Monday, December 24, 2012

Recipe and food schtuff: Holiday edition 1

Oh the holidays,  I'm so glad I don't work retail anymore.  People always ask me, "Why are you such a Scrooge?"  I usually reply, "You ever work in a place where Christmas is a corporate shill nightmare and Christmas music is on repeat for eight hours a day and you go home and dream of Christmas merchandise and 'White Christmas' now sounds like a funeral dirge?"  And then the nice man in the white coat with a net comes and gives a ride back to Happydale.

The real upside to the holidays is food (and being with people you don't want to sell into white slavery).  Now we all know that I've been known to make a turkey or ham at random but for the holidays I've been known to do something different.  Last year I spent it with friends; they made goose and I did a pot roast (that cooked at about 275 for over four hours).  This year they're doing another goose and since it's going to be a bigger affair than the three of us gorging ourselves like ticks we decided to kick it up a notch.  Hence an eleven pound goose and an eleven pound standing rib roast.  Ooo, fancy pantsy you say?  Yeah, kind of better than turkey and ham but we shop smart and got hella good deals.

I've never made a goose.  Personally that's all Amazonbutterfly's domain and seems to require a level of elbow grease I'm not normally willing to put forth.  I'm doing the standing rib roast.  Kids, let me tell you a secret.  Ready?  It's one of the easiest things you will ever make.  Seriously, it's easier than turkey.  Sure you can do all kinds of fancy stuff and hibbity jibbity but this is one of those dishes where simplicity reigns.  350 @ 15 minutes per pound.  Whilst preheating the oven liberally apply (a.k.a. coat that sucker) fresh black pepper and kosher salt (why do you even own "table" salt?).  Put roast in sufficiently large pan.  Put pan containing roast in oven.  Set timer (easy math?  one hour = four pounds).  Timer goes off, take stuff out of oven, let rest fifteen minutes.  Tada, you just made a big ass fancy roast.

It's one of the things I grew up eating on Christmas and my father would sometimes add herbs to the rub and I might have except I was out of everything except dill.  I might have used #42 but I'm cooking for a mixed crowd so I didn't want to throw anyone off.  This is one of those dishes where the meat itself is the main attraction and should not require bells or whistles.

The tricky part for me is going to be making gravy because I never make gravy.  I know it's relatively easy, I just never do it.

I am also going to make Yorkshire pudding because, well, that's what one does with a proper roast.  It's pretty simple and cooks while the roast is setting.  It's basically egg, milk, flour, salt, pepper, and roast drippings mixed and baked.  I frigging love the stuff.  Last night I prepped all the dry ingredients (and added a few dashes of herbs de provence for fun) so I wouldn't have to monkey with them today.  Lookit me bein teh smrts.

So yeah, that's the long and short.  Hopefully everything turns out okay.  There will probably be some pictures.

Hope that all of are well and safe and relatively not miserable.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Oh look another EVE post. Mining and space trucking.

After a six month hiatus from the the harsh mistress that is EVE Online I shuffled back meekly.  I've noticed the emerging pattern of playing for a few months and then taking a few months off and coming back.  It's usually after an update to the game.  Retribution launched 12/04/12 with a wide range of tweaks to cruisers, frigates, and destroyers.  They also added the Venture, an ORE mining frigate.

Pretty friggin sweet for an entry level miner like myself.

I love the Venture for a number of reasons.  I never really gave mining a chance because I never wanted to input the effort to getting a strip miner or exhumer.  Plus big ass mining ships are about as manuverable as a turd with a sail.  The Venture is a peppy little bastard that mines about 5000m3 ore with current crappy skills in about ten minutes (levelling mining skills is pretty quick compared to some of the wait times I have for LV drones and ships).  With refining and yadda yadda I can make roughly ten million isk per hour.  Not that I particularly need the money right now but money is nice.  Mining ain't exactly a thrilling gig but it's a nice change of pace from regular carebearing.  

The call of nullsec is something I've ignored since my my third week of play (06/13/2011) but since I've been thinking about getting into interstellar shipping and smuggling for something fun and new to do (without mucking into pvp).  OK, fine I want the Millenium Falcon.  There, I said it.  The forums have some interesting info about how to take down Blockade Runners and I found a good article comparing builds.  Mabrick wrote an interesting article about the need for overhauling haulers

I've expanded my usual AO since stumbling across a small population system kind of off the beaten path.  It's a nice change of pace and allows for an expansion of resources without a risky commitment.  With a longer trade route I'm considering setting up permanent way stations and start preparing to get into nullsec or at least setting up a post near a high risk area.
Fly safe and remember to d-scan always.

1000th Post!

One thousand posts since 2007!  A lot has happened in the last five years.  Thanks for reading and putting up with my bullshit.  Here's to a thousand more!


Thursday, December 13, 2012

999.9: Settings and set pieces I love in video games

I was just reading some articles about level design theory and settings and some technical stuff and I started thinking about some of my favorite games and settings.  Figured I'd do a list of stuff I like.  Feel free to add anything I forgot:

  •  The Hitman series has some of the best - and most memorable - levels I can think of from the Meat King's Slaughterhouse to the Opera to a vast Russian airbase.  The motel sequence in Absolution was the best part of the entire game and really the key reason to playing it all.  
  • Libraries.  I love libraries in RL and in  games just as much, even if it isn't during an action sequence.  In any RPG I'll head towards libraries ASAP and check every shelf for books and loots.
  • Museums.  Fallout 3, GTA IV, Stranglehold, and Arkham City all had excellent museum levels.  Like libraries I'll scour the place for loot and hidden objects.
  • Cities and urban environments.  
  • Casinos - because blowing up slot machines and taking cover behind flipped over blackjack tables is fun (Rainbow 6: Vegas has the best Vegas levels...uh...hence...uh...)
  • Large scale bridge battles.  
  • Vaults in Fallout 3 and Vegas.  Like dungeons but with less stupid nature involved.
  • The final techno-dungeon in Final Fantasy VI.
  • The "San Francisco" level of War of the Monsters.
  • Cyberpunk.  All of it.
  • Though I've yet to encounter one: the hive cities of Warhammer 40K.  I've never understood why there wasn't a truly epic Necromunda RPG.  The possibilities of awesome are limitless.
  • For bombed out city sniper-y goodness Sniper Elite takes the cake.  Sure the game could hate you, especially if you ramp up the difficultly but man there was intense action involved.
  • The Dark World in Legend of Zelda for the SNES.
  • Vice City.  All of it.
  • The mansion at the end of Manhunt.
  • The first Metroid.
  • The castle in Ico.
  • LV-426.
  • London in The Getaway.  I actually dug out a street map of London to help me get around.  The game had some control and play issues and ended up with some shitty missions at the end but damn it was fun to drive around.
  • The office buildings in Shadowrun (SNES).  Man that was awesome fun.
  • Arkham Asylum was just brilliantly designed.
  • The Brooklyn level of Freedom Fighters.
  • Trench warfare
  • The Black Deep (?) in Skyrim was pretty frigging epic.
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent.  Talk about claustrophobic and nightmarish.
  • Silent Hill 2 & 3.
  • The Secret World's level design is amazing, too bad the game sucked.  
  • Red Dead Redemption's Mexico.
  • The funhouse in Max Payne 2.
Now for where I don't need to go anymore:
  • Laboratories
  • The fucking jungle, except in Far Cry 2.
  • Warehouses
  • Mining sites
  • I'm getting tired of caverns and caverny dungeons.  Yes, I realize that in fantasy RPGs baddies would live in caverns, caves, etc but jeez do they have to be so drab?  And why are there torches and fires lit everywhere - even if the denizens would have no need for any light?  And where are the bioluminescents?  Yes, Skyrim had them but there were also plenty of bland Draugur sites too.
  • Brown and grey palettes are staples.  I know, I know destroyed areas are burned out and charred and dirty but do the levels need to look so flat and rote?  Ico and Shadow of Colossus both had limited palettes but there was a richness to them, a depth.
  • The sticks.  I'm looking at you GTA: SA.
  • Kashyyk
  • Raccoon City

Coming soon - "What do you mean I can't turn Auto Equip off?", "I just ran out of space in inventory.  Why the fuck can't I have a pack horse or a wagon?", "How hard is it for me to bring all my followers with me?  Just scale up the difficulty!"*

*This last whine has been a long standing complaint of mine since playing Final Fantasy VI.  In that game you broke your characters into teams and at many points in the game it worked brilliantly.  In the stunningly good Suikoden III you built a town out of followers (108!) found throughout the game and multiple story arcs but you could only sally forth with a few - most of the time (this game remains in my top five favorite RPGs of all time).  I'd love to see a game in which you amass individual followers and build an army and by the end of the game, facing the big bad and his legions of forces you command your own large force (with friendly NPC perma-death - Mass Effect did feature this and I think it's one of the strongest elements to the game).  How frigging epic would that be?  Lately I very rarely care about companions or what their story is, a large number of helper monkeys are just Smitty to me.  "Smitty carry this shit."  "Smitty be a bullet magnet."  "Jesus, Smitty get the fuck out of the way!  I'm sniping ova 'ere!  Dumb shit!"  "Smitty, if you don't get get this jeep and man the .50 I'm gonna run over your fingers and then beat you for not playin' 'Chopsticks'!"  "Damn it Smitty!  I shoulda mailed it to the Marx Brothers!"      

