Written and Directed by: Luc Besson Starring: Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker
Released by: Sony Pictures Region: 1 Rating: PG-13 Anamorphic: Yeah buddy.
My Advice: Borrow It.
A big ball of Evil is heading straight towards Earth. Assisted by the evil businessman and gunrunner Zorg (Oldman), it will extinguish all life on the planet. Why would Zorg and the ball do something like that? Because they’re Evil. The only thing that can stop them is the Supreme Being, who is actually a young woman (Jovovich) who doesn’t speak any English. She happens to runs into (or crashes into) cab driver Corbin Dallas (Willis) who just happens to be an ex-soldier. Along the way, the flamboyant DJ Ruby Rod (Tucker) and the priest Vito Cornelius (Holm) join them on their adventure. This unlikely band of misfits has to stop the Big Ball of Evil (and its entourage) from destroying the Earth.
On paper, The Sims doesn’t sound interesting: you guide the lives of Sims (the people in the game) to furnish their houses, obtain jobs, form relationships, and go to the bathroom. But for a lot of people, it becomes addictive. You can become attached to your Sims, concerned about their well being; financial, physical, and emotional. It also helps that many of the features of The Sims are done in a tongue-in-cheek style, from the funny descriptions of the various objects around the house to the swelling music when two Sims fall in love. The newest addition to this is the Hot Date Expansion Pack.
Hot Date focuses on the social aspect of the game. Your Sims have more flexibility in relating to other Sims, from how friendly a greeting can be (a wave, a handshake, a friendly hug, or a “very friendly” hug) to the subjects they can talk about (the 60’s, crime, technology, or travel). How you gauge the contacts your Sims have has also changed. Replacing the status bar on the health of a relationship are two status bars, one on how things are going at the moment and another on how the relationship is going as a whole. The biggest improvement that comes with this new expansion is the Sim Downtown.
Written by: Connie Willis Published by: Bantam Books
I’ve looked over the books I have reviewed so far, and found they are rather serious and somber. I’m going to lighten the mood with To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, a novel that tells the story of a temporal paradox that could destroy the space-time continuum. But this is not another Star Trek time travel rehash, trust me.
In the mid-21st century, time travel has been developed, but Time doesn’t like to be messed with. It is impossible to take anything from the past into the present. Because of this, time travel has become consigned to cash-strapped universities, such as Oxford. However when a researcher, Verity Kindle, returns from 1888 with a cat, this impossibility should have caused a huge uproar. Unfortunately, the wealthy and demanding Lady Schrapnell has commandeered Oxford to help her rebuild Coventry Cathedral, destroyed during a Nazi air raid. Since the cathedral is to be an exact copy (Lady Schrapnell’s favorite saying is “God is in the details!”), everyone is working to exhaustion including Ned Henry.
Ned has been traveling to 1940 and back so much looking for the “bishop’s bird stump” (an ugly Victorian decoration), his brain has become addled with “time lag”. To get him away from Lady Schrapnell’s badgering, he is sent back to return the cat to 1888 and avoid the possible destruction of the universe. Ned’s brain is so addled by the time lag he doesn’t think to ask “How did the cat get to the present?” or “Where do I return the cat to?” or “How do I get out of this mess?” of which there are many in the book.
Written by: Simon Winchester Published by: HarperCollins
Professor James Murray was given a daunting task, to edit and compile The Oxford English Dictionary, the most complete and accurate dictionary ever. It took 70 years to complete the first edition (published in 1928); it contained 414,800 words and 1,861,200 quotations (the second edition published in 1989 contains 615,100 words and 2,436,600 quotations). While there were other dictionaries available (most notably Samuel Johnson’s famous work), the OED was unique since it not only defined words, but also traced the history of words through quotations obtained from literature and non-fiction.
Murray was helped by a Dr. William Minor, who like 2000 other volunteers, submitted appropriate quotations that showed the word’s first appearance or illustrated the word’s meaning. Dr. Minor’s quotations were plentiful and well researched. So Professor Murray figured the doctor had plenty of free time. Since Minor was committed to Broadmoor Asylum for shooting a man he believed to be an assassin, he did.
This is the odd relationship that frames The Professor and the Madman, a relationship between two very different men. Murray was a son of a tailor, a self-educated Scotsman who spoke 25 languages and was a pious Congregationalist; Minor was an aristocratic American, educated at Yale, a surgeon during the Civil War, an agnostic and libertine. But both were brought together by a love of language. Such was Murray’s regard for Minor that it took years to see that the return address on his correspondence was from an asylum, not a county house in the area. Winchester delves into the lives and motivations of these two men, especially Minor’s paranoid dementia; he also delves into the dictionary, the third member of this triangle.
