Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Weekend Movie Roundup (May 26-28)

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Based on the true story of a 1972 New York bank robbery that went horribly wrong. Al Pacino stars as Sonny, a blue collar guy who turns to bank robbery for somewhat unusual reasons. Unfortunately, despite his planning, the cops arrive during the robbery and soon put together a veritable army outside. Sonny and his accomplice Sal become trapped inside with their hostages, the bank staff. Sonny attempts to negotiate with the cops to secure their escape.

Although it sounds uninspiring, this film was made when (in all likelihood) these sorts of stories hadn't become stale. Even today, this remains an excellent film because it doesn't play out in a cliched manner. The characters feel real, and the events play out with believable tension. Even the minor characters have dialogue and character traits that feel natural. Good writing and directing, and Pacino is fantastic as the charismatic robber who becomes increasingly desperate and optimistic in equal parts as the film progresses.

King Kong (2005)
I'm not sure I need to summarize what Peter Jackson's ambitious remake of the 1933 classic is all about. A film crew led by director Carl Denham (Jack Black) heads off to an uncharted island (uncharted in the 1930s - we know where it is now). There, starlet Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) is captured by the natives and sacrificed to Kong, a giant ape. Kong and Ann cross the human-ape divide and forge a strange friendship, but Denham has plans to make a fortune by capturing Kong and exhibiting him for all the world to see. A lot of jungle and city based mayhem and destruction takes place.

Kong was definitely flawed, but I loved the damn thing for its old school adventure mixed with dramatic gravitas. It was spectacular and over the top, but also has quiet, reflective moments. Technically, almost everything was fantastic - Kong, New York, Skull Island, most of the dinosaurs and creatures, the biplanes, the costumes and sets. The cast is stellar, especially Watts and Serkis, who acted out Kong's movements and expressions. Jackson manages to again mix the fantastic with the serious in an engaging manner. The flaws? It runs too long for the amount of story it has to tell - some judicious editing would probably have helped. The ridiculous sub-plot involving Jimmy and Hayes adds nothing to the film, and neither does the appalling brontosaur sequence that has some of the worst effects seen in a mainstream movie in some time. There are several sub-par effects like this - the raptors and the brontos, and several of the blue screen shots.

Despite these flaws, it's still very good. Perhaps not a classic, although I have a feeling it'll be looked back on fondly.

Ed Wood (1994)
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have teamed up several times - some argue that this is their finest effort to date. It tells the story of Ed Wood, considered by many to be one of the worst filmmakers of all time, and how he went about making a string of terrible low budget films during the 1950s. The film centres not only on Wood but also the group of filmmakers he surrounded himself with; a substantial portion of the story is devoted to the friendhsip between him and Bela Lugosi, the out of demand actor who was once famous for portraying Dracula. Wood and his pals struggle to get funding and resort to all manner of desperate methods to get their films made. Throughout it all, Wood is seemingly oblivious to how bad his films are, and continues to maintain belief in himself and finds the enthusiasm to marshall his troops to get the job done.

Ed Wood is a wonderful film, plain and simple. I find it hard to imagine that people could actively dislike the film. It's very funny, but doesn't sacrifice dramatic depth for comedy - there are poignant moments of bleakness and despair throughout. The film mows past them in the same way Wood did - with boundless energy and enthusiasm. Depp is fantastic as Wood, but incredibly he's eclipsed by Martin Landau's Bela Lugosi, who's simply brilliant. The acting is great all around, and Burton's touch keeps the film in a whimsical pseudo-reality populated by misfits. Shot in black and white, the film draws you into Ed Wood's world and you can't help but root for him as he endeavours to churn out (crappy) films in a hopeless quest for recognition and greatness.

Monday, May 29, 2006

It's time for you to come out of retirement, Replicant!

