Saturday, February 23, 2013

When Gravity Fails - the movie?!?!?!?!?!

I was clicking around imdb and found that Stephen Derrickson is helming a film version of one of my top-five favorite sci-fi books of all time.  When Gravity Fails is George Alec Effinger's cyberpunk-noir set in the Middle East and I love it.  It's one of those books that I buy a copy whenever I see one used.  I hope they don't fuck it up. 

The Possession (2012) & Sinister (2012)

Did a supernatural double feature with the lady last night (who is also a hardcore action movie fan).  I wasn't expecting much from either movie but then again I don't expect a lot from most horror movies these days.  Not because I'm overly critical but because, well, they suck.  As for these two movies, the critics are split down the middle (not surprising) with Ebert coming down on the thumbs-up for both (kind of surprising).  Personally the reviewers who I don't like didn't like the movies (*cough* Marc Savlov) so critic reviews aren't changing my opinions of the movie. 

Achtung!  No spoilers!
I was pleasantly surprised by both movies.  Okay, Sinister had some hair-raising moments but first The Possession.  Loosely based upon the urban legend of the Dybbuk Box, it's a story about a divorced guy who buys his daughter a Dybbuk Box at a garage sale and the ensuing terror.  For a PG-13 movie it's got some serious creepiness factors to it.  One scene isn't supernatural terror but there's an intensity to it that has made it stuck with me.  Overall the movie was well done with a protagonist, played by Jeffery Dean Morgan, I actually managed to like and sympathize with (instead of most of the under-the-age of thirty dickbags who populate horror movies).  Well shot and totally lacking in flailing found footage camera work.  Oh and that guy I thought jokingly was Matisyahu, yeah that's Matisyahu.  Worth watching as a double feature with The Unborn (2009).

Sinister was one of those movies I saw the trailer once awhile back and then refused to read anything or watch anything about (I've done the same thing with Mama).  I'm glad I went into this movie fairly cold beause some of it was severely intense.  I was pretty leery of Ethan Hawke being in a horror movie (though thinking about it, I did enjoy Daybreakers - critics were split on that one too) but he worked in the role.  There's a level of failing desperation to his character that worked for me.  His Ellison Oswalt, a true crime writer who was on the NYT Bestsellers' List in his early 30s is now a man in his early 40s who needs another hit book, financially and emotionally.  His actions are brought on by these factors and the rest of the movie sprials out of control.  If it hadn't been a horror movie it could have made the plot for an interesting indie character drama/thriller.

As far as a supernatural horror movie goes, Sinister comes out swinging right from the get go.  There aren't any real lulls in the tension because even if there's not something supernatural going on there's domestic tension as Oswalt and his family splinter under stress.  One particular scene of high tension is one in which nothing happens.  It was kind of a startling scene (and very well shot) because of the other boo! scares that kind of abound.  Yeah, there are quite a few boo! scares in addition to some seriously twisted goings on.  While Sinister is in no way "gory" it is pretty hardcore.  The sound design is really excellent as well, with a soundtrack that just pulses with intensity.  Actually, thinking about it, the sound design was brilliantly done and well balanced (unlike some movies which thunder their scores and Bay-splosions at you while mumbling the dialogue so you feel like some old fart, "What'd he say?  Who has the soup or the natural?").  Sinister is definitely worth watching.  Hell, I want to watch it again.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Skyrim: Dragonborn DLC (2012) Bethesda

Fus ra...oh here we go again.  Yes fine folks I finally picked up the Dragonborn DLC, primarily because there's fuck all else to play right now and even EVE gets tedious after a while.  If you have a good game to recommend or let me borrow that'd be cool.

Dragonborn is, actually pretty good, though for 360 it's still plagued with crap-ass load times, freezes, and glitches.  Last night the game froze on me about a half dozen times due to an auto-save bug.  This is the last time I play a Bethesda game on the console and quite possibly the last console I buy for a long time.