999.8 "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012) dir Christopher Nolan

I like Batman, you like Batman, we all like Batman.  I really dug The Dark Knight despite the fact it spawned a new generation of Joker dorks (which I would have gone apeshit for if I was in high school, hell I might even have bought a purple velvet coat) rabbiting, "Why so serious?"  I didn't really jump on the hype-wagon for The Dark Knight Rises.  I knew I would see it eventually but didn't make an effort to see it in the theater. 

After watching it last night I am slightly non-plussed.  While I am a fan of the direction Nolan took the series (though I didn't particularly like Batman Begins) this latest installment came off as sound and fury, signifying nothing.  Not so say I didn't enjoy elements of it or I failed to get swept up in some of the action and imagery of the film but all in all, I doubt I'll be seeing it again unless it's on at someone's house.

I am under the impression that either I know too little about this chapter of Batman lore or I know just enough to get me into trouble.  I read the "Knightfall" arc and enjoyed it (what can I say?  I like it when superheroes get smashed into paste) but I don't recall Bane being part of the League of Shadows or his story besides being an insane bad-ass all jacked up on combat drugs.  Why was there no real explanation of Bane's mask?  Am I just stupid or did his story arc just seem kind of disjointed?  There were sections of the second half of the movie where I was pulled out of the movie with thoughts of, "Huh?  Meh, fuck it.  Bay-splosions!"  Why was this iconic moment so lacklustre in the movie?

Batman #497 by Doug Moench and Jim Aparo

Hell I think I would watch "Knightfall" and "Batman Learns to Walk Again" as a two-parter.  Could you imagine how people would have reacted if Rises had ended that way?  It would warp their fragile little minds.

Oh well, a lot of people liked it.  Just wasn't my cup of tea.  I'm gonna see if I still have some of the "Broken Bat" comics. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

999.7: Far Cry 3 (Ubisoft Montreal) 2012

I just finished Far Cry 3.  Now I'm really tempted to rip this game a new one but I'm also trying to separate my love of Far Cry 2 from the equation.  It's not bad game and it weren't a Far Cry game I think I'd be more inclined to like it, maybe.  Frankly I'm wishing I had a copy of Just Cause 2 for some jungle mayhem.

I reckon I'll break this down into a list of good and bad like I normally do.


  • Playing an FPS that has color in it.  Not the cartoon-y mayhem of the Borderlands series but lots of lush greens, beautiful island paradise vistas, etc etc instead of the standard Soviet-Bloc greys and browns most FPS have these days.
  • Combat is fast and furious.
  • A couple of missions were white-knuckle fun.
  • Hostile wildlife including: sharks, bears, tigers, cassowaries.  There's a big hunting component to the first half of the game (hunt and skin beasties then craft better gear).
  • The first half of the game was a lot of fun.
  • Vaas is an amazing villain, one of my favorites in a long time.  He's actually kind of frightening.
  • The game has a strong exploration component with solid rewards.
  • Liberating outposts is the high point of the game (actually land control is one of my favorite aspects of games).  
  • Weapon control is smooth and responsive.  
  • Stealth can be a deciding factor in combat.  Combined with proper recon and the right gear (gotta love remotely detonated C4 charges) you can turn a would be dire situation into a cake walk.
  • The melee system is really good and I hate melee combat.  
  • The fire mechanics are still awesome.  Peg an enemy with a molotov and watch highjinks ensue as runs around screaming whilst setting the scenery ablaze.
  • A .50 sniper rifle is a monster.  Absolutely devastating in the second half of the game.  Heavily armored opponent?  One shot.  
  • The story took some interesting turns and in the first half of the game is absolutely brilliant.
  • I really liked some of the npcs, particularly one you meet in the second half.
  • Despite some reviews griping about the graphics, I thought it looked nice for a game that was released at the end of a console's lifetime.
  • Skill upgrades represented graphically by an increasingly complex tattoo was an interesting design choice.
  • QTE (Quick Time Events).  I realize that this is my age showing but I loathe QTE in games, particularly when they are injected willy-nilly into cut-scenes.  I'm here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, not play Beat Beat Wankervision.  Designers, please, no more QTE.
  • The second half is a let down story wise.  The "big bad" is a compelling character but ultimately has nothing going for him (there is one scene that I went, "Woah, that's kind of  hardcore").  The climax is disappointing and while I see what the developers were going for it seemed heavy handed and trite.
  • Combat in the second half is a joke if you, like me, do all your hunting and crafting in the first half of the game.  Through exploration/collection/liberation of the starting northern island I had all the upgrades and a slew of top-shelf weapons before I set foot in the second part of game.
  • The three "unique" skill trees: Heron, Shark, and Spider are ultimately pointless considering I got all of them unlocked before the end of the game.  If you're going to incorporate individual skill trees then why allow me access to all of them?  Why would I use close combat/heavy weapon skills if I prefer stealth and sniper skills?  Personally I kind of love skill trees and the trend (Skyrim/Borderlands) of rewarding my own play style or allowing me to customize my abilities - even if I can't respec at higher level.
  • Once I managed to get some decent weapons I liked (silenced sniper rifle and C4 are my favorites), I never really felt in danger.  Sure I died and had some pretty intense firefights (one of the best sections of the game stripped me of all my gear and forced me to be a hella sneaky git) but it lacked tension.  
  • The recent trend of being able to buy loot location maps in game turns exploration and the reward of finding stuff into a fairly simple affair.  Yes, I know I don't have to buy the "cheat" maps but it's a temptation I find hard to resist (especially on a rental).  
  • Story missions were, for the most part, sadly linear.  Pretty set pieces but with minimal option for execution and play style preference.
  • While I love land grabbing and liberating outposts and extending my sphere of influence I quickly found that doing so allowed me free reign over areas.  Example: if the enemy holds an outpost then that region is patrolled heavily.  If you get into a firefight, reinforcements show up quickly and you'd better get your running shoes on.  Not so in this game, once you conquer an area you can skip down the road without fear of a jeep full of foes fucking up your day.
  • I basically stuck with the same four weapons the entire game: .50 sniper rifle, RPG, silenced SMG, and flare gun.  All of these I got in the first half of the game, the .50 and SMG were unlocked weapons which were just beasts.
  • I would have been more engaged in the protagonist's character evolution if I had more control over the story.  Choices whether or not to save this person or that, even if it was a detriment/bonus to the story (a la saving the Little Sisters in Bioshock).  Naturally I would have saved everyone but there was no risk/reward involved.  Saving NPCs meant nothing, then again if I had left them to die, meant nothing.  Here's a potential example of what could have been an awesome mission: You infiltrate or storm a holding facility where your friend is kept.  The friend is in no condition to travel and barely able to survive.  Do you do everything you can to save them and make mission completion staggeringly difficult or do you cut your losses, leave them there to die, and have an easier time of escaping?  If you save them you get something awesome and you're a hero to your friends.  If you leave them, you're a shit but the villain will later reward you because you're an evil fucker.  FC3 doesn't do that.      
Why Far Cry 2 was better:
  • Weapons would degrade based on quality and maintenance.  Some weapons were just shitty to start with and would jam after half a clip.  This led to some insane tension in firefights where a weapon would shit out at the worst possible moment, leaving you up the creek, fending off enemies with a spork and a single flare gun round.  
  • Destrucible environment was superior and made for some brilliant engagement planning.  FC3 has this as well but it was more dynamic and responsive in FC2.  A single well placed round in a propane tank could rain holy terror down on foes.  Fire was also much more of a component in FC2 and different environments would burn better than others.  Dense jungle in a rainstorm, fuckin useless.  Dry day on savannah?  Fuego!  FC3 fire burns pretty much about the same everywhere, more or less, in any weather condition.
  • There has to be a middle ground between FC2 and FC3 outpost system.  In 2 outposts would respawn often making every journey a risky gamble.  In 3, you're golden once you've wrested control away.  I am a big fan of the system used in Red Dead Redemption zombie DLC where you would be at risk of losing an area.  Personally I would use a system which required a certain amount of micromanagement as the player's influence grew, more befitting a leader weighed down with responsibility than some uber-mensch ass whoopin his way through an island paradise.  If memory serves, Saint's Row 2 used this system.  It's up to the player to defend his holdings and widen his sphere of influence and power.
  • I wish FC2 and the first half of FC3 stories had a baby.  Hell if the first half of FC3 had been a DLC I would have purged all bodily fluids at once.  The ending of FC2 might have been abrupt but it was fitting. 
FC3 isn't a "bad" game and if you're just looking for some run and gun it's worth renting at least.  I was pretty excited about it and if I had had the money I would have picked it up.  As it is, I'm glad I rented it because there's no way I am gonna play this again.  Frankly I think I might download FC2 for the PC and find out what kind of awesome mods are out there (even though I've played FC2 through three times).

