Remarkable author Dashiell Hammett keeps this classic murder mystery going by only describing what characters see and do—never their thoughts or feelings. This makes for a tense and innovative approach to a who-done-it, and even started the hard-boiled, film noir trend of later detective novels and movies. Four out of five stars.
Over the holidays I read The Body: An Occupant’s Guide by Bill Bryson, one of my favorite authors. It is well-researched, captivating, and enlightening. It loses steam in the third and final act, however, which is why I dock it a single star, while still recommending it. These are my favorite passages:
Written in 1962 while Toole was stationed in Puerto Rico on military duty, the novel has been described as “Don Quixote meets the French Quarter,” which is a total abortion. In truth, protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly is much more likable, hilarious, and compelling than the former. His misadventures through New Orleans with an ensemble cast of nearly a dozen charismatic characters are a joy to read, as is Toole’s exceptional writing, satisfying storytelling, and clever dialogue.
In short, I could not put Dunces down and cannot recommend it enough. Sadly, the Pulitzer Prize-winning work wasn’t published until 1980, this after the author was rejected by multiple editors who called his writing “pointless,” which partially caused him to succumb to depression and later suicide in 1969.
Thankfully Toole’s mother and an a university professor re-pitched the book posthumously until it was finally published. I’m so glad they did and wonder what could have been had its genius author lived to tell another tale. “Just wait till they hear all that originality pouring out of your head.”
I know I’m a good writer and author. But then I read something masterful by Laura Hillenbrand, David Foster Wallace, Norman Maclean, Bill Bryson, Mark Twain, Gay Talese, Alexander Dumas, Leo Tolstoy, or H. G. Bissinger and I begin to doubt myself.
After finishing Riders of the Purple Sage this week, I would add Zane Grey to that honorable list, especially since he was a dentist by trade, a semi-professional baseball player, and only wrote his popular adventure novels on the side!
But not only is Grey a great writer, he was also a pioneer. In fact, Riders invented the Western genre of storytelling when it was first published in 1912. Gun fights, southwestern backdrops, life and death on the American frontier.
But don’t let that genre or any misconceptions of it deter you. Riders is really two love stories in one, starring both a heroine and two heroes. It’s fantastically descriptive and emotionally engaged. I only dock it one star because there were a few times where Grey’s prose goes confusingly off trail, which forced me to re-read and decipher some paragraphs for clarity.
Nevertheless, it is a wonderful read. ★★★★☆
These were my favorite passages: Continue reading…
Yesterday is my favorite movie of the year so far. So long as you can suspend your disbelief for an hour and a half, it’s a wonderful, heart-felt, and fist-pumping story about music, chasing your dreams, honesty, distraction, and following your heart. 4.5/5 stars (in theaters)
My other favorites of the year are as follows (Updated):
Because we’ve commercially enjoyed airplanes for half a century, however, we now take them for granted. We bemoan their 20% delay rate. We ignore an accident rate of LESS THAN one in a million (safer than driving). We overlook the wonderful places airplanes take us, the game-changing experiences they enable, and the beautiful things they deliver (including flowers).
After seeing this movie, I’m gonna bask in their awesomeness. I’m going to treat airports as speed portals to this big round ball. The next time I pick up a two-day package from Amazon, I’m gonna pour a little out for the flying metal tube that brought the world to my doorstep. Seriously, not even monarchs had it this good. Continue reading…
I recently finished Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides and was mightily impressed.
Not only does the book demystify the Wild Wild West, of which only half of what you heard it true (although the other half is still amazingly true!), the book clarifies the always complicated Indian-American relations as the nation expanded west to California. That understand is powerful enough.
On top of that, however, Blood and Thunder is an epic telling of the heroic Kit Carson, who scouted the west for early pioneers and settlers to eventually follow. For its well researched, balanced, and shocking reporting, I award it five stars out of five.
These were some of my favorite passages:
My family and I have had a memorable and adventurous summer so far.
In addition to a remarkable rafting trip, we’ve sustained two emergency room visits (broken elbow, large fishing hook removal), gotten lots of extra sun (without any burns), and planned one more road trip before it’s “back to school.”
Although I’m a big believer in buying experiences over things, the following five products have undeniably delighted our household this summer: Continue reading…
I recently watched In Search of Greatness and learned a lot.
The documentary makes a convincing argument that structured specialization prevents our children from achieving greatness, especially in athletics, but also in other disciplines.
After interviewing and examining the upbringing and work ethic of over a dozen all-star athletes and musicians, the movie concludes that if you want your child to be great, raise them on a well-rounded diet of interests and physical activities. Do this until at least late high school or even college in some cases. Only then should children focus and devote the majority of their time to one pursuit.
