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Do yourself a favor, stick to the first season
Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), head of federal agency CTU, receives intelligence that David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), a senator running for presidency, may be assassinated during the primaries. In the meanwhile, Bauer's wife and daughter get kidnapped, forcing Bauer to deal with both situations. Oh, and one of his colleagues is not to be trusted...
Just pretending to be a particular character is B-grade actor stuff, actually being the character is a performance. Kiefer Sutherland shows he can do much better than the pull-the-string-for-an-excuse military guy roles (hence the extra role in 'A Few Good Men') he's usually receiving in his mailbox. Sutherland ís Jack Bauer. The man is a pro. Jack Bauer is portrayed as a hero, the man who can't be harmed, who kills the bad guys and saves the innocents. Sounds ridiculous and Disney-esquire, but Sutherland makes Jack Bauer a believable person.
24's first season is the pick of the bunch. Even in this debut season, the scriptwriters didn't manage to write a story that could last for 24 hours, and to be very honest, you won't get a better season after this. It's not Jack Bauer's story, but all the sub plots that let this show down. Elisha Cuthbert made herself infamous by playing Kim Bauer, Jack's daughter who has some neurotic determination to get herself into trouble. While Cuthbert's character served a purpose in the first half of the first season, Kim Bauer hampers the show's pace by repeatedly getting kidnapped, arrested, or generally ignoring dad's wise advisory.
It's fascinating to see how much suspense 24 creates, even if most of the shots feature 'inactive activity', like characters driving a car, sitting behind a computer or being locked in a barn. The photography department does a good job in using the right techniques - e.g. the picture-in-picture idea that 24 adopted with good result. Almost every episode ends with a thriving cliffhanger. The finale, without giving anything away, is top grade television.
The second season is a bit of a let-down, at least in the storyline department. The writers bring in subplots that are totally irrelevant to the main - Jack Bauer - plot, nicely illustrated by a Kim Bauer running around LA with subsequently her au pair kid's angry dad, the PD, a cougar and a desperate wood cabin guy on her tail.
Even though the show features an 'open ending', you don't need to give in to the urge to smash your money on the other DVD-boxes. Season One is best seen as a 'stand alone', for it is a nice, wonderfully put together TV series, that sadly tries to milk its hype by advertising for Ford and Nokia and not by providing a compelling story, comparable with Season One.
Driver 2 (2000)
Like the story, but especially graphic performance sucks. Avoid
The original Driver was brilliant: it brought movies like Bullitt to your computer or PSX, so you could be a Steve McQueen doing handbrake turns in '70s American muscle cars. Its only (major) glitch was the poor performance on the original Playstation. Far too many times the ruddy thing crashed, because it couldn't cope with more than three active police cars. The traffic consisted of only two types of car per city (Miami, Sisco, LA, NY), so the PC players had a big advantage here. (I'm actually considering grabbing a PC copy out of the bargain bin.) Driver's sequel (called Driver 2 - how original is that?) was also released on PSX. Sadly, the original game showed that the Playstation had reached its limits, but that didn't stop the developers to go over them. Driver 2's main feature is Detective Tanner's ability to get out of his car. The only times you will ever use this option, is when you change cars or open a garage door, which makes this option quite pointless, especially because Tanner is all but able to do a decent job at walking. Firing guns? No way, Jose.
The storyline takes Tanner to (again) four cities: along with Chicago and Las Vegas, it also features Havana and Rio de Janeiro - Havana boosting most of the fun, since you can do your Handbrake 90's with old Volkswagen vans and Bel Airs here. The driving missions are still the daddy, and I was able to do all of the missions without cheats (unlike Driver 1, where the final mission was anything but possible).
When you need a taste of the Driver feel, buy the PC game of the original and leave the PSX games.
Bruce Almighty (2003)
Could someone pass Shadyac some cojones?
(Repeated line in the DVD director's commentary: "We cut that scene, 'cause we wouldn't want to hurt any people.") Tom Shadyac seems to have a knack for completely inoffensive, high morale, family valued, junk food comedy features: hence Liar Liar, Ace Ventura, you know the bunch. Bruce Almighty is in the same league, but fails to be funny for the entire length of the movie. Instead, it is a moralizing piece of bull that could have been so much better, if only Tom Shadyac wouldn't have listened to his stupid focus group audience.
Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is a reporter for the Buffalo local news station, but he's fed up with making reports about low-rent, trivial subjects like he's (apparently) been doing for the last few years. Instead, his goal is to become the anchor of the news station and become Buffalo's own Walter Cronkite. When his slimy colleague Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) snitches his beloved job opportunity from under his very nose, Bruce starts a rage against God, blaming him for all the misery he's in. Consequently, God (Morgan Freeman) grants Bruce all his powers, so he can prove that he can do a better job.
Of course, this leads to the usual series of hilarious events, but suddenly, the script demands a more serious approach. Enough with all the mild Bible jokes, it's time for some tear-jerking morale! I don't mind the morale, but why does it take Shadyac half a movie to make his statement? There is absolutely *nothing* to laugh about in the second bit of Bruce Almighty, and that's the first reason why it fails to be a good comedy.
The second reason is Shadyac's enduring fear to offend people. The film would have been a lot better if only he had the bloody cojones to ignore the complaints of the ruddy focus group. How could a simple God joke be offensive, when thousands of Christians approve of a movie where Jesus Christ is beaten to a pulp for two hours (Gibson's Passion of the Christ)? The only thing I find offensive about Bruce Almighty, is the way Carrey's character behaves to his girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston in a stereotype cast) and gets away with it. Just like Maura Tierney in Liar Liar, Aniston has to play a woman who simply loves an insulting, betraying, generally mistreating jerk. For that I don't blame God (for I'm not Bruce), but Shadyac. Family values, tssk.
Why you should never let your stunt team provide a storyline...
One of the first episodes of Cobra 11 I can reminisce, featured a police car hitting an anchor hanging down a bridge over the Autobahn. It's still one of the best stunts I've ever seen.
"Alarm für Cobra 11 - Die Autobahnpolizei" is a typical German 'krimi' (whodunnit), with a bit more action involved. Truckloads of cars are scrapped in various action scenes. It's not useful to the story at all, and regularly I get the idea that some stunts are just done for the mere fun of it. Apparently, a simple accident involving only two cars is not enough for Cobra 11's stunt crew, so why not crashing the rest of the entire Autobahn into them? And when all these nutters come to a halt just in time, why not fail the brakes of an oncoming truck so the highway will turn into a scrapyard anyway? To hell with realistic action sequences - who cares that cars don't explode in real life?
Cobra 11 has started another season when I write this, and it seems that the stunt team has taken over the scriptwriting. The two hero-like highway coppers seem to have only one goal in their lives: catching the bad guys at all costs. Shooting at thugs in crowded areas, pushing innocent cars off the road when in a high speed chase, nicking other people's cars to go after thugs, scrapping that very car stupidly so the thugs can flee unscathed, crashing the unmarked patrol car into market stalls, dustbins, billboards or other cars - it's all in the game, apparently. The plot holes are as big as Jupiter, the continuity goofs are innumerable, and so are the clichés: all the gang lords drive American cars or Jaguars, the Yakuza - when featured - drive old Z31 Fairladies, cars with caravans are always fitted with Dutch license plates and all tanker trucks featured are doomed to explode.
(And yet it's still fun to watch, just because of the action.)
Lilja 4-ever (2002)
No reason to laugh
I just ticked the 'Contains spoiler' box, realizing that Lilya 4-ever spills its own ending right from the start. While German hard-rock formation Rammstein puts your speakers through a thorough testing with "Mein Herz Brennt", Lilya can be seen running through a Swedish industrial area, in a state of despair and grief. In other words: all you're about to see in the next 100 minutes is the downfall of a girl being abandoned, abused and exploited.
