Monday, June 30, 2008

Scrapped Princess

Scrapped Princess is a very entertaining, if somewhat flawed fantasy show with a dose of science fiction. The premise is that a girl was born into royalty, but there was a prophecy stating she would bring about the end of the world on her sixteenth birthday, and so the King ordered her death. She managed to avoid infanticide though, and fifteen years later, she is on the run with her two adoptive siblings after rumors of her continued existence surfaced. The show is heavily plot-based, with almost no filler whatsoever. Even episodes that seem to be unimportant introduce characters or ideas that will come back later. It's really tightly put together, and although I wasn't a big fan of all the twists and conveniences, I can't complain about it too much. Some of the characters are a bit obnoxious, but the important ones are likable or interesting enough that you don't mind their faults.

The story was interesting, but a big part of why I enjoyed the show is that it's simply nice to look at, with appealing character designs and smooth animation when it's important. There's also some nice effects in more elaborate action sequences and fanservice that does its job without being insulting. The studio that did it has done other popular shows like Fullmetal Alchemist, and their ability to pump out a weekly program with a quality that can rival longer-term projects is impressive. It's really a pretty consistent, good show, and only one contrived subplot really bothered me, but it was enough to lower my overall opinion a bit. Still, it's a good example of what can be done with the medium.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs

The second of four planned Futurama movies is different from the first in some interesting ways. Beast continues directly from the cliffhanger at the end of Bender's Big Score, and wraps up the big question it left hanging, but overall it's much less plot-based. You could tell Score was made to be easily broken into normal episodes, but it still felt like it had a continuous, interesting storyline. It kind of messed with the past a bit too much but the time travel was still entertaining. Beast has a story, but it is much more obvious about being a string of interlocking episodes than a real movie, just in terms of the overall arc. The cliffhanger doesn't even really come into it until deeper than I expected.

Despite the more disjointed narrative, I might have enjoyed it more than the first movie for a simple reason - it was funnier. The point of the show has always been humor with developing the interesting world as a secondary concern, and the movie delivers very well. It's not an official measure, but I definitely feel like I laughed out loud quite a few times more often than Score. Some of the jokes broke the normal mood a bit, but it was still pretty funny the whole way through. The cast did a good job again, including special guests such as David Cross, who's always funny. His character is interesting although the actual dialogue is a bit standard sounding, but Cross makes it all work humorously. To be honest, I'm a little tired of Bender always being an asshole who usually ruins things, but I'm curious what the next movie, which appears to focus on him, will bring since the title is a reference to Ender's Game. The movie looks great and the DVD has good special features as always, and is something every fan of the show should grab ahold of.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fruits Basket

You may be wondering why I'd bother watching something clearly aimed at younger girls. Believe me, I asked myself the same question. Although I don't think it's a bad thing to get a variety of experiences. Fruits Basket is about a ludicrously kind high school girl who becomes friends with the younger members of a reclusive family. The twist at the end of the first episode is that some of them turn into animals of the zodiac when hugged or bumped into by a member of the opposite sex. Holy crap! Hilarity ensues. I'd say it's a reverse of the normal romantic comedy with a girl in the middle instead of a dopey guy, but the show's really more about developing the constantly growing cast and making you depressed once in a while than real romance. It's not particularly funny either, but few animes are.

My real problem with the show is a common one for the medium. It's based on a manga, and instead of adapting the entire story, they only adapt part of it, presumably so people curious about what happens next will start reading the source material. I just noticed I've never defined what manga is for any normal people who stumble upon this, so it's just a Japanese comic book. Anyway, Fruits Basket is at times pretty well animated, usually mildly entertaining, and the story has more emotional depth than is standard. Sometimes they're a little too obvious with making the backstories of the various characters as sad as possible, but they develop it pretty well. They build to a decent climax and resolution, but the story still feels incomplete at the end because it is. The villain isn't really that nefarious, he's just a huge dick who only shows up randomly to act like a huge dick. In the end, I didn't wish I hadn't watched it, so there you go.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

We Own the Night

James Gray's crime drama set in 1980's New York drew a few comparisons to The Departed, but I don't really see it. Everything about that movie was more entertaining, from the characters to the dialogue to the twists to the violence. We Own the Night does a few things right, but it was just generally inferior. It's about the two kids of a police chief played by Robert Duvall, one who followed in his footsteps and one who became involved in the seedy business of running a night club. The latter is the main character, played fairly well by Joaquin Phoenix. He wants to become a big player in the city's night life but things change when some Russians who frequent his place cross the police. Mark Wahlberg is the other brother, but he had a smaller part than I expected, absent for a significant chunk of the film and not playing that significant a role in the plot in general.

