Saturday, November 7, 2015

Spectre review

I have often complained that the last three James Bond films were kind of glum. They looked to be pushed to a harsh realism by the Bourne spy movies. Don't get me wrong. Daniel Craig is a great Bond and his 007 films are all good. What was missing is the fun of the Bond franchise particularly the Connery Bond movies. Yeah, it would be a mistake to go to the campy goofiness of the sixties' Bond but could we have some fun here? So with the 24th Bond movie, Spectre, I was pleasantly surprised. From the classic gun barrel prologue to the end of the movie my concern was answered with a resounding "yes."

Could we start all Bond movies with this?

Spectre opens up with an epic tracking shot following James Bond (Daniel Craig) and a date going up to their hotel room during the Mexican festival, "Day of the Dead." It's the type of shot reminiscent of Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil" (1958) and would kill a director like Michael Bay. (Armageddon) But this movie's director, Sam Mendes, is confident in his artistry and the story to keep the audience engaged rather than resorting to the fast cutting of modern cinema. Okay, there is some slick editing later but it's all logical.

Anyway, Bond is there to kill an assassin who's about ready to make a deal to bomb a stadium. As he he is about to snipe the participants, he overhears a reference to a Mr. White. After he kills all the bad guys, he's called back to London to answer for what we learn is an unsanctioned hit. Meanwhile, Bond is informed by M (Ralph Fiennes) that MI6 is about to be disbanded and absorbed by a worldwide intelligence network led by Moriarty... er... "C". (Andrew Scott) I watch a little too much "Sherlock." C argues that the "00" program is no longer relevant and obsolete in the age of digital intelligence gathering.

Bond goes rogue to follow up the Mr. White lead. He enlists Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) to help. While in Italy, Bond gets a recipe for chicken marsala from Lucia Sciarra. (Monica Belluci) Okay the chicken marsala recipe didn't happen. She happens to be the widow of the assassin that Bond killed and just happens not to love her dead husband. Nice plot detail since that makes it easier for Bond to um.. persuade her to give him some leads. She talks of a meeting of a mysterious group called "Spectre" that is going to meet in Rome.

Bond infiltrates the meeting and finds out there is a plan to kill Mr. White. But before Bond escapes, he finds out who is the leader of Spectre. It's Franz Oberhauser. (Christoph Waltz) Well, Bond sets out to question White who turns out to be Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) from Casino Royale. He also gets to do some more "persuasion" with White's daughter, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydeux) and gets to have his hair permed by his gay stylist, Mr. Hinx. (Dave Bautista) Okay, the hair permed part and gay stylist stuff is not in the movie. With a name like "Mr. Hinx", take a guess what he does. Yeah, he's Hinx the Henchman. Anyway, Bond must find out what Soectre is up to before the third act or else the movie is going be three hours long.

All the performances are excellent. Cheers to Bond's supporting cast. Ralph Fiennes makes a great M, every bit as good as Judi Dench was. He's old school, professional and a man of action. Naomie Harris as Moneypenny is not a glorified secretary but the loyal assistant of M and MI6. And in a welcome turn, Ben Whishow as Q is given some time in the field and thankfully more of the humor he had in the past. Both Monica Belluci and Lea Seydoux are beautiful and sexy Bond girls. Seydoux in her blue evening gown rocks the movie. And Kudos to the producers for casting fifty year old Belluci. Yep, she's still got it. Hear that Donald Trump? Daniel Craig is still good as Bond. He's still cold but suave. Perhaps next time he'll be given a witticism to utter. As for Christoph Waltz, you knew he would get a part like this. And he knows it. He plays this villain with a glint of mischief in his eye. Did I say villain? Okay, if you can't figure out who Oberhauser is while watching Spectre than you have not seen any Bond movies particularly the ones from the sixties and one I won't name since it would give it away. Oh, all right, I'll tell you. Waltz plays Khan. Just kidding Star Trek fans.

As you can tell it took me a while to summarize the plot. That's because the screenplay is bloated with too many ideas. I do appreciate the theme of the evils of "Big Brother" snooping on us. Its just that the multiple endings of this movie should have been condensed. What happens is that the film leaves out details which causes plot holes. Buildings explode without reason. Bond finds a miraculous escape a collapsing building. But these weaknesses don't wreck the movie.

