Homefront

Homefront (Phil Broker, #6)Homefront by Chuck Logan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I queued this one up because the premise sounded interesting. As I work through my reading queue I often forget why I added books to it, and a chapter or two into this I had to stop and look it up to figure out why the hell I had added it. Then I was like “Oh, right. That DOES sound interesting.” I slogged away at it but… I just can’t do it. The writing is pretentious and overdone, littered with isolated sentences and choppy wording that’s designed to hype up the drama. There’s a complete lack of subtlety here. It feels like being bashed over the head with words. Watching the movie will be less painful.

Infoquake

Infoquake (Jump 225 , #1)Infoquake by David Louis Edelman

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I’m going to abandon this one, which is unfortunate because I was excited about the premise. It’s a sci-fi setting with a corporate board room twist which is unique enough that I really wanted to see it play out.

It starts off feeling a lot like Neal Stephenson which was a very good sign. There isn’t a lot of over-explanation of concepts which was another very good sign. You’re dumped into the world and the characters react to the world and its unique concepts as if it’s completely normal, which is great, because for them it IS. None of the concepts are difficult to understand, you orient quickly, and it’s interesting to watch the subtleties of the world unfold.

Then you meet Natch, who spends his entire introduction being a prick to everyone. And you think to yourself “Aha, this is probably the villain of the story. A shades-of-grey nuanced antagonist, perhaps?” But then the book does its damnedest to make you sympathize with him, and completely fails on all counts. You also spend a fair amount of time with one of his female underlings who has thoughts like “I hate him so much. I wish I wasn’t so attracted to him!” And you think to yourself “………..”

To be fair, I bailed on it before the conclusion, but I couldn’t give a single solitary shit about any of the characters. I was interested in their world, but I didn’t care about them, I didn’t care what they were doing, and I finally went a couple weeks with the book sitting untouched in my bag and then went “Welp. I may as well read something else.” It wasn’t the setting at all—I was really interested in the corporate angle, even though it means it’s a slower pace than your typical sci-fi might be—but there was simply no one to root for and the characters felt forced.

It’s too bad because it’s a relatively unique approach to a plot and I’d like to see it thrive, but it really needs strong, relateable, characters to carry it. Instead, we have a jackass CEO that I’d like to see shot out of a cannon, while his underlings talk about how much they despise him but also how brilliant and amazing he is. Blurgh.

The 5th Wave

We watched The 5th Wave last night.  I recalled being mildly interested in it from the previews, but then when I saw the ratings it had garnered I quickly quashed any sort of optimism.  I was still curious though, and we were also mildly drunk, so it seemed like a good time to see what was up.

Rather than create a formal review of this movie, I think it will be more appropriate to transcribe the intoxicated messages I sent to my friend while watching it.  Enjoy.

[Warning: Spoilers.  But you shouldn’t care because this will be more entertaining than the movie.]

————————————-

We are watching the fifth wave which has a whopping 5.2 on IMDb.
So far not bad but she just used her cell phone and typed y o u and it autocorrected to “u”

>:( One star.

Husband asked for a space marine movie before we picked this.
Me: “They’re basically space marines but they’re children is all.”
Him: “Not very good space marines. Also they’re not in space.”
Me: “But they’re fighting aliens!”
Him: “It’s really not the same.”

Female protagonist has been helped/captured by hunky male now. She just did the lip thing that suggests she wants to fuck him. Odds of hunky male being an alien??!?

Husband and I are laying bets on his alienness now

He’s is totes an alien and she’s going to fall in love with him and be horrified by herself and then come around. Book it
(AFTERMATH SPOILERS: I was wrong.  It actually kinda happens the other way around which makes even less goddamn sense)

Husband doesn’t think he’s an alien because he hid her from alien drones. That was the whole point to make her trust him YOU FOOL

Female protagonist shows loving nurturing side while proclaiming “I’m not TOUGH, okay??!?”.  Meanwhile second female character (only other one in movie) is being super badass and beating up all the males and training them to use weapons because she’s a girl but also super badass you see

He is lovingly tending to her wounds. Boning imminent.

Oh man I didn’t even get to hit send before they started shoving tongue down each other’s throats

He’s gonna be an alien he totally is

Husband: “I’m giving this movie a lot more credit than you are. He’s not an alien. They just want you to THINK he’s an alien.”
Me: “There’s a reason this movie has such low ratings.”

“I guess you were right. He’s an alien.”

I WIN.

It was pretty obvious because this is LITERALLY Twilight with aliens now

Female protagonist: “Did you really believe that??!?”
Alien love interest: “I did. But then I saw you.”

*Hurk*

Holy shit this has lost so many stars in like the last 20 seconds

Badass girl is now saving “still badass but deliberately not as badass to still show her feminine side” girl

Yeah.  That was awful.

Nova War

Nova War (The Shoal Sequence, #2)Nova War by Gary Gibson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I wrote about my distaste for the first book in the series, which had SO MUCH potential but was completely overpowered by sloppy writing and self-indulgent gratuitous eroticism. Dakota Merrick has all the parts in play to be a strong, intriguing character with a lot of depth… but she wastes it by spending the first book fucking everyone (including her ship). Other reviews suggest the series gets stronger as it goes, so I popped open the second one to see how the writing evolves.

It opens with the same problem the first one had: huge exposition dumps from characters I haven’t really been given much of a chance to give a single shit about. The underlying plot points really have some power to them, but it feels like such a slog to care about any of the characters.

We finally get back to Dakota, who finds herself in prison. She’s naked, of course, with plenty of mentions about her breasts, and she immediately notes how her pubic hair has been shaved. This does not look like a promising indication that the writing will be any less indulgent. Sure enough, when she is finally reunited with her boy toy (who, I noted, is also naked but he’s such a flat character that he isn’t even graced with a physical description) the first thing they do is fuck. Even though she’s been starving herself and is so weak she’s barely coherent. Priorities!

Let me be clear: I’m not prudish, and I will happily read explicit content in books, as long as there is a REASON for it. There is no reason for all of the gratuitous sexuality in these books. It’s self-indulgent and distracting, and the worst part is (as I said in my review of the first book) it could fairly easily have been modulated to actually have a point. Dakota Merrick could be a really interesting female protagonist, because she’s been ostracized and traumatized and has difficulty connecting to people. Building a trust relationship with Corso could be a REALLY powerful sequence. But, instead, she prances around naked and fucks everything with a cock at every opportunity (real cocks or artificial ones, it doesn’t matter to her!). It’s pretty clearly biased, too. We become intimately familiar with Dakota’s naked body, breasts, pubic region, anus… but there is barely any time wasted describing Lucas Corso. Who wants to read about him anyway, right? It’s all about the boobies and pubic hair! And, naturally, the males she fucks think it’s the best sex they’ve ever had. Even the main enemy is like “You know what, I kind of like her, despite trying to kill her.” I wonder how long it will take before she fucks him too, despite the fact that he’s a fish in a floating bubble. (He does have tentacles that extend outside of it! Hmmmmm…)

I skimmed through roughly 30% of the book and found the characters were still acting inconsistently (one moment they’re badass, the next they’re weeping and cowering) and just gave up before getting out of the prison sequences. It’s really a shame because the plot is interesting and the action is fast paced, but the characters ruin it for me. As I said with the first book, though: give it to an editor who will slash all the bullshit out of it and an effects team who will bring the action to life and we’ll have a decent (possibly cheesy) movie that I will happily watch.

Harbinger Down

Harbinger Down appeared on Netflix and twigged something in my memory.  ‘Wasn’t I really looking forward to that for some reason?’ I thought to myself, and spent a few minutes googling it while the opening screens played through.  I had definitely clicked on the IMDB link at some point in the past!

It took a bit of hunting but I finally discovered that I had been interested in it because it promised full practical effects – a throwback to the horror/suspense movies of our childhood.  One of the very first lines says something like “In the style of classics like Alien and The Thing…” and my husband said “I was just going to say it really has an Alien vibe so far.  Those are both very good movies.  I’m looking forward to this.”

