The Other Side of the Bridge

The Other Side of the BridgeThe Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was a bit surprised to see that this book is newer than Crow Lake, because the writing didn’t feel quite as polished. Much like Crow Lake, though, the author excels at writing emotions… and it almost hurts the book because they feel so similar that you can’t help but compare them and find The Other Side of the Bridge to be the lesser of the two. It failed to grab me in quite the same way as Crow Lake and that could be equal parts less sympathetic characters (I found many of them to be flat, which was a shame after the excellent characters in Crow Lake) and just me not being able to relate to them in quite the same way, but it was still an interesting read even if it didn’t grip me and keep me up. A solid 3.5 stars.

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Red Seas Under Red Skies

Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentleman Bastard, #2)Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was desperately in need of a ruthless editor. The plot was bloated and aimless, and it was only the excellent characters and witty banter that kept me going. The first book had its fair share of bloat, but it wrapped up fairly tightly by the end, with only a few stray threads that you could argue served as obfuscation. This book has endless ramblings and descriptions that make your eyes glaze over, that ultimately serve no purpose other than to show off how much research the author put into the background. I think the sea training montage was a good 15 to 20% of the book on its own and served only the barest of purpose in terms of setting up later plot points, not to mention the 40% of the book you had to get through before being jarringly dropped into it. The plot threads didn’t tie together as well as in the first book, and it took me so long to slog through everything that I started forgetting who all these people are or why they’re important, so a lot of the impact was lost. It felt like it was trying to weave a super complicated twisty-turny plot but it really should have stuck to one or the other: deal with the casino con and pitting the two men against each other, or deal with the piracy plot. Mixing the two together just didn’t feel like it was working.

The book as a whole felt “immature”. Not in terms of banter, but in terms of polish. A lot of it felt like first pass writing that never got a proper second going-over. It needed to age a bit more, to let all the nuances seep in and flavour it throughout. And it needed all the useless crap strained out of it before it was bottled. In short: it needed an editor.

It does the same time-skipping bullshit as the first book, and I found it even more intolerable this time somehow, probably because we’re skipping between a short period of time instead of decades. Those interludes taper off midway which was a relief, but there’s a big one that the book opens with that isn’t resolved until the end, some 500 pages later. That resolution was so eyeroll-inducing that it could have knocked a whole star off the rating on its own. Seriously. Stop it. Along with that one, a couple of the big “twists” were so badly telegraphed (as well as being tacked onto plot threads that were basically ENTIRELY optional if not for the need to have this thing happen because it has been decreed that this should happen) that it was really cramping the book. One of my favourite parts of the first book was that their narrow escapes always seemed to have wit behind them, and some of their escapes in this one are blind luck or coincidence.  Unfortunate. If this one had been left in the polisher just a little bit longer it would have been a rock-solid romp with some powerful moments.

Having said all that, the characters were as fantastic as always, and the plot was reasonably entertaining even if it felt a bit rickety. The witty fast-paced banter is something I really enjoy, and I’ll probably venture into the third book just for the hell of it.

Into the Forest

(Not to be confused with “Into the Woods” which is a very different sort of movie.)

This is a movie that really makes you think.  But not in a good way…

This review is going to contain a lot of spoilers but it’s okay because if you’re watching this movie, it’s for the acting and emotional impacts. Not the plot.

I picked this one up because I was in the mood for a post-apoc tale (preferably about a virus since we’re dealing with household illnesses right now and it would be thematic) but, alas, it would appear that I have seen literally every post-apocalyptic movie ever made.  Even the bad ones.  But then “Into the Forest” scrolled past and I went “close enough.”

“Into the Forest” is a post-apocalyptic (sort of) tale about two sisters who are staying at a remote forest cabin with their father when a severe power outage strikes the world. Instead of a chilling tale of virus contagion, I got a tale of two teenage girls whining about the internet not working. Which, honestly, was still pretty entertaining, simply because it was so god damn realistic.

We really did enjoy it—for the most part—but it suffers mightily from “stupid decision syndrome”.  Not quite to the degree where you are yelling at the TV like “NO YOU IDIOT DON’T GO IN THERE YOU WILL DIE.  SEE I FUCKING TOLD YOU YOU WOULD DIE YOU FUCKING DESERVE TO DIE YOU FUCKHEAD” but more along the lines of “ALL of these problems could have been solved if you had taken a tiny little precautionary action eight months ago you dipshits >:(“.  Again: it’s pretty realistic!