The screenplay by John Logan (Gladiator, Star Trek: Nemesis), Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth has some wonderful humor and dedicates much to the Bond of the past. There are gorgeous women. Exciting action set pieces. A huge menacing henchman. There's even a freaking villain's lair! Okay, it's not a hollowed out volcano but it is a base of operations and a place to entertain Bond before the villain attempts to kill him. While this seems derivative, it all meshes harmoniously. And get this? Q's great gadgets make a roaring comeback. If you recall the last Bond movie, Skyfall (2012) had almost no gadgets. There's even a line from Q to Bond regarding gadgets, "We don't really go into that anymore." (Video below.) Thank you Q for changing your tune in Spectre or should I give thanks to director Sam Mendes? Regardless, the gadgets in this movie are a blast and they do save Bond on more than one occasion. Absolutely nothing wrong with that.

You were saying Q?

Spectre is a fun, entertaining Bond movie. It's unafraid of the past while acknowledging the present. I left the theater with a big smile on my face. The grade is A.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Star Trek returns to TV

In what must be marked as good news, Star Trek returns to TV. CBS has announced that Star Trek will return in 2017 with an initial network broadcast then the rest of the series will be available on CBS All Access.

As a Trekker, I'm very happy. 2016 is the fiftieth anniversary of the show. The science fiction franchise has been around that long. And we've been waiting for a TV series since Enterprise left the air in 2005. I am concerned about the pay per view concept. I would like it to be available to everyone and that includes those who are poor who can only watch TV over the air. The show belongs to everyone because of its optimistic view of humanity. Star Trek is a rich franchise that is entertaining and also smart. Perhaps, CBS could syndicate the show like it did before then have the complete series available on its streaming site free of commercials. Regardless, Star Trek belongs on TV where more complex, in depth, smart stories can be told. That was creator Gene Roddenberry's vision.

Here's the news from the official Star Trek website.

Boldly going again...

Bengals make history

Let's face it Cincinnati Bengals fans. You thought when quarterback Andy Dalton threw that interception in the end zone with a little over nine minutes left in the game that this would be the Bengals first loss. But great teams overcome their mistakes and find ways to win. And the Bengals have all the markings of being a great team. Because the Bengals' defense held. They picked off Steeler quarterback Benji... er Ben Rothelisberger. twice in the quarter to stop drives. That gave the Bengals the opportunity to put together two drives to score ten points. The result was the Bengals won, 16-10.

With the victory, the Bengals climb to 7-0. No Bengals team has won its first seven games. It's a first for the franchise. Let's hope there's more winning to come. Maybe even a Super Bowl victory. Here are the highlights.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Why you should not play Destiny. The Taken King review

Look, I'll admit I play a lot of the video game Destiny so my review of the new DLC (downloadable content) "The Taken King" and the game may seem written by a fanboy. But unlike other reviewers, my opinion is not dependent on whether Destiny succeeds or in support of big business. And frankly, I have a love-hate relationship with the game. That being said, I've really kicked the tires of this game and can support my review with details from hours of gameplay. You see I've played every major mode of the game from the campaign to the player versus player (PvP) event Iron Banner to the game's epic co-operative mission raid, "King's Fall." With Halo 5's release and Christmas video game shopping around the corner, the question becomes should anyone play this game?

Destiny: The Taken King is more than just an add on. It's a complete reboot of the game. Instead of armor determining how much damage you will deliver to the enemy and how much you can take from them, it's now an average of your weapons and armor strength. That's a Light Rating. You still have levels but that's only relevant as to what weapons, gear, and missions you can access. If you played in year one and maxed out your armor to number 34 and used powerful weapons, you found out that your new light rating was NOT maxed out. Instead you found out you were basically starting out at a very low light rating. So, you were basically starting all over again. More on this later.

Too Little, Too Late.

Here's what Destiny gets right. Again, it's the gameplay. No changes were done to the games excellent gun mechanics. Firing guns and killing aliens is a blast. Developer Bungie had plenty of experience with the Halo series. And of course publisher Activision has the Call of Duty series to lean on. Jumping and the use of jetpacks gives you the ability to strategically escape and attack from other areas. Mission design is better than the previous two DLCs due to new areas to explore.

The player versus player (PvP) mode is also very good. New games like Rift and especially Mayhem are fun. Mayhem is a blast because one's supers regenerate quickly making all players dangerous not just the elite ones. It's like a pie throwing fight. While the new maps favor long distance fights, they are for the most part understandable except for the confusing Vertigo.