I'm not sure quite what kind of movie it wanted to be. It was a crime story, with drugs, sex and violence, but it just felt kind of small. There weren't a lot of notable characters, and it felt like a study of Phoenix' character at times. It wasn't bad, it was just a bit dull. Eva Mendez plays his girlfriend, but her part is also of little consequence as she just disappears after a certain scene. The climax wasn't very exciting either, resolving pretty quickly. There was one significant twist, but it was entirely expected. There was one scene that was very good, a car chase that was unlike any other that I've ever seen. It took place during the rain, and it just had a much more realistic and unsettling atmosphere than you usually see in parts that usually try to be loud and crazy. Other than that, it just seemed a bit off in general. I don't think this is really Gray's wheelhouse.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

300 posts. I don't know if I should be proud or ashamed of myself.

Talladega Nights was much funnier than I thought it would be. I'm not sure why my expectations were low, I guess I just might be growing out of stupid comedies a bit, but it wasn't as dumb as I assumed. They could have just made fun of rednecks and NASCAR for a couple hours, but there were lots of clever moments and pretty good wordplay that made it quite funny in spots. Even when characters were just insulting each other, the specific insults were usually pretty darn good. It was especially great hearing it from Ricky's two kids, who were horrible brats in the beginning but ended up as articulate gentlemen.

Will Ferrell's schtick of picking a random, usually sports related profession and doing a movie about it is getting a little tiring, but he's been likable whenever I've seen him on the screen (I just realized I've never seen one of his movies in theaters, which is weird), and does a good job carrying this movie. John C. Reilly plays his sidekick and best friend, who's very dedicated but completely lacks common sense. Sacha Baron Cohen is also good as the villain to the story. They use the character as a simple excuse for a lot of French and gay jokes, but he provides a lot of amusement as well. The rest of the cast also does a pretty good job keeping things funny, including known names like Michael Clarke Duncan and Amy Adams. The dialogue is a strong point of the script if the pacing isn't. It felt like Ricky spent too little time doing well and too much wallowing in his own failure before recovering in the obvious return-to-glory storyline. Instead of spending time establishing the situation, there were some pretty drawn-out scenes that were strictly for laughs, although I suppose I can't fault a comedy for having those. In the end, I liked the movie quite a bit.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Sopranos - Season 3

I can see why The Sopranos might appeal more to an older audience than it does to me. The family issues it covers can resonate with anyone in America, but it's all told from a more mature perspective. I don't know what it's like to see your kids move out or get in trouble or see close friends pass away. Most of the younger characters on the show are unlikable, especially the ones involved with the mob business, who are almost universally portrayed as worthless idiots who mess up and then get killed. The youngest one who hasn't screwed up yet is Chris, but he gets made partway through the season so he's no young pup. Carmella's (Tony's wife) character is very prominent, and everything she deals with, how to cope with a criminal husband she still loves and her two very different children, are something I have no reference with. Still, the show is very good even if it wasn't made with me in mind.

There's a lot to deal with in the third season. An obnoxious relative moves on but another takes their place. Another prominent underling emerges who Tony butts heads with, this time played by the enjoyable Joe Pantoliano. The FBI's making a stronger push to compile evidence on him. His daughter has problems with boys and his son with school. He meets a new girlfriend in a place that should worry him, his psychiatrist's office. It's all balanced very well. Sometimes other shows try to give you snippets of all the plot threads being juggled all the time, but usually here they just pick one or two per episode to give real attention to. One aspect of the show I like is how frank it is with the violence and how things can quickly get out of hand in their line of work. In one episode, a simple trip to pick up owed money turns into an altercation and then a whole day getting lost in the woods, chasing after prey that could potentially be very dangerous. They definitely don't flinch showing the rough stuff. I'm gonna keep watching to see how wrong things get.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

I've been enjoying my Playstation 3 since I got it, but some people insist MGS4 is the only game possibly worth getting the system for. It is one of the reasons I made the purchasing decision I did, and I'm glad I was finally able to play it.