If it weren't for the glitches and bugs and the recurrent voice actors Dragonborn would be awesome.  Unlike Dawnguard, which was literally just more of the same, Dragonborn opens up a new island under the control of Morrowind.  Half of the island is a volcano ash wreck and the other is fairly familiar by this point.  The area design is different and while it's desolate there's some interesting stuff to look at.  There have been a couple of dungeons that actually surprised me by their design and puzzles.  There are new enemies which are pretty awesome and challenging if they take you off guard.  New armor, new weapons, loot, loot, loot...

What I am happiest about is simple - lots to explore and get rewarded for doing so.  I've spent two solid evenings of gameplay just wandering around.  Dragonguard has a lot packed into it and even more to reward exploration and patience.  There's a good number of sidequests (so far) based around treasure hunting and some tantilizing clues about further rewards for exploration.  In particular, it's not even a quest but there's a puzzle in a Dwemer ruin that can only be solved by going to the other Dwemer ruins.  Ancient ruins?  Treasure?  Fortune and glory?  Hell yeah!  However one of the puzzles in a Dwemer ruin took me about an hour to solve without a FAQ.  I said some bad words.

As for the DLC story arc?  I have no idea.  I haven't even started it.  You guys know me, as soon as I get the chance I book it cross country.  Story?  What?  Save what?  Huh?  Fuck you, I gots loots to find!  It drives some people nuts, especially if they are attempting to watch me play.  It's also part of the reason why I feel main story end game are often such a let down, I've done everything.  I'm basically a freaking God and then I just smash the end boss into a paste.  Personally I kind of miss the Dark World element in Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past or the insane time travel involved in Dragon Warrior VII (which I think is a better game than FFVII) - something to keep the game going to add some depth to it.  Oh well.

Is Dragonborn worth $20?  If it weren't so buggy, yeah.  All games have bugs, I know this - you know this, games freeze sometimes okay.  It's an imperfect world, screws fall out.  But at this point and for a company of Bethesda's stature, it's absurd.  In a way they remind me of the old joke about Jaguars, having to buy a mechanic when you buy a Jaguar or one of those super expensive dog breeds that's so in-bred it can't breathe right.  It's slovenly.

Basically, when Dragonborn is good, it is very, very good and when it is bad, it is awful.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

V/H/S (2012)

and it was

Roger Ebert's review of V/H/S can be found here.  I'm not gonna bother reviewing this clunker of a movie.  Let me just say that while watching it I found myself wishing that I was watching CSI: Miami.  At least I like the characters on that show.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Rock Lobster? Rock Lobster!

No, not a post about the B-52s (as much as I do like B-52s) but about the new ship I picked up in EVE ("Guh, another EVE post?"). 

A while back I started to enjoy mining thanks to the Venture.  Since then I've slowly been moving away from my usual shoot and loot farming in L4s and moved into mining, supply runs, and trade.  I buy crap for sale at bargain basement prices, stuff that not even n00bs or Goons want, reprocess it and stockpile the results until the market gives me a good return.  Okay, I'm a god damn junk man.  I even mine garbage rocks because no one wants them.  Other players have asked me, "Why do you want that crap?  There's no money it."  I've gotten used to replying, "Who's more likely to be mugged?  You, with, a cargohold full of ice and assorted high-end goodies or me, who is pushing a glorified shopping cart around filled with scrap metal and useless crap?"

Most of the time though I have unnecessarily juiced up my shopping cart with speed and handling boosts.  One of my modus operendi in EVE is, "They can't hit what they can't catch."  And yes, once I whooped and do-leet-do-do'd the General Lee's horn while making a quick getaway from a gate.  I'm slowly, slowly learning the ropes when it comes to avoiding gate camps (pirate roadblocks essentially) and some of the subtleties of lowsec transport. 

On the non-transport end of things, and in reference to the ship previously mentioned, I recently got myself into a Retriever.

