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Excellent Military History and Demonstrations
R. Lee Ermey is among my favorite TV personalities - one of the few celebrities that can walk the walk as well as talk the talk. He is a competition shooter and former marine, and brings a unique and hilarious blend of bravado and humility to his work.
In this series Ermey, along with numerous weapons experts, walks the viewer through the history of several types of weapons, from the archaic blade to state of the art tanks and helicopters. Each historical weapon progression is demonstrated by Ermey and/or weapons experts, often firing weapons into his favorite target - watermelons.
(BEGIN SPOILER) Some of the banter he uses is side splitting, particularly that in the Rifles episode. In this, he stages a contest between the US Springfield bolt action rifle of WW1 against the British Lee-Enfield rifle of the same era. His opponent is a British National who has lived in the U.S. for 30 years. The man obviously speaks with a British accent and after learning how many years he has lived in the country, Ermey says with tongue firmly in cheek "30 years, and you still haven't learned to speak American." LOL! After the 5 round Springfield loses to the 10 round Lee-Enfield, Ermey brings out his semi-automatic M1 Garand to have a rematch and wins quite handedly, if not on a level playing field. (END SPOILER) Any who enjoy arms and military history as well as weapons demonstrations should not miss this excellent show.
Outstanding Military History Program
From the Snow boys we have a second excellent military history contribution. This show focuses on some of the most decisive battles in 20th century warfare, from Amiens in WW1 to the Gulf War of 1991.
The format is similar to Battlefield Britain. We are shown the location of the conflict on a world map, and get a birds eye computer simulation view of the developing battle. This concept in particular really makes the show for me, as I can see the battle from a unique perspective that only aerial reconnaissance could provide. The show is accentuated by frequent accounts from soldiers on either side, as well as civilians who were often in harm's way. There are numerous weapons and other demonstrations, as in BB, that show the destructive effect of such devices like artillery, or the effects of a ship engine room fire. Few shows I have ever seen provide such interesting and meticulous details to the battles of history.
I have few criticisms for the show. I have mixed opinions about the graphics of the "mapcase" for showing the battles. It is more stylized, or less realistic, than in Battlefield Britain. It is a bit cartoonish in appearance, yet it does make it easy to distinguish the opposing sides and their movements. Many of the sides in BB would wear uniforms that would make it easier to tell them apart, while modern uniforms tended to be drab colored and difficult to distinguish except up close.
My meager criticisms do not in any way tarnish what remains to be among the best military history programs I have ever seen. Along with Battlefield Britain, this is a show that any with an interest in such history would be loathe to miss. I only wish that the Snows could have continued to cover more historical conflicts. Dan has a new outstanding program called "Filthy Cities" and hopefully he will someday return to battlefield history.
Filthy Cities (2011)
Another outstanding show featuring Dan Snow
I have been fascinated by the television contributions of Dan Snow and his father ever since Battlefield Britain, and consider them to be among the finest historical documentaries I have ever seen. History for me is about the experience from the viewpoint of those who lived through the times represented. It is often difficult to picture the world during these times. The Snows understand this desire and along with the show's developers have consistently provided the viewer with a front row seat to history, with special emphasis on the viewpoint of the commoner during these times.
The excellence continues with Filthy Cities. In this show the audience is taken on a tour of the nasty underbelly of some of the worlds greatest cities from varied periods in history - medieval London, 18th Century Paris, and 19th Century New York. We experience the sights, sounds, thrall, and particularly the smells of these cities in the time periods depicted. The focus of the show is firmly in the management (or lack) of the tremendous waste streams such urban metropolises create, from human waste, to garbage, to industrial pollutants in addition to the inevitable outbreaks of disease and death which followed. It paints a no doubt highly accurate picture of the tremendously unsanitary conditions of these cities, and what engineers, rulers, and the populace at large attempted to do about the problem.
I have a scant few criticisms for the show. Sometimes it does seem like they try a bit too hard to gross out the audience. Yet these things that few in a modern industrial society need to deal with were a daily routine for the people of yesteryear. The smells and nature of filth were an inescapable reality for the populace, even the upper crust of society.
I sincerely hope that more episodes will be forthcoming, perhaps a glimpse of Ancient Rome or Athens, or Asian cities like Bejing or Edo. If you have an interest in history, especially with the aforementioned desire to picture places as they very well may have appeared, then you should not miss this outstanding program.