Although it seems counter-intuitive, the filmmakers argue that this strategy allows our youth to play by different rules and see things differently. And there’s strong evidence suggesting this cannot be done if aspiring athletics, musicians, and others are strictly raised on only speciality from a young age, which is increasingly the norm now. That’s bad because youth specialization stifles their creativity and innovation and prevents them from developing other muscles and talents that can have a positive crossover effect on their primary passion.
I buy it. Four stars out of five.
See also: How children succeed: 5 things to know
Smartphones have gotten ridiculously expensive. In the last couple of years alone, premium handsets have nearly doubled in price to over $1000. It’s enough to make even the most loyal iPhone fans switch to better value Android phones or upgrade to older but cheaper models instead.
Two new smartphones released this summer are bucking the trend, however. My favorite is the $400 Google Pixel 3a (pictured right). Its camera is not only stunning, but the best of any price range (really!). It has a gorgeous OLED screen, a battery that lasts for days, and a headphone jack. My only quibble is it’s a tad tall and not waterproof.
If you want the fastest phone on the market with the nicest screen and an equally good 4k camera, the OnePlus 7 Pro (pictured left) is also fantastic. Although a little big for my pockets, it’s loaded with a nifty notchless screen and software features that outpace nicer Google or Samsung phones. In short, the OnePlus 7 Pro is basically $1000 phone for less than $700.
Granted, the pesky green text messages of both aren’t as reliable or as good as Apple’s best-in-class iMessage. But outside of that, both come highly recommended with unlimited free photo storage.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
For its disjointed story, distracting dong shots, artistic cinematography, impressive set production, and a few emotionally gripping moments, I award Roma—the highest-rated movie of the year—3.5 out of 5 stars. Cynics will love it!
P.S.—Currently streaming on Netflix, Roma is better than the similarity overrated Boyhood, but the former still underwhelms. Next!
The news is wrong.
In terms of health, nutrition, income, vaccinations, education, sanitation, transportation, homes, lifestyles, modern conveniences, violence (i.e. death from wars or terrorism), abuse, and many other parameters, the world is a much better, happier, healthier, and peaceful place than ever before, according to consensus data.
Why does the news and human perception bemoan our impressive existence rather then celebrate it? The short answer is fear sells and human are irrational beings. But Rosling adds 10 specific myths that keep us from seeing the truth, along with ways to fix them.
They are as follows: Continue reading…
My wife and I watched the critically-acclaimed The Post recently at our local theater.
Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, the movie is about how The Washington Post, namely its brave publisher Katharine Graham, decided to publish the controversial Pentagon Papers in 1961.
Although the movie kept me engaged with strong acting, tight tension, and fun twists, I deem it good but not great. Here’s why: Continue reading…
I finished three good books this month. Here are my thoughts on each: Continue reading…
The first was Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, recommended by my sister Sara. Not to be mistaken for the horrific name, popular movie, and Halloween theme it inspired, the book is actually about what it’s like to be human. Masterfully written by Shelley when she was only 20 (!), Frankenstein made my heartbreak and made me ponder humanity more than another other book recently (save for this, this, and this).
Due to a few slow pages and an ending that abruptly stops (like most classical literature), I award it four stars out of five.
The second I read in less than 48 hours. It’s called The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by actor Greg Sestero and journalist Tom Bissell. About the making of The Room (aka “The Citizen Kane of bad movies”), this book made me laugh out loud, cringe, and cheer on numerous occasions. I admire Sestero for his candor, for seeing the good in the world, for sharing his story, and for shining the spotlight on the conflicted, inspiring, and likable man named Tommy Wiseau. “What a story, Mark!”
For its hilarity and heart, I award it four stars out of five and anxiously await the movie adaptation starring James Franco.
These are my favorite passages from each: Continue reading…
I recently watched 180 Degrees South. It’s an enjoyable documentary by surfer, climber, and conservationist Chris Malloy, in which he follows the adventurous footsteps of his two mentors—Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and North Face founder Doug Tompkins.
This is what I took from the film: Continue reading…
Earlier this year, I skimmed The Minimalist Mindset by Danny Dover. In my case, Dover was preaching to the choir. But I did enjoy two important points:
That said, I don’t endorse Dover’s recommendation to auto respond to all incoming emails with “I’m booked solid with previous commitments.” That’s a dick move. Just say, “No, thank you.” But I do like his recommendation to ask for a timed agenda before agreeing to a meeting and keeping meetings to a single day or slots per week (i.e. late afternoons only).
Three stars out of five.
I did it again. I came oh-so-close to finishing a really long and critically-acclaimed literary classic before quitting it after three quarters completion.
