Video Game Review – Lego Batman 3


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Oh, I do love the Lego X game series. They’ve all been quite excellent, but this one really sets the new gold standard. Everything you love about the previous games is here (characters, comedy, collecting), but everything about it is improved.

Let’s start with the plot. Brianiac pops up and plans to shrink the world, as he does. Meantime, the various different colored Lanterns pop up to do what they do. At the same time, Lex Luthor, the Joker, and others are scheming their way onto the Justice League Satellite of Love. Oh, and Hawkman is trapped in a gilded cage.

Got all that?

The controls for flying, especially, are vastly improved in this game game over Lego Batman 2. Like flying in the overworld areas is no longer a massive chore. Even better, you no longer have to look around for a changing station for Batman and Robin, as they can change into their alternate suits at a moment’s notice. Further, you get to use the B button as a context button for various different tasks, including instantly changing into a different outfit.

That last point I cannot stress enough. It is so darn useful! It’s nice to be able to swap on the fly without having to get taken out of the story.

Now I did see a reviewer who mentioned they had problems with their controller. I didn’t have any problems with mine, except when I tried to do two-player with a friend and his controller wouldn’t respond. A reboot of the game fixed that. For the record, I’m using a wired 360 controller.

Beyond that, there are about 175 unlockable characters, including Shazam (Captain Marvel), all the various Lanterns, Batmite, and several special surprises that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling here. The number and variety of characters really shows how aware this game is of its history. In addition, you get stuff from the 1966 Batman TV series, you hear the Superman theme when Superman flies, and, happily, the Wonder Woman theme when Wonder Woman flies.

Really, I cannot think of a single problem with this game. I loved it completely, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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How to Get My Attention


Not more than a day goes by without me getting an email from someone who has an item they want me to review. I’m one of the top 1000 reviewers on Amazon and that gets a bit of attention. The product might be a book, some kitchen gadget, an iAccessory, electronics, or some Bluetooth speakers (of which I now have about a billion sets). Sometimes I accept these. Sometimes I don’t. Often I delete the email without even replying. If you have something you want someone to review, here are some tips for you.

1. If you’re offering up a book, especially if it is self-published, make damn sure your email has no typos, has correct grammar, and a decent summary of the book itself. That’s all that is needed. I don’t need your personal history. I don’t need the history of your family, unless it is extremely relevant to your book.

2. Seriously, make sure everything in your email is perfect! I can’t emphasize this enough, especially the self-published variety. There is already a stigma against self-published books (rightly so, most often). If I get an email that is incoherent or badly-written, you can be sure I’m assuming the book is the same. I will therefore delete it without bothering to reply.

3. Don’t send an attachment or a link to Google Docs with a message of, “Go here and tell us what you want!” While I’m sure that’s well-meaning, and generally not a problem, people like me tend to be wary of mysterious links that show up in our emails. Offer a list of what products you have in the body of the email, and ask us to tell you what we want to receive.

4. Make sure you provide excellent customer service if you send someone an electronic device or gadget of some sort. A while ago I received a portable DVD player that was riddled with problems. I emailed the customer service in box was given a bit of a runaround for a couple of emails. It was also very clear that the person I was emailing with didn’t speak English as a first language. You can be sure that when I do review something, I’ll be including an evaluation of the customer service experience, if any.

5. Try for some variety! As mentioned, I have about a billion Bluetooth speaker sets. I literally cannot give them away as quickly as I get offered sets to review. I have no particular objection to these products, but I get offered them very frequently. If you’re trying to get a review for some $20 piece of consumer electronics like that, tell me in the first email what makes it unique compared with the others I have.

I really do enjoy getting offered the things I get offered, and I enjoy writing reviews. But please, make it as easy as possible for me to accept what you want reviewed! It will make everyone’s life easier.