If you grew up watching 80’s suspense/horror movies with 80’s special effects, you might even be tempted to say that the writing isn’t as important as the visuals.  I mean, all those movies have the same damn plot anyway, right?  As long as it looks cool, who cares!  Well, Harbinger Down is here to show you that you are wrong.  It turns out the writing is, in fact, pretty important.  Because hoo boy does this movie have some bad writing.  I mean, it does hit a lot of the same ol’ tropes you’d expect to see, but it also does some about-faces in its plot that make no god damn sense whatsoever, which just reveal how threadbare the writing actually is.  They slapped together the template and filled it with special effects and didn’t put much more thought into it.  “Oh no there are explosives on the ship!  We need to save the ship!  Whew thank goodness we saved it; now we can get down to the business of properly destroying this ship…”  /facepalm.  And the ending… sigh.

Though I will say the steps leading up to biological contamination at least made more sense than the whole “Hey let’s just turn off this sterile forcefield and expose this alien head to our air supply just for shits and giggles!” plot point in Prometheus.

The effects were great though.  It really felt like an Aliens era movie, and that’s something you just don’t feel that much nowadays.  I’m not a big fan of the heavy handed leaning on CGI nowadays, although I’m not sure that 100% practical is the best way to go either.  I feel like CGI enhanced practical effects lead to the best results, but you just have to appreciate the awesomeness of a well executed practical effect and I hope movies like this keep the art alive.

October Gale

I was in the mood for a thriller and the blurb for “October Gale” says something about being stranded on an island with killers.  Sounds like a pretty standard slasher/thriller style movie, right?  I did think it was a little odd that it was classified as “Thriller/Drama” but hey let’s check it out!

The movie starts out slooooooowwwwwwwlllllllllllly going over the loss of her husband and cutting to scenes of her together with her husband, and talking about grief and loss and moving on and… I think somewhere around 40 minutes in I said something like “I hope someone tries to kill her soon.”

Then someone covered in blood shows up!  This is promising!  But then she falls in love with him, which seems a little out of place and maybe a bit odd since he’s roughly half her age.

Oh yeah and then suddenly some guys show up and try to kill them but they win and then fall in love for realsies.

What the fuck…

Apparently on some sites it is classified as “Thriller/Drama/Romance” and I really wish I had spotted that beforehand. It’s just not a good combination.  This movie does not know what it is.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the writers started out with a crap romance and couldn’t sell it so they tacked on a crap ‘thriller’ plot to try to make it stand out.  In the end, both halves are just lacklustre and half developed.  It’s a shame that good acting was wasted on such a hackneyed plot…

Parallels

We clicked on “Parallels” almost entirely at random, with only Netflix’s flawed prediction algorithm to guide us. Our decision process went something like: “It’s sci-fi, it involves parallel Earths, eh why not.”

The description for the movie literally says “follows a band of people across parallel Earths” and it is named “Parallels”  so imagine my confusion when the movie seemed to spend the first third of its run-time bringing the characters to the realization that, hey, this might be a parallel earth, guys.  Like, fuck the exposition was so fucking slow my god.  This is one of those movies where you’re yelling at the TV because it’s not well written. First we have the obligatory scene where all the characters meet up, but they all know each other, but oops the audience doesn’t know them so let’s throw in some bullshit reason that they all need to explain to each other who they are, just to bring the audience into the loop.  *dust hands* problem solved!  Okay now we know who the characters are, even if that was awkward as fuck.  NOW let’s spend 45 minutes having them figure out the basic plot of the movie.  Good job team!  We only need to fill like, 20 more minutes and we’re done!

I often find the emails I send while in a drunken rage while watching a movie are the best indication of how much I enjoyed the movie. This is literally the email I sent to my friend while watching it:
“The premise of the movie is that they are travelling to other versions of Earth, and then they encounter some graffiti describing alternate earths. Then they accidentally travel to an alternate earth and THEN.  THEN they spend 15 minutes figuring out amongst themselves that this might be an alternate earth.  GOOD JOB GUYS.”

Then I sent this one:
“The rebel loner guy is named “Ronin”.  At least it’s not “Cypher Raige” I guess.”

Then we ran into “obligatory hot Asian chick” and it was facepalms all around.  But, ironically, the plot started getting better after that.

BUT not better enough.  JUST as we got to the part where it was actually getting interesting and telling us something we didn’t know from the god damn movie description, it…………………… ended.

My husband said “That wasn’t a movie, that was a TV series.  You read it wrong when you clicked on it.”  and I said “No, it was DEFINITELY a movie.”  “No, that was DEFINITELY a TV series and you should find the next episode.”

So I did what any reasonable person would do, and I Googled it.  He wasn’t wrong!

Parallels was created as a television pilot, but Fox Digital Studios morphed it into a stand-alone movie”

Mother. Fucking. Fox. Studios.

And then I found this one:
Parallels is a 2015 American science-fiction adventure film and possible pilot”
Which is like… hahahahaha ‘possible pilot’ INDEED.

Anyway.  Long story short: do not waste your time.  It’s only barely interesting as a premise, and you can learn everything you need to know from the description.  If it does make it to full blown TV status it’s probably going to suck anyway.  There are a large number of bad movies on Netflix that I endorse because the monthly fee removes all of the guilt you may incur from having watched it… but they should excise this shit from it immediately.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist (First Impressions)

First impressions is all I ever do now because I never finish games anymore… but anyway

I am a huuuuggggeeeeee old-school Splinter Cell fan.  I got into Splinter Cell and the original Thief games around the same time back in the early 2000’s, and suddenly realized that the stealth genre was made for me.  I think the SC games were the first “shooter” games I ever actually finished.  The first time I realized you could actually shoot out light bulbs with your silenced pistol was like holy shit this is the greatest thing ever oh my god.  I mean sure you have water arrows to douse torches in Thief so it’s not like it’s even an original concept, but dude, I just shot out the bulb on that guy’s front porch holy shit.  I dunno, I guess the water arrows pretty much exist for only that one purpose, where the light bulb thing almost felt like emergent gameplay at the time (even though it’s totally not).  It felt like I really had some control over how to get from one end of a room to another, and shooting a light bulb was just one clever option amid a myriad of not-necessarily-scripted options.  In Thief I always tended to club and hide all the guards, but Splinter Cell was 100% hanging out near the ceiling in a dark corner while an unsuspecting guard wanders through, oblivious to my shadowy presence.  Yessss.  Of course, it also meant I’d spend 8 hours trying to make it through a single mission without anyone spotting me, which was rather time consuming…

I played the shit out of the original, I played the shit out of Pandora Tomorrow, I played the shit out of Chaos Theory… and then they did that crazy thing with Double Agent where they released two versions of it and the PC version was the “bad” version, which left me paralyzed because I didn’t want the bad version, but I didn’t want to play it on a fucking console either…  sooooo I ended up not playing it.  I bought it on Steam a million years later but never did play it (damn you, Steam).  Then Conviction came out and that was just a clusterfuck of “You don’t stealth anymore you just kill everyone now” and I was like “what”.  (I bought that on sale too but also didn’t play it. Fucking Steam, man).  Then I heard Blacklist was a return to the stealth roots of the originals, so I bought it when it came up as a daily sale (Steam >:(  *shake fist*) and actually played it, this time.

The good:
It does feel like old school Splinter Cell.  I’m even ruining my life all over again by resetting it over and over again trying to not be seen.  The AI seems really impressive so far, which is either good or bad depending on how patient you are (stupid observant guards >:( ).  The controls are great.  It feels really solid, and there’s the occasional “No don’t run out from cover now you idiot” moment, but I can usually attribute that to me hitting the wrong key instead of some asshole context-based control fuck up.  (Have I mentioned I fucking hate the move to context based everything?  It greatly displeases me to have a button suddenly change its function because I took one step too many).  I was initially annoyed by the inclusion of a fly-out menu for my gadgets, but it’s got proper keyboard integration and it’s not getting in my way.  This is probably aided by me never actually using anything because I stealth past and then reset if I fuck up, so… as long as it works for me, I guess!  So far the controls feel fluid and I’m enjoying creeping around, and that’s all that really matters.