Last Man Standing (2011)
A few good laughs
I have only seen a few episodes of this comedy, but it seems generally good for a few laughs. I was never a fan of Home Improvement, just wasn't my style. Last Man seems to be a bit more mature and, well, funny.
It can't be just me - I think Nancy Travis is jaw-dropping sexy. She looks better to me in this show than she did nearly twenty years ago in "So I Married an Axe Murder." Wow. IMO she outclasses her female co-stars that are 30 years her junior. I'd watch the show just for her, especially if she keeps donning the drool-inducing pirate costume like she did for the Halloween episode.
Superior Military History Program
Along with "Battlefield Britain," I would rate this as one of the finest shows relating (primarily) to military history that I have ever seen. The host, Peter Woodward, is a supremely competent historian and weapons instructor, and brings a unique passion and charm to the show with a very effective dry sense of humor that does not detract whatsoever from its serious nature. His delivery is gripping and a solid cornerstone of the program.
The premise of "Conquest" is for Peter and/or his team members or associates to develop competence in a particular and rather dangerous endeavor, mostly military but with a few detractors like Demolition Derby. Peter goes into great detail about the history of the weapons or machine that they will be using, weaving this masterfully into training and demonstrations. The end will generally involve a contest of sorts, where his team attempts to "win" at the endeavor for which they have been training.
The show reminds me in some ways of "Deadliest Warrior," as there are numerous weapons demonstrations, tests of skill, and a contest at the end. The contest in DW is a staged dramatization, whereas the contest in Conquest is generally real (with safety precautions), and real time. The participants are very sportsmanlike, and there is none of the puerile banter that infects DW. The show came about several years before DW as well, so I have no doubt that the creators of the latter borrowed more than one idea from this program.
This is a serious show for a mature audience with more than just a passing interest in history. That's not to say it is without humor, it does have some light hearted moments. I have rarely seen weapons tactics described and demonstrated in such detail, with as much emphasis on the drawbacks of each as with the benefits. They also describe the mindset or experiences of the warriors in such situations, such as the discomfort of wearing armor, or the fatigue caused by wielding weapons or marching with a full kit. Anyone with an interest in military history should not miss out on Conquest.
Dark, very mature RPG
Starting with the introductory cinematic - one of the best I've ever seen - the player becomes deeply involved in this grim story. That's what the game feels like. A very complicated, intriguing, and interesting tale. Few other RPGs I've experienced can so deeply pull the player in to the plot as this one does.
Such is the emphasis here, and the character choice that is so integral to other games is non-existent. Yet I enjoyed the lack of choice in characters since it kept the focus squarely on the story, where it quite refreshingly belonged. In fact, this is almost the polar opposite of one of my favorite series of games, the Elder Scrolls, in that there is no choice but to become wrapped up in the main plot line.
Besides the story, many other things are relatively unique or at the least uncommon for an RPG in The Witcher. This is, first and foremost, a very adult game, unlike most RPGs I've played. There is foul language, sexual situations, and many morally ambiguous decisions to be made. The world is dark and seedy, with many unsavory characters, prostitution, organized crime, drugs, bribery, fencing, gambling, widespread corruption, and much more. The setting is rife with crime, disease, and political intrigue. The combat system involves not endless, quick clicking, but slow clicking to time and string together a series of attacks. Several of the monsters are not clearly "evil" and do not attack the player on sight but attempt to reason and convince him to spare them or help them lift their curse.
Speaking of the protagonist, Geralt of Rivia, he has striking similarities to other fictional characters that are favorites of mine. In particular his look and combat prowess borrow heavily from Michael Moorcock's creation - Elric of Melnibone. His voice, guile, and the fact that he is a complete man-whore remind me especially of Clint Eastwood and his western "man with no name" characters from the Sergio Leone "Dollars Trilogy," or High Plains Drifter.
I do have some criticisms. Some of the dialog is corny and doesn't seem to fit the character of Geralt - such is one of the problems with using a premade character. Naturally the often long load times are cumbersome. I didn't like how dramatically the XP award for monsters dropped as Geralt rose in levels, since many creatures went down in about the same amount of time at LVL 2 as they did at level 25. A couple of the monsters were very difficult to overcome - but worse than this was the fact that such encounters often occurred at the end of a long cut-scene with no chance for saving (can't save mid-fight), so I would die and then have to go through the whole scene all over again.