Over the years, the Metal Gear Solid story has grown and twisted itself out of control, and one of the main concerns going into this game was that Hideo Kojima and crew would be unable to wrap everything up in a satisfying way by the time it was over. There were so many questions and characters to resolve that they could have easily blown it, but they didn't. I still think the third game had the best story in the series, especially on an emotional level, but Guns of the Patriots brings everything together and answers nearly every burning question I have. They even did a good job bringing the third game's events in and integrating them, when it would have been easy to just ignore them since they happened forty or fifty years before the other games. I wasn't completely happy with everything that happened, some of the action cinemas might have been a little too out there, and I kind of wished some of the plot twists were a little crazier, but it's hard to be down on the way they ended the saga of Solid Snake.

Unfortunately, the large plot issues they had to deal with caused some ramifications with the gameplay. The first two acts are amazing and easily the most fun I've ever had with the series. But after that, the story takes over quite often and the last few acts spend too much time explaining things and not letting you play. The game is still fun in those areas, but often breaks a little too far to the formula when I just wanted more of what I had already played. The new stuff is fun, and interesting playing through the first time, but I definitely think when I play again the first two acts will hold up much better. The success of the game hinges on the new controls, which are much friendlier to the average user while still feeling like a Metal Gear game. Everything feels smoother, and it's always fun to either sneak past difficult situations or face them, either quietly using the now-less-intimidating CQC techniques or the actually enjoyable shooting mechanics, especially with the plethora of weaponry available. There's a new system for acquiring guns, ammo, and upgrades, and it makes it a lot easier to blast your way through the game if you want to. The boss fights are still fun and often unique, especially the one at the climax of Act 4, but my favorite is again the one that encourages sniping from afar, which seems to be the best in every game that's had one. The main bosses seem pretty extraneous to the story, but fighting them can be an enjoyably creepy experience. I haven't played the online with the game but I played the beta a couple months back, and if it was any indication of the final experience, which it should be, it's a bit quirky but can be a very addicting, satisfying, team-based shooter.

I would be lying if I didn't admit some of the enjoyment of the series came from it's amazing visual and audio prowess. The games have always been the best looking on their system, and this is no exception. The textures aren't the best I've seen, but the models, animation, effects, and direction of the cutscenes are incredible. The voice acting is usually good, except when they get a bit long winded and sound like they're reading from a script. The music is entertaining as always and the sound effects, regardless of whether the scene is calm or a huge battle, are terrific. One of the best looking and sounding games ever, to go along an extremely fun game and wrapping up one of the more enjoyable stories. Even if you don't like previous games in the series, you might enjoy this one just because of the friendly advances the controls have made. If you have access to it, play it.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Well, I ended up seeing it anyway. Fan reaction to the long-delayed fourth Indiana Jones movie was very divided. Some accepted the sillier elements for what they were and enjoyed where it stayed close to the spirit of the original movies, and others hated it for the outlandish plot tarnishing the integrity of what they forget was always a pretty goofy series. There were a few moments that deserve questioning, but overall it wasn't too far out of line. There was some unnecessary usage of computer graphics on small animals in multiple scenes, which was intended for comic effect but never that funny, and stuck out in a movie that usually tried to avoid effects that take you out of it. There was a scene near the beginning with a refrigerator that was completely moronic and utterly pointless, and I can't think of why they thought it was a good idea, but that was the only thing that really bothered me.

It helps that it's modern and benefits from current technology and stunt techniques, but the action sequences are the most exciting in the series. There are some pretty good ones in the other movies, but to me they were more about the character than a car chase or whatever. There aren't as many of those character moments, but there are some pretty good ones, and they acknowledge his advanced age without making a big joke out of it. The addition of Shia LaBeouf as heir apparent shifts the dynamic and it's interesting to see Indy as more of a mentor instead of just a leader. Harrison Ford isn't the young buck he was twenty years ago, but he really didn't seem out of place in the role. He doesn't dish it out as well as he used to but he can still take it pretty good, and his intelligence when it's required still make him quite a compelling protagonist. The main plot twist and especially the resolution were pretty out there, but I liked the movie all the same and wouldn't mind if they decided to make another. I was skeptical of the idea at first but they pulled it off fairly well.

