Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Westbrook Gone

I wasn't planning to blog about the Eagles today, since free agency and the draft are just around the corner and will spawn a half-dozen blog entries over the next couple of months. But the release of Brian Westbrook is worth a mention.

As much as he's contributed to the franchise, this is the right move. Between the concussions and his bad knees, I wouldn't be surprised if he was done in the NFL completely. My guess is that he won't pass a physical with anyone else, and won't show any explosiveness in workouts, and will retire. If he's really desperate to play, I could see the Eagles re-signing him after training camp to a one-year deal, assuming they don't draft or sign someone they like better.

And no, I wouldn't sign LT to replace him, and I don't think the Eagles will either. At this point in his career, he's nothing more than a goalline back. If he's willing to accept that role (and a minimum salary), then he'd be a nice addition, but my guess is that he will expect the carries and the money of the player he used to be, not the player he is.

Curling update:
Pathetic. Both US curling teams choked away close games. After a great showing in Torino, they've stumbled to a 2-7 record for the men and a 2-5 record for the women, both missing the medal round. Now I just need to find a nearby curling club so I can work on my game, instead of only watching every four years.

US Hockey update:
If you didn't see that US-Canada game, I'm sorry. If I could show one hockey game in the last decade to a non-fan to try to sell them on the sport, I'd pick that one. Gritty physical play from the US, combined with great goaltending, stole the game from a more talented, and sometimes dominating, Canadian team. Both teams played with passion and desperation for the entire 60 minutes.

The US sits in first place after the preliminary round, which guarantees nothing, but puts them in a great position to medal. A favorable draw has them facing either Switzerland or Belarus in the quarterfinals (they beat the Swiss 3-1 in the prelims), and then (if the seeds hold) either the Finns or the Czechs in the semis. While both teams are capable of beating the Americans, they are not the equals of the three powerhouses (Canada, Russia, Sweden) that are on the other side of the draw. The US might still be the fourth-best squad in the tourney, but thanks to stealing the game against Canada, they won't face any of the top three again before the finals.

Gaming update:
With AC2 behind me, I've got to decide between Bioshock 2 and Dante's Inferno next. Since I'm cheap, the decision will come down to which one hits the Used section at Gamestop first.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Assassin's Creed 2: Game Review

Assassin's Creed 2 shares many of the same strengths and weaknesses with its predecessor. It's incredibly deep and rich, but suffers from the same extremes of difficulty (zero for most of the game, punctuated by spurts of tediously demanding perfection) that the first one did.

First, it looks amazing. The architecture and dress of 15th-century Italy is lovingly represented in fantastic detail. There are moments where you'll reach the tip of a steeple and simply pan the camera in every direction to soak in the amazing view. Since I've never been to Venice, it was a real pleasure to run around and experience the City of Canals "firsthand".

Second, the designers directly addressed one of my complaints from the first game - lack of character development. A character can be improved through weapons and armor and healed with medicine - these items can be looted or bought with looted gold. An additional area of development and source of income is your personal villa, which starts out shoddy but can be invested in and rebuilt throughout the game. While I certainly appreciated these additions, they turned out to be pointless. Once mastery of the counter and disarms moves are achieved, you can slay hordes of enemies without a scratch. Towards the end of the game I never bothered to draw my sword - it was more fun (and slightly more challenging) to disarm each enemy and kill them with their own weapon. Another problem with the "customization" is that can all be accomplished easily on the first playthrough, crushing the replay value.

Third, the expanded lore of the second volume does not disappoint. While a bit corny, I give the authors tremendous credit for the sheer ambition of their vision. I don't want to rewrite everything you can read on the wiki, but they attempt to explain the creation (and possible extermination) of mankind, the origins of religion, the rise to power of many historical figures, the construction of architecturally-similar pyramids all around the ancient world, the Mayan doomsday calendar, and unexplained events (like Tunguska), all woven together with the threads of everyone's favorite conspiracy-theory organization, the Templars.

Overall, an impressive game that could have been even more. Worth buying (used) and definitely worth playing once.

