As for me, I enjoyed the viewing but can't really recommend the film to anyone but those who adore the serious political thriller. Even if that's you, proceed with caution. "Thriller" is subjective.

5/10
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Title: Movie Review: Keeping Mum
Posted: December 31, 2007 (02:18 AM)
I like to expose myself to a fairly wide variety of movies, so when I found out that "Keeping Mum" existed (and that Maggie Smith and Rowan Atkinson both had roles), I knew it was a movie that should nicely supplement my almost steady diet of action movies and depthless comedies.

The idea behind the movie is that a vicar (Atkinson) is struggling to keep his parish in order while his own household is falling apart at the seams. His daughter parades through an endless series of boys--sleeping with them, for the most part--and is pretty much a total slut (and 17, she says, though the fact that we see the actress's breasts on more than one occasion suggests that the actress herself is older). His wife has begun taking lessons from an American golfing instructor (Patrick Swayze) who likes to talk about wood and strokes just a bit too much. Then there's the vicar's son, who is afraid of his classmates because they see in him a weakling they can pick on at will.

Into this not-so-ideal world comes the new housekeeper, played by Maggie Smith. It doesn't take her long to get the lay of the land. Suddenly, things start going right and it becomes clear that the comedy is going to be about how one person can make a difference in the lives of a disfunctional family and turn things completely around. Or, at the very least, make things go wrong in rather interesting new ways.

With the formula set, the remainder of the film goes through the steps necessary to make things happen about like you'd expect if you've seen mildly dark comedies in the past. There are perhaps two or three clever lines in the whole movie that had me laughing, while the rest of the events are just funny if you stop to think about them. Things got very predictable very quickly, but there were also a few small surprises and things remained interesting enough throughout that by the time the credits rolled, I was sad to see everything come to an end but satisfied with the progression of events.

Ultimately, this is the sort of movie that makes a good rental if you're in the mood for something a little different. Aside from the beautiful cinematography (love that English countryside) and perhaps the occasional flash of bosom, there's not much here that might prompt me to go through a second viewing anytime soon. I'm happy I saw the movie but my collection will survive without its permanent residence. I won't be keeping "Keeping Mum."

7/10
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Title: Movie Reviews
Posted: December 27, 2007 (08:24 PM)
I'm a member of Netflix now, and it occurred to me that I can easily review movies on a regular basis now, as I watch them. My wife and I take turns picking out movies--I pick two and then she does the same--so some of what I'll review wasn't me making a boneheaded rental. It was her. Also, I don't prioritize for new movies. I rent whatever I feel like (or whatever she feels like). Anyway, here's some of the backlog...

Waiting for Guffman

Christopher Guest is a fairly funny guy, sometimes. I liked what I saw of "Best in Show," so I gave this one a chance and liked it a little bit less. It was a fairly predictable mockumentary and perhaps not as funny because the people it portrayed weren't funny so much as they were sad.

Guest himself appeared as a man who fancies himself a Broadway talent (though his past moment of greatness was actually setting a theatre on fire). A small town in Missouri is throwing a pagent to celebrate its history, and that will include a play directed by Guest's character.

Guest's character feels that it's his shot at greatness and a Broadway deal, and even convinces a theatre critic to come see the film. The rest of the movie is primarily about the preparations leading up to that grand performance, with Guest acting as a drama queen and his castmates thinking him a total genius. It's clear to anyone watching that the play is at best destined for mediocrity, and from that we are supposed to draw our laughs as we watch in the comfort of (now) our living rooms.

Overall, the movie has some genuine laughs thanks to strong performances from Eugene Levy and Fred Willard, but most of the movie I felt like there was a nervous laugh in the back of my throat, wanting to come out but struggling to find a moment on-screen that made the timing right. That pretty much sums up the whole movie for me. I appreciate the concept and the crew and their performances and to a certain extent the dialogue, but I just wasn't laughing enough.

