After Earth

We saw the previews for this way back when and said “Hey, that looks like it will be good!”.  Then it came out and it was universally mocked, almost immediately.  And we said “Sweet, we can wait for DvD then!”  The only question left in my mind was “Is it ACTUALLY bad, or is it bad because everyone hates Jaden Smith?”

Now I have watched it.  The answer is: This movie is completely irredeemable.

“After Earth” is the story of Gary Stu, and his son, Gary Stu.  It is one of the most remarkable displays of bad writing that I have seen in a while.  Will Smith’s character (fuck if I remember his name [edit] I looked it up.  It’s “Cypher Raige”.  AHAHAHAHAHAHAHahahahahahaha…[/edit]) is a badass soldier (the best soldier of all soldiers, of course) who is so fucking badass that he feels absolutely no fear, which allows him to “ghost” past the fearsome “Ursa” creatures which track humankind solely by the pheremones we release when scared.  He is so badass that he doesn’t even bother to kill them with fancy ray guns or even pedestrian physical bullet weapons, despite this being the future.  No, he kills them with dual bladed swords.  You can pause to vomit now, if you want.

His son has been working super hard to be the most badass of rangers just like dear old dad, but naturally he hasn’t been able to make the cut (this is a smoke-screen, so you don’t suspect that he is also the most Gary Stu of all Gary Stus.  He is, though.  It’s pretty fucking obvious.  He even has the tragic childhood to go with it)  Some touchy feely shit happens where Dad is all cold and unfeeling to his disappointing son (oh but you can see how much he loves him but cannot display it.  You can pause to vomit again now), and then we finally get on with the fucking movie and they get on a spaceship.

Gary Stu (the older one.  The one we aren’t supposed to expect to be worthless) uses his spidey sense to detect space phenomena that almost certainly doesn’t exist, and goes and warns the pilots who disregard his warnings because they didn’t get the memo that this guy is perfect and knows everything.  Oops, he was right, and the ship explodes and summarily crashes (this is what I mean by Gary Stu, man.  It couldn’t just be that shit happens and the ship fucking crashes, oh no, it has to be mr super fucking soldier who notices the danger while all the oblivious plebeians fumble around uselessly.  He doesn’t even do anything useful after noticing it which makes it ENTIRELY EXTRANEOUS that he is the one who notices.  Fuck).
The two Gary Stus are the only survivors.  Because that’s how good they are.

Conveniently, older Gary Stu is injured and cannot go and just do everything himself, so he sends younger Gary Stu off to save their lives.  He’s guiding every step of the way on the intercom though (which also lets him see everything occurring from multiple camera angles that are in no way attached to his son’s suit, because it’s the future I guess.  A future where they use fucking melee weapons.) and also pauses to emotionlessly belittle his son’s every actions because that will make his son better at stuff (then zoom in on his face to show that he’s actually having emotions he just won’t show them because that would be a weakness you see).

Oh my god it was intolerable… made worse by the fact that absolutely nothing unpredictable happens in this movie.  You’ve read this far – take a wild fucking guess at what happens.  Guess what, you’re right!  It’s actually directed by M. Night Shymalan who is known for his (usually terrible) twist endings.  The twist in this movie is that there is no twist!  He got me pretty good with that one.

The movie is also a grand display of telling instead of showing.  There’s a big (and completely fucking pointless ARRRGHH) scene where little Gary Stu realizes he has broken a couple of his inhalers, which are essential for breathing in EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE (no explanation of why Earth has changed that much, or why it’s primordial now despite that being absolutely not the path a planet ages on…) so he lies about it because he is afraid daddy will call off his mission due to his inevitable death.  Big Gary Stu, however, is perfect, so he looks at the biomedical readouts and can tell little Gary Stu is lying.  Then he calls off the mission because of little Gary Stu’s inevitable death.  Which makes no fucking sense because they’re both going to die anyway if the mission fails.  But amazingly enough that’s not even the reason I started typing this.  Big Gary Stu runs a computer simulation of how to reach the tail section of the ship (the goal of the mission) and it pops up and lists off how many inhalers are needed.  Little Gary Stu has 2 left.  The computer pops up and shows a route that will use 4 inhalers, and one that will use just under 2 inhalers.  There is a short pause and then it pops up and points out the shorter route, and blinks “ONLY SURVIVABLE ROUTE” over and over.  I’m so glad it pointed that out because I almost didn’t understand what the scene was trying to convey.