Friday, June 13, 2008


I read a couple of Morrison's novels for class in high school, and really liked one of them (Song of Solomon), so I was pleasantly surprised to receive what I suppose is her most famous work as a gift. It was made into a movie by Oprah Winfrey, but I haven't seen it so I came at it with a clean slate. It's easily the most "literary" thing I've ever read outside of required coursework, and at times can be pretty grueling. Her prose is difficult, but if you can get your head around it it's some of the most elegantly descriptive you'll ever read. As happens to me a lot, I read the beginning long before the rest, but once I forced myself to really read it, it came quicker and I finished it in short order. I didn't like it as much as Solomon, but anyone really interested in the genre of literature should probably try it.

The plot is quite a bit darker than what you'd usually expect from a Pulitzer winning novel, or at least what I'd expect. Actually, I read The Shipping News too. And To Kill a Mockingbird wasn't exactly roses and cake for everyone either. Forget what I said, just know the plot is pretty dark. It starts out as a fairly normal slave story, but the unusual story progression, constantly jumping back and forth to different points in time to slowly unravel what really happened, reveals quite a lot of horrible things that happened in the time period. It focuses on a mother trying to live on after losing most of her children and attempting to find happiness again when some people from the past return, and the main characters are developed extremely well, as Morrison is good at doing. She never shies away from some of the things we might try to ignore, and the results are pretty impressive. The plot isn't as interesting as she's done before and it got a little out-there in the end, but it's still a good book. Not my favorite literature but probably deserving of its praise.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Miller's Crossing

Miller's Crossing is just the Coen brothers' third film, but by that time they were already showing incredible maturity and skill within the medium. It's not as funny as most of their other work, but it has one of the better stories. In general, they're known for quirky films with a focus on dialogue and dark humor, but sometimes they veer farther into that dark territory, and Miller's Crossing is one of those times. It's a modern version of film noir. The dialogue, especially from the protagonist played by Gabriel Byrne, is usually pretty snappy, but making you laugh is not the general goal.

The story takes elements from other works, and is a familiar tale of the hero using his smarts to play two sides against each other instead of confronting them himself. It takes place during prohibition and the two sides are an Irish gang that's been running the city and an Italian one that wants to take over. Circumstances cause Byrne to cut ties and interact with a shady character played enjoyably by John Turturro, who's the lynchpin of the whole conflict. Byrne is very good as Tommy, as he carries the movie in almost every scene. He's not a violent guy, and in fact gets beaten up probably more than any main character I've ever seen. He uses his wits instead of brute force to make it through, and gets a little help from luck too. The plot is pretty complicated, and a bit tough to follow if you can't keep up with all the different names that the fast talking characters drop. Even if you don't get every detail though, you can still appreciate the main thrust of the story. If I hadn't seen The Ladykillers, I'd say the Coen brothers could do no wrong.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


F.E.A.R. (hereafter referred to as FEAR) is the second franchise-creating first-person shooter developed by Monolith that took me longer to complete than it should have due to technical issues. Just like it was years before I finished No One Lives Forever, FEAR came out late in 2005 but I just beat it recently, after encountering numerous glitches and an issue with getting the game to reinstall. It didn't really sully my experience though, as once I started really playing it I ended up enjoying it quite a lot.

FEAR's central, fairly risky idea is a mix of high intensity, visceral combat and moments of creepy, psychological horror. It's a balance that could easily be screwed up, but they handle it pretty well. Just when you get tired of the waves and waves of enemies, they might throw in some unnerving atmospheric stuff or an appearance by the little girl the story revolves around. At the time little girls in horror entertainment were becoming a cliché, but it works.