The story to the DLC, "The Taken King" is better. It's more compelling. In the game, Oryx, a Hive ruler, is coming to our solar system to take vengeance on you for killing his son. There's an epic space battle depicted that is a thing of beauty. The Awoken are seen in their fighter ships attacking the fleet of Oryx. It's so good it made me wish they put a space combat flight mission in the game. Anyway, it's up to you to stop Oryx and prevent him from "possessing" or controlling the human race. He's already possessed or "taken" some of your enemy alien races. I'll admit the "Taken" are scary but cheaply drawn. They're basically ink blots molded in the shape of some of the previous alien baddies.

Voice actor Nolan North is now the voice of the Ghost, your AI companion. He's very funny and he gets the material. He did record Peter Dinklage's prior Ghost recordings and he's no better in those year one scenes. But his stuff for "The Taken King" is very good.

And I've got to say Bungie does give the fans a tiny bit of what they wanted. They've increased the vault space to seventy two slots for both categories of weapons and armor. And you can turn in bounties from anywhere. oh... joy.

Here's the way I feel about turning in bounties from anywhere.


But there are so many things wrong with Destiny: The Taken King, that it's hard to include all of the issues. Let's start with the big problem. How you treat your fans is important. And Bungie treats its experienced fans very badly. The big problem is that Destiny: The Taken King resets year one players to a weak position.

Let me explain how Bungie screws year one players. I'll use my created characters as an example. Before year two, my Titan, Hunter and Warlock were level 34, the highest level in the game. They had max weapons at an attack rating of 365. With The Taken King, my weapons were reset to an attack rating of 170. In the new DLC, I've seen high level year two weapons at 310. But it gets worse. Those year one weapons and armor were made obsolete. Bungie did not and will not ascend maximum level year one weapons and armor to the maximum level of year two. In essence, they made me a noob (new game player) all over again. That means I have to grind my way back to the top again.

If you were a player like me, you had a nasty surprise when you went against the enemies in Destiny. Instead of being the bad ass that you created, you found out that your year one guns did very little damage against Destiny's baddies. For example, the patrol mission where you take out a high priority target, is usually easy for me. A few shots from my scout rifle. Target down. But now I was at 34 facing a target at 40. Ten rockets and thirty minutes later, I did it. Painful. Second, your powerful year one weapons that did elemental damage are now useless. And as I predicted, you did not get elemental damage primary weapons off the bat. So you start again as a noob, slugging it out against shielded enemies without matching elemental damage. In fact, Bungie has recently announced that legendary primary weapons will no longer have elemental damage.

There's also a big difficulty spike with the new enemies. The Taken have remarkable offensive and defensive abilities. Some shoot damaging fire mortars. Cabal Taken have the ability to shoot bursts of energy to damage and throw you off platforms which can cause you to fall to your death. Then some Taken fire constant rolling balls of darkness which cause a black screen and damage. Like Fallen captains, multiple Taken can transport and do so frequently. They can throw bubble shields and tether allies to make their shields stronger. Oh , yeah, some of the enemies have elemental shields. But there's one more even stronger ability for the Taken. Some of them can reproduce like bacteria but only at super speed. Annoying. Against these guys, you have your simple kinetic damage primary weapon. Still feel like a year one bad ass?


Destiny: The Taken King doesn't correct some of the major flaws of year one Destiny. And in one instance, the game makes a mistake from last year. First, the two major co-op missions have no matchmaking. You must form a team to play the Nightfall strike and the epic raid, "King's Fall." Okay, you could solo the Nightfall but do you really want to spend a whole day on one mission that you will likely fail?

One of the reasons, this review is late is because I wanted to play and finish the King's Fall raid. And the big reason it took me this long is that I could not muster up six people to play it. That's the problem with no matchmaking. Bungie just doesn't seem to get the fact that a gamer and his friends do not play at the same time. One friend may be at a Browns game for some crazy reason, while another maybe at the ballet when a gamer wants to play the raid. The result is that it will take weeks to play the thing because you can't get enough people to play it. Third party sites that match make are not the solution. They're not in the game. And be prepared for the elitists on those sites who will bail on you if you don't understand all the rules of the raid.