Product Review – Samsung Baby Care Washer


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Samsung wants you to believe this is a great device for cleaning baby clothes, most notably dirty cloth diapers. Since I live in the 21st century, I’d buy disposables if I had a kid, but there you go. I can certainly understand why people wouldn’t want to have dirty diapers going in with the rest of their laundry.

For that purpose, I’m sure this device would work very well. It’s quiet, compact, and gets cloth clean with a minimum of fuss. I was able to hook it up to the sink in my kitchen, and after some fiddling around, I had a clothes washer operating! It makes some lovely musical notes when it’s done, too.

So, yes, it works well I’m sure for cleaning baby clothes, but it could be used for so much more, and this is where Samsung is selling the product short.

Got an apartment with a coin-op laundry room and you just need to wash one or two things for work? Use this.

Got an apartment with a washer/dryer hookup, but don’t own either? Use this and hang your clothes out to dry.

RV? It’s small enough to fit inside one.

Tiny house? Great! Tiny washing machine.

Do you even live in a normal place with your own washer and dryer, but a senior with, shall we see, “control” issues also lives with you? Now you can launder their soiled clothes separately.

I’m really baffled as to why Samsung is pushing this just for babies, when it could be easily used for so very much more.

Movie Review – Captain America: Winter Soldier


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Well, here we have the sequel I wasn’t really looking forward to and wasn’t especially interested in. I liked the first movie well enough, but the idea of another movie didn’t interest me all that much. I’m just not that into Captain America as a character.

But I must say, whatever expectations I had were shattered. This movie was excellent. It was nicely-paced and struck a good balance between humor and drama; something that isn’t always easy to do. All the major characters worked well, even the Black Widow, who I normally just roll eyes at and quickly lose interest in. I will say that the titular Winter Soldier was a bit undeserved. He didn’t really do much, other than look vaguely menacing and incredibly hot (note to self: watch for guys cosplaying as him when Comicon rolls around). I also like that Nick Fury was actually given a larger role, which is a nice change of pace from his normal habit of popping up, making a couple of quips and leaving again.

The movie itself did indeed live up to the notion, as its directors said it would, of feeling like a 1970s political thriller (complete with Robert Redford), with a bit of action thrown in; and the action was, for the most part, in service to the plot. That’s something fairly rare in many movies now (I’m looking at you, Michael Bay). It was also nice to see some discussion about the ethics of SHIELD and the way they behave, though I wish it had been more than a surface discussion. I also really enjoyed seeing Captain America get a lot more characterization than he had in his previous two major appearances.

The one minor complaint that I have about the movie is that it was a bit crowded with main characters. We had Captain America, Falcon, Nick Fury and Black Widow, in addition to several different villains. I like a good ensemble cast, but there is a limit. Seeing the Winter Soldier get a bit more development would have been nice, too, but mostly I just spent time looking at him and thinking, “Giggity!” a lot.

As a final word on this movie, be aware that there are two credits teasers. One, that actually matters, happens in the middle of the credits. The other, which doesn’t, really, happens at the end. Stay for both, unless you’re at the theater I work at, in which case get out quickly! We have a mess to clean up.

Blu Ray Review – Jackson 5ive The Complete Animated Series


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(special thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy!)

In theory I remember watching The Jackson 5ive. It began airing around the time I was born, so I’m sure that at some point when I was a wee lad, I caught it in syndication. I had to have. But I don’t actually remember seeing it before, so maybe I missed it. The good thing is that lets me approach this set without any nostalgia. The bad thing is that it lets me approach this set without any nostalgia.

In this set, you get, on four discs, both the blu ray and DVD version of the complete series. You get every episode with 46 different songs, and a helpful book that helps you locate exactly where each song is, so if you want to watch a specific one, you know where to go for it. This is a good thing, since the music is definitely the highlight of this series.

I will say that the songs on these discs sound just great, and likely sound better than they did when they were first broadcast. The video quality is also excellent, even if the images themselves…well, look, it was the 1970s, ok? Most of us understand that it wasn’t a great time for certain forms of art, and animation is one of those. The whole thing looks exceptionally psychedelic, and not in a good way. Go to YouTube and look at some clips and you’ll see what I mean.