The majority of the game though is fighting a ton of clone soldiers, and it's generally fun, with the levels designed in a way to allow their AI to move around and try to flank you instead of just staying in one place until you shoot them. They can be pretty tough, especially when they introduce some of the tougher enemies later on, but you have a lot of help from the ability to slow time, lots of equipment and health boosts littered everywhere, and getting to carry around up to 10 health packs anywhere you go. As it is the thing to do now, you can only carry three weapons at once. I don't feel like they handled this limit as well as other games, because I carried the same two around almost the entire time since they were usually a good combination, and I basically didn't use any automatic weapons for 80% of the game. The normal soldiers do get boring to fight once in a while, but there are some others to keep it fresh. I was disappointed by the lack of variety, with them going out of their way to prevent you from ever having allies during a fight and little deviation from the formula, but the formula was pretty good.

The graphics are already not nearly as impressive as they were when the game was first released, but in context it's pretty nice looking and the effects actually affect gameplay, with smoke constantly obscuring either your or the enemy's line of sight. The voice acting is decent, the sound effects help pull you into every skirmish, and the music and ambient noises really help set the dark mood they're going for. I really like it when shooters avoid leaving the first-person point of view and still effectively convey the story, because it's a presentation style unique to video games that can be really effective when done right. It's a little contrived when you stumble upon laptops and voice mails that slowly enlighten the story details in a very planned, progressive order, but it doesn't hurt believability too much and is plenty entertaining. The plot builds in the standard way and culminates with the standard twist, but it's the standard for a reason. I really liked the epilogue, and since the real sequel disregards the events of the expansions developed by another company, I'll probably just wait until it comes out later this year to see what happens next.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Squidbillies - Season 3

Squidbillies is one of the strangest and most disturbing shows on Adult Swim. It came around about the same time as 12 Oz. Mouse and Perfect Hair Forever, but those shows have faded away while Squidbillies is still going pretty strong. It's written by the guys behind Aqua Teen Hunger Force and The Brak Show, and you can see the influence with the bizarre situations and characters, but the Cuyler family takes it way farther. Early is one of the most despicable main characters I've ever seen, a terrible father, son, and person in general. But that's usually what makes him funny, so you don't end up minding how awful he is. The rest of his family provides entertainment as well, especially the grandma played by Dana Snyder, most widely known as the voice of Master Shake.

The show focuses on them, but the sheriff is another funny character, who ends up getting killed nearly as frequently as Kenny used to, and this season in particular featured a lot of Dan Halen, an evil businessman with a gigantic mouth. Unlike some other shows, Squidbillies features very little recurring plot ideas, as it's not uncommon for everybody to end up dead or in terrible situations. The show's pretty violent, and combining that with the odd art style it would probably put off quite a few people. But it's often much cleverer than it appears at times, and always good for a few sick laughs. Not the kind of thing anyone should probably get too into, but it's funny.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Lucy, The Daughter of the Devil

Created by Loren Bouchard, one of the two guys behind Home Movies, Lucy is one of the first computer-animated shows on Adult Swim and has a style of humor that fits in perfectly with most of that lineup. The premise is fairly outlandish, with special forces from the Vatican chasing after a relatively normal girl who happens to date the Messiah and be the daughter of the Devil, as the show's title would indicate. Despite the plot, the meat of the humor comes from the natural dialogue between the characters. H. Jon Benjamin frequently makes guest appearances on other Adult Swim shows, and since his days as the coach on Home Movies, is one of the funniest voice actors they have. Whether following a script or just improvising, he's always good, although I wouldn't say his work on this show is really his best.

As is the trend now, Lucy has a strain of continuity running through the whole season, so even if a particular episode has an isolated plot you can still see them moving forward towards something. It builds to a conflict with all the main characters, someone running for office with the Devil's help, and a gigantic monster. The season wasn't very long, but it quickly developed into a really enjoyable show. Lucy isn't quite the main character since she doesn't have the most screen time, but everything sort of revolves around her and she's pretty likable. Jesus and the secret clergy are probably my favorite cast members, and I'm hoping they do pick up the show for a second season.

