June 2011

Portal 2 on PC (10/10)

Portal 2 Screenshot
Portal 2 is incredible. You'll find plenty of gushing reviews just about everywhere else on the 'net so I will keep this short. The game combines a wickedly funny narrative with innovative and engaging game play mechanics. Portal 2 isn't terribly difficult (it's much easier than Portal), but there's still nothing more satisfying than completing a particularly rube-goldberg-esque puzzle. Also, multiplayer co-op adds a whole new level of complication to the puzzling. Hopefully Valve will keep releasing new maps for the co-op game in the near-future. This is one of those games with a fairly universal appeal which you try to get your non-gamer friends to play just so they can get hooked on gaming (and heroin).

Ponyo (7/10)

This is another Miyazaki film to watch strictly for the visuals. The story is pretty inane, but, as far as kids movies go, you could do worse. Many of the Miyazaki cliches are there: story takes place in rural Japan, humans are evil polluting beasts, all the elderly people look exactly the same, and the main character is a little girl facing huge, fantastical obstacles (what's Miyazaki's deal with little girls? A little creepy I must say.).

The Snorkel (9/10)

The third movie in the six film DVD set Icons of Suspense: Hammer Films is, so far, the best. The story takes the somewhat novel approach of showing you who the killer is within the first three minutes. The suspense then comes from wondering how (or even if) the other characters will be able to see the clues which are obvious to the audience. The acting is all very good and baddie is given an extra edge of creepiness with his choice of corny (although era-appropriate) high-waisted pants and skimpy speedos.

Elvis Double Features: Spinout / Double Trouble by Elvis Presley (10/10)

Format: 
CD

Spinout remains my favorite Elvis record. You could pair it with thirty minutes modem noises and this CD would still be awesome. Fortunately, it has been matched with Double Trouble, another good Elvis movie soundtrack… not Spinout good, but good nonetheless. I was first attracted to the cheese factor of some of these songs like "Beach Shack" and "Smorgosbord," but the more I listened, the more I realized there were some real gems here: "Stop, Look, And Listen," "Adam and Evil," "Never Say Yes," and "Spinout." I really could go on and just name every track.

Martyrs (8/10)

This is a French horror film that often gets lumped into the sub-genre of torture porn along with Hostel and Saw. I can surely see why, but this film feels like there's more to it than that. The majority of the movie feels like a j-horror psychodrama in which you don't know whether to believe what you are seeing. Just when you think you have it all worked out the film makes some crazy twists and it becomes something else entirely.

Cash on Demand (8/10)

Another great thriller from the Icons of Suspense: Hammer Films DVD six-pack. This one pits Grand Moff Tarkington against a clever bank robber who seems to hold all the cards. The story shows its stage production roots by taking place, more or less, in real-time and by building most of its tension through dialogue and intense acting. Cushing is absolutely great as Fordeyes, the uptight and nervous band manager. The Christmas setting and Fordeyes's character instantly reminds you of Scrooge, but it's A Christmas Carol laced with threats of violence and torture!

Elvis by Elvis Presley (10/10)

Format: 
CD

Unlike his debut album, this one feels much more complete and less like a singles collection. The production is slicker but the early Elvis rawness and attitude is still there. So many great songs like "Rip It Up" and "Paralyzed." The rock 'n' roll stands aside for "Old Shep," which is an epic tale of dog mercy killing. The CD includes six bonus tracks (singles from the same sessions) which include three of his best: "Don't Be Cruel," "Hound Dog," and "Love Me Tender." Awesome cover photo, by the way.

Elvis Presley by Elvis Presley (9/10)

Format: 
CD

This is so much better than the overrated Clash album that stole its cover design. I think people forget just how raw and rollicking Elvis when he burst on the scene. I came to appreciate Elvis in reverse. I liked his cheesy film soundtracks before I ever really gave these early songs a chance. Elvis lives!

Stop Me Before I Kill! (8/10)

This is a good film noir from the six movie Icons of Suspense Collection: Hammer Films DVD set. There is plenty of psychological drama and over-the-top acting. Aside from the female lead's weird Italian accent, I found all the characters intriguing. The tight pacing keeps it moving and there are plenty of interesting twists and turns along the way. I especially like the opening shot in which the camera slowly pulls back to reveal a horrible car crash.

The Future and its Enemies by Virginia Postrel (8/10)

Postrel makes the case for decentralized, dynamic systems. The obvious application of this is in free-market versus command-style economies, but she goes beyond these standard libertarian talking points to show how dynamic systems can create a better future in everything from urban planning to hair styling. Standing against the dynamists are the enemies of the future, the stasists: change fearing reactionaries and rule obsessed technocrats.