Here's a video from the game, called The Truth, which you piece together by uncovering glyphs throughout the game and deciphering puzzles. It shows two humans who are escaping from their masters, known only as Those Who Came Before, with a mind-control device known as an Apple of Eden.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Public Enemies

I don't normally review movies I've watched on DVD, but once in a while a movie does something good enough or bad enough to deserve a comment. Public Enemies falls into the latter category.

I'm not sure how you take a compelling story about a memorable public figure and turn it into a bland, forgettable movie, but the makers of Public Enemies found a way.

Dillinger could be both brutal and restrained, cold and compassionate, fiercely loyal and self-serving. He would plan robberies with exacting detail, sometimes using elaborate ruses to accomplish his goal. And yet he was exceedingly reckless in his personal life, unable to lay low and remain anonymous, even when his life depended on it. Above all, he was a charming public figure who cultivated his reputation more carefully than his cash.

And yet this movie barely touches on his complexities, and in spite of the usual performance by Johnny Depp, he comes off shallow and bland. Instead of empathy, pity, admiration, or disgust - all of which could be valid responses to Dillinger's character - I only felt apathy.

Read these sentences I'm lifting from Wikipedia:
Among Dillinger's more celebrated exploits involved his pretending to be a sales representative for a company that sold bank alarm systems. He reportedly entered a number of Indiana and Ohio banks and used this ruse to assess security systems and bank vaults of prospective targets. Another time, the gang pretended to be part of a film company that was scouting locations for a "bank robbery" scene. Bystanders stood and smiled as a real robbery ensued and Dillinger and friends escaped with the loot.

Don't those scenes sound like they were made for a movie? Neither one made the cut, however, instead replaced by several straight-up gun-toting bank robberies that lacked drama. Dillinger on several occasions returned money to bank customers who were making deposits or who handed him their wallets out of fear, yet this rates a single passing mention in the movie. Dillinger broke into several police stations to steal bullet-proof vests and BARs, but this wasn't mentioned either. The public-service announcements during movies about Dillinger in his gang were often treated with cheers for Dillinger and boos for the agents chasing him, but not in Public Enemies, where the moviegoers somberly and dutifully look to their left and right to see if the at-large criminal is sitting next to them.

The worst bending of the truth was the outright fabrication of Dillinger's last words - he either said nothing or "You've got me" depending on the report, but he most certainly didn't have a romantic message for his jailed girlfriend. In addition to the Woman in Red, he was accompanied to the movies by the prostitute he'd been dating.

It reminds me of the movie 300, which couldn't let a timeless story stand on its own, but felt the need to dress it up with fighting rhinoceroses, ogres, and speeches about freedom. Public Enemies adds pointless dramatization to an already great story while neutering it at the same time.

Four years and counting

As the Winter Olympics kick off, and I'm Googling the curling tv schedule, it occurred to me that I started blogging almost exactly four years ago.

Although this feels like a milestone of sorts, I'm not going to do a self-important summary of my blogging highlights (clip show!) After all, I've only posted 337 times, less than a year's work for some people, and both the frequency and quality have declined over the last year. When I started out, I felt like I had a lot to say...but I'm at the point now where every post perilously courts the danger of repetition. There's only so many times I can debate the alarmism of global warming, point out the hypocrisy of religion, or seethe with disgust at self-serving politicians. (No links - I thought about it, but that would be too much like the clip show I am avoiding.)

So instead I'll get back to the Winter Olympics, and while not technically repetitive (four years ago I mostly focused on my weird fascination with curling) - the topic is droll nevertheless.

Aside from hockey and curling, I can't stand the Winter Olympics. There's something exclusive and elitist about the whole party, but I'd be a hypocrite to say that bothered me. The two biggest problems for me are 1) I haven't done any of that shit, and 2) watching races "against the clock" are really lousy television.