Lukas Moodysson made himself famous with the way he depicted children dealing with their troubles. But while F*cking Amal was a cheerful movie, Lilya 4-ever is a succession of shocking and even horrifying moments, eventually adding up to the final scene as described above. Lilya 4-ever never makes you feel good as F*cking Amal did: images of Lilya diving in the mud, crying because her mother just left with her boyfriend to the USA, Lilya being insulted and even raped by her own classmates and Lilya gradually becoming a full-time prostitute alternate with each other. Moodysson uses these images to their full extent.
This film won't put a smile on your face. Ever. The spare moments where Volodya visits Lilya with the wings on his back are a bit on the cheap side (that explains the 8/10), but the acting is more than convincing. A must-see, this movie.
The Getaway (2002)
Why should games be realistic?
The Getaway, says Sony, is a perfect combination of both movie and game. You, the player, have to complete missions implemented in a storyline told by several cut-scenes. On-screen information like health bars, hints and directions simply don't exist: you have to rely on your car's turn signals to find your way through the faithfully remodeled city of London. Realism is the keyword here.
And it's the realism that makes this game hell to play. I am a big fan of the 'cartoon' approach that Rockstar uses in its brilliant GTA games. Unlike Grand Theft Auto, The Getaway wants to be taken seriously. Example: killing pedestrians in GTA is fun. You get money for doing so and if you wait a few seconds, an ambulance will arrive to undo the damage you've done. Whereas driving over pedestrians with your vehicle is ludicrous in GTA, it's a rather uncomfortable business in The Getaway. The sickening thud and the screaming of the person you just hit make this quite horrible. And you'll have to kill a few peds in this game, believe me. London folks appear to be suicidal, which means they'll regularly walk into your car. Same goes for the innocent people who get killed when they walk stupidly into your line of fire.
Telling the entire world that your game is ultra-realistic sheds expectations. People don't expect crappy animation, cheesy controls and abysmally behaving cars in a 'realistic' game, and neither did I. This game should have set a benchmark, and it did: The Getaway is the world's first ánd worst movie-game combo ever! A brilliant idea, good storyline and seedy atmosphere are worth nothing thanks to the ruddy gameplay. Games shouldn't be realistic, they should be fun. Ironically, The Getaway is neither realistic nor entertaining. A lousy 5.5/10 is even more than they actually deserve.
Better than Vice City? Er... no.
GTA San Andreas has everything to keep you busy for the next three millennia: a huge map, lots of missions and 'moonlighting' missions, the ability to swim rather than drown, gyms to keep you fit, junkfood restaurants to keep you fat, clothing shops, tattoo parlors, barbers... you name it, GTA:SA's got it.
Unfortunately, the game's storyline does not better its predecessor. Main character Carl Johnson's mum has been killed by a scumbag rival gang, while CJ himself was biding his time in Liberty City, having fled his hometown Los Santos five years ago. CJ is forced to return to the San Andreas region, destined to help his 'hood back to power and punish the people responsible for his mum's death.
The game designers didn't want their canyons, huge countryside and three cities to be useless, so the storyline takes CJ to all of San Andreas' spots. Some missions also act as a tutorial, which means the storyline speed is being matched by the velocity of a combine harvester (which is also featured in the game!). It is annoyingly slow.
Unlike Tommy Vercetti, CJ is not an instant car racer or decent hit-man. Carl has to train himself in using weapons and driving cars. It'll keep you really busy to help CJ gain some muscles (without them, he won't be able to punch even elderly San Andreas residents), but then again, it slows your game process.
The storyline absorbs a lot of your focus. That means you won't notice the true GTA benchmarks, which are the satirical jokes. The radio is being overridden by blabbing characters while they join you on a mission, and you won't be able to look to all those idiotic billboards ('True Crime Trashing Company', 'Wang Cars') until you've gained some free time. Where the characters' lines in Vice City were soaked in humor, in San Andreas humor has been replaced by 'offensive language'. There's F- and S-words galore in SA, which is a pity, 'cause GTA 3 and Vice City had better lines without them.
Please, don't regret your purchase or cancel your trip to the department store - like you'd all listen to me. GTA San Andreas is not a bad game. Actually, it is quite as good as Vice City. Unfortunately, it isn't better. Which means the huge map has missed its point by a lot.