Here's a bunch of entertainment I've been meaning to write about. Monster post!
Grand Theft Auto 4 - My anticipation level for this game was high. High enough to take me to the midnight release at Best Buy. Not having played any other game in the series, my excitement for this game laid in the promise of compelling narrative and fun multiplayer modes. GTA4 succeeded on several fronts. Rockstar delivered a living, breathing city in which I was introduced to and drawn in by characters that walk the lines of stereotype, but ultimately deliver entertaining stories. I was initially impressed with the direction that I felt Rockstar was taking with the narrative, but halfway through the game, it starts to fall flat. Most characters have specific segments during which they are introduced and shortly thereafter leave Niko's path. It feels like these segments were produced separately, perhaps by different writers, and they just don't come together in an interwoven story. The sad thing is they could have and made for a masterpiece of criminal drama. As a whole, the game is technically excellent and pushes triple-A game boundaries in the right direction.
Age of Conan - OK, so I didn't think I would be playing another MMO this year. This game was literally off my radar until a week prior to launch. A couple work buddies were playing with the beta and describing the enhancements to MMO combat and intricacies of the hybrid classes. It sounded enticing so I figured I'd give it a whirl, at least for the first 30 days of subscription.
Visually, the game is leaps and bounds ahead of all current fantasy MMOs. Texture fidelity, landscape, and view distance are all spectacular. The style goes for a "realistic" approach, so World of Warcraft's distinct art style still gives it an aesthetic edge and I'm sure it will for a couple more years to come.
I do love the combat. It's fast, visceral, and engaging. Players are required to swing their weapon manually, rather than rely on auto-attacking and using an ability here or there. Attacking in the right direction, responding to incoming attacks with defense of your own, and lining up enemies for maximum damage are all superior combat concepts. I applaud Funcom for incorporating such a signifcant level of collision detection in an MMO.
AoC can practically be played as a single player game. The first 20 levels are completely voice-acted and do a wonderful job of immersing the player in the world of Hyboria. The game takes on a more familiar MMO path after level 20, with quest hubs that mostly consist of "Kill 10 of these" or "Find 10 of these", but if you actually pay attention to the NPC conversations, you discover there are more interesting stories at play than World of Warcraft. Quests are pretty easy to complete on your own, even inside dungeons. I have yet to enter a dungeon that requires a full six-character team. I don't know why that is... perhaps they made those more for levels 30+ or perhaps I'm just not in the right areas.
It's hard not to compare a new fantasy MMO to WoW, but really there's not a whole lot a developer can do in the genre unless it tries to compete with the king.
Dan in Real Life - I found my second favorite movie. It was a real surprise as I didn't see any hype leading up to the theatrical release or any mention of it in the various award shows. How the hell did that happen? This movie has a PERFECT script, PERFECT acting, and a PERFECT soundtrack. Steve Carrell delivers his best performance as a widowed father of three daughters on his way to the yearly family reunion at the cabin. He meets a woman in town and has an instant connection with her, only to discover she is currently dating his brother. The uncomfortable situations he is placed in are reminiscent of Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents, yet completely realistic, heartfelt and still funny.
The script is just plain smart. Events and motives are intelligently crafted to appear natural and then come full circle to have a greater meaning or influence in the film. For example, each of his daughters have what appear to be a typical teenage girl problem that Carrell's character has trouble dealing with. By the end of the movie, each daughter's problem plays an important role in teaching their father a life lesson. Brilliant stuff. The lighthouse scene is wonderful, as is the family talent show. HIGHLY recommend this film to all.
Indiana Jones IV - One of the worst movies I've ever seen. Never have I wanted to walk out of a theater more. I only stayed because I just had to know if it got better. It didn't. Horrible characters (despite decent acting), horrible plot, horrible continuity. GAH!
Juno - Wonderful movie. Charming performance by Ellen Paige. Good writing that I've never seen before. It was natural yet provocative at the same time.
Good Luck Chuck - Funnier than I expected. I like this new "heartfelt" comedy genre that is developing. Stuff like Knocked Up, Wedding Crashers and some others are really delivering for me.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead - AWESOME drama. Great performances by all involved and a heart-pounding story. Intriguing use of cutting to different times in the story to increase suspense.
Iron Man - Best comic book movie in a while. That is, until The Dark Knight comes out in July! Robert Downey, Jr. breathes life into what I consider an uninteresting hero. The movie took itself seriously, which is a great direction when adapting comics to film. Despite all the technological feats that Tony Stark achieves, something about the movie didn't require that much suspension of belief. Great summer action movie.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry - Meh. I liked the combination of Adam Sandler and Kevin James; they have good screen chemistry. I liked the overall pro-gay message of the movie, great choice to put the characters in the New York City fire department. The jokes just didn't hit laugh out loud levels, nor was the script that good.
Sondre Lerche - FANFUCKINGTASTIC! Incredibly smooth acoustic guitar folk music. Beautiful male vocals. I was just introduced to this guy because he did most of the Dan in Real Life soundtrack. I'm currently listening to his entire discography! Please go listen to his stuff! Personal site -- Last.fm link
Shaimus - You may recognize the band name from the bonus section of Guitar Hero 1. The high-energy track "All of This" quickly became one of my favorites in the game. I recently decided to get their album, looking for more of what I saw in "All of This", yet the rest of the songs on the album are quite different. Instead of high-energy, most of the tracks are pleasantly slow and easy listening. Kind of reminds me of Snow Patrol's Eyes Open album.
Weezer - The Red Album is out! And it's... OK. Only a few of the tracks are truly reminiscent of traditional Blue/Green album energy, but the rest are still enjoyable. I like the Make Believe album over this one, but I certainly won't pass over this.
Black Stone Cherry - I meant to blog about this band earlier in the year. Great modern southern rock. If Lynyrd Skynyrd were still around, I have to say they might be making music like this today.
The Format - Wonderful indie rock. Highly recommend if you enjoy Sondre Lerche.
Nine Inch Nails - This is a recent discovery for me. I had never really listened to NIN before, under the assumption that the music just wasn't for me. Forget that! They've actually turned me onto industrial rock as a genre.
Other enjoyable stuff I'm listening to: Aberdeen City, Anna Nalick, Cake, Coheed and Cambria, From Exile (c'mon, new album!), The Mars Volta, Voxtrot.