5/10

National Treasure

Nicholas Cage is not my idea of a great actor. He's mostly the same in every movie, only in "Raising Arizona" that made him a slacker with no direction in life and here it makes him a misunderstood archaeologist who just might be a genius.

If you take a look at who was involved in the making of this film and even the list of actors--which includes the likes of John Voight and Sean Bean--you'd think it's going to be some serious action movie with riveting performances. Instead, what you get is the sort of picture that's two fun hours of conspiracy theory and adventure scenes that leave you feeling like you just saw a good movie much like any other 50 other movies in the genre.

The story centers around Cage's character, who against his father's wishes is hunting for family treasure he believes was passed down through his line by the Templars/Freemasons. He's partnered up with Bean's character as the financier, and with some generic computer nerd guy who reminded me of Patton Oswalt. Before long, Cage and Oswalt whoever are running from Bean, then racing him to find whether or not there's any truth to Cage's idea that something special is on the back of the US Constitution. That of course means a daring heist and a love interest and all of the stuff that makes for a great summer blockbuster. In the end, the movie itself is one of the finer blockbusters I've seen in awhile thanks to smooth directing and witty dialogue and all of the other stuff you already know to expect if you've seen 10 blockbusters in your life.

It's formulaic and at times stupid and predictable, but it works and makes for a reasonably enjoyable two hours. My wife, whose pick it was, is looking forward to the sequel. I'll probably watch it along with her and not grumble a whole lot.

7/10

Some Like It Hot

This movie was one I'd been wanting to see for awhile, after coming to appreciate Jack Lemmon's work in films like "Grumpy Old Men" and "The Odd Couple." So far as I know, "Some Like It Hot" was one of his earliest performances, along with Tony Randall and Marilyn Monroe. It was the first movie I'd seen where she made an appearance, and what a cutie she was! But enough about her, since she played a shallow character every bit as blonde as you'd suppose.

The movie, which is slow to begin, makes its leisurely opening in 1930s Chicago. Lemmon and Randall play two musicians trying to make their living at a speakeasy, which gets raided as the film plods through its opening scenes. They manage to escape unscathed, but Chicago is a busy city and it isn't long before they're wanted by the mob. Their out? Some women are wanted for a performance in sunny Florida. The fact that they're men deters the pair from accepting the job at first, but as the situation around them worsens, suddenly things sound pretty good in Florida.

The whole opening portion isn't particularly funny and takes something like 20 minutes or maybe a half-hour. It was entertaining, certainly, and reasonably enjoyable, but not amusing. Then the pair is walkign to the train and from that moment onward, laughs come every minute or two. Not slight smiles or the occasional guffaw, but belly laughs as the pair find themselves in one unlikely scrape after another.

The blossoming love interests by the end of the film have come a bit absurd--though still amusing--and the movie's ending is clever but stupid. However, it's been a long time since a movie made me laugh as long or as hard as "Some Like It Hot." If you can stand a little black and white comedy and don't mind a picture that's slow to get up and running, you could certainly do much, much worse.

9/10

Well, those are my three reviews for now. As I said, I will probably write more of these as I watch additional movies... if anyone even cares to read my novice ramblings on movies.
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Title: Ratings improved(?)
Posted: December 18, 2007 (02:42 AM)
I noticed some funny business going on with the ratings system, in that the rank associated with games was not displaying properly. I found out that this was because the INT field in the database didn't want to accept decimals (the most common number in that system), and therefore the rankings were all skewed (since they're generated on the fly).

Anyway, I've done some coding behind the scenes and now games should rank properly. As far as I can tell, only games with five or more ratings are ranked (which was my goal). If you visit a profile for a game without enough ratings to qualify, you'll see "N/A" in place of a ranking.

Games that have received the same precise ranking score are then organized according to number of total ratings.