Monday, December 03, 2012

Post 999.6: Sharp Objects (2006) Gillian Flynn

For some reason I never review books on this site, mainly because I don't read all that much any more that isn't about food or history or the history of food or essays.  I thought I had lost my taste for fiction (besides short stories and George R.R. Martin).  This semester I took a Horror Fiction class and it's been kind of a kick in the pants for me, I had read almost all of the assigned texts except for the final book, Gillian Flynn's first novel Sharp Objects.  I initially read a good chunk of it while sucking down beers and was thoroughly blown away.  Today I decided to restart the book from the beginning and not drink while reading it.  I needed a drink after finishing it.  Hell, I might need a shower after reading it.

Sharp Objects is a modern psycho-sexual thriller instead of a standard horror novel.  As a fan of gruesome procedural crime shows (Law & Order: SVU) I figured I had some of the plot pegged pretty early.  There are some familiar side characters and themes but many similarities to the genre are non-existent due to; Flynn's prose (which at times is frighteningly sharp), her protagonist Camille, and the general miasma of unease Flynn imparts.  Stephen King's blurb on the back jacket calls it, "An admirably nasty piece of work, elevated by sharp writing and sharper insights."  I'm hard pressed to think of a better adjective than "nasty".  This book, in a number of ways, reminds me of some of my favorite American thrillers from the 1970s.  Bloody, cruel, almost unrelenting in their nastiness, completely willing to grab you by the scruff of the neck and rub your nose in how shitty human beings can be to one another but then at the end of it you want more.

I'll be honest, I don't read many female authors.  To be sure I love Shirley Jackson, Joyce Carol Oates, Daphne DuMaurier, Anne Tyler, and there are one or two others whose names escape me but if you look at my collection it's mostly men.  I don't have anything against women authors but, frankly sexist of me, my experience with genre fiction leans me towards men, particularly when it comes to mysteries and thrillers.  I'm more of Jim Thompson kind of guy than Elizabeth Peters or those series where busybodies and their cat(s) solve crimes.  When it comes to movies, it's a different story but for books, yeah I go for gruff drunken noir with sultry vixens and broads with moxie.

Flynn knocked me on my ass from page one.  She has the terse, brick to the face style I adore.  And she kept me on the back foot, not plot wise (though the ending is vicious doozy), but because Camille is such a dynamic, foreign character to me.  With most of the male protagonists I can find something to connect to or engage in some hero worship (who doesn't want to be Phillip Marlowe?) but with Camille, there was minimal connection.  I felt deep empathy for her and was engaged by her character and at times felt painfully protective of her but as a male reader at times I felt at turns, uncomfortable (creeped out at one or two points by Camille and often by the book's other female characters), sheepish, and as if I was seeing an aspect of women I either willfully ignored or simply never had any reason to consider (some would call that part and parcel of being a white male privilege).  The sexuality of the book caught me off guard and I'm no prude or stranger to the works of Nin, etc, etc, but there's an edge to it I'm not familiar with.  It is not even a factor of "naked time" but a strong undercurrent of surreal, voyeuristic, jealous longing, constant comparison and appraisal throughout the entire novel.  Abstractly I comprehend, practically I just don't get it.  Limits of my gender consciousness and experience, more than likely.  

From a gender neutral thriller standpoint, Sharp Objects is fucking great.  I wasn't expecting the ending though when I read it again I'm sure it will be apparent (during reading I noticed a couple of clues but was swept up the prose so I just kept moving).  If done right, it would make one hell of a movie.  It moves fast, and at times I had to force myself to slowdown or take a break.  The tension starts early and keeps building, Flynn knows the trick of imparting menace, dread, and sans those a crushing weight of depression into each scene, even the most innocuous scenes.

This is one of those works I want to rant and talk to someone about but I can't because I don't want to give anything away.  Since we are now in the deep and dark December and with the holidays looming, if you're in the mood for something "nasty" about going home again definitely pick this up. I look forward to picking up Flynn's other works.  Well done, Flynn you've gotten me hooked on fiction again.      


Saturday, December 01, 2012

Post 999.5: Hitman Absolution (XBOX 360) Io Interactive

I'm still not done with the 1000th post draft but I wanted to do a review of Hitman Absolution.  

I've been a fan of the Hitman series since Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (2002).  Contracts (2004) was an amazing experience and Blood Money (2006) made me very happy (though not quite as happy as Contracts) made me.  Six years in development and now Absolution has been released and while I had some trepidation going into the latest installment I still had to play it.  I rented it over the Thanksgiving break and completed the main story.

Absolution is, on one hand, the weakest game in the series and on the other, has some really impressive moments.

  • It's a technically splendid experience with minor bugs 
    • in about twenty hours of play I had two freezes on one level and noticed some glitches in graphics (which are to be expected).
    • The amount of lens flare was absurd at times and unnecessary.  There should have been an option to turn it off.  
    • It's not hard not to be impressed with the crowds in Absolution particularly in the Chinatown segments.  Sure you'll see quite a few of the same character models repeated if you look but the overall effect is impressive as 47 navigates his way through the throngs.   
  • The story arc was well done but imposed a linear, unwelcome, feel to the game.
    • The story works for the Hitman mythos and in continuing the narrative from Contracts to Blood Money to Absolution it makes sense.  However the progression through gameplay feels disjointed, like not pausing a movie while you get up to go to the bathroom.  
    • I'm also not thrilled about the whacko element of the story.  Yeah, I know Hitman has a lot of whacko "villians" but this just felt a little over-wrought, veering into GTA territory.    
  • Level design was brilliant on some sections and annoying in others.
    • Chinatown in Absolution is great to look at and offers some interesting tactical options.
    • A hotel penthouse is one of the high points of the game that is reminiscent of previous games.  
    • The entire motel section is brilliant, the high point to the whole game, and the greatest example of what Absolution could have been. 
  • Difficulty was at times uneven and nonsensical and AI matched that.
    • At one time guards would derp before they herped another they would be, well acting the way professional security should act when they see a stranger skulking around.
    • While the cover system works well, yet I could roll from cover to cover in front of guards with nary a speck of interest.

If you're a long-standing fan of the series then I feel you're going to have a few problems with the game.  If you're new to Hitman then you should pick it up.  For me, I'm glad I didn't spend $60 on it.  I plan on going back to Blood Money for a couple of kills.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Post 999: The Walking Dead Season 2 (2011) Spoilers


Post 999 folks, still drafting a 1000th.  In the meantime, since I've torn through Borderlands 2 a good couple of times, I've been watching movie after movie and trying to find other things to watch (whilst avoiding Hulu or downloading or paying for anything else besides Netflix).  Yesterday I realized that the second season of The Walking Dead was on streaming so I figured what the hell and tore through it -finishing off the  last three episodes tonight.

As many of you know I am not a fan of zombies and have a less than flattering opinion of "preppers" (I maintain that while having an emergency kit, a copy of the Army Survival Manual, a bicycle, and a decent flashlight on hand are perfectly reasonable there's been a trend in our society that's gone sideways).  I am also of the opinion that I would not do well or survive long in a post-apocalyptic world (or prison).  Truth be told I always figured I'd be a Glen Bateman, the old fart in The Stand (played by Ray Walston in the surprisingly strong TV adaptation from 1994).  It's not a flattering or really self-deprecating view of myself.  I just don't have the illusion that I will be some kind of bad-ass road warrior zombie smasher (or villian).

The ending of season one of The Walking Dead left me flat and not particularly interested in the second.  The CDC explosion made me actually say, "Oh come the fuck on."  Fuck that ending.  That being said, I'm going to start rewatching season one after I finish this post because there was a lot I forgot about that season which influenced the second.

Season two is, despite a few problems, really fucking good.  There are a number of themes I wish were developed more instead of being touched on (age/gender/race roles in their world).  I would have liked to see a stronger development of T-Dog (IronE Singleton) - though I expect he's going to come into his own in season three.  There also could have been one "breather"/mounting tension episode after #11 "Judge, Jury, and Executioner" but I realize the end of the season just snowballs into mayhem.  I just prefer the pacing of the first half and the development of the relationships between Glenn and Maggie and in particular Daryl and Carol.

I have to say, I was really impressed by the writing and acting between Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBride) and it really sold me on the entire season.  Where you'd stereotypically put Daryl in Shane's camp, he turns out to be a character who reminds me of Sandor Clegane in a bizarre way (only less brutal).  Carol has turned into one of my favorite characters over the course of this season.  She's not a bad ass but she reminds me of Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother".  There's a hard edge of endurance to her, not just base drive for survival.

Hawaiian shirts are the new red shirts.  Dale got Whedoned.  I was a little pissed that the breather/tension build episode didn't take place after his death.  But that's just me being a fan of Hawaiian shirts and old farts.

Andrea (Laurie Holden) has turned into a beast of a bad-ass and I look forward to rewatching the first season to watch her development.  She kind of "holy shitted" me near the end of second season when she breaks away from Shane's influence and comes into her own (particularly in the last few episodes).  I wish she had been able to meet up with the group again because she would be the new Rick.  I also love that she gives Lori a well needed verbal ass-kicking.  AND DUDE WHO IS THE KATANA WIELDING, HOOD WEARING MOTHERFUCKER?!?