UPDATE: They didn't.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Liveblog 13: The Yankees Are Mediocre

This team's pretty similar to last year's, not just in the players but in the results. Last season, they sucked for the first few months and didn't really get in a groove until the second half, where they played like men on fire and made it into the playoffs, where they promptly blew it again in the first round. Now, it's June 8th and they're still at .500, where they've probably been about 25 different times this season. The last three games are a good encapsulation of the problem - they had two huge come-from-behind victories won in the bottom of the ninth inning, but in between they lost 2-1 to the Royals, with a pitcher with a career ERA over 6 shutting them down. Last year they were scoring a ton of runs and just not getting any breaks, this year they're just not that good. They still have time to turn it around, and hopefully they're well out of last place by the time they're hosting the All-Star game in the Stadium's final year.

Today Joba makes his second start. The first didn't go too well, as he reached his pitch count quite early thanks to four walks, but he got no help from his defense or the umpires and still only gave up one hit. People still want him to stay in the bullpen, but right now his starts are the only thing I can really look forward to. The Yankees picked up some pretty good pitching talent in the draft and the offense has generally looked better lately with Alex Rodrgiuez and now Jorge Posada returning, and hopefully Phil Hughes can come back and pitch decently before the end of July. With the general underperformance of some other good teams in the league they still have a good shot at the wild card even if Boston takes the division again.

Top 1 - All right, here we go. Strike one to DeJesus. Nobody fucks with DeJesus. He flies out to Melky. The next batter, whose name I won't bother spelling, bloops a 1-2 pitch for a single. Teahen pops out to Abreu on the first pitch. He gets Guillen swinging on some high heat to end the inning. Much better first inning than his last start.

Bottom 1 - Zack Greinke is on the mound for the Royals. He's got a lot of talent but hasn't fully realized it yet. He saw some of it there easily striking out Damon after he went 6 for 6 yesterday. Jeter lines a single up the middle, tying Mickey Mantle for the second most hits at Yankee Stadium. While I was helping to bring in the groceries, Abreu hit a two run homer and A-Rod singled. He then reached second on a wild pitch. Greinke comes up and in on Matsui and almost hits him. Matsui then draws the walk. Giambi strikes out on a rare swing way out of the zone. Joey Gathright makes a nice play taking a run scoring double away from Posada to end the inning.

Top 2 - Joba's facing Alex Gordon, his old teammate from College. For the record, I typed that before Michael Kay said it. Gordon works a full count and then lines a single to left. The next batter pops out on the first pitch. Gload smacks another single. Joba seems to give up more hits than usual whenever he faces Kansas City. He strikes out the rookie Mike Aviles on four pitches. Gordon scores on a passed ball. Three runs have been charged to Joba since he became a starter and none scored on a hit. Gathright strikes out on another ball in the dirt.

Bottom 2 - Gathright makes a second great catch off a ball hit by Cano. Cabrera grounds out to second. Damon bounces a ground ball to the shortstop to end the inning. Much better job by Greinke.

Top 3 - DeJesus hits a double into the corner. I can't see what's happening now because of a thunderstorm warning, so I'm checking Gameday. The second baseman grounds out, moving the runner to third. Teahen pops out to Jeter. On a full count, Guillen hits his third home run in two days, and the Royals take the lead. These storm warnings are really annoying. Gordon flies out to end the inning but that wasn't a good job by Chamberlain.

Bottom 3 - Jeter leads off and takes two breaking ball strikes. He lines another ball up the middle but this time Greinke nabs it for an out. Abreu strikes out weakly to bring up A-Rod. He walks on four pitches to bring up Matsui, who strikes out.

Top 4 - Joba's gonna have to be stingy with his pitches to make it through five innings and have a chance at a win. His slider's really diving today. He strikes out Oliva staring at a low fastball, which I believe is his first looking strikeout in the last 17 he's gotten. First pitch line out to Giambi by Gload helps the pitch count issue. Next batter grounds out to Cano, and that was just what the doctor ordered.

Bottom 4 - Giambi grounds right into the shift for the first out. Posada watches six pitches go by and strikes out. Cano weakly nubs a groundball for an infield single. It's erased by Melky hacking at the first pitch and popping out to end the inning. Both pitchers look pretty good today.

Top 5 - Joba got another called strike out but then DeJesus worked a walk in a long at bat and that ended his day. Dan Geise relieved him again and got out of the inning on a nice diving catch by Giambi.