A special edition release of Blade Runner is finally going to hit DVD sometime next year! From The Digital Bits:

"Then next year, just in time for the film's 25th anniversary, Ridley Scott's ultimate Blade Runner: The Final Cut will hit theaters for a limited run. This will be a REAL director's cut, with restored scenes and more - all the stuff that Ridley's always wanted to do with the film but hasn't really been given the chance to do before. That will be followed later in the year by an Ultimate Blade Runner DVD release. You can expect a multi-disc box set (again, likely with a simultaneous HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc release) that will contain at least four different versions of the film... ALL in full anamorphic widescreen, we might add. You'll get the film's original U.S. theatrical cut, you'll get the expanded international theatrical cut, you'll get the 1992 Director's Cut and you'll get the new Final Cut as well. Now... we realize at this point, you may have questions. Keep in mind, there's a TON of additional material that's going to be included in this set that hasn't been announced and can't be talked about yet - all-new material that you've never seen before."

Blade Runner is a film I didn't initially care for, but it's one that stuck in my head nonetheless, and my appreciation and enjoyment of the film grew with each subsequent viewing to the point where I consider it one of my favourite sci-fi films. It's an absolute classic and worth your time. I was fortunate enough to catch the Director's Cut on the big screen a few years back, and it was just spectacular. I can't wait to see it cleaned up on DVD, and am curious as to how Scott's 'Final Cut' (the previous 'Director's Cut' apparently didn't have much to do with the director!) will turn out.

The DVD set is in the good hands of Charles de Lauzirika, the man responsible for the Alien Quadrilogy boxset, which was brilliant and absolutely comprehensive (except for the whole Alien 3 thing with David Fincher, but hey, can't blame the DVD producer for that). He also produced the special edition DVDs for Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, and Kingdom of Heaven, which are meant to be among the finest DVD releases available. Can... not... wait!

Mission Impossible 3

Mission Impossible 3 is... Forgettable.

"Abrams may think he’s made a tightly constructed event film, but it’s all one big widescreen cheat. And if audiences accept this mission, they’re going to get more of the barely adequate same until movies of this cookie cutter nature overrun the multiplexes like kudzu." - Mr. Beaks.

It's not a bad movie, it's just not even close to being great. I'm quite surprised at the number of glowing reviews this film has received - I don't think it's deserving of any of them.

The main problem was that the whole thing felt like a bunch of action sequences tied together by a flimsy 'plot' and featuring a cardboard cutout team with pitiful characterization. The stakes in the story are raised when things become personal, but the whole thing feels contrived and it's hard to really give a damn.

This fact alone wouldn't be so bad, were it not for second major problem - for a big budget film, it doesn't feel particularly big or spectacular. There's way too much shaky-cam that feels out of place for a slick, glossy, and OTT film (whereas it seemed perfectly appropriate for the more gritty and realistic Bourne Supremacy). The main set pieces were all well put together but were just 'OK' - there are NO suprises and nothing that is particularly memorable (alright, except that jump from the roof of a skyscraper). Roger Ebert's review sums it up better than I ever could.

"Either you want to see mindless action and computer-generated sequences executed with breakneck speed and technical precision, or you do not. I am getting to the point where I don't much care. There is a theory that action is exciting and dialogue is boring. My theory is that variety is exciting and sameness is boring. Modern high-tech action sequences are just the same damn thing over and over again: high-speed chases, desperate gun battles, all possible modes of transportation, falls from high places, deadly deadlines, exotic locations and characters who hardly ever say anything interesting."

What I've said so far sounds really negative, but I didn't hate the movie. Heck, I'd say that the film was 'good' overall, and it's enjoyable enough as a hollow, technically well executed but unspectacular action / thriller. The better elements of the film were Philip Seymour Hoffman as the coldly calculating villain, and a few surprises that go against conventions and audience expectations.

Ultimately though, the mediocre outweighs the good, and I have no real desire to see this film again.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

$100 Laptop Pics

Pics of the first prototype of the $100 laptop have cropped up online. The $100 laptop is a project started by MIT Media Labs, which created the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) non-profit organization to create a cheap and robust laptop for use as an educational tool by children anywhere in the world.

The laptop is obviously very basic, but it should be sufficient for educational purposes, including cheap distribution of digital textbooks. It's designed to be sturdy and consume little power, and will also feature some form of manual charging mechanism - a hand crank or foot pedal - for places where there is no readily available power supply.