Written by: Otto Bettmann Published by: Random House
Last year, there was a PBS miniseries called The 1900 House. A modern family in England went to live in a house where everything they did and everything they used was from the year 1900. You got to see them operate a coal burning stove, cleaning with a manual vacuum cleaner, and of course wearing a corset. The 1900 House effectively fractures the myth of the “good old days”.
If The 1900 House fractures the myth, The Good Old Days – They Were Terrible disintegrates it.
The book briefly touches on the ills of the late 1800s, many that are still with us today: industrial pollution, the working poor, and inadequate public education, etc. Fortunately, many problems in the book are no longer with us or at least lessened in severity: child labor, adulteration of food, and the treatment of the mentally ill, to name a few. Each dilemma is only given about a page or two because the book relies on pictures to tell the story. Otto Bettmann founded the Bettmann Archives (now unfortunately owned by Bill Gates). It encompasses over three million prints and photographs of everything from important historical events to pictures of medical tools and sunglasses. It is used by magazines, newspapers, advertising, and textbooks. Many consider it the visual record of the 20th century.
Developer: Firaxis Games Publisher: Infogrames Platform: PC (Win 95/98/Me/2000) ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
In the movie business, it is a rare thing when sequels are as good as the original. But in the video game industry, the reverse is true. One of the latest examples is Civilization 3, the turn-based world conquering strategy game from Sid Meier. For those who think Pong is the height of computer games, the Civilization series has you start with a band of settlers that found a city. You gather resources, build city improvements, research scientific progress, train troops, and interact with other nations through diplomacy and warfare. Through building Great Wonders, committing espionage, and trading luxury goods, you work to make your civilization the greatest in the world. This game has special significance to me because this was the first game I ever stayed up all night playing. I remember thinking, “Why is the sun up? It’s only…Damn!”
Written by: Tim Powers Published by: William Morrow & Co.
One of the charms of the Harry Potter series is that it depicts a world of haunted, mysterious castles, boy wizards, and strange, magical beasts alongside our mundane, everyday world. A world out of reach of all the boring, unimaginative people, but where you can escape to and experience all its marvels. However, what J.K. Rowling has created is wonderful, it is still in essence, a children’s story. If you like the concept of a secret and supernatural world, but want a more complex, adult read, there are the works of Tim Powers.
Tim Power’s latest work, Declare, is an excellent example of his work. Like most of his work, Powers gives us a historical landscape to start with, some familiar territory. In Declare it is Europe and the Middle East during WWII and the Cold War. Andrew Hale is a British spy of the John le Carre mold, his profession both stimulating and numbing. But while he is battling Nazis and Communists in the shadows, there are other far older and powerful entities he has been enlisted to fight. The ancient Arabs call them djinn, beings composed of sand and fire and wind and what they imagine is done. Centered on Mount Ararat in Beirut, Kim Philby, head of British counter-intelligence and Soviet double agent, is working to strike a terrible bargain with the djinn to ensure Russia’s stability and power. Andrew Hale seems fated from birth to be part of this battle, but can he win it? Can he trust his fellow spy and lover Elena Ceniza-Bendiga and his supervisor and mentor James Theodora? Can Hale complete Operation Declare without losing his life and his soul?
Developer: Croteam Publisher: Gathering of Developers Platform: Win 95/98/Me ESRB Rating: M (Blood & Gore, Violence)
First off, don’t worry if you haven’t played the first Serious Sam. I hadn’t and it’s not necessary. Second, while it’s called Serious Sam, the game is in fact, very silly. The chainsaw-wielding maniacs with jack-o-lantern heads are a big clue. There is a plot, but it’s not that important to your gaming experience. You’re killing alien invaders in pre-Columbian South America, ancient Babylon, and medieval Europe. And killing lots and lots of alien baddies. Did I mention the killing?
On paper, Serious Sam 2 sounds like another Duke Nukem clone. Clearing levels of bad guys, picking up keys, ammo, and power ups, and taking out the boss creature at the end while talking trash. However, within that formula the development team from Croatia (yes, Croatia, really) has worked in a lot of originality and style. The enemies have definite attack strategies that require the player to use the various moves and weapons available. And their design runs the gamut from silly (the above mentioned pumpkin-headed maniacs with chainsaws) to the scary (bigass demons that toss massive fireballs at you).