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by L.B. Jeffries

28 Jul 2009

We all know what you’re wondering about these two games. Which is better at making that number on the scale go down? Out of the three articles I’ve read comparing the differences between Wii Fit and EA Active, the weirdest idea they’ve seized on is the PR meme that EA Active is a ‘Western’ game. To paraphrase, thanks to its sweat inducing exercises it can satisfy our cultural expectations for exercise far better than the stretches and few exercises of Wii Fit. An easier distinction is a mechanical one between the two games: the Wii Fit knows its limits. I’ve played both games (my unflattering Wii Fit review) and despite the extra sweat EA Active gives me, it’s still inferior to the Wii Fit. Obviously a lot of this boils down to my personal opinion, to give a “Western” review neither has made me lose weight, but mechanically EA Active just reaches beyond what the motion controls can really do.

From EA Active

From EA Active

Let’s start with the basic comparison. EA Active generates the majority of its calorie burn by running in place mixed with physical motions that provide a mild workout. By and far the largest edge EA Active has over Wii Fit is the pre-arranged workout program so that you’re not always clicking around different exercises. It’s also cheaper and refrains from calling you fat any time you weigh yourself. Its biggest problem is that it relies almost exclusively on the motion controls for all its exercises and it’s very, very picky about how you use them. This is due to a technical limitation of the Wiimote: it cannot detect where the device is located in relation to its previous location, just its current position. Angling the device, shaking it, or aiming at the screen can all be picked up but just raising it up and down or left to right won’t be sensed. The consequence is that you have to very precisely angle the remote for each step in a workout. A shoulder raise means starting with the Wiimote pointed down. Raise arm and angle to show that you’ve moved, then point the Wiimote upwards once you’re fully extended.

From EA Active

From EA Active

This becomes a problem for two reasons. First, in order to create some kind of resistance to all this moving the game comes with a band that you have to keep looped into your hands for certain exercises. Holding a Wiimote while carefully angling it AND keeping the band in your hand is less than ideal. Often the game won’t sense a motion and will patiently wait for you to do something that you’ve already physically done before making you do the entire exercise all over again. You end up pointing the Wiimote around while struggling to keep your grip on the giant rubber band you’re standing on. If you’re like me, you’ll also get disappointed very quickly with how weak (and easily broken) the rubberband that the games come with is in terms of traction. Upgrading to a stronger and more resistant band is not something I’d recommend though. While fidgeting with my Wiimote position my grip slipped on the stronger band and it knocked the living s*** out of me.

In contrast, the Wii Fit is a lot of stretching and mostly inadequate strength exercises mixed with ineffective organization. Unlike EA Active which tries to not rely on the Balance Board, Wii Fit uses it extensively. The game is able to quasi-follow player motion with the balance sensor so that your position is, if not perfect, at least in the right ballpark. And that’s about it. The thing that Nintendo grasps about their console and peripherals is not making them uncomfortable to use. Yoga stretches work well and several of the strength exercises are good. Of particular merit are the push-ups and ab exercises, which EA Active completely lacks. Although it’ understandable that EA Active doesn’t have yoga poses, not having any stretches whatsoever is irresponsible. If using one of these things is the only exercise a person has gotten in years, they are going to need to learn proper stretching. The problem with Wii Fit is that you can’t effectively link any of this stuff together. My Wii Fit workout consists of clicking on each Yoga and strength exercise once until I hit the thirty minute score. Compared to EA Active, which repeats each workout and ups the reps, Wii Fit is wildly ineffective.

There is also the question of the BMI system. Wii Fit will weigh you and inflate your Mii to match your body. This is a bit depressing and it gets worse as the weeks go by and you realize that losing weight is not as easy as it seems. Every week that little white board will ask you why you haven’t lost weight and you’re forced to remember the food, the beer, the skipping exercises, and all that sitting around as well. EA Active completely removes this feature and instead just tells you how awesome you are all the time. The fact that my avatar in EA Active is a fit looking guy no matter what further removes any actual reflection of how healthy I am. Say what you want about insulting video games, but at least the Wii Fit is being honest with you and helping to raise awareness about your health in the long term.

From Wii Fit

From Wii Fit

Neither game particularly gets their fitness trainers right. Wii Fit makes you interact with a squeaking white board while EA Active mixes real-life videos with avatars. Although the Wii Fit girl is actually really pleasant to hear and work with, the game insists the male instructor randomly take over workouts. This could be a personal thing, but I find the male instructor in Wii Fit to be creepy in a “Let me watch you work out” kind of way. EA Active is odd in that you spend most of the exercise routine staring at your avatar instead of the instructor. Instead of the balance board’s dots and meters to show you where the game thinks you’re positioned, your avatar acts as the feedback. The problem is that this isn’t particularly precise. I can see exactly how off I am with the bars and graphs of the Wii Fit, but the avatar in EA Active just reflects that I’m not doing it right without showing me why.