"Rock Lobster"
Yessir, got me one of them big ole mining barges.  Actually, it's a pretty cool looking ship and I wish that it could be used for combat (one of my current soapboxes is for CCP to make ORE combat ships).  But yeah, I shoot at de rocks.  In a bizarre way it's kind of soothing and I do have fun just kicking back, drinking some beers, and shooting the shit with my EVE buddies.  I'm not gonna make a massive fortune doing this however, I can't tell what my daily income average will be yet since I'm just stockpiling everything.I figure once I can get a certain price point for something, I will sell it.  Even if I make less than a handful of isk on a single item, if I sell several million of them in one go, that results in a nice chunk of change. 

o7, Fly Safe.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Recipe! Yes, I still cook!

It's been a while since I posted a recipe but last night made something tasty I thought I'd share.  It was easy and relatively healthy.  Pan seared salmon crusted in #42 with sauteed mushrooms, sweet yellow tomatoes, diced applewood bacon served over steamed kale & shredded carrots.  Sounds pretty fancy?  It tastes awesome but was absurdly simple to make and cost less than $15 for multiple servings.

Here's the run down:

  • About half a lb of salmon cut into individual portions
  • a half dozen regular white mushrooms
  • small sweet tomatoes, yellow or red would be fine, whichever, hell, leave 'em out if you want
  • a couple of slices of bacon, chopped
  • I bought prepackaged kale salad, Harvest Sensations (which I am now addicted to).  It comes by the pound, is pre-washed, has shredded carrots in it, and has a nice sesame vinagrette with it
  • Spice mix #42
  • a cup of vegetable stock, hell, water will work fine too
That's it.

There's minimal prep work.  Chop up the bacon and slice the mushrooms.  Liberally apply #42 to the portions of salmon.

Heat pan, add diced bacon, cook bacon, remove bacon from pan, set aside. Sear salmon in bacon grease about four minutes a side.  Remove salmon from pan.  Saute sliced mushrooms and tomatoes, takes about two/three minutes.  Remove those from the pan.  Deglaze pan with stock (meaning pour the stock in while the pan is hot and scrape all the burnt-y goodness around).  Put kale in pan, as much as will fit in your pan.  Cover and cook at a medium-low heat for about ten minutes.  Turn off stove.  Assemble food.  Gaze in rapture or instapictweet your creation #Hooliganyouth. 

Joking aside, this is one of those nice simple dishes that doesn't require much skill or attention or time.  Plus it's super adaptable.  Probably be pretty tasty with shrimp.  Mmmm shrimps.

Hope you folks are in good spirits and eating well. 

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Dishonored (2012) Arkane Studios

I rented this game the other day because I heard it was short, which, after clocking in under the ten hour mark, it was (and that was after replaying some of the missions in the middle section).  I would have been pissed if I had spent sixty bucks on it but for two days rental I didn't mind my experience.

Dishonored is one hell of an experience.  I'm tempted to compare it to Bioshock but only in the regard with the quality of the writing and the world (and Dishonored didn't have the bullshit ending Bioshock did).  The atmosphere of the game is one that is familiar yet oddly fantastical.  It's not so much steampunk (thank God) than reminiscent of the bizarro realms of Clive Barker's late 80s/early 90s period - particularly Imajica but not as strange as Quiddity.  Actually, the more I think about it the more Dishonored reminds me of Imajica.  There's a vaguely bizarre Anglophile look without British accents, the characters have a very familiar style (they're particularly graphic novel-y) but have an individual look to them.  It's a bizarre world where electricity and indoor plumbing exist but they still use chamber pots.