As for the raid, it's like the other raids in the game only bigger and more jumping. Did I say jumping? The leaps in this raid are truly ridiculous. Jump on moving bells. Jump on moving platforms. Jump from ledges while a big post tries to knock you off. Look, I didn't buy this thing to hold back the squad with my difficulty in jumping. This is a FPS. (first person shooter) It ain't Mario. FPS games are not conducive for this type of gaming. Then there are the usual convoluted rules to defeat the multiple bosses. And for all your trouble? You might get the crappy auto rifle Anguish of Drystan with no elemental damage perk.

I've also played the player versus player modes (PvP) of The Crucible. A couple of weeks ago, I played the monthly tournament called The iron Banner. (IB) Now Iron Banner in year one, usually gave a path to obtain the highest level armor so you didn't have to play the raids to level up to the maximum. I recall one time last year, it didn't. And we Destiny vets ignored it that month. Well, Bungie didn't learn from that mistake. Year Two Iron Banner featured 280 Light Level weapons and armor. No point in playing it since you can obtain Light level gear of the same number from a vendor or a random strike.

"THANK YOU SIR, MAY I HAVE ANOTHER?" Animal House (1978)

Bungie likes to inflict pain on gamers. Remember Bungie nerfed fan favorite weapons, Gjallarhorn, Thorn, Red Death, and Ice Breaker. There are other negative things that Bungie does to players. Xur no longer sells Exotic Shards to upgrade Exotic equipment. He used to sell five heavy weapon synthesis for one Strange Coin, now it's three. You cannot replay missions on gradual difficulties. It's either easy or very hard.

There's more stuff that Bungie does to make your gaming life in Destiny more miserable. The new currency is now called Legendary marks. Now you can only carry two hundred. And get this? That maximum is account wide, i.e. if you have three characters they must share it. Before, each character could carry two hundred Vanguard and two hundred Crucible marks. So, each character could buy a weapon and all could share. Now, it is difficult to purchase more than one weapon or armor since the price for these things runs about one hundred fifty Legendary marks. And Legendary marks are not that easy to get, at least in good quantities.

And while these are major problems, there are small things that Bungie does to make the gamer's life harder. One trick to generate Orbs is to got to Earth and go underground where you meet three Hive majors coming out of a room. One rocket or super and you nail all three. Generate a bunch Orbs. Now the Hive majors are spread out. Will take a perfect shot to get all three. None of this nerfing helps the gamer.

And it gets worse. There are stuff that borders on fraud, at least it's false advertising. Bungie told this big whopper to Game Infomer. "The conflation of gear and character level led to this place where your identity was determined by things outside of your control. We didn't want to do that." September, 2015, pg. 49. Wrong. Remember that your all important light level is an average of your armor and weapons. If you don't like a piece of armor due to its perks or looks or like using a particular weapon, tough. Get used to that crappy auto rifle until you get one with a higher level. Of course, one can "Infuse" a weapon with another by dismantling it to make it a higher light level. But guess what? It costs you Legendary marks, raw materials and it doesn't always give you the exact number from dismantled weapon. It's like this if you take a light level weapon of 290 and dismantle it so that you can "infuse" another so that it is a higher attack level, you may not always get the dismantled weapon's attack number. Depending on the difference between the two, it can be significantly lower. For example, infusing a 220 light auto rifle with a 295 weapon may cause that auto rifle to be only 275.

Here's another example of deceptive advertising in the game. Xur sells something called a "Legacy heavy Weapon Engram" for a whopping 31 Strange coins. The description reads like this, "An engram with remarkable but familiar markers. A Cryptarch would be pleased to decode it." No where does he tell you what it actually is. It's a freaking year one heavy weapon exotic with year one attack numbers. Yep, it's obsolete.


While I was playing I got the Sisyphus bond for the Warlock. I laughed. Why? Because playing this game I felt like Sisyphus. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was punished by the gods to push a rock up a hill. When he got the rock close to the top of the hill, the gods made sure it would roll down again and he would have to push the rock back up again. How does this apply to Destiny? So far with each DLC, you had to grind to reach the pinnacle. Reached the top with basic Destiny? Well, guess what? You had to grind and play the Crota raid. Hey, there's a new DLC, "House of Wolves." Want to reach the top level? Grind and get etheric light. Guess what happens to you with The Taken King? You get reset like a noob. Grind again gamer. And I bet when a new DLC comes around, you'll have to grind again to reach the new Light levels.