Except it’s not.  Stupid character decisions aside… it suffers from a fair amount of bad writing.  More specifically, the movie really suffers from scaling issues.  Supposedly the movie is set in Canada, and the girls spend a lot of time talking about surviving the winter.  The movie spans at least 15 months of time, and not one single snowflake is to be seen, and the greenery never goes away.  Instead there are lots of idyllic berry picking scenes.  The cedars and rain suggest it was located on the west coast, where sure there’s less winter than some places in Canada, but you’d definitely have a few more hardships and a lot more issues with cold than were depicted here.  Worse, they’re living in a modern upscale cabin (with all kinds of electronic gadgets that don’t work anymore!) with a few initial shots of a tarp on the roof to establish that there is some patching that needs to be done, and it goes from that to mold infested and literal beams rotting and collapsing in less than a year.  And it didn’t even have to deal with the weight of snow at all! Apparently it was built with paper mache, which was a bad decision for the west coast of Canada. (Meanwhile, they are still driving a 1995 Jeep Cherokee which is as bombproof as ever.  Oh but for the glory days of Jeep to return…)  If the movie had scaled the timeline up a bit this could have been a bit more believable, but it’s even more annoying that the girls take the time to research topics like in-depth nutrition and “DIY abortion” but not flip a few pages over to look under “Carpentry”.  It’s not like they didn’t have enough fucking wood, and even cedar for shingles!

And then there’s the ending.  So the house rots and collapses around them and they decide “let’s waste the last of our gas to burn it down” for… reasons.  Their logic is explained in the movie but I was still kind of like “…what?”  I mean sure don’t live in the mold infested pile of rot but the gas has a lot of value and you could still store the goddamn books and supplies and shit in… nevermind.  Then they move into a hollow tree stump with a shard of plastic for a roof annnnnnd fin.
I think the intent is to suggest they go back to their ancestral roots and live happily ever after, foraging off the land and enjoying each other’s company as they live out the rest of their lives in symbiosis with nature (hence: ‘into the forest’ see?  Get it??).  In reality, there probably should be a footnote after the credits saying “And then they died.”  Because, yeah.  You don’t just burn down your shelter then wander off into the forest and live in a stump at the onset of winter.  Not even the winter that exists in this world where it just rains and then you go pick some blueberries.  I don’t care how fucking resourceful you are.  If you can’t even be bothered to patch your goddamn roof, you’re not going to make it through a winter in a stump with a newborn baby.

Bitching aside, the REST of the movie was pretty decent.  The acting was great, and the two girls really hit off each other for some high emotional notes.  There aren’t many tense moments or suspense like might expect from most post-apoc stuff, and the worldbuilding is pathetic at best (nothing is explained, and seriously, if the entire world can be fucked for over a year if not permanently by a single power grid failure then the future is pretty dumb), but the emotional moments are A+.  So it’s kind of a girly post-apoc film, I guess.  If that appeals to you, by all means check it out, as long as you are wary of stepping in pits of dumb decisions, bad worldbuilding, and lengthy interpretive dance scenes.

Drifter’s Alliance (Book 3)

Drifters' Alliance, Book 3Drifters’ Alliance, Book 3 by Elle Casey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m a little disappointed in Book 3. The ideas are still really solid and very engaging, but the book feels rushed and lacking polish. It needed to mature and develop a bit more to really hit the sweet spot.

We’re still following the ‘episodic’ formula, but this time it barely even felt like an episode. A few more ideas were introduced, nothing new was really resolved, and it ends on an unsatisfying cliffhanger. The action is fantastic, and the characters are amusing, but the ‘rushed’ feeling persists through everything from the lack of resolution to the slapstick comedy sequences. Chapters end in bizarre places, cutting sequences in half sometimes. The jokes even sometimes trip over themselves by repeating themselves or explaining themselves to you, almost as if it got a quick editing brush-over and something was left behind that was meant to be excised. It all could have benefitted from a bit more care and attention.

I still love the story, and the characters, and the universe, and I would like to know what happens… but at 5 bucks a pop, I’d be tempted to sit back and wait to see if an anthologized version is released that combines them all once they’re done. It’s almost a shame to read them now if they might get polished into a real blockbuster later.

