Star Trek: Discovery (first impressions) – OR: I really hate Michael Burnham

I grew up on Star Trek TNG.  I was, in fact, one of ‘those’ trekkies, with the encyclopedias and the model Enterprise, and even every single one of the extended universe books.  I would rush home from school every day and wait for it to begin at 4PM.  And then I would despair when the syndicated episodes ran out and it would start over at season 1 episode 1 again and I’d have to wait until the channel caught back up to presently airing episodes.  Ahhhh, the late 80s/early 90s.  And now we have the internet!  What a savage and primitive world this used to be.

As most people are probably aware, the world of Trek has been languishing of late, and so did my interest.  I was happy to leave nostalgia back in the 90s with TNG and not worry about reviving it.  I don’t think I even saw an episode of Enterprise before it got canned.   So I hadn’t even really heard about Discovery, except maybe in passing.  I paid no attention to the hype, or the trailers.  I had zero awareness or expectations for it.

Then we ran out of TV to binge and wandered into The Orville.  If you’re not aware of The Orville, it is Seth MacFarlane’s love letter to Star Trek TNG, which basically means TNG with dick and fart jokes.  Here’s your bonus review: I actually really enjoy The Orville, but god damn is it awkward, ahahahahahaha.  It doesn’t know what to do with itself.  I saw one review/comment that said ‘Basically, it’s a perfect show, except for the part where it is a Seth MacFarlane show.’  Right in the bullseye.  The show tackles deep and interesting plot lines and tries to develop its characters and world in ways that are, dare I say it, TNG-esque.  It pulls you in and hits you with nostalgia that reminds you why you liked TNG.  And then it remembers that it is a Seth MacFarlane show and shoehorns an awkward fart joke into the mix and it falls over itself.  Now, I am ALL FOR a show that is literally TNG with dick and fart jokes, but c’mon guys, you gotta have better delivery than that to make this work.  I will continue to enjoy The Orville and facepalm at its horrible awkward delivery until its inevitable cancellation :(

So, anyway, we exhausted the current run of Orville episodes and found ourselves wanting more Star Trek.  Rather than binging through TNG again, which was my first inclination, we decided to check out Discovery.  It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s Star Trek, and we’re out of shit to watch.  Why not!

In case you are wondering why not, I will explain to you why not.  Full disclosure: at the time of writing, only four episodes of Star Trek Discovery have aired, and two of them are the pilot which kinda don’t even count as episodes.  I am intrigued to see where this goes and will continue to watch, but I am not optimistic.  The best case scenario would be if I can come back to this after the season is finished and lauuugghhhhh. We’ll see!

I’m also breaking rules by logging this under “movies” but since bitching about writing is my MO, you’re just going to have to deal with it. Read more of this post

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The Book of Henry

I was having a bout of insomnia and picked the first movie that looked like I might not care if I fell asleep in the middle.  That movie happened to be The Book of Henry.  I went in blind with only the blurb and cover art to guide me.  Based on those, I was expecting a whimsical yet dramatic tale (or, as I said to my husband, “possibly whimsical but also probably gay”), probably fraught with some sort of underlying moral lesson.  The “crime” tag intrigued me, though.

I think I was only 15 minutes in when I started googling reviews to see what I had gotten myself into and whether it would be worth suffering through.  The titular character was INSUFFERABLE.  Like, it says in the blurb that he’s a boy genius, but he was the WORST KIND of boy genius.  The first half hour of the film can be summarized as “Henry is very smart and they all would be lost without him, except for [plot adult] who does not listen to him despite all of the evidence that Henry knows best.”  The worst.  I didn’t think I could sit through two hours of it, so I glanced at the reviews.

The first review I landed upon (yay Wikipedia) was this one from Owen Gleiberman:

“There’s the kind of bad movie that just sits there, unfolding with grimly predictable monotony. Then there’s the kind where the badness expands and metastasizes, taking on a jaw-dropping life of its own, pushing through to ever-higher levels of garishness. The Book of Henry … is of the latter, you’ve-got-to-see-it-to-disbelieve-it variety.”

Oh god damn, I’m actually kind of excited now!  Let’s see what kind of train wreck prompted that!

Whatever you are thinking right now—it’s worse.  Believe me, it’s worse.

Spoilers will follow.  You won’t be missing out, but you might want to experience it for yourself first, just for the novelty of it all: Read more of this post

Baby Driver

I’m not really certain why I disliked this movie as much as I did.  It did do some things I liked – the integration of music into the scenes was great, and somewhat unique.  The cinematography was good.  The actual driving sequences were well shot.  Apparently they used practical effects for the driving, so that’s awesome.  The rest of it was pretty much crap.

The main character is a child prodigy with a tragic backstory who listens to music all the time and wears cool sunglasses and is just SO INEXPLICABLY GOOD at driving that he wows everyone.  For some reason, every single person in the movie has to go out of their way to be a gigantic dick to him, and then he acts all cool at them, and then they gain some grudging respect when they see how cool and good he is.  Repeatedly.  Like, that’s basically the movie because there wasn’t much else in the way of plot.  If you’re looking for a definition of Gary Stu, you probably want Cypher Raige, but this guy will demonstrate it fairly well too.

Despite being ridiculously good at driving (at the age of, what, 17?), Baby doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of common sense because he never figures out that if you switch cars, then continue driving like an asshole, the cops can figure out which car you’re in.  This seemed to really bother my husband, who finally blurted out “Has this guy never played Grand Theft Auto?”

Then Baby meets The Girl, and spends the second half of the movie pining after her.  Then he must inevitably protect her from The Bad Guys.  And then he tries to run off with her, and she’s all for it despite knowing him for like, two days, and having heard him speak like half a dozen words.  The movie would have gained a significant number of points with me if he had shown up to run away with her and she had gone “Are you fucking crazy?  I barely know you and you’re clearly a criminal!  Get out of here” and then he went to jail wondering where it all went wrong.  INSTEAD, she’s head over heels, and the entire city rallies to explain what a great guy he is despite very obviously being a criminal.  Because he’s just that god damn cool.

And then at the end, she’s like “I can’t used to your real name being Miles!”.  Is it, perhaps, MILES PROWER????  GET IT???  GET IT??? (Miles per hour, get it????)  lolololololol

I guess that was a spoiler.  Oops!  Sorry for ruining this movie for you.

I have a headache.  The writing in this movie gave it to me.

Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam, #1)Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I found this intensely unsatisfying. I love dystopias, and I love post-apocalyptic worlds, and I found the worldbuilding in this to be wonderfully imaginative and intriguing, but somehow it managed to be incredibly dull and plodding at the same time.

I think the problem is that nothing happened in this entire book. I was fully halfway through it when Jimmy finally decided to leave his tree, and I thought “aha, finally there will be some plot”, and then his adventure simply served as the prelude to more flashbacks which still only served to build the world, not have anything happen within it. I would have much rather learned about the disaster from a present-day perspective than the hackneyed flashback structure used here. The characters weren’t likable, and they did nothing of note for me to care about, which made the entire thing fall flat on its face. Which is a shame, because the world is a fascinating backdrop.

I see it is a series, so I assume this serves as the introductory paragraph and there will be plot in the later books, but it’s already lost me. I might read a synopsis of the rest of them, I guess.

Above All Things

Above All ThingsAbove All Things by Tanis Rideout

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I was given this to read for a book club and was pretty interested in the premise as presented by the book jacket. The story of Mallory tackling Everest is pretty interesting in itself, but to see the homeward side of things adds a fascinating twist. Unfortunately, the book opened with a harlequin-esque erotica scene and went downhill from there.

The blurb makes you believe the story will be about Mallory’s wife. In practice, Ruth is a two-dimensional character that does absolutely nothing but pine over George. She has no other substance to her. The bulk of the story ends up being about George’s expedition, which is sort of interesting, but it’s not what you were probably expecting to read and it’s incredibly slow with occasional breaks to follow his companion for no apparent reason. There are jarring switches in POV between George and Ruth, swapping between third person and first person with one spanning weeks and the other spanning a day. Also there are occasional breaks where both George and Ruth consider times when they cheated on their partners (complete with cheesy erotica scenes, as if there weren’t enough opportunity for them already). I don’t even know.

Even ignoring the misleading blurb, on the surface the plot looks like it should be interesting: a deep investigation into George’s struggle between his obsession with Everest and his desire to be with his wife. Instead, it’s a hot mess with shoe-horned sex scenes and plodding filler.

If it helps, the other women in the book club seemed to enjoy it. Maybe you will like it if you are ovulating.

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.

Handbook for Lightning Survivors

The Handbook for Lightning Strike SurvivorsThe Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors by Michele Young-Stone

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had trouble with this one. It had an interesting premise that I wanted to know more about (A girl who is struck by lightning repeatedly, with some mysterious events such as watches that tick backwards in her presence, or halos around her in photographs), and it had some really powerful, raw emotion to it, but I found it disjointed and difficult to keep track of.

The author clearly loved the characters (as evidenced by the somewhat unnecessarily detailed summary of everyone’s lives at the end…), but the book failed to get me invested in them. Many of the side characters were introduced haphazardly, and it made it difficult for me to connect with them or care about their stories. I was interested in Becca’s story, kind of neutral on finding out what happened to Buckley, and couldn’t give a shit and had to resist the urge to skim when it started going off on tangents about anyone else, even when those threads eventually tied back in. I feel like it would have been stronger overall if it stuck to following one character (either Becca, or Buckley who learns Becca’s story through his book research) instead of jumping around like that.

POV tended to change mid-page. I suppose it was an attempt at third person omniscient, but instead of offering insight into all the characters it was just disorienting. More disconcertingly, the tense would sometimes swap mid-page, which was jarring. Maybe it was deliberate because of how the story skips around in time, but I disliked it.

Worst was that it just felt sort of aimless and pointless. I kept at it thinking the story was interesting enough that I wanted to see how it wrapped up, but even that was anticlimactic.

The characters have some interesting depth and the emotional moments are on point, but it was a struggle to slog through to the end.

Graceling

This is worthy of flak but I just quit at 3%.  This… just… augh no I can’t do it.  I can’t take this right now. I’m not going to officially rate it yet though, and I am dutifully keeping it loaded on my Kindle under the pretense of giving it a proper rating later, but I feel like I should record my attempt, especially since I rarely give up on books.

I picked up Graceling because it was recommended alongside a lot of books I’ve enjoyed, and it features a ‘strong female protagonist’ which I usually enjoy a lot.  It was also touted as being highly original with lots of interesting ideas.  I was looking forward to cracking into this one.

The writing jumped out at me immediately as kind of pretentious and annoying.  Everything just smacked of ‘trying too hard’, and maybe a bit arrogant too.  But hey maybe I’m just grumpy today, so I trundled on and tried to ignore all the choppy sentences that are just begging you to notice how important they are.

The story opens with the main character basically beating the shit out of a buttload of guards.  Great care and attention is given to describing how great she is at beating the shit out of these guys, with precision strikes that fell everyone with a minimum of effort or notice. But then we are quickly reminded that she doesn’t want to do any killing because she’s done enough killing in her life (which, by the way, reminds us she’s really good at killing.  Like so good at it, guys).  So that’s good, at least she’s overwhelmingly good and kind and conscientious on top of being an unstoppable killing machine.  Which is good because her ability to kill like this is due to a special ability that only special snowflakes have, which is why she’s so special.  There’s no way this could turn into a Mary Sue character, right?  Oh wait we’re not done yet, we better lay on the heavy handed references to how she’s the only female who is this good at absolutely everything and no one suspects she’s as good at everything as she is because she’s female.

My eyes were already rolling when I paused to glance at some reviews, hoping this was just an awkward segue and it would settle the fuck down once it got rolling, but it really sounds like it’s not going to.  I just… I don’t have the energy right now.  I can’t do it.  I cannot put several hours into awkward choppy writing that’s pushing agendas about a surly and unlikable Mary Sue, even if the worldbuilding and ideas surrounding it are fantastic and unique.

Maybe when I am on summer vacation, and am suitably drunk.

[edit] Geeze, I just read more reviews that got into the feminist debate surrounding the book and now I’m terrified to even go near it anymore.  I didn’t even have a chance to be outraged by that before I got fed up!  The book has many gifts to give, it seems…

Good Graces

Good GracesGood Graces by Lesley Kagen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book left me feeling confused. It was a rollercoaster, but for the wrong reasons.

I didn’t pay too much attention to it when I started it, and I was 30% of the way into it before I discovered it was actually a sequel to a book I haven’t read. It set itself up well enough, but a lot of things were half-explained and I expected them to be important when they were actually just callbacks to the first book. No big deal, I was able to follow along easily enough.

The first 50% of the book was quite good. The narrative voice is really well done, and the time period is described very well. If you lived during this time period I could see it quickly becoming a favourite. I, however, did not live in that time period, and it started to get pretty old. It was laying on layers of nostalgia that simply didn’t resonate with me, although I appreciated the detail of it.
The next 30% or so of the book dragged on to the point where I almost quit, except that some of the reviews said the ending was really surprising, so I decided to tough it out. It was a real slog, let me tell you. I skimmed a lot and I kept seeing the same shit repeated over and over again. There were parts where the main character would experience something, and then on the literal next page she would repeat it all back to herself. It was a struggle not to just skip right to the end.
Then, in the last 20% or so, things picked up. It was almost as engaging as the first half, except that the voice had lost all of its charm and was merely becoming grating.

And then the ending happened. I don’t even know how to feel about this. I made a prediction somewhere near the beginning and I fully expected it to be how the plot would play out—the fairly obvious main villain would turn out to be a red herring and it would end in a predictable cliche fashion full of shades of grey and moral lessons. Instead, the ‘shades of grey’ prediction turned out to be the red herring, and the big bad guy was the obvious cardboard cutout evil villain the whole time, and by the way, he’s even more comically evil than you thought! I suppose that’s one way to write a twist.

But mostly, I’m confused about the ending. Spoiler time:
They murder the main villain (I suppose it’s technically homicide if they didn’t INTEND to do it but… they did set out to take him down and it just went extra sideways), destroy all the evidence and bury his body, then go to a block party where everyone is like “I wonder where he got to? Oh well”. There are no further repercussions and they sleep soundly because hey, that guy was bad, remember? He deserved it.
These protagonists are 10 year old girls. The ending had a lighthearted tone. I don’t even know. I’m all for a morally grey or even a morally reprehensible character/ending, but I feel like that wasn’t intentionally the aim here. It feels like a “yay we win!” sort of ending and it felt really out of place.

But I suppose it wasn’t entirely out of place, since Sally clearly has an abusive relationship with Troo. I found it kind of off-putting, to be honest, and if that was the intention then well done… but it doesn’t necessarily feel like that was the intention.  Compare with Cruddy, which I just finished reading (funny these two ended up back to back… must have grabbed them from the same genre bin or something).  In Cruddy everything is morally reprehensible and bleak and shitty (well, cruddy) and it’s really super obviously supposed to be that way so it makes sense and it makes a point.  In Good Graces, it’s just confusing.

The slog in the middle lost it two stars, and one more for the confusing message at the end. I don’t really know how to feel.

October 31st Movie Reviews

I didn’t want to say ‘Halloween movies’ since none of them were even remotely halloween themed aside from being some sort of attempt at scary, but it’s a halloween tradition here to plunk on the couch and watch ‘scary’ movies after dark, and we made it through three of them last night.  Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Last Shift
Rookie cop spends the night alone at an old police station guarding some evidence that still needs to be transported to the new one.

See, the description for this movie was all “She meets the KING OF HELL” and I was like “this is going to be a laugh riot of a movie”, but it ended up being the best one we watched.  It does absolutely nothing new or unique; it’s all standard haunted house tricks.  The protagonist is so god damn stupid that you spend the entire movie yelling at her not to do things (but, y’know, horror movie.)  But the movie itself sets up a good amount of tension and uses sound and visuals well to set the tone.  The King Of Hell thing is not nearly as cheesy as the stupid description might have you believe.

We Are Still Here
An older couple lose their college-age son to a car accident and buy a new house to start a new life as they pick up the pieces.  Once they move in, they start to suspect the ghost of their son is still with them.

Not bad but it suffered a bit because it came after watching the much better first movie, so it paled in comparison.  Another pretty standard haunted house story, but with a few twists to keep it interesting.  I found it a little confusing though, too.  The ghosts really needed to make up their god damn mind about who’s side they were on.

Storage 24
A plane crash nearby traps several people inside a storage facility, and soon they discover the plane was carrying some deadly alien cargo that is now stalking them.

Okay, THIS is the movie I wanted to write bitch about because I spent the whole movie sending snarky texts to my friend, and it’s absolutely not because we watched some better movies first.  Needed MUCH LESS relationship drama and MUCH MORE aliens eating people.  Could you possibly write less sympathetic protagonists?  I was rooting for the alien really early on and it just kept disappointing me.

Here’s an ending spoiler, which you can avoid if you care (you shouldn’t care.  Don’t watch this movie.):
The whiniest fucker takes on a Gary-Stu style survival skills and ends up escaping the alien on, like, three different occasions for no god damn acceptable reason (camera cut!  Oh no he must be dead boo hoo ooohhhh look he lived how could this be!  Fuck off) and then slays the alien with his bare hands and escapes with all of the females.

At this point I sent a message to my friend saying “This movie will get two stars instead of one if the alien resurrects and pops out and kills them all right fucking now and that’s how the movie ends.”  Instead of that, though, he makes some flippant remarks to show how cool he is, and then they pan out to show alien ships landing all around the city.  Which is ALMOST, but not quite, what I asked for.  Okay sure the aliens are probably going to kill everyone but you didn’t show one blowing up this whiny fucker as it buzzed past, so now we can only assume he will run out there and melee all of them to death like the whiny badass he obviously is.  *BZZZT* you fail, collect 0 stars.

So, to summarize:
Last Shift was great and I recommend it, even if the protagonist is as smart as a bag of bricks.
We Are Still Here was passable and worth a look.
Storage 24 is a horror movie for an entirely different reason and thank god Netflix subscriptions essentially mean I watched it for ‘free’.  Bitching about it was highly entertaining, at least!

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…

Home

I am an unabashed fan of animated movies.  Yes, they are made for children, but I maintain that the best animated movies are the ones that are clever and which give the adults just as much enjoyment as the children when they’re thrust upon the television screen 20 out of 24 hours of the day.

I was perusing for something to watch and came across Dreamworks’ “Home” and decided to give it a try.  Two things immediately came to mind:
I have not heard of this movie before, so it is probably not good.
and, once we got started: The animation on this isn’t precisely up to the “How to Train Your Dragon” level, so this is probably the B team.  Which means it is probably not good.

Boy was it ever not good. We were interrupted by a late night phone call for my husband and I left the movie running as he answered it, then decided to be courteous and asked “Do you want me to pause it?”  He surprised me by saying yes but I thought ‘well maybe he is enjoying this more than I am, then!’.  After his call was done I unpaused it, then said “If you hadn’t asked me to pause it this could be done by now!” and he was like “Yeah.  I don’t know what I was thinking.”

It was hollow.  Soul-less.  It teaches children that bad grammar is good, that little girls should be named ‘Gratuity’, and it was like 1 hour and 20 minutes of music commercials for Rihanna.  It was awful.

After it was done it was midnight and I was like “Fuck this movie.  I am going to watch a REAL movie about interaction between an alien and a little girl.” and I dug deep and found a copy of Lilo and Stitch and put it on right then and there.  I fully expected to fall asleep, but now I am writing this review at 2:20 AM because Lilo and Stitch is a really fucking good movie and ‘Home’ is a really terrible movie and you need to know about it, dammit.  THIS IS IMPORTANT.

Lilo and Stitch made me laugh almost non-stop until the parts where I welled up with tears and pretended to have allergies.  Yes, it did have the disgustingly improbable ‘Disney’ happy ending.  But ‘Home’ elicited none of those emotions in me.  You may have seen Lilo and Stitch before, but did you realize that in the beginning of the movie she is upset because she wants the proper offering to feed the fish that controls the weather, and then later we discover that her parents died in a car crash due to bad weather?  That is why she wants to control the weather!  This has no bearing on the plot whatsoever but it adds depth and it adds soul.  It is good writing. That scene that seemed like a typical illogical childish whim that you may or may not be familiar with has a bearing on the inner workings of this character.  In Home, they dance involuntarily because Rihanna paid a lot of money to have all of her music showcased in this movie.  It was insulting.

Do not let your children watch ‘Home’.  Make them watch Lilo and Stitch instead.

Survivor

Survivor is a movie where Pierce Brosnan plays the most notorious and feared assassin the world has ever seen.  He summarily spends the entire film utterly failing to assassinate Milla Jovovich as she bumbles around yelling “What is going on??!??” and wonders why people are trying to kill her.  If this is the best and most effective of all the assassins, assassination is suddenly a much less menacing prospect.

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.

ArcheAge, OR “Endless /facepalms in Trion’s General Direction”

Let’s start at the beginning.  Once upon a time, I purchased a retail copy of “Rift”.  That’s right, I purchased a physical game, that came in a box, on a disc, not just a box containing a slip of paper with a key on it.  Times sure were different then.

I brought it home, installed it, and played it for a few months before I decided it was sort of the same old same old and if I was going to play the same old I may as well pay for and play the thing I was already established in rather than working my way up from the bottom again.  Many moons later, after everyone else came to that same conclusion, Rift went Free to Play and I logged back in again.  I proceeded to log many many hours in Rift, but I barely gained any levels.  Nope, I spent the entirety of my time running in circles collecting artifacts (those little shiny things that spawn on the ground) in order to complete all the achievement collections for no god damn reason whatsoever.  I just wanted to, okay?  MUST COLLECT SHINIES.  Because the game was free I guess I felt secure in the knowledge that I was at least not wasting much money to waste all of my time collecting artifacts (although I did eventually buy a couple more upgrades for my account…).

Because I had previously paid a lot of money for the full retail price of the game and subscribed for a while, my account had a decent amount of loyalty points and the Auction House unlocked, and I worked the AH to sell my duplicate artifacts.  I almost never actually spent gold on them (that would defeat the point of finding them, dammit), and as a result my character was carrying around literal mountains of cash.  We had formed a guild before we quit (before the F2P move) and I was the only one left… but I levelled it solely on artifact collecting quests (meant to be completed through team efforts with an entire guild) and bought all the upgrades (meant to be purchased through team efforts with an entire guild) with my massive pockets full of gold.  It was great.

I eventually got to the point where I’d have to actually do quests and level to be able to safely collect artifacts in the remaining zones, so I got distracted and wandered off, but the Rift icon stayed pinned to my Windows taskbar in case I ever felt bored enough to run around looking for sparkly things on the ground.

Just recently, Trion got the rights to bring “ArcheAge” over to North America.  I was actually really interested in this game because there is nothing in the world more exciting to me than a Harvest Moon MMO, and ArcheAge revolves largely around farming and trade. The game was F2P besides so it wouldn’t even be a big investment to get started!  My mouse would drift ever so close to the “Download and Install” button, and then I would read something about how griefing is pretty much encouraged and some asshat can come along and ruin everything you’ve worked for on a whim.  I’d stop being interested.  Then, some time later, I’d load up the page and my mouse would start drifting again.  Then I’d read something about how the everything is handled client side (in the year 2014 you created an MMO where everything is client side.  What.) and hackers are (surprise!) a huge issue, because it is remarkably easy to hack client side code.  I’d close the page again.

Then one day I was like “Oh what the fuck.  It’s free.” and installed it.

Red flag #1 is that it installs a rootkit called HackShield.  Supposedly this is to catch hackers and botters (which are plaguing the game as we speak, so how’s that working out for you?) but disturbingly it does not actually mention that it is installing this system at all (there’s no chance to bail during the install process).  I had no technical issues with it, but it’s a shitty practice.  (note: the system was chosen by the Korean developers and Trion didn’t have anything to do with it, other than not protesting it I guess…)

But anyway.  It immediately accepted my Rift credentials so I didn’t even have to make an account, and as soon as it was installed I was off and running around.

I played for a couple of hours over roughly two days and got to level 15, at which point I discovered it was next to impossible to continue without spending money.  You could continue but your life would be miserable.  And also the AH was locked and that’s like the entire reason I play these games, so I decided “eh, what the hell” and dropped $15 on a one month subscription, which would permanently unlock the AH for my account even after the other subscriber perks expired.  I figured 15 bucks was like 3 shitty Steam games that I wouldn’t bother to play anyway, and then I’d get a feel for how the game really was when it started getting more competitive and “griefy” at higher levels.

I spent the next 40 minutes finding some free land to place my new farm (you can’t place a farm unless you subscribe, although subscribing does not guarantee you will find land to place it on…), planting a couple crops in it (You can plant crops literally anywhere, but they mature in real-time (from hours to days) and aren’t safe from stealing unless they’re in your own farm.  Which you can’t have unless you subscribe.), then scoured the newly unlocked AH for good deals and ideas, getting an idea of what crops I should start shooting for in the future.

Before the first hour of my subscription had expired, I was banned.

I sort of stared at the message on the screen and then said incredulously “Apparently I’m banned now?”
“After you just subscribed?” my husband said.

I did some quick research and discovered false-positive auto-bans were happening to lots of players, some of them before they even made it to the tutorial NPCs in the starting area.  “Well too fucking bad this didn’t happen 40 minutes ago, before I gave it my fucking credit card information…” I lamented.

What’s worse… I discovered that it wasn’t just ArcheAge I was banned from.  It was every single game in Trion’s catalogue including my longstanding Rift account, Defiance, Trove, and any new game they may add to their library in the future.  I’d just like to emphasize that this was a first offense (if, in fact, there had been an offense… which there hadn’t.) for an account with many years of history with them and a fair amount of payment history, and the response was to completely block me from their entire library.  What the fuck, Trion.  Even more insulting: any account that had been caught red-handed in the recent high-profile cash-store exploits in ArcheAge only received a 24 hour suspension.

The email it sends you is wholly unhelpful.  No reason is given, it just says “This email is to inform you that your Trion account has been banned for a violation.”  It goes on to link to their support site if you want to “discuss the reason for the termination or request a reinstatement”.

When you’re banned, you cannot access their support site (including the live chat) because you need to log in, so the link in the email takes you to their FAQ.  You need to search within the FAQ to find out that you need to email a specific appeals email if you can’t access the site (they couldn’t bother to mention that in the email, eh?).  I sent an appeal to the email and received a canned message saying they were experiencing a “heavier than normal amount of traffic” (no shit) and that responses would be delayed, and then given a link to back to log into the site if I needed to view or change my ticket, which of course isn’t fucking possible if you’re banned (/facepalm).

I was sort of working on the assumption that there had been a problem with my credit card, since it happened so close to my subscription activation.  But it would still be ludicrous to outright library-ban someone for a payment bounce… and sure enough the charge came through, so the card had worked just fine.  I had mentioned in my ticket that I did not want to pay for a month of Patron that I had only received 40 minutes of, and two days later I received a notice from Trion saying my purchase had been refunded, so that’s nice, at least.  There was no response to my ticket about the ban, though.  The vast majority of stories of accidental bans ended with their accounts being restored, so I had faith that they would get around to righting things… it was just going to take a very long time due to the massive clusterfuck that was going on over there.

My trust was misplaced.  The next day I received a response which said “We could not find an account associated with this email.” and my ticket was unceremoniously closed.  I sent the email from the same email that was my account login, and they had to have been able to find my account to issue the refund, so… clearly my account exists AND they found it at least once for this very same ticket.  I attempted to log in again and found the same “The account you are trying to access has been banned” message, so it still existed (and was still banned).  I responded to the ticket to re-open it and gave them my email and personal details again, but they responded less than an hour later with the exact same message about not being able to locate an account, and shut it down again.  I suspect they didn’t even look, they just copy/pasted the original response.  I figured my mistake was probably asking for a refund and an un-ban in the same ticket request… so I opened a second ticket with a new incident number just to see if I’d get someone to legitimately look at it this time.

In the meantime I had been doing some reading and I discovered that apparently Trion had been issuing legit bans for afk idling in game.  I would like to wax poetic for a moment on how absolutely ludicrous that is.  Here is why:

One of the major reasons you want to subscribe (other than getting access to land ownership) is because the entire game revolves around labor points.  Labor works kind of like energy.  You need to spend labor points to do anything.  Anything.  Planting, harvesting, crafting, almost everything but combat will cost labor points.  As an unsubbed newbie, it costs 15 labor points to harvest something, and you gain 5 labor points every 5 minutes.  That’s one harvest every 15 minutes.  Labor points do not regenerate while offline.  So if you plant a bunch of crops (which costs labor) then log off, it’s quite likely you won’t have enough labor left to actually harvest those crops when you log back on.  Thus: afk idling.  Patrons get around this by getting double labor point production AND the ability to generate labor points while offline, which makes the game actually playable with some semblance of a life.  (Worthy to note, again:  I’m pretty sure the labor system was designed by the Korean company, not Trion.)

Here is why this is a stupid system:  MMOs are more profitable when no one is online.  Every single player that is online is using bandwidth, taking up server space, and cutting into your profits.  The ideal MMO (from a corporate standpoint) will have a player that pays a subscription who never actually logs in to the damn game, ever.  The labor point system is actively encouraging your least profitable group (the F2P players) to stay online the longest.

This is so incredibly ironic coming from a game that’s all about economic efficiency.  The mind boggles.  Even patrons are rewarded for staying online, because they get 10/per for online and only 5/per for offline (as opposed to 5/per 0/per for F2P players).  May I suggest a system where F2P players get 5/per labour offline, and patrons get 10/per?  Then people are still incentivized to become patrons (especially since they get like, 1.5x more labor cap besides) but they’re not needlessly wasting your resources to deal with your shittily designed system.

But who cares about labor generation when no one can play the fucking game, right?  It’s been two weeks since my last ticket and there has been no response.  I’ve been keeping my eye on the false-ban discussions and discovered that the whole “This email is not associated with an account” response is overwhelmingly common all of a sudden, and you know what?  Fuck this.  I’ve uninstalled all Trion games (including Rift…) and when they do unban my account (which I honestly do believe they will do.  Eventually.  With no guarantee it won’t just get randomly banned again…) my only action will be to log in and make sure there are no scraps of credit card information available tied to my account because I do not trust a company this incompetent with it.

What the fuck, Trion.  What the fuck.  I used to like you :/

I will leave you with this email that my friend sent to me:
byerift
———
Update: After a month of waiting for a new reply and updating my Trion support ticket, still without reply, I have joined a large number of other users and filed a complaint with the BBB. I listed my desired resolution as either reinstatement of my account and an apology, or an explanation of what rule I suposedly broke and why a first offence deserves a library ban from all titles. I don’t even want the damn account back at this point but I am not just going to walk away from this bullshit either. They angried up my blood :P

Update 2:  On the exact same day that the BBB let me know they had forwarded my complaint, Trion unbanned my account and gave me 2 months and 5 days of free time (funny how that works!).  The apology was the typical canned response of: “We have reviewed your account and verified that you were banned incorrectly. We apologize for this error and we will use this information to improve our reports system so legitimate players such as yourself are not banned incorrectly going forward. We are working our hardest to get rid of as many of the illegitimate players as we are able to, but unfortunately this means that certain times our reports can be too restrictive and catch legitimate players.”

… Which is really just a way of saying “Gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette.  Sucks but what ya gonna do”, when the correct answer is “don’t shit all over your customers when you fuck up”.  I’m not upset about being banned accidentally by an algorithm.  Shit happens.  I’m upset that they banned a legit account from their entire library (if it had just been ArcheAge I wouldn’t be NEARLY as shocked by this whole situation, but my god the horrifying decision making that is on display here…), with no warning and no explanation (I didn’t even get the vague “significantly over the latency limit” explanation that some people have gotten… so I didn’t even get banned for lagging), for what would have been a first offence had there been one, and then when I jumped through their hoops to ask for my shit back they dropped the ball and were like “welp you don’t exist, can’t help” and it took five weeks and a BBB complaint before they actually got off their asses and looked into it properly. I didn’t even lose (much) land or anything because I hadn’t played the game long enough, but many of the stories involve accounts that paid for the multi hundreds of dollar limited edition headstart type shit who proceeded to lose all their land and accumulated goods due to the way the game is designed.  I can’t even…

I do appreciate that I didn’t have to fight for my refund though, and I thank their billing department for not being entirely incompetent.  I say that now, before I have checked to make sure there were no further charges on my card…

I will not be reinstalling ArcheAge.  I had briefly entertained the notion of trying the game again once I was unbanned, since I had assumed the compensation would be free time and hey that means I could unlock the AH without having to pay anything!  But that was back when I thought this would take at most a week to resolve.  Five weeks is just ridiculous.  Sorry Trion, you dropped this ball way too hard for me to trust you again.

—-

Just peeked at my BBB complaint status:

01/20/2015 Forward Consumer Rebuttal to Business
02/04/2015 No Response from Business re: Consumer Rebuttal

/golfclap

How Not to Include Controller Support

Note:  The following events took place under the influence of beer, which may somewhat explain the difficulties I had, but in no way excuses them.

We started playing a diablo-like last night (which is kind of ironic given how much Diablo we’ve been playing, but it’s about to drop another big patch that will re-consume our lives so we decided to take a break until that happens).  I was mystified by the non-responsive splash screen until I saw the little “Press A to continue” at the bottom.  Ahhh it wants me to use the controller I have plugged in, that’s why my mouse is not responding!  … weird, for a diablo-like, but okay.

I carry on my merry way squinting at button prompts because none of them seem very intuitive and it’s pretty annoying.  A to attack, ok that makes sense.  Trigger buttons to move left and right in menus?!?  Wait which button is this new special attack I just picked up?  Oops shit just used my potions.  Well, I’ll get the hang of this eventually.

Then we finally get somewhere in the story and an item drops!  I… don’t know how to pick it up.  So I ask.

“uh, just click on it?”

“Oh.  I thought I had to use the controller!”

“I’m using the mouse… it’s literally exactly the same as Diablo.”

TO THE OPTIONS SCREEN.  Aha here it is under controls.  “Disable controller”

“The game must be restarted for this to take effect”

Mother.  Fucker.  Fuck it I’ll just figure out this controller.

We level up!  Time to spend a skill point!  Press this button to spend skill point, press that button to unspend skill point (it’s located above the other button, so it’s not intuitive in an “increment one” sort of way…) .  The skills are laid out in this annoying grid that didn’t make any logical sense… some of the skills are dependent on having points in other skills but the layout is just all over the place so I have to move through each box to make it pop up and tell me what it needs.  I end up accidentally spending points in the wrong skills trying to look at them to see what I need, but fortunately I can unspend.

Oh shit the companion levelled up too how do I get there?  Uhhhhh oh it looks like I can trigger-button my way through a couple different menus here.  Oh there are perks to buy?  And reputation points??  Where are those?!?  Damn there’s a lot of shit to spend, I didn’t see any of this before so I have a few points racked up.

A bit later I’m STILL doing fucking like, 1-3 damage despite levelling a bunch, and finally a new weapon drops for me!  Thank god, this was getting embarassing.  Okay pick up the weapon with trigger button, and now… hmm how do I make sure this is equipped?

“How do I get to the inventory?”

“Well… for me I press “I”… so, I dunno how the controller does it…”

fuck.  Scroll through the screens again.  Oh this looks kind of like an inventory?  Maybe?  I’m looking at only one item… is there a way to select a different item type?  Jesus what the hell who designed this shit.  Oh I have to use THIS control stick to select a different item type, kind of like a flyout wheel, except it has no cursor so it just selects whichever one is in the direction you press and you can’t just like scroll around the wheel, so it’s not intuitive or anything.  No, I don’t want that one, the one next to it.  No, not that one either.  God dammit select this one, it’s on a diagonal and I’m fucking pushing diagonal you fuck.

“Seriously I can’t figure out how to equip these guns.  Maybe I should just reboot the stupid game and get the mouse and keyboard back.”

“You’re kind of having a lot of trouble with it, so, yeah.”

*close game*

FUCK I forgot to go back into options and turn off the controller, which means it will default to controller again, which means I have to start the game, go into options, turn it off, turn off the game… fuck it I’ll just unplug the controller instead.

*unplug controller.  Start game.*

Well.  Now it is apparent why you need to restart the game to use the mouse.  The UI is ENTIRELY different (and exactly like Diablo…).  Oh look, when I press “I” it goes straight to the inventory screen, displays ALL of my items at once, and makes it intuitive which ones I am actually wearing.  Not to mention how much space I have left.  Oh look!  I can click directly on the skill type I want to spend points in!  OH LOOK, THE SKILLS SCREEN IS LAID OUT IN A WAY THAT MAKES FUCKING SENSE, NOW.

My god.

Having a controller option is reallyreally good, because choice is good.  But this.  Do. Not. Do. This.  Any of it.

The Battery

We chose a movie pretty much completely at random and ended up with The Battery.  I sort of glanced at it and thought “It may as well be titled “Yet Another Zombie Movie”, except IMDB says this one won a whole whack of awards, so let’s see what’s up.”

This is a tough one to review.  I simultaneously like it and dislike it.  It is simultaneously cliche and unique.  It is Schrodinger’s movie.

I went into the movie not sure what to expect.  I like post-apocalyptic movies, which zombies fall into, but there are a lot of really bad zombie movies out there and a majority of them tend to lean in that direction lately.  The whole genre is getting a little played out, too, so even if you come across a good one it tends to be a bit ho-hum.  But then the first half of 28 Days Later, where he’s wandering around a desolate landscape trying to piece together what happened, is probably my favourite movie sequence of all time.  I’m usually willing to take a risk if it might mean experiencing something like that again.

The movie started with a notice about all the bands that are featured within the film.  My immediate reaction was “Oh no.”  It wasn’t too bad because they at least tried to weave it into the story with the headphones being a part of the plot, but there were way too many sequences where they did nothing but showcase music for 5 minutes (with wistful cuts to zoomed-in shots of insects on flowers), and it started getting tedious.

The actual story started off fairly well with lots of scavenging through empty neighborhoods for supplies, but I was having a lot of trouble getting a sense of timescale from the movie.  All of the houses were empty, but pristine.  There were no real signs of panic or struggle.  One protagonist had a bushy and unkempt beard like he hadn’t shaved in over a year, but the other didn’t have a hint of stubble around his sculpted facial hair.  Lawns and road-sides were freshly manicured.  I had the idea that the apocalypse had literally just happened, but then the characters started talking about how they’d been moving around for months.

I was disappointed with the lack of worldbuilding.  It’s usually my favourite part of disaster movies – what happened, and why?  There’s absolutely no explanation, not even a glossed-over one.  I guess zombies are just so familiar now that it seems like a waste of time to try to explain them, and I don’t necessarily fault them for just skimming over it, but I still missed it.

Then we had a three minute scene where they enjoyed brushing their teeth after looting toothbrushes and toothpaste from a house.  It started out pretty great and you could feel how awesome it was for them to experience clean teeth again after an extended period of neglect, and it was a powerful scene with good silent acting going on.  But then it kept going.  Okay, we get it, it feels good, and they miss the comforts of their old life.  No, seriously.  Move along now.  Jesus christ they’re still brushing.  …  Oh my god, really?

There were a lot of little moments like that, where there was a good idea behind a scene, and interesting themes to explore behind a scene, but then it was dragged out until all the power behind it was lost.  Even during the dragged out scenes, though, the acting remained good – which becomes very impressive when you discover that the movie had a budget of $6000.  Suddenly the manicured lawns and lack of mess make sense (as does, to some degree, the unnecessary scene padding…).  The movie didn’t remain confined to a single room or cut budget by having wooden actors or a 20 dollar camera that shakes all over the place, and the result is quite watchable and doesn’t even really feel low budget.  It’s really only the writing to blame, which has little to do with budget.

There are decisions like displaying Mickey’s loneliness and longing for female companionship through having him sniff and then pocket some panties.  It’s pretty creepy but it could be a way to display how desperate he is for human contact.  Then he decides the best course of action is to masturbate to a female zombie that is attempting to break into the car to kill him.  What the fuck.   It’s one thing to have him be a whiny twat who constantly puts the group in danger because he wants to pretend everything is the way it used to be.  Masturbating to a female zombie… that’s just a mind boggling character development decision.  It would be one thing if it actually factored into the plot a bit more but nope, it happens, it’s not really considered exceptional (they have a good laugh over it…), and it’s never mentioned again.  Then his reaction to being told to fuck off by the only living female they encounter is to whine about it for the rest of the movie and put them into even more danger by trying to deny it.  This is great character development for a character we’re supposed to hate, but not really all that great for a character we’re supposed to feel sympathy for.  I felt a lot more sympathy for his companion, who had to put up with all the whining as well as deal with all the dangerous situations the whining thrust them into, all for the sake of having any companion at all.  Maybe that was the point and he was the only character we were supposed to root for…

It does have some good moments though and, despite the bizarre character choices, I did enjoy watching it.  I’d like to say that the good moments outweigh the bad… but honestly, it’s probably more accurate to say the good moments outnumber the bad.  The bad moments are so bad that, unfortunately, they end up colouring the whole thing, resulting in the conflicted rating I’m giving it.  I’m just going to give up and give it every single tag, instead of trying to decide on just one… but I decided not to give it the “Kind of shitty” tag, which suggests it wasn’t all that bad!  I like that the zombies were not the main focus of the film, and yet it wasn’t the same old plot of “Humans are the real threat” (well, for the most part).  The focus was on the character development and the progression of relationships under duress.  I’m not even sure I would classify it as “horror”, but I guess there is no category for “Mildly unsettling and thought-provoking disaster movie, with some tension”.  I do think the movie hit on the themes it was attempting to hit, and it did a decent job of it too.

Would I watch it again?  Probably not… but is it worth watching once?  It’s not on the top of my list of recommendations from the zombie genre, but it’s worth checking out if you happen to spot it.

Racing (but mostly ranting) (Subtitles and Tutorials rant)

This ostensibly began as a review of Dirt 3, but really I’ve played ~5 minutes or so and can’t really comment on the gameplay all that much.  This review will probably end up being something else altogether…

I recently went on a quest to find a decent PC racing game.  I love Gran Turismo and Forza and the like, but in order to play those I have to move to the couch, adjust the input on the TV to the appropriate console, find the controller, make sure the god damn disc is in the drive… I wanted to have something on my PC so I could be like “Hmm I want to race cars today” and click an exe and *poof*.

I picked up Test Drive Unlimited 2 in the winter sale on Steam and spent several mindboggling hours with it, marvelling at bad design decisions in controls and terrible voice acting during story cutscenes.  The story was added in to make it sorta-kinda like a Grand Theft Auto world, I presume, and the open world was kind of interesting to me, but the story was largely unnecessary and kind of dumb.  It didn’t add anything – the story is “you are a racer trying to make a name for yourself and become a champion”.  Well no shit, what else are you going to be doing in a racing game?  I suppose there could have been curveballs later that make it pay off, but I gave up early for a couple of reasons.  1) The controls and UI were awful.  I could have gotten used to them but simply navigating menus was painful and that’s kind of a bad sign in a game that also expects you to have dedicated buttons for fucking turn signals and stuff.  2) There were no god damn subtitles.  I am not deaf, but I quite often have the sound low or off while other things happen in the room.  I also read a hell of a lot faster than you talk.  A racing game (particularly one with a terrible story) is a perfect place to buzz through the subtitles and advance the cutscenes to get back to actually racing cars like I wanted to do when I installed this damn thing.
If you’ve played Dirt 3 you probably know where I’m going next with this review…
Last but not least, 3) The game requires you to create a separate account to log into their servers (something that deserves its own rant entry in the age of Steam), even if you only intend to play single player.  Once you’ve done this, it sits there and connects to the server making absolutely sure there have been no updates.  Connecting to the server takes an abominable amount of time.  The last time I decided to give the game a whirl, it sat on connecting for about a minute, and then I shut it down and uninstalled the game instead of waiting for it to connect.  Sorry guys, this is the age of instant gratification, and you failed.  I could have gone to the couch and played Gran Turismo in that amount of time!

Then I picked up Dirt 3 in the Humble Weekly Sale.  It was a timely sale, coming immediately after I dumped TDU2 into the trash bin.  It was very promising – it’s not quite Gran Turismo but I like rally racing too, and the graphics are very shiny (which was another thing TDU2 didn’t really have going for it…).  It also starts up immediately instead of fucking around with servers for two minutes.  All thumbs up so far!
(Actually it required me to install GFWL despite GFWL being dead, so that was kind of a thumbs down… but they’re still in the process of excising that particular tumor so I let it go.)

I started out in Dirt 3 like I typically do – my headphones were plugged in but sitting on the desk beside me while I listened to something my husband was doing.  The game kept hanging on me and I couldn’t figure it out.  It was clearly still running but all the button mashing in the world wouldn’t work.  Finally the icons would highlight again and I could advance.  What the hell is going on here?  It cannot possibly be loading anything for that long.

Then I saw it.  A speaker icon in the bottom left corner.  Oh no.

I picked up my headphones and confirmed.  Yup, some douche is talking to me the whole time the game is “frozen”.  There are absolutely no subtitle options anywhere in the settings.  There are absolutely no ways to skip the dialogue.  What’s WORSE: the dialogue is basically “In this event you want to race your car around the track.  The goal is to come in first.  You come in first by racing your car around the track.  In order to race your car around the track, push the button that corresponds to the gas pedal!  Coming in first means you win the race.  You want to win the race – winning is the whole goal of the race.”

I want to strangle the entire design team responsible for this nightmare.  This unskippable, non-subtitled, redundant nightmare.

I have two rants here:
For one, they’re completely leaving deaf people in the cold.  You’d think you’d be safe playing a fucking racing game and not having to worry about missing dialogue even if the dickheads responsible for design neglect to include subtitles for you, but now you’re stuck staring at a completely fucking useless speaker icon for several minutes, while some douche explains that the point of this racing game is to race cars.  It’s infuriating to me and I have the option of actually listening to the fucker.  I can’t imagine how annoying it is if you’re literally just staring at the screen waiting for a chance to continue.

For two, I know how to play a god damn racing game, you ass.  I don’t begrudge the inclusion of some instructions, it just makes me angry that they are mandatory.  A friend of mine linked a blog entry that talked about design decisions in modern video games.  I remember the old days of wading into a new game, getting over my head, then referring to the manual to figure out how to play.  Manuals were exciting!  I still have my old NES manuals and they’re considered collectors items, and people know how to play those games!  Nowadays manuals are extinct (if you’re lucky you’ll get a slip of paper pointing out some of the controls).  Instead, gamers are treated like children who must have their hands held through mandatory tutorials, because god forbid they miss the tutorial and become confused.
And in Dirt 3, not only are there mandatory tutorials, but you can’t skip through the instructions.  Because god forbid you accidentally hit a button and miss the instructions that the goal of the race is to come in first.

It really is happening more and more.  Think of a game you’ve played recently that didn’t have a shoe-horned tutorial in it.

Some games pull it off smoothly – Anno 2070’s campaign is literally all tutorial, progressing slowly from scenario to scenario until you’ve unlocked and used every feature in the game.  It makes sense from an in-game point of view, and introduces all the features to new players without any risk of overwhelming them.  It was mildly annoying to me because I played an unhealthy amount of Anno 1404, but you have the option of going straight to an open game if you want.  Of course, the achievements are to complete the tutorial err campaign to unlock more scenarios so you probably have to go do it at some point, and the longer you delay the more familiar you will be with any new game features and the more annoying it is to have them “taught” to you.

Some games literally will not let you play until you complete it.  Hearthstone annoyed the shit out of me by having an extremely limiting tutorial that was mandatory before you even got to look at the menu screens for regular game play. What’s worse, there were multiple scenarios that took about an hour to get through.  An hour before I could even enter the main game.  It was so linear that I literally could not play a card that it did not tell me to play.  The game only gave you the cards it wanted you to play, so you could just watch a video and have the same damn experience… but in one sequence they must have messed up because I actually had two cards I could have played.  I tried playing the other one, just to see if I could.  It lightly slapped my hand and said “nuh uh, you need to play THIS one.”  I tried just ending my turn rather than following directions (The Stanley Parable was made for people like me), and it incredulously exclaimed “But you still have a card you can play!  This one!  This one right here (not that one NO you can’t play THAT one didn’t you listen??)”  NOT playing the card was a completely valid strategy in that situation I will have you know.  But it wasn’t in the script, so I couldn’t proceed until I followed directions.  It was much like being in some sort of fascist regime and it made for a bitter and resentful start to my Hearthstone experience.
(Incidentally, Hearthstone ALSO had no subtitles, and I was all geared up to write a rant about that… but they patched them in the very day after I got into Beta.  Bullet dodged, Blizzard.  Bullet dodged.)

Look, I know there are stupid people out there who will smash the screen and then cry because nothing worked the way they expected to, but I’m getting very tired of having my intelligence insulted.  Bring back optional tutorials.  Bring back manuals with pretty artwork.  Bring back the ability to skip shit I don’t want to sit through.  If the gamers cannot understand how your game works, then one of two things has happened:  They did not read the instructions, or you created a game that’s hard to understand.  Neither of those things should be solved by enforced hand-holding that alienates the people who actually do understand how your game works.

Rebel Heart

Rebel Heart (Dust Lands, #2)Rebel Heart by Moira Young

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I merely wanted this book to be adequate. I didn’t want something deep or meaningful, all it had to do was entertain me for the couple of hours it would take to burn through it.

It failed.

I enjoyed Blood Red Road enough that I sought out the next of the series instead of moving on to the next book in the pile. The first book had its issues, but I thought there was enough potential in the characterization and potential for interesting worldbuilding that I wanted to see where it would go next.

Full disclosure time: I am only halfway through Rebel Heart at the time of writing this. Not a god damn thing has happened yet and I’m seriously fed up. I want to finish it and see where it goes, but I’ve also avoided reading anything all weekend because I just can’t be bothered. That’s about where I usually give up on a book and move on to something that actually entertains me. I’m not sure what will happen… I may edit this review if I do slog on. We will see.

The first book impressed me by not making the romance the focal point. It didn’t get distracted with it like so many books do – the romance was just a thing that happened during the course of the adventure. In Rebel Heart, we start out with a little intro chapter starring Jack, who is carrying out his business as quickly as possible so he can get back to Saba as quickly as possible.
So now we know Jack’s inner thoughts and intentions, and we know 100% that he loves Saba and that’s his only real goal right now. Alrighty then.

Then we get punted back to Saba and company (and god awful first person again… The writing was so much better in Jack’s chapter where it used third person. It’s a shame, but I guess you have to experiment sometimes). Saba thinks about Jack. Saba wishes to see Jack again. Saba loves Jack. Saba briefly worries that Jack won’t return to her. Saba thinks about Jack. Saba wishes to see Jack. Tommo falls in love with Saba (WHAT. Oh of course he does because she is so amazing how silly of me. Ugh. Isn’t he like 9? I can’t tell if this is a failure to adequately describe a character in the first book, so we just assume he’s around Emmi’s age when he’s actually supposed to be ~15, or if it just means the series continues to completely fail at consistency in time passage and scale…). Saba continues to wish to see Jack. Saba loves Jack. Word gets back to them that Jack is running around with a group of bad guys. Saba’s world ends.

The whole thing was an infuriating waste of my time. Nothing happens for the whole first part of the book except thinking about Jack. There is no other plot. Then the “shocking news” comes along and we spend entirely too much time watching Saba wrestle with the news. Is Jack a traitor?? Does he not love her?? How could he?!? Saba refuses to believe it despite all the characters saying “I told you he couldn’t be trusted”, despite those characters agreeing that the “threat” Jack sent along to Saba just doesn’t sound like something he would say hmmmmm gosh I guess we really misjudged him we could never believe he’d say things like that! Saba makes the startling leap of logic that it is actually a coded message.
This is all a total waste of time because we, the readers, knew from the fucking prologue that Jack’s only real goal is to survive to see Saba again. You just wasted half a book to have Saba figure out something we already knew while everyone around her argues about it. It’s the worst kind of telling instead of showing… But I said that about Blood Red Road too didn’t I… Hmm.

I’m not even done bitching. We now have a plot (sort of… I mean its still the same plot of “must see Jack again”) so now Saba sets off to find him. We’ve spent half the book with no plot, and now the plot is pretty much exactly the same as Blood Red Road: an arbitrary time limit to travel an immense distance to find someone, except this time it’s less interesting. Saba even veers off deeper into Mary Sue territory by acquiring more animal companions and super abilities. I was almost really interested when she set off down the wraithway because the landscape was interesting, but it rehashes Blood Red Road again by pulling the trope of “I will sneak off when my friends are not looking because I do not want them to be put at risk because of me” and then oops all the animals she so carefully tied up just show up shortly thereafter and help protect her, and then there’s a whole sequence where she is running for her life and has a near escape only to realize what she escaped from was actually all of her friends who followed her. It would be fine, if it hadn’t happened in almost exactly the same way about four times over a book and a half. I’m not certain I can think of a near escape in this series that actually turned out to be something threatening.

And every time Lugh says anything I want to strangle him. Every line of dialogue he has makes me regret spending all that time reading the first book to save his negative ass. I think Nero is the only character I don’t hate right now. Oh I know it’s all going to turn into some sort of moral lesson about friendship and supportive relationships near the end of the book, and I’m actually interested to see how it unfolds (in terms of will it be done well or will it be a schadenfreude-laden trainwreck of writing mistakes?) but I might need to wait until I’m in a better mood to attempt to get there.

And there’s still no real plot.

I feel like I’m just about to get to a point where SOMETHING fucking happens, so I want to keep going, but… I don’t think I care anymore. Disappointing.

[edit] So yeah.  I woke up this morning and read some spoilers for the second half of the book.  She sleeps with the bad guy and has a pregnancy scare?  Holy what the fuck are you fucking kidding me?  I am retroactively regretting reading the first one, now.  I want post-apocalyptic dystopia, not “After School Special” soap opera.  A whirlwind of angst and melodrama and this is AFTER she was magically “cured” of her conveniently Hunger-Games-Like PTSD thanks to some shamanism.  I think I’m done with this :/

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…

Zombex

There are no reviews of this movie – as of the time of writing, metacritic and rotten tomatoes don’t even know it exists (oh how I envy them).  I feel the internet requires this review deficit to be remedied.  Because it might save someone from watching this horrible god awful piece of shit.

My husband picked this one out because he likes zombies and he said “4.7 is actually a pretty good IMDB score for a horror movie”.  Halfway through watching it (I use the term “watching” loosely because I was trying not to watch, honestly) I went looking for reviews and found it actually had a 2.6 on IMDB, but most things hadn’t hadn’t quite updated to reflect that yet.  I expect that number to continue to fall.

It’s so remarkably bad.  It is a study in bad movie making.  People take pills from some pharmaceutical company and oops it actually makes them into zombies.  Also it makes their eyes glow nuclear green (because that makes sense), and after they fall behind some scenery and stand back up again in a fresh zombie-like state, random body parts have instantly decayed off of them FOR NO GOD DAMN REASON WHATSOEVER.  Then people act like skimpily dressed bad-ass heroes (in extreme slow motion, because that makes it more bad-ass) and randomly break into lesbian sex scenes.  Ignore the fact that they are very obviously shooting their weapons into nothing, and the scenes of the “zombies” collapsing and popping their fake blood packets to create blood spray patterns that in no way match physics were filmed separately, possibly without any other actors present at all.  Also the entire thing was filmed with some sort of 1980’s Kodachrome Instagram filter over the whole thing.  God what the hell is this shit.  Is this what you sit through in film school student film exhibitions?  No, students must produce better films than this or no one would teach film school courses.  We didn’t finish it, but we did skip to the end just in time to see the amateur swipe to credits (I’m pretty sure that’s a Windows Movie Maker feature) that put a cap on the whole thing.  WHY IS MALCOLM MCDOWELL IN THIS. WHAT.

My previous bar for worst film was “The Tomb” which boasts a 1.5 on IMDB.  It still wins, but damn if Zombex didn’t give it a run.

Drinking Buddies

Drinking Buddies is labelled “Comedy/Drama”.  This is a lie.  Absolutely nothing funny happens in this movie.  It’s an hour and a half of people drinking beer and whining about relationships, with no interesting plot to speak of.

The thing I enjoyed most about this movie was that my husband picked it, so I got to make fun of him for 90 minutes.

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.

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.

Dead Frog Summer Pack

Last year I bought several of the Dead Frog summer pack.  I don’t even know if I can explain what I enjoyed about it… they were just so refreshing when it was hot.  In particular, the lemon pepper flavour was amazing on a hot day; and if you’re like me you probably read that and went “lemon pepper beer what the fuck” but we tried it and it was amazing!

So when we saw this year’s summer pack I was like “ooh!” and we brought it home.  No lemon pepper, and in fact the only flavour I think I recognized was the nut brown ale.  When I opened the box, there was a little slip saying something about how they’ve redesigned all their beers and now they come in brown bottles instead of clear glass because it means it will be fresher and they’re doing a total makeover to make Dead Frog better.  Whatever, I don’t really care about what colour the bottle is.

Unfortunately, it apparently also meant they changed all the recipes, too.  Because the entire summer pack was absolutely disgusting.  Incredibly disappointing.

The refreshing taste of last year’s pack was gone, and every single beer was packed full of harsh hops.  It wasn’t just hops, though.  They were just bitter and gross.  I think I opened a pale ale, which is something I’m not a fan of in the first place because of all the hops, and I got maybe four sips into it and just put it back in the fridge.  I dumped it out the next day because no one else would finish it for me.  I dumped a beer down the sink because no one would drink it.  That has literally never happened to us before.  Even the nut brown ale, which I thought I remembered liking, was really bitter and gross.  It was drinkable, but I wouldn’t say enjoyable.  It wasn’t worth the 150 calories it cost to drink it.

Summer is almost over already (also depressing) but I certainly won’t be buying any more Dead Frog if this is what the “new Dead Frog” is going to produce.

Starforge (Alpha)

This is probably a little unfair because I played, oh… about 10 minutes of this game.  Maybe there is a really good game buried under the shit I was exposed to in those 10 minutes, but it was enough that I made a pretty disgusted face and then uninstalled it.  I very deeply regret spending 10 dollars on this, and that was 50% off.  What’s worse, my husband bought it too because we played multiplayer.  That is 20 dollars wasted on this.  I feel bad for supporting it, but maybe they will turn it into not-shit game sometime soon.  I can’t get rid of the god damn thing now so maybe in a year or two it will be worth installing again.  I can hope.

First, a derail: I want to rant about this early access bullshit Steam keeps doing.  There are SO MANY games popping up on steam and you’re like “ooh this looks unique!” and then you click and find out it’s actually an unfinished alpha game that they want you to buy into so that it funds their development.  This is all Minecraft’s fault (and I admit to buying Minecraft as an alpha, but it was actually worth it back before everyone was fucking doing it), and it’s led to things like Kickstarter… but when you buy unfinished shit on Steam you get unfinished shit with no real promises attached.  I don’t so much mind the option – I bought Minecraft, and I even bought Towns on Steam, and both were interesting ideas that ended up developing in interesting directions that I would like to encourage, so I don’t regret funding them – but I hate that there are so many of them showing up on Steam and that they’re not sequestered to their own little section.  Sometimes it’s really tough to tell just how unfinished these things are when you buy into them and you have to rely on other people’s reviews before deciding to drop the cash.  I wish that more of these would give you a demo or something.

The game markets itself as a sandbox experience where you “gather resources, build bases, craft anything you want, and survive on an alien planet”.  That is exactly the kind of game I love, and exactly the kind of game I want to encourage more developers to make.  Not enough to drop 20 dollars on it (ahahahaha 20 dollars for an ALPHA BUILD what the fuck), but 10 dollars… if it encourages more resource/crafting/survival games, sure I can invest in that!

The problem is, that is not what this game is at all.  I suppose going by the words it matches that description, but I feel misled by this marketing, and that makes me bitter.

You collect resources – by grabbing boxes that drop on the ground and dragging them back to your base.  This is not Minecraft style resource gathering, this is shit dropping from the sky and you hoping to find the right box of stuff lying around.  I can’t even describe to you how disappointed I was by this.  If it had decent resource gathering I probably would have still been enchanted by running around looking for new stuff to exploit, but exploring was marred by giant oil drums appearing out of fucking nowhere and the realization that the landscape around me was really only there to provide a surface.

You build bases – with an incredibly shitty interface that was frustrating to use. The terraforming seems promising but, eeenh.  I spent the vast majority of my opening minutes hitting google trying to find a guide to the controls (because the game sure as fuck isn’t helpful).  Once I figured out how to open the building menus, the mouse control drove me nuts.  It’s a 3D world, and the mouse behaves like you would expect it to in an incredibly amateur engine from several years ago.  It floats all over, you have to wrestle it onto the square you want, and your camera is constantly getting in your way.
Bonus bitch: Head bobbing that cannot be disabled in game.  See The Bobbing Rant.  If I wasn’t going to uninstall you BEFORE, well…

You craft anything you want! – provided it’s in the incredibly limited list of things you can build, and you’ve dragged the proper resources into a pile next to your forge.  This is not like Minecraft style crafting, this is literally just select it from a list and it either goes *boop* ok you have that now, or *boop* you need to drag more resources over to here to make that.  It’s a little unfair since it’s an alpha and they’re going to add a bunch of shit (god, they better), but once I figured out how to open the build list… boy that was disappointing.  Not only that but there were no tooltips so I was building things in an attempt to figure out what the fuck that icon represented.  It took several clicks just to see what was necessary to build a thing so I could go find out what I needed to drag back.  This is like some sort of study in how not to design a friendly UI.

You survive on an alien planet – and here is what made me uninstall the game.  This is where the game showed its true colours.  I was expecting Minecraft, right?  You run around and collect shit, build a little base, expand your empire and build cool things, and defend yourself from alien fauna that probably wants to eat you.  I first played single player “creative” mode and it can probably be hammered into some facsimile of that, but the whole “surviving” aspect was pretty thin.  Creative mode seemed to be more about building things (one description said “test base layouts” for the other modes, which is telling) , except building things wasn’t very fun in its current state so it was more about running around looking at landscape and being disappointed by the ugly resource crates lying all over it.

When my husband and I tried multiplayer we tried the more survival-ish mode.  And it turned out to be just a crappy version of Sanctum.  Sanctum, if you’re not aware, is an amazing game that is like a first person co-op tower defense game where you have a core that you must protect from the waves and you build walls and towers to aid you in the destruction of the things that want to destroy it, so you coordinate your resources and weapon types to be an efficient team.  Starforge gives you a tank full of aliens (why do I have a tank full of aliens and why should I protect it?  It doesn’t explain) and a forge, and dumps you into a world where streams of monsters continually run toward you and try to destroy it.  You have to run back and forth dragging resource boxes to your forge and build defenses while these things come at you.  It’s like playing Sanctum with no pauses between waves, mandatory tedious resource collection, and shitty-ass controls.  It was not good.

I already regrettably wasted money on this so I will check in from time to time to see if they’ve turned into a GOOD open world collect-resources-build-shit survival sandbox, but I really cannot recommend it in its current state, and I kinda feel like Steam shouldn’t even be promoting it right now.  The content and UI are NOT worth the price it is asking, even at 50% off.  It’s not that the ideas behind the game are bad (and the implementations of them have time to mature), and I admire small teams of people who try to make ambitious projects into reality, but asking 20 bucks for this just seems greedy and I don’t think it should be encouraged.

Organ Trail

Who doesn’t know about Oregon Trail, right?  If you don’t know what it is, you need to either spend some time in society, or get off my lawn.  Or possibly both.  Why, yes, I DID play it on shiny new Apple computers in elementary school!  Why, yes, I AM extremely old.  The best part of Oregon Trail was learning that “dysentery” means “pooping yourself to death” and then laughing when the character you named after your best friend died of it.  I mean, I guess it had some sort of historical knowledge value too, or something, and we were supposed to realize and respect just how hard life was for those pioneers… but mostly it was great seeing what horrible way your friends would die THIS time.

And now we have “Organ Trail”.  It’s a pretty clever … parody?  I guess it’s a parody… of Oregon trail, where instead of trying to migrate to the wild west, you’re trying to survive the zombie hordes.  All the basic gameplay elements remain roughly the same.  Instead of a covered wagon, you have a station wagon.  Instead of wagon wheels and axles you have tires and batteries.  Instead of oxen you have fuel.  Food works pretty similarly, but instead of shooting 7 oxen and then being mad that you can only carry like 3 squirrels of it back with you, you collect cans off the ground while running away from zombies.  And then a hobo randomly steals it all from you in a popup event where you can neither react nor do anything about it other than nod and carry on.

I was pretty excited for this game.  It’s cheap, it’s available for your phone so you can watch your friends break their legs while on the go, and if nothing else it should be entertaining because how do you fuck up Oregon Trail With Zombies, right?

I will tell you how you can fuck up Oregon Trail With Zombies.  You make it impossible to shoot zombies.  I got the game from the humble android bundle so I was able to activate it on my phone AND on steam to try both versions.  I uninstalled it from my phone within a couple minutes because I couldn’t even get past the intro trying to use the touchscreen controls to shoot.  How hard can this be?!?  Tap zombie shoot zombie!  But no, instead it’s tap screen, drag finger, watch your guy spin in exactly the wrong direction, wiggle your finger around to try to make him pivot, watch him spin uselessly until oh! oh!  he’s pointing the right way now!  FIRE!  YES I KILLED ONE.  Meanwhile, 20 more walked in off the edges of the screen and I’m totally and completely fucked.  Also I gathered no food while doing this.  And took severe penalties for failing.  Alright, fuck this, it HAS to be better with a mouse.  At least then I can drag the mouse cursor with more accuracy, right?  … It was a little better but it was pretty much the same story.  I ended up selling all my ammo to buy car parts and just avoided doing any jobs or events where I had to shoot zombies.  I avoided shooting zombies in the zombie apocalypse.  Sigh.  Surprise, I hit an event that wasn’t optional and ended up dying.  I suppose it would be possible to get used to it and get better at the shooting, but I have other games to play that aren’t ruined by stupid and frustrating control schemes.

It’s really too bad because it could be a fun little time waster, but until the shooting controls are changed or some kind of “I’m an idiot let me click on them to shoot them without aiming” difficulty mode is added, it’s just not worth playing.  I can’t even really give the game high marks for being unique because it is literally Oregon Trail.  With zombies.

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.

Towns

[UPDATE] Apparently the devs have announced they are officially abandoning the game.  It’s too bad, but in its current state it is not finished and not worth paying money for, and in fact I would discourage you from spending money on something that is officially abandoned, lest we perpetuate the bullshit that is abandoning Early Access games.   You can still read what I used to think of it past the break, though :/[/UPDATE]

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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.

Tomb Raider (The “Bobbing” Rant…)

I was very interested in the new Tomb Raider game when it came out, but I figured I have enough shit to do so I would wait for a sale.  Now it’s on sale at Green Man Gaming for 13 bucks.  Sold.  It probably means it will be 5 bucks in the Steam summer sale, but fuck it, 13 is a good price point.

I haven’t gotten very far yet, just through the tutorial section (at which point I can already say that the game should really be subtitled “Lara Croft has a very bad day.”), but I have a couple of things I want to say.

First: Holy shit this game is running incredibly well on my 5 year old computer that I am about to replace because the motherboard is starting to die.  Also it looks fantastic.  I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the game in that it’s just a series of quicktime events carrying you from cutscene to cutscene, but you know what, if it looks like this, I’m fine with that.  Lara is incredibly expressive, and the action events pull you in and make you jump.  And then you die horribly in brutal fashion, but it’s okay because it only sets you back to the beginning of the sequence.  So that you can die again.  It’s pretty awesome!  I’ve heard many complaints about that, too, but I’m mostly worried that it will become frustrating later on.  It’s not yet, though… but I would hope the tutorial sections wouldn’t be…

Second: The real reason I am writing this entry despite having spent about 30 minutes in game is because I need to take a break because the game has camera bob, and it’s not possible to disable it.

There are few things which make me as angry as mandatory camera bobbing.

The thing is, a large number of people (myself included, obviously) have issues with motion sickness when what your eye sees (lots of bobbing) does not match up with what the inner ear is detecting (not lots of bobbing).  Usually this is an issue in first person games where the camera attempts to emulate walking by bobbing up and down… except it never made any sense to me to do that because our brains compensate for the bobbing motion and we don’t really see everything bobbing up and fucking down while we walk, so why would you artificially emulate it?  Lots of people do not have motion sickness issues and do seem to like bobbing, though, to the degree that if you search for the easiest way to disable bobbing, you’ll inevitably find pages upon pages of people replying with “lol it doesn’t bother me just get over it lol” (except usually with worse spelling and grammar).  My issue isn’t so much that the bobbing is included – by all means include it if people like it and they feel it enhances their experience – my issue is that it is not offered as a mother fucking option that can be fucking TURNED OFF.  

That was probably unnecessarily harsh, but I’m getting really fucking sick of digging around in ini files to find the little line that says “head_bob = 1” and changing it to a 0, when you could put that fucking option in the settings screen so people like me wouldn’t be irrationally fucking angry at your shitty UI designers that should all be fired for not putting the fucking option there, assholes.

I did say “irrationally”, right?  Ok, good.

We include subtitles for the deaf (well… usually…), and colourblind modes for the colourblind (well… hopefully…), so why can we not include “no fucking headbobbing” modes for the bobbing impaired?  This is an important issue that must be addressed, guys!  Those of us who are going to vomit on our keyboards are being neglected by the game development community :(

I was actually surprised when I felt the familiar headache creeping in after 15 minutes of Tomb Raider, because it’s actually a third person game where you see Lara in front of you as you move around.  Usually if there’s an obvious thing in front of the eye (like Lara Croft’s huge boobs… actually they’re surprisingly mild in this game, come to think of it) the bobbing doesn’t trigger the “oh god our readings aren’t lining up ABORT ABORT ABANDON SHIP” reaction from the equilibrium system.  The camera shakes a lot, but it doesn’t really bother me so much in the cutscenes.  It’s a lot like watching a movie shot with shaky-cam (and motion sickness aside… why the fuck would you choose to emulate THAT of all things???) so if those kinds of movies bother you, the game might too.  The actiony scenes actually helped my headache ease off a bit because it’s more like the shaking is expected.  What brought it on in full was when Lara was staggering on a lovely grassy path in an otherwise calm scene, and the camera is swaying back and forth and jittering like the cameraman was dying of hypothermia on the deck of a sinking ship.  I can see Lara swaying, why does the camera need to be swaying?  I am not seeing this through Lara’s swaying eyes.  I do not need the camera to explain to me that she is swaying right now.  Why can’t I turn this fucking swaying off?  Fuck you.

Unfortunately, I also can’t seem to find any sort of camera sway options in the ini files.  It doesn’t look like there’s an easy fix for it.  The camera effects in the cinematic sections make sense, and I probably wouldn’t even want to turn those off… but just moving from place to place… uggghhh.  But I guess if they’re all part of the same programming it would be pretty hard to put in a way to disable one and not the other.  Still, I would like an option to disable it wholesale and deal with the decreased experience that not having a cinematic camera leaves me with.  Right now it’s a choice between having a decreased experience of having a splitting headache and nausea vs a decreased experience of having to take a break (and write an irrationally angry blog entry) every hour or so.

But the headache is easing off now so I think I will go see what hilarious end Lara will meet next.

Update:  I mentioned to my husband that I had bought Tomb Raider and he said “How big are her boobs?”
So I said “Pretty average, really.”
“I hate it already. Worst game ever.”

D.O. Ale Classic brown Ale

This is a brown ale from “Old Yale Brewing” from Chilliwack.  It was on the rack of 650ml bottles that changes every couple of weeks, and they’re usually interesting to try.  I also like brown ale!  It seemed like a safe bet.

Unfortunately for this ale, all I can taste is hops.  Not the nasty bitter “ear wax” flavoured hops; it’s the flowery kind of hops.  I don’t often come across this flowery flavour (probably because I avoid hops-y beer) but I vividly remember someone taking a sip of beer at a beer tasting party and saying “UGH it tastes like potpourri!” and everyone kind of recoiled in horror, then tasted it and went “huh… yeah, you’re right!”  I usually only taste this in really high alcohol content beer, because it easily hides the extreme boozy taste, but this stuff is only 5%.  It’s ALMOST good.  The texture is super creamy and there’s a wonderful nutty flavour buried in there, but then WHAM.  Flowery hops.  And they don’t meld at all with the nutty flavours, as far as I’m concerned.  Ugh. Unfortunate.

Neverwinter Online – PvP

I tend to try out the PvP in every MMO.  I don’t know why, because I never enjoy it (and I’m certainly not good at it, which may or may not be related), but I always do.  I did quite a bit of battlegrounds in WoW and really enjoyed working toward new pieces of equipment that ultimately didn’t really improve my pvp experience at all, but I guess there was that little kernel of “once I get some gear this will be fun” that I was foolishly chasing.  Neverwinter actually has daily quests to do the PvP, so I’ve done a few matches now.  I feel qualified to bitch about it.

First of all – this is low level PvP.  In every game (except Guild Wars, because they scale you…) low level PvP tends to not resemble max level PvP at all.  It also tends to be significantly less balanced because no one bothers to balance it the whole way across and they just tweak the end result where people will likely spend the most time.  It makes sense from an efficiency standpoint.  GW is the only game that’s really done things right, in my opinion.  Not only do they scale your character so they only have to balance one playing field, but for the battleground portion they literally give you a separate copy of your character that is max level, so you can properly choose pvp-oriented skills and gear, instead of having to juggle it all on your pve character.

Something that is debatable about GW is the rewards for pvp.  In every game, you get shiny new equipment for success, which ultimately makes you more successful. And… ultimately raises the bar of entry to a degree that is intimidating to new players.  GW removed that paradox by offering cosmetic skins for everything instead of actual power increases.  I always thought WoW should have done that, and they kinda did… arena armor had different coloured skins for more success, allowing for bragging rights without a positive feedback loop of getting better to allow for more wins to allow for getting better.  The problem was the base armor was still a huge increase over everything else, which meant you were still stuck in that loop of “Need gear to compete – can’t get gear without competing”.  When GW came along I was like “FINALLY someone does it right!!!”  … but then it sucked.  It turns out there’s not much incentive to keep grinding when your character is just as powerful at level 1 as it will be at 100.  I’m not really sure what the solution is!  The pretty princess carrot wasn’t interesting enough for me, but the “get gear be powerful” carrot makes the barrier to entry too goddamn frustrating.

But anyway, I was going to talk about Neverwinter!  I have yet to find a glory vendor that sells low level gear, so it would seem that I am grinding up glory to bank it away until level 60.  There is a daily quest that gives you diamonds as a reward for doing PvP, and there is a rotating event that gives you bonus glory for participating.  If you do well in a match, it throws a random green item at you.  If nothing else the diamonds are super useful (you can trade them for zen which is the bought-with-real-money funbux) so I figured I would be doing at least one match a day until the gear became available at 60.

To give you an idea of how that’s going, I just logged in and said “Oh no, the daily reset already?  Now I have to do another match…”

PvP in Neverwinter is pretty much the same as every other game.  A group of players are dropped into a map which has some points to control (by standing on them until they change colour) and they run back and forth killing each other until one of the teams reaches the magical score number that means “you win”.  Granted, it’s only shown me two maps so far at lower levels, but both of them were like that.  When you are below the level of the match, it “scales” you to the top level… but you get none of the abilities and keep all your same gear.  So you still suck.

The problem lies in the whole “killing each other” step.  I’m a melee character which almost always has range issues in pvp no matter what game it is, but in Neverwinter, attacking prevents you from moving. (edit: Specifically melee swings stop you from moving.  I know those silly casters almost never get to move, but at least they get to attack from range…). So, each fight goes something like this:
Charge up to enemy – swing.
Enemy walks away and is out of range within a step or two.
Move toward enemy – resume swinging.
Hit once before they move away again.
That’s assuming they don’t roll away from you, since everyone has a dodge move.  Except shield bearers who just kind of stand there attempting to block uselessly while you kill them anyway (I feel bad for them… maybe they don’t suck at 60.)

I tried a match on my baby cleric as well and it was somewhat similar.  She attacks from range, but being locked down during the attack(and heal) animation still ensured she had difficulty dodging away from attacks.  I’m pretty terrible at playing her in general and only played one low level match though, so it’s hardly a fair review.

The real issue is that, in order to counteract the whole “you stand still while attacking” thing, it seems as though they gave everyone tons of “daze” abilities.  Which is the same thing as saying “everyone stunlocks”.  Because pvp is the most fun when no one can actually control their characters.  Ugh it’s like a glass case display of every bad decision in every example of PvP I’ve played over the years.

They also don’t seem to have anticipated the afk masses.  Perhaps they thought the carrot of getting random unidentified junk for performing well would be enough to keep people from idling at the entrance, but the fact is you get more glory for losing quickly than you do for participating in the frustrating stun battles at the points.

I am starting to see more cleansing happening, so maybe things settle down later on… but that just means it becomes a matter of “whoever has more non-afk cleansers wins”.

~BONUS BITCH~ – When you exit the battleground, everyone stays in your group.  And then the game nags you to add them to your friends list.  It does this for dungeons too, and it makes me irrationally angry each and every time.  Especially if we queue as a group and then have to either kick everyone out, or disband and reform our guild group every fucking time.  So Angry.

I will say this though… it’s making me feel like logging back into GW2 to try and earn some more pretty princess gear.

—–

UPDATE:

I just learned that there are also some very powerful enchants which are essentially only able to be obtained by paying real cash (you can attempt them for free but there’s a 1% chance of success without purchased items).  The enchants are usable in PvP and quite likely will be gamechangers (stuff like passive chance to stun.  Because there just isn’t enough goddamn CC flying around).  It suggests to me that the PvP game has a good chance of becoming “pay to win” once people figure out it’s nuances.  Fuck that.

Neverwinter – First Impressions (PvE focus)
Neverwinter – Second Impressions

Jack Reacher

I hate writing reviews about things I don’t feel very strongly about, but to be honest I barely remember watching this.  The most exciting thing that happened was both of us falling asleep and then turning it off.

Our experiences were probably coloured a little bit by watching Mission Impossible 4 recently, but I feel like even if you didn’t compare the movie to massive explosions and scaling the side of a building using malfunctioning spider-man gloves and crawling through the insides of a massive overheating computer… nothing much happens in Jack Reacher.  A sniper shoots some people in a seemingly random attack and everyone talks about why.  And they keep talking about why for the next hour and a half.  I hate to sound like one of “those“, who need explosions and gunfire to stay interested… but by the time the (completely unremarkable) answers start to be revealed, you don’t give a shit anymore.

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.

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Winter Treacle Porter

After the fantastic success of the Irish Whiskey Cask Beer, I saw Winter Treacle Porter by Innis and Gunn and thought “Hmm, I should try it.”  I’m certain I’ve tried some of their other offerings before, but I can’t remember being overly impressed.

Like the whiskey cask beer, this beer is also 7.4% alcohol.  Unlike the whiskey cask beer, you notice.  My first sip kind of felt like taking a sup of straight rum.  It was just so… boozy.  The actual beer flavour started to improve about halfway through the bottle (more alcohol will make everything better with time, right??!) but I was still never really impressed.  It’s certainly a better option than most of the cheap “WOOO GET DRUNK FAST!!!” type beers you usually find north of 7%, but I wouldn’t get it again.

Long Time Coming

Long Time ComingLong Time Coming by Robert Goddard
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I give up. I hate leaving books unfinished, but when I put off reading for several months, it’s time to move on and read something interesting again.

It started out so promising! Mysterious motivations and intrigue, espionage and promises of action, plot twists! And somewhere roughly 30-40% of the way in, it all became so… so… incredibly generic. All the words started blurring together and I just didn’t give a shit anymore. But I couldn’t stop reading – what if it got better!!!! I spent several weeks of opting to watch late-night TV rather than read (there’s the first clue…) and then I picked up the book, determined to take a chunk out of it, and went “Oh, they’re in jail now? When did that happen? …who was that again? ….. do I care?” and I knew it was time to give up.

This is probably an absolutely thrilling story for someone out there. But not me…

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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

Red Dawn (2012)

I’m trying to think of how to review this in a way that isn’t just pages of laughing.  It’s tough.

It’s probably important to point out that I have not seen the original movie.  After watching this I DID go read a synopsis, and they actually butchered the premise less than I expected!  This kind of ridiculous premise made more sense in the ’80s, I guess.  I could tell just from reading the synopsis that the original was a better movie, ridiculousness and all.

North Korea has decided to invade Spokane because… reasons.  At least THAT part is reasonably realistic – no one knows what the fuck they’re doing or what their motivations are other than “rar we defeat America rar”.  The least realistic part is that they bother to occupy Spokane.

The movie opens by introducing us to Alpha Male who is a soldier fresh back from Iraq and he’s all badass and shit and is good at combat and hardened and whatever other descriptors you would like.  We establish his manliness with a bar scene and then there is a country-wide power outage (the radios still work to relay this news.  I guess it could be a satellite radio though) and he wakes up to soldiers parachuting into his residential street.
First of all: ahahahaha the CGI in this scene.  I don’t usually complain about shit like that but it felt like someone had taken an image of a single parachute, copy/pasted it 800 times, and placed it in a looping animation to make them appear to be moving.  Then had some planes flying in front of them (think about it.).  If I had more ambition I would attempt to recreate it in gif form.Second of all: It sure is important to send thousands of soldiers to secure this residential neighborhood in Spokane.  Good thing they have such deep reserves of trained military men that they can spare for this.  Also they have lots of vehicles and tanks that materialize on the ground in well placed blockades, despite not seeing any air drops of them or anything like that.  God damn they’re organized!  You’re probably just fucked, America.
[UPDATE] I noticed I’ve been getting a lot of search hits for search terms like “why are they using American vehicles in Red Dawn 2012”.  I was not nerdy enough to notice this about the movie, but I can still answer it for you: Because it’s not a very good movie.
Alternatively, they bought the vehicles from America and then never bothered to ship them back home before invading, which also explains why we never see them being air-dropped!  All problems now solved, the plot makes total sense now.  You’re welcome.[/UPDATE]

The residential invasion was slightly explained by them finding and seizing the Mayor, so you can suspend some disbelief and think ‘okay they were targetting the mayor’.  The mayor of… Spokane…

Alpha Male immediately springs into battle readiness mode and herds a group of mewling teenagers off to their cabin outside of town.  He does this by using the most amazing 1980’s truck ever which battering-rams its way through several military vehicles and smashes shit and kills people and gets shot and keeps on ticking, losing a mere headlight in the process.  They just don’t make them like they used to.  They later get this truck stuck in a mud puddle (despite having EIGHT FUCKING PEOPLE to push it) and abandon it and I will never forgive them.

The whole next part of the movie goes something like this:
Alpha Male takes control of the situation and uses his combat knowledge to guide everyone to safety and lead them in a resistance movement.
Subordinate Male rebels against Alpha Male and refuses to do what he says, placing the entire group at risk.
Alpha Male berates Subordinate Male for not listening and takes control again, using his combat knowledge to guide everyone to safety and lead them.
Subordinate Male rebels against Alpha Male and refuses to do what he says, placing the entire group at risk.
(rinse repeat)
(rinse repeat)
Subordinate Male vomits at thought of doing violence.  Alpha Male supports him during this difficult time in his life.
Alpha Male trains Subordinate Males in combat and they bond or something I don’t even know, I think they needed to fill some screen time.
Subordinate Males are now all hardened combat veterans.  Elapsed time: three days or so?  That’s enough time, right?  Sure it is.
Alpha Male gives inspiring speech about war and how when you’re invading somewhere it’s just a place, but this is our home.  Irony goes completely over his head.

Then the resistance part of the movie commences, where the ragtag group of teenagers manage to defeat the evil army (who, I will remind you, were able to invade and set up organized vehicle blockades before anyone managed to get out of bed in this town) with clever weapons like skateboards and holes in the ground.  The leader becomes angrier with them and the rest of the country is inspired by reports about them and apparently bothers to fight back as a result, because they certainly wouldn’t have that idea on their own.

Oh and don’t forget the scene where they find themselves in a Subway, demand they hand over all their bread (to which the employee says “What kind would you like?” and they list off the entire menu) and toppings, and then have a lovely scene where they talk about how good Subway is as they eat it.  I’m sure that endorsement was entirely sincere and no extra money changed hands at all.

See, I read the synopsis for the original and I see them getting a lot of help from outside sources at points.  They meet up with soldiers from other areas who are involved in their own struggles and who compare notes.  The war as a backdrop is fleshed out and it’s clear the country as a whole is struggling, but fighting.  Not in this movie.  They take the reins and inspire an entire country with a couple of pilfered explosives (I would also like to point out they stole these explosives by… walking uninhibited into a garage containing military vehicles and just taking them out of the back seat).  The invasion seems a bit better explained in the original, too.  In this movie it’s like “whoops they invaded and now they are here, let’s get em!”  Late in the movie they get a report on how the attack went down simultaneously in a number of areas, but that’s the extent of it.  No real plans revealed, no motivations, just “they wanted to attack so they dropped paratroopers and non-nuclear tactical strikes”.  Even the parts of the movie which are retained are badly done – like [spoilers – because you care] in the original, under threat of torture, one of the members is forced to swallow a tracking device and rejoin the group.  When he is discovered as having betrayed them, they turn on him.  In the remake?  The tracking device is sneakily injected into one of the members, and when it is discovered he bravely volunteers to abandon the group and lead the bad guys away.  I don’t think a single person actually makes a fucking mistake in this movie.  Even when things go wrong it wasn’t THEIR fault.  Does anyone even have a character flaw in this movie? Except for the prick at the beginning who betrays them and steals all their food and then runs off to join the leadership of the invading army in a bid to get ahead.  At least he had some decent motivations!  But they get revenge pretty early on, making his whole role in the movie last about 10 minutes of screen time with an unsatisfying arc.

And probably the most revealing is the difference between the endings.  In the original, it’s basically implied that the fight continues and the group’s efforts were not in vain, but it’s not exactly a happy fluffy “yay we win” ending.  In this movie… things go wrong so it’s not all sparkles and rainbows, but the end is all set up as a pumped up “we are inspired and KICKING ASS over here FUCK YOU INVADERS” with heavy overtones of success.  The same ironic speech about “when you invade, it’s just a place” is given, and it still goes over everyone’s head.

I just don’t get it.  Why are remakes always so much worse than the originals?  Updating special effects is one thing (and this movie didn’t even really do that well… I’m willing to bet lovingly crafted special effects from the ’80s were better than shitty CGI from today!) Why haven’t we figured out that trying to “improve” an original by altering its basic elements will likely destroy all the parts that made the original good?

Pure

PurePure by Andrew Miller
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am going to start this review with a very important and very relevant fact: I am not interested in history. I really don’t know why that is… I like reading about historical events! I understand the appeal of cataloging and learning from the past. But actually studying and analyzing history? ugghhhh.

So perhaps it is a mystery why I heard about this book and immediately wanted to read it. “Pure” is a story about the Les Innocents cemetery and is probably best described as a historical fiction. This cemetery actually existed, and actually became so full that corpses were packed so tightly that they could no longer properly decay. It stunk up the city and started spilling out through retaining walls into people’s basements, until it was finally dug up and moved elsewhere. It’s all true and the book incorporates all of it into its setting. The book even throws in some references to events which I suspect are true – although I didn’t do enough fact hunting to confirm – such as the discovery of an “incorruptible” body of a girl which was later placed under glass for viewing.

Those parts of the book I actually found quite interesting! Anytime the book started discussing and describing the cemetery I would perk up and dig in. The problem was the book didn’t seem to spend much time actually doing that.

The rest of the plot follows the engineer who is tasked with moving the cemetery. The problem with this is that I found him extremely boring.

Problem #1: Present tense. I hate present tense. Every time I come across it I think I hate it more. It’s so rare to find an author who can use it effectively. It makes even less sense to me to try to use it in this story. We naturally tell stories in past tense – our story telling abilities were honed by telling people about things that have already happened so it just makes sense to us to frame it that way. Present tense shakes things up by being all “woah this is happening RIGHT NOW and we are experiencing it together!” and adds an element of uncertainty about what will happen next. If the protagonist of the story is explaining what happened in the past, well, they probably survived the harrowing sequence they’re describing, right? (unless they’re a ghost I guess).
This story is set in 1785. There is not a single thing about it which is “present”. Furthermore, nothing terribly exciting actually happens. There are no death defying action sequences to “experience” and put you on the edge of your seat and make you wonder what will happen (although there are some close calls here and there, not a single one of them attempts to take advantage of the present tense…). The ending sequences come close to being action-packed, but they miss the mark too. If the intent was to “take me” to 1785, it failed, because the present tense led to so many awkward sentences that I had to trip over and parse. It was exhausting and I finally started skimming a bit just to get it over with.

Problem #2: Unnecessary details. To some degree this is warranted – when introducing the cemetery and the areas around it, there is a LOT of detail, and I suspect it is all accurate to history. The book doesn’t go full out “Unabridged Notre-Dame” and describe the dimensions of every god damn brick, and I suspect actual historians will be delighted by the detail, but it was a bit of a slog.
THOSE details I totally will tolerate, though. It’s historical fiction! The ones I /facepalmed over were the masturbation scenes. On multiple occasions a character will just break into masturbation and then whoops, interrupted by something! In one scene it just casually throws in “rubs herself a little between her legs” when describing getting ready for bed. I’m not a prude, I don’t mind sexual content, but it’s nice if there’s a reason for it to be there. There are enough rambling words in this book that throwing in descriptions of penises and random masturbatory actions feels over the top. The story does cover some romantic relationships, but if it was attempting to build up the characters in preparation for those later scenes, it failed to communicate it to me.

Problem #3: With all the detail that’s thrown around, the book constantly refers to a “Comte de S-.” There is no explanation for why the name is written like that. If I were into history maybe I would know, but a footnote with an explanation might have been nice.

Problem #4: The book feels like it’s not going anywhere. The story of the cemetery is interesting, but that was “already written”, so to speak. The stuff packed around the story of the cemetery feels like cheap filler with no real purpose. Again, if I were more interested in historical stuff I might be more impressed with the accuracy, or the portrayal of the people of the time, or something like that. As it is, I just found myself uninvested and uninterested in the characters. Which is too bad because I did actually find the setting interesting, so maybe it could have gotten me more interested in historical fiction. Oh well.

It really feels like this was a half-formed idea about a story revolving around the story of the cemetery, but it was never fully fleshed out. The story of the cemetery was interesting, but it’s inherently interesting, and it feels like the book relies on its interestingness to carry it. The rest of the book had some potential with the whole “People want the cemetery gone/People do not want the cemetery gone and become hostile to anyone trying to remove it” angle, but that’s not really designated as the focus of the book either. Instead, we spend a lot of time watching people masturbate and pine over prostitutes. Why.

View all my reviews

Powerplay Manager (sort of)

This isn’t so much a review of a game as it is a rant about the current status of certain things. I ended up tagging this both “I like it” AND “I don’t like it” because there are elements of both, I guess.

I’ve been playing “Powerplay Manager” which is a browser game where you manage a hockey team.  I started playing it because there are absolutely no worthwhile hockey manager games on the market right now, and the ones that ARE available via being propped up by the fan modding community (like Eastside Hockey Manager) all use current rosters of teams and players.  I’m keeping an eye on the Hockey manager game being produced by OOTP… but it looks like they’re going for the current roster deal, too, since they’re basically trying to make a modern Eastside Hockey Manager.  I’m not interested in simulating the NHL, I just wanted to play with fantasy teams and players where the “stars” are not based on real-life reputation.  I want to build my own unique team and play against opponents who are not modelled after existing teams, so that I can learn their strengths and weaknesses as I go, rather than try to figure it out based on real history.  It’s actually kind of amazing to me that there aren’t more fantasy sports games available which aren’t just trying to emulate reality.
I actually REALLY want ‘Football Manager’, except Hockey, not Football.  I wonder who I can send letters to in order to accomplish that…

Anyway, PPM is kind of cool in that every player and every team is either player controlled, or computer controlled waiting for a player to make an account and take over.  They’re not based on real teams or players at all, it’s all generated with RNG.  Half of your job as manager is to take your roster and tell them how to train and delegate the players into the best position for their stats.  Each player has a ‘quality’ rating which dictates how well they learn in each stat, and each position values certain stats over others.  At the same time, an offensive player with a higher defense stat will still contribute to preventing the other team from getting scoring chances, and stuff like “shooting” isn’t necessarily tied to any one position but will dictate whether your scoring chances actually turn into goals.  You set “tactics” for the team too which can take advantage of the way you’ve designed their stats – if your defense is high in offense as well, you can go for an aggressive approach, or if your offense is high in defense, go for a shutdown approach… and there are some other, more subtle options, as well.

The other half of your job is to upgrade your arena (making room for people to sit so they can come to your games, buy your shitty food and souvenirs, and give you $$$$$ to provide more capital to upgrade or hire players), upgrade your facilities (if you have better training facilities your players learn better… medical facilities for injuries… yadda yadda), and hiring and training staff to man those positions.  Periodically you have to review applications for new staff or players, and decide if you want to take them on or just reject their resume.

Of course, it’s a browser game.  Which means your team plays one hockey match every two days, and everything happens at pretty much a real-time pace.  I’ve been playing for over a year now, logging in once a day or so to check up on my game schedule, see if any players need to switch to training a different stat, and deciding if I have enough cash to start a new arena upgrade (upgrades take upwards of 45 real-time days to complete, usually).  It’s taken a year, and I’m still not anywhere near in contention for any sort of playoff position or even winning any sort of trophies, but my stars are actually starting to score goals, and my prospects are getting to the point where they’re starting to move into the line-up and bump out the low-quality losers I started with who just sort of take up space.  I kind of want a not-browser based version just so it doesn’t take over a year for my team to start winning a game every now and then; There is a certain appeal to being able to hit “next day” and have it immediately jump instead of literally waiting 24 hours.  Sadly there is no game like that which exists.

Which brings me to my next rant.  I’ve been playing this game for a year… and I’ve been reasonably enjoying it.  They (like most browser games) offer perks if you throw money at them.  In the case of this game, there are a couple “one off” purchases like designing a custom puck you can trade with teams, or customizing your arena, designing a goalie mask… lots of little neat cosmetic things.  There is also a Pro Pack which brings a lot of features, such as designing a jersey logo, assigning numbers to your players, automated training so they can train a number of stats at once without having to micromanage it, and access to a lot of in-depth stats which might help you decide how to train your players (on top of just being kind of interesting, if you’re into that sort of thing).  I thought to myself “It’s probably worth supporting them… let’s see how much a pro pack costs”.

The pack only lasts for a limited amount of time, and works out to about 15 bucks a week.  Seriously?  Seriously?
If you buy in bulk you get a huge discount, so you can buy a year for 50 bucks, but seriously?  I’ve been playing this game for a year but my actual playtime is only a couple of days worth.  Is it worth 50 bucks to get some nifty stats I can look at for 5 minutes a day?  Fuck no.  Especially not when it expires.  If it were a permanent account upgrade maybe, maybe I would consider it… but even then I would be thinking “eeennnghhh…”

Not quite as egregious as playing 65 fucking dollars for a mine in Mine Things, but the mines don’t fucking expire at least. (unless you rent them… and then you get two weeks for 7 bucks or so, instead of one for fifteen.)

Why do these companies feel the need to be so greedy?  I was perfectly willing to support them because I like the game they’ve set up, but the moneygrabbing is so disgusting that I’m not even sure I want to continue logging in.  According to the statistics screen, they have 4000-5000 people logged in at any point in time, so it’s not even really a question of volume.  Have we learned nothing from the age of Steam Sales, where games fly off the shelves and make a killing at 2.50 a pop simply because people are like “fuck it, it’s 2.50” even if they never bother to get around to installing the damn thing?  If it was a year of Pro Pack for 10 bucks I would probably talk myself into it, even with the expiry.  4000 people talking themselves into it is 40,000 dollars.  Is 1/4 of the current player base going to talk themselves into dropping 50 bucks on a year of pro pack?  It’s possible I suppose, but I can tell you I’ve seen maybe two opponents who weren’t on their introductory free week of pro who actually had a logo.  And if they weren’t so greedy with the pack fees I’d probably be more willing to design a puck for my team, or buy in to some of the other cosmetic fun stuff.  Instead, I continue to pay zero.  Which is actually more likely to be a negative number because of bandwidth costs (although I probably don’t use THAT much bandwidth logging in for 5 minutes a day, I guess).

Ugh it’s a shame.  I guess I should have expected it, though… I followed a link to one of their associated games once, which turned out to be a “Mafia-Wars-Esque” style game where you have X number of action points and you try to fill up the little bars and unlock the boss at the end of a stage, collecting money and items as you go.  Mindless and pointless, but progressing is kind of fun to do since it only takes a couple minutes each day, right?  Except every time you went to do an action it would pop up a window saying “Gosh if you gave us money this window would go away!  But since you haven’t given us any money you will be able to play in 3…… 2…… 1……”

Guess what game I’M not playing!

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.

Wizardry Online

This review might be a bit premature, but I have a feeling it’s only going to get worse, so maybe now is a good time.

Wizardry Online!  Where did this come from??  I had heard absolutely nothing about this game until it actually came out.  I used to play the shit out of the old Wizardry series, along with Might and Magic.  Of course, the last Wizardry game I remember clearly was Wizardry 8, and since then it has apparently become an anime series full of elves with big boobs.  Unfortunate.

My husband and I spent a lot of time in Dungeons and Dragons Online, going back several times and usually subscribing for several months each time.  In fact, if it weren’t free to play, we probably wouldn’t get sucked back in so easily. The model works, as long as you’re not a greedy shithead with your pricing schemes and restriction of free accounts!
Wizardry is also free to play, and it seemed to have the kind of gameplay we like.  Co-op dungeon diving (that can be done with 2 people, but allows for more), hacking and slashing monsters in sewers, solving “puzzles” to advance through the dungeon, traps, treasure… the promise of multiclassing and other forms of advanced character building… hell we played the shit out of a game called Dungeon Lords which was about as polished as a fresh lump of clay, and we enjoyed that immensely because we were muddling through together, so Wizardry intrigued us.

Read 3500 words worth of bitching!

Perfect Sense

I was reading Discover magazine and they had a little blurb about how the world was supposed to end in 2012 because of the Mayans, so naturally all of Hollywood celebrated by releasing a fuck-ton of apocalypse movies.  They listed a bunch of the apocalypse stuff that had been released, and I actually really like apocalypse movies, so I looked up some of them.

One of them was Perfect Sense with Ewan McGregor.  The blurb on it talked about how a disease was running rampant around the world, so I was all “Ooh I really liked Contagion!” and I crossed my fingers for a good one.

There are probably going to be spoilers in this review because I don’t really mind if I ruin it for you, so you might want to stop now if you care.

The premise of the movie turned out to be that the disease comes along and starts affecting people’s senses (smell taste touch yadda yadda).  The disease made absolutely no biological sense, even if you’re happy to ignore the entire world being afflicted simultaneously with no method of transmission.  I’m usually pretty lenient for “convenient” plot devices if it manages to advance the story, but… nnngh I dunno about this one.  But hey it’s an interesting thing to explore, right?  So let’s see what they do with it!

Each affliction of the disease has a precursor of an impulsive and uncontrollable emotional episode (also completely unexplained… how does the emotional system tie to the senses?).  So the very first thing that happens is everyone on the Earth starts crying for absolutely no reason, then they all pass out and wake up to discover they can no longer smell anything.  The movie spends… oh my god it felt like three hours… explaining over and over and fucking over how important the sense of smell is and now they can’t do this anymore and now they can’t do this anymore and now this is different for them and look at how difficult it is for people to live without it!!! But everyone in the world has lost it so gosh we better find ways to adapt since it doesn’t look like it’s coming back!
This entire sequence was some artsy bullshit (oh I am infuriating so many movie buffs right now, I bet) with lots of quick clips and a lot of monotone voiceover and it went on and onnn and onnnnnn and onnnnnnn and then it got whinier and whinier and oh my god why is it still going we fucking get it already they can’t smell anything boo fucking hoo let’s move on.  Nothing has even happened in the movie yet except for this and it feels like a fucking clip show with no substance.

At this point I believe I commented “This is the worst apocalypse ever” and my husband said “It’s the emo-pocalypse.”

Finally they shut the fuck up and actually started following Ewan McGregor as he does things!  How novel!  Turns out his character is a chef, so he has an actual reason to be concerned about the loss of smell, and we get to see him compensating for it in his commercial kitchen.  Then they spend a big chunk of time watching him get to know his new girlfriend.  (Still not very apocalypse-y…)

Then everyone has a fit of insatiable hunger, eating literally everything around them, then they all pass out and wake up with no sense of taste.  This does not bode well for the restaurant!  What will he do?!
…but before we can find out. there’s another 30 minutes of monotone voiceover whining about how taste is really important to us too.  And now they can’t do this anymore and now this has been affected and and and…

I really enjoy “show, don’t tell” in storytelling, and I really dislike pointless whining in the midst of a lot of “telling instead of showing”.  That’s all the movie seemed to be up to this point:  5 minutes of something interesting happening and then 40 minutes of whining about it.  They got the point across but then they kept hammering at it and hammering at it until it felt like someone grabbing a dog and grinding their nose into the carpet while yelling “SENSES ARE IMPORTANT DO YOU GET IT???  REALLY IMPORTANT AND YOU TAKE THEM FOR GRANTED DON’T YOU! BAD DOG BAD.”  It COULD have been interesting, but the way it was presented was heavy handed and made me want to retaliate instead of consider.

Fortunately the movie got better at that point.  Things moved faster, things actually fucking happened in the plot instead of a clip show voiceover presentation, and they started doing some neat things with the sound and visuals of the movie.  And they stopped whining about things and focused on how humanity was being resourceful and getting around the deficits left by the disease.

Except, by that point the movie only had a bit left to go.

And then it just sort of ends.

I found it wholly unsatisfying and I feel like it was wasted potential of what could have been an interesting plot, but instead was used as some kind of soap box and vehicle for artsy camera effects.  Unfortunate.

Chocolate Mint Beer

deadfrogmintI picked this up at some point over the holidays, before I had a blog, so this is a belated entry.  My train of thought when seeing this was “Chocolate Mint beer?  … well, I like chocolate beer.  I like chocolate mint.  How bad can it be???  I should try this.”  I really liked the Dead Frog summer pack and they like to try weird flavours (Lemon Pepper beer may sound weird, but on a hot summer day it was our favourite of the pack) so I’ve had decent experiences with the brewery before.  Plus, I rather like their brown ale when it’s not infused with chocolate mint, so it’s got a decent base to work from, right?

When I got to the checkout, the cashier scanned the bottle and then said “…Chocolate Mint????” which solidified my decision to try it.

Of course, then the other cashier looked over and said “Oh, yeah, that’s been there for awhile now.”  It is probably worth noting that there were lots of bottles and no gaps where any bottles had been removed.  Ominous?

So here it is: Dead Frog Beermaster Series Chocolate Mint Brown Ale.  It comes in one of those bigger bottles, although I think it was 650ml rather than the 750ml that the Longboat Chocolate Porter comes in.

The first sip was promising in that it was a bit chocolatey, and then was minty, which could be quite refreshing!  Unfortunately it was then followed by a big hit of hops.  The hops basically washed out any other possibility, which means all you got was a vaguely minty bitter flavour.  My husband tried a sip and said “ugh, it tastes like medicine.”

I’m not a big fan of hops on the best of days, and the beer didn’t have nearly as much malt as I was hoping from a brown ale.  It was very disappointing and it was somewhat unfortunate that I had to drink a whole 650ml of it… would not buy again.

Mine Things

I have been playing a browser game called “Mine Things”.  Maybe I should put “playing” in quotes.  The premise of the game is that we fucked up the Earth, left, then came back in the future and started mining on the ruined Earth (pretty much the same setting as WALL-E, without the search for life).  As a result, you mine things like umbrellas, clothing, weapons, ships, vehicles or, uh… camels.  The setting is basically an excuse to mine things, as opposed to the components to make things.  (Because seriously if we’re from the future, why am I putzing around on a camel I dug out of the ground instead of a god damn space ship.  So yeah, don’t worry about the plot making sense!)

Each player receives a starting mine, which has a little worker robot that digs up items.  It does this very, very, slowly.  It’s measured in buckets per hour, and they are real-time hours.  You get one item maybe every 8 hours or so, but of course there is an RNG element to it.  You can also get more equipment that improves the number of buckets per hour you dig up, which can help a bit.  So you don’t really play Mine Things, you log in once or twice a day and see what’s up.  There’s a linear progression of rarity, with yellow items being pretty common and you’re guaranteed to find one or two a day most likely, but then finding much rarer items is a fraction of a percent of a chance, and could take months or a lot of luck.  There are a number of orange items (the rarest) which are still listed as undiscovered because no one in the game has dug one up yet.

The “goal” of the game is to create melds of items.  The melds are largely nonsensical combinations of things that can be dug up.  This gives a purpose to the non-equippable items, and makes finding the rare items exciting.  The number of melds you have corresponds to your level, and unlocks new professions to try.  Items can be bought or sold automatically to whoever has the highest/lowest bids, so you can try to complete your collection of melds even if you haven’t found the proper whatsits for it yet.  Players set the market, so obviously rarer stuff, or things used in many different melds, tend to have much higher value than say, the toothbrush everyone digs up 80 of despite having completed the one meld it’s used in on probably your first day.  (Fortunately you can also set mines to auto-trash an item if you are never ever ever going to use or sell it.  Fucking toothbrushes…).

Up to this point, the game is basically a mining version of ProgressQuest.  And honestly, I really liked it.  There is something satisfying about logging in to see what your mine has uncovered.  It could be rare! It could be valuable! It could be exciting!  Slow but steady progress and an appeal to the horrible completionist within me.  And at higher levels of melds you can try professions like fisherman, instead of mining, and even some more complicated systems like setting up factories that other players can work in.

Now comes the tricky part.  The starter mine is just one of many kinds of mines.  The mines are spread over a number of different cities within the world.  You, as the player, can pop to any city you want (once you’ve sent a vehicle out and discovered it, anyway.  Discovering a town is literally selecting a question mark from a dropdown list and waiting for the vehicle to arrive, so don’t get too excited about the “exploration”) and buy and sell things.  To actually create a meld out of those items, you need to transport the items back to your home town.  So even if you buy up mines all over the world, you’ll still need to transport the goodies back home.

Which is where the conflict comes in.  One of the professions a higher level player can choose involves pilfering items from vehicles/ships enroute.  The combat system is…….. not great.  The most common defense a player uses is to send out a bunch of empty decoy vehicles to tie up would-be attackers, so that their goods make it through.  Which means the would-be attackers amass an army of vehicles to counter the decoys and dig down to the treasure trove.  Not only does owning that many vehicles take a lot of cash, but at that point they probably have inventory expansions to hold all the vehicles that new players can’t really compete with.  And since it’s an online game, you just have your standard dicks who destroy vehicles and make you lose your goods because they think it’s funny to ruin someone’s day.

I’m really not interested in this sort of conflict.  The game is pointless enough in the first place… getting lucky and finding a super rare item just to have it *yoink*ed is not appealing to me.  (Losing items by taking a risk and failing is one thing… losing items because you have to travel along routes is entirely another.)  I’ve avoided all transport of valuable goods so far because I’ve had enough not-valuable goods stolen to see that it’s common.  Fans of the game will argue that you should set up an alliance with a powerful guard who will travel in front of you and waylay the pirates, but that’s not appealing to me either.  I just want to find treasure and complete collections without combat being mandatory.  I did try the guard professions to see if I could make a dent in the pirate threat, but found that my ship was eluded by much faster ships or the crew was outnumbered sometimes 2 to 1 and didn’t even attempt to fight, despite having a decent stash of weapons.  It suggested to me that I need much better vehicles/weapons to even attempt to compete, much less transport valuable things.  Meanwhile, I’m not making any cash…

Adding to the annoyance is that you must set a specific profession for each kind of travel.  While moving goods by land, I can’t move them by sea, and vice versa.  While hunting pirates on the sea, I can’t move goods anywhere, nor can I do any guarding on land routes.  You can still buy/sell in towns, but nothing is going home to make melds until you set your profession back to the right kind of transport.  It’s clunky and artificially limiting.

And then there are the mines.  The only way to acquire a new mine is to buy it from a player who no longer wants it… or buy it for real money from the game site itself.  Therefore each new mine must enter the game via real cash.  Therefore players who forked out real cash for mines want a healthy gold return on their obsolete and now unwanted mines.  Everyone starts with a starter mine, and even those go for 6000 gold (hint: 6000 gold is still a lot).  To get the most expensive kind of mine in the game will cost you 60,000 gold, or 675 credits.  You get 50 credits for 5 dollars.  The most expensive mine in the game costs 67.5 real dollars to purchase.  You can buy brand new AAA titles for less than that mine in this browser game.  The cheapest mine – the starter mine that everyone starts with – costs 75 credits.  So the cheapest (and most useless, since you already have one) mine costs 7.5 dollars, and it is substantially cheaper than the rest.

If I were really enjoying the game I would probably drop 5 bucks on a new kind of mine, but sixty dollars what.

And then after I dropped cash on the mine, I’d probably be unable to move my valuable goods from it back home without heavily investing in armed forces to protect them.  Ugh, I just… why isn’t there a god damn game where I can collect and trade things and have some sense of progression without an extensive leaning on combat or player vs player conflict?  And no, I don’t mean Animal Crossing.  I want there to be some kind of point to the progression, and I also don’t want the game patronizing me and filling up with cockroaches if I take a break for a couple days.

The game itself is certainly unique and there are some neat ideas in it, especially if you like the social aspects of working with strangers and coordinating things (the player run banking system is especially neat), but I’m not sure that I can recommend it.  If the pirating/griefing appeals to you you’d probably like it, but then that’s probably why the game is filling up with pirates and making it hard for peaceful traders to actually enjoy it.

Back to my search for a decent trading MMO…

Dungeons

Have you played Dungeon Keeper?  If you haven’t you should probably go straight to gog.com and remedy that.  But if you have, you are almost undoubtedly one of the millions of people waiting for a decent remake that doesn’t crash constantly on modern systems.

As an aside, I don’t know what it is about classic remakes… why do they always have to fuck with the winning formula of a great game when they remake it?  The only thing wrong with the original X-Com (aside from the buggy difficulty level which ended up becoming canon…) was that it was 8000 years old and summarily the interface was ass.  How many years did it take us to get a decent X-Com remake where they didn’t fuck with the formula and make it shitty?  Too many.  But anyway, Dungeons was announced and it has a pretty clear Dungeon Keeper influence, so everyone got excited.  And then it came out and it got really shitty reviews, so I didn’t buy it.

Then came a Steam sale where both the original Dungeons and its sequel/expansion Dark Lord were on sale for cheap, and I said to myself “Well it probably got bad reviews because it’s not Dungeon Keeper, but it looks interesting so it might still be good despite that!” and bought it.

Two things:

1. It is not Dungeon Keeper.

2. There is a reason beyond that for getting bad reviews :(

It’s still fairly unique but the flaws are pretty glaring, and it’s just bad design all around.

Even though they are substantially different the influence from DK is pretty obvious, and in an attempt to point out why the game is flawed I’m going to have to keep comparing the two.

The games are similar in that you are a dark lord who is running a dungeon, primarily through sending imps to dig out rooms and construct various doodads that do various stuff.  In DK, you do this as an omnipotent being who points and clicks and lets his/her dudes do all the dirty work.  In Dungeons, your lord is a physical being within the dungeon.

The inclusion of an actual player character as the lord is mistake number one.  In DK, you rely on your minions to carry out your wishes.  In Dungeons, you end up doing most of that shit yourself.  And even worse, you have to walk your happy ass over there to do it.  What is the point of being the overlord of a dungeon if you have to work??!?!

But it’s worse than that, actually.  In DK, the goal of the game was actually similar to tower defense.  You build rooms, adventurers come to loot and plunder and destroy, and you protect your dungeon heart by building and unlocking and levelling various minions in an arms race.  You build your dungeon in a certain way and certain creatures want to live in it and defend it for you.  The more adventurers you defend against, the more powerful your dungeon got, and the more powerful your dungeon got, the more interested the not-shitty adventurers became in trying to destroy it.  Eventually it is revealed just how bad your micromanagement skills are, and the adventurers destroy the dungeon heart.  Okay fine, so I sucked at Dungeon Keeper but I still had fun playing it.

In Dungeons, you ALMOST have the same goal.  You tell imps to dig out rooms and then place whatsits within those rooms, and you have a dungeon heart which you must defend.  The difference is that instead of trying to attract new kinds of monsters to come and live there, you are trying to attract new kinds of adventurers to come and explore.  Some adventurers want to loot gold, so you place gold piles.  Some want to find musty old books, so you build a library.  Some want to disarm traps and feel badass.  Some want to fight stuff, so you place monsters.  Some want to fight stuff, but they’ve got a fancy new sword and they want to get really big critical hits, so you need monsters who are squishy.  Some want to try their new armor, so you need monsters that hit really hard.  The ultimate goal is to satisfy the adventurers, and then just as they are pleased with themselves and turn to leave, you bash them over the head, haul them to a cage and suck out their soul so you can use the soul power to buy more doodads for your dungeon.

This is far worse than DK for a number of reasons.

One: It’s counter-intuitive.  You can’t place super powerful monsters near the adventurer spawns because A – they might not be the kind of monster that will satisfy the adventurer, and B – if the monster kills them before they’re ready to leave, you get nothing.  The adventurer has to be totally satisfied before they can be harvested.

Two: Because you can’t rely on your monsters to do it for you with a fine enough level of control, pretty much each and every harvest has to be done manually by your dungeon lord avatar.  You have to run your ass all the way over there and beat up the adventurer before they get back out.  Oh and while you’re running over there, you’ll probably run past eight other adventurers who all go “Look!  A dungeon lord!” and drop everything they’re doing to come attack you, which means they were likely not completely satisfied and full of soul energy, which means if you attack them back you are wasting a bunch of time and energy.  So you can run away and hope they lose interest and go back to becoming happy and full of harvestable energy, or you can kill them like the evil dungeon lord you are and just completely waste them.  It’s not good.  It’s not well designed, and it just feels cludgy and badly thought out.

And even if you DO get everything clicking smoothly, that’s about it.  You running from place to place harvesting adventurers is pretty much the whole game.  At least in DK you could look forward to your minions levelling up or try to build more desirable rooms.  The gameplay in Dungeons just feels shallow and repetitive.

And while it is sort of original, all of its good parts are borrowed from DK, and all of the originality is what makes it bad.  So I’m afraid I can’t even really recommend it for the novelty factor.  Unfortunate.