I first did this 10 years ago with the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo, a book by the masterful Alexander Dumas that features some of the most beautiful, if not poetic, prose I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
I did it again this spring with Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina—an even more powerful book—which is widely regarded as the greatest novel ever written. So why did I abandon it after 640 pages out of 864 total? Continue reading…
I’m planning an upcoming story on some of the best desktop upgrades you can make but had to break to excitedly endorse these: The Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 speakers. They are THX certified and they sound magnificent.
If you’re a music lover, I think $150 is a small price to pay. These speakers have awakened my ears and made old music sound new again and new music sound even brighter, tighter, heavier, and clearer without the muddiness associated with most desktop speakers.
Five stars out of five.
Phil Knight seemingly had a lot of slick editors to help him write his wonderful book (4/5 stars) on the creation and rise of Nike. But his passion, character, and insightful war stories all ring true. These were my favorite excerpts:
“Who does this guy thinks he is?”
I asked myself that upon seeing Luke Spiller perform with The Struts for the first time. He had just finished ripping through the opening four songs of their recent set in Salt Lake City. Two singles. Two of his debut album’s most anthemic tracks. No stops or pauses in between songs. All in the first 15 minutes of a performance that would eventually double the running time of their only album plus one new song.
But unlike a punk act that similarly keeps the punches rolling, Spiller was wholly uninhibited on stage. He wore glittered capes and spandex. Shimmied his shoulders like Freddie Mercury. Calculated dramatic toe steps and emphatic kicks in every direction. Choreographed his carefully rehearsed movements to the music.
While observing all of this, I couldn’t decide if Spiller wanted to imitate Michael Jackson, Robert Plant, Prince, or Mick Jagger. On top of that, the size of his mouth suggests his mother may have slept with Steven Tyler during the British leg of Aerosmith’s Pump tour.
In a later interview after the show, he brushed off a facetious question about his outrageous showmanship. “That’s just what I am,” he told me. “It’s just what I enjoy.”
For lovers of live performances that make you forget the troubles at home, Spiller’s dramatic charisma is all for your gain. Continue reading…
I recently watched (Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies. This is what I learned:
Highly recommended. Four stars out of five.
I read the latter this month and was in awe of the actual book within a book. Admittedly, Goldman is a remarkably creative, funny, and powerful writer. But the literary mechanism he uses to set up, interject, and conclude the beloved ’80s story — in this case pretending to be a humbled author searching for his next great hit by abridging “the good parts version” of another fictional author’s larger work — detracts from an otherwise five-star effort.
I suspect even Goldman realized this when writing his award-wining screenplay for the actual movie 14 years after publishing the book. Instead of his original, confusing, and over-the-top author trope, Goldman instead opts for the much cleaner “grandpa reading the story to his sick grandson” setting.
Either way, Goldman is a sarcastic genius. And I’m glad he finally got it right. Four stars out of five. Would have awarded it five stars had it not been for the above oversight.
If you do read it, skip the setup, treat Goldman’s interjections as author’s notes, and head straight for the exceptional story of true love, Inigo’s heartwarming backstory that is strong enough to stand on its own, and dozens of beautiful passages like this:
Although English is the third most spoken language after Mandarin and Spanish, it is the most spoken second language in the world. This is due to the power-brokers that speak it, its uniquely expressive vocabulary, and how it came to be, argues Bill Bryson in The Mother Tongue.
Four disturbing but important stars out of five. My wife and I enjoyed, pondered, and discussed it very much.
What might happen if humans lived an entirely simulated life, doing everything online except for eating and sleeping?
Earnest Cline has a dystopian, geeky, and fist-pumping answer in Ready Player One, his best-selling novel which I read over the holidays.
The story takes place in 2044 and follows a teenage prodigy named Wade as he seeks hidden fame, power, and fortune bequeathed by the world’s richest man. “But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue,” reads the synopsis, “he is beset by rivals that will kill for the prize, forcing him to confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.”
Clever, huh? USA Today accurately described it as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.” I’d add a little Brave New World, ’80s game geek culture, Tron, and “The Wreck-It-Ralph of books” for good measure—all good things.
For fellow nerds who appreciate those things, I award the book a tilted four and a half out of five stars. For everyone else, particularly those who share my desire to curb compulsion disorders, I give it four stars.
These were my favorite passages: Continue reading…
I recently finished Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, which tells the unlikely true story of the titular captain saving all of his crew after his ship was crushed by Antarctic ice floes in 1914.
All told, the 28 men survived 18 months on sea, ice, and one inhospitable island, while enduring unthinkable cold, the worst weather ever, and the first terrestrial crossing of South Georgia. Even more amazingly, they largely did it with jovial spirits, which helped them persevere and ultimately conquer death.