I'm really impressed by the way female characters are depicted in The Walking Dead.  We've seen the bad-ass assassin/vixen/shake'n'bake if you've watched enough movies you know the tropes and stereotypes.  The Walking Dead has them but there's an unexpected depth to them that few of the male characters have.  Rick/Shane/Glenn/Dale/Daryl/Hershel are all recognizable male archetypes.  That doesn't make them unsympathetic or necessarily paint by numbers but I dunno, I'm kind of into the series because of Carol, Andrea, and to a certain extent (though I don't like her) Lori.  


Thursday, November 01, 2012

Random idle thoughts about the horror genre:

One of the benefits of taking a class about horror fiction (besides rereading stories and books I haven't read in a long time with a much different perspective) is being in an environment with people who aren't necessarily horror fans (it's an English Honors class) or who aren't horror buffs who have seen and read everything.  Through their experience with the texts, I'm allowed - in a strange way - to look at some works from a fresh perspective (with some interesting insights to the genre).

I told my classmates as much the other day but then I got to thinking about the sentiment further after I watched Black Sunday and thought about what I was going to say in my review.  It's a tough thing being a genre fan because you know what's coming, you know the tropes, the archetypes, the twists, and in a certain way desensitized - or perhaps more accurately unimpressed due to familiarity - therefore being at risk of turning into an overly critical, cranky, know-it-all (who really doesn't know all that much) who people think hates everything (not that I would know anything about that).

In a strange way this familiarity doesn't breed contempt so much as it takes the fun out of watching (or reading).  Example: We were assigned Du Maurier's brilliant short story "Don't Look Now" (1971).  About halfway through the story I had this nagging suspicion that I knew the piece though I had never read it.  As the story progressed I realized that I had seen Don't Look Now (1973) and was vaguely disappointed by knowing the shock waiting for me at the end of the piece.  Sure, I felt a little bit of pride and "Ohhhhhh, it's that movie." but still I got to the end and it didn't blow me away.  I basically spoilered myself.

There's also a tough habit to break (especially if I'm not involved in a movie) where I simply begin dissecting the movie while making jokes (I can't help but think of a coroner who eats a sandwich while saying rude shit about the corpse on the table).  I'm looking at the technical aspects.  I'm more interested in set dressing than I am in the action.  The bad writing becomes much more apparent.  If I'm lucky I can go glassy-eyed and just stare at the pictures on the tv box (or I'll put on some nature show narrated by Richard Attenborough or Patrick Stewart).

However, if a movie does engage me I'll sit there in rapt attention like a toddler (though I'll say to myself, or Moxie, or the person I'm watching it with, almost shocked, "This is actually really fucking good").  Those movies usually end up as favorites that I do my best to show other people.  One of my favorite modern horror movies  is Eduardo Sanchez's Altered (2006).  Every time I watch it, usually showing someone else for their first time, I get completely into it.  It's just so well done and I can't think of a single movie I've seen like it.  I think I've seen it probably a dozen times.  Strange that I've never done a review of it.  Gonna have to remedy that.

This has gotten a bit meandering and I need to start drafting the 1000th post so I'm gonna leave you folks with a very rough top ten of my favorite horror movies.  I call these favorites because of the number of times I have rewatched them and "enjoy" every time for a laundry list of reasons.  Yes, there are some of them which might not be "horror" movies but contain shit that scared me or have left an indelible grisly mark on me.  I'm considering doing a top 25 with a short review of each because this list is made up primarily of movies I've seen the most and does not include favorites I've seen less than a half-dozen times (e.g. Romero's original Night of the Living Dead, Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects, and Medak's The Changeling).

  1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) dir Tobe Hooper
  2. Poltergeist (1982) dir Tobe Hooper
  3. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) dir Steven Spielberg
  4. Dog Soldiers  (2002) dir Neil Marshall
  5. Altered (2006) dir Eduardo Sanchez
  6. The Thing (1982)  dir John Carpenter
  7. Alien (1979) dir Ridley Scott
  8. The 'Burbs (1989) dir Joe Dante
  9. Predator (1987) dir John McTiernan
  10. Jaws (1975) dir Steven Speilberg


Black Sunday a.k.a La Maschera del Demonio (1960) dir Mario Bava

Mario Bava is one of those directors whose name I've seen time and time again and whose films I'm seen referenced almost as often.  Until recently I never really thought about sitting down and watching one of them.  I can't remember where but I saw a clip from Black Sunday and figured it was about time to give it a view.  Of course it wasn't on netflix streaming and I can't rent anything from the video store because it's too far to bike to (and probably wouldn't have any Bava movies anyway plus I owe them a shit ton in overdue fees).  However, just in time for Halloween, netflix added the movie so I sat down yesterday and gave it a watch.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, probably some early example of giallo.  Well, it is but not to the extreme of Fulci and Argento but I can see where they might have drawn inspiration from Bava.  Black Sunday is a tough movie to review because there are many elements which I appreciated but over all the movie wasn't terribly good and the English dubbing was pretty friggin' bad (not Ed Wood bad) almost to the point of making the movie impossible to take seriously.  If it had been in Italian and subtitled I might have enjoyed it more.

Black Sunday is one of those old horror movies that isn't "good" (though it's considered by some to be a masterpiece) but if you're looking at it as a progenitor of later Italian horror it's kind of cool.  Technically Bava (a cinematographer on his directorial debut) has a good eye.  Many of his shots are fascinatingly composed and he does several slow pans that I rewound to get a better look and a few that I wished I was much better versed in film making so I could figure out how he got certain results.

The effects were unexpectedly grotesque and though in one section it's obviously a prop (the flesh melts off a head) the result was suitably grisly.  This is one of those movies where, though the visual effects and make-up are laughably crude by today's standards they do the trick at getting into your head and all of a sudden what you're seeing in your head is far more horrific than what you're seeing on screen (e.g. the scene in Night of the Living Dead when the zombies are tearing apart the young couple who have burned to death).

Barbara Steel cuts an impressive figure on screen.  An English actress, she was over-dubbed for the film's international release.  She's got a great look, oddly innocent at one moment and frighteningly erotic (like she's gonna pull your skin off and make it look like sexy fun) in others.  Again, not what I was expecting and I'm interested in seeing how she is in other films.

I'm on the fence about how Black Sunday is a masterpiece.  I'm sure if I saw it in a film class or read some brilliant film critiques of it I could appreciate it more.  Apparently it was a huge hit and Bava went on to direct thirty-seven movies.  Steel has been in fifty movies after Black Sunday - including the thriller The Butterfly Room (2012).

I'd be interested to see a remastered version in Italian to really get the full effect.  Worth watching but only if you're a horror buff who can appreciate older films (and their impact on later, more well known directors).  Casual modern horror fans (sweeping generalization) will be unable to get past the dated aspects and end up missing the horror elements.   

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Prometheus (2012) dir Ridley Scott

Achtung!  Spoilers!

The long and short?  If it hadn't been an addition to the Alien mythos it still would have been a very well polished but ultimately lacklustre plug-and-play sci-fi movie (that would have been compared to Alien anyway).  Now before you start jumping up and down and getting your internet panties in a wad, take a breath, maybe go get some sunlight and fresh air, and come back to this review.

Prometheus was not a movie I was expecting much at all from and from the opening credits I was intrigued and pleasantly surprised.  It's a stunning piece of science fiction and as a ship geek I thought the craft was stellar.  The set design and awesomely awesome technology sold me the instant I saw it.  David (Michael Fassbinder) drifting alone through the ship, educating himself, emulating O'Toole's T.E. Lawrence, and keeping watch over the human passengers was a solid hook for me (and personally I could have watched a movie solely about the development and journey of self-awareness of an artificial human in such an environment).  The sections of the film centered around David were the most engaging for me (then again I'm fascinated by A.I. , cybernetics, and all that shit).

Even when the humans began to emerge from cryo-sleep and I tried my best not to immediately tick off the boxes in my head of stereotypes and play "oh look it's..." the movie still kept me engaged.  Okay, star map to our creators left...blah blah blah gotcha "Is this gonna be a stand up fight, Sir?  Or another bug hunt?"  Let's get this shit moving.

Humans and David arrive at the planet of the creators (oh look a LV planet - *cough* hint *cough*) and they go into an alien structure and begin exploring.  Okay, so far so good.  Still engaged and then there's an incoming storm!  Back to the ship!  But wait - what happened to the comic relief duo?  Oh they got left behind!  There's a ping!  Oh noes.  And then the movie just kind of lost me.

Frankly, it was a combo platter of pseudo-intellectual sci-fi hibbety-jibbety with "thinly" veiled allusions to modern societal woes, vaguely nonsensical monsters (yeah, mutagenic properties, gotcha) which - for me completely take the horror and appeal out of the Xenomorphs, and there's a bunch of crap about characters with barely any development oh and then they get offed so I didn't need to worry about them anyway.  Then there's the self-sacrifice and some drivel about holding the creators accountable.  The end.  Oh wait, chest burster.

I realize I'm being snarky but the second half just lost me and yanked me back into reality.  During the second section I kept thinking, "What?" or "But..." and then got some Gummi Bears and looked at the pretty pictures.  It was as if the movie wanted to be Solaris-y but then also had to be part of the Alien series (or failing that a horror-y sci-fi flick) and had to do some mental gymnastics to make it all work. 

