Friday, January 31, 2014

Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor? Awesome.

I've said I don't particularly like Zack Snyder's style (I think he tries too hard), but goddamn he's been fashionably not giving a fuck for the last few months. First, announcing Ben Affleck as Batman, now Eisenberg as Lex Luthor... I love it. I love that people who only know these characters through the movies are going to get all butt-hurt and whiny. I love that the same people who derided Tobey McGuire as Spider-Man ("he's not buff enough to play [a high school science geek]!") are going to flip shit.


Comic readers are prepared for this kind of thing. Whenever a new artist takes the reigns of a flagship character, the character's going to look different. Different is good. Different is fresh. And frankly, I love it when official movie news surprises the shit out of me. It's about the most fun you can have on the Internet this side of an age gate. 

I didn't care for Man of Steel very much, I had a lot of problems with Syder's adaptation of Watchmen, and you couldn't pay me to watch Sucker Punch, but you know what? I'm excited about Superman and Batman being in a movie together. This is the kind of shit we used to dream about when we were kids and it's awesome to know we'll be alive when it actually happens. What a grand time to be a fucking nerd.

Tom Atkins Goes Apeshit


One of my favorite under-viewed videos on YouTube. The next long project I'm toying with may very well be inspired by the masterpiece this clip comes from. Screaming like banshees, man.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

My short but intense obsession with Rust

I've only signed in long enough to check out the base, make sure it hasn't been raided since we last played Rust. I'm alone. It's pitch black on the other side of the windows. We have so many resources I couldn't care less about risking an excursion into the dangerous environment outside. Inside, I'm right where I want to be: I can craft an entire suit of kevlar, not to mention explosive charges, and all my favorite weapons and ammo. I accomplished this feat through finding and collecting somewhat rare blueprints and research kits. In other words: it was a shitload of work over the course of a few days. I figure I'll make myself useful to the rest of the players in my group and reorganize our valuables, which have been carelessly thrown into boxes.


Then I hear footsteps. Gunfire is directed towards our base. An otherwise friendly voice announces: "We have come for cookies. Give us cookies and we will carry on." I say nothing. I don't so much as move so my footsteps won't give away my presence. I hear giggling, then the telltale sound of explosive charges being attached to the front door. What follows is a blast, unique to the other sound effects in the game. Whenever you hear such a blast, you know someone's about to get fucked over and it's probably you.

Thankfully, our base is pretty raid-resistant. We have several series of metal doors, each of which requires two or three explosive charges to knock down. The would-be raiders don't have enough of the explosives to get very far into our base. So I peek from one of the windows on the third story and look down. I see the men walking away empty-handed. I fire at them and after a five-minute exchange of gunfire, they swear they'll be back as they run away wounded.

It's time to rebuild. There's a lot of rebuilding in Rust, so much so that servers get bogged down with all the shit people have built.

Garry's Mod was the second or third game I ever purchased on Steam. Of the nearly three hundred games I own, it's one I revisit more than any other, the exception being Counter-Strike. When I found out Garry was making a standalone survival game called Rust, I didn't wait until it appeared on Steam. I actually won a beta key during an auction and proceeded to play the game for, oh, about ten minutes. It wasn't that I didn't like it. It was just that I was hungover and, then, life got in the way. Damn life.

A few weeks later, after its appearance on Steam, I see my friends have also purchased the game. I join their server and take the game a little more seriously. As it turns out I really enjoy exploring, looting, and zombie hunting. One friend seems to enjoy base-building while another enjoys gathering the wood, metal, and loot we'll use to furnish our base. It's a pretty good group. Our base, by the way, is wedged between two cliffs atop a mountain, which means raiders only have two entry points: front and back. The sides are completely inaccessible, even with explosive charges. And, lucky us, we have a door that leads to the top of the cliffs which acts as a good sniper tower.

Occasionally there are random airdrops. An airplane goes overhead and drops supplies. We manage to snag one of the drops early on and find explosive charges in our possession. Giggling like a couple of kids, we head out to a neighbor who not only settled way too close to us, but killed some of us even when we didn't even have a single stitch of clothing. We blow his door off the hinges and I can't even begin to describe the thrill—it's on a level of playing paintball for the first time at thirteen years old. Inside we find six large boxes of loot. Really nice stuff.

The next day we find he has replaced his metal door. We know he hasn't had enough time to secure anything worth raiding, but we blow his door off again just so he gets the message: you're not welcome here. Later the same day we find he's put up a wooden door so we knock that fucker off the hinges, too. Eventually the player seems to have left the server altogether.