As I said before, Lansing’s writing is so intensely riveting, I was literally gulping and gasping for air at times. If it weren’t for a somewhat halted plot in the second quarter, I would award the book five out of five stars. These are my favorite passages: Continue reading…
I recently finished The Last Place on Earth, Roland Huntford’s well-researched, sometimes heavy-handed, but always legendary retelling of the 1911 South Pole race between Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott. In addition to being published the year I was born, the book’s important for the following reasons: Continue reading…
Because he wrote this masterpiece, I consider Bill Bryson one of the greatest non-fiction writers of our time. And while his similar At Home: A Short History of Private Life is brimming with domestic insights, it’s not as powerful or focused as the former. Three stars out of five. I’d only recommend it to die-hard home owners. My favorite passages:
I recently read Dale Carnegie’s popular How to Win Friends and Influence People. Here’s what I learned:
I posses five and a half of the seven denominators of American millionaires, according to The Millionaire Next Door. Assuming each of these traits are weighted equally, I have a 79% chance (78.5% to be exact) of becoming one.
While the extra play money would be fun, I’m content with my thousandaire status. I have my health. I’ve got my soulmate. I found my calling.
I have five fabulous children, many uplifting friends, and a loyal dog. When kids ask me if I’m “rich,” I say yes, because I am.
Enough of the feel-good crap. A millionaire I am not. Let’s get down to numbers: Continue reading…
Lindsey and I took the kids to fabulous Mesquite, Nevada last month for spring break. The city bills itself as “The way Vegas used to be.”
With only three casinos and extremely limited food options, I’m not so sure about that. But I was charmed by the place and plan on returning soon the next time I crave a desert oasis. Here’s why. Continue reading…
For any male readers born from the mid ’70s to early ’80s, listen up—Console Wars by Blake Harris has it all: your childhood, the answer to your next marketing challenge, cultural divides, innocence, under bellies, triumph, and loss.
It’s also the only book I’ve ever read that made me feel as young as I am old. Take these gems, for example:
Locals and tourists only—Metropolitan Utah welcomed two large museums this year: The re-located and significantly expanded Living Planet Aquarium and the all-new Museum of Natural Curiosity. Although both have their heart in the right place, only one is worth your family’s time and money.
To find out, I tapped the most imaginative minds I could find: my kids. Within a four day period last month, my wife and I took the children to both museums for the first time. Upon visiting, we didn’t coax, herd, or otherwise rush them to any exhibits. Rather, we let them set the pace and decide the order of exhibits. Here’s how it went. Continue reading…
I recently finished A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. From a single book I’ve never learned so much and so little at the same time. I’ve also never read a more absorbing science book. Whereas I usually highlight a few passages from each book, I highlighted more than two dozen parts of this book upon completion — it covers that much ground. Continue reading…
With exception to the food, my brother, brother-in-law, and consummate friend can’t stand New Orleans. I suspect it has nothing to do with the Big Easy or its people and everything to do with an insolvent business they endured there together.
Whatever the case, I hope the new album by New Orleans duo Generationals might somehow change their mind. It’s as distinct, influential, and catchy as the city they hail from. Certainly not as old and in no way related to jazz, the genre invented there. But the synth-driven, upbeat music will make you want to dance and put a smile on your face, which is good enough for me.
After five listens, I don’t think it’s as moving as their last album, but it’s one of the freshest works I’ve listened to all year, especially “Black Lemon,” “Gold Silver Diamond,” “Now Look at Me,” “Welcome to the Fire,” and “Would you Want Me.” If you’re in the mood for something new, I highly recommend at least a stream.
Four stars out of five.
PS – This is the best $10 album I’ve bought all year
Is it wise to make an audience feel physically disoriented, claustrophobic, and unsettled? I’m not so sure. In addition to immense stress and one-too-many suspense hangers, that’s exactly how Gravity will make you feel.
This is due to director Alfonso Cuarón’s excessive use of first-person and single-shots that are heavy on pans. The effect certainly made me empathize with the lost in space heroine. But I’ve seen a lot of other movies that make me empathize with characters, not because of cinematography tricks, but because of powerful acting. Continue reading…
Humans are usually influenced in one of six ways, argues Robert Cialdini in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. I suspect there are a lot more subtle and intricate ways to influence, but I think Cialdini certainly covered the highlights in his popular book published in 1984. They are as follows:
Why are suckers born every minute? How can we explain “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is“? Why are humans encouraged to “think twice” before doing things? And why do we judge “books” by their covers?
The answers to those questions and many more can be found in Daniel Kahneman’s eye-opening book, Thinking Fast and Slow. It’s a fascinating, enlightening, and scientifically accessible read.
After decades of research, Kahneman discovered that the brain makes decisions in two ways. The first is system 1 thinking—the fast, almost involuntary, and largely gut-based decision-making required to operate. It quickly processes tasks like “eat this, pick up that, move out of the way,” and even, “stay alive.” System 1 makes hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions each day and is the “hero of the book,” says Kahneman. System 1 gets things done.
