Friday, September 30, 2011

Stephen Colbert Educates The Public About Crossroads GPS

If you remember, Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report, formed a Super PAC so he could collect gobs of money to influence the upcoming presidential election. Well, Colbert found out about Karl Rove's Super PAC, "American Crossroads" and his non-profit 501 (c) (4) corporation called Crossroads GPS which gets millions from anonymous donors. So, Colbert decides to form his own 501 (c) (4) with the purpose to "educate." This nonprofit can get millions without disclosing its donors which maybe other corporations. Anyway, I'm going to embed the whole thirty minute show since Stephen is brilliant in showing how anonymous money is going hurt in our democracy. Of course, he's funny in doing it.


More funny names for donors of Stephen's Super PAC, plus Ham Rove!

Stephen forms his own 501 (c) (4).

Stephen in a "Dating Game" spoof, tries to select a billionaire to give his new 501 (c) (4) millions of dollars. Guess who are the first two billionaires. Kevin Kline hosts.

Interviews Mark Cuban.

Final scene.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The New Catwoman Costume Looks Goofy

A picture from "The Dark Knight Rises" of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman has leaked. Her costume looks goofy. Is it as bad as Halle Berry's Catwoman costume? No. But the problem is the mask. It looks like she has a mask that just covers her eyes and some funny cat ears popping from the back of her head. That's just dumb. I mean any person will be able to tell who she is. The mask should be similar to Batman's. Yeah, that maybe too similar but it would make sense. Nobody would be able to guess her identity if she had such a mask. Perhaps put the ears closer to the head. Anyway, check it out for yourself.

Here's the Yahoo story.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Trash Talking Scalpers And Bengals Bungle

I tried to go to the Cincinnati Bengals game today. Got down there about sometime in the middle of the second quarter. All I needed was one ticket. So this scalper in a Minnesota Vikings jersey tried to sell me four tickets for one hundred and sixty dollars. When I tried to negotiate for one ticket for twenty five dollars, the trash talking guy angrily told me "Why are you wasting my time?" Well, dude, with today's Bengals loss, you're going to be eating a lot more tickets in the future.

And by the way, if you're wondering why I didn't go to the Bengals box office. Well, back in 2003, I would buy tickets from the box office because I was patriotic. Yeah, I wanted the Bengals to have my money rather than a scalper. Now, since owner Mike Brown refuses to change to improve his product, I'm going to avoid giving him my money. IF he doesn't hire a general manager or more scouts, I will refuse to help him. I will also refuse to pay full price for a ticket.

But what about the game? Classic Bengals loss. The team twice got into the red zone, i.e. within the twenty yard line of the endzone. The only got two field goals. The Bengals went one for ten on third down conversions. Then in the fourth quarter, rookie quarterback Andy Dalton threw two interceptions. Sigh. Ballgame. Bengals lose to the San Francisco 49ers again, 13-8.

Wait till next week. Here comes the undefeated Buffalo Bills. Remember what happened last year when the Bills came back from a 31-14 deficit? They are coming off a great victory against the New England Patriots. Oy vey. At least the Cincinnati Reds finally beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-4.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Moneyball Review

I'm a fan of the Cincinnati Reds, so when I went to see the baseball film Moneyball, I had some knowledge of the material. The movie is based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Michael Lewis about Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane. The book itself is based on the statistical theories of Bill James.

Now, Bill James as the movie correctly points out was a security guard at Stokley Van Camp Pork and Beans when he started writing on a different approach on evaluating players. This different approach which he would call sabermetrics emphasized the on base percentage of a player. What that means is how often a player gets on base, either through a hit or walk. Not everything in sabermetrics is that logical or non-controversial. The approach diminishes strikeouts as just another out. But if you strikeout, you can't get a hit or get on with an error. And when James commented that Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson was more lucky than talented, Sparky replied that James was a, "a fat little bearded man who knows nothing about nothing."

Anyway, the movie starts out in 2001. The cash strapped Oakland A's have just lost in the playoffs to the very rich New York Yankees. At the end of the season, the A's will lose three major players to free agency Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and reliever Jason Isringhausen. A's GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) tries to beg for more money from the team's owner for the 2002 season but is turned down. Later he goes to the office of Cleveland Indians to personally engage in trade talks to get players to replace the three. It's there he notices that an Indians executive, Peter Brand, (Jonah Hill) has the ear of the Indians GM. Beane later confronts Brand, who by the way is a fictional character, about how he analyzes players. Brand informs Beane of a new way to analyze players, one that uses particular statistics. Beane hires Brand to assist him in Oakland.

It's at the meeting of A's scouts with Beane and Brand that they challenge baseball's conventional wisdom. In the old ways, goofy things like how pretty a player's girlfriend would come into an evaluation. Now Brand would bring sabermetrics directly into picking players. In a scene reminiscent from the movie Major League (1989) where Vegas showgirl Rachel Phelps picks a bunch of unknowns, Beane and Brand pick a group of pedestrian players to replace stars Giambi, Damon and Isringhausen. And it's just as funny. The biggest unconventional pick is the choice of Scott Hatteberg, a washed up catcher to play first base. The attraction of Hatteberg? He gets on base. But with these radical picks, the A's go on to win 103 games.

Screenplay writers Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List) have crafted a story that captures the conflict of philosophies. It's old vs. new. That concept is dramatized extremely well in the fight between Beane and A's manager Art Howe's (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) refusal to play Hatteberg. Director Bennett Miller gives the movie a documentary feel. And thankfully, he stays out of the way of the performances.

And speaking of performances, two stand out. First, I would have thought that Phillip Seymour Hoffman would have been a terrible choice to play manager Art Howe. But he makes Howe believable as self absorbed, conservative and stubborn baseball man. Brad Pitt is now 47. He reminds me of a mature Robert Redford. This film is his best performance to date. He beautifully makes his Beane a confused, stressed and eventually a courageous man. It's a performance that is Oscar worthy.

But if you know anything about baseball, how accurate is Moneyball? Did sabermetrics make the Oakland A's of 2002? And while I can agree with the ideal of having a good on base percentage, there's more to baseball than cold statistics. The most important thing in baseball is pitching. One thing the movie does not reflect is that the A's hit gold when they developed three aces. They were Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. The great seasons that the A's had from 2001 to 2003 were due to no small part by the pitching of these three.

Money is still very important in major league baseball. The A's unable to keep pace financially have been not very good from 2007 to the present. One of the funniest lines in this comedy-drama is at the end. The movie ends with the line that the Boston Red Sox won a World Series in 2004 by using sabermetrics. Sort of. The Boston Red Sox had twice the payroll of the A's. (Street and Smith's Baseball 2005 Yearbook, pg. 98) It's money that enables big market teams like the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees, and the Boston Red Sox to make the playoffs. And the importance of money was readily proved this year. The Milwaukee Brewers spent money to get ace Zack Greineke and solid starting pitcher Shaun Marcum. The result? The Brewers have just won the NL Central Division.

Moneyball is only partially accurate in its view on how to field a winning baseball team. But as a film it does a good job showing a man's struggle to overcome adversity. The grade is B +.

Netflix Blunders

Reading the Internet lately, business analysts have been praising Netflix's decision to split its movie delivery service into two entities. (Reuters story.) One will be Netflix and will stream movies. The other will be Qwikster which will continue to mail DVD movies. Now all this comes after Netflix initially raised prices to be part of both streaming and the DVD mail service. To get Qwikster, you'll have to set up a separate account with them. And if you read articles on Qwikster, it's set up to either die or be sold.

I can't agree with the business analysts. While I agree that the future of viewing movies at home is going to be Internet streaming, the selection of movies for streaming isn't there yet. The advantage of Netflix was the huge library. If a certain movie wasn't available online, at least you could get it via the mail. Now if you look at Netflix right now, the selection is terrible without the DVD option. Try to get Casablanca (1943) or in my case, try to get Transformers (2007) on Netflix since I'm the only man on the planet that hasn't seen it. You have to go the DVD route which means I will have to open another account with Qwikster.

But is Netflix currently worth your money? I say, "sort of." At $7.99 a month, you don't' get much in movie selection. I mean many movies that are older than one year old aren't currently available. See Casablanca. There are some great films like Pulp Fiction (1995) or Patton (1970). But there seems to be more obscure movies like "The Cleaner" (2007) or the religious movies like "Marriage Retreat" (2011) starring Jeff Fahey and Victoria Jackson?! It's the lack of selection that will allow a competitor with a better online library AND a DVD service if the movie is not online to perhaps do to Neflix what it did to Blockbuster.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cincinnati Bengals Offer New Fan Service

FAKE NEWS- Tung N. Cheek reporting.

Now that it looks like Cincinnati Bengals Jerome Simpson was involved in trafficking a load of marijuana, the Bengals have offered a new service to entice fans to buy season tickets. Here's my interview with Bengals owner Mike Brown.

Cheek: Do you have any comment on the allegation of the large marijuana shipment sent to Jerome Simpsons' house?

Brown: It's all part of the Bengals way.

Cheek: How's that?

Brown: I like my players to be criminals. You do know since 2000, the Cincinnati Bengals have had the most players arrested in the NFL. (True fact. Check it out.)

Cheek: I'm sorry did you say that you want your players to be crooks? What the f_ck??

Brown: Yeah. Two reasons. I can pay a NFL player much less if he's tainted. You know like a crook. None of those "winning teams" sign criminals.

Cheek: Yeah, but those teams do win. Look at the New England Patriots.

Brown: Winning, schminning. Look at how much money I'm making.

Cheek: I'm getting a headache. What is the second reason for having criminals on the team?

Brown: I've noticed we're not selling out at the stadium. So, the Cincinnati Bengals will offer a new service to season ticket holders. If you're a season ticket holder, you get an app for your cell phone. It's called "THE CINCINNATI BENGALS CRIMINAL WARNING." If you go to the app, it will warn you when a Cincinnati Bengals will commit a crime. If you're a woman, it will save you from getting sexually assaulted by a Bengal. If you're at a night club, it will warn you that a Bengal is in the bar, and tell you to get the hell out of there before a Bengal will beat you to a bloody pulp. Hey, check out what our Cedric Benson did to his roommate. SCARED PEOPLE OF CINCINNATI? YOU BETTER BE. IF YOU DON'T BUY TICKETS, I'LL UNLEASH THE BENGALS ON YOU. And before you poor people scream about not being able to afford to buy tickets, once we sell out, the service will be available for a minimal cost to users of the Internet.

Cheek: Sounds like you're trying to extort money from the people of Cincinnati.

Brown: How do you think I got the Bengals stadium built?

Cheek: I'm kind of sick. Anything else?

Brown: Please embed the video of where we get our players.

Cheek: Okay. Below is the secret video of where the Bengals get their players.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

One Million Moms Hates Schweddy Balls

Remember the 1998 Saturday Night Live skit, Schweddy Balls? (Video below.) It was a classic Christmas piece in which two clueless NPR hosts interview a gourmet entrepreneur named Pete Schweddy (Alec Baldwin) about his food balls. Well, Ben and Jerry's is coming out with a new ice cream inspired by the skit called Schweddy Balls. It's a rum flavored concoction to coincide with SNL's new season.

Of course, leave it to conservatives to spoil the fun. An offshoot of the conservative American Family Association, One Million Moms is urging a boycott of Schweddy Balls. (Huffington Post story.) They obviously don't like Schweddy Balls. I'm guessing that One Million Moms is going to be upset how we eat Ben and Jerry's ice cream. I mean do we eat Schweddy Balls? Do we lick Schweddy Balls? Or do we suck Schweddy Balls?

The inspiration for Ben and Jerry's Schweddy Balls.

Those crazy Birthers, Part Sixteen

Conservative Republican, singer Pat Boone and member of the Beverly Hills Tea Party is a birther. Hold on, there's a chapter of the Tea Party called the Beverly Hills Tea Party? I thought it was a grass roots campaign that got its support from the common man, not some fat cats. But I digress.

At a California GOP event on Friday, Boone said, "Asked if believes Obama was born in the U.S., Boone said, “I don’t. … I was in Kenya about a year and a half ago and everybody there says, you know, your president was born here.”

“Why else would he be hiding all of his records? He’s spending millions of dollars so that we do not have his records. And experts have already looked at and been able to verify that this long-form document is a fraud. … But the media ignores it….a total fraud. A photo-shopped fraud.” From Politico and the San Francisco Examiner.

Okay, Pat let's go over this again. When you crazy birthers put out his nonsense, President Obama produced his short form birth certificate. That's the form Hawaii gives you when you request it. As this insanity continued, Hawaiian government officials said they had seen the original certificate and he was born in Hawaii. And by the way, Hawaiian newspapers had reported Obama's birth! But that was still not good enough for you birthers. And by the way this is racist, because of the proof tha Obama had shown. If Obama was white and his descendants were from England, we would not be debating this. Anyway, Obama had to get a special exception from Hawaii and got the long form. Sigh. And it's still not good enough for yahoos like Boone. (Here's my old post about the long form certificate that Obama produced. And here's my post showing this birther movement is racist.)

But back to Pat Boone. He offers his allegations without proof. There's not one witness he produces from Kenya. There's not one witness to state that all of Obama's birth certificates were forged. None. Boone accuses Obama of not being an American. Yet, he engages in un-American behavior. Yeah, he denies Obama's citizenship without due process.

Should the Reds trade Joey Votto?

Listening to WLW 700's Lance McAlister on the Cincinnati Reds pregame show, one would think Lance wants to trade Reds first baseman Joey Votto. He cites a current article by Ken Rosenthal to add to the speculation that the Reds might want to deal Votto. Rosenthal thinks that trading Votto now would get more value since Votto's contract for next year is nine million, and seventeen million for the third and final year. I'm not sure why Rosenthal writes this unless he wants a major market team to get one of the premiere players in baseball. Okay, that's cynical. But let's analyze the idea of trading Votto.

To analyze whether the Reds should trade Joey Votto, we must look at what are the Reds goals? Frankly, I don't know what the goals of the Reds are. I can try to interpret Reds owner Bob Castellini's goals for the Reds but owners can say one thing and do another. So let's go over possible goals for the Reds.

1. Maximize Profits. In baseball, if you trade a major player, you must have someone in return or in the minors to take his place. There is an exception to this rule. If your goal is to simply make money and not be concerned about winning then the bottom line rules. See the Pittsburgh Pirates who trade their best players when they become eligible to become free agents. Of course, the Pirates don't' win. They have now gone nineteen straight losing seasons. And while I blame Major League Baseball for not having a salary cap where teams have equal chances, the Pirates ownership have set a course to only follow their bottom line.

We don't know what the Reds payroll is. It requires an assumption that the Reds can't afford Votto come year three. It also begs the question why did the Reds sign Votto in 2011 for a three year contract? But assuming it's all about maximizing the profits, then trading Votto this off season makes sense.

Of course trading Votto for the bottom line sends the white flag to the fans that you have no intention of competing for the playoffs. If you followed the 2011 Reds, you would find the Reds did not hit with runners in scoring position. Joey Votto who was MVP in 2010, hits an astounding .350 with runners in scoring position (RISP) for his career. Trading Votto exacerbates the Reds weak RISP even further.

Lance likes to talk about trading Votto to the Toronto Blue Jays for Jose Bautista. I've already analyzed this trade. It's a big mistake. Bautista is four years older than Votto. He was a journeyman outfielder before he came to Toronto. Then out of nowhere, he hits 54 home runs. ESPN says there's some evidence that the Blue Jays steal signs. Is there another reason for Bautista's power surge? I don't know. Regardless, Bautista does not hit with runner in scoring position. And if Bautista tanks for the Reds, the team will eat two more years on his contract than Votto's. That comes out to 28 million dollars.

2. Win a championship. If the goal is to win a championship, trading Joey Votto makse no sense. One, Votto is a premiere player. He hits in the clutch. You might want to say the Reds can put Yonder Alonso at first. But there's no proof that Alonso can hit with runners in scoring position. The purpose of the contract in 2011 was to keep Votto in Cincinnati for three more years. The Reds should use this window with Votto to expand the payroll. That doesn't mean they go nuts but the Reds should investigate signing a free agent starting pitcher. If Roy Oswalt becomes available, the Reds should look at him.

If I were to take Reds owner Bob Castellini at his word, then the Reds do not trade Votto. Remember what Castellini said when he bought the Reds. He said he would bring back championship baseball back to Cincinnati. The Milwaukee Brewers are going to lose Prince Fielder. You don't see the Brewers wringing their hands over it. They're trying to win a World Series. And winning teams don't trade their best player for prospects. Right Bob?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mass Effect 2, N7: Blue Suns Base Tips for Insanity Difficulty

This is the last post in my series of tips for Mass Effect 2 on Insanity Difficulty. Today, I'm going to talk about the N7: Blue Suns Base mission. On Insanity, I play this mission way after I've completed the Suicide or Endgame mission because I've built up my abilities. As with other posts, I'm going to go over only the hardest parts of this mission. And on this mission, it's the last part where you will face two YMIR mechs followed by Capetian Narom and his Blue Suns mercenaries. Don't forget to review my general tips for the Insanity difficulty setting. If you need a walkthrough for this mission, here's one from Mass Effect Wikipedia.

1. Know Your Enemy. Blue Suns troopers with shields. Blue Suns Heavy with a rocket launcher and shields. Blue Sun Commander with shields, armor and health. Captain Narom with shields, armor and health. Two YMIR Mechs with shields armor and health. Oh, the YMIR Mechs are armed with machine guns and rocket launchers.

2. Your Squad. On Normal, I can get by with any combination of squad members. On Insanity, you have to take into consideration the two YMIR Mechs at the end of this mission. They will be harder to bring down and dish out more damage.

So, taking that into consideration, I take one tech expert who can help me out with the YMIR Mechs. I choose Legion. His combat drones can be used on shielded and armored YMIR Mechs. He also has an assault rifle and sniper rifle which can dish out damage at long range. My second squad member is Miranda. She can overload shields and warp armor of any of the enemies.

3. Weapons, armor and powers. I'm a solider so my primary weapons is the Revenant machine gun. My heavy weapon is the M-77 Missile Launcher. My armor is Kestrel. My bonus power is Slam. Remember you can use Slam against YMIR Mechs once their shields and armor is gone. It freezes them and damages them.

4. General Tips.

a. Keep your distance from your enemies.

b. Take cover.

c. Don't forget to use squadmates' powers.

d. When you enter the base, stay on the high ground. Okay, you've finished off the soldiers on the outside. Time to go inside. Once you enter the Blue Suns base, you find yourself on top of some ramps. You get jumped by a Blue Suns Commander and his cronies. Position a member of your squad on the left and on the right. Make sure they have cover. Okay, now stay on top of the situation and take cover. I stay on the highest part of he ramps.

Nail the Commander first. You will find that with this set-up, you've got a nice crossfire happening. If you have to, use your sniper rifle. Eventually you wipe out this first group. Now, go down and enter the room to the right. Scavenge. Now proceed to the mess hall.

As you move forward, more mercenaries jump you. Take cover and take them out. Okay advance into the cavern or mine. Scavenge the area. Save your game before you enter the garage or transportation hub.

e. The YMIR Mechs. Once you enter the room and move down a ramp, you are treated to a cutscene where you see two YMIR Mechs being activated. After the cutscene finishes, bring up your squad wheel. This pauses the action and will locate the YMIR Mechs. Then postion the squad members under cover. Put one behind a crate and one behind a pillar.

The Two Million Dollar Tip. After you've positioned your squad, RUN to the left. There will be two cool looking vehicles separated by a short ramp. At the top of the ramp is a destructible crate, head for it. Destroy the crate and turn right. There should be a Medi-gel and a vehicle. But more importantly, you're on a platform with crates. Crates that you can use for cover. So get under cover, dummy. From here you can rain fire down on the mechs and direct the battle.

Use Miranda's Overload power to rip down the YMIR Mechs shields. Use her Warp power to attack their armor. Here's the beauty of having Legion. Even when a YMIR Mech has shields and armor, you can use the combat drone. The drone cause a YMIR Mech to focus on it. While a YMIR Mech is focusing on the combat drone, you should attack it. You can also AI hack one if it loses its shields and armor. But frankly, once a YMIR Mech loses its shields and armor, it becomes susceptible to your all the gunfire from the team. And all this crossfire from your squad and you confuses the YMIR Mechs. They don't move a whole lot because of the combination of combat drones and fire keeps them at bay. Eventually, you bring them down.

Once you bring down the YMIR Mechs, Captain Narom makes his appearance. At your position, troopers will be able to fire on you but it's still a good place to stay. You'll just have to move around the platform to stay under cover. If a trooper gives you a hard time, nail him first. Just keep track of Narom since he's got shields, armor, health and a Revenant machine gun. Of course, don't forget to use your and your squad's powers.

Okay, you will kill all the bad guys. Hooray. Scavenge the transportation hub by first taking the Medi-gel. Then go to the rooms that surround the center room with the transmitter. Scavenge them. The room on the left has a wall safe. Get into the center room. Overload the transmitter. Cutscene shows you escaping as the the transmitter blows up. Mission over.

Thanks to the Average Gatsby for showing the spot where to take cover. He doesn't use my squad combination which I believe would make the mission easier.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bengals lose but learn something

Okay, let me get this out of the way. The Cincinnati Bengals lost to the Denver Broncos in Denver, 24-22. The Broncos blasted the Bengals on in the first drive. Eighty yards later, Broncos score a touchdown. And later in the fourth quarter, Broncos QB Kyle Orton found Eric Decker as two Bengals ran into each other trying to make the tackle. TD for the Broncos. Meanwhile the Bengals went 1-11 on third down conversions. That's the ballgame.

But there's a silver lining in this cloud. Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton threw 27-41, 310 yards and 2 TDs. No interceptions. He was accurate, showed moxie and leadership. The Bengals look like they have a quarterback.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Whiskey In The Machine

Here's a cool idea. At a 1960 vending machine exhibition in London, somebody had this brilliant idea for a whiskey and soda dispensing vending machine. Life Magazine had a picture of it. (Here's the Huffington Post story.)

So why do I love this thing. Well, let's say you're having a bad day at the office. You go down the hall. Go to the whiskey vending machine. Order a bourbon and coke or scotch and soda. Go back to the office. Listen to some bossa nova. How about Bebel Gilberto, the daughter of Joao Giliberto singing "So Nice." Check it out below. Relax. Your on a beach with a beautiful Brazilian woman. So nice.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Mass Effect 2: N:7 Eclipse Smuggling Depot Tips For Insanity Difficulty

I've gone over the N:7 Eclipse Smuggling Depot mission for Mass Effect 2 before on the normal level. But I've not given tips while playing this on the Insanity Difficulty setting. First, I delay playing this mission. I wait way past the Suicide Mission. Why? It's the enemies. They are three YMIR Mechs. At this late stage, I've pretty much got all the upgrades and Tali and Legion are availble. Second, check out my general tips for playing Mass Effect 2 on the Insanity setting.

1. Know your enemy. As I said before, they are three YMIR Mechs. They are armed with a machine gun like cannon and rockets. Oh, they also have shields, armor and health.

2. Your squad. As with any synth enemy, you should bring either Legion or Tali. Combat drones work on YMIR Mechs even when they have shields and armor. Mass Effect Wikipedia says you can AI hack them once you've got them down to just health. That being said, I bring Legion since his main weapon is an assault rifle.

My second squad member is Miranda. Her Overload power can rip down shields. Her Warp power is effective against armor. I take her over a second tech specialist because of her abilities in taking down a YMIR Mechs defenses. She gets the job done faster than just me and my assault rifle. Now on Normal, I use two tech specialists but since the YMIR Mechs are tougher, I need Miranda's ability to penetrate their defenses.

3. My Weapons, armor and powers. I'm a soldier, so I use the Revenant machine gun. My heavy weapon is the ML-77 Missile Launcher. Though I have seen some use the M-920 Cain. I find the Cain too slow to fire and too inaccurate. My armor is Kestrel. My bonus power is Slam. Slam works against YMIR Mechs who have lost shields and armor. It freezes them and damages them Two Slams can destroy a one.

4. Walkthrough. You know the drill. Destroy the YMIR Mechs before they wipe out the twenty crates. Mass Effect Wikipedia says there's a way to save all twenty crates on the Normal difficulty. But on Insanity it's about survival. That's because when you attack one YMIR Mech, another YMIR Mech advances on your position. That's two YMIR Mechs firing on you and they're tougher to bring down than normal.

Okay, you've just landed. Move down the hill. Note before you get to the arena, there are three short stone walls. One close to the shuttle, another closer to the arena and another right on top of the arena. Go to the middle wall or second wall. Take cover. Use Legion's combat drone on the YMIR Mechs in the main arena farthest away from you. Then open up on the closest one. You can probably mix this order up. But realize that once you engage, the two YMIR Mechs open up on you and start to move onto your position. That's why I don't take cover at the wall closest to the arena.

While one of the goals is to save as many crates as possible, the more important goal is to survive. So, be careful. When your health is critical, either use Medi-gel or wait to recover. And continue to use the powers of your mates. Legion's combat drone is helpful. The drone will distract the YMIR Mech while you fire on it. If a YMIR Mech is about breach your position, fall back to the back wall. If it breaches that position, you can fall back to the shuttle and use it for cover. You will bring down all three YMIR Mechs with these tips but you won't save all the crates. I saved only eight. Note that you may see some YouTube videos where somebody claims they saved all twenty on Insanity.

Below is a video of somebody, using a similar strategy that I did.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Spielberg Admits To E.T. Mistake

Remember what Steven Spielberg did to his 1982 classic E.T. for the twentieth anniversary edition of the film? In one scene, he cut out the guns that the government agents had when they set up a roadblock. It goes this way. Elliot had just rescued E.T. from the government. He meets up with his friends and they ride out on bicycles. Elliot has E.T. on the front of his bike. In a thrilling chase, they elude the agents in cars until they hit a road. It's here where the government has set up a roadblock. The music gets very dramatic as the scene cuts to a close ups of E.T. and Elliot as they approach the roadblock. Then it cuts to an agent with a shotgun. E.T then causes the bikes to fly over the roadblock to the astonishment of the agents as it appears that a couple of them had shotguns. In the 2002 re-release, director Spielberg cuts the close-up of the shotgun and digitally takes out the shotguns of the other agents and replaces them with walkie-talkies. (Picture from Wikipedia.)

Now Spielberg regrets messing with his masterpiece according to Yahoo. Spielberg admits he was too sensitive to parents groups. And while I can see why parents were worried about the guns in E.T., it's clear that Spielberg overreacted. Where were these parents when Bambi's mother was killed? This is what Spielberg said, "For myself, I tried [changing a film] once and lived to regret it. Not because of fan outrage, but because I was disappointed in myself. I got overly sensitive to [some of the reaction] to E.T., and I thought if technology evolved, [I might go in and change some things]…it was OK for a while, but I realized what I had done was I had robbed people who loved E.T. of their memories of E.T. [...] If I put just one cut of E.T. on Blu-ray and it was the 1982, would anyone object to that? [The crowd yells "NO!" in unison.] OK, so be it."

So what was the problem with Spielberg's 2002 changes? It sapped the drama out of one of the great scenes in the film. You have to view the original scene with John Williams magnificent score. The scene has Elliot and his friends being confronted with a literal dead end. Agents have shotguns, which has the meaning of death. They have cut off Elliot and E.T. That's death looking at our heroes. All of a sudden, E.T. lifts all the bikes out of the way by levitating them. They're flying like something like Peter Pan. The heroes escape. Williams' score is triumphant with the E.T.'s main theme. From disaster, hope is rewarded. That's a huge emotional payoff. The 2002 version is limp. There's no sense of the danger. Now don't get me wrong, the 2002 version was still great but let's face it, the 1982 version is a masterpiece.

This is all a disturbing trend by filmmakers to mess with their masterpieces. George Lucas has done this with his Star Wars movies. The changes that Lucas has done to Star Wars did not help the series.

Is there a pop culture movie series or television series where tinkering has improved the product? Yes. Star Trek. The original series was remastered with today's special effects. It was done respectfully without gigantic changes to the feel of the show. And the result was the shows were better. Robert Wise re-imagined his film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture(1979, 2001), and he made it a better looking movie. It comes down to respecting the original drama as to whether one should use modern CGI to modify a work. If it fundamentally changes the drama, it shouldn't be done.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mass Effect 2, Best Armor for Insanity Difficulty

I initially felt that the best armor for Mass Effect 2 on the Insanity difficulty level was the Cerberus Assault Armor. It gave you 10 % shield, 10 % health plus 10 %in heavy weapon ammo boosts. The downside is that you have to buy the Cerberus Network to get it if you didn't buy Mass Effect 2 new. It costs 1200 points. But if you buy the game new, the network, armor and Zaeed comes free. And trust me Zaeed is a great ally for the Insanity difficulty level.

As you build up your character's powers and health capabilities, I believe another armor works more effectively. It's the Kestrel armor. (Pictured.) You get it by purchasing the Aegis pack. It will cost you 160 Microsoft points. Now not only do you get the armor but you get the M-29 Incisor Sniper rifle. The rifle fires three shots at a time, so it's a nice alternative to your regular sniper rifle.

But it's the armor that makes this DLC worthwhile. On the Insanity difficulty level you need as much extra shields as possible. The Kestrel armor comes in five pieces. You can wear one piece with other pieces of other armor. However, I suggest you use Kestrel armor complete, i.e. use all five pieces together. By doing so, you get a whopping 25 % boost in shields. On Insanity difficulty, that can be the difference between life and death. Now don't get me wrong, you may not notice anything but it's the small amount of extra time of protection that makes the difference. You see I believe the 25 % boost from the Kestrel armor is better than the Cerberus armor's 10 % boost in both shields and health. Here's where Mass Effect Wikipedia details all the features of the armor.

Are there any cons? Yeah, the armor is goofy looking. I mean your helmet makes you look like a big bug. And there's not eye slots so you look blind. So what? If you've played the game on the normal difficulty using the N7 armor, you already have seen your character's emotions in cutscenes. The goal here is to stay alive.

Jon Gruden On Cincinnati Bengals Quarterback Andy Dalton

First let me congratulate Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, for calling the quick snap that caught the Cleveland Browns napping and scored a touchdown. I gave all the credit to Bruce Gradkowski when it's Jay's play and he called it. And I hope I'm wrong about Gruden because on this blog, I've been teasing him.

Anyway, if you're a Bengals fan, you are worried about rookie quarterback Andy Dalton making the start against the Denver Broncos this week. He hurt his wrist against the Cleveland Browns. It looks to be one of those injuries where you get hit in the funny bone and it messes up your grip. Regardless, how good is Andy Dalton? Jon Gruden, former head coach of the world champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and brother of Jay put Dalton through his paces on the ESPN draft show QB Camp.

What Gruden saw was a winner. He also saw a guy that in the Rose Bowl was too aggressive. On Dalton's favorite pass play, Dalton forced the ball into coverage rather than throwing to his open man or check down. The check down might have resulted in a fifty yard completion. Gruden warned Dalton that Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed would have picked him off for a pick six. That's a good warning since Dalton is now a Bengal and will see Mr. Reed twice a year. The good stuff about Dalton is that Gruden called him "one of the great decision makers in college football history." He notes that Dalton is tough and will stand in the pocket. He will make NFL throws. Here's an ESPN post with the Gruden video.

I wrote that if the Bengals were to win and win it all, they need Andy Dalton to be the next Mozart. That means he must be a Mozart of football. He must be a prodigy. I'm not talking just physical attributes. But the ability to make right decisions and accurate throws that will lead the Bengals to successful drives and victories. Let's hope that Andy Dalton likes classical music.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert look at the Tea Party-CNN GOP Debate

Last night, both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report took on Monday night's GOP Republican Presidential Debate. It was sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party. I like the way, Jon Stewart points out the silliness of CNN's over the top patriotic dramatics. Check out the videos below.

Tea Party Zombies Must Die Video Game Review

Tea Party Zombies Must Die (TPZMD) is an online video game which allows a player to kill various zombies some who look like famous right-wingers. This is done first person shooter style. And for today's technology, the graphics and gameplay hearkens back to the early nineties to the classic first person shooter, "Doom."

The game takes place in two areas. One is a trailer park where you face off against various red neck conservatives. After completing so many levels, you face the bosses of the level, zombies Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. Another is outside and inside of Fox News Headquarters where you fight zombies representing angry white males, and famous right-wingers Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Fox News blondes, Brit Hume, Bill O' Reilly, and Sean Hannity. Some like Santorum are harder to kill than the regular zombie. One of the bosses to Fox News level is Glenn Beck.

You're given a melee weapon like a machete. Running around an arena, you can pick up a firearm. These range from a pistol to a shotgun to an uzi to an assault rifle. The control mechanism is your zxc keys to switch weapons, reload, and fire. The up, down, left and right buttons control movement.

As a video game, it's primitive. It may act like "Doom" but it's not a fraction of the fun. Primarily this is because of the controls. A lot of PC first person shooter fans like using the mouse for movement. TPZMD uses the arrow keys, making movement clumsy and lead to your character getting killed. Okay, dying is humorous as the game tells you that you "got teabagged. P.S. You didn't have health insurance so you died." But hitting anything with the pistol is next to impossible unless you fire at point blank range. That makes the shotgun the weapon of choice. These problems suck out the fun.

Is the game funny? Look I get the idea of the game. It's supposed to be funny and at the same time, it will educate you about the right-wing with information cards between levels. Some of it is accurate. One card points out that Fox News gave up its news function by actively assisting the Tea Party. But the jokes are few and far between. The problem here is that the famous right-wingers don't' say anything. If you get to Glenn Beck, that becomes apparent. When you knock down Beck, he cries. That's funny because Beck has been know to cry on his show. But the other famous right-wing yahoos merely groan like zombies.

A call to violence? You'll hear conservatives complain about this game's violence. After all you hack and shoot to death zombies that look like real life conservatives. First, if you watched Monday night's Tea Party-CNN Republican debate, I would say the conservatives shouldn't be complaining. At that debate, Tea Party audience members were applauding the death of an uninsured. In the movie, An American Carol, (2008) a judge (Dennis Hopper) shoots ACLU zombie lawyers with a shotgun. (Pictured below.) And in Team America: World Police (2004) various famous liberals get killed in grisly ways. Where were the protests from the right?

I don't think this game will cause people to go out and try to kill conservatives. Grand Theft Auto didn't cause people to kill police. But I agree that the game is violent and there's no point to killing right-wing zombies. It's not fun or humorous.

If you want to laugh at conservatives, go watch The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. If you want to play a fun first person shooter, stick to Halo. The grade for Tea Party Zombies Must Die is D.

Stephen Colbert Takes On The Commercialization Of 9/11.

On Monday's Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert looked at the commercialization of 9/11. Check out his piece below.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

St. X Students Use Religious Chant To Taunt Colerain

Here in Cincinnati, Ohio, we take our high school football seriously. Maybe too seriously. According to Yahoo Sports, moments after Cincinnati's St. Xavier high school football team beat public school Colerain, 17-14, the students of St. X chanted "We've got Jesus!" See this is the problem with this right-wing town. You got religious zealots who turn a high school football game into a cultural war. Anyway, here's the story.

Hines Ward Gets Comeuppance

The dirtiest player in the NFL, Hines Ward, got his comeuppance. At Sunday's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward got flattened by Jarret Johnson. In a game in 2008, between the Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals, Wards was the jerk who broke a defenseless Keith Rivers jaw.

Members Of Tea Party Debate Cheer For Death Of An Uninsured

During last night's Republican Presidential debate sponsored by the Tea Party and CNN, Wolf Blitzer asked a hypothetical to Ron Paul about a sick man who doesn't have insurance. The last part of the question went like this, "Are you saying society should just let him die?" "Yeah" yelled a bunch of the audience. I'm guessing that it wasn't the CNN crowd. This is the face of the Tea Party folks. Here's the story from the Huffington Post with video.

Juan Francisco Hits A Monster Blast

Cincinnati Reds third baseman hit a monster home run yesterday against the Chicago Cubs. It cleared the moon deck. For you folks unaware of Great American Ballpark, the ball went past the right field bleachers. It went approximately 502 feet. Check it out.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bruce Gradkowski Is The Man

My first sentence for my review of today's Cincinnati Bengals-Cleveland Browns game was going to be "You can't lose 16 games without losing the first one." Well, at the end of the game, I am going to say, "You can't win 16 games without winning the first one." Today, the Bengals beat the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland, 27-17.

It started out great for the Bengals. Rookie QB Andy Dalton led the Bengals to 13 points. But then the second quarter came. The Browns stormed back. Browns QB Colt McCoy caught the Bengals safeties asleep twice. One was for a long gain and another was for a touchdown. Meanwhile the Bengals offense stalled. Browns ahead by one point, 14-13. The third quarter started and QB Andy Dalton was hurt. Bruce Gradkowski comes in for Dalton. If you're a Bengals fan, you know what is going to happen next. Epic loss.

But a funny thing happened on the way to a Bengals loss. They freaking stole a victory from the jaws of defeat. The defense held. The Browns would only muster a field goal. Football is truly a team sport. And the Bengals win was a team victory. Here are the heroes.

1. The Defense. They stopped the Browns in the second half.

2. Defensive Ends. Michael Johnson blocked passes. Carlos Dunlap was literally running over offensive tackles. His pressure on Colt McCoy was pivotal to winning the game.

3. Safety Reggie Nelson. He was everywhere. And he helped keep dangerous kick returner Josh Cribbs in check.

4. The Offensive Line. They were mashing the Browns. On the last Bengals touchdown, the line and Chris Pressley opened a hole the size of the Grand Canyon. Running back Cedric Benson ran through it for 38 yards and scored a touchdown.

5. Bruce Gradkowski. (Pictured.) His calming influence helped to stabilize the team. And what about that heads up play where he caught the Browns defense napping? A quick snap. It's a 41 yard bomb to A.J. Green. Touchdown Bengals.

It's only one game. And it's the first game. But you can't win sixteen games without winning the first one. :-) Here are the highlights.

Remembering 9/11

It's been ten years since a group of terrorists destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center, crashed a plane in the Pentagon, and attempted to fly a plane into the Capitol. If it weren't for the heroes aboard the plane who stormed the cockpit of the plane headed to the Capitol, they might have succeeded. They gave their lives to save many others.

At the end of September 11, 2001, almost 3000 people were dead. I remember seeing the paper notes posted on walls of people searching for the loved ones. You knew those notes would not be answered. They were gone. I cried when I saw others ask reporters for news about their missing. I knew the answer was not going to be a happy ending. And to this day, those events burn in my memory.

I was going to write that because of the Iraq War, maybe the terrorists won. After all we spent billions of dollars and lost thousands of brave American soldiers. For what? There were no weapons of mass destruction. Maybe the terrorists would bankrupt the United States.

But there was one thing that the terrorists forgot. The resiliency of the United States. We are who we are because of freedom. In this country, we have the right to speak, to move freely and to choose our government. As long as we honor and protect those freedoms, the terrorists will never win.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Cincinnati Bengals 2011 Preview

Are you ready for some football?!! Yes, Cincinnati Bengals fans, owner Mike Brown has put together a NFL team. Well, it's kind of a NFL team. Time to preview this season's Super Bowl champ. Hey, stop laughing.


a. Quarterback. Former Bengals QB Carson Palmer made it clear he would rather retire than collect millions of dollars playing for the woeful Bengals. That forced management to draft TCU's Andy Dalton. (Pictured.)

But what do we know about Dalton? Well, he was a four year starter at TCU. He's smart. He doesn't have Palmer's arm but it's adequate. Good accuracy. He's a winner. At TCU, he led his team to a record of 42-7. He's got moxie. The negatives are that he's nothing special as an athlete. At TCU, he played out of a spread offense, not a pro style offense. Oh,... he's a rookie. When was the last time a rookie led a team to a Super Bowl championship? Never. Anyway, let's hear from Brian Billick on Dalton.

Backing Dalton up is Bruce Gradkowski. He's a journeyman QB. His claim to fame? Beat the Bengals twice. Once as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer (2006) and as a member of the Oakland Raiders. (2009) Nothing to see here.

b. Offensive line. Right tackle is Andre Smith. Guy has great talent but the Bengals ignored the red flags when they took him in the first round. Broke the same foot twice because he was too fat. Remains to be seen if he can play the whole season.

Right guard is Bobbie Williams. Strike that. In true Bengals fashion, Williams was suspended for four games for using a banned substance. That means rookie Clint Bolling will start. Bolling was projected to be drafted in the first to second round in the draft. The Bengals got him in the fourth. He can play all positions on the line. The best value pick the Bengals got this year.

Center is Kyle Cook. He's a two year starter. But he started out as an undrafted college free agent. Okay, former starter Rich Braham was waived by the Phoenix Cardinals before he became a stud for the Bengals. Cook may not be a pro bowler bue he's solid.

Left guard is Nate Livings. Again, another undrafted free agent from Louisiana State University. Nothing special about him.

Left tackle and the guy who guards Dalton's blind side is Andrew Whitworth. He is the most underrated offensive lineman in the NFL If he had played for the New York Jets for the last two years, he would have made the Pro Bowl for those years. Built like a professional wrestler, there's no one he can't block.

c. Wide receivers. Jerome Simpson showed last year that he didn't play because of the two divas in front of him in Chad Ochocinco and Terrel Owens. The man can catch a BB in the dark. The question is whether he can run crisper routes and turn on the afterburners when he needs to.

The slot guys are Jordan Shipley and Andre Caldwell. Shipley is a fine possession receiver. He knows how to get open. Expect him to be Andy Dalton's safety outlet. Caldwell has the speed to burn any linebacker.

On the other side is rookie A.J. Green. He's the real deal as far as being worthy of a team's number one pick. He can catch, block and run accurate routes, and with his speed, he's a deep threat.

d. Tight Ends. Jermain Gresham will provide another outlet for Dalton. He's big, fast and has great hands. After Gresham, is rookie Colin Cochart. Yikes. Better hope there's no more injuries.

e. Running back. Cedric Benson has rushed for over one thousand yards for the last two seasons. He's a power back with speed. He runs between the tackles. Plus if you piss him off, he'll beat the tar out of you. I keeed. I keeed.

Bernard Scott is a different from Benson. He's quick and is more likely to run around the ends than go up the gut. He's a good change of pace back.

The other two backs are Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman. Leonard has the distinct talent to leap over defenders. Someone should remind him that it's football not hurdles. Peerman is an ordained minister and will come in handy when the Bengals will need a prayer which should be often.

Fullback is Chris Pressley. He's an inspirational story. He rose from extreme poverty to make it in the NFL. Below is a video from his college days of him doing some amazing squats. Let's hope he can pummel some Pittsburgh Steelers with all that strength.

f. Conclusion. There are too many intangibles to judge the offense accurately. Will Dalton play like he did at TCU? Can A.J. Green put up the numbers he's expected? Can the offensive line protect the kid? For all these questions, I rate the offense with a grade of C-.


a. Defensive Line. First let me address the defensive ends. The starters are Robert Geathers and Michael Johnson. Geathers hasn't been good for some time. But Michael Johnson is a fast and tall DE who will wreck havoc on other quarterbacks with his height. He's 6'7" with a wingspan that will block passes. But the guy who will push Geathers will be second year player Carlos Dunlap. He was drafted in the second round last year but has first round talent. Dunlap played only 12 games yet he had 9.5 sacks that broke the record for sacks by a rookie. He's been slightly hurt during the preseason but expect him to make a major impact.

The defensive tackles. Bengals pundits will gush about the depth of the tackles but frankly they are overrated. Domato Peko is a dedicated and solid player. Geno Atkins was good as a rookie but he's not a premiere player. These guys are okay but won't push the pocket like they need to do. None of these guys come close to say a stud like Ndamukong Suh.

b. Linebackers. Slow and old middle linebacker Dhani Jones is gone. He'll be replaced by Rey Maualuga where he should feel at home since at USC he was a leader. The other two starters are free agents Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard. No disrespect here but premiere players do not come to the Bengals as free agents. Anyway these guys will bring more speed. Finally Keith Rivers is on the PUP list and if he could ever return to form, he could be the force that he was drafted for.

c. Cornerbacks. Ah, another player who would rather turn down the money than play for the Bengals. I'm talking about cornerback Jonathan Joseph. He's replaced by veteran free agent Nate Clements who's older and slower. The other corner is Leon Hall. He's much like Andrew Whitworth. He plays for the Bengals and nobody notices how good he is. Hall is an excellent cover corner. Backing these two are Kelly Jennings and Morgan Trent. Both are solid back-ups. and don't forgot about Pacman Jones who will probably need to commit a crime to feel comfortable. I keeed. I keeed.

d. Safeties. Chris Crocker is stand up guy but is long in the tooth. Reggie Nelson was a former first round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He played very well last year. Backup Taylor Mays is big, and fast. He's a freak. But it's time he play like one. He must be able to read where the play is going so he can be there and blow up the offensive player.

e. Conclusion. It all comes down to how much pressure the front four can put on the quarterback. Based on how average the defensive tackles are, the grade for the defense is C.

3. Special Teams. Punt and kick returner is Brandon Tate. He was cut by the New England Patriots. Yet last year he was third in the NFL in returns and he returned two kicks for touchdowns. I don't know who he pissed off but I'm glad the Bengals picked him up.

Punter Kevin Huber is a directional punter. He's got an excellent leg. He better have one because if the offense tanks, he's going to be very busy.

Kicker Mike Nugent is coming off a knee injury. But from what I saw this preseason, he has regained strength and is booming kicks.

Conclusion. Brandon Tate could be a game breaker. The kickers Kevin Huber and Mike Nugent are excellent. The grade is B.

4. Management.

a. GM. There is none. Unless you count owner Mike Brown. Anyway, he's the worst owner of a professional sports team in history of man. He exercises some of the worst judgment ever.

b. The coaching. Head coach Marvin Lewis can only do so much. He might want a practice bubble but he ain't going to get one. He might want more scouts but he can forget about that. Why? Because Brown is arrogant and cheap.

Rookie offensive coordinator Jay Gruden comes over from the UFL. In the UFL, by rule, there are no 3-4 defenses. Unfortunately, the Baltimore Ravens and Steelers use 3-4 defenses. Those defenses have to be salivating.

Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is a passionate leader. He'll get the most out of his men. Hopefully, the team will return to the 2009 form.

5. PROJECTION. It really comes down to QB Andy Dalton. If he's the Mozart of football, the Bengals win the Super Bowl But it's probably going to play like most teams who use a rookie quarterback. And remember this is the Cincinnati Bengals who know how to lose in epic ways. My projections is the Bengals will go 3-13. They will have the first pick of the draft. I have no idea if they will pick Stanford QB Andrew Luck. That all depends on how Andy Dalton plays.

Contagion Review

Contagion is one of two recent films that are really part of old genres. The other movie, Apollo 18, is a fifties B science fiction movie. Contagion is a disaster movie, the kind that used to populate the seventies. But the good thing about Contagion is that it's eons better than Apollo 18.

The movie starts out with Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), a business woman, who comes backs from Hong Kong to Minnesota. She's ill with what looks like flu. The film then cuts to various other people who are getting sick. A waiter in Hong Kong. A model in Russia. They all succumb to a disease. But it's when Beth dies that the movie starts a medical detective story. Once she's been autopsied, doctors discover she died of a virus. The doctors believe that she's patient zero, the first to contract the virus. Her husband, Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) is quarantined but is later released when it's discovered that he's immune.

It becomes clear that there is an worldwide epidemic. Doctors Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishbourne), Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) and Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) of the Center for Diesease Control and Prevention (CDC) are called into action as the flu starts to spread nationwide. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) dispatches Dr. Leonara Orates (Marion Cotillard) to Hong Kong to investigate Beth's movements so that they can trace where this flu came from. Both organizations race for a cure as the virus begins to spread worldwide, causing millions of deaths. As they work to defeat the virus, society begins to break down. Mass hysteria. Looting. A lack of law and order. Meanwhile, a blogger, Alex Krumwiede (Jude Law), spreads rumors on the web and comes out with his own cure.

Scott Burns (Bourne Ultimatum) has crafted a scary story about a world made smaller by air travel and more concentrated by population. It's hard to defeat this virus when it's transmitted by air and touch. And it's entirely plausible that such a virus could one day kill billions. Contagion does make the point that fear is also like a virus. There are some problems with Burns' screenplay. And they all stem from Burns effort to make a movie. First, if Mitch Emhoff is immune, why the hell isn't he being studied? I guess the purpose is to let him wander around to watch Minnesota disintegrate. The plot thread which has Dr. Orates getting kidnapped by the Chinese so she can get the cure first for a village is over the top dramatically. The need to manufacture a bad guy in Krumwiede also stretches believability. And it's not because he's a blogger like me, okay? I mean here's a guy who's just a writer and people believe he's got the cure?

Director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's Eleven) does a good job of keeping all the plot threads from unraveling. And with that star studded cast, he has the actors delivering their lines realistically. It could have easily been a movie where the actors could have gone over the top. And with this subject matter, he uses a thankful lack of camera gymnastics.

I found Contagion to be an interesting film but not as thrilling as other film critics. You might want to stand it up to Outbreak (1995) and see which one you prefer. The grade is B.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mass Effect 2: Overlord Tips for Insanity Difficulty Setting

We continue our series of tips for Mass Effect 2 missions when playing on the Insanity Difficulty setting. Today, I'm going to discuss the DLC mission, Overlord on Insanity. As with other articles in this series, I'm only going over the hardest parts. If you want a walkthrough, check this one out from Mass Effect Wiki. And don't forget my general tips.

1. Preparations. I usually play this mission close to the last one I play on the game. By this time, I've leveled up and Tali and Legion are available.

a. Know your enemy. All synthetics, all the time. The Geth are troopers, rocket troopers, Hunters, Destroyer (flamethrower), and Prime. All now have shields. Primes have also have armor and health.

Other synthetics are mechs. The include LOKI Mechs and YMIR Mechs. All mechs have armor. Whereas YMIR Mechs have shields, armor and health.

b. Choose your squad. On the Normal difficulty, I take Legion and Tali. On Insanity I take them again. Both have the power to AI hack and use combat drones on synthetics. Remember that combat drones will work on shielded enemies. Once their shields are gone, you can use AI hacking to turn a bad guy against his own.

c. Weapons, armor and powers. Since I play as a soldier, my main weapon is the Revanant machine gun. My heavy weapon is the missile launcher. My armor is Kestrel. And my bonus power is Slam.

There are five areas in this mission, so let's go over them.

2. Aite. Here are some general tips in dealing with this section.

a. Fools rush in. When confronted with enemies, take cover right away. Don't engage enemies point blank.

b. Kill the bad guys from a distance.

c. Use your squad's powers. Yeah, don't forgot about using Tali and Legion's powers. It's a blast to AI hack a rocket trooper and see him unleash his rockets on a former ally.

d. Target Hunters, Destroyers and Prime first. Remember to always take out the bad guys who will breach your position by charging you.

e. Save your game often.

f. The Radar Dish. Okay, you've reached the lower level of the radar dish. And right away, you are confronted by Geth. Take cover. I say take cover. Remember to kill the Hunters first. Then take out any troopers with your sniper rifle. Don't forget to use your squad's powers. Carefully work your way around until you see a Prime in the distance. He gets top priority. Hopefully, you've taken down enough of his defenses so should he be on top of you, he's down to his health. You can now Slam him. Once all the Geth are dead, scavenge for ammo. Then save your game and head up the stairs.

On this top level, you have to destroy three struts to bring down the radar. You have to access the terminals to take down the struts defenses. Once you do that to one, the Geth attack. Don't panic. You can use your Slam power to bring down a strut immediately. Once the first is down, get to cover. Take care of the nearest Geth.

Now up here you're confronted with Hunters and Destroyers. Take these guys down first before any regular troopers. But here's a tip. You don't have to kill everyone. Once you destroy all three struts, this portion of the mission ends.

Once you've brought down the radar, you meet up with Dr. Archer. Once you've talked to him, save your game.

3. Collecting Data Packets Okay, you now have to travel to the other three stations to gain access to the overrides. That means using the Hammerhead. And the biggest problem with this game is that fact you can't save while in the Hammerhead. It's a factor since there's a side mission here where you collect data packets from five areas between the stations. Four of the packets are guarded. Three by gun turrets and one by two YMIR Mechs. Your advantage is that the ship has homing rockets. Anyway here are some tips.

a. Do this mission after completing Vulcan Station. First, when you're about to ascend the stairs to get to the override in Vulcan, save your game. Why? If you go out and try to complete the collecting the data packages mission and get killed, you will have a save fairly close to the beginning of the data packets mission.

b. Destroy turrets and the YMIR Mechs from a distance. Point blank is suicide.

c. Fly in and out of cover.

d. Patience.

e. When you hear the warning klaxons, retreat.

f. Don't take chances. The armor that you strip from a bad guy stays stripped. If you get killed here, you have to start all over again.

4. Prometheus Station.

a. Destroying the main cannon. Unfortunately, you can't enter Prometheus station until you destroy the main cannon. It's protected by a shield generated by by shield generators surrounding the gun. Those are protected by their own shield. And before I forget the VI is using the main cannon to destroy you.

First, you must destroy the generators. When you start to attack a generator by trying to bring down its shields, the cannon will target you. Your onboard computer will warn you and you will see a grid. Well, don't just sit there. Move. Get out of the grid area and fly low. Now the cool thing is that when you return, the blast may have taken out the generator's shield. Destroy the generator. Remember to move when you're targeted. Don't take chances.

Eventually you bring down the cannon's shield. Okay, I go point blank and fire on it from the side where the gun is not pointing at. Once the gun moves to me, I go to the other side. Just to remember to stay out of the targeting grid. And don't be shy about blasting away. Once the cannon is down, you can enter the station.

b. Prometheus Station. It's an old Geth ship. So your enemies are going to be Geth. Here are some tips after you've accessed the override.

i. Save your game often.

ii. When you confront the Geth, kill them from a distance.

iii. Hunters and Destroyers should be taken out first.

iv. Use your squad's powers. Remember that combat drones can be used on shielded targets. Once a Geth's shields are down, you can AI hack them.

v. When you get to the chamber with the Prime, stay on the high ground. Keep in cover and wipe out the Geth on the upper level. Then rain down fire on the Prime and his allies below. When the enemies are dead, you can leave.

5. Vulcan Station. Vulcan station requires you to travel across lava flows. After you've activated the steam release that will allow you to leap up the cliff, save your game. Remember you can't save a game while traveling in the Hammerhead.

Okay, you come to the second lava flow that you must cross. On Insanity, the rocks that you use to ride on will disintegrate much faster. Once you make it safely across, you find yourself in a valley. The mountains to the right have a steam vent which will allow you to leap on top of them. To your left is a mountain with group of cliffs. The second cliffs have turrets which activate once you get close. They are deadly and will destroy you in a seconds.

The five hundred thousand dollar tip. Go to the right. First fly on top of the right mountains and explore the area. There's some iridium up here. Get it. Now move close to the steam vent but stay on the mountain. You can get the turrets on the left mountain to activate. But they're out of range. But not out of range for your homing missiles. Blast away. Once the guns are down, you'll find more iridium where the guns were as your reward. Now hover on top and cross the lava flow to reach the station.

YMIR Mech Room. You shouldn't have too much trouble reaching the room with the sleeping LOKI mechs. Before you even come close to entering, save your game. Okay approach the door. Position a squad member at the door and behind cover. Now you take the other side of the door. Go ahead and shoot one of the LOKI mechs with your sniper rifle. They all wake up and all hell breaks loose. Hey, you gotta die sometime.

Remember to kill as many mechs from a distance as you can. And use your squad's powers. Once a mech has lost his armor, AI hack him. When you thin out the LOKI mechs, a YMIR Mech comes into the battle.

Don't panic. Try to stay away from YMIR Mech as much as possible and in cover. Use your squad's combat drones on it. Once YMIR Mech loses his shields and armor, you can slam it No it won't fly but it freezes and is damaged. You'll find a couple of slams will destroy it. After the YMIR Mech is dead, there will be some assault drones on ridge in front of you. Stay in cover. Shoot at the explosive container to the left of you. That will injure them. But they're no match for your guns. Once everybody is dead, scavenge for ammo. Head up the stairs. Before you enter the override access room, save your game. This save is the closest you can save before you do the Data Packet or Data Hound mission.

6. Atlas Station. Once you've completed Prometheus and Vulcan stations, you can access Atlas Station. There are three areas that are fairly difficult, so here tips to each.

a. Summon the elevator. When you get to this room, you find you have to summon and elevator. Okay before you summon the elevator, position your squad members to each side of the door. Okay, summon the elevator. Run to the back of the room and get into cover. Why? When the doors open, you get a surprise of a Geth Prime and two troopers. Use you squad's powers on these guys. Of course, the Prime is the prime target. But combat drones cause the enemies to be confused, leaving you open shots at the bad guys. The Geth cannot withstand the crossfire and the combat drones. Once they're dead, head to the elevator.

b. Virtual reality Elevator room. David has trapped you in a virtual reality shaded world. You eventually come into a room with rising platform elevator. It's the last room before David. If you haven't saved your game, do so now. All right, summon the elevator.

Run to the rear of the room as far away from the elevator as possible. Seek cover behind a low wall. Why? Because the elevator has a Hunter and two rocket troopers. Take out the Hunter first. Give him a generous helping of lead. Once he's down, take out your sniper rifle. Take out the two rocket troopers. Once everyone is dead, scavenge the room for power cells and ammo but don't get to close to the elevator. The game will not allow you to save if you get to close. Okay, save your game at the back of the room.

c. Confront David. Take the elevator down. David is in the center of the room. He's shielded and there's a core surrounding him. You have to shoot out the VI control nodes moving up the tubes that are around David. Those are the green orbs. Once they are down, the shields are down. Okay once the shield is down, use your heavy weapons on David's core. That's why I brought the rocket launcher. Unfortunately, David summons Geth to attack you. If Geth arrive, I take some quick shots at them but I move. VI nodes are first priority, then the core. Use the support beams for cover. But hammer away at David when his shields are down. By the way, dead Geth will leave ammo clips for you. If you get a Geth down to health, you can also Slam him. But focus on the core and keep moving if under fire. Once you rip down the core, you can save David and take him with you. Hey, I'm a Paragon.

7. Conclusion. I found Overlord to be the best of the DLC. The missions are varied. The graphics are gorgeous. And the story is intelligent and emotional.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Debt Film Review

I was intrigued to see that "The Debt" featured Oscar winner Helen Mirren (The Queen), Sam Worthington (Avatar), Tom Wilkinson (John Adams), Ciaran Hinds. (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2) and fresh face Jessica Chastain. (The Help) This was a diverse and talented cast.

And that talented cast lived up to their reputations in The Debt. The movie is based on an Israeli film Ha-Hov. (2007) The story is about three Mossad agents (Israeli intelligence), Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain), Stephen Gold (Marton Csokas) and David Peretz. (Sam Worthington) In 1966, their mission was to travel to East Berlin and bring back to Israel, Nazi war criminal Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) who's hiding in plain sight as a gynecologist named Bernhardt. The film also traces the three to 1997. Rachel is now played by Helen Mirren, Stephen by Tom Wilkinson and David by Ciaran Hinds. Rachel's daughter (Romi Aboulafia) has written a book about them. The three are considered heroes. Rachel has a very noticeable scar on her right cheek from the mission. But the three also have a secret which haunts them.

Director John Madden has made a film which is smart and thrilling. One can also thank the screenwriters Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan. The look of the film during the 1966 mission feels like East Berlin. There's tension everywhere. It's formed from dialogue by Vogel who unknowingly treats Rachel, to the simple sound of dripping water, to the mysterious men accompanying the modern David, to David's guilt written face.

And as I have said before, the performances in this film were superb. Jessica Chastain carries the movie as the young Rachel. I found her European accents to be realistic. She could be the next Meryl Streep. Marton Csokas gives his Stephen a bear like personality. And Sam Worthington's David is a man who seeks justice over revenge. It's his "do the right thing" persona which will haunt him for the next thirty years. Tom Wilkinson's Stephen is a man who has grown practical. Ciaran Hinds' David is wracked with guilt. Whereas Helen Mirren's Rachel is a woman living with a lie and struggling to keep it a secret for the sake of her daughter.

The Debt is an exciting thriller. It also happens to be a morality play. It's one of best films of the year. The grade is A.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Apollo 18 Review

As I was leaving the movie theater after watching Apollo 18, I stopped by the men's room. Nothing seemed amiss. Then the smell hit me. Somebody had left a Depardieu on the floor. This was a metaphor of how I felt about Apollo 18. It's a competent movie but something was really wrong. There are spoilers in this review but if you've seen the trailer, you pretty much know what happens.

Apollo 18 plays like found footage type of movie. See Blair Witch Project. (1999) What you see looks like it was shot by cameras inside and outside of an Apollo space mission to the moon. Here's the plot that the footage shows you. Two astronauts, Walker (Lloyd Owen) and Anderson (Warren Christie) are sent to the moon on a secret Department of Defense mission to install ICBM detectors. They find a Russian craft and a dead cosmonaut. When they discover the American flag that they had planted was missing, the astronauts decide to leave. However, something damages the communication relays outside of the lunar module. Walker goes out to investigate and is attacked by a creature which burrows into his chest. Anderson removes the creature but they have trouble communicating with earth for instructions on how to leave the moon.

First let me give some credit to director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and the actors. He does a skillful job of filming this movie like it was footage shot with real Apollo cameras. The footage feels like it's from the seventies. And he does deliver some scares with a sudden noise here and there. The special effects are very good also. Lloyd Owen and Warren Christie are excellent as astronauts, first duty bound and later turn desperate as they face death.

But the big stink is the screenplay by Brian Miller. There's a lack of depth in the dialogue. For example, a Department of Defense (DoD) official on the radio discloses some of the secrets but says he kept it from the astronauts because he was playing it close to the vest. How about describing the mission? The lack of exposition creates logic issues. And logic is the biggest problem. Apollo 18 makes no sense. Why did the DoD send these guys to the moon? Walker surmises that they're guinea pigs. I mean since the DoD knew that there was hostile alien life on the moon, why send astronauts there? Did somebody at the DoD say, "Hey that Russian got killed by alien monsters, let's see if our American boys get killed by those monsters." Or was the real purpose to make a cheap thriller about men stuck in space and in danger? Okay that's cynical. Later in the movie, Walker starts to go mad. Why? I don't know. I'm guessing that Miller needed this plot point to create some contrived action.

But the big howler are the aliens. The basic rule regarding modern monster movies is you had better show the monster. There is no excuse in this day and age with CGI, not to. Yes, I understand certain films like 2001: A Space Odyssey did not show the alien. But that's for artistic reasons. This ain't art. And in this movie, it is supposed to be found footage so maybe they're a little fuzzy. Okay, but there were many scenes which were pretty clear. The monsters in this movie were spider like moon rocks. There were no clear scenes of the beasties. Even the one that burrowed into Walker was not shot cleanly. Another problem is how can these things live in the vacuum of space? There's no air on the moon and the radiation is deadly. Regardless, since man does not live on the moon, why did the monster burrow into Walker? And get this. When Anderson removes the creature from Walker, he leaves the thing inside the ship!

Apollo 18 is a basically one of those goofy fifties science fiction movie. It even has one of those scary epilogues where a silent scroll reminds you of the amount moon rocks brought back and that some were given away to foreign dignitaries. Oh great, it's now Invasion of the Body Snatchers? But like those awful fifties science fiction movies, Apollo 18 is illogical. Save your money this Labor Day weekend. If you want to see this movie, wait for it to come out on DVD. The grade is C.