Despite such flaws, this is on my top ten list of RPGs, and I've been playing them since Bard's Tale on the Apple IIe. Most certainly give it a chance. And don't forget to try the over-the-shoulder (OTS) camera viewpoint - makes it an almost entirely different game.
Il bosco fuori (2006)
Gross, unsettling exploitation film
I've been on quite a gore kick of late with some zingers like Day of the Dead (1985), High Tension, Land of the Dead, and May. I'd put this one in amongst them in terms of gore alone. Some "Unrated" movies I'll get done with and ask myself why they were branded with such a rating. Some of the above, including Last House, left no doubt as to why they deserved to be beyond Restricted (R).
The story, acting, soundtrack, and ambiance initially was enough to make me want to stop the film and get to bed early. It is very poor quality in all of the above. That must have been the point as a direct homage to some of the 70's and 80's films of the same nature. They were bad, but yet had an undeniable power to them with their disturbing scenarios, gratuitous gore including many gross-out scenes, and overall non-PC actions.
The crazies in this one initially played it straight, and seemed like a loving family as do many in such films at first. I wish they had kept this demeanor and tried to be somewhat sympathetic instead of turning into completely sadistic psychopaths - it would have made the crazy setup more disturbing than the generic looney pastiche that I'm so accustomed to.
So if you're looking for a thought provoking and well acted film with a great storyline, then go elsewhere. If you have a bit of a horror vice for being disturbed and grossed out without any of the aforementioned in tow, then pour yourself a tall one and get ready for a stomach churning experience...
Haute tension (2003)
Intensely brutal and unsettling
It's difficult to decide where to stand as a horror fan. Is the subtle effectiveness of a "The Others" better, or the raw, unabashed power of "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" more desirable? Perhaps a little of both, or all of the above? I suppose the true horror fan watches and learns to appreciate all types of offerings in the genre.
Haute Tension definitely falls into the latter sub-genre. This is a hardcore showing with not just gore, but severe brutality. The film was just plain MEAN - to the point and completely devoid of humor of any kind. The victims were not a bunch of unlikeable teens whom I could not connect with emotionally, but were real people. Not just that, but an average family who seemed from all appearances to be very likable. This upped the stakes considerably, since I had somewhat of an attachment to the characters.
Now let's get to the violence. This was one of the most disturbingly gruesome displays I've ever seen on film, and I have watched several over the top gore fests the like of "Dead Alive." The kills were lingered upon in full lighting and the gore effects done old school - apparently no CGI was used at all. There were no quick cuts away as you see in many modern horror offerings. And the killer went out of his way to make sure his victims were dead. In one instance, a victim gets an axe in the chest and falls forward to the ground on top of the implement, obviously mortally wounded. Most killers would be content with this, but ours takes the time and effort to step hard on the victims back to force the axe in deeper (and this was the mildest kill in the movie). There was no apparent motive in the killings, either, apart from the fact that the killer just enjoyed doing the deed.
There is a huge "twist" toward the end of the movie that I still have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it does cause the viewer to think back over the movie a bit and adds a considerable layer to what really is mostly a suspenseful and phenomenally gory straight up slasher. On the other hand, there are some gaping plot holes that are difficult to fill in with common sense. The first frame of the film does in a way set up the whole story here, however, in that it is told from the KILLER's perspective. As twisted as this schizophrenic nutjob must be, we can clearly surmise that the memory of events is not completely clear and certainly not logical as you or I might gather. Did the events even occur at all? There is considerable ambiguity here, and it is something that I have grown to appreciate in a film, whether horror or otherwise. Doesn't mean I bought it wholesale, but it is interesting nonetheless.
I almost felt the film was too gory, and that the outrageous effects were not necessary nor did they add to what was an otherwise taut psycho thriller. I mean it made my stomach churn - I really needed a long hot shower afterwards. That and the plot turn that I have not fully digested are why I gave this film lower than perfect marks. It certainly did leave an impression, however, and I have had trouble getting some of the images out of my head. That is in my opinion the hallmark of good horror - to leave a lasting impact.
Ghost Whisperer (2005)
What a great show
My current favorite show on television. It's strange, since it is very dramatic and if not for the supernatural angle I'd probably not be interested.