System 2, on the other hand, is slow to engage, deliberate, and lazy. It deals with doubt, uncertainty, statistics, and heavy cognitive loads like writing, performing surgery, solving advanced math—anything that requires intense focus, really. System 2 is not emotional. It’s the part of your brain that questions the source, asks for hard numbers to back up claims, and is innately critical. It deems things guilty until proven innocent. Continue reading…
Build character, not intelligence. That’s the gist of what parents, educators, and society should do to help children succeed, argues Paul Tough in his new book.
Many of Tough’s “findings” are obvious, mind you. More scientific validation of common sense than childrearing enlightenment, at least for balanced parents.
Nevertheless, Tough succeeds in synthesizing some important focal points for raising upstanding kids. Here they are, with my added commentary:
I finished One Man’s Wilderness recently and enjoyed its simple prose and short stories. It’s a 200 page book about one man building a log cabin in an isolated part of Alaska and living alone for sixteen months.
It’s similar to Walden, although more adventurous. It’ll compel you to visit Alaska and encourage a new appreciation for hard work and minimalism. Three stars out of four. Some of my favorite passages were:
Because that’s what you get when you buy a Samsung Wi-Fi Chromebook.
Admittedly, it’s not a perfect analogy. The Macbook Air is skinnier in the front and capable of 1080p playback, whereas the Samsung Chromebook can only render 720p HD. The former is also made of industrial titanium, whereas the latter uses high-end Macbook-like plastic. And in terms of startup and resume times, the Chromebook is faster—near instantaneous. Continue reading…
I figured the author was good, given all the praise that’s continuously heaped on him. But I didn’t know he’d be this good. I had no idea he was as laugh-out-loud funny as Jerry Seinfeld (even more so, maybe).
More than that, Twain has the uncanny ability to turn even the most mundane occurrences into entertaining literature (i.e. a poodle playing with a beetle). He is a master of the English language and a joy to read. As a bonus, he’s a modern day Confucius, sharing wisdom and life hacks throughout this 184 page book.
Here are 10 of my favorite passages: Continue reading…
As the father of two girls, with another on the way, I’ll take all the help I can get concerning their well-being and development. And although it could have been written using fewer words, the 197-page Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters was an enlightening wake-up call to some of the challenges my daughters will likely face. After reading it, I felt empowered and reassured of the fathering techniques I already held to be true.
Written by Meg Meeker, a child psychiatrist and mother of four, the book is peppered with personal stories and alarming statistics. The stated “10 secrets” aren’t really secrets as much as their are good advice. To summarize, they are as follows: Continue reading…
Although the inventor of modern running shoes, Nike doesn’t have a reputation among distance runners these days. Said athletes usually wear one of five brands: Asics (which Nike first sold as a distributor in the ’60s), Mizuno, Brooks, Saucony or New Balance. You just can’t “do it” in Nikes anymore, at least without looking like a corporate shill.
I finished reading The Kite Runner a couple of weeks ago. Here are my postmortem thoughts:
At the recommendation of a long-time Smooth Harold reader (thanks, Nic), I finished Robinson Crusoe over the weekend. Regarded as the first novel written in English and first published in 1719, it’s a story about high-sea adventure, shipwrecks, castaways, gratitude, hard work, and international intrigue.
What I like most about the book is Defoe’s poetic commentary on human behavior. For example, after Robinson nearly drowned at sea for the first time, he quickly swore off his selfish ways and committed himself to God, before changing his mind after disaster had been averted: Continue reading…
I was 15 the first time I read Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. I remember thinking when discovering it: “Really? A Pulitzer Prize book that’s only 127 pages? I can do that!” And I did.
I liked it. It was an easy read. I felt for the man, and it was inspiring. Last week, I finished it for the second time, some 14 years after I first read it. My feelings haven’t changed much, but I appreciate Hemingway’s metaphors more so this time than the last. Some updated thoughts:
By recommendation, I finished reading Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen last month. Though hardly a page-turner, I have a stronger appreciation for Africa after reading this book than by reading or seeing any other material on the subject. It’s a true story about a Danish transplant and her experience running a farm in east Africa.
It’s not the easiest read. I lost interest from time to time for a page and a half. But a compelling short-story is always within reach, making the effort worth it. For example, consider this little gem of an observation:
“Native [Africans] dislike speed, as we dislike noise, it is to them, at the best, hard to bear. They are also on friendly terms with time, and the plan of beguiling or killing it does not come in to their heads. In fact the more time you can give them, the happier they are, and if you commission a Kikuyu [Kenya’s most populous ethnic group] to hold your horse while you make a visit, you can see by his face that he hopes you will be a long, long time about it. He does not try to pass the time, but sits down and lives it.”