This may all be very boring to some of you, but it does give additional value to the rating system throughout the site and hopefully will have positive long-term effects. Remember that the "While you're here..." box does factor in a game's ranking when displaying a related game, so your efforts to rate all your favorite games could very well help a casual site visitor to find a hidden gem he never knew about!

Anyway, I think now I'll get some sleep. Coding this change took WAY longer than it should have...
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Title: Wii raffle ticket winner announced
Posted: December 11, 2007 (12:04 AM)
I'm preparing a news story to make it official throughout the site, but I drew the name of the raffle ticket winner (and four alternates, in case he can't provide a suitable address for shipment). The winner is...

bsulpher

Congratulations to all who participated, and congratulations especially to bsulpher!
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Title: Site slowness...
Posted: December 10, 2007 (01:22 AM)
The site server seems to be having a rough time of things right now. I've done everything I can to rectify the issue on this end. I just went through and trimmed out a bunch of fat in the source code.

I've also reorganized how the site ranks games. It will now rank them according to the ratings you assign games. This is an important change that will filter through the site over the next few days as game profiles are loaded by search engines (and you). In the end, it should mean that the recommendations you give games affect what users most readily see as they browse and visit from other locations.

Another note: I've changed how ads display on the site. There was a previous threshhold of 300 HG Points in a 3-day period to make ads disappear. I've lowered that threshhold for the time being. Now, any time you've gained HG Points in the last 1-day period (even if it's only 10 points for a game rating or blog post/reply), the ads will be gone.

This may very well end up being the permanent set-up. It makes it really easy to remove ads (or to never see them, if you're routinely busy on the site) without preventing them from occasionally displaying (a necessity for the site's advertising requirements). In the end, most of you should see a lot fewer ads and that's always a good thing. ;-)
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Title: Where do your ratings fit in the big picture?
Posted: December 09, 2007 (03:38 PM)
For awhile now (I say when referencing a feature that as a whole has been available on the site less than 48 hours total), your ratings have been compiled and organized in a way that allows the site to display the top-rated games in the database. You just might not have known it.

Now, I've finally finished tweaking code so that the results display in an attractive, interesting fashion. You can see general results here:

http://www.honestgamers.com/systems/ratings.php?action=list

It's worth noting that these results are real-time. The page will display ratings that reflect whatever is in the database at the moment you load it.

Also, you can scroll to the bottom of the page to see the five most recent rating submissions, or you can click on a system from the list to see the chart for that specific system. Cool, huh?

Finally, I've put links to this information both in the "Users" area (where it has been for some time) and on every other page of the main site. This means that more users should come across the ratings and hopefully contribute some of their own, ensuring that the feature continues to receive the attention it needs to really serve as an interesting record of what gamers really like to play.

We're one of the only sites around that lets people easily leave ratings on such a wide variety of games, old and new. I plan to personally promote that fact as I visit forums and such, and I hope that you'll do the same. If handled properly, this feature could catch on in a big way and really give the site (and its other content types) proper exposure. Similarly, this feature can die out if people aren't excited about it and interested in telling friends.

I hope that if you have a friend who might be interested in this feature, you'll feel good telling him or her and encouraging that individual to rate a few games (and maybe even post on the forums and in blogs along the way). The site now has pretty much every feature it's likely to have, enough that I can't handily think of another game site that tops it, so now it's time to start really putting those features to good use and spreading the word.

Thanks for your support so far everyone, and let's make 2007 go out with a bang that resounds through all of 2008 and beyond!
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Title: Important: HG Points bonus offer...
Posted: December 08, 2007 (06:16 PM)
The Wii giveaway is coming up soon, and I'm sure you're all as excited as I am.

There's also a new feature on the site that has me very excited. It lets you rate games, as many of you have noticed. To me, that has all sorts of potential to really improve our audience of involved participants, but only if we start out strong.

So far, we seem to be doing precisely that. A lot of you are rating games left and right, and I appreciate that... enough so, in fact, that I'm going to offer a new incentive that is available this weekend only.