Bottom 5 - Damon works a full count and then hits a ball that DeJesus made an ill-advised dive for and booked it to third. Jeter fails to deliver and strikes out. Abreu grounds out, but that still gets the tying run in and Joba's off the hook. A-Rod again draws a four pitch walk. Matsui pops it up and Gathright makes another great play to catch it, but it looks like he hurt his wrist. That's a whole inning's worth of outs that Joey's handed to Greinke today.

Top 6 - Geise gets Guillen to ground out and strikes out Gordon. Olivo strikes out but the ball gets far away from Posada and he makes it all the way to second base. Ridiculous play. The next batter pops out though to end the threat which shouldn't have existed.

Bottom 6 - On a full count, Jason Giambi hits his third go-ahead home run in four games. He's having a terrific year after an unlucky April. Posada walks, and Greinke is not long for this game. Mahay's coming in to face Cano. Cano works the inning's third full count, but grounds into a double play. Cabrera pops out to left again to end the frame.

Top 7 - I wonder how many one-run games the Yankees can play in a row. Aviles flies out to center. Gathright, still in the game after appearing to get hurt on that diving catch, grounds out. I knew Geise was no spring chicken, but he turned 31 last month. That's a little wacky. DeJesus just barely hooks a home run foul. A couple pitches later Geise strikes him out, and he's still in line for his first career victory. At age 31.

Bottom 7 - Damon slices another hit to left, this time for a single. Jeter flies out harmlessly. With the hit and run on, Abreu hits a single through the hole and runners are on the corners for A-Rod. An insurance run here would be good with the Yankees' eighth inning relief questionable since Joba's transition. He hit one that looked like a homer off the bat but hit off the wall for a two run double. The fielders misplayed the ball and A-Rod went for third but got thrown out. If he ran hard the whole way he would have made it easily. Matsui walks. On yet another full count, Giambi pops out.

Top 8 - Jose Veras is getting a chance here instead of Kyle Farnsworth, which is a bit surprising. Maybe Girardi is learning. The weird-name guy pops out. Teahen gets to a full count (!!!) and then strikes out. Guillen grounds a single up the middle. Gordon gets punched out staring at a fastball middle down to end the mild threat.

Bottom 8 - Posada walks. Guess what the count was. Cano grounds into a fielder's choice. Cabrera swings and misses. He had a great April but really cooled down after that. Damon grounds out and we're on to what should be the last half inning.

Top 9 - Olivo pops up the first pitch to Abreu. Gload grounds out to Cano. Another ball to the same place to end the game.

Wrap-Up - Today we learned that these liveblogs are only cursed for the second game by a rookie pitcher, not the second start. So that's good to know. The Yankees are again over .500, but we'll see how long that really lasts. With any luck, they'll stay there this time. Joba pitched well, and by his next start should be more or less able to pitch a real game, and hopefully get the win.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Family Guy - Season 6

The sixth season of the now venerable show was fairly brief, but had some pretty solid episodes. Over a hundred episodes later, they're running out of steam a little bit, but things like the hour long Star Wars parody and two part special where Stewie finally tries to kill Lois were pretty interesting. The Star Wars episode might have stuck a little too closely to the movie at times, but it was fun to watch. There weren't really any outstanding episodes during this run, but none of them were bad either. They still squeeze out laughs wherever they can. They have been adding some continuity, which is nice, like an actual arc to Brian's relationship with Jilian.

To continue being honest about the show, I feel like it's running out of steam and would benefit from ending sometime fairly soon. They have to really stretch to find new things to make fun of, and increasingly just completely misfire. I don't see what humorous about, say, Michael J. Fox having Parkinson's disease. But it looks like the end's not in sight, with plans to make episodes for the Star Wars sequels and creator Seth McFarlane recently signing one of the biggest TV deals in history. It's no big deal if the show goes forever though, because even if I stop watching it regularly I can be pretty sure to get a laugh somewhere any time I watch.

Monday, June 2, 2008

American Dad! - Season 3

It sometimes gets a little iffy figuring out seasons for animated shows with the fact that production, televised, and DVD "seasons" can all be different, so this is the third televised "season", from last September's "The Vacation Goo" to late this May's "Spring Breakup".