After watching it I thought about it and then watched a documentary about something immemorable and went to bed.  I thought about Prometheus over the course of the day before sitting down to write this.  I have decided to look at it as if it were not part of the Alien series and instead look at it like a sci-fi movie done by one the genre's best directors and two writers, Jon Spaights and Damon Lindelof (Spaights' first major script and Lindehof wrote for Lost - a show I found insufferable).

Again, first half pretty awesome and then second half falls apart through a lack of character development (Charlize Theron was wasted in this movie and I think she's one hell of an actress but she had nothing to work with), vaguely sketched out the aliens created us in their image but made mutagenic "weapons of mass destruction" (no seriously, the Captain says, "Weapons of mass destruction". I shit you not.  When he said that, I said, "Oh for fuck's sake." and went to take a piss without pausing the movie) to eradicate us because...uh...wait...a friend sent me this link which kind of sums up how I feel: Enchanted Mitten.

And then the aliens, mutated worm thingies, whatever...something something...we've got to hold someone accountable...

I keep thinking of recent sci-fi movies that really worked for me (off the top of my head): District 9, Sunshine, Children of Men, A.I., Chroncile, hell I even liked the remake of Solaris (though I need to watch it again since I was kind of drunk).  Prometheus doesn't work as well as those do, which is kind of sad because I really wanted to like it.  Come to think of it, I feel the same way as I did about Inception (though Inception was a better movie despite all the dream jive that had been dealt with in Satoshi Kon's films - that's a whole nother can of worms).  Great concept, visually stunning, undercut by shoddy writing and a pretention that it's offering a lot more than it really is (which smacks of laziness and bullshit in college papers).

I have to get this off my chest:

Alien fucking rules.  You wanna see a horror space flick the way it's supposed to be done?  Watch that again.  I've heard it called boring.  Yeah, that's character development and pacing and setting (important elements of making a great film).  Claustrophobia, fear of the unknown (on a myriad of levels), madness, and a tension that ratchets up to 11, a space ship that looks like it's a living thing and not just some shiny Starfleet plastic boat.  Robble robble robble.  Gripe gripe gripe.  Plus the Xenomorph was actually scary, some ancient sentient gribblie instead of some stupid ass "weapon of mass destruction".  Okay, I'll take my medication now and get back to sittin in my rocker. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Raven (2012) dir James McTeigue

One of my horror movie buddies and I watched this about two weeks ago and we were both kind of surprised.  At the end of it we both said, "Huh, that was a lot better than I expected."

Hell of a way to start a review, right?  I guess I have developed a sort of mentality (flawed, I admit) in this age viral marketing, glancing at metacritic reviews, and only allowing myself to see one trailer for a movie in which I feel I've got a pretty good handle on a movie before I sit down to watch it.  Frankly, this is a shame because it's rare for me to be surprised by movies or my expectations are such that I don't really give a movie the viewing it deserves (for example my first viewing of The Innkeepers wasn't glowing but after a second viewing I enjoyed it a lot more - though it's still not as top shelf as House of the Devil).

I figured The Raven was going to be a period piece thriller with John Cusack being John Cusack and put it on the back burner of my faulty memory until I saw it for rent and figured, "Meh, why not?"

It's actually pretty good.  I wasn't blown away but I was actively engaged (considering some movies I've seen recently that's pretty fucking important) and there were a couple of moments of real suspense.  Cusack is one of those actors who I have a hard time forgetting that I'm watching Cusack but his performance was such that I got caught up in the story and action and forgot that I was watching Cusack (if this sounds absurd think of how many movies you've seen Johnny Depp in and there's no suspension of disbelief because it's always Johnny Depp.  You're often conscious of the actor and not the role they are playing).

There really aren't any flaws to The Raven - except that it suffers from the "too dark" thing some movies have these days.  To clarify, maybe it's the HD factor but it seems like a lot of movies - particularly period pieces are just shot in the Fincher school.  Darkness and shadow are key elements of suspense/horror/thriller etc but there seems to be a lack of richness and depth to the darkness.  For example, Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949) is drenched in shadow but you never find yourself squinting at the screen.  Neil Marshall's The Descent (2005) takes place in a realm of total darkness but he creates a deep sense of claustrophobia and fragility of humanity with his use of negative space.  The Raven is just a dark movie.

Cinematography nitpick aside, it's a solid weekday evening movie.  There are thrills and chills and yeah the plot twist isn't that shocking but it's worth watching (it's a fuckload better than From Hell).

Oh, another nit pick - completely inconsequential - the end credits are completely incongruous from the rest of the movie.  Seriously.  While they are really sharp, if they were played at the beginning of the movie you'd think the movie was about Edgar Allan Poe as "The Raven" a Victorian superhero who battled supernatural baddies by night and wrote about them by day.  Actually, that'd  be kind of cool.  Well, cooler than this Abe Lincoln fighting vampires bullshit.  Ha!  Just had an image in my head of Poe growling "Nevermore" before cold cocking some goon.*

*If I see this in a movie or on the internet in the next few months I expect full credit.

Excision (2012) dir Richard Bates, Jr.

Every so often I watch horror movie that actually kinds of weirds/creeps me out and in a good way (e.g. Brett Leonard's Feed and Lucky McKee's The Woman).  Then there are others that weird and creep me out and leave me vaguely disgusted and feeling like I missed the boat because of my gender (Grace and May are prime examples).  Excision falls firmly into this latter category.

Bare bones, it's the story of Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) a highly disturbed young woman (scrofulous private school upperclassman outcast) who comes from an upper middle class Virginian family.  It's a combination [psycho]sexual awakening and descent into madness film that at times is difficult to watch for several reasons.

The primary reason is McCord's portrayal of Pauline reminded me of the feral eponymous woman from McKee's film only with a more sophisticated intellect and Eihi Shiina's Asami Yamazaki in Miike's Audition (1999).  Excision is definitely in the category of ero-guro, which I've become (moderately) less of a fan of over the years.  Pauline is seriously fucking disturbed and despite some mitigating factors which are developed throughout the course of the movie as potential catalysts for her madness I found her to be a fairly unsympathetic character.  If that was the intent of the makers and actress, they certainly succeeded.  I realize that a protagonist does not need to be sympathetic (or even create a sense of empathy) for a film to be "enjoyable".  Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) caused in me a sense of dread and revulsion but I still enjoyed it (though the last time I saw it was when I was into some really bizarre, gruesome, and down right vile movies).

I found myself aligning with the other characters in the movie (casting was really good with cameos from John Waters, Ray Wise, and Malcolm McDowell).  Traci Lords, Roger Bart, and Ariel Winter (as Pauline's mother, father, and sister respectively) turned out some excellent performances - Lords in particular.  At first Lords comes across as a domineering ball buster of a matriarch but while I still didn't like her I found her to be an empathetic character (even though I wouldn't piss on her if she were on fire).

The second reason is, well, Pauline's sexual fantasies are from the internet school of "Things You Can't Unsee".  Not as bad as some of the truly grotesque diseased mind stuff out there but some of the imagery I'm not going to be able to forget easily.  What makes them worse, in a way, is how well shot and sound-mixed they are.  At one point I thought, "Wow, this is really well done.  That is some fucked up shit."

The third is simply Pauline is hard to look at.  In the horror literature class we've been going over works in which the outward appearance of the villain directly correlates to their inward personality.  Standard stuff for horror fans but instead of being a feral woman or deformed hillbilly it's an upper-middle class young woman. Sure, we've seen the geeky outcast who gets picked on because she's not "attractive" cookie cutter Princess girl but Pauline is just kind of nightmarish in her appearance.  She reminded me of some rode hard and put away wet meth-head lot lizard mug shot.  It's kind of brilliant and kudos to McCord for taking the role (I'm unfamiliar with her TV work and don't remember her in movies like The Haunting of Molly Hartley).  I'm interested in what kind of roles she'll take in the future.

My final reason is, well, I find some horror movies with a female protagonist outside my ken.  I love movies which develop a non-traditional character who is far from the hetero-normatives.  However, with Excision (and the aforementioned Grace), there's just something so bizarrely foreign about the protagonist and their motives that I just suffer from a severe disconnect.  This is probably the same factor which didn't let me get through all of Girl Interrupted.  Though Richard Bates, Jr. wrote and directed the movie, I just had a difficult time getting past my gender bias of, "This bitch is fucking crazy and I hope someone puts her in a padded room stat."

I also realize that I've come to dislike (more accurately feel deep discomfort by) movies with extreme examples of mental disturbance.  Not through personal experience per se but because deep psychosis exists in the real world.  There are rare instances of people (regular folks not Charlie Mansons) of having a total break from reality and committing truly heinous acts against other people.  Excision gives the viewer a glimpse inside the head of a person losing their grip.

Despite what may seem like a negative review, Excision  is a well executed horror movie in every respect and I recommend it strongly to fans of Grace, ero-guro, and the like.  It's one of those movies I'm glad I watched but won't be watching again (much like Hard Candy or Fruit Chan's Dumplings).

If you're looking for something "fun" for the Halloween season look elsewhere.  I also do not recommend it for a social viewing.    

Friday, October 19, 2012

Borderlands 2: Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty

Gearbox Software has been crafty as all get out with its DLC.  Mechromancer was released a week early with no warning.  The first full DLC Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty was released Tuesday.  I have to admit, I kind of love being caught off guard by surprise DLC - especially when the content is so damn strong.