It comes in several flavours and I reckon they look pretty darn cool.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Weekend Movie Roundup

Good weekend - two classics and one obscure low budget British drama.

Network (1976):
Sidney Lumet's satire about a fictional television network still packs quite a punch and remains relevant 30 years on. A TV news anchor with low ratings approaching retirement starts to lose his mind and raves like a lunatic on TV. This lunacy actually attracts viewers to the show, and the executives of the struggling network cynically exploit the madman to bolster business, turning the nightly news into a garish piece of entertainment that's lapped up by the masses. It's all about the ratings for these people, no matter the cost. They're so absorbed in the world of ratings that they barely register as human anymore, with the sole exception being the news anchor's best friend and producer (who gets fired early on when he tries to stop the whole charade).

It's a very low key film with terrific writing and performances that indicts TV networks, the people that run them, and the undiscerning audiences who grow up hooked on television. When you get to the scene where the network execs, the leader of a minor communist political movement, and the leader of a terrorist organization are sitting around in a room arguing about the terms of their contracts with the network and how they want grosses to be split, you'll know you're watching something special. It's cynical, funny... and smart.

Midnight Cowboy (1969):
Jon Voight plays hustler Joe Buck, who moves to New York to improve his fortunes by attracting higher class clients - rich, lonely women. Unfortunately, his naivete proves to be a major handicap and he fails to score as well as he'd hoped. Dustin Hoffman plays 'Ratso', another down on his luck individual who teams up with Joe (after initially scamming him) as his 'manager'. The two become unlikely friends who struggle desperately to get by. And that's it really, a simple premise, but it's enough to drive a surprisingly poignant drama.

The narrative is not entirely straightforward - it features some wonderfully bizarre flashbacks and dream-sequences. It's also restrained and avoids cheap sentimentality, which would have been out of place given the characters and the setting. If anything it's moody and depressing, but there's always a little sliver of optimism that runs throughout the film that the characters cling on to, and there are a few good laughs tucked in there as well. Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman are simply brilliant. I never thought I'd like Voight in any role, much less as a male prostitute, and he was a total surprise in this. Hoffman could have easily overplayed it but fortunately he didn't, and what he delivers in Ratso is a truly memorable character. Watch out for his famous "I'm walking here! I'm walking here!" line. Definitely worth watching.

Separate Lies (2005):
This is probably one you haven't heard of, it's pretty damn obscure. I'm not normally a fan of 'marriage dramas', if there is such a thing, but this one's very good. James (Tom Wilkinson) and Anne (the adorable Emily Watson) are a seemingly happily married, well-to-do London couple who split their time between their city flat and a large house in a small suburban town. 'Seemingly happy' because there are in fact deep divisions between them that even they are not fully aware of. It all comes to the fore, however, when Anne knocks over an elderly cyclist while speeding through the countryside with her secret lover William (a slimy Rupert Everett). James learns of the affair while looking into the accident, and decides it'll be best to keep it secret. Things get complicated when Anne continues to see William, and an investigator begins to make inroads into the hit and run case.

As with the other two films I've mentioned in this post, this one features very strong performances. It's a very British movie where emotions are underplayed and everyone's formal and distant. The fact that a lot of emotion is still conveyed despite this is a tribute to Wilkinson and Watson. The story is engaging and deals with the idea of relationships in a mature way - don't expect a Hollywood ending. The only thing which rang false was Everett, who plays it a little too slimy, making it hard to understand how the affair could ever be anything more than just a fling. This doesn't hurt the film too much though, since the focus is mostly on Wilkinson's character. If you don't normally like these type of films, this one won't change your mind; if you're indifferent (like me), then it's worth a watch but probably not worth hunting down.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Development: Arrested

Or rather, Arrested Development, the brilliant comedy series which is about to come to an end after its current (third) season wraps up. The Wikipedia article linked to above, by the way, is comprehensive and is at the time of this writing one of the few Wikipedia featured articles.

So I just finished watching the first season of this show after hearing people sing its praises for the last year and a half. Could it possibly live up to the hype? In a word, abso-frickin-lutely. Arrested Development is, without a doubt, one of the funniest sit-coms (I'm not even sure that label is apt, because it's no ordinary sit-com) ever made.