Anyone who submits over 200 ratings can reply to this post before Monday, December 10 at 9PM (HG site time) and I will award you an extra 1000 HG Points. Ratings submitted prior to this message being posted do count, since this is a new feature. But wait! For every 100 ratings after that, I'll award an additional 1000 HG Points. The catch is that you're only allowed to reply once to this post for any reason before the deadline passes, and any posts after the deadline won't count for the extra points. So if you have 300 ratings posted right now but you think you can hit 400, please hit 400 before replying. There is a firm limit of 10,000 bonus points.

Remember that the Wii will be given away early next week, so this could be your last chance for a major points push in time for that all-important prize drawing!

Title: More Features...
Posted: December 07, 2007 (10:03 PM)
As a result of a LOT of coding on my part during the past 24 hours, the site now has two features you might not yet have noticed.

1) While You're Here...

This feature applies to game profiles on the regular site. When a user loads a game profile page, or a review or cheats or any other page that links to a game profile, they'll get the usual info, plus a "While You're Here..." box that recommends another title from the database.

The box will recommend the closest relevant match that will likely generate interesting content for the visitor. So for exmaple, a game classified as 'Horizontal Shooter (Vertical)' would be matched to precisely that if possible, or next to just 'Horizontal Shooter' or finally to just 'Shooter' if no other matches are available. The matches stay linked to that one system, and the result that will display is the most popular one of that type.

This ensures that as the site rank for games changes, the ones that display within that feature also evolve. It also should mean more exposure for related games. So if you've just reviewed a Shining Force game, for example, and someone comes to the site looking for info on some other Shining Force game on the Genesis, he would be encouraged to check out our Shining Force coverage and might read your review (whereas he almost never would have before).

The feature is too new to know if it'll work, but I do know that we've had a lot of people coming to the site from Google and GameRankings who visit only the first page they open, then leave for other sites. Hopefully, this feature will get them to stick around a bit longer.

2) Game Ratings...

Now users can rate games on a scale from 1-10 without having to post a review. The site will tally and display the average vote for a given game on its profile page. This feature was implemented after nash's suggestion in response to my previous blog entry.

From any game profile page, you can click to rate the game and specify both the rating and a little bit of text to support your rating (up to 250 characters, though you don't have to enter anything if you don't want). This means that even people who aren't great reviewers can still share in the site's activities if they want.

Rating a game will net you 10 HG Points, which maybe isn't all that much but is at least something. Your ratings will also show up under the 'Ratings' link in your blog, and along the right column unless you uncheck that option in your 'Settings' page.

Like the other function I announced, the 'Ratings' feature is designed to make it easier for newcomers to start participating in the community and enjoying all of the features it has to offer. I hope everyone enjoys and utilizes the new features, and I hope that you remember to tell friends about them. I agree that word of mouth is the most powerful tool we have to grow the site, and I'd like for all of you to be happy enough with the site that you feel comfortable recommending it to friends.
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Title: What prevents you...?
Posted: December 07, 2007 (01:10 AM)
So, I was wondering this evening: what prevents you from being more active on the site?

Right now, we have the Wii giveaway going on, and even that doesn't seem to be doing a lot to encourage the sort of activity I feel the site really deserves. We're improving and people are posting in their blogs more (hi, nash!), but it seems like there's still so far to go.

Is it something the site isn't offering that it really should? Are you just not into games like you once were? Are you new here and not sure how the community will react to your posts? Are you not sure how to even post?

I'd like to hear from anyone with an opinion on the matter. I can't promise a lot of changes at this point, since the site is pretty much where I want it to be in terms of features and design (finally), but I'm interested in hearing if there are a few small barriers here that could easily be removed to allow for increased activity from you and your friends.

The question doesn't just pertain to the blogs, but to the site as a whole. I'd like to know what we're missing, because I really want to hit the ground running as we head into 2008.

I'm all ears. Hit me!

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