Beyond the animation, the stories are also really strange. In the first episode, for example, we have the boys trying to keep Michael’s pink snake from terrorizing Dianna Ross. And by “pink snake” I mean a snake that is pink, because of course. Michael Jackson also has a pair of pet mice named Ray and Charles because why not. Oh, and the whole thing has a laugh track, because, you know, that makes sense.

What you don’t get, sadly, is anything in the way of special features. Now I’m sure there weren’t a lot of things they could have done in the way of special features here, but surely a commentary or two would have been nice, or perhaps some interviews. As it stands, this creates a package that’s great for kids and hardcore Jackson 5 fans, but not so much for other people.

And I suppose ultimately, that’s how I’ll describe this. It’s for the hardcore Jackson 5 fans for those people who have kids and want to give them something safe and harmless that has a good soundtrack. If you’re looking for anything deeper than that, you’ll be severely disappointed. But if that’s what you want, I’m sure you’ll be happy!

Movie Review – Les Miserables


Hide the razor blades, it's time for some Les Mis!

Hide the razor blades, it’s time for some Les Mis!

This is the first time I’ve ever seen the musical version of Les Miserables. This is something of a surprise, because around 21 years ago I listened to the full soundtrack. I just never had the chance to actually see a performance. During that time, for personal reasons, it became a very important story to me. Now I’ve finally had the chance to watch this movie. Was it worth the 21 year wait?

In a word, yes. This was absolutely everything that I’d hoped for in a movie version of the famed musical. Visually stunning, with such a memorable soundtrack and incredible performances, especially by Anne Hathaway who, goodness me, may well have sewn up an Oscar with her singing of “I Dreamed a Dream”, something that put even the Susan Boyle version to shame.

The story is by turns basic and complex. Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, a man convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. During that time, he tried to escape, but was caught, and ends up having fourteen years added to his sentence. Now after 19 years, he’s released on a parole, but, as many released from prison discover even now, he can’t find a job and can’t find a place to live. He’s taken in by a kindly bishop (Colm Wilkinson, who originated the Valjean role on stage), and then repays the bishop’s kindness by stealing silver plates and the like. When he’s caught, he claims the silver was a gift, and is astounded when the bishop not only backs him up, but offers him more. Valjean, who had been on the verge of turning into a villain, instead becomes a hero and sets out to return to being an honest man. Meantime, police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe, who really has an incredible singing voice), sets off in pursuit of Valjean, while around them France seethes with revolutionary fervor.

That is, mind you, just scratching the surface. It doesn’t touch on the romance, the comedy relief, the violence, the death, the other death, the many, many, many deaths. Some of these deaths are truly heart-wrenching, and I’m only half joking when I comment about hiding the razors before watching.

The music is everything I’d expected and the sets are wonderful. But the real gem here are the performances. Jackman, Crowe, Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bohnam Carter are all exceptionally good in their roles, but it is Hathaway who walks off with the best performance on film. If you can sit through her final song and not want to start crying like a child, you might well need to have emotions.exe installed. In fact the only complaint I have about casting is that of Eddie Redmayne, a normally fine actor, but someone with a singing voice that sounds like what someone who wanted to parody a stage singing voice would sound like. It’s not bad, really, but very stylized and odd.

While I don’t think this movie will or should win Best Picture at the Oscars, it still has a great deal to recommend it. I highly recommend it, the highlight soundtrack, currently available for fifteen bucks from Amazon, and even, if you feel brave enough, reading the original book. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in any of the above.

Book Review – Supervolcano: All Fall Down by Harry Turtledove


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So apparently once the Yellowstone supervolcano goes off, the worst most of the west coast will have to worry about is a little snow, higher gas prices and Denny’s serving pork burgers with barley buns. That, at least, is the impression I get from the latest novel by master writer Harry Turtledove; a novel that is, sadly, a rare misfire.