The story is about the Bluth family, the family that had it all but lost everything when their patriarch, George Bluth, was arrested for fraud. Michael Bluth, George's only 'responsible' and hard-working child, endeavours to resurrect the company's fortunes and keep the family together. The family is dysfunctional and full of misfits - Michael's shallow twin sister Lindsay, her psychiatrist turned aspiring actor husband Tobias, and their dim-witted daughter Maebe; his scheming magician older brother GOB (pronounced Jobe); his socially under-developed younger brother Buster; his icy and materialistic mother Lucille; and his son, who follows in his father's footsteps and strives to do the right thing (which often involves not revealing his attraction towards his cousin Maebe).

The show features a pseudo 'documentary' style and is accompanied by frequent narration (by an uncredited Ron Howard). There are usually multiple story threads featuring multiple characters that interweave with each other, and the situations that result are over the top and hilarious. The writing and acting is absolutely brilliant, with dead-pan jokes coming thick and fast with the sort of wit and subtelty not often seen on TV... or anywhere else, for that matter. So it comes as no surprise that not enough people watched it, hence the inevitable cancellation.

My little summary doesn't do Arrested Development justice though. As Morpheus once said, no one can be told what it is... you have to see it for yourself. So beg, borrow or steal the DVD set and watch it NOW! I can't wait to start watching season 2.

One last thing - I can't write about this show without mentioning Will Arnett's brilliant portrayal of Gob, which stands out even in the midst of all the other great performances on display. While it's true that he gets many of the best lines, his delivery is still scene-stealing.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Philip K. Dick that is. I've just finished reading a collection of Dick's short stories brought together (rather misleadingly) under the title 'Minority Report'. Despite being only one of several stories, the cover ties the book into the Spielberg / Cruise film and gives the impression that the whole book is Minority Report.

The late P.K. Dick, as you probably know, was a sci-fi writer whose works were highly acclaimed but who only became a popular figure after his death, largely thanks to Ridley Scott's brilliant Blade Runner, an adaptation of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Much of Dick's work centred around paranoia, subjective reality, and simulacra - themes that are all touched upon in this collection of short stories.

I'm not certain if this exact collection of short stories is common or only specific to this particular release (probably the latter), so I'll briefly mention the ones I found memorable.

The titular "Minority Report" is very good, and thematically the film is similar to the source material. The future can be seen and criminals arrested before they commit their crimes - but are they really guilty of anything, and would they have committed their crime if they had been told what they were about to do? The hero is John Anderton, who is a pudgy, balding man approaching retirement (played by Tom Cruise in the movie, naturally) that unwittingly is named as a future killer and must run from the 'pre-crime' department he created whilst figuring out why he was fingered and who he can trust.

In "Imposter", the protagonist is informed that he is not who he thinks he is, but in fact a robotic replacement with artificial memories carrying around a bomb in his body that's set to go off when triggerred by a combination of specific words. He doesn't believe it of course, and sets out to prove that he's human. "War Games" is one in which an imports safety department are holding a group of toys coming in from one of Earth's outer colonies in quarantine and studying them for hidden threats. They worry that the strange new 'War Games' toy may have some secret, insidious purpose.

"The Second Variety" takes place in a post apocalyptic Earth. A war is being waged, and the side that's winning gained the upper hand by creating a bunch of tiny robots that decimated the enemy. Now it seems that the robots have evolved (as they were designed to do) and have begun taking on human form in order to infiltrate enemy positions. Some of the humanoid units have been identified, but the protagonists still haven't seen the 'second variety' - and it could be any one of them.

The final story I recommend from this set is "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale", which was filmed as Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Again, thematically the film was fairly accurate, but the stories play out quite differently. They start off the same way though - a menial worker dreams of going to Mars but can't afford it, so he gets artificial memories implanted in his mind in which he was a secret agent who went to Mars. However, the procedure unlocks hidden memories within him which suggest that he WAS, in fact, a secret agent who was once sent to Mars.