The Destiny gamer is Sisyphus.

is there a reason why Bungie makes a game with pain and reward? Yes. It all has to do with milking every last cent from you. Realize that each new DLC costs you the gamer money. Sixty dollars for the game. Twenty dollars in December. Twenty dollars in May. Forty dollars in September. This ain't art. And it certainly is not Mass Effect 3 or Grand Theft Auto 5 with their free DLC.

The model is a subscription MMO. Don't believe Bungie when they argued that Destiny is not a MMO. (Gamespot article, Nov., 18, 2013) Just remember the game is designed to addict you. (Bungie acknowledges using psychology to hook players. IGN, April 2,2015) Once you become addicted, you find that you must have the next DLC to level up your character. But it's more than that. Bungie has a ten year plan for the game. They've got to stretch it out. Extend it to Destiny 2. So they've got to slow the gamer down. Can't let him get to his goal too fast. So nerf weapons in the name of weapons balancing. None of the nerfing is good for the gamer but is good for Bungie.

Greed is not good for art. And yes, I consider video games to be art. Great art can make money but it is about expression and a respect for the audience. Destiny is all about the money. It's a drug, not art.

Please, "Just say no."

I can't recommend Destiny to the new gamer, or the Destiny veteran. Bungie shows a contempt for the customer by constantly moving the goals of the game. And every motive for anything done in Destiny is for profit. The grade is C Plus.

Another slick live action ad for Destiny, that is not true.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Paul Tassi, Bungie apologist?

First let me say I like reading Forbes writer Paul Tassi's articles about video games. But if you read his stuff, you get this feeling that he writes from a prospective of supporting video game companies rather than looking how those businesses treat the gamer. Of course, he writes for the pro-business Forbes.

This week, he freaked out over an item sold by Xur in the game Destiny. Here's his article. The item is called "The Three of Coins." You get five chances for an Exotic weapon or armor engram with the cost seven strange coins. That's the can be some of the best stuff in the game. Now to get it, you have to defeat an Ultra boss. That's a yellow bar boss with a name and symbol. What upsets Tassi is that people are farming by doing mission "The Scourge of Winter" over and over again. Gamers would kill the boss and themselves and respawn the boss quickly. Oh, the humanity.

But here's Tassi shows his pro-Bungie bias. He frets it could break the game. Really? Tassi doesn't get it. Gamers getting to where they want to at a faster rate doesn't break the game unless the goal is to stretch the game out till Destiny 3 comes out and milk every cent from gamer with DLC. Second, you don't get an Exotic engram everytime you kill an Ultra. How do I know that? After using fifteen of the items, I got only three engrams. So you see it works the way it was designed. And get this, I'm still stuck at a light rating of 244, well below the number needed to try The Taken King's raid. Tassi should also realize that a gamer cannot equip more than one Exotic item at a time. The Three of Coins and quickly farming it does not break the game or turn players into super Guardians overnight.

Tassi is a good writer but his big business bias is showing.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Stephen Colbert gorges on Donald Trump and Oreos

Here is the best piece from last night's premiere episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. In it, Colbert goes over conservative Republican Donald Trump's swearing off Oreo cookies.

An open letter to Jay Bruce

Dear Jay Bruce,

As I watched you strike out with the bases loaded in the eighth, it's become clear you have not been paying any attention as to how the opposition plays you or pitches to you. Because we see the same results with the same defense all the time. You make an out, usually by striking out. Mind you, I'm not asking for a four hundred batting average. I just want to see contact and clutch hitting. So, let me tell you how they're defending against you.

Um... Jay, have you noticed that the third baseman, shortstop and second baseman all move to the right, i.e. towards first base? That's because you pull a lot of balls even ground balls. Now, I'm not against pull hitters but they're going to get you out because balls that would be hits if the defense played regularly would be fair. To keep them honest, why don't you try going the other way? Heck, a weak ground ball at third base is likely going to be a double, maybe a triple. You do that enough times and guess what happens? They'll play you honestly. Then you will be able to get better pitches to hit and pull.

Second, do you know how they're pitching to you? Let me put it this way. They're not coming in. It's away. Away. AWAY. Most of the time it's a low and away breaking ball. Now, q lot of these pitches are balls. Why swing at them? You won't make good contact. Hit strikes.

I hope this helps.

Sincerly, a life long Reds fan.