This story picks up right where part one left off. Colin Ferguson and his family are dealing with the literal and metaphorical fallout of a volcanic eruption that killed about 2 to 3 million people, ejected something like 600 cubic miles of debris into the air and buried a huge part of America’s agricultural belt under several feet of ash. It’s a global crisis presented on a local scale and that’s really just part of the problem.

See, at no point do I get a real sense of desperation. Life is basically going on as normal for almost everyone in the book. Ferguson is being a cop and tracking down a serial killer (whose identity I got almost correct), his new wife wants to have a baby, his ex-wife is raising a new baby, their youngest son is helping when he isn’t acting like a jerk, their older son is stuck in rural Maine dealing with ten months of winter a year, and their daughter is stuck at a refugee camp where she does unpleasant things to make her life slightly better.

Now you’d think that, for example, the son in Maine would be living in desperate times indeed. This does not appear to be the case. We follow him through his second and third winter there (because he’s decided not to leave, even though he could at almost any point), and he makes mention, from time to time, about how the moose herds and second-growth forest are thinning out. But despite that, no one seems to be starving or freezing yet. It’s a specter that might come later, but isn’t here at this point. This removes some of the tension.

There’s a similar problem with the daughter at the camp. She could, at any point, leave. All she needs to do is contact her father and have him send her money so that she can go home. But, no, her pride won’t let her do that. Ok, I suppose I can kind of understand that, but apparently her pride doesn’t stop her from performing certain services for various men in order to make her own way along in the world. That the only men she ever meets are apparently the sort who would abuse their power in this way is a given, though I’m not clear why, since I think most men are better than that.

Mind you, the problems these two characters face are real, but they aren’t that big, and they can escape from them whenever they chose and go back to Southern California where the rest of the family are. Things aren’t perfect there, with gas shortages and frequent brown-outs, but they’re not that bad. People ride bikes in weather that now resembles Seattle, but that’s really it for the problems they have to deal with. We’re told, however, that more problems are on the horizon.

That’s the real problem with this book. We never actually see any really, major, huge problems. Life is basically just going on like normal, and we’re told all the time that problems will be coming along down the line, but they never do, or if they do, they don’t in such a way as to cause real disruptions for the main characters.

It’s worth noting that this book suffers from some other problems, too. First off, Turtledove’s strength as an author has always centered on him being able to come up with interesting worlds and/or interesting stories and go from there. His strength has never been in his characters. Here has what is basically the real world with a lot more ash, and the result is that his characters problems show through big time. Vanessa and Marshall are characters we spend a lot of time with, and neither are particularly interesting. Everyone else are basically just archetypes in search of characterization, and none of them are especially interesting.

Second, Turtledove continues his habit of telling us the same thing over and over again. This was excusable when there’d be a year between books and he’d remind us, once, of something he told us in the previous one. That’s awkward when you read them one right after another, but not a problem when there’s a break. Here, however, we’re given certain bits of information repeatedly, throughout the same book, often using the same phrases. That’s annoying, distracting and unnecessary.

The third minor problem is minor indeed, and that’s that Turtledove’s personal politics seem to be showing. It’s implied that this happens around our current time, and that would imply in turn that the president and vice-president are the current ones. The former we hear nothing from and the latter is presented as rather feckless and foolish. We also hear almost every single character complain at least once about how the government isn’t doing anything to help them, which gets annoying, and the only politician we actually see is a noble, hard-working New England Republican. Turtledove also takes every chance to bash on the media, including presenting a CNN reporter as being a vapid idiot. Now I watch CNN daily, and while I have many complaints about the way they cover the news, I don’t ever feel that the various reporters are morons.

I didn’t hate this book. I just felt that not enough happened. We basically end with everyone in slightly different places geographically and the world turning along like it was at the end of the last book. Nothing major happened. Nothing major changed. The volcano is an annoyance, but little more. I sincerely hope that the next book in the series changes all those things, but right now, I’m not hopeful.