The bad:
The story.  Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.  I mean, it’s Tom Clancy.  And it’s not like SC really had sparkling writing before, but… it’s so bad.  Soooooo bad.  Also they’ve decided to cling to Sam Fisher as the protagonist, despite making him 20 years younger (as opposed to introducing a new 20-years-younger protagonist to carry the torch), which kind of invalidates the character.  He’s not actually 20 years younger – he’s still supposed to be past retirement age – he just looks and sounds 20 years younger and in the prime of his physical condition and not at all old and tired and past retirement age.  It’s dumb and they made a bad decision.  That alone drops it below the calibre of the originals, and that’s before I even started reading about some of the drama behind the switch in actors… I’m not sure I even want to know more.  The excuse of “We need someone who matches the build to do motion captures” really loses a lot of punch when you start wondering why motion capture effects the voice acting (especially since I don’t think the facial animations are really all that impressive and I doubt we would notice the difference in facial capture as much as we notice the loss of Michael Ironside…)…  but mostly I dislike the direction it takes the character.  He had a lot of heart as a grizzled veteran with a gravelly voice.  Now he’s just another “Commander Shepherd” generic 25 year old looking guy, oh but don’t worry he’s actually still old and grizzled.  See, grey hairs! …  Maybe I should just pretend nothing happened and go obliviously enjoy the gameplay (while skipping the story bits because it’s so bad).  New Sam is nowhere near as appealing as old Sam, and I even vaguely dislike him.  I don’t think that’s due to nostalgia, I think it’s because the character is a shallow, boring, action-figure shell.  It wasn’t exactly a deep character before so it doesn’t take much to lose everything.  A shame.  Fortunately the story is really bad so I have no desire to listen to his character interact with the other characters and I can just skip through the dialogue.  That… shouldn’t be a bonus.

But the gameplay is good enough to keep playing…. so far. I’ve heard rumors it gets more forced combat-y later which makes me frown, and it definitely seems to assume you’re just going to shoot everyone, so they missed the mark by a little bit despite the best intentions of the few designers who knew what they were doing.

I’m going to go shoot some fucking light bulbs.

Atelier Totori (early impressions)

I think I heard about the Atelier games in a “recommend a game” thread where they started discussing games where you collect and craft things.  Someone said the Atelier games were all about collecting alchemy ingredients from plants and monsters and then crafting them into stuff, and it sounded like a perfect game for me.  Then I discovered my husband had already bought one ages ago and didn’t like it… so I gave it a whirl.

This game is really… what’s the word… “kawaii”?  I’m not one of those people who despite anime, but this is like, sickeningly cutesy.  The main character doesn’t walk from place to place, she prances.  Every character arc seems to be some variation of “Oh no I messed up!  Tee hee hee “sigh” *sweat drop*”.  It’s getting old real fast, I gotta say.  So it’s not really a mystery why my husband dropped it like a hot rock… but I decided to stick it out and see if I could plow past the “tutorial” introduction cutscenes and maybe make some character development happen.  I’ve gotten my level 3 badge now (so still not very far, but going somewhere) and I’m starting to fear that maybe they’re not tutorial cutscenes.  Maybe this is the game.  :/

I’m really enjoying the base gameplay so far.  It’s pretty much as advertised: walk somewhere, collect flowers, beat up monsters and take their shit, then go home and mix them together.  You can take requests to create or clobber something then report back for cash, which you can then use to buy new recipes.  Creating/clobbering results in exp which makes you more successful at more advanced attempts.  It’s your standard addictive treadmill gameplay and it’s exactly what I was in the mood for.

Which is why it’s so annoying that the game keeps forcing this abysmal “plot” on me.  Everything I do seems to trigger a cutscene.  Not an interesting cutscene, just some sort of scenario with whatever character I walked past at the time.  None of these characters are interesting yet, and the game is trying way too fucking hard to be funny.  You’re not really that funny, game.  Stop it.

This happened just now:
Talk to request person – cutscene.
Since there was a cutscene, I got bumped out of the talk menus and didn’t get to turn in my request, so, talk to request person again.
Hand in quests, pick up new quests.
Go to shop to mix up the items the new requests asked for – cutscene of someone walking into my shop.
Make them go away, then actually get a chance to make the new items.
Go hand in items at request person – cutscene.
Ugh actually hand in new items now that cutscene is over.
Realize I have enough money for a new recipe book!  Go to store.
Talk to store clerk – cutscene.
Talk to store clerk again so I can actually buy the god damn book I came here for.

Maybe one of those cutscenes actually advanced some character development, for a minor character I don’t really give a shit about (the development was “This person is so cute that guys come and stare at her all the time but are too nervous to talk to her”, so it seems unlikely the story progression will change that a whole lot :/).  The rest seemed like complete filler/attempts at humour, but all it really succeeded in doing was annoying the shit out of me because it was impeding me from getting to any of my goals.

I want to play this game.  I want to collect items and mix them into powerful items and then go beat the shit out of gryffons or whatever, and then mix their livers into even more cooler items.  Shut up and let me play your game.

Maybe it’s not for me.  But I want to play it, dammit.  :/

Resident Evil 6 (Co-op)

We had heard a lot about how Resident Evil 6 was terrible, but co-op makes everything good.  We played a pretty shitty game called “Dungeon Lords” for hours and hours because it was co-op.  So when RE6 came on sale we snapped it up.  And then we played it while drunk.

The first thing we noticed is that it’s really god damn confusing to try to get co-op started.  The game starts, asks you to fiddle with some graphical settings (which kinda seemed to be wrong.  It asked me to adjust the gamma until I could barely see a “6” that by default looked like it was lit up by a spotlight.  I have a new monitor so I wanted to make sure things were calibrated correctly.  Turns out the default gamma was spot on perfect, and adjusting it at all based on the visibility of the “6” resulted in a game that looks like some dimly lit faces floating around in a sea of black.  I changed it back to default pretty quickly.), then dumps you straight into an action sequence.  I assumed I had done something wrong and missed the co-op option and backed out of it, but no, there were no menus before that point.  You had to play through the intro bits to get to the point where you select a campaign, THEN you can choose co-op.  It was really odd, especially since the into bit stars Leon and then you could go on to pick someone else entirely for your campaign.
So we played the intro bits simultaneously, getting wildly out of sync due to fucking up quicktime sequences and having to redo bits, not to mention pausing to look over and see if the other person is ahead of you or not and then yelling “oh my god SPOILERS you’re RUINING THE STORY for me!”

I was playing with keyboard+mouse because I hate shooting and camera movement with a controller.  Mouselook forever.  I almost questioned my decision during the many quicktime sequences in the intro… I will reiterate: beer was involved.  But it felt really scrambly sometimes like shit would happen it would be all “HIT THIS KEY” and I’d be all “uhhh fuck what key is that OH SHIT R R HIT R R RRRRRRR whew okay survived” and then it would go “NOW HIT THIS KEY OMG OMG QUICK” and I’d be all “fuck what keys are those?!?!”.  Embarrassingly, it once popped up the icon to hit left and right rapidly to ‘shake’ something off and I flailed around trying to hit left and right on the arrow keys, when of course it meant “A” and “D” from WASD, which I had been using to move the whole time so you’d think that would be obvious.  But it didn’t say A and D :( (remember: beer.)  In my defence, I only did that the first time and I felt really dumb about it.

I almost picked up my controller, under the assumption that the quicktime events would be a little more natural since the game is all console-ized to expect you to hit those buttons… or at least the button flailing would be more effective having less options to flail at.  Then I glanced over at my husband trying to shoot something with his controller and went “oh yeah.”  Once we finally got together for co-op, I ended up doing most of the shooting while he stabbed things with knives simply to avoid having to aim with his controller.  Teamwork.