OOOOOOOOOOh, okay Arkane Studios is in Austin but the HQ is in France.  That explains the style of it.  So, put Imajica and Metal Hurlant in a blender et voila!  Dishonored

The story is solid, the writing capable, I felt empathy for the characters I was supposed to feel empathy for and none for my foes (though I did show mercy and tried to stick to non-lethal takedowns).  There were a couple of dark turns I wasn't expecting.  One particular character who shall remain nameless is now one of my favorites from recent games.  The silent protagonist is a little more rounded out than normally expected, as he is forced to become an assassin involved in Machiavellian politics.

It's a rather bleak game and the environments reflect the moods of the game nicely.  There's an interesting play in level design between free roam, exploration for stealthy fun and changing environments.  Some of the areas reward taking the high path, whilst others reward climbing up, over, and through pipes, catwalks, construction areas, battered tenements, etc. 

What really expands the exploration, quite well as a matter of fact, are the skills you slowly level by collecting runes scattered through out levels (or are occasionally rewarded after missions).  One of the skills is an interesting short range teleport maneuver that excels at traversing alleyways, rooftops, or simply zipping behind an enemy for a takedown.  I ended experimenting and using that skill the most.  Another skill summons a pack of plague rats to distract and attack enemies.  Grisly to the point of comedic, watching a foe get eaten by rats.  Still, pretty helpful.  There were a couple of other skills but I didn't really put time into those.  There's a possesion skill that allows you to take control of animals (eventually humans) but I only found it helpful once or twice.

Gameplay is pretty well polished for the most part, I didn't experience any freezes, or serious glitches.  It had a couple of moments where I would get jammed on something but that happens sometimes in FPS.  Combat, what little I got into, was fast and furious and even on "Normal" guards could wreck shop when in numbers.  Tallboys (I love the design of these stilt walker heavily armed & armored guards) and packs of hostile rats will tear you a new one if given the chance.  The array of weapons is standard for this kind of FPS, right trigger for right-handed melee, left trigger for ranged and special skills.  Right bumper blocks while left bumper brings up a quick select wheel.  Not reinventing the wheel but capably done.

I felt justly rewarded for going my usual non-lethal route (a la Hitman I only takedown the target) though I laughed heartily when a stunned or tranquilized foe would fall off a building ledge or collapse in water.  Hey, technically I didn't kill them.

All in all an unexpected surprise and enjoyable gaming experience.  I'm not sure if it's worth sixty bucks but if you see it for rent or a GOTY edition I would recommend picking it up.

Product review: Campbell's Go soups

I was recently puttering around the grocery store and looking at soups.  I've been in a soup mood lately and yes I make soup from scratch but sometimes I just want something easy.  The new Campbell's Go caught my eye and though I'm not a huge fan of Campbell's Condensed Soups, iconic as they are, I saw Moroccan Style Chicken and Chickpeas.  They were on sale so I figured, "A'ight, I'll give it a shot."  A couple of days later I gave it a shot as my work lunch.

Gotta say, I'm impressed.  I like the packaging, it's simple and easy to use (clear marked tear notch that actually tore and didn't explode all over the place like those tuna packet things, put in microwave, shazam).  That might not seem like a big deal but at work I don't want to fight with my lunch.  More importantly, it's pretty darn tasty.  Startlingly so, considering it's just convenient microwave soup.  It had a little bit of kick, enough for me to go, "Huh, that's got a little kick." but it wouldn't send tenderfeet running for the milk.  There was a hint of sweet and cinnamon.  The texture was creamy and not terribly chunky but since I was drinking it out of a mug that wasn't a big deal.  Let's put it this way, I liked it so much I went out and bought the other flavors that appealed to me, including a Spicy Chicken and Chorizo.

Nice work, Campbell's.  Sometimes I can look down my nose at the wide number of "mainstream" gourmet products out there (I'll admit it, I can be a snobby crank), mainly because the product is poor quality that costs more because the words "gourmet" or "organic" or "free range cruelty free vegetables" grace the label (I got them on sale for about $2 a pop, which considering what you would spend on lunch out is a bargain).  I recommend checking these out, especially if you want something different for lunch. 

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