I jumped into Scarlett at level 21 and over the course of two evenings bopped up to 25.  I'm really quite pleased with the new areas and all they hold.  Like the rest of B2, there's just more of more.  New enemies (a few of which I actively hate - not because of their models or AI but because of how gnarly they are), new challenges, new characters, and - of course - new guns.  One pistol in particular is a beast.  It's not a game breaker but it definitely dishes out the hurt.  I've also developed a fondness for a particular shotgun (though I've been saving most of the good ones I find for my fellow Vault Hunter Amazonbutterfly) which is just a beast when going up against Hyperion bots.

There are a number of new areas I'm particularly fond of - one is more claustrophobic than Lynchwood though it features a multi-tiered playing field (so does Lynchwood but this section is closed in and there's not as much wiggle room in combat).  A refinery section makes for some intense firefights - though I have to admit I use one of my standard tactics of: sprint into the room, spawn everything, sprint back to a bottle neck, and then shoot the fuckin bejeebus out of anything coming into the bottleneck.  I prefer urban/industrial levels in games because they tend to suit my preferred style of play (stealth/sniper combined with fast paced constant movement).  In open areas I tend to get mobbed and pulled down by weight of numbers (more accurately I end up running like hell and hucking AoE (Area of Effect) grenades in my wake.

Scarlett's story is tailor made for loot hounds and treasure junkies.  Basically, there's a shit ton of treasure out there, go find it.  The treasure hunting side missions are solid and enjoyable, though there were one or two moments where I couldn't find the objective and said some very bad words and made my angry thinking face (it's not pretty, I think my lips turn white and my eyes get this Treasure of the Sierra Madre glint).  The loot is pretty fuckin sweet too, as well it should be considering how hard earned some it was.

Gearbox has also included some top-tier level 50 combat (which I am woefully under-powered to tangle with at this point) with an added incentive of the big bads dropping a unique currency which in turn you can buy...I dunno probably something wicked awesome.  It's also suggested in game that these big bads aren't necessarily easy to take down solo.

I am very, very pleased by this first campaign expansion.  Bethesda and Bioware could learn a lot from Gearbox.

A note (or several) on the level 26 Mechromancer:

All of my points are currently in the "Best Friends Forever" tree.  At 31 I'll pick up the top tier skill of "Sharing  is Caring" which grants Deathtrap (the robot) the same shield as Gaige.  Considering some of the shields I have, I'm kind of stoked.  At first I thought this would be overpowered and with a spike shield it certainly will be but I'm wondering what kind of tactical changes I'll have to make.  I've been sitting on choice electrical damage gear in anticipation of building the "Little Big Trouble" tree.  I'm interested in how that'll work considering most of the time I rely on either fire or corrosion.

I've changed my gaming style with this class.  Oddly enough, probably thanks to the large bonuses I accrued through completing challenges, I've become more aggressive.  I'm not ready for Gunzerker but I've become far less static in my solo play style.  What could conceivably be a very boring class to play has turned out to be a hell of a lot of fun.  The Mechromancer is suited for and allows for a faster style of play than I used with the Commando.  It's not because she's squishier and needs to Legolas out the way of danger, she just plays different.  For example, with the Commando I tend to play a defensive/ranged gambit, using a turret in the way I would use a Bishop (supported by Knight).  With Mechromancer it's more of a Queen/Rook combo (with robot as Queen and Gaige as Rook).  With a full complement of grenades (I finally leveled up enough to have access to my favorites I was using with Commando - Homing Slag Cloud Transfusion x6) and a slew of elemental weapons (a particular favorite is a Dahl assault rifle that carried me through my first play through) I can dish out some serious support fire while Deathtrap is getting stuck in.

I've noticed one good thing about Deathtrap and one bad.  The good is, if my health is full, health bonuses from Transfusion grenades go to him.  That's pretty cool.  The bad is that sometimes Deathtrap is fucktarded.  There have been quite a few times I've been ass deep in combat and numbnuts acts like a Sim refusing to sit at the dinner table (thus earning Deathbot the nickname "Dumbfuck").  90% of the time Deathbot is a Cuisinart of destruction, "snikity-snak Wolverine berserker style" but then - particularly when confronted by a high level enemy - 10% of the time he must be listening to Muzak "Girl From Ipanema".  Deathbot is much better suited for dealing with swarms than individual big bads.  Which I guess is cool, unless I'm crawling around desperately plinking at a boss trying to get a Second Wind.

When all is said and done though, I love Dumbfuck.   Not as much as I love my Maliwan shotgun but close enough.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Avengers (2012) Dir. Joss Whedon

I watched The Avengers last night, mostly out of boredom.  While Iron Man (2008) and The Incredible Hulk (2008) were fucking awesome movies (The Incredible Hulk in particular was just top shelf).  Captain America, Iron Man 2, and Thor all kind of sucked and I don't know much about Hawkeye or Black Widow so I wasn't expecting much.  Perhaps if I was a fan/more familiar with The Avengers I'd be more involved in the movie but I ain't so I wasn't*.

The first half bordered on nap time.  There was a dust-up between egomaniacal Thor and Iron Man, which was cool.  I'm not sure if the whole Loki thing is the way the Avengers assembled for the first time in the comic but damn if I don't give a shit about Loki.

The second half was pretty awesome and the action was genuinely satisfying.

I'm not sure why people were pissing their underoos about The Avengers.  At least it was better than Thor.

*I didn't grow up with comics besides stuff like Sgt. Rock and The 'Nam and horror comics.  That being said, I'm not a huge fan of "superheroes" (Batman and the Punisher are okay in my book) and missed out on a lot of comic book nostalgia that probably fuels fandom for dickbags like Thor or Superman.

Borderlands 2: Mechromancer first impressions

Gearbox rolled out their Mechromancer DLC a week early and I nearly peed on myself.

The new character's name is Gaige and her special ability is summoning an ass kicker of a robot.  Unlike Axton's turrets the robot dishes out melee attacks and takes the fight to the enemy.  It's a real beast of a machine that has quite a few upgrades.  Gaige herself has three skill trees: Best Friends Forever, Little Big Trouble, and Ordered Chaos.  Best Friends Forever grants the most bonuses to the robot, Little Big Trouble has some beastly bonuses to element effects for Gaige, and Ordered Chaos is, well I'm not sure, a combo platter of stat boosters combined with a stacking Anarchy bonus that boosts damage but lowers accuracy.  I'm really sure how Ordered Chaos works but it seems like a fast strike skill tree.  I won't use it because it doesn't appeal to my play style.  I'm going for Best Friends Forever and the sweet ass electricity damage bonuses in Little Big Trouble (including electric dmg possibly causing burn damage).

There's been a bunch of press about lead designer John Hemingway's quip that the Mechromancer is "girlfriend mode".  As in, it's an easy class for new/inexperienced players to get into - particularly with some of the skills in the Best Friends Forever skill tree.  On one hand I'm thinking, "Dude, just because a player might be a girlfriend doesn't mean girls are n00bs."  On another (just pretend I have a lot of hands) I'm thinking, "Y'know, yeah calling the Mechromancer 'girlfriend mode' sucks but it's kind of cool to have a character that inexperienced players of any kind can pick up and have fun with."  On another I'm thinking, "Fuck you, Mechromancer is awesome, fun, and my game play experience is only easier this time through is because I dumped all of my old sweet gear Axton picked up - and all the money - into my Mechromancer."  Hell, I spent an entire evening just playing slots and hoarding eridium (and gear) for my new character.  I've also been tearing through the challenges in the areas available to me (thus giving me even greater bonuses to those I racked up with Axton).

While the bonuses, gear, and loot make life easier the Mechromancer skill tree has not diminished the difficulty of the game (True Vault Hunter Mode was brutal with Axton).  At level 13 (even with bonuses and better equipment than I started Axton with) I'm still having to fight tooth and nail with equal and higher level mobs.  Mr. Robot helps but he's not a crutch or game breaker.  Tactically he's a greater benefit than Axton's turrets or the Gunzerker's rage mode (I haven't tinkered with the Siren yet).  He'll kite and just be a general pain in the ass while I hang back and snipe/toss grenades/pop barrels/etc.  I'm a big fan of summoner/resurrection/mind control classes (the Siren has a skill I'm kind of keen on which allows you to turn enemy against enemy) in games.  I firmly believe in flying monkeys and hired goons.  Why expose yourself to unnecessary risk?

Gaige also does well in multiplayer with Assassin - though during that session I was primarily playing her as kite for Goliaths.  I'd be curious to see how she holds her own along with a Gunzerker or Siren.  We shall see.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Borderlands 2 - First playthrough (no spoilers)

Yup, got through my first playthrough with Commando Lvl 34.  Started over again in True Vault Hunter mode.

I have to say that the climax of B2 was far superior to its predecessor.  Truth be told though I'm looking forward to playing through the story again - there were a couple of sections that really shone and by the last third of the game the main story just clomped along to the end.  I knew I would be restarting the game though so that's all good.