Of the remainder, "Faith of our Fathers" (about life being continued after death via a sort of 'half life') and "The Electric Ant" (about a man who learns he's a robot, and attempts to manipulate his subjective reality by altering his 'perception tape') are interesting, while "Oh to be a Blobel!", and "What the Dead Men Say" are the weak links in the bunch (but by no means bad, mind you).

X3 Good?

Moriarty at AICN has reviewedX-Men: The Last Stand, and he states "...X-MEN: THE LAST STAND is not only a worthy addition to the franchise, it actually feels like it is simply part of one big movie, absolutely on par with the first two films." Moriarty is the level headed reviewer at AICN and his take on films is usually spot-on. The first two films were very good (screw you, haters), so all I can say is... Xcellent... Sorry, couldn't resist.

There's a nice looking new Superman Returns trailer out (that's a direct link to the clip). While it looks better than the last few, I have to admit it still feels rather underwhelming so far despite the strong imagery. But hey, until the actual film is out, I'll reserve judgement.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Bueller + Frank Herbert's Dune

So I finally got around to watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off for the first time in over a decade. It's about the eponymous Ferris Bueller who decides to take a day off from school and drags a couple of his friends along with him. The movie isn't as good as I remember. In fact, I wouldn't even call it good. It's just decent. It lacks heart. The characters are uninteresting and just too smug. It becomes inexplicably serious and dramatic at points, scenes which I found completely uninteresting. It's funny in short bursts, especially the bits with the hapless principal who tries to catch Bueller and make an example of him. Ah well...

Frank Herbert's Dune is a mini-series based on the classic sci-fi epic novel by Frank Herbert. The book is a complex political sci-fi epic that centres around the rivalry between two of the Great Houses, House Atreides and House Harkonnen, which comes to a head when they wrestle for control of the planet Arrakis (aka the planet Dune). Arrakis is the only place in the known Universe where the spice melange can be found. The spice is the most precious substance known to man and is the heart of the Universe's economy, which in turn makes Dune the most important planet in the Universe. The son of Duke Leto Atreides, Paul, is believed by the indigenous people of Dune (the Fremen) to be the Messiah of their prophecies, and he is eventually taken in as one of them.

That was a very, very simplistic explanation - there are many characters, factions, machinations, and sociopolitical, religious, and economic themes in the book, which you can read about here and here.

The mini-series is good. It ain't great, and it could have been better. What doesn't work? Some of the performances, the dodgy effects, and the stagy, theatrical feel. If you haven't read the book it's quite difficult to keep track of what's going on. The first third of the story was done better in David Lynch's 1984 film, which was also more atmospheric and had better performances in general. The mini, like the film, fails to successfully draw out the thematic material of the book, and the concept of presience is barely touched upon.

A lot of it does work though - it's quite faithful to the storyline and universe of the book, and to see all of it realized on screen is quite a marvel. Unlike the film, the viewer can appreciate the depth of the universe Herbert created. The Fremen ways and lifestyle is conveyed very well, an element that was virtually non-existent in the film. And the "Weirding Way" of the Bene Gesserit is finally depicted accurately - a display of superhuman strength and speed, as opposed to the ridiculous "sonic blasts" of the film.

In conclusion I'd say it's a good adaptation that can be appreciated and enjoyed mostly by fans who've read the book. It might be hard for non-fans to follow, causing the many dialogue heavy scenes to be a plodding bore. Actually, they can be quite plodding even for fans - as I said, the thing feels very stagy at times. If you haven't read the book, it's still worth checking out though - the good stuff might be enough to make you consider reading the book, which is truly a sci-fi classic.

Star Wars Fans Continue to Get Fleeced

There was much excitment recently when Lucasfilm announced they would be releasing the ORIGINAL Star Wars trilogy, unaltered, as they were first shown in cinemas. Yes, the version in which Star Wars was just Star Wars and not Episode 4. The one where Han shoots FIRST! Where there are no stupid CGI additions and dance numbers, and where Han doesn't step on the tail of one of the galaxy's most feared crime lords.

Lucas initially claimed that it would never be released on DVD, forcing everyone to buy the special editions that came out a couple of years ago. Now that everyone's bought it and that well has run dry, Lucas shouts "SUCKAS!" and proceeds to release it anyway. And to add insult to injury, the DVDs will be a limited run that includes the 2004 special editions as well - that means, if you bought those back in 2004, you'll have to buy them AGAIN to get the original version of the movie! Woo hoo! Despite the underhandedness of it all, fans still rejoiced because they would finally be getting their preciousss original Holy Trilogy (TM) on everyone's favourite optical media format, as the Gods intended.

But wait! The saga is still not complete! In a big "fuck you" to the fans, it seems that Lucasfilm have decided not to bother presenting a quality release for the originals. They're taking the transfer from the Laserdisc release from the early 90s and porting it to DVD! Which means the image will be lousy compared to the cleaned up, remastered 2004 release, and it will be presented in non-anamorphic letterboxed format. The Digital Bits article has more details. In another rant on their site, they conclude:

Bottom line: This notion that Lucasfilm is doing the fans a favor by finally giving them the original versions on DVD in 2006... but in 1993 laserdisc quality... is baloney. In fact, it's unacceptable. Even though most of them probably don't even know what anamorphic means on DVD, or why they should care about it, the fact remains that the fans are getting bilked. We hate to say it, because we've known many of the folks at Lucasfilm for years now. But someone HAS to say it. It needs to be said. Lucasfilm can and should do better. Who knows? Maybe they're already planning to do better for the 30th Anniversary of the original Star Wars next year... and this is just one more bite at the pie in the meantime.

So, a crappy presentation bundled together with the 2004 releases that most people either don't want or already own. And there's always the possibility that these wankers will do a better release down the line. But, if they don't, this 'limited' edition will be the only chance fans have to own the originals on DVD. And the odds are, if fans believe that and scoop it up and it proves popular, Lucasfilm will smell the $$$ and invest in spiffier editions. What a dilemma for the fans.

Personally, every new bitch slap from Lucas dampens my fondness for Star Wars just a little more. There was a time when something with the Star Wars name elicited excitement and anticipation. Now, it only elicits a cynical "who gives a shit" from this jaded geek.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Movies I Watched Recently: Ones With Very Long Titles

By a strange coincidence, I watched two movies recently that have incredibly long names: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Banzai is a bit of a cult classic, and is a complete cheesefest in the same vein as films like Big Trouble in Little China and Army of Darkness. They're dumb fun and they know it. It's about a half American half Japanese renaissance man named Buckaroo Banzai, who's a brilliant surgeon, physicist, rock star, and martial artist all rolled into one. An experiment of his leads to a crisis as the Earth is threatened by a bunch of aliens called Lectoids who want Buckaroo to stop a war criminal from their planet who was imprisoned in the 8th Dimension. The war criminal in turn wants a device created by Buckaroo (as part of the aforementioned experiment) in order to carry out his evil plan. Aided by his team of scientists / rock band the Hong Kong Cavaliers, Buckaroo must defeat the bad guy and get the girl. It's low budget and looks dated, but is a load of fun... there's a strong cast as well - Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Goldblum, Ellen Barkin, and Clancy Brown.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is based on C.S. Lewis's fantasy book of the same name. The story concerns four World War II era kids who get transported (via a wardrobe) to a magical land called Narnia that's in the grip of the evil White Witch (the icy Tilda Swinton). Turns out the kids are part of a prophecy to overthrow her, and with the aid of the lion king Aslan, they embark on a perilous quest to do just that. The film's no classic but it's quite good. While its stylistic trappings borrows from Lord of the Rings, it sadly lacks that series' verisimilitude. As an adaptation, it's quite faithful; it does add a lot of characterization that was not present in the book, which was quite a light read. On a technical level, everything's good while never being exceptional. My only real complaint - what went wrong with the music? It's utterly forgettable. And how come Alanis Morisette is singing during the closing credits?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

E3 Shenanigans

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is in full swing in Los Angeles, and this year's show is a little extra-special because it ushers in the next generation of consoles (admittedly, the X-Box 360 is already out). Check out Gamespy's E3 coverage here.

As I said, the X-Box 360 is already out, and Microsoft are using this year's E3 to add further momentum to their initial advantage by pushing out new features and loads more games. The big news so far for the 360 are the confirmation of their HD-DVD add on for the console later this year (no details though), the teaser for Halo 3 out in 2007, the announcement of Grand Theft Auto 4 along with exclusive 360 only downloadable content, and a service called Live Anywhere that allows games on mobile devices and Windows Vista to interact with 360 games. The BBC has a good summary here.

The big announcements were set to come from Sony and Nintendo. Sony finally provided details of their eagerly anticipated Playstation 3, and it seems most people were left more than a little underwhelmed. The games on offer apparently didn't surpass what is available currently on the 360. Talk about bad first impressions. Sony has also shamelessly cribbed from Nintendo - they've cobbled on some form of motion sensor to the controller (at the expense of the rumble / vibration feature). The key piece of info from E3 is the price - $599 (or $499 for the castrated version that comes with a smaller hard drive, no HDMI connectivity, and some other stuff taken out). That's a good $200 more than the full featured 360, and at least $300 more than Nintendo's Wii is expected to be. Read more about it here.

Speaking of the Wii, Nintendo came out on top with an impressive demonstration of their controller and a promise of 27 games available by launch. No price or release date yet though(4th quarter this year at the latest). Game demos will be playable at E3, and most people that've tried the innovative controller claim it's a blast to use and makes the game experience more immersive. The major downside is that graphically the console doesn't look that much different to the existing Nintendo Gamecube; Nintendo is focusing purely on the interface and the way it will change gameplay. BBC details here. And one last thing, I'm beginning to kinda like the name...

What's the point of this post without my $0.02? I think the Wii looks like a blast and is certainly the most interesting thing to happen in the world of video games for some time. The interface might not be great for every type of game, but for many it will be. Imagine controlling the swing of a tennis racket by moving your arm as you would while holding a real racket. Or turning the controller in your hands like a steering wheel to control a vehicle in a driving game. Or aiming your gun by pointing the controller at the screen in a first-person shooter. There's probably loads of interactions and gameplay designs people haven't even thought of yet. Of course, if the system isn't implemented well it could end up being a disaster, but the early word is good. Couple that with a low price point and I'm sold.

As for the other two, which are competing on the same playing field, I'd lean towards the 360. They both offer stunning graphics and high-def images that require ridiculously expensive TVs to view. They're both aggressively pushing the online gaming experience, but Microsoft has a head start and a clear advantage. The price point for the 360 is way better and the difference in performance doesn't appear to be all that great (for the moment). Plus, MS seems to have quite a few games being lined up for release before years end. PS3 will have a blu-ray drive as standard, but again you need the high-def gear to get anything out of it, and it's not yet clear if blu-ray will become anything more than a bit player in the home video market.

At the end of the day it all comes down to the games - if MS has a comparable selection to whatever Sony has, then I'm Xbox 360 all the way. Unless Sony make something of that motion detection they've developed, but I wouldn't put money on it. I'm betting Sony won't dominate nearly as much this console generation. It might even be close to a three-way split, with Nintendo and Microsoft eating out of Sony's market share. Whatever happens, it should be an interesting couple of years ahead for console gaming.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Obligatory First Post

And so yet another blog is added to the web (I hate the term blogosphere). Like most blogs, it'll probably be wholly inconsequential and lacking in original or insightful content. That fact didn't stop anyone else, so it's not going to stop... The Paranoid Zoidageek! (Please imagine Rowan Atkinson in Black Adder mode when you read that)

I have no set framework for what this blog will be about. As with most blogs, I reckon it'll be about anything, but will lean heavily towards entertainment (movies, tv shows, books, games) and technology, with healthy doses of random gibberish thrown in for good measure. Hopefully the wayward wanderers who stumble upon this site will find something interesting or entertaining, or at the very least mildly amusing.

Despite the implications of the name, there won't be much to do with paranoia on this blog. It's called The Paranoid Zoidageek because I'm paranoid. As we all should be! And no, Zoidageek has nothing to do with that crustacean fellow from Futurama, in case you're wondering.