The show concerns the "adventures" of Melinda Gordon, a woman that has since an early age been able to see and communicate with spirits. According to the premise, spirits of those who die generally go "into the light," while those that are troubled in some way or do not desire to go remain "earth-bound." Melinda helps the spirits, with boundless energy and patience, to resolve their issues and move on.
Nearly every episode is a tear jerker. There are also some scares and creepy images in nearly every episode. Along with the heavy drama and themes, this makes it unsuitable for young children. It often plays out like a soap opera, with weird plot turns and numerous manipulative characters. One episode is even a bit of a self parody in that the central town, Grandview, is chosen as a shooting location for an episode of a popular (fictional) day time soap opera.
Quite a bit of comedy is thrown into the series with the inclusion of Jay Mohr and Jamie Kennedy. They can, surprisingly to me, act very competently with a perfect mix of humor and serious drama. I know they have both done it before, but I was impressed nonetheless.
There are a number of shocks and heartbreaks as the series progresses. Can't say that I was keen on all of them, particularly the Sam/Jim plot, but it certainly kept things interesting.
Although the supernatural is the overriding theme of the series, most of the show consists of drama and detective work. It cleverly appeals to men and women, and it keeps my interest on a daily basis. Enjoy with my recommendations.
Immersive, fun, and often challenging
I have truly enjoyed the Elder Scrolls series, more than any other RPG game or series. The open ended feel, wide range of quests, and unique method of levelling a character all added to an RPG experience like no other.
Oblivion continues the format, with a number of significant changes over its predecessor - Morrowind. One of the complaints I had with the latter game is that it became pathetically easy after gaining only a handful of levels, as there were a number of simple buffs (alchemy!) that would make the character nigh invincible. The quests were still interesting, but the combat became too easy. Oblivion changes this by leveling the monsters along with the character. For instance, at low levels you could be wandering through the forest and run into a relatively easy to kill wolf, but at higher levels later down the road in the very same forest you might run into a very tough troll or minotaur. I have mixed feelings about this game feature. On the one hand, it does keep combat challenging and often intense, thereby making it more interesting. On the other hand, if you wait too long to pick up the main quest, it can be extremely challenging and frustrating to complete. You must be careful about creating your character and finding and making use of the trainers in the game to help boost skills and stats on the level ups. Standing toe-to-toe with multiple enemies in Morrowind was no problem at mid to higher levels - in Oblivion this is asking for a lot of hurt just about any time in the game, if not downright suicide. It certainly gives a FPS edge to the game that will keep you on your toes.
Another refreshing change is with the mercantile system, if you will. Merchants now have unlimited gold, but a cap on the amount they will pay for one item. Now you don't need to employ bizarre strategies to get the merchant gold higher, just need to give them a serious discount on very valuable merchandise (not a problem as with all the looting you'll have plenty of gold anyway). Items in general are not as valuable and mercantile/persuasion won't get you top dollar for your goods, as it did in Morrowind. There are no merchants (to my knowledge) like Creeper or Mudcrab that will give you full price - most give 50% or less of full value for items. You can still use alchemy to create and sell potions, but the homemade brews won't net you a fortune.
Something else that for me is a mixed bag is that Oblivion introduces minigames for persuading NPCs and picking locks. Both seem to be independent of speechcraft and security. That is, if you play the minigame well, the outcome will be favorable - a happy NPC and a picked lock, that is. It is a little bit fun at first, but can be just as tedious as the old method after a while. I'd rather just have the comp check my security skill against the lock and automatically decide the outcome. Same with persuasion. On the other hand, at least you have a chance with both endeavors even early game, if you are patient (the series in general does require a bit of this attribute).
In general, Oblivion is an outstanding game and one that I have enjoyed tremendously, albeit with some frustration. The game world is nearly breathtaking to behold. The landscape is beautiful, and jam packed with caves, ruins, and other locales to explore. The creatures have gotten a serious visual upgrade over Morrowind. All the Daedra look and sound more terrifying, particularly the Daedroth and Dremora - wow! For a minute there I thought I was playing Doom 3.
The quests are varied and interesting. The guilds don't give you as many things to do, but that seems right. After all, aren't there other members in these guilds? And if so, why would they give you all the work? It makes it easier to keep track of quests when you don't have so many to complete at the same time.
I got the original game and both expansions in a pack for $20 at Best Buy, and to me that is an absolute steal for this game. RPG fans, and Elder Scrolls fans in particular, should not miss out on this fantastic experience.