Now, about the shooting.  We only finished one chapter last night (of the Leon campaign) before we got too drunk to survive anything and gave up, so I only got to spend skill points once and I suspect that will help things immensely.  BUT.  I cannot quite adequately explain how angry it makes me to unload three shotgun blasts into a zombie face and have it not fucking die.  Why are the bullets so god damn useless!  I was doing flying kicks and drop-elbow moves simply to hoard my bullet stash under the assumption that they would be more effective than kicking a zombie in the nuts, but noooo… when shit goes down and I pull out my gun I feel less effective.  Bullshit.  I also really disliked how my aiming reticule would float.  I originally thought it was some console auto-aim bullshit, but once I saw the skill list I decided it was supposed to represent my character sucking at aiming.  I’m not sure if I like the way it was implemented at all.  I’m used to games using a floating reticule that you have to wrestle with, but in RE6 I’ve got my mouse rock steady on the thing’s skull but the aiming dot is floating down to the middle of its chest.  Fuck you, dot.  Get back in the sights.

The rest of the game was pretty Resident Evil-like.  The writing… ahahaha the dialogue.  Let’s just say the characters are very insightful, and beer will almost certainly enhance the experience of making fun of their terrible lines.  We also spent a lot of time making fun of my character for apparently being incapable of opening a door without Leon, especially the time I stood there waiting for him and when he finally arrived and completed the co-op “open this door” chain, my character stepped back to let him gently push it open.  /facepalm. The co-op stuff was also really… “janky”, I suppose is a word.  Once, my husband went to the door and hit the “open this with your partner” button so it snapped him into standing there waiting, and then something jumped out and started nibbling on me right next to the door.  My character literally fell at Leon’s feet and wrestled it off, and Leon’s only comment was “Help me open this door, will you?”  Thanks Leon.  Thanks.  Something similar happened when I opened my menu to look at the settings (actually, looking to see if I could fix the wandering cursor problem that I thought was auto-aim) and it completely neglected to inform me that a quicktime event was happening.  I was run over by a train while looking at my cellphone, which could probably be some sort of social commentary if it wasn’t more likely to be terrible programming.

The primary complaint I’ve heard about this game is that it’s got too many quicktime events, and not enough freedom.  That’s pretty much entirely true.  Quicktimes don’t bother me, but it’s very on rails.  In the intro sequence you can’t even walk in a direction other than forward, which is kind of the point where you say “so why isn’t this just a cutscene, then”.  I don’t really have a problem with playing an interactive movie because co-op makes it awesome, but I can see how it might be annoying in single player since it’s not like the writing is amazing enough to carry it.  It can definitely feel very limiting, too.  We walked past some corpses that you KNEW.  YOU KNEW were going to attack as soon as we picked up the doodad we were going for, and my husband flailed away with some melee attacks but nothing happened.  “If these things come to life when I can’t kill them now I’m going to be pissed” he said.  Guess what!  They attacked.  At another point we had to “split up” so I could open a door for him, and I pushed a block out of the way to get to the door to unlock it.  I got turned around and went back instead of jumping down (beer) and my husband was saying “no no you must have had to push the block THIS way so I can climb on it!”  I found the door just as he said that and he followed up with “oh yeah.  It wouldn’t have given you a choice in what direction to push it, anyway.”

We’re still going to play it, and we’ll probably enjoy it because co-op… but RE6 definitely has a lot of flaws that drop it pretty far below its predecessors.  And sometimes that bar isn’t all that high to begin with…

Divergent

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m a big fan of dystopian fiction, survival fiction, to some extent military fiction, and I loved The Hunger Games which Divergent gets a lot of crap for copying. I actually saw the trailer for the movie (which I wasn’t really interested in, to be honest) and saw the magical words “based on the best selling novel” and was like “hmm. I should look that one up.” Even if it was just a cash-in ripoff of the success of Hunger Games, I should probably still enjoy it right?

I’m going to put a bottom line up front here: teen and “tweens” will love this book. For the rest of us, it’s just too god damn dumbed down to extract any real entertainment out of. I may have rolled my eyes here and there during Hunger Games, but I never felt like it was actively insulting my intelligence. Divergent… oh my god I felt like I was losing IQ at points.

One of the things I love the most about dystopian fiction is the worldbuilding. What is this world? Why is it dystopian? How did it get this way? Was there a purpose behind making it this way? How are the people coping with their circumstances?
Divergent has almost no worldbuilding. This is the first book in a trilogy (another glaring sign of cashing in… does it need to be a trilogy or are we just hoping to sell 3x the books?) but even if the rest of the series builds the most amazing world, it’s TOO LATE. That shit needs to go in book one, people. The civilization is broken into several factions, and it never explains why. Why do we have these factions? Why were they formed? What is the purpose? There’s a sniff here and there that, hey, maybe there IS actually a plot reason for these factions and it’s not just all pulled out of an ass, but the book doesn’t bother to explain anything to you until a couple of snippets near the end. The main character even explicitly states that she never paid attention in history, to give us a convenient out for not explaining anything.

Speaking of which, the book is in first person present tense, which is a point of view that I loathe. I hated it in Hunger Games and it’s one of the few things I feel really limited the ability to tell the story of that series. In a surprise twist, the POV is probably one of the things that didn’t irritate me about Divergent. I didn’t detect any sloppy mixed tense, and it was effectively used to ramp up the action scenes without losing too many opportunities to advance the plot due to the awkwardness of needing the main character to be present to show the reader every single development.

The problem is, it was probably effective because this book has no god damn plot to advance. The entire plot is “Tris switches factions and goes through hazing rituals for 400 pages”. Then there’s actually a bit of plot in the 10 pages of a war at the end, which is supposed to get you to buy in to the rest of the series. There’s no real background, no worldbuilding, and no real character development either. It’s just Tris going through ordeal after ordeal and trying to survive to make it to the next one, with no clear indication as to why. And also heavy allusions to High School social bullshit (with very one-dimensional bullies), to make sure the kids can relate to her.

The character development was a real issue. We see each and every thought Tris has, and she becomes more and more unlikeable with each one. She comes from the selfless faction, so she’s constantly beating herself over the head with how selfish she’s being now that she’s in a new faction and if she was back home she’d be doing all these selfless acts instead and prostrating herself in front of everyone instead of trying to advance herself. When I say constantly, I mean constantly. She does not shut up about it. Just shut up. Augh. But then she has dizzying bi-polar flips to completely different personalities. She’s flipping between self-loathing to angst to spite to psychopathic rage and then right back to self-loathing (and then incredulousness when she scores first place in everything. How could this be when she’s so bad at stuff?!?). And she’s as thick as molasses in winter, unless the situation dictates that she out-smart everyone by being super clever all of a sudden. Then she will be super clever and amaze everyone. Then she will wonder why everyone is so amazed because she’s so awful at everything how could be they be impressed!??

At one point she asks a stupid question about what’s going on and the reply is “I can’t wait until you finally catch on”. I wrote a note next to it saying “Me too.”  If you ever find yourself reading a book and the main character says “I open my mouth to object, but I can’t.  He’s right.”, and you find yourself yelling “OF COURSE HE IS RIGHT YOU STUPID BITCH”, the character might not be well written.

The characters are all one-dimensional and feel unnatural because they only display character traits when it is necessary to advance the scene (whether or not it makes ANY GOD DAMN SENSE based on past scenes involving that character.  Al?  What the fuck was that, besides a transparent attempt at subverting the expected to elicit shock). The book attempts to use the same “hook” the Maze Runner did of trying to not tell the reader anything about what’s going on, in the hopes it keeps you curious enough to keep reading to find out. What that means is, Tris flips between being completely oblivious and missing the obvious when they want to tell the reader something without “telling” Tris… and asking very pointed and clever questions to try to get to the heart of things, only to be told “I’ll explain later.” It’s infuriating, and it feels completely contrived from start to finish.

And then there’s the romance. The rating of this book plummeted so much during those pages, let me tell you. Before that it was a mediocre but at least sort of interesting attempt at a story that I could see the younger readers really enjoying. The romance heated up and it became porn for 12 year olds. Oh they’ll love it, because it’s perfectly and very pointedly targetted at that age where they’re desperate to know anything about sex and this is a likely parentally-approved route to reading about it (no sex takes place oh goodness no they just cuddle and kiss no sex nope). But it suffers from the same character development flaws as the rest of the book. These characters are not acting naturally, they’re acting in a way that is carefully designed to appeal to a younger audience. Add to that Tris’s ABSOLUTELY INFURIATING obliviousness every single time her boyfriend is on screen (gosh they kissed last night and now he’s ignoring her at breakfast how could this be she thought he loved her he must actually hate her she wants to cry this is so awful because there couldn’t possibly be any other explanation for him not wanting to reveal to everyone in the military compound that they’re in love since you know he’s kind of the leader of the group and boy I don’t see any problems with this news getting out do you? Nope he must hate her now well fine then she hates him too. Oh wait he was acting that way to hide that fact that he loves her because if everyone else found out they might think there was bias going on oh my god he’s soooooo smart she loves him so much for being so smart ~*~dreamy sigh~*~)
… okay I got carried away but ugh. ugh. I don’t even care if this is an accurate portrayal of how teens think. It was tedious.