Lovely reading. And a great book if you want to improve your writing.
I finished reading the popular Life of Pi last night. In sum, it’s a clever endorsement for zoos, storytelling, and the existence of God, either allegorically or literally.
Author Yann Martel’s use of metaphors is inspired and makes me feel inadequate as a writer when it comes to creatively describing objects, emotions, and experiences. For that, I was in awe — and laughing at times. Overall, I give the book four stars out of five for dragging a little in the first and second acts. Chapter 97 is my favorite.
If I were a disoriented high school or college student, and were forced to answer the following discussion guide questions for a homework assignment, these would be my answers:
Follow the yellow brick road to MSNBC and I’ll tell you my thoughts… sorta. For those that have played both, which do you prefer?
I downloaded World of Goo yesterday on Wii, and it’s crazy good. Played for like four hours already. If you like clever writing, brilliant puzzles, Tim Burton visuals, or Danny Elfman music, you must get this game. Something special like this comes only once every 1-2 years — don’t miss it.
Review scores are too complex. What began as a useful tool for players to compare and prioritize games has now become a confusing, lopsided, and political mess.
Consider score explanation guides, which often appear in magazines and review sites to interpret what should be easily understood: is a game any good? Furthermore, “average” games routinely score in the 80th percentile now, and the credibility of ratings are compromised when sly publishers allegedly work the system in exchange for favorable reviews (see also: Jeff Gerstmann).
So what’s a gamer to do? Should scores in reviews be thrown out altogether?
Ever since launch, the Xbox 360 core model without hard drive has largely been written off by gamers — and rightfully so. It lacks many of the attractive advantages of its older brothers, not to mention value for what’s included in the box. (Most core models can’t even save games without separate purchase!)
But all that’s about to change with the upcoming $80 price cut of the latest Arcade bundle (September 7, according to retailers), which includes a matte white system, wireless controller, and a 256 MB memory card for saving games and playing online.
Lindsey and I saw The Dark Knight while attending Nerdtacular ’08 on Saturday. Here are my thoughts, bullet point style:
Pixar’s Wall-E and Stanly Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey share a lot in common. Both are set in space, feature little dialog, have robots taking over the world, are immensely artistic, won’t keep a 2 and ½ year-old engaged despite their G rating, and offer a handful of sophisticated moments in filmmaking. But both are really monotonous — an analogy proving that Wall-E is easily Pixar’s worst film to date, for both adults and children alike.
When I first heard the news that Steven Spielberg was working on an exclusive Wii puzzle game, I was skeptical. What does he know about videogames, especially non-story ones like Boom Blox? On the subject of his pedigree: Sure he directed “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Jaws” and “Saving Private Ryan,” but he also directed “A.I.,” “Temple of Doom” and “War of the Worlds.” I think you can appreciate where I’m coming from.
After playing the game, however, I’m happy to report that Boom Blox is not just a marketing ploy or a misguided idea by the venerable movie director. It’s an inspired, console-appropriate and rewarding game — particularly for single-player challenge-seekers — even if it appears to be something that Spielberg wouldn’t be involved with.
I had the opportunity to mix business with pleasure and attend Coachella in Palm Springs over the weekend. Here are my fragmented thoughts:
Arcade golf games haven’t changed much. You mash a button to start a swing, hit it a second time to mark your power, and press it third time to dictate shot accuracy. The fifth version of the long-running Hot Shots Golf series for PlayStation 3 closely follows this formula, and that’s not a bad thing — after all these years, the simple gameplay continues to satisfy, and a fresh coat of HD paint is just gravy.
I like Vampire Weekend. A lot. I’ve listened to their eponymous debut album at least 30 times in the last four days since first discovering it on Friday (Thanks, David!). It is talented, fresh, clever, catchy, concise, smart, dance-inducing, daring, abnormal, and familiar all in one. It’s the “newest” kind of Rock N’ Roll I’ve heard in 10 years.
After a quick and entertaining three days, I finished reading The Mutt: How to Skateboard and Not Kill Yourself by Rodney Mullen, the most influential skater in history. No, it’s not a how-to book, as my wife first believed
Written in 2004 with the help of author Sean Mortimer, The Mutt has less to do with skateboarding and more to do with lifehacks, storytelling, business, relationships, and trying to please an impossible father. Mullen is obviously neurotic, but he comes off being genuine and likable in the book. And it’s easy to see how he became the greatest in his field, arguably more so than Tony Hawk, due to his insane work ethic. Just reading about his stingy regime makes me feel lazy, but it’s also motivating.