Drifter’s Alliance (Book 2)

Drifters' Alliance, Book 2Drifters’ Alliance, Book 2 by Elle Casey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still enjoyable, but definitely not quite as solid as the first one. One of the things that really appealed to me about Cass was her balance. She was winging it and doing a good job of hiding how terrified she was inside. When shit went sideways your asshole clenched right along with her and you breathed a sigh of relief as she pulled it off and got out. In Book 2, she’s becoming a bit too in-control. We’re learning more about her training and now every time we need to know something, she’s studied it. When we need to do something, she’s been trained in it. Everything that happens to them seems to revolve around her past. It’s too convenient. The characters are a bit too slapstick, too. The humour is starting to feel forced, and I get the sense that the book was written fairly quickly and not polished as much as it should have been to tone down those burrs.

Still enjoying the series, but at 5 bucks a pop I really want them to have a BIT more meat to them.

Stealing Light

Stealing Light (The Shoal Sequence, #1)Stealing Light by Gary Gibson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I feel like I should really like this book. It’s a space opera with daring smugglers and firefights and alien species and mysterious technology and plenty of action, and the main character is a no-nonsense female pilot. Or… at least she should be no-nonsense but somehow a lot of nonsense keeps getting mixed in. I really try not to be feminist about these things, but I’m really put off by how frequently she’s described naked, or how often her anus is mentioned. I mean… we really needed that much detail to get the point across? In chapter three I wrote a note in my book saying “Wait… is she fucking her ship now?” and a few paragraphs later it was like “Yup. She’s fucking her ship.” Literally fucking it. It takes human form and fucks her. Yeah.

There’s a LOT of potential here, actually. The character is a “machine head” with implants in her brain that give her all sorts of (overly described and leaned upon for plot devices) tech abilities and information, but the implants are sufficiently balanced by having some significant downsides: they’ve previously allowed the bearers to become controlled and commit heinous crimes. The implants are actually illegal now because of the exploitation potential, but they offer huge benefits, especially to a pilot like our main character. So there are huge benefits, but not to the Mary Sue level because there are also huge risks. No one really trusts a machine head, so she’s a loner who’s also dealing with the traumas and consequences of the implants, and suddenly it makes a bit of sense that she might become ‘involved’ with her ship since that’s her only companion. Right? Right??

… except every other male she encounters seems to end up fucking her too. Sigh. And, now that I think about it, I’m not sure there are any other female characters of note for her to encounter.

Yeah, I dunno.

I found the first few chapters of the book were far too heavy on exposition (laying out every detail of the technology and world without really giving me any reason to give a single shit about the characters who had all clustered together to talk about it), but the action scenes have been decent enough and I am reasonably interested enough to see what happens. I keep going despite the vague distaste I keep feeling as I plow through descriptions. I feel like this would be way up there on my list of must-reads if it weren’t for this greasy feeling that the book is more self-indulgent than it needs to be for plot purposes.

The characters spend the entire book flip flopping between emotions with no logical transitions. They’re badass in one paragraph, weeping and cowering in the next. Then they’re yelling and screaming at each other, and fucking in the next. It’s disjointed and the poor writing doesn’t do it any favours, with lots of perspective shifts and occasional lapses in tense. But despite all that, the second half of the book was decent, despite a very awkward sex scene that is initiated by the dialogue “I can tell by the way you have your hand on my dick.” They were almost in the midst of growing as characters before they did that, too. Alas.

Give this to a ruthless editor who can cut all the bullshit out of it, and hand it off to an effects team, and I bet it would make a really decent (but probably cheesy) movie. As a book, it’s pretty meh, although I am sufficiently curious to see how the plot wraps up across sequels. Curious enough to put up with more random sex and forced descriptions of nudity? Eeeehhh, maybe later.

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.

About Time

My husband wanted to watch a Sci-Fi movie, so I went to all my usual recommendation places and stared at the usual list of movies we’ve already seen, interspersed with the occasional new arrival of an incredibly shitty looking movie with a rating of less than 2.  Of course there won’t be any (good) sci-fi movies that we haven’t already seen!  If there had been, we would have seen it in the theater.  But then, ranked pretty highly on the rating predictions (on TWO sites, no less.  TWO SEPARATE SITES thought I would like it), was “About Time”.

“I found a sci-fi movie we haven’t seen!” I called.
“Great, let’s watch it.”
“But you won’t like it!”
“…”
“Not only is it a rom-com, it’s a british rom-com!”
“I wanted a space movie.”
“You said sci-fi!  Look, it says sci-fi right there.  There’s time travel!”
“…….”

