Billed as a travelogue, this book covers the culture, politics and history of the Nordic countries from the perspective of a British ex-pat. While overall the book is positive about the region, it does a good job pointing out the consequences of the much lauded welfare state systems. The key take away is that, in exchange for cradle to grave comfort, you lose the spontaneous and unpredictable character of wild west capitalism. Gone are the weirdos and visionaries. In its place is bland food, suicide, unemployment, and an economies teetering on collapse should the price of oil change...
This is a gorgeous martial arts film which features an all-star cast of Hong Kong action heroes (most of which are killed off in the first five minutes). The lone survivor, Gordon Liu, escapes to become a monk and plot his revenge (isn't that always the case with Mr. Liu). Unlike The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, training isn't the focus here. It's mostly about him overcoming his rage and so he can be centered while he bashes the teeth out of his foes.
Wadjet Eye continues their run of solid point and click adventures with their latest, Shardlight. This may be their best looking and best sounding game yet. You play as Amy Wellard, a member of a lower caste in a city recovering from a nuclear-scale bombing. On top of the misery of scavenging for food and dealing with the iron rule of "The Aristocracy," you also have caught a case of the green lung for which vaccinations are in short supply. The plot is pretty linear and avoids that open, branching middle that adventure game devs of yore seemed to love. Really, we are just here for the story anyways and, at times, even puzzles get in the way of that.
The One-Armed Swordsman was a good, arty swordplay epic with a lot of character focus. The sequel ditched the character stuff and focused on bloody sword fights. This third film in the series is on par with the second. Apparently Jimmy Wang Yu was tired of acting with an arm tied behind his back so the title character has been replaced with David Chiang (who can at times look the spitting image of Barack Obama).
Master is worried that his five former students are too powerful and may do evil so he sends his goofy-haired final student off to stop them (but with the caveat that he must team-up with one of the venoms in order to defeat the others). This makes no sense, but once the ball is rolling it doesn't matter. The five venoms begin to reveal themselves by slipping into their unique fighting styles but, rather than becoming an all out brawl, the story becomes an ancient Chinese courtroom drama.
Wadjet has produced another solid point and click adventure game that makes up for its somewhat lackluster predecessor, A Golden Wake. This one is a sci-fi, cyberpunk thriller in which there is a killer on the loose "mindjacking" his victims' memories.
I never quite understood the appeal of cyberpunk. My experience in the genre is limited mostly to The Matrix movies and a fruitless attempt to play Neuromancer on the Apple IIgs.
A rather brutal kung-fu flick centered around competing schools in the lead up to a fighting competition. Lot of spraying gore and a couple eye plucking scenes earn this one its "R" rating. The main hero has an inflexible, emotionless baby-face but the story and secondary characters are decent and more than make up for the wooden acting of the lead. This one is noteworthy for using the same alarming synth sound that Tarantino used to denote revenge in Kill Bill (turns out it's the theme from the Ironsides TV show).
Back in 2007 I played a free, ad-supported version of Prince of Persia: Sands of Time which I enjoyed quite a bit. Although I missed seeing commercials for McDonald's between every level, this is more or less the same game.
The sequel to the memorable One-Armed Swordsman is less about character development and more about action (Duh... you could say that about every martial arts movie). The plot is literally the plot of a video game. There are five bosses to defeat... start walking to the left and start swinging your sword. That said, the fights are pretty incredible and the blood has been turned up several notches making this a fun watch.
Like any compilation, there will be a range of quality in the songs. Most of the tracks that I really like on this soundtrack I already owned... by that I mean "It's Catching Up" by Nomeansno. There are a few other good tunes, but for the most part, this is a showcase for paranoid left-wing political rock. I get it. Corporations are evil. Boo hoo. Anyhow, I eventually saw this film at the art theater in Champaign and it was a boring mess. The movie, that is. The theater was lovely.
Finally, a Shaw Bros. martial arts film that hits all the right buttons: interesting characters, plot twists, colorful design and, of course, excellent fights. I went into this not expecting much—a couple of the ones with "shaolin" in the title have been weak. After an unimpressive opening scene, things start to get interesting as the film sets itself up as a sort of murder mystery.
This is a weird one. It starts off with a display of magical cloaked fighters in which two are made to kill themselves. One fighter (who I swear is a young Jackie Chan) gouges out his eyes, the other gouges out his, um... crotch. You are then shown more magical legions; the first is using voodoo power and the other is trying to block gun shots with a combination of muscle flexing and paper. The set up is crazy and you know it's going to be great, but then it hits the breaks and focuses on an old man who can lift lots of wood.
Opposing Force is a welcome improvement over Blue Shift. First off, it's feels like a full game rather than just a bunch of new levels. It's nowhere near as developed as a modern shooter, but there's a little bit of a story to follow. Half Life was much lauded for its story, but, in hindsight, there really wasn't much there. Opposing Force doesn't even have that minimal level of depth, but there's enough there to push you towards your goal which, as always, is to get the hell out of Black Mesa.
I am finally getting around to playing the Half-Life 1 expansion games. As expected, this is more of the same. This time around playing as a security officer who is caught up in the Black Mesa incident. Once again, you are trying to get back to the surface. There aren't any new game play mechanics (that I can see), and aside from a couple of references to Freeman, the story here doesn't really tie into the main narrative.
Star Wars kinda soured on me in the early 00's. Yeah, the prequels sucked, but even worse for me was the explosion of fandom and extended universe what-nots. From release of the first movie up until around the time the special editions came out, Star Wars was limited and distilled down mostly to those first three movies. Any trickle of new content was a joy and this soundtrack felt special.