Over the course of several days, we've been making a kill-on-sight list. The name of anyone who's ever attacked us for no good reason (we're generally friendly, helpful, and play well with others unless you settle too close to us) goes on that list. When all is said and done, that list is twenty-one names long. A funny thing about vigilantism: when you take revenge on someone, they tend to whine in global chat about how innocent they are, that they were just minding their own business when someone "killed me for no reason!" Either that or they try to convince an admin you were hacking. We usually reply, "You killed me yesterday when I didn't have anything more than a rock," but they always deny this.

 The Naughty List

Justice is pretty much a fantasy in the real world, but in the world of Rust it's nearly non-existent. We've got a reputation now. People are out to get us. Three of us are online, in the base, when we hear the explosive charges: one after another, seemingly endless. There's three or more of the raiders, decked out in kevlar and the best weapons in the game. We exchange gunfire for a while through the windows, then two of us manage to escape with most of our valuables. The base-builder decides to go down with the ship, hiding in one of the auxiliary rooms, ready to ambush. As soon as the door he's hiding behind is blown, he's one-shotted in the head.

As a group we migrate to the far side of Everust Mountain and build another base. Later, one of us discovers the guys who knocked down and replaced our front doors haven't yet replaced the back doors, which we still control. They've tried to take our base over, but man: what a fuck-up not getting rid of all our doors. We sneak back into our old base and proceed to not only take what was ours in the first place, but our raiders' stuff as well.

We were on a good little server there for a while, but the admins moved to another and ours dropped to one or two players at a time. We would have played more Rust, sure, but our interest in Starbound was renewed after the recent and final character wipe. Garry has a lot of great ideas on how to develop Rust, but he's also talking about removing the weapons I have come to like, not to mention instilling microtransactions (this sounds unlikely, however). Either way, it's a great game and I'm sure we'll be back when it's a little more developed.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street tries to hard to be a Scorsese movie

How much I like a movie is sometimes defined by how long I hold it at arm's length in the beginning. I'm always on edge when I start a new movie. There's always a probation period in which I think, Was it a mistake to begin this? Am I about to waste two or three hours of my time? I'm a tough cookie to crack and if you fuck up the opening, there's no way of winning me over. That's the most important part of any story: the way you begin it.



Although this probation period is almost always shorter with the handful of directors I admire the most, it's much more anxious, much more intense. That's because there's nothing worse than seeing a master fall. Every time Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, Scorsese, and P.T. Anderson release a movie, I have to see it. They're simply the best in the business. But when they misfire, boy it hurts.

The Wolf of Wall Street is Scorsese's misfire.

Don't get me wrong. It's a fine movie. Had almost anyone else directed it I would have been a bit more appreciative of the effort. But this isn't just anyone. This is the guy who made Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino. Even The Departed couldn't hold up a candle to his previous films, but it was still probably the best film of its year. Wolf isn't the greatest film of the year. It probably shouldn't even be nominated for best picture. Then again, when do the Oscars actually get it right?

Back to The Departed. It wasn't one of his better efforts, but I still loved it. The probation period for that movie was over the second Jack Nicholson's gruff voiceover appeared over the Rolling Stones. That happened within seconds and I was all in. In that instant we know we're in for quintessential Scorsese, the Scorsese we know and love. It had been a while since we had seen that kind of movie from him. We were all ready to welcome it back. We wanted to see more of the same.

The opening of The Wolf of Wall Street, however, tries too hard to be quintessential Scorsese. We know what it's doing. We know where it's going. We can see all the tricks up its sleeve. A lot of people are bothered by the rampant nudity and vulgar humor. Puritans everywhere are feigning disgust and walking out of every showing. That's not what's wrong with this movie. Hell, as a trash connoisseur I have to say that's my favorite part. The only problem with the trash elements is the fact they're supposed to be there for a reason—to show us how fucked up Wall Street is. That Scorsese wants to pretend it's not at all gratuitous is kind of chicken-shit.

Look, I liked the movie. This was not, by any means, three hours of wasted time, but it just shouldn't have taken three hours to tell us there's corruption on Wall Street. It's kind of like, "No shit." And I had a hard time focusing on the movie when it wasn't assaulting us with party animal antics. When Leonardo DiCaprio punches his wife in the belly and jerks his kid out of the house by her arm, I'm wondering what's the point. The only thing they have left to say at that point has already been said. This isn't satire. This isn't sophisticated criticism on our culture. It's pure and simple entertainment—nothing wrong with that—but it tries to hide what it is.

You remember the pool hall fight in Mean Streets. You remember when Pesci busts Ray Liotta's balls in Goodfellas. You remember that time Robert DeNiro got himself blown up in Casino. And those weren't the only memorable moments in those movies, either. The Wolf of Wall Street is lacking all of the poetry of those films. We can't root for any of the characters either. This is the one time an FBI agent is actually characterized at all in one of his movies and you wonder, again, what's the point. It was much better when they were just faceless men hiding in the bushes with telephoto lenses and running out of gas in their spy planes. The fact that Scorsese sort of gives one of these guys a bit more screen time just indicates there was a wasted opportunity here. The character just doesn't add enough to the picture.

The Scorsese/DiCaprio powerhouse is wearing thin. We've seen it too many times. It's a repeat with even less of the stuff we want to see. It's still a good movie, but it's nowhere near a masterpiece.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

American Hustle *will* sweep the Oscars

When American Hustle opens, Christian Bale's character is carefully preparing what another character describes as "an elaborate comb-over." He's a con artist. He doesn't want you to know he's bald. It's less about ego than we initially think. He doesn't want you to know anything about him, least of all the truth.


About two minutes in we know a lot about him and his relationship with Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper. Two minutes, I tell you. That's some serious storytelling there. We see Bale attempting to con a mayor, played by Jeremy Renner, into taking a briefcase of money. That will make sense later when we discover Cooper is using con artists to entrap corrupt politicians. The deal, however, appears to go south and the movie jumps back to Bale's youth before we see how or if he can fix it. His father owned a glass company and, as a boy, Bale's character took it upon himself to throw bricks through shop windows for business.

That's loyalty, man. And it figures prominently in the plot.

Around the time he meets Amy Adams for the first time he's running a few dry cleaning shops. One of their first dates—get this—is taking her to try on some of the wardrobe customers never came to pick up. It sounds exactly what the kind of guy who sports a silly comb-over would do, but I'll be damned if it isn't just as sweet and romantic as it is funny. What we have here is a movie that defies almost every convention in the book. The more movies you've seen, the more you'll appreciate this one.

I guess you could describe it as a Scorsese mafia movie without the violence (and one actor's cameo indicates it's aware of this), but that description would be doing the movie a disservice. You really haven't seen anything like this before. The reason the characters make such a big stink over Duke Ellington is because that's how the movie's plot unfolds: like jazz, baby.

Not only will this movie win Best Picture, it actually deserves to win. I can't tell you the last time the movie that should have won actually won, but for the first time in my lifetime, I can't imagine the Academy, as stupidly politic as it is, giving the big statue to anything else. Then again, I thought Pulp Fiction and Fargo were sure bets, too, and I never thought I'd live to see a movie win Best Picture but not Director, so that just goes to show my track record on Oscar predictions. I digress.

The trailers for movies like American Hustle tend to spoil the fun. This one doesn't. Fittingly, the trailer is a con itself: it kind of gives you an idea of what to expect, but it's far more entertaining than it lets on. I don't want to give anything away either because it gets funnier and more outrageous the deeper the characters dig their hole. Louis C.K. is much more than adequately cast as Cooper's boss. He provides a running gag that involves a possibly pointless story about ice fishing. Jennifer Lawrence is surprisingly funny as a house wife who refuses to listen to her husband when he tells her not to put metal in the microwave oven, or as these characters call it: "the science oven." Because, and remember this is 1978, microwave ovens cook the food with, "I don't know, science or something. It's scientific."

Yes, what these characters do is wrong and immoral, but they're not bad people. Not by a long shot. That's another thing that sets American Hustle apart from so many of the con movies we love and the formula we're familiar with: we're not rooting for the bad guy who happens to be better than the badder guy. They're all good guys, even the ones who grease their pockets with the tax payers' money, even the ones who cheat on their spouses. And yes, they're all movie stars, but goddamn it's so refreshing how little they resemble movie stars. They're real people and we like them and that just makes the whole movie pop in a colorful, beautiful way. Offbeat doesn't even begin to describe it.

This isn't a heist film. It's not about the con itself. In a nutshell, it's not about people making a bad decision, but people who have already made the bad decision and have to deal with the consequences. It's the story that, in most crime movies, takes place after the end credits.

I don't know. I watch a lot of movies, almost obsessively. There's a lot of crap, a lot of hours I wish I could get back. American Hustle makes it all worth it. It's the movie serious moviegoers are constantly searching for. As is such, it probably won't impress people who don't appreciate the more subtle aspects of movies. But those in the know are in for something truly special.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

My favorite games of 2013

Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition

No, it doesn't have all the mods that the original version currently has, but it sure is a smooth throwback to the days PC gaming really stood above the experiences you could have anywhere else. Unfortunately, if you're under the age of thirty you'll probably find this game to be pretty lame.

Sim City

I know, I know: fuck EA, right? I came late to the party so a lot of the launch bullshit was fixed. Plus, I didn't have to spend $50 for a broken piece of junk (I think I picked it up on sale for around $20). I was surprised by how much fun I had, at least until I reached the pathetic limit on city size. I won't ever play it again as SC4 is still the better game, but there wasn't any buyer's remorse.

Bioshock Infinite

For me, this is the single-player experience of the year. The writing is superb, the characters are likable, and the ending was out of this world. To this day, I'm chasing the first-person awe I originally felt with DOOM and Half-Life and this is one of the few that does all that and more.

XCOM: Enemy Within

Honestly, I couldn't tell you exactly what Enemy Within adds to Enemy Unknown, but it was fun to play through it again. Look, my memory's bad, but I love this game to death.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

This game is a dream come true. You play as Micheal Beihn in the future... as imagined by B movies of the 80s. The game is a lot more precious when you realize that this was Ubisoft taking a bit of a risk on something that typically only appears to weirdos.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS)

I'm not sure why a game like this is an absolute delight no matter what age you are, but it is. 

Civilization 5: Brave New World

Again, I couldn't tell you everything this expansion adds to the base game, but hell, I've got a chance to put Civilization on my list so I'm going to take it.

Shadowrun Returns

The lack of freedom was disappointing, but otherwise, this game does a lot more to get Shadowrun back to its roots than the 360 version did (not that I didn't like that one, too). You can only like it if you're a Shadowrun fan and I barely qualify as I don't think cyberpunk and fantasy mix well.

Rise of the Triad

Duke Nukem Forever, take note: this is what you should have been. I've noticed a lot of fans of Duke—and I very much was one—are claiming the long awaited sequel wasn't as bad as everyone says it is, but that's bullshit. Rise of the Triad proves you don't have to go modern to be fun.

Papers, Please

The minimal graphics and the droning soundtrack may sound like detriments, but they're elevated to greatness by one hell of a unique experience. Your morality plays a big part in this 1984-inspired masterpiece.

Gone Home

When I was a kid, all I wanted was a game that let you do whatever you want in a big mansion with secrets (Maniac Mansion, I'm sure, was the inspiration for this dream). Gone Home does it in a very down-to-earth kind of way. I knew nothing about this game going in so I was always expecting a monster or ghost to pop out. That only added to the fun as I got further into it.

Diablo III (Consoles)

So I think the PC version of Diablo III was on my list last year, but the console version is superior. Be sure to play this one with your friends in the same room.

Grand Theft Auto V (Consoles)

Like I've said before: I like GTA more than most people and this one did not disappoint at all.

Forza Motorsport 5 (Xbox One)

I never gave a shit about leader boards until this game came out. If you need a reason to check out the Xbox One, this is it. 

Peggle 2 (Xbox One)

I used to love puzzle games (Tetris and that one with the jewels on Sega Genesis kicked ass), but ever since the handheld market was flooded by them, I kind of lost interest. Peggle 2 changed that for me. It initially seems to be a game of luck until you start attempting the many challenges. Then it seems less like luck and more like billiards on steroids. The graphics, sound, and music are charming as hell.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

What I think about the Xbox One

I almost always kick myself for buying a console at launch (Xbox 360? Mine RRODed three times, yet I've got two old school NESes and an Atari 2600 that have had no problems whatsoever last I checked). Yet every time a new console launches I get caught up in the frenzy and buy one. And man, the games are always slim pickings in the beginning.

So, like most people, I think the PS4 is probably a better system overall. The reason I ended up going with the Xbox One, however, is simple: the launch games. I prefer Forza to Gran Turismo (which doesn't even come out for about another year) and the latest Killzone didn't look very next-gen to me. Yes, the PS4 can deliver better graphics. On the other hand, if I gave a damn about graphics (and sometimes I do) I'd just play a game on my computer.

As for the bad publicity surrounding the Kinect camera and the voice controls, I can tell you this: I was extremely surprised by how well this stuff works. I didn't imagine I'd be interested in navigating menus with my voice at all, but this stuff works 90% of the time and it works well. It sounds like small potatoes, but there is a certain thrill to being able to walk into a room with a bowl of cereal and navigate to YouTube or Netflix without having to set your food down. The motion controls, however, still leave a lot to be desired.

The size of the machine is a little awkward. The fact you can't turn it on its side is a con. Even so, I find it fairly attractive and it's not nearly as loud as my 360 was. The lack of split-screen games is tragic and kind of inexcusable, but that's hardly anything new. Seems split-screen is going bye-bye. Forza 5 can be played in couch mode, but at the expense of A.I. rivals (or Drivatars as they're called). And while it's neat being able to play Killer Instinct without actually buying the game, the "free"-to-play model infiltrating consoles is worrisome... in KI you get one fighter to start out with and if you want the rest you'll have to buy 'em (I didn't). The good news is Peggle 2 is cheap and it's one of the best puzzle games I've ever played. Players reacted negatively to the fact you can't play local multiplayer and the developers listened: a patch to add the desired mode is on the way.

As with the WiiU, the only thing that really seems next-gen about the console is the hardware itself. I can report that the new Assassin's Creed is much better than the one that launched with WiiU, but that's not saying much until I clarify it really is a fun game. Nonetheless, at this point it probably isn't worth buying it for the hardware alone. If you think this is a replacement for any of your older consoles, it isn't—not yet. But take a look back at Xbox 360 and PS3 in their earlier days: these systems evolve and they do it fairly quickly. I'm curious to see what both of the new consoles will look like in two years. By the end of these machine's lives, we'll probably have seen something truly next-gen.

Probably. Will it be as great a jump between SNES and N64? I doubt it, but let's not get all pessimistic just yet.

In closing I'll say I'm very enthusiastic about getting my hands on MGS: Ground Zeroes and a proper Halo title. For the time being, however, I do like the Xbox One more than I liked the WiiU at launch and I think it's a fairly solid buy. Be warned: the Netflix and YouTube apps are way too basic. They're useable for the most part, but I've had more trouble pairing my tablet with the Xbox One than I did with the PS3. Right now I can't even get YouTube to work.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Event Horizon doesn't affect the outside observer

When Sam Neill attempts to explain black holes to the rest of the small cast, they roll their eyes and sigh. One even interrupts him and says, "Singularities? Speak English!" I can't imagine a depressing future in which people who live in space are lost at the mention of singularities, but Paul W.S. Anderson apparently can. For anyone wondering, he's the guy who made Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, and Alien Versus Predator so he's obviously got as much taste as a toenail. I imagine he made Event Horizon when he failed to secure the rights for the DOOM adaptation or realized he didn't have to spend any money if he just changed the name and some of the details.


So the plot's pretty simple. The United States secretly built a ship capable of creating wormholes. You know, because that's obviously the type of thing a single government could produce and keep secret, especially when its track record for coverups is a joke. Furthermore, if you want to keep a ship's jump-drive a secret, it's probably not a good idea to publicly name it Event Horizon (I'm reminded how the government in Deep Impact covered up the impending comet strike with the code name E.L.E.: Extinction Level Event). Instead of testing the ship's ability to jump from point A to B with probes and robots, they put a human crew on it for its maiden voyage. Well, surprise: the ship disappeared and was never heard of again. That is until seven years later when it shows up in Neptune's orbit.

A rescue ship is sent to investigate the Event Horizon. Sam Neill is the scientist who created the ship, Laurence Fishburne is the captain, and Kathleen Quinlan looks surprisingly good in a tank top. This is a really good cast wasted by a director who has all the emotional complexity of a twelve year old boy. Anyway, spooky shit begins to happen because fuck science and humanity's drive to explore, right? Maybe that's why I hate movies like this: it's like Hollywood wants us to live on our little planet forever so they continually punish any character for taking part in the final frontier.

it seems impossible for a movie to make this stuff so boring

It's fair to compare Event Horizon to Alien, even though that's like comparing restroom graffiti to Picasso, because it so desperately wants to be Alien. While you don't have cats falling out of the ceiling, the jump-scares in Event Horizon are the equivalent of awkward one-liners shoehorned into a bad action movie. I actually like jump-scares when they work (Drag Me to Hell was hilariously brilliant at it), but here they don't. Not even once. But it's a good thing they're there because I found my eyes drifting to places other than the screen and the screeching violins reminded me to watch the movie.

Other than all that, Event Horizon isn't without its merits. I like the way it looks even though there's no logical reason for the maintenance tunnels to be an eerie color or there to be lights on the wormhole generator, and so on. The CGI in this movie is downright horrible, but the other effects are pretty solid. The film's biggest problem is that its weird shit happens prematurely. There isn't any building of tension and therefor the scare tactics fall embarrassingly flat. It would also help if we gave a shit about any of these characters, but we don't because they're just not real enough.

A little late in the picture it's made clear that Fishburne's character had a traumatic life experience. We sigh because we know they'll try to resolve this inner conflict by the third act, which they do in the span of about ten seconds. It's so brief, in fact, you wonder what was the point of introducing it at all. Wikipedia says the movie underwent an uncredited rewrite and I'd bet money it was a much better movie before that happened.