The premise of the movie is that a man discovers he has the ability to go back in time, and he uses it to try to make his life better.  The blurb says that he uses his time travel powers to make a girl love him, and it makes it sound like a comedy of errors where he fucks it up over and over again until he finally hits the right combination of actions to really hit it off romantically.  Which, to start with, is kind of creepy but it has some comedic potential, right??  In reality, that takes like 20 minutes and then the rest of the movie is about his relationship with his father.  So… that was kind of odd and unexpected, but at least it didn’t make the movie bad.

Lemme tell you.  Do not watch this movie if you have no tolerance for plot holes.  That’s sort of a standing rule with time travel movies, I suppose, but damn.  The very first thing his father says to him is “You can’t go forward in time, only back.”  So, not even five minutes later, he goes back in time, tries it out, and then immediately pops back to the moment he was at before.  Dude.  That is TOTALLY GOING FORWARD IN TIME.  You broke the rules ALREADY!  What they meant to say was that you can only travel to a moment you’ve already lived through, up to and including just a few moments ago, I guess.  But it still annoyed me >:(

The one that actually annoyed me, though, was when he tries to go back in time to stop a major event, only to discover that travelling past the birth of his child changes the exact sperm that was used to create the child, therefore changing his baby (unacceptable, after you’ve spent three years bonding with it already, I suppose).  This is the artificial limiter the movie uses to impose some sort of price on time travel.  If you have a baby, you can’t go back anymore because you’ll change it.  But, only that one sperm.  No butterfly effect on all the other shit going on, just the sperm is random.  So, horrified to learn that his child might not be the same child, he undoes what he did and sets everything back to normal.

Wait wait wait wait wait wait wait.  How did you set it back so that the exact sperm to make that exact child happened all over again?  God dammit, movie.  We’re not delving into parallel universes or some shit now, are we?  Don’t make me think about this shit >:(.  *shake fist*

I did actually enjoy the movie, but I feel like I was lied to by the description, which only actually described the exposition for the plot.  The movie didn’t really know what it was or where it was going until about halfway through, and it suffered a bit for it.  And then it lost a few points by going off the rails of preachiness at the end.  Yes, we get it, you don’t need time travel to have a wonderful life and you should enjoy every moment and blah de blah blah, let me go wipe all this sap off.  Like, it wasn’t sappy the whole way through, but it took a big huge cannonball dive into the tank at the end, jesus.

Apart from ALL of that bitching, though, it was pretty okay.  Maybe three stars, right smack in the middle of “okay”.  Which is less than both of those sites seemed to think I would like it.  Hopefully those sites have learned a little more about me, this day.

The Night Circus

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was almost good. I kept saying that the whole time I was reading it. “This is almost good.”

I was feeling in the mood for a good ‘curl up and read’ book, and I was about to start ovulating so I figured it would be a good time to tackle a romance (usually not my favourite), so I skimmed through various book club lists until I found The Night Circus. Ovulation is probably the only reason it got the third star.

The premise is that two magicians set up a challenge where they each enter a student and see who wins. The challenge is never fully explained, but it’s heavily hinted that they disagree about the best forms of training methods and seek to prove that their own methods are superior by producing the victorious pupil. But it’s also suggested that they’ve been doing these sorts of challenges for centuries and yet they still feel the need to keep digging up hapless children and abusing them into playing pieces for their satisfaction. They train their students and inform them that they will be challenging an opponent at some point in their life and ‘you’ll know it when you see it guys’ and that’s about it.

So at this point you might be thinking “Okay, so we’ll learn about the challenge along with the protagonists!” but yeah, you’d be wrong.

The venue for this duel is a circus. The girl, Celia, gets a job there as The Illusionist, performing magic passed off as clever tricks except it’s actual magic, of course. The boy, Marco, works from outside the circus, getting a position as the assistant to the owner of the circus. Marco works from outside the circus, Celia works from within. Each of them use their magical powers to create fantastical attractions, and eventually come to realize that this is the challenge. They must out-do their opponent and prove that they are the best.

I mean… I think so, anyway. It wasn’t really explained, and also it made no god damn sense. They spend the entire book creating fantastic things (which are all very interesting to read about) and then they wander around the circus and go “Ooh this is new! My opponent must have made this! How wonderful!” and then every so often they meet up and complement each other on their creations, or collaborate on something, and then occasionally have some forbidden sex.