In the end, the problem with either game’s workout is the same. No weight means no proper resistance which leaves you with stretching or moving in place. Realizing this, Nintendo made Wii Fit into a Yoga game with a few decent strength exercises that comfortably stays within the boundaries of the technology. EA Active instead tries to use a rubber band that can work around the Wiimote to solve the resistance problem with mixed results. You can’t really get a good resistance with the band going because of all the crap you’re holding, so most of the exercises are little better than lifting your arms up and down anyways. The ones that make you sweat mostly consist of running or jumping in place, which almost always ends with you wondering why you don’t just go outside. What EA Active fixes about Wii Fit, the ability to combine exercises so you actually get a decent workout, will supposedly be solved by Wii Fit Plus. If someone wanted to beat out either game, they’d need to a release a Wiimote with attachable weights to get a real advantage.

by Rob Horning

28 Jul 2009

I really wanted to get with the zeitgeist and read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest this summer. But at page 236, in the middle of a unparagraphed stream-of-consciousness passage about a melodramatically veiled woman smoking crack with an improvised works, I couldn’t take it anymore. I may be a victim of our short-attention-span society—and part of why I wanted to read the long, long, novel is that it seemed to run counter to our growing preference for “the short, the sweet, and the bitty,” as Tyler Cowen says—but I kept feeling I was expending a lot of effort on the book with virtually no reward.

It’s not that I don’t read long books—I’ll happily plod along through Trollope’s triple deckers, and in graduate school I worked mainly on the novels of Samuel Richardson, whose Clarissa clocks in at 1,500 pages in the Penguin edition. I just don’t have patience for long, incoherent books. Infinite Jest seemed like pointless jigsaw puzzle; unlike Pynchon’s books, in which there seems to be so much interconnection between the various threads and so many resonating levels of meaning criss-crossing through the text that it’s almost overwhelming but always compelling you to work at holding it together in your mind, Wallace’s book just seems to dump a bunch of confusing stuff in your lap and hope that you are too disoriented to recognize that it’s not interesting.

I kept wishing I was reading the Cliffs Notes version of Infinite Jest that put the action in the right order and explained what all the stupid abbreviations stood for. It didn’t help that the novel is preoccupied with several things I just have little interest in reading about: high-school tennis, boarding schools, the self-defeating behavior of drug addicts, the city of Boston—it sounds dumb, I’m sure, but I would have kept reading a little longer if it was set in Philadelphia.

by Bill Gibron

27 Jul 2009

Does anyone really care about the romantic comedy anymore? Does anyone see the once burgeoning chick flick genre as anything but a placeholder for the current actor or actress du jour? This year alone we’ve seen He’s Just Not That Into You, Confessions of a Shopaholic, The Proposal - even the bro-mantic farce I Love You, Man. Currently at the box office, two competing titles offer a sharp contrast in content and approach. One is all studio system stumbles. The other is indie iconographic.

The Ugly Truth, starring wannabe starlet Katherine Heigl and 300‘s Gerard Butler, hopes to take the cinematic category into ruder, cruder Apatow territory. It thinks ladies letting lose with genitalia specific quips is new and novel. And on the opposite end of the spectrum both creatively and commercially is Marc Webb’s wonderful (500) Days of Summer. Offering cinematic cool kids Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a vignette oriented effort, it spins the entire structure of the he/she courtship into something more closely akin to life. As a result, while the mainstream Truth continues the genre’s tragic downfall, (500) Days finds hope among the hokum.

The biggest problem with The Ugly Truth, aside from the basic elements of entertainment value (a severe lack of same) and humor (ditto) is in how it portrays people. Heigl’s character is an uptight TV producer who’s so anal and obsessive in her life - interpersonal and professional - that she can’t get a man. It’s not a question of looks, or putting herself out there. Her personality reeks of the uber-feminist, the callous career gal who wants it all and yet has no friggin’ realistic idea how to get it. And all she wants, oddly enough, is a dick.

Into her stunted life walks media darling male chauvinist oinker Butler. Offering advice that would give cavemen the creeps, he’s all about the bimbo. Shake your moneymaker, he argues. Treat men like butt-scratching demigods. Play up their insecurities and downplay your smarts. Objectify yourself and the guys will go ga-ga…and you know what, it works! Heigl uses Butler as a kind of revisionist Cyrano, guiding her into a relationship with a dopey dreamboat doctor. A couple of musical montages later, and our heroine realizes that she doesn’t want the passable pretty boy. Instead, she craves Butler’s Neanderthal machismo - and what it’s packing down below. One big shout down later and its kiss, kiss…coitus

Typical of the way current Hollywood treats love, Truth turns personality into cartoons, women and men both forced into farce for what someone thinks is a meet-cute comedic design. When Heigl “accidentally” wears a pair of vibrating panties to an important business dinner, you just know those suckers will eventually go off. Similarly, when Butler gets “busy” with a couple of Jell-O spelunking bikini babes, you quickly realize his level of commitment. No matter the muddle backstory given to both, the decent guy dimensions of his relationship with his nephew or her stark realizations over her own insecurities, we wind up with pawns played clumsily toward a check lifemate closure.