The entire movie is just scene after scene of Gary Stu-ness, telling instead of showing, bad science, and whiny scenes that are probably supposed to be dramatic and emotional but are just fucking annoying, oh my god shut the fuck up.  The 4 it has on IMDB is too generous, and that’s when considering ONLY the movie, not even delving into the rabbit hole of Scientology tie-ins I spotted on Wikipedia (which may or may not be reaching.  It seemed like pretty generic bad movie writing to me)…
God, it’s even generous before considering the awful acting.  I think Jaden out-acted Will in this movie, but we’re talking about a subterranean bar, here.

Ugh.  Ugh.  At least Red Dawn is entertaining to make fun of.  This has too much whining to even make a good drunken movie night movie.

Card Hunter

I am going to promote a game that, judging by the server status, needs absolutely no promotion… you fuckers are going to try it and make it harder for me to get online to play >:(.  But oh well.

Card Hunter is a free to play browser based game that I suppose you could call an MMO.  I’ve only been playing the single player content because I am anti-social like that, but there’s a multiplayer aspect as well where you go PvP and get extra goodies.  The game is a callback to old school basement board games, to the degree that the whole background narrative is an amusing… tribute?  parody? of those days.  The gist of it is that you’ve gone over to your friend Gary’s house to play the game.  He’s a novice GM and using his brother Melvin’s game set, so his brother hangs around in the background trying to “teach” him how to be a good GM (while also making sure his precious game pieces are not abused, no doubt). It will be amusing to most, nostalgic to some, possibly insulting to a few… but those few will probably be too busy analyzing the rules of the game itself looking for flaws.

The actual game is well presented.  You have a three character party and you complete modules to collect loot which gives the characters more cards to work with.  Having no weapon equipped means you get shitty attacks, but when you find a nice axe or club you get some appropriate slashing or bludgeoning cards.  Better weapons give you better cards.  Same for armor and accessories, and then things like boots which give you more movement cards to work with.  On top of that, your characters get experience for completing a module and levelling up gives them the standard +HP, but will also give them some more basic cards, as well as more slots to equip items in for a different array of cards.  Each module is pretty straight forward… you go, the GM goes, and you try to kill each other.  Matches are won with victory points which so far means “kill each other”, but some modules do add in some twists like victory squares which award a point for controlling it at the end of a turn, so there’s potential for modules that aren’t just same-old same-old.  There are a lot of mechanics like LOS squares and squares which have attributes (acid attacks can lay down damaging acid squares, which you can cleanse with the right cards), or you can get levitate style abilities and just float over them.  It’s a bit frustrating to draw a fistful of armor cards and have to sit there passing while the enemy has its way with you, but that’s due to shitty gear/card selection and should improve as the characters do.

I do have a few complaints about the UI that will hopefully be ironed out eventually.  One of the complaints is just that it’s pretty laggy right now, which is something that will improve with time.  It does mean sometimes you sit around waiting for an action to take place, though, which highlights some redundancies in the UI that probably won’t be as annoying when it’s fast.  Whenever you play a card, it zooms that card so you can see what it is.  Makes sense right, you should know what card the enemy is playing.  The problem is, it doesn’t show it very long, so even when you don’t know what card it is, you don’t actually have time to read it… which means we’re just kind of wasting a couple seconds pausing the game to flash cards around.  And it does this for every card, even yours, and even when it’s something you’re going to do a lot like “walk”.  Every single time you walk, you select the card, you select the square to walk to, it pauses, it shows the card, it puts the card away, and then your figure moves.  Again, probably only annoying because the server lags a bit and makes each of those things take a few extra seconds, but it feels like it could be trimmed a bit to make it speedier.  It seems like the purpose of this is so that when a card counters what is played, it can pop up and show the counter, but it would be nice if they could show that when a counter occurred instead of every single play.

My next complaint is that the isometric view actually makes selecting the figures difficult sometimes.  When they’re close together, the figure it front will hide the health indicator of the one behind it.  The health is displayed elsewhere, so it’s not a huge deal, but you have to be very careful when trying to shoot the really injured guy behind the not so injured guy.  I’ve wasted a lot of attacks on the wrong target because of misclicks.  Worse is when you misclick a heal because the bad guy was standing in front of your about-to-die character /facepalm.

Worse than that (because at least misclicking is totally my fault…) is that the game tries to “help” you.  It’s mostly an issue with LOS.  So many times now I’ll click a heal intending to save the wizard or warrior who’s moved up around a pillar, only to realize I’m actually one step out of LOS of him.  But the game goes “There’s only one target in range so you must mean this one!” and uses my heal on whatever is in range, instead of letting me try to cast it on the thing which was not in range to realize it is not in range.  If it hadn’t done that I could have backed out of the heal, used my move card, and then hopefully saved him on the next round… but now my heal card has been wasted because the game is “helping”.  It may seem ironic to complain about streamlining immediately after complaining about how the card-showing process is not streamlined, but at least waiting for the card to show doesn’t result in a loss.

I’m finding it pretty fun so far and I hope there’s plenty of content to go through still.  I am finding I quickly reached a point where the wizard is the most important character in the party, just because all the monsters now attack from two squares away which makes my warrior completely useless unless there’s plenty of pillars to pin them on.  I just bought him a rapier that can attack at two squares so we’ll see if that helps, but wizardly OPness might be a balance issue to watch out for.  I haven’t taken a close look at the microtransactions yet… I saw some cosmetic stuff and I know if you sub you get an extra loot item at the end of a match, so those are both cool but not “Pay to win” and I approve of that.  I glanced at the cost of subbing and didn’t really find it appealing, though (I think it was like 10 bucks a month which isn’t too ridiculous, I guess).  We’ll see how much fun I continue to have.  I do like to support F2P games, but only if the prices seem reasonable for what I get.  I mostly dislike the idea of paying for benefits which immediately dissolve as soon as I stop paying.  The game appears to have optional “treasure hunt” missions which offer better loot, and if they can be unlocked and stay unlocked I might donate some cash that way.  Then again, you only get the loot once, and it doesn’t seem to be a random item… so it’s kind of like paying for an item that you have to do work to access.  Nngh we’ll see how this goes I guess.

Blood Music

Blood MusicBlood Music by Greg Bear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have now read two books by Greg Bear, and they both went the same way. They started out good and kept me interested, cranked it up to amazing in the middle and gave me eyestrain, and then became a big pile of facepalm at the end which made me drop my ranking.

The book starts out with what I felt was a very familiar sort of story: a scientist injects himself with modified cells and begins to experience beneficial effects like advanced healing, heightened senses, youthful energy, yadda yadda. I actually went on a short pilgrimage to try to figure out when this style of story was first used, but with this book coming out in 1985 it might actually have been one of the first. But that was kind of moot because a few chapters later the story had changed completely.

It moved from there into a pandemic story, and then into full blown post-apocalyptic descriptions. My favourite kinds of books are stuff involving science, medicine, pandemics, post-apocalyptic wastelands… this book had it all for me so maybe I was a bit biased, but my god it was so good.

Then I got to the end and… nngh. I don’t know. It just totally lost me. Everything I know about quantum physics comes from entertainment media and likely not accurate at all, but it was a little eyerolling for me even taking it from an entertainment perspective. There were long pages full of completely unnecessary reminiscing, which I guess was supposed to mean more to me but I just didn’t care about the characters enough to give a shit. Then there was a long section where the characters argued about the plausibility of what was happening, which almost came across as the author providing a laundry list of all the things that were wrong with it, as if to preempt the inevitable pedantic naysayers.

But the first 3/4 or so of the book was absolutely worth my time. I’m trying to decide if I should take on another Greg Bear book next. I’m pretty sure I did this exact same thing last time… I was halfway through the book and thinking “holy shit I’m going to read every single thing this guy has written”, then I got to the end and went “….” and moved on to something else. Hrm.

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The Quiet Earth

Sometimes I go on movie binges, looking up lists of recommendations and accumulating a pile of “to watch” movies that look interesting.  And then we don’t get around to watching them for 6 months and I can’t remember if I picked this up because it was Halloween so it’s going to be a cheesy slasher movie, or if it was supposed to be a comedy, or what.  I pulled “The Quiet Earth” out of the pile tonight and went “1985???  Must be sci-fi…” because we tend to avoid anything made pre-2000 unless it either looks really good, or is sci-fi, since we’ve watched every single other good sci-fi movie that exists (and usually for sci-fi we haven’t seen, pre-2000 ends up being not good… but we keep trying.)
The Quiet Earth was good.  It was bizarre, but good.

The movie opened, surprisingly enough, with a penis.  I immediately said “Well, this must be European…” because I don’t think North America acknowledged the existence of penises in the 80s, and they most certainly didn’t show them dangling and bobbing around like this movie was.  Then the guy got into a vehicle (he put clothes on first), and the steering wheel was on the wrong side, so I said “Aha.  I told you.”  Then he spoke and I said “… it’s not England.”  My amazing powers of deduction were correct – the movie is actually from New Zealand, which probably also explains why we hadn’t seen it before.

It was actually a post-apocalyptic style movie, with the whole first bit being this guy wandering around exploring abandoned locations and trying to figure out what the fuck happened.  The opening of 28 Days Later is quite possibly our favourite movie sequence of all time (the whole first half of the movie is our favourite movie.  We turn it off when they get to the soldiers, though.) and it was quite reminiscent of that, so I really enjoyed it.  Nothing like a big mysterious exodus of people to put you on edge.

Then he started going a bit nuts, cabin-fever-The-Shining style, which was also fantastic.

Then it goes downhill a little bit (does EVERY “end of the world” scenario need a fucking love triangle?  Ugh), but it’s still not bad.  It was almost bad, but it had enough “wtf” to save itself from the bad.

The whole movie was quite engaging, as long as you don’t try to figure out what the fuck happened when they actually start trying to explain what happened.  Most of it at least makes some logical sense in that you can put the pieces together and go “Okay, this is not plausible but at least I can follow it and see what they were going for”, but the science behind a network of energy circling the globe that airplanes can tap into so that they never need to refuel… maybe it made some sense in the 80s, but nowadays it’s probably best to just smile and nod.  The ending is a pretty good “what” moment – it’s a decent wrap for the movie but it’s not going to answer any questions for you – and a quote from the director says “it’s intentionally ambiguous” which is usually code for “we couldn’t come up with an ending that didn’t ruin the movie, so we left it ambiguous so you can write your own”.  I’m glad they didn’t try to explain it, really.  When I was looking for info about the movie, I found it on a list of “shock endings”.  The definition of that must have changed since 1985 because I wouldn’t say it was shocking… but it was certainly interesting.  It’s one of those endings where you’re like “Okay, I think this is what happened.” and then you google it and marvel at how many theories the internet can actually generate… there’s not enough information for some of these theories, people.

It’s a really decent addition to my post-apocalyptic library, as well as the “quantum physics mindfuck” library (right alongside “Primer”, although the levels of “wtf” are a mere glimmer next to that movie, jesus), and I would recommend checking it out.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We were watching “Oz the Great and Powerful” (which was decent, but pretty shallow, and very Disney), and I realized I had never actually read any of the original Oz books. I knew I had them so I figured I should probably remedy that.

I’m probably going to piss someone off with this, but, what surprised me the most about it was how bad it was. Not the story! The story was imaginative and unique and perfectly captures that “fairy tale” feeling. What was bad was the writing. I was trying to put my finger on it, and I think it just feels amateur, which probably makes sense. It’s similar to what you would expect from a young author – there’s almost an obsession with documenting each and every trivial action of the characters, almost as if there’s a fear that the reader will either become confused, or call out the story for not describing how something came to be (even when obvious). It makes several parts of it unwieldy and wordy, but even more bizarre, it flip-flops into sections where absolutely nothing is described in detail, which is quite glaring after the painstaking details in every other section.
The oiling of the Woodman is a good example. The whole section is like: “Oil my neck”, said the Woodman. So Dorothy oiled his neck. “Now oil my arms”, said the Woodman. So Dorothy oiled his arms. “Now oil my legs”, said the Woodman. So Dorothy… okay we get it. There’s like two pages that could be condensed into the sentence “Dorothy oiled the Woodman until his joints moved once more.”
In another section, Dorothy pulls out a whistle and the book explains that she always wears it around her neck so it’s been there the whole time. My version was annotated, and the accompanying footnote said “Commentary has been unable to explain this suddenly appearing accessory.” I can take a crack at explaining it though – it’s lazy writing. Either the whistle was mentioned in a section that later got hastily chopped out and not cleaned up, or it was never mentioned and when this part got written, the explanation was jammed in on top with some hand waving.  That’s my interpretation.

Speaking of the annotations… I know this book has been analyzed backwards and forwards and inside and out for the past century, but I read books for the entertainment value, and I tend to analyze them on the same level. I generally prefer going into a book “blind”, without any encounters with any outside opinions to colour the formation of my own opinions. Which is why it drives me absolutely nuts (and I know I’ve bitched about this before in reviews…) to have a classic edition like this that spends literally the first 25% of the book going over the history of the creation of the book, the life and times of the author, their favourite passages from the book, and what they think those passages mean in a symbolic and allegorical sense, all before letting me start to read the fucking book. Put that shit at the END of the book, AFTER I have read the book. It’s absolutely mind boggling. What possible reason do you have for putting all of this shit before the content of the book itself. It’s not reasonable to expect that everyone on the planet has already read the book. What if a 5 year old child is reading this as the first book they have ever read, and now you’ve ruined the story for them! Way to go! [/rant].

That said, I found the footnotes amusing, in that they reinforced my belief that I will never get along with literary analysis. My god, the sheer effort spent trying to derive meaning from every little thing. The tin man rusts, but tin cannot rust! What can it mean! Well, it could have some sort of allegorical meaning, or, it could be that, back in 1900, L. Frank Baum didn’t understand how rust works. It’s probably one of those things. I skimmed over the whole “Oz as an allegory for economics”, as well as something about how Dorothy must have been a vegan because she is only ever seen eating nuts and fruit, and all I can think is that it’s entirely too exhausting to read things while trying to dig up clues that may or may not exist under the words.

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Dungeon Village

Dungeon Village is an android game by “Kairosoft” that I avoided for the longest time because it costs about 5 bucks.  “Five bucks for a PHONE GAME???  Fuck no”, I said.  Then one day I got bored and downloaded the “lite” version, and gameplay ended like maybe 20 minutes later, and I bought it immediately.  It has been stealing my soul ever since.  *shake fist*

You place buildings, then increase the quality and appeal of those buildings, which attracts people to your town.  Those people then buy stuff from your stores and go out and beat the shit out of cute little blob style monsters, then come back and buy more stuff from your stores, and then you upgrade the stores and give them gifts so they can beat the shit out of stronger cute little monsters, and occasionally you pay them money to go into a scary dungeon and bring back fancy things to sell in your stores (right back to them…).  The more they visit your stores the more your stores level up, and the people themselves level up, and there’s even a jobs system.  Later you start mixing ingredients into a cauldron in order to create new items.

It’s such a simple god damn formula.  Envision all of those things as a progress bar.  There are lots of little progress bars to watch, and it’s fucking awesome.  Why aren’t more of you creating progress-bar-watching games for me, dammit >:(.  I played it for my entire lunch break yesterday and my phone limped home with about 14% battery life left (oops…).  I’m currently at a point where I need more income, so I just spend all of my money on building enhancing items every cycle, and one day I will be raking in the dough, man.  Apparently the most efficient way of making high income is to delete all your buildings and then place certain ones in places where the dudes have to step on them and therefore spend money, but fuck that, I have lots of little shops and they will be the best fucking shops ever.

Also the heroes have pre-set awesome* names like “Lance Alot” and “Seffy Roth”
(* only awesome for about 20 seconds)

There are a few flaws, of course… like how your adventurers don’t really buy equipment upgrades at your shops, buy they do re-buy what they already have.  So the best strategy is to give them gifts of super expensive equipment, and then they’ll go buy it over and over again.  … yeah, I don’t know either.  At its heart it’s pretty shallow too.  It didn’t take me very long to get to four stars, and the only reason I’m not 5 stars right now is because I refuse to cheat at raising my income.  But I also peeked at a wiki and there are a fuckton of jobs and things to unlock, which apparently carry over into new towns you make once you’ve unlocked them once, so it’s not like it doesn’t have any content for 5 bucks.

I would write more but “Gilly Gamesh” just maxed out his Archer class and I need to pick a new job for him to work on.  This game is good at wasting your life.  You should probably check it out.