And then every so often they press the back of their hand to their brow and lament “This challenge is such a strain I don’t know how much longer I can take it!” even though it makes NO sense to the reader why this should be a strain on them at all. It’s not even a challenge. They never challenge each other. They WORK TOGETHER on half of it and it’s constantly described how it’s such a pleasure to wander around through the circus attractions. If it’s supposed to be some sort of battle it certainly didn’t translate well into the text. The ‘scoring’ is never explained, to them or to the reader, and the purpose is never explained. Why would these two ancient magicians constantly play out ‘challenges’ where they enter two students who dally around with magic for decades (the challenges last ~40 years) where the only win condition is the death of your opponent? But they seem to rather enjoy collaborating together on things. It’s not like they’re chucking fireballs at each other, so there is no (reasonably explained) reason why they can’t just carry on forever until one of them dies of natural causes. Why is creating pretty circus attractions so stressful that one of them will eventually want to kill themselves?

Oh, right. Because it provides a tragic backdrop for a forbidden romance.

Plot qualms aside, I had some problems with the actual writing, too. The whole first half of the book felt… listless. I kept reading the descriptions of the circus and thinking “This is a really cool and wondrous location that is being described to me. So why is it so flat and boring?” It wasn’t until after the romance got rolling that the descriptions really started to pick up, and I really enjoyed the imaginative imagery after that, but the first half felt as limp as a warm lettuce leaf.

I had a similar issue with the characters. There are a lot of characters and they all feel flat and unremarkable, other than the main protagonists/antagonists. A lot of the punch in the plot lost its steam because I had some difficulty keeping the side characters straight. The protagonists aren’t necessarily all that remarkable either, if you want to be picky, but at least they have a bit of life to them.

I think a lot of the trouble is the choice to write it in present tense. Now, I’m biased because I hate present tense, but I’ve run across a couple books that used it well so I know it’s not impossible to impress me with it. This case is absolutely not a case where I think present tense is a good choice. If you think about it enough and really convince yourself, it kinda makes sense for this story. We have a circus that we’re clearly meant to be experiencing in the moment (there are several ‘second person’ scenes where the reader themselves are supposed to be investigating the circus. I hated all of them, by the way. Somehow they had the opposite effect of totally taking me out of the story… and they also tended to describe things that had already been described so it felt like a waste of time), and we have this supposedly deadly duel where we don’t know who will survive so present tense, in theory, should make that more exciting because it’s happening now. But the duel itself takes place over three decades and there’s not a single solitary direct attack in the whole thing. Also the setting is over a century ago so by default we know it happened in the past, even though the intent is probably to take us back there. But then the timeline jumps around! It just doesn’t work and it makes the whole narrative awkward and flat. If it hadn’t been written in present tense I feel like it would flow better, the characters would be more memorable, and the reveals would pack more punch.

Then we have the romance. The romance was okay. I deliberately read it while ovulating, and I definitely enjoyed some of the sequences, but by the end it was too sappy even for my ovaries. Once again: it just didn’t make enough sense. They’re bound together, so there’s some leeway there—they’re probably going to be drawn to each other in a special way, and we can forgive the explosions of magic every time their skin touches. It’s magic, after all. The problem is he is very clearly in love with her at first sight but she doesn’t even know who he is for half the book, and then doesn’t fall in love with him until a little ways after that. When she does it feels like it comes out of nowhere. And then, even after they get things rolling, he’s got a girl on the side that he keeps around for years? /facepalm. But, naturally, by the end they’re both falling over each other to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. “I’m gonna kill myself to save you!” “No I’m gonna kill myself to save you!” even though it makes no god damn sense that either of them have to die at all.

But the ending wrapped everything up in a fairly satisfying little bow, even if it dragged on a bit too much. Three stars.

Apparently the movie rights have been purchased already. I can’t decide if it will be good or not. It has the potential to be good, but odds are it will not be good. The imagery is just crying out to be brought to life on a screen but it will be difficult to do it justice, and they’ll Hollywood the shit out of the romance and make it unbearable. I’d probably still watch it but only on Netflix.

View all my reviews

Wild Tales

I picked “Wild Tales” out of the Netflix lineup mostly at random, by virtue of being the first thing to scroll past that didn’t look awful.  Predicted 5 stars (not that the Netflix rating prediction system ever seems to have any correlation with reality), Oscar nomination, tales of revenge… sounds pretty good!