(500) Days on the other hand, starts out with a premise that many used to the old formulas will find disconcerting. Deschanel plays a love object who doesn’t believe in the first part of the tag. She’s a recently relocated secretary who sees relationships as the foundation of a strong friendship. But romance and true feelings of affection are just hyped-up Hallmark greetings. She’s not above said sentiments - she just doesn’t think they exist. Gordon-Levitt, however, is hopeless. He pines and spoons, worshiping such antiquated conceits as “love at first sight” and “the soulmate”. Sure, life has led him a little astray, a failed career in architecture resulting in a job writing greeting cards, but for someone who believes in the whole “roses are red” ridiculousness, said occupation seems more than apropos.

Webb, who directed music videos before making his big screen debut, presents their on-again/off-again dating game in fragmented, randomized sequences. One moment, we are at Day 45 and seeing the start of something sexual. The next, it’s Day 210 and Deschanel is showing signs of tuning out. From the initial (Day 1) meeting to the (Day 400) possible parting, each 24 hour cycle is decisive, offering the piece of a puzzle which argues for the success, or collapse, of such human endeavors. Gordon-Levitt may be an impossible romantic, but he’s also a post-modern realist. If such a fairy tale ending doesn’t happen, it’s not really the end of the world. It will hurt, but that’s what life is all about. But it’s definitely not something a musical montage will remedy.

Aside from obvious elements like a genuine sense of humor, a glorious Smiths-ccentric soundtrack, and a pair of likeable 20-something stars, (500) Days also differs from The Ugly Truth in one significant way - it’s not afraid of failure. Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt may seem perfect together, but life doesn’t always give Prince Charming his proposed royal Miss. Indeed, the strongest statement made by this movie is that, unlike the “destined to be” dumbness of Heigl’s stuck up bitch bowing to Gerard, not all “perfect matches” are same. Sometimes, the flowery language of ballads and sonnets is just that - bullshit. Only in Hollywood could two polar opposites pretend to fall freely into something akin to ‘happily ever after’. In the real - if still slightly mannered - world of (500) Days, boy does always end up with the girl, perhaps, because they do really need to.

Of course, when you’ve got the major backing of the Tinseltown studio system behind you, your wish fulfillment message is going to make the bigger mainstream splash. This past weekend, The Ugly Truth took in a little over $27 million. Released in over 2880 theaters nationwide, this is seen as a strong opening for Heigl and her burgeoning A-list movie career. (500) Days of Summer, however, has earned a paltry $3 million in its two weeks in theaters. Granted, it recently expanded to 85 venues, but one can hardly call it a solid success - at least, not right now.

If there was any real justice in the movie making business model, Truth would be rejected as the flimsy star vehicle whimsy it is, while (500) Days would top the charts and champion a whole new category of clever, confident “realistic” romantic comedies. Like Woody Allen did back in the ‘70s with the sensational one-two punch of Annie Hall and Manhattan, guy meets gal doesn’t have to be cliché meets commercial crassness. Human beings can and do fall in (and out) of love, and sometimes, watching them do said is entertaining and endearing. The Ugly Truth reflects its unattractive moniker flawlessly. (500) Days of Summer, on the other hand, offers promise to a genre that, for the most part, is desperate, dateless…and almost dead. 

by shathley Q

27 Jul 2009

James Buchanan Barnes, Captain America’s former kid sidekick ‘Bucky’, glowers at the tribute erected to fallen Captain America Steve Rogers. From this view Barnes remains unseen, but his reflection expresses both his intensity and his distress. The only ‘actual’ object appearing in this panel, Cap’s empty costume and shield fully convey the sense of loss experienced with the demise of a legend.

Barnes will shortly, after reading a letter from Steve Rogers requesting he do so, take up the mantle of Captain America. For the moment however, the icon remains out of reach. Ironically an awareness of the shield and costume as fake, do nothing to alleviate the burden of memory. However close Bucky may once have been, the icon of Captain America has now become interminable.

The construction of the panel, the hero of the story remaining off-panel, while separated from an iconic role by a panel of glass offers the briefest of essays on the superhero. In a common-sense understanding, it is the icon, and not the hero that endures. Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting however provide a careful criticism of this notion, the same one that underpins generational superheroes like Lee Falks’ the Phantom or the modern Flash lineage. While the icon, Cap’s costume and shield, at first glance seem substantial and enduring beyond Steve Rogers, it is ultimately the absence of both Rogers and Barnes (whose emotion animates this panel) that has the greatest effect.

Heroes are heroes for a reason, Brubaker seems to be saying. Without them the icons they drape themselves in, are just empty suits.

by PopMatters Staff

27 Jul 2009

Yo La Tengo
Popular Songs
Releasing: 8 September (US)

01 Here to Fall
01 Avalon or Someone Very Similar
01 By Two’s
01 Nothing to Hide
01 Periodically Double or Triple
01 If It’s True
01 I’m on My Way
01 When It’s Dark
01 All Your Secrets
01 More Stars Than There Are in Heaven
01 The Fireside
01 And the Glitter Is Gone

Yo La Tengo
“Here to Fall” [MP3]

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