For the first playthrough I clocked in roughly three and half days of gameplay with only two incomplete side quests (arena fights).  Probably about half of that time was me just dicking around finishing side quests and challenges.  I still have a mountain of challenges left (mainly finding hidden icons and co-op challenges) so I'll plink around with those until the Mechromancer comes out. 

And that's the long and short.  As always, if anyone wants to get some co-op in, hit me up. 

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Hole (2009?) dir Joe Dante

Apparently this movie is from 2009 even though I hadn't heard hide nor hair of it since I saw a trailer for it last month and rented it yesterday evening.

That bein' said.

Joe Dante had a massive influence on me as a kid and in my development as sci-fi/horror fan.  Gremlins (1984), and The 'Burbs (1989) are two of my favorite movies of all time (The 'Burbs ranks especially high). I felt that Small Soliders (1998) was a disappointment but I haven't rewatched it since I saw it in the theater.  I was a little disappointed by Dante's "Masters of Horror" releases but then again the "Masters of Horror" series was generally disappointing.  After seeing the trailer for The Hole I have to admit I squeed a little.  It looked like a return to the Dante I grew up on, kind of absurdist, kind of bizarre, twisted humor, and moments of brilliance.

The Hole is a Dante movie and certainly hearkens back to a time when kids could say "dickhead" in a movie meant for kids.  There are some solid creepy moments - I got goosebumps and had to make a conscious effort not to think about them when I went to sleep.  The three young adult actors are solid, I particularly liked the younger brother.  Thematically, it's a cut and dry classic 80s young adult horror film but the way it's handled isn't particularly cheesy.

I need to think of The Hole as a young adult horror movie, not in a nostalgia sense, and in doing so I think I'm appreciating it a lot more.  It doesn't have the "pop" some of the horror/adventure movies I grew up on (The Goonies, Fright Night, Gremlins, Monster Squad), there are moments where the movie felt kind of flat.  The kids' interactions with grown-ups seemed forced (which in retrospect make sense) and one scene which didn't make a whole lot of sense plot wise ended up being a catalyst for a moment of adult honesty which got me a little misty.

The Hole is definitely on my to buy list, not because it's all that great but I think it's a movie a lot of people could appreciate - plus some of the scares are fucking great, prey upon entrenched fears, and teaching kids and grown-ups how to live beyond their fears.  I'd let my kids watch it if they were the age I'd let them watch movies previously mentioned (if I had kids).    

Iron Sky (2012) dir Timo Vuorensola

Dude, Moon Nazis.

I was pretty hyped to see Iron Sky because, well see above.  It's one of those completely absurd bizarro movies that cult statuses all over itself before it even comes out.  The viral campaign was pretty strong but I avoided most of it simply because I didn't want to know much about the movie before seeing it.

Watched it last night and, meh.  It was okay.  The effects and ship design were brilliant.  Technically Iron Sky is fuckin rad.  It was really well shot, edited, and the special effects were fantastic.  Other than that, I didn't bite.  Okay, the ending amused me to no end.

Other than that, eeeeeeeeh *shrug*.  Maybe I didn't "get" the movie or maybe the anti-American sentiment was too ham-fisted or maybe I just don't go for cult movies the way I used to.  I didn't get a whole lot of laughs out of it (though there were one or two moments I chuckled and said, "Okay, that's good.").

All in all, disappointing and over reaching.  The effects and combat are top notch though and worth watching only for those sequences.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sauna (2008) dir Antti-Jussi Annila

I ordered this movie today, hope it's worthwhile:

Hey Hooliganyouth...

could you tell us how you feel when you get a new bad ass weapon in Borderlands 2?

Easy.  It feels like this:

I shit you not.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

IGN: Torchlight 2 Review

Sweet!  I really enjoyed Torchlight and now I have something to look forward once I'm done with Borderlands 2

Friday, September 28, 2012

Borderlands 2: Proposed Commando build with lvl 50 cap

Just making some notes on a build.  Nothin' fancy.  These are also how I have them planned in order of procurement.

  • Preparation 5 (+3% shield capacity per level; regenerate 0.4% health per second per level when shields are full.)
  • Ready 5 (+8% Reload Speed per level)
  • Impact 5 (+4% Gun Damage and +3% Melee Damage per level)
  • Willing 5 (+15% Shield Recharge Rate and -12% Shield Recharge Delay per level)
  • Expertise 5 (+14% weapon swap and aim speed per level; +7% movement speed when aiming per level)
  • Metal Storm 5 (Kill Skill. Killing an enemy gives +12% Fire Rate and +15% Recoil Reduction per level for a short time. )
  • Steady 5 (+8% Recoil Reduction, +5% Grenade Damage, and +4% Rocket Launcher damage per level)
  • Onslaught 5 (Kill Skill. killing an enemy gives you +6% Gun Damage and +12% Movement Speed per level for a short time)
  • Scorched Earth (Adds Multi-Rocket Pods to your Sabre Turret. 22 Rockets per Volley)
  • Grenadier 4 (extra grenade per level)
Of the three skill trees (one focused on turret, one on direct engagement, and the last defense) I'm least impressed by the defensive - at least for solo play.  The Preparation skill is pretty damned useful but I don't think I'd put any more points than that into defense.  I'm playing this as more of a hit and runner, with an emphasis on grenades, getting maximum reload and accuracy from weapons, and having a fast recharge on shields.  I am strongly considering Able (Damaging an enemy regenerates 0.4% of your Maximum Health per second per level for 3 seconds) in lieu of Scorched Earth and Grenadier 4 (then picking up those two when the level cap increases).  The main reason for considering Able is simply having the ability to stay in the fight (particularly in arenas or big fire fights) and unlike Quick Charge (Kill Skill. Killing an enemy regenerates 1% of your shield per second per level for a short time) you just have to cause damage.  Do or Die (Allows you to throw grenades while in Fight for Your Life. +10% Grenade and Rocket Launcher damage) would be nice to round out the grenade damage.

What fit are you leaning towards? 

Borderlands 2 progress report and assorted game news

Figured I'd post something and since I've only been biking, drinking, and playing Borderlands 2 - oh and going to classes - the only thing I have to post about is B2.  I did cancel my EVE Online account again, mainly for the reason I didn't have anything to do or any reason to do it - and don't yammer at me about null sec, I'd rather be bored than get my ass shot off.  More accurately, I didn't have anything to buy so I just had a big old pile of ISK.  Not like I'm saving my pennies for a BS or Titan or some shit.  I'm sure I'll get back into EVE but for now I'd prefer to have fun.

This game season looks like it's gonna be a good one - particularly for franchises I like:  Torchlight II, Far Cry 3, Hitman: Absolution, hell - even the new Assassin's Creed looks friggin awesome.  Having B2 kicking of the festivities is a good sign.

Here's a quick rundown of schtuff I've been experiencing in B2:
  • I hit level 25 yesterday and am in the meat of the game however I'm in no rush to rip through the story.  Fortunately Gearbox set up a large number of optional side quests and all kinds of explory looty places as well as a brilliant challenges list (and their Badass Tokens rewards)
    • I'm beginning to obsess over the challenges though some of them make me want to say very bad words.  The hidden Vault icons are in some cases, challenging as hell to not only find but in some instances get to.  Truth be told the last day or two I spent more time wandering around picking up challenges than I have been playing side or story missions.
  • Played a couple of hours of multiplayer with a Gunzerker buddy the other night.  That shit was fun.  Like genuine crazy person fun.  The difficulty and mayhem level increased significantly with only two of us (having four players has got to be batshit crazy).  
    • I think I might start a Gunzerker once I finish everything with the Commando.  My buddy was just beastly in combat.  One of the high points was him punching a Goliath into my field of fire.  He's just a beast of a character.
  • One problem I have is sometimes dialogue or events will be happening when I'm in combat.  I have subtitles on (I usually have a box fan going) but can't catch what's going on.  Not a huge deal but since there's no journal replay I feel like I've missed some stuff.
  • I hate Threshers but love their design and the way they act in combat (and crushing them under the wheels of a vehicle).
  • Easy cash money!  Farming Crisilisks in The Fridge.  
    • Fun tip, use non-elemental weapons for more damage on Crisilisks.  They seem to sponge elemental effects.  
  • Finally found an assault rifle worth a shit.  Still not the greatest find in the world but I always keep an eye out.
    • I lucked out and found a number of fuckin' sweet pistols and sniper rifles.  Is this Pandora telling me to just stick with my standard go to weapons?  o.O
  • Arena combat is back - not as hell bent for leather insanity as Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot - but tough enough.  Gunzerker buddy and I went through a couple of rounds and it was a little nerve wracking.  Doable but still nerve wracking.
  • Looking for peoples to complete driving challenges with!  Either as driver or passengers.
  • Singularity grenades are frigging awesome.  Homing singularity grenades that DoT are so beyond awesomeI don't even know if there's an equation for that much awesome.
  • Jesper Kyd's score is as good as his other scores.  Top quality work but, how does one put this?, it's similar to other film and game composers, they're doing excellent work that I fully enjoy but I go, "Yup, that's a Kyd score."  or "Yup, that's Goldsmith."  or "Yup, that's Morricone."  I know, I know - nitpicky.