It gets a lot of crap for copying Hunger Games, but I actually didn’t feel it was much of a rip-off for most of the story… but at the end it veered down a path which is dangerously close to copying plot points word for word. I’m not sure what I think of that, and I’m not sure I will bother delving into book two to find out how Divergent (heh heh heh) it is, because I cannot stand the thought of sitting through another book of Tris’s tortured thoughts and self-flagellation over her lover boy.

In short (yes I know it’s too late for short): I feel like it’s a carefully engineered attempt at cashing in on popular-genre-of-the-week. It doesn’t feel genuine to me. This book was not written to entertain, it was written to sell. It’s unfortunate.

[edit] Now having finished reading, I read some more stuff on the internet and it seems like the author is actually quite young.  I could be wrong about it being deliberately written to appeal to a juvenile audience… it might just be working out that way due to the age of the author.  I bet if young adult dystopia wasn’t “the thing” right now, though, no publisher would have come within a mile of it, much less the movie deals.  But thanks to genre-of-the-week they were all over it like ants in a pop can on a hot day…

Turbo

We’ve been taking a lot of sinus decongestants and I kinda wanted to do something completely effortless… so I watched some animated movies!  I haven’t really been keeping up with the animation scene, but today I watched two relatively recent ones: Turbo and Despicable Me 2.

Despicable Me lived up to its predecessor in that it had supervillains hatching ridiculous plots, crazy ray guns and gadgets, and low IQ minions.  All the humour was spot-on, and the plot was dumb, but enjoyable mostly because the timing of the writing was excellent.

Turbo was terrible.

The interesting thing about that is that it follows a very familiar “underdog” formula.  A down on it’s luck [blank] falls on hard times and decides to follow its dream of [blank], making new friends and learning valuable moral lessons along the way.  In this case the [blank]s are “snail” and “win the Indy 500”.

I am going to paste this quote out of Wikipedia (without checking to see if it’s properly sourced or anything first. I’m living dangerously!):
“For me, it was less about trying to make a racing movie and more about finding an underdog that I could really latch onto. I think that a snail is inherently an underdog. It’s smashed, eaten by people, the butt of slow jokes around the world. It just seemed loaded with obstacles. Obviously, the opposite of slow is fast, and that’s where racing came into the picture.”

That’s it.  That’s the extent of the writing in this movie.  “People like underdogs.  Snails are slow, and fast is the opposite of slow – let’s have a snail win the Indy 500!”  Usually the writing in these things is clever enough to hide the formula a little bit, but in this case the movie is like “eh, he gets splashed with nitrous oxide and that lets him move at 230mph.  The kids won’t realize how dumb that is, don’t worry.”  It also installed LED lights that leave a trail behind him, his eyes are headlamps, there are blinkers in his butt, a stereo he turns on by banging his eyes together, and an alarm he can’t figure out how to turn off.

It was really dumb, and this is immediately after I praised a movie which contains yellow minions wielding fart guns. It’s all about suspension of disbelief, man.  Of course a supervillain is going to have yellow minions and they’re going to create fart guns!  It’s a natural step in the progression!  Dumping a snail in nitrous is only going to result in a dead snail.  You could at least say it’s some sort of super experimental thing someone was working on in order to create a super car, but they just couldn’t get it working until whoops, a snail fell in and it looks like the formula only works when combined with living tissue!  See, I’ve already written a better movie, and it’s still really stupid.

This is all completely ignoring the fact that once he gains super magic racing powers and sets a world speed record, he is no longer the god damn underdog.

It wasn’t even just that, though.  All of the characters were terribly written, which is probably tied directly to the fact that no real worldbuilding occurs.  The snail colony at the beginning is full of non-characters who do nothing but belittle Turbo for having a hobby.  The only purpose for any of it seems to be to set up a transparent “never give up on your dreams” morality lesson (and maybe hopefully a “don’t bully people like those dicks are doing” lesson), except that in this case the dream is fulfilled by somehow gaining magic powers, which is maybe not the best lesson for the little ones.  The “working at the plant” joke was something that they clearly thought was pretty clever (evidenced by the long pause and camera pull-out to reveal the plant.  ho ho ho it’s a literal plant, get it?), but it was hollow because they didn’t spend any time doing any worldbuilding in the garden.  You realize why worldbuilding is so threadbare when you realize the movie is split between three different locations, none of which are lingered in long enough for any building to occur.  Just as we start to figure out who these characters in the garden are, everything is whisked off to a new location and we lose track of them.  The “racing snails” are hastily introduced about halfway through the movie, not developed whatsoever, then go with Turbo to the race and proceed to do absolutely nothing important or even interesting (my god how did they get Samuel L. Jackson in on this?).  The only character that has any development at all is probably the driver that Turbo idolizes, and that’s only because he turns into the villain so he’s there throughout all of these locations.  Then we have Turbo’s brother who spends the entire movie being negative as shit and completely unproductive (he witnesses his brother moving at 230mph and still does nothing but whine about what a waste of time it is to try to do anything with it), making you want to punch him in the face. Then he makes a crazy about-face at the very very end, just when everything seems bleakest.  Man oh man I did not see that twist coming.  I still want to punch him in the face.

You know what would have helped immensely?  Just cut the whole garden from the plot.  Start at the mini-mall with the racing snails as a diversion in the back.  Suddenly Turbo has a reason to be into NASCAR, he has a reason to want to be faster, it doesn’t take an amazing amount of serendipity for him to be randomly picked up by some guy who happens to race snails, we have more time to develop the supporting cast…. dunking him in Nitrous is still really stupid but the rest of the movie would at least support it better.

There’s a big difference between a plot that’s written to appeal to children, and a plot that’s dumped out because kids won’t notice the difference.  Your kids might like this movie… in fact they probably will like it.  But there are so many cleverly written movies nowadays that appeal to children, teach them things (without being sappy as shit), AND contain humour that still appeals to adults… that’s the standard that movies should be trying to reach.  Turbo is just an unfortunate cash-in attempt.

Elysium

Since it’s so new, I will endeavour to keep this spoiler free… honestly there isn’t much to spoil, but I’ll try anyway.
Sci-Fi movie!!!!  Usually we’re pretty cheap and wait for DVDs, but we loved District 9, and the previews for Elysium looked so good that we went and saw it at the theatre.  It’s not even 3D and we saw it at the theatre!

Elysium was simultaneously really good, and also disappointing. As is typical, my bitching revolves around the writing – the movie was disappointing because it could have been really good, but the writing was just sloppy enough to be distracting in how easily it could have been fixed, god damn it.  I suspect they read the screenplay and were like “Well, we have Matt Damon and Exoskeleton suits, no one will notice.”  I noticed >:(

The premise is that Earth is fucked and super populated and polluted and all those wonderful things we can see in our future right now, so all the rich people built a space station called Elysium and moved there to live in idyllic mansions surrounded by palm trees and swimming pools.

And this is where it starts to fall flat, because the worldbuilding ends there.  All it would have taken is a few more lines of dialogue to tie everything together with a throw-away explanation or two, but instead they leave ambiguous plot ends flapping around and the audience wondering “so… why is that?”.

Elysium residents have access to Med Bays which scan your body and instantly heal each and every thing wrong with it, from split ends in your hair to cancer in your blood cells (how did they design this technology and not solve any of the other problems lying around?  *shrug*).  There was a line somewhere that suggested people are living 200+ years so they also presumably extend your life and keep you young and beautiful forever.  Every single house on Elysium has one of these med bays, and it takes a whole, like, two minutes to cure every single ailment known to man.  For some reason, even though every single house has a med bay and they also have dozens of EMS ships filled with dozens of med bays which are all run by robots so there isn’t even any manpower cost in running them, Elysium refuses to let anyone on Earth use a med bay unless they are promoted to the rank of Elysium Citizen, even pushing it to the degree of needing special identification coded into your DNA before the med bay will activate.

The character development of every single person on Earth is something like this:  “I am sick and will die if I don’t go to Elysium and use a med bay – Therefore I must go to Elysium no matter what the cost.”
The character development of every single person on Elysium is split between “Ew people from Earth are gross” and “I will take over the world.”
That’s as deep as character development gets in this movie.

Unsurprisingly, desperate people are attacking Elysium all the time trying to get to a med bay, which results in things like Elysium launching missiles at them and blowing them all to shit.  Just put a fucking med bay on Earth, and the attacks stop.  WHY IS THIS SO HARD FOR YOU TO FIGURE OUT??  Jesus.  There is absolutely no worldbuilding development that explains why they’re so stingy with their plentiful med bays, other than “Ew Earth people are gross” (not that you need to touch them or see them if you leave a fucking automated med bay on Earth, mind you… and in fact you would see less of them because they wouldn’t keep trying to come to your station to use your med bays), and “We need a reason for Matt Damon to go to Elysium” (undoubtedly the true reason).  It’s so sloppy that it was distracting for the entire movie.
Are they withholding med bays because………. Of limited resources? (Unlikely when there’s a million med bays lying around and people use them for face lifts… but plausible that they want to withhold those resources for their greedy facelifts?  But they don’t explain what they run on or how they work, so…)
Maybe the life extension benefits are too costly when the world is already packed? (plausible, but again, you think they could have mentioned that.  They’re already sequestered on their little space station, why do they care if the Earth stays crowded and fucked)
Because they’re huge elitist dicks? (This seems to be the only explanation, but there are so many other reasons to just throw a token med bay ship down there, like, NOT BEING ATTACKED ALL THE FUCKING TIME).
It feels like it would have worked a lot better if it were a truly alien race living up there on a spaceship with their super crazy technology we can’t understand, enslaving humans to build their robots, but hey they can cure diseases so let’s try to get to those med bays!  … but no, they’re humans, and they’re dicks with no really well explained reason for being so.  Yes, humans are dicks to lower classes of humans, that is well established.  But THE MED BAYS ARE FULLY AUTOMATED.  If only the med bays took fully trained personnel to run, oh look!  A reason to not have them on Earth!  But nooo.  No explanation provided.
I would have been happy with a bad explanation, like any exposition where they were all “Oh no don’t let them use our med bays because we are comically evil and if they use this the med bays will no longer be special and I want to feel special for having one”, but it doesn’t even give us that.

Slightly less distracting is the plot device that requires Matt Damon to use his brain as a flash drive, which makes absolutely no sense, but conveniently makes it so they can’t just solve the problem by shooting him because they need his brain data and it’s not retrievable if he dies.  (Incidentally – this is probably a good reason why a brain is not a good flash drive.  Among other things, which also happen.)

The rest of the movie is people in exosuits brutally punching each other, which was pretty cool… but it’s got some pretty terrible timing because I think everyone will find it pretty lacklustre coming on the heels of Pacific Rim.  Every fight scene I was distracted by the amount of shaky cam they used to cover up the CGI, and I kept thinking again how impressive it was that Pacific Rim didn’t do that.  If I’m thinking about other movies during your action scenes, there might be improvements to be made.

Oh and don’t forget the obligatory contribution of “We are the bad guys so we are going to threaten to rape the pretty girl” scenes.  Don’t forget those!

I’ve done a lot of bitching, so it’s important to point out that I did enjoy the movie, but almost all of the problems I’ve pointed out could be so easily solved with just a little bit of attention to detail.  It’s really kind of a shame.

Oh and then, of course, there’s the fact that everyone on Earth speaks English and Spanish, while everyone on Elysium speaks English and French.  I am deliberately not going to touch the potential allegories going on this movie (because you see, the English/French have good health care and a beautiful clean place to live above the dirty polluted English/Spanish people, so clearly it is a representation of how everyone wishes they lived in Canada.) (arguing about the allorgies is kind of the point of a movie like this I suppose, but you should probably have decent writing before moving to that stage >:( ), but I do want to mention that Jodie Foster has the most irritating accent going on in this movie… I think it was supposed to be French?  I don’t even know, it kind of faded in and out and was really weird and distracting.  Everyone’s accents were distracting. I think it was intentional to show some sort of melting pot society going on, but I can’t say for sure… and if I can’t say for sure, then something has probably gone wrong in the writing/directing department.  It was either an intentional attempt to show something that was a teeny bit too subtle for me because I was so distracted by all the rest of the sloppy writing, or it was just sloppily handled.

At this point it is probably distracting to think about how many times I have used the word distracting, so that’s probably the focal point of this review – there were too many sloppy distracting things going on, and just a little bit of polish could have really cleaned it up.

God, I hope Gravity doesn’t suck.

Pacific Rim

TL;DR: I lost count of how many times my eyes rolled, but then giant robots started punching giant monsters and it was awesome.

I’m not sure what I expected when I went into this movie.  I knew it was about giant robots fighting monsters and the fights were supposed to be awesome and didn’t rely on cheap tricks like shaky cam to obscure the action.  That’s exactly what I got!  But it was pretty obvious that 99.99% of their budget went into CGI and cinematography, and possibly 0.000000001% went into the writing. The premise alone got some huge eye rolls, before the characters even started talking!  Then, dear god, the characters started talking…

But let’s be honest here.  You did not go to this movie to see deep character development.  You went to see this movie to see giant robots punching the fuck out of some monsters with rocket fists and hokey samurai swords made out of chainsaw chains, and it totally knocks it out of the park for that!  Which is why it is somewhat unfortunate that it spends so much time on what were apparently supposed to be deep character development moments on characters that have no dimensions.  Every single character in this movie is a cliche cut from cardboard.

The middle of the movie dragged because there were no robots punching things.  Instead we spent a lot of time exploring the feelings and emotions of characters who are all Mary Sue incarnate.  Every single one of them.  Every single one of them.  I don’t know what the record is for number of Mary Sues in a single story, but man.  Everyone in this story has super special talents making them the best at everything, and a tortured past to make them sympathetic (when you’re not rolling your eyes at them, I guess).  Even the fucking robot is a Mary Sue (because it’s analog.  And can I just say: Ahahahahahahaahahahahahaha…).  Everyone is a Mary Sue except the guy who is a dick for no reason.  That guy is a dick.  Except he’s not even a good dick, because we already have a one dimensional evil enemy in the giant fucking monsters who want to take over the world.  So why have this guy being all dickish up in the face of the protagonist?  I don’t even know, because it didn’t even pay off in the end.  Instead they shoehorned in some sort of emotional father-son plot arc out of nowhere.  Make up your mind!

But then robots punched things.  And they punched the fuck out of things.  The CGI is fantastic, the 3D was pretty god damn good (although if I wanted to be all nitpicky I could point out that I was distracted by it a few times, so it was not the best 3D I have seen so far.  So there.)  The only flaw with the robots punching things aspect is that they did not punch things for long enough.  Why did we waste all this screen time on a ridiculous romance story, anyway?  Punch things, dammit!

Pacific Rim is an excellent movie for watching robots punch the everliving fuck out of things.  It is also excellent for making fun of bad writing.  So it’s kind of win/win I guess.

Also: May I point out that it was a terrible mistake to hire Ellen McLain to be GlaDOS as the background computer, and then only have her make one tiny not very insulting jab at someone.  Use your resources properly, people!

Jack the Giant Slayer

This is a terrible movie.  It might even be approaching “Red Dawn” levels of terrible.  … hmmm, no, Red Dawn is still worse.  But this was terrible.  Roughly halfway through I was thinking “Ehh… it’s pretty bad but at least it’s mildly entertaining.” but then… no, it’s just terrible.

It seems odd to bitch about unoriginality in a movie that is based on a god damn fairy tale, but the writing is awful. It doesn’t even retain anything from the fairy tale that made it a classic – not even the spirit behind the tale.  It’s just yet another absolutely generic adventure story with one-dimensional characters.  There is not a single character in this movie that will surprise you.  There is not a single plot point that you won’t see coming.  You already know what happens just by reading me saying that.  There’s no reason to even watch this movie, even if it wasn’t also terrible.

Oh but the pretty CGI! you might argue.  That is not a reason to watch this movie either.  The intro sequence has some sort of CGI animation sequence that literally looks like it was rendered on a Playstation (the first one.)  The rest of the movie is a little more modern, but… eenh.  I’m not one to bitch about CGI usually, but when there’s no other reason to see the movie, I have to point out when the CGI looks like it was done 10 years ago and then pulled off a shelf.  What’s worse, is I’m pretty sure the movie was a victim of “3D syndrome”.  A very large chunk of the movie is consumed by grand sweeping shots of… nothing.  That is, nothing, if you’re not watching it in 3D.  In 3D it might have been a kind of “whoa” flyover sequence, but in non-3D there is absolutely no point to those shots.  It’s just a huge waste of time for the viewer because there is nothing else to watch if there’s no 3D layering going on.  That’s all they wanted – a 3D cash cow, and once it was out of the theater well, I hope someone still buys the non-3D versions because that’s bonus cash, man.

Then we get to the bad writing itself.  Aside from the completely shat-out generic plot that could be written with a fill-in-the-blank form letter, the writing is just bad.  It’s inconsistent.  It doesn’t make sense.  For example, in the beginning, they establish that a drop of water is enough to set off these beans, to the point where it was a little worrisome that all the humidity from the constant and sudden thunderstorms hadn’t caused a beanstalk in the past however many years it took for these beans to turn into legend.  Bean gets a drop of water on it, beanstalk goes *Fwoomph* and then they tuck the beans in a little burlap pouch and climb it.  They then spend the whole rest of the movie getting soaked in about a thousand different ways (including hiding completely underwater for something that felt like 40 minutes), but somehow the remaining beans don’t go off.  Okay maybe the beans only work when you’re on the surface!  …until the end of the movie when they establish that they work in exactly the same way.  I’m usually happy to ignore minor plot nitpicks, but it’s just one of many examples of lazy writing that just tell me they didn’t give a flying fuck about this movie, they just wanted to cash it in.

But they didn’t really seem to know what they were doing with this movie, either.  The bad writing is akin to something you might see in a show designed more for children, and they probably won’t give a shit about things like bean inconsistency because “Cool! Giants!”, right?  There are plenty of immature jokes that seem targetted to younger audiences. Giants are gross and fart a lot, ha ha!  At the same time, this movie is literally about murdering giants and then celebrating their deaths.  It’s even right in the title!  And they kill giants in some absolutely brutal ways in this movie.  Ways that could easily prompt a “fake blood” budget increase.  Which is why it’s just plain bizarre that there is absolutely no blood in this movie.  All of those deaths have been completely sanitized as if they were trying to make rending a giant limb-from-limb into a family friendly affair.  Having limbs and eyeballs fly through the air is perfectly okay if there’s no blood, right?  It’s okay that they violently drove a knife through that guy’s neck and then cheered – They’re the good guys!  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for showing gratuitous violence to children (and maybe that is in the spirit of the original fairy tales!), but this movie really needed to make up its mind and either make it family friendly, or go all out on the brutality.  This half-assed stuff makes me visualize the writers fighting with the script in their hands. Then it tore down the middle and they scampered off to write things their own way, then cleaned it up in post.

Don’t watch this.  I don’t want them to make any more money from it.

Splice

We watched this awhile ago, so my memory of details is probably fuzzy, but I remembered it recently and movies like this are exactly why I decided to start writing blog entries about shit.

Splice is a movie about scientists doing scientisty things and messing with DNA and trying to cure diseases.  Their research has led to the creation of an apparent new species of lifeform created by throwing buckets of animal DNA into a blender, so they’re starting to pick up some speed on the research front.  Then they “accidentally-on-purpose” mix a little human DNA into the recipe (something that is ethically forbidden and they know it) to try to create something that can be better used as a human analogue for testing.  What emerges is……. not human… but more animal like and difficult to control.  The first little bit of the film is spent exploring this thing, trying to gain its trust (apparently it’s a grouchy little thing), and marvelling at how it has an incredibly accelerated growth rate and is quickly growing and changing forms (thank goodness, since the movie is only 104 minutes long!).  Even though they planned to terminate it because they totally just wanted to see what happened and didn’t really plan to let this experiment run, well, whoops we’re kind of attached to it now so let’s let it keep maturing and see what happens!  What could go wrong!  The creature eventually develops into what is essentially a little human girl, except gone horribly wrong and with a tail and stuff.  The scientists then attempt to raise it like they would their child.  The lab/company is appropriately named NERD (I laughed), so they decide to name the creature “DREN” (I facepalmed).

The whole first part of the movie was actually really interesting and enjoyable.  Splice is really a shame because it was almost really good and even had some potential for exploring deep philosophical themes, if you should so desire to write it that way.  But then it was bad.  And it wasn’t just bad, it was really bad.

The movie goes through its paces and addresses a number of interesting scenarios that might arise if you happen to be dealing with a humanoid-thing-made-from-DNA-soup, including the inevitable look into a mirror where the creature realizes “hey, I don’t actually look anything like mom and dad.  What am I??” (well acted out with expressions, I might add, since the thing doesn’t have proper speech).  Sadly, it is at that point the writers either ran out of things to write about, or realized they were actually planning to make a horror movie, and everything just goes to shit.  The biggest shit the movie takes is the point where “Clive”, the male scientist, realizes the human DNA that was chucked into the soup is actually the DNA of his wife, and apparently sees some sort of resemblance to her in Dren.  His natural reaction at this point is, well, what else!  The only thing any rational person would do.  He has sex with it.

I’m pretty sure I yelled “Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME” at the TV.  But anyway, it turns out, when you have sex with a developing creature that’s trying to learn how to behave, it learns that it should rape everything!  So that was great.  Good job, Clive.

It just gets worse from there.  …No, I take that back, that’s definitely the worst part, but it doesn’t get any better from there.  The rest of the movie is your typical cheesy horror slasher movie with dumb “twists”.  Since the creatures have been created with a blend of animal DNA, it gave the writers free license to give them whatever animal abilities they wanted to swipe, at whatever time it was appropriate for the plot (and surprising to the scientists, of course, because you certainly wouldn’t have any way to control or monitor which genes your DNA soup is expressing when you’re at the point of being able to create a new species).  The initial “not made from human DNA” creatures provide the foreshadowing and then “Dren” goes through all the same paces, except much more tragically and deadly, since it is human sized and much stronger and deadlier (and also not in a safe little cage in a lab).  I don’t even remember what else happens.  It was all stupid and I was still reeling from the “It’s my wife’s DNA! I’m totally going to fuck it now” decision.

It was almost such a good movie.  I mean, not like, amazing or anything, but fully enjoyable.  And then…
My brain hurts.

Tunnels

Tunnels (Tunnels, #1)Tunnels by Roderick Gordon

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So much to say about this book.

Quick synopsis: Will Burrows is the son of an archaeologist who likes to dig excavation tunnels (Burrows. GET IT??) around town and uncover artifacts for his museum. His father has had the credit for several “big” finds stolen from him, so when he stumbles on something important, he becomes secretive and withdrawn. Eventually, he disappears. Will takes it upon himself to find out what has happened.

It sounds promising, doesn’t it? And to some degree it is – the environments are intricately detailed and a decent sense of claustrophobic wonder is conveyed throughout. It didn’t quite reach the “Indiana Jones” level of swashbuckling archaeology I was sort of hoping for, but it was interesting enough to keep the pages turning.
Unfortunately it was also bad enough to keep me writing snarky notes.

I’m not quite sure where the line is between “Amateur” writing and “Lazy” writing. I often run into this problem with young adult books, and I can never tell if the authors themselves are actually inexperienced with writing and finding their way, or if they’re like “the kids who will be reading this haven’t read enough yet to recognize how lazy this is” while taking shortcuts to get things done faster.

The very first thing I started bitching about in my notes were similes. The book starts off with a fair amount of description, and for some reason it seems like it was impossible to describe an object or action without coming up with some sort of simile to throw at it. I did a search: The word “Like” appears in this book 344 times. We can probably assume some of those are not similes, but the phrase “It was as if” also appears 186 times. Fortunately it stops drowning in similes towards the end – it felt like the writing was trying much too hard to be “fancy”, but once the plot got rolling it forgot all about trying to show off and focused more on actually describing what was happening, and it was much better for it.

The second major problem is that the book doesn’t seem to know what its point is. It is full of so much filler that you never actually resolve anything that happens.  In some places it even describes the same things repeatedly, back to back in each paragraph (“he has big fingers.  He has sausage fingers.  He has fat fingers.”  WE GET IT.) that it makes me wonder if they were revised, but then not edited to remove the duplicates. The search for Will’s father takes a back seat early on and isn’t really revitalized until the final chapter. It turns out it’s the start of a series, so perhaps that was intentional… but the sheer amount of wasted space in this book would make me question if it’s just a “milking” move to try to sell more books, which just annoys me. You could have fit a lot more plot into this book, but instead it is full of similes, like a pinata full of IOU coupons… (look look I am using a simile!)

I don’t have a good “spoiler tag” solution yet so I should probably mention that I bitch about plot points from here on out.  If you intend to read this book, it will either ruin or enhance your reading experience – You decide!

The plot that IS there feels a lot like “bullied kid escapist fantasy”. The main character has albinism which makes him get picked on at school, and his family is highly dysfunctional. The ONLY scenes involving his mother hammer home over and over and over and over that she is mentally ill, and yet this has absolutely no bearing on the story as a whole except to further hammer home how sick she is when she fails to do anything about anything (like… her husband vanishing). His sister is apparently left to run the entire household (quite efficiently!) at the ripe old age of twelve, is incredibly bitchy, and seems to have OCD to a disturbing degree, especially considering the context of the family unit. But hey that’s okay because she’s actually not from his family at all because he’s actually from this super special colony underground (see he’s an albino, and people underground don’t get much light…) so really he DOESN’T belong to this fucked up family at all!  And she was placed there to spy on him! … which feels like it was written up against a wall and then brainstormed a bit going “hmmmm what’s the most shocking and unexpected thing that can happen right now. Oh, I know!” except it is unexpected because it makes so little sense. For that matter, Will’s age doesn’t seem quite right either. He’s supposedly 14 which makes a bit more sense than 12, but all of the characters act a bit too mature for their prospective age ranges, and I think it would have made more sense to make them all older. But perhaps that would have placed the characters out of the age group they were hoping would identify with them. Hrm.

By the way, in a completely arbitrary filler scene that serves no other purpose, they also beat the shit out of the bullies with their super special underground cat-dog, which makes the bullies cry and run away.  What bullied kid doesn’t have that fantasy, right?

I’m not done bitching about characters! I still need to bitch about motivations! The bad guys in the book (which encompasses the entire fucking cast except for like, two people I think) are all assholes. What is it about living underground that makes you a colossal asshole? Do they need more vitamin D? But it’s not just that they’re assholes, it’s that they’re moustache-twirling assholes. They are purely evil for the sake of being evil. When Rebecca shows back up in her evil role, they even go to great lengths to describe how her hair has been super greased and slicked back, like some sort of Bond villain. There are some vague references to “we don’t like topsiders because they will reveal our civilization” and that is the whole of the motivations for all of these people.  Apparently that gives you license to flat out persecute and torture people, gloating the whole time. It appears to be an entire underground race of empathy-less totalitarian jerks. The vast majority of characters behave in such an unbelievable fashion that it feels like watching a B movie full of bad actors who are hideously over-acting their parts. The non-asshole characters were largely unsympathetic too, because they spend the entire book whining, so I found there was no one I could really latch onto. You root for Will because the narrative is locked onto him, and there’s really nothing else to do.

So I ask again: What was the point of this book? Did the dysfunction of his family serve some sort of purpose? Was that making a point? What is the underground population supposed to represent? They’re not even sympathetic in any fashion, and the characters gleefully slaughter them during their escape attempts. We never even find his father, so what was the point of going down there and getting caught in the first place?

I suspect the point is to get people to read the next book… but if it comes to an amazing culmination later in the series, I’m afraid it failed to convince me to continue on and discover it.

View all my reviews

Found Footage (Comparison)

I keep tripping over these things for some reason so I thought it might be fun to do a bit of a compare/contrast on some of the “found footage” style movies we’ve watched recently.

You’re probably aware of this, but “found footage” refers to a movie which is shot as though it was discovered on someone’s hand-held camera and then adapted for a wider audience.  It’s largely reviled as “shaky cam” because, as anyone who watches youtube videos knows, the average person with a hand-held camera absolutely sucks at keeping things in frame.  It’s a double edged sword because if you make it too shaky, people get nauseous or can’t tell what’s going on and it’s stupid.  If you make it too steady it’s pretty obvious it’s actually a movie camera mounted on special equipment, handled by professionals, which ruins the whole atmosphere of “oh shit they found this footage and the people in it are missing and no one knows what will happen!” which is kind of the point of it.  It’s usually resigned to cheap horror movies because of the premise and the ability to use the shakiness to obscure the scariest bits to good effect (assuming they use it to good effect, and not just “annoying as shit” effect, that is).

I was going to start with the worst movie first, but then I realized I couldn’t decide which one was the worst.  Conundrum.  Read more of this post

The Grey

This is the worst fucking movie.  Not even Liam Neeson could save this movie.

When I saw the trailer for it I was mildly interested… who doesn’t love a good “oops plane crashed in the snow and now we’re fucked unless we can figure shit out!” story.  Then it was revealed the “enemy” was a wolf pack.  Uuggghhhh…

Okay, okay… I can suspend disbelief well enough if they come up with a good plot point for it.  Maybe they are diseased wolves.  Irradiated wolves from a nuclear test in the arctic!  Mutant wolves.  Or alien wolves!  Maybe they’ve been trained by humans to kill humans and then they broke free and formed a pack!  SOMETHING is making these wolves behave in a manner unlike any wolf behaviour we have recorded.  Something is making these wolves behave like the wolves from fairy tales that we wrote 200 years ago, before we understood a god damn thing about animal behaviour.  That’s what they’ll do with this plot to explain it, right?

Nope.  Wolves are just vindictive assholes and that’s all there is to it, in this movie.  The best explanation we get is some vague references to how he’s been hunting them for years, so naturally he’s familiar with their behaviour and they’re all just a bunch of dicks.
(Maybe they all died in the plane crash and the angry wolves are his punishment for killing all those wolves in life… which still doesn’t explain why non-rabid wolves were “threatening” an oil rig one by one, but at least it would make a bit of sense…)

Sigh.  Okay, well, at least it should be an interesting “aliens” style suspense/horror where they flee through a forest being stalked by a mythical giant wolf pack full of strangely intelligent wolves who are holding a grudge.

OR… the entire movie could be them sitting around a campfire whining about their lives and being picked off one by one!  Yeah, let’s do that instead.

My god, you couldn’t have fucked up this movie more if you tried.  They managed to make it fucking boring to watch a group of men be picked off by wolves.  I wanted them all to die and they took too damn long to do it.

Should I spoil the ending for you?  On one hand, you kind of have to see it to believe it.  On the other hand, you have to sit through the movie to see it… so… conundrum.

Are you ready for this?  Here’s the ending:

He ditches his gear, tapes a knife to one hand and little airline alcohol bottles to the other, smashes the bottles so there’s broken glass taped to his knuckles, then goes and wrestles the pack leader.  We don’t see who wins.
(apparently if you wait through the credits – I didn’t – you see the wolf die but it’s not clear if they’re both dead.)

I just don’t know.  I guess the whining is supposed to be the point of this movie but ugh.  It was too god damn annoying for me to take any sort of enlightenment away from.