Now that I’ve watched it I am reading some internet reviews of it and wondering what I missed.  It was certainly entertaining, but I feel like if that was getting award nominations the competition must have been pretty slim.  I ended up awarding it 3 Netflix stars but the heaps of praise it’s getting are leaving me head-scratching.  Maybe it’s an ‘art’ thing.  I’m terrible at ‘art’.

The movie is a foreign anthology of short stories, each revealing a story of revenge.  It’s labelled a dark comedy, and most reviews seem to label it with words like ‘hilarious’ and ‘uproarious’.  I chuckled a few times, but, uh… ‘uproarious’ seems like a bit of hyperbole.  There were some funnier ones for sure, but there were also several stories that, in my opinion, didn’t even really attempt to be funny.

In fact, I wasn’t really sure what the aim was with most of them… which was sort of the problem.  They were each interesting, and they entertained well enough, but when they got to the end it was more like “Oh.  Is that it?” There were no twists (well, the first one was a little clever I guess, though it pops that early) and most of the time you figured out what was going on twenty seconds into the skit and then it would play out predictably.  Like, not even in a “I bet this is the twist” sort of way – there were no twists.  It was like “This guy here is going to get revenge” and then he does.  The end.  I was entertained and also bewildered at the same time.

The “Is that it” problem was compounded by the lack of transitions between stories.  There isn’t even a really noticeably longer pause between the end of one story and the beginning of the next, it’s just like “REVENGE annnnnd who is this guy now?  Oh ohhh new story.  Got it.”  It’s a good thing the description specifically mentions that it’s multiple tales, or you might be very confused.  A little black screen with a title indicating a new story would be nice.

I’m going to attempt a spoiler free overview of the six stories (titles taken from IMDB):
1) “Pasternak”: Great way to open things, setting you up with expectations for the rest of the movie, which are ultimately not fulfilled.
2) “The Rats”: I’m so confused.  When I said the transitions are rough this is a really good example.  I feel like someone badly edited the ending and forgot to include a few closure scenes somewhere…
3) “The Strongest”: Finally something that lives up to the black comedy label!  I chuckled several times during this sequence, although I wasn’t precisely sure who to root for because jesus christ you’re both assholes, and stupid ones to boot.  It all works in the end, though!
4) “Little Bomb”: So incredibly predictable but somewhat satisfying nonetheless.  Kind of an odd message to send to society, though…
5) “The Proposal”: By this point I was just about ready for the movie to end.  I didn’t get much out of this story, I’m afraid.  And then it was another “Is it over?” victim and it left the story feeling flat and lifeless.  There was only like 5 seconds of revenge in this, punctuated by 15 minutes of whining.
6) “Until Death Do Us Part”: The movie ended on a strong note at least, with more black comedy (if anything even remotely resembles “uproarious” it’s probably this one, but it’s still extreme hyperbole), but damn.  wtf.

 

Harbinger Down

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

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

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

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

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

Darwin’s Children

Darwin's Children (Darwin's Radio #2)Darwin’s Children by Greg Bear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is pure emotion.

I don’t actually know how I feel about it. There are parts of it that are probably some of my most favourite scenes I have ever read, and I highlighted a whole bunch of shit just because I really really liked the way it was written. And there are a bunch of parts that made me squint my eyes and scratch disapprovingly at my chin. I spent a whole day reading this book practically non-stop and felt like I was loving every minute of it, until I got to the end, where I stepped back and looked at it as a whole and thought to myself “……. I’m not sure that I liked that.”

But that’s a Greg Bear novel for me, I suppose. It happens every time.

The first book was exhaustively researched and it was a comfortable stretch to believe that the things proposed could happen. This book does not feel quite as tight. The first book spent a lot of time etching out every minute detail, and this one seems to spend a lot of time skimming over those. I’m quite willing to suspend belief for the sake of plot, especially when creating a new species, but learning and behaviour is my pet field of study and I feel like there are some huge holes in the development of the society of the children. Not to mention the religious element that was introduced. It almost feels like the first book was meant to be hard scientific fact and then he wanted the second book to come at it from the other angle to provide contrast, which is a nice idea in theory, but the way it is presented just doesn’t jive with me. I put comments in several places saying “I hope this is explained a little bit better later…” and then I had a moment of hope when Kaye gets all the scans done, but nope, that was just a distraction too, as if it’s trying to explain that there is no explanation so just get over it. It’s like we go from hard facts and figures to watching the book wave its hands spookily and then conclude with “A God did it.” (Well. Maybe. