Studies in Pop Culture

Pop culture, from my point of view.

A good “Star Trek?”

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According to this CNN.com article, as well as Ain’t It Cool News, the new Star Trek film coming out in May is really good. I really hope so. I haven’t been too optimistic about this, as reboots or “early years” takes on classics usually don’t work well, but J.J. Abrams seems to be on a streak. I really liked Cloverfield, and if what people are saying is true, he may just have breathed some much-needed life back into the Trek franchise. Voyager had its moments, and I’m enjoying it more now in syndication than I did during its original run, but that may simply be because there’s been no new Star Trek on in a while. It didn’t really have any “Wow!” episodes like The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine had. Enterprise was a syndicated abortion. A seemingly intentional non-Star Trek feel, almost weekly screw-ups with continuity, and a cast nobody could really care about or get behind. Not a good formula.

Reinventing the series, and replacing icons such as William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy is a risky venture, but if buzz is to be believed, the risk paid off.

 

The "new" Enterprise

The "new" Enterprise

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Written by Jason Stroming

April 8, 2009 at 3:53 pm

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Madonna May Have To Adopt A White Baby

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I can’t say I’m unhappy about this report on CNN and other sites this morning. I mean, I’m all for wealthy celebrities trying to help out kids who are less fortunate, but this whole thing about white celebs adopting black kids just has a whole slew of things wrong with it, in my opinion.

I mean, it just reeks of something that is done because it’s fashionable or trendy. I mean, Angelina Jolie can’t seem to stop, and now Madonna wants a second. And yes, it’s a great “lottery-winning” moment for the kid that does get adopted. But what about all the kids who don’t get adopted? Wouldn’t it make more sense for these celebrities to use their fame and fortune to bring more awareness to helping children in the third world? Bono does this, and yet people think he’s annoying. Because apparently everyone hates that bipartisan, let’s-put-our-differences-aside-for-the-sake-of-the-children crap, right? So I don’t quite get that. I think he’s done far more for the children of Africa than Brangelina or Madge have.

Also, last time I checked, there were hundreds of thousands of kids right here in the good ol’  US of A that needed loving homes. But I guess it’s just not cool to adopt American kids.

Written by Jason Stroming

April 3, 2009 at 8:25 am

Hostess Chocodiles

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Chocodiles

Chocodiles

Ok, I haven’t had any of these since I was a kid. And I used to love them. For those who don’t know what they are, they are basically chocolate-covered Twinkies. As if Twinkies are not good enough, someone had the brilliant idea to cover them in chocolate. I know a lot of these companies won’t distribute products in areas where demand is low, and I guess New York City is one of those “low demand” areas. Go figure. But I found this website, so I may just have to order some of these to feed my cravings. God bless the internet.

Written by Jason Stroming

March 29, 2009 at 8:19 pm

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Fable 2 (Xbox 360)

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So I, like many other people, I’m sure, got an Xbox 360 for Christmas this year. I’ve been a PlayStation man for years now, since the original came out what seems like eons ago. So this was a bit of new experience for me. The PS and PS2 served me well, but when it was time to upgrade, I decided I wanted to try the Xbox. It seemed to just have better versions of the cross-platform games (like Fallout 3) and exclusive titles that suited my tastes a lot better. Like Fable 2.

Fable II

Fable II

Now, I did play the original Fable first, but I’ll save most of my thoughts on that game for a retro review sometime down the road. I downloaded it off Xbox Live Originals, and, suffice it to say, I loved it enough to buy the sequel. I know a lot of people were turned off to these games because they didn’t live up to the hype of their developer, Peter Molyneux. But I guess since I was a little late coming to the party, I never boarded the hype wagon to begin with, so I had no illusions going into the game.

Story

In fantasy role-playing games (or RPGs), there aren’t too many original stories. There seems to always be the unlikely hereo (you, player 1) who has to overcome some seemingly insurmountable odds. Usually, it’s either that you are recruited to save the land of the (insert picked-on race here, usually elves) because some big bad is threatening to steal some magic item that will give him super powers so he can take over the world, or someone kills your family (or family member) so that he can steal some magic item that will give him super powers so he can take over the world. Fable 2 falls into this second category, though I won’t spoil it much more than that. So it’s up to you to stop the big bad, and you can do it walking the path of goodness, evil, or something in between.

Gameplay

The gameplay in Fable 2 is pretty tight. The controls are responsive and pretty intuitive, though a bit different than the first game. So if you’re like me and jumping from one to the next, it’ll take some getting used to the new control scheme. But pulling off counters and flourishes in melee is pretty easy and very rewarding to see. Nothing beats decapitating a bandit or ducking behind him to run him through with your sword. Ranged attacks are also awesome, due mainly in part to a strong auto-targeting system. The ability to eventually zoom in and target specific body parts is also great fun. I loved shooting weapons out of the hands of my enemies. A nice crotch shot is always good for a laugh too. Magic attacks suffer though. I liked the magic attacks in the first game much better than this “charged” version here. So I pretty much played the whole game without using much magic at all.

Leveling up is pretty straight-forward as well, and you can always sell back abilities that you don’t want or use anymore. By the end of the game, you can become pretty strong and with the right weapons and augments to those weapons, become damn near invincible.

Travel is a bit convoluted, as the in-game maps are hard to read, and you basically have to fast-travel between towns and locations. I would have preferred if you could just roam the open countryside.

This time around, you have a dog to accompany you. This is a great addition to the game. And while it may sound annoying, it’s extremely helpful and you become quite attached to the dog. The dog can find treasure for you, warn of enemies hiding nearby, and even help you in fighting them.

Graphics & Sound

Fable 2 is an amazing looking game. Not as good as something like Oblivion, but pretty close. Seeing the sunsets, or the light reflected in the water, the trees, the plants, the buildings and architecture, it’s all beautifully done. Again, unfortunately the gameworld isn’t as big as Oblivion or Fallout 3, but you’ll never get tired of looking at the scenery. The sound is also good, with a nicely fitting musical score, the chatter of townspeople, and the growling of enemies and monsters. A lot of the townspeople sound alike, but the game acknowledges this in its own tongue -in-cheek way.

Balance

Honestly, the game is far too easy. It’s too easy to make tons of money, which in turn makes it too easy for you to buy amazing weapons very early in the game. The sword I bought maybe 30 minutes into playing is the same one I finished the game with, with one augment (augments are jewels that can be attached to weapons to give an extra bonus or ability). That being said, it doesn’t take away from the game all that much. Some of the fights are still a bit challenging, and everyone always imagines being strong enough to take on 8 bad guys at once and kick all their asses. So what’s wrong with being able to do that here? Nothing.

Replayability

The big selling point of the Fable games is that you can play them in any way you see fit. Want to be the good guy who saves the town and is celebrated as a hero? Go for it. Want to be the bad guy, raising everyone’s rent, sleeping with prostitutes and killing anyone who looks at you funny? You can do that too (almost). There are a few instances where you must complete the objectives in order to move the story ahead, which takes away a bit from the claim that you can do whatever you want in the game world. Again, it’s not Oblivion or Fallout. But it comes close.

Overall

Fable 2 is a great game, and I recommend it to anyone who likes video games. It has enough roleplaying elements to please RPG fans, and enough action to please action/adventure fans. Without giving too much away, the ending is quite anti-climactic, but it doesn’t take anthing away from the game experience itself, and in a way, is quite fitting from a storyline perspective. Plus, there’s always the Knothole Island dowloadable content to play as well. And you can keep playing the game once it’s over, especially since there are some quests that can only be played once the game is over.

Final Score: 9/10

Fable II

Written by Jason Stroming

March 28, 2009 at 1:50 pm

U2: No Line On The Horizon

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As an avid U2 fan, I figured that there would be no better way to start my new blog than to review the new U2 album, No Line On The Horizon. I haven’t reviewed it before now because, as with all of U2’s albums, I like to give it a few listens before I make up my mind. First impressions are one thing, but with U2 albums, there is usually much more to them than can be discovered on a single listen. Now that I’ve lived with the album for a few weeks, I think I’m finally ready to weigh in with my thoughts. I’ll do a track by track review, and then an overall summary at the end.

1. “No Line On The Horizon” – The album opens up with this rocker, which sees the Edge using the lower registers of his guitar. The rhythm is heavy and distorted, with more signature delayed, chimey Edge sounds finding their way into the song during the chorus. Bono’s voice sounds great on this one, and Adam and Larry provide a stellar rhythm section. Nothing fancy in this one. It’s quite minimalistic. But it is U2, after all.

2. “Magnificent” – Almost every other review I’ve read in some way mentions how this song is truly “magnificent.” I don’t want to say the same thing, but it’s true. It’s one of the stronger tracks on the album, with a  great chorus that you can definitely see live audineces in the stadiums singing along to loudly.

3. “Moment of Surrender” – U2 does gospel/R&B. And they do it really well. A really good song, though it falls a little short of being epic. It could turn into a modern version of “Bad,” though, if done properly when performed live. Bono’s vocals on this track are amazing.

4. “Unknown Caller” – One of the stranger songs on the album. The chorus is a bit too monotone for my tastes. The guitar solo at the end is great, and the song, musically, is solid, but I’m having a hard time with the lyrics and especially the chorus.

5. “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” – Silly title, but a pretty good song. This one has definitely grown on me, especially after seeing them play it live on Letterman. Another song that you can tell will be big in the arenas.

6. “Get On Your Boots” – I don’t think this should have been the lead-off single, or even a single at all. Not indicative of the album as a whole, and kind of the album’s light/fluffy track. That being said, it’s not a bad song, for what it is. I like the heavy guitar riff, and the bridge is fantastic. “Let me in the sound, now…God, I’m going down…I don’t wanna drown now…Meet me in the sound…”

7. “Stand Up Comedy” – This is a funky/groovy little number. It opens with a Zeppelin-esque riff, has some Beatle-esque vocal harmonies, but is pure U2 funk. The outro to this is awesome too. I think this could be a huge song live, and will probably be expanded upon (extra lyrics, guitar solos, etc.). Bono kinda pokes fun of himself in this song a few times, too.

8. “FEZ-Being Born” – Actually two different songs. “FEZ” is just this little instrumental bit at the beginning with a sample of “Let me in the sound…” from “Get On Your Boots.” This will probably be what is played as the band comes out for an encore at concerts. “Being Born” is kind of heavy, and hearkens back to U2’s younger days. This track would totally be at home on their fourth album, The Unforgettable Fire.

9. “White As Snow” – A stripped-down U2, and you can almost hear Johnny Cash or Bob Seeger singing this. It’s different and not like them, so I dig it. Not an amazing track, but it does what it does.

10. “Breathe” – For me, the best song on this album. I really like Bono’s stream of consciousness, Dylan-esque rattling off of lyrics here. I love the pre-chorus and chorus (“Walk out…Arms out…I can breathe…breathe now…”). I really like the sort of dissonant harmonies on it. It really adds to the ambience. The Arabian cello throughout also adds to the song, especially on the bridge right before the (completely awesome) guitar solo. You can tell something good is coming. To me, this song is the spiritual successor to “Acrobat.” 3/4 waltz timing, but heavy and yearning. I’ve liked this one since the beach clips on YouTube. This should be the next single after “Magnificent.”

11. “Cedars of Lebanon” – They usually close with a slow song, and this album is no different. Just the point of view from a war correspondent in the Middle East. It’s moody and atmospheric and melancholy. There’s a cool little guitar solo at the end that is followed exactly by the bass, and it’s pretty cool.

Some reviews (like Rolling Stone or Q Magazine) have given this album 5 stars. Others have bashed it as bland and boring. I don’t agree with either assessment. The album is solid, with a lot of good tracks. But, I feel like Eno and Lanois (Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, longtime U2 producers) are way too involved in many of the songs. In fact, they actually get songwriting credit on many of the tracks. Eno in particular just likes to push the weird/minimalistic envelope too much, and it shows here. U2 should have been let loose on this album, but it feels like they were held back. The result is an album that feels 85% finished. Lots of great potential, but too much meddling by Eno.

Overall Score: 8/10

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No Line On The Horizon

Written by Jason Stroming

March 27, 2009 at 3:45 pm

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