American Dad first premiered under the shadow of the return of Family Guy, creator Seth McFarlane's other, much more popular show. In the beginning, it didn't seem that great, just a retread with similar characters and some political jokes instead of pop culture tangents. It did grow a bit during the first season, and had some good moments. For whatever reason, I stopped watching and didn't pick it back up until newer ones came on Adult Swim. I completely missed the second season, but that doesn't really matter in a show where continuity is scarce. By now, it's come into its own as a show, only similar to Family Guy in appearance and some similar sensibilities, not in nearly every aspect. Usually the topic of each episode comes from a hot political issue, but the desire to make fun of the government doesn't take over or get in the way of them making an entertaining program.

To be honest, at this point I like American Dad a bit better than Family Guy. It makes me actually laugh more often. It's usually more artistically creative, with unique perspectives or tones that Family Guy would never tackle. A lot of the funnier jokes are pokes at themselves or the sillier contrivances of television, which is fine by me. You can't always pull excellence out of every subject so you get humor where you can find it. There's a point to be made that none of the characters are really that good but the parents and Roger are funny enough and Steve is like the boy version of Meg except he keeps getting screwed over as part of the episode's plot and not just in throwaway gags. Not many secondary characters have really jumped out, but the CIA angle makes more interesting situations a lot. It's a very watchable show.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Grand Theft Auto IV

Rockstar has succeeded again in creating one of the biggest, most ambitious games ever, and managing to keep it fun in the meantime. With making the leap to the current generation of hardware, they had to step up the technology, as by now the PS2 games look ancient. They did so in a big way. There's slowdown in the more chaotic moments and some texture popping when you're driving quickly, but it's overall a good-looking, polished game. Faces sometimes look a bit weird, but the overall presentation is miles beyond previous installments. The radio is pretty solid, with good songs usually in reach even if you don't recognize them, and a few funny talk stations. The voice acting is generally at a very high level. Everyone with a real part does a decent job at the least, and the throwaway voices on the street are usually funny.

The series always did a good job with the cutscenes besides a couple awkward moments, and they really shine here, with many scenes matching the quality of a good movie or television show. The story is good, with Niko being far from innocent but still a sympathetic character. The plots are always so long in these games that they tend to lack a real focus or arc, but most of the time he's working towards his goal in some way, if not directly then in hoping whoever he's working for can help him. This is the first GTA game to feature choices, as several times you decide whether someone lives or dies and make a big decision near the end that determines the ending. I wish these choices had more bearing on what happens in the story, but they do have gameplay consequences as well.

The gameplay is improved, but there are still some issues, and the different sorts of missions you do have gotten pretty typical at this point. Sometimes you'll tail people, other times you'll chase them, other times you're running from cops, and quite often you're just shooting them up in a warehouse. It might just be selective memory, but I remember San Andreas being more creative with some of the bigger jobs. The driving has been changed in this game, as the handling is now much rougher than it used to be. It seems impossible to consistently get good corners. You get used to the new mechanics, but it's more of an understanding-your-limitations used to it than a actually-doing-it-well used to it. There are some cool things you can do with it, but it's hard. Thankfully, the shooting is much better. The auto-targeting still isn't great, but it's easier to aim freely and the ability to use cover makes shoot-outs an exercise in skill and not a crapshoot. It can get rough in tight areas, but you're usually better off than you used to be.

There are lots of little side missions you can do as diversions, and the expansion of girlfriends more into the story makes things interesting. Not just ladies anymore, you can hang out with various people you meet in game, and go out and have fun with them. You can see Ricky Gervais or Katt Williams do standup, go bowling, or my personal favorite, go drinking. When drunk, characters will wobble around and fall over in hilarious ways, demonstrating the game's excellent body physics. One of the best additions to me honestly was how well people interact with explosives or quickly moving vehicles. It's like ragdoll physics except it doesn't look idiotic. Anyway, friends or girls that aren't introduced by the story confer special bonuses if they like you enough, like selling you weapons at a discount or providing a couple thugs for backup. Cruising with a buddy between missions and then getting his help when you need it really add to the game's immersion. It's the most complete GTA yet, it's just not as exciting an idea as it used to be. The multiplayer's a lot of fun too, as soaring down the highway and gunning down opponents is even more fun with a friend. I haven't spent much time with it, but I'll definitely play it more during the summer.