We're at dinner last night in a bar/restaurant (interesting menu, decent food, but overpriced) with a TV showing the luge competition, and my son asks: Why do some guys go faster down the hill than the others? That's when I realize: I don't have a fucking clue. I reply sagely "It's all technique, son" without having any idea what I'm talking about. I've never luged, I never will luge...I don't know what the hell I'm watching for as spandex-clad dude after spandex-clad dude zip down a icy tube on their back. They're all going fast enough to die, and without the little ticking clock at the bottom of the screen I sure couldn't tell you who had the best technique or the fastest run, or why the angles of one guy's runners are better than another angle...the same goes for bobsledding, biathalon, mixed alpine races...I guess I'm grateful I live in a place where winter's not long and snowy enough to invent all this crazy shit to kill time between golf seasons.

And then there's the clock...imagine watching the 100-yard dash one person at a time. Or all that shit with Michael Phelps two summers ago if he was in a pool by himself racing against a timer. I'm not a big Summer Olympics guy either, but it's a lot more compelling to watch people race each other. Downhill skiing with 30 simultaneous participants, or 30 bobsleds tearing down a mountain at the same time...I'm sure it's not practical, but it might be worth watching.

But all of that is moot starting tomorrow, when the US curlers lose to Germany, and the US hockey team defeats Switzerland. In case you're wondering, I'm predicting a medal for neither club...the hockey team is at best fourth in the world behind Canada, Russia, and Sweden...and quite possibly worse than the Czech Republic, the Finns, and Latvia as well.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Tim Tebow Schadenfreude

I thought I despised Tim Tebow before.

But now, as you may have already heard, He's about to appear in an anti-abortion Super Bowl commercial. The ad, which will cost between $2.5 and $2.8 million, discusses the story of His miraculous birth.

You see, his 37-year-old mother was in the Phillippines on a mission, when she was diagnosed with placental abruption. Doctors normally recommend abortion in this case, because it poses not just a danger to the child (15-20% mortality rate in third-world countries like the Phillippines) but also a danger to the mother (5% mortality rate.) Additionally, nearly 50% of the babies are born underweight and premature, with other complications at more than double their normal rate of occurrence. But she decided against abortion, and she was blessed with the Eminently Marketable Tim Tebow for a son!

Of course, these stories have a built-in survivor bias, because you never hear from the dead babies and dead mothers who made the same choice and prayed just as hard as Pam Tebow did. The mothers who orphaned living children and widowed living husbands, foolishly risking their own lives to obey the rules of a nonexistent supreme being, are conveniently silent about the consequences of their choice.

But ok, I'm going to put aside my non-belief for a moment. Just for the sake of argument, let's take every word in the Bible as the pristine truth.

When Jesus was alive, he was a part of the Roman Empire, a republican government that closely mirrors our current government in many important ways. Did Jesus make a single trip to Rome, to lobby the senators for more Christian laws? Did he take donations and save them up to try and curry favor with politicians? Did he instead lobby local politicians - like Pontius Pilate or the Pharisees for political change?

You may not have read the Bible as closely as I have, but instinctively you know the answer to these questions. Jesus gave money to the poor and encouraged others to do so; he witnessed on a personal level and encouraged his disciples to do the same. He never made any effort to influence politicians or laws.

And yet, Focus on the Family has saved up $2.5 million for a 30-second Super Bowl ad with Tim Tebow's face on it. Think Jesus would approve? Think he would have denied food to starving children so that he could air a television ad hoping to affect political change?

And Our Media Hero is right at the head of the whole hypocritical scheme, translating his success as a football player into a platform for his evangelical beliefs.

So it is with great delight that I watched him suck at the Senior Bowl. If you can't follow that link (sub required, I think), it grades Tebow's week as a D+.
We have not spoken to a single talent evaluator who believes Tebow can develop into the kind of quarterback Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford or Joe Flacco is right now. The learning curve is just too steep in almost every area. We cannot find a way to give him any higher than a third-round grade, and even then we envision him as nothing more than a Wildcat or short-yardage quarterback who could move to H-back. Overall, Senior Bowl week could not have gone worse from an on-the-field standpoint.

This means that he'll soon (hopefully) fade into obscurity, since no one wants to hear a tight end proselytise.