Lindsey and I watched The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters on Wednesday, a hilariously funny “documentary” that follows Steve Wiebe as he attempts to overtake the world’s highest score in a game of Donkey Kong from reigning champion Billy Mitchell.
Not only is the movie entertaining, but it’s cleverly presented in “good vs. evil” fashion, boasts an awesome soundtrack, and features some very creative transition effects. Oh, and it stars lots of socially inept individuals who are fun to watch.
This FPS franchise has made its name with unbeatable action and speed that is — yes, unreal. Does this UT for the PS3 live up to its name? Find out in Blake Snow’s review of Unreal Tournament III, developed by Epic Games and published by Midway.
Hawk’s back with more sick skateboard combos in Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground — does the game prove itself on the Wii? Blake Snow reviews the skate park sim developed by Page 44 and published by Activision.
Kratos is back in another hack-and-slash action-adventure on the PS2 — does this next generation of his saga hold up on last-gen hardware? Blake Snow reviews God of War II, developed by SCE Studios Santa Monica and published by Sony.
I spent the last hour reading allegations that Eidos dangled a six-digit advertising deal over GameSpot’s head in order to have long-time editor Jeff Gerstmann fired for the critical tone of his now-pulled 6/10 video review of Kane and Lynch (a text-only review remains). Whatever the real story, Gerstmann is currently out of a job.Truth be told, game makers have long since pressured gaming media to publish favorable game reviews as a higher score equates to greater sales. And while most publications will tell you otherwise (even self-serving at times), my sources confirm that several outlets have delt with the dilemma and even succumbed to filthy lucre.
The good news is the current publicity surrounding the issue will end up benefiting our favorite hobby in terms of its integrity, or lack thereof. Sadly, I’m not sure my fellow gamers want honest reviews, at least from the critics.
I was interviewed by GameDaily for my thoughts on video game reviews today and here’s what I told ’em. For context, video game review scores are perhaps the most influencial consumer product reviews I know. For instance, something like 8/10 best selling games last year were in the 90th percentile, so you can see how important (and political) a good review score can be to a game publisher. My comment:
“As much as I criticize review scores, I still use them to gauge lemon games and think scores should stay. Unless a game receives an average of less than 50%, I will still buy or at least give it a renting chance if it has sufficient appeal. That said, I find any system above a 10-point scale (think decimal points) to be superfluous in that it takes the subjective review process way too seriously. Kudos to GameSpot for recently dropping their 100-point scale down to 20. Now they just need to drop it to a clean 10-point system.”
My ideal product review system already exists in the movie industry. They use a 10-point scale by way of a five star system, such as 4/5 stars, 3.5/5 stars. I like this methodology for two reasons. First, five stars (though a perfect score in its own system), doesn’t hold the same meaning as a perfect 10 score. For some reason, a 10 implies more perfection than 5/5 stars while both metrics tell that something is very, very good. I say the less presumption, the better.
Second, the star system on a 10-point scale doesn’t take the subjective nature of reviews too seriously as noted above. Round up the average review scores, go read Meta Critic to catch any outliers, and you’re well on your way to dodging repellent products.
I had the pleasure of seeing Transformers last night with a friend. I stress the word pleasure because it was exactly that. I wasn’t expecting good acting only going for the special effects, but Shia LeBouf was the movie standout. His comedic delivery and believability are top notch.
Michael Bay, the director, did an excellent job despite being largely criticized for his past big, over-the-top movies. Granted, there are several plot holes in the movie, but remember you’re watching a film about big giant robots once catered to 5-year old boys as I once was. Indulge yourself, and you’ll come away watching one of the most visually impressive, entertaining, and freshest movies (at least in terms of cadence and visuals) in a long time. 4 1/2 out of 5 stars, though it’s not Oscar material (like I know what is).
Oh, and I also saw Ratatouille over the weekend. Different kind of movie than the above, but Pixar’s animation is the best I’ve seen and this is easily my favorite film they’ve made due to its sophistication and compelling story. Both films highly recommended.
Wow. Just wow. The 4-Hour Work Week is the most influential book I’ve read in years. Author Timothy Ferris, though a self-proclaimed extremist, dishes on slowing down your life, getting out of the rat race, outsourcing menial tasks, ditching your RSS feeds, batch processing email instead of checking it every 15 minutes (if not more), reducing unnecessary information consumption in favor of productivity and real learning, how effectiveness trumps efficiency, and how the idea of “retirement” is grossly flawed. In short as the book description tells, “Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.”