That's all for now.  Hope you folks are well.  Maybe I'll see you in game.  Have a good weekend.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Borderlands 2 (2012) Gearbox Software - 20 hour review

I have a tendency to be a marathon gamer, especially with games I like.  I'm not a power gamer during these marathons.  There's no sprinting for level cap or the end of the game.  I'm not compelled to have the big shiny game-breaker from the get-go.  Sometimes I just happen to settle in for the long haul (sometimes unintentionally).  Borderlands 2 caught me from around four a.m. Saturday morning until about two Sunday morning.  I had received the game in the mail Friday afternoon and I biked over to the Haven to let them have first look at it that evening.  Ended up drinking a bit so when I came home around midnight I crashed out.  Woke up a few hours later feeling refreshed and decided to give Gearbox's much anticipated title a quick test run before heading back to bed.  So much for that idea.

Out of the four current class choices I decided to go with Commando.  I figured it would be a good tester as a starter.  Normally I would have gone with the assassin/sniper but I had good luck with the Soldier in Borderlands and I do like being able to launch autoturrets.  

The intro to Borderlands 2 seems to sum up the game neatly.  It starts off familiar and then just kind of goes epic.  I have this strange feeling that this is the game they wanted to make in the first place but didn't know if Borderlands would draw in an audience.  The scope has increased significantly, not in a Skyrim kind of sprawling vastness where any feature could lead to adventure, think more along the lines of Arkham City versus Arkham Asylum.   Gearbox has expanded and built upon a great foundation while making a massive number of changes (many of which aren't apparent at first glance).

Level design is one of the first things I noticed, enemy design close second.  Some of the landscape areas have been deceptively large but chock full of things to explore and explode.  Before access to a vehicle (which happens fairly early on) you're in for a bit of a trek.  In this way it is similar to its predecessor.  However, in a number of areas I've been in, the instances have the quality and length of the later missions in Borderlands.  What could be a rail shooter is anything but.  One section I'm particularly fond of is a combo platter of claustrophobic and large scale combat that boasts cut throughs, over and under passageways, vast amounts of cover, choke points, and things that go boom.

This leads me to enemy design (and AI performance).  The rogues gallery from the first game are out in force but they are backed by a slew (and by slew I mean metric shit ton) of new baddies.  I don't know how many people Gearbox had working on creature and enemy design but they knocked it out of the park in style and AI.  The AI wants to kill you.  Correction, the AI wants to curbstomp your daddy bag into paste and then kill you.  I've been pinned down and flanked and charged and swarmed (on several occasions all at the same time).  In some areas I've been able to bug out and sprint, hellbent for leather, from combat and out of immediate danger.  In other areas, particularly open levels with enemies spawning and chasing (or flying) after me that's not so much of an option.  In one section I was charged by swarmers while the big bad tanked at me.  No big.  Downside was, there were numerous ranged attackers who were more than happy to pin me down at range and from different sections of the map.  Most of these mobs also feature a mixed bag of resistances and weaknesses making what could be a simple run and gun into a desperate fire fight.  One enemy, I won't tell you which, is particularly vicious and isn't all that rare.  Their appearance in combat reminds me of Boromir's, "They have a cave troll."  

Fortunately, to counter the screaming hordes, we have a number of elements at our disposal.  Yes, lots and lots of guns but Gearbox has ramped up the RPG elements and level of customization for your character.  By completing challenges you are awarded "Badass" tokens.  These tokens can be exchanged for boosts to skills of your choosing.  It's really quite a brilliant system that encourages experimentation in gameplay.  Moving away from the (now) familiar, "the more you use a skill the more proficient you are" - which I strongly enjoy but know how to game the system with - the badass tokens rewards aren't always the same choices.  You can't hoard tokens and then dump them all into one skill since that skill might not show up every time you use a token.  What's really awesome, and I think shows a kind of mad genius, the bonuses you get are shared with all of your characters.  I'm happy about this because I know that I am going to play each character class.  Another interesting factor in these challenges is the simple fact that you can't rely on one type of weapon (e.g. sniper rifles) because there's just not enough ammo.  Some instances are so long you'll be forced to switch out weapons simply because you ain't got no bullets.  I'm currently using SMG and pistols as my primaries (I have yet to find an assault rifle worth a shit) and I tote at least one of every type of weapon class available.  Shotgun?  Check.  Two different weapon classes of assault rifle?  Check.  Missile Launcher?  Check.  Three different classes of SMG, pistol, and sniper rifle each?  Check.  Pointy stick?  Check.  I'm sure this load out will change as skills and equipment limitations increase but for now?  Hell, sometimes I'll limp out of mission with about a dozen random rounds of ammo.

B2 has also done something that I found myself going, "Huh, that's pretty cool."  For ammo capacity, bank, and backpack upgrades - you can't just out and out buy them with cash.  They cost units of a rare mineral drop.  Fortunately since I'm a loot hound who will grab anything not nailed down I've been able to expand my carrying capabilities significantly (except for ammo).  I like this change in purchasing since it limits my ability to simply throw money into juicing my character.

The Commando is a lot like the Solider in Borderlands - on the surface.  At level 16/17 I'm doing okay for myself.  I've put most of my tokens into weapon skills (reduced recoil, increased reload time, accuracy, and  elemental damage) and shield recharge times.  I dumped all of my skill points into prolonging longevity - I just put a point or two in damage output.  I have yet to sit down and really give the skill trees a look but Borderlands 2 allows you to respec (for a cost).  Back when I was playing Borderlands I would respec depending on whether or not I was playing with other people or not.  I'm pleased with the build so far but really I'm just waiting for the Mechromancer.

And then we have the guns.  There are kajillions of variations and you never know what you're going to get.  Gearbox expanded on their Wild World of Firearms from the first game and now it's just insane.  To make life easier each weapon manufacturer has it's own style - nothing new - but Gearbox decided to tweak some of the weapon handling that I'm not sure if I'm a fan of.  Dahl only burst fires when using iron sights/scope (not to terrible but I've not found a Dahl worth keeping), Hyperion increases accuracy the longer the bursts (which fucking sucks), and Jacobs fire as fast as you pull the trigger but with a serious detriment to accuracy (realistic but sucks).  Maliwan are the weapons of choice since you're gonna want to be dishing out elemental damage as soon as you can.  What I'm unhappy about (and is one of my holy grails in the game) are the changes to the assault rifle and pistol/revolver classes.  This is nit picky and lord knows with so many variants in the game I'm bound to find something I like soon.  However, at this point in time, assault rifles have been "expanded" under a weird umbrella of carbines, machine guns, grenade launchers, and rocket launchers.  Okay, the grenade launchers are cool and useful.  Rocket launchers, meh.  Machine guns I never really use anyway.  Carbines are another story.  In almost all shooters I lean towards the carbine assault rifle.  Even at a low level, with entry level skills I can do solid work.  In B2 thus far they are crappy von Poopenstein.  Yes, I haven't found one I love, I know.  Dahl assault rifles used to be excellent weapons but with the burst shot with iron sights, meh.  Not a fan.  That being said, SMGs and pistols (not revolvers) fucking rock in B2, even at a range I would normally use an assault rifle for.  I have three Maliwan (corrosive, fire, and electro) which bring the noise.  While I'm not a fan of the Hyperion brand I do have an emergency Hyperion street sweeper with a sixteen round drum that is a beast when taking down overgrown Psychos.

I should mention the story.  B2 actually has one I'm paying attention to.  They dovetail a crap ending (sorry Borderlands had a crummy ending) with a solid intro and engaging characters.  You don't need to finish the first to play the second but really, you're not going to get a good chunk of the inside humor and the pathos in B2.  It's actually kind of impressive and unexpected.

I should also mention the humor.  It ranges from dick and fart jokes to non sequiturs and double-entendres to really fucking dark to goofy puns (one of my favorites is "I have Turrets Syndrome!" to the surprisingly clever.  Sometimes in rapid succession.  Normally, I'm not a huge fan  of humor in my games (except Double Fine) but Gearbox's writers did some solid work.  I also haven't heard a great deal of repetition in the lines so that's kind of impressive too.

Hell of an overlong first impressions post but I realize that I tend to goob out for the first few posts before my inner Zero Punctuation kicks in.  Gearbox has put out a solid game, despite a few quibbles, and more importantly brought something to my game experience that I don't normally have - fun.  Oh I have fun gaming (EVE isn't terribly fun anymore) but most games I've played lately seem to be either serious or I seem more to appreciate them for the craft (Limbo, Bastion, Amnesia, Stacking).  Not to imply that Borderlands 2 isn't a well-crafted game but damn I'm having fun.  Visceral crazy-person fun.  Like headshotting a charging suicide bomber psycho in the midst of his friends.  Driving over and backing over (repeatedly) a pack of skags while whistling the Love Connection theme song.  Shooting the limbs off an attack drone and letting it crawl while acid melts it.  Punching a flaming psycho midget to death.  Getting into a batshit crazy firefight while low on ammo and singing Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler".  Tagging a Marauder with a Longbow grenade.  Yelling "Clean up, aisle twelve!" when an explosion turns something into a red smear.  

Jeez, and people thought Grand Theft Auto was fucked up.  

Multiplayer review coming up.  Holy shit, we can split-screen this time?                      

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