Ferriss defines the new rich as those who favor mobility, experience, and service in favor of materialism. He counsels in great detail how to setup an automated online company for newbies (easier said than done, though possible) and how to focus your daily work efforts without letting fluff work get in the way. Best of all, Ferriss delivers it all in a very grounded, balanced, and hilarious way despite what his sensational title and clever tagline suggest. Overall, the book is unthinkably smart and of value to any person over the age of 18. I resolve from here on out to work smarter while striving to do what I love further still. That and more world travel, of course. :)
On that note, I’m planning my attempt to ditch the Internet for an entire year. I don’t have all the kinks figured out, and twice weekly email use will have to stay, but I will triumph within the next five years. Just you watch.
Spiderman 3 is the best comic book movie ever* followed closely by Batman Begins. Interestingly, however, this movie is getting slammed in reviews with most people saying it tries to do too much. I, on the other hand, loved this movie. And while it is a tad long, I thought Columbia Pictures did a great job pulling all the stories and subplots together in a clever Seinfeld fashion. And yes, the movie is hilarious.
Regardless of what you may have heard, here are five reasons why Spiderman 3 is the best movie in the series not to mention the best comic book film to date: Continue reading…
When I first saw the trailer for Rocky Balboa (read: Rocky VI), I thought, “Oh man, is Stallone out of his mind?” Maybe a little, but that’s the whole point of the film. People can’t believe Rocky would fight one last time, and people couldn’t believe Stallone would make yet another movie in the series at age sixty. That incredulity plays, however, right into the movie’s central conflict and stretch of a plot. Rocky Balboa is an inspiring, albeit, very fictional story. Keep that fiction part in mind when seeing this film, and you’ll leave having watched a very good movie.
The premise of the story is that the current heavyweight champion, Mason “The Line” Dixon, is too dominant for his own good. He can’t find a decent challenger to save his life. Enter an ESPN “computer fight” simulating a win over Dixon by the Italian Stallion. With that, Balboa eventually decides to come out of retirement to fight the champ in an exhibition match, well, because “fighter’s fight.” “When life beats down on you, you take it and keep moving forward.” That’s the essence of the movie’s story and it works very well. It’s got a lot of heart.
Sure, Stallone’s botox ridden face bothered me a bit at the start, but I found myself never growing tired of the engaging dialog and willing the movie to continue. The lines aren’t perfect, but they’re engaging, funny at times, and surprisingly impressive none-the-less. Watching this film made me realize that Rocky serves up a hefty piece of Americana: Classic music, a fighting spirit, and the idea that it ain’t over until it’s over. 4/5 stars from this here blogger, and that’s even excluding the nostalgic factor.
This documentary was a surprise to me. It is extremely well done and the cinematography is fantastic. It’s a heart-felt story of how Empire Penguins migrate and breed during the cold winter months in Antarctica. You will be amazed and impressed upon seeing what it takes to give birth to a baby chick and how family oriented Penguins can be. Very good story and it helps to have Morgan Freeman narrate.
Because it’s written for already good companies. A majority of US businesses being run by entrepreneurs have yet to prove themselves. Therefore, I would like to see From Nothing to Good. Then I’ll focus on taking my company the rest of the way.
I only got through half his book, but plan on finishing it once I’m good.
I’m gonna come right out and say it… A-. That’s what I give the recent Warner Bros release based on excellent character development, captivating story, truthfulness to the overall comic genre, and shear entertainment. It must be noted, however, that of all the comics I liked as a kid, Batman was my favorite. He is the only super hero that doesn’t have any super powers. Well, unless you count the earnest desire to combat evil and a plethora of money to build nice toys.
I just finished watching Star Wars 3. While it showcases John Lucas’ talent as a movie maker, it still lacks the funny overtones and great acting of the first three films. I was really excited because some critics have said it’s as good as the originals. Sadly, I feel this one was a little over-the-top and really had some dry acting.
It’s an entertaining film though, and sheds new light on the series. The ending is done especially well so you should enjoy that. Overall, I give it a flat B.
I have been very excited to see Keane live in concert. Their CD Hopes & Fears has been one of my favorites over the past year. Their is a certain freshness to the album, even given that some of their songs do sound similar. But how do the they sound live? How are they as performers?
First off, for those of you comparing Keane to Coldplay, their is no comparison. Keane has outplayed them with only one record to Coldplay’s three. Haven seen both in concert, I must say Keane brought so much more energy, enjoyment and freshness to their live sound. The lead singer’s voice is one of the prettiest, melodic voices I’ve ever heard. It’s that good. The piano player rocks. He constantly was on the verge of knocking over his piano. The drummer is tight and ads the perfect rhythm section san bass (bass is sequenced on a laptop). The two sure do bring a lot of energy and sound for only having two musicians playing . The light and video was something I didn’t expect, but brought an additional level of ambiance to the already full sound at the lovely Abravanel Hall in downtown SLC. One of the nicest venues I’ve ever been to.
The evening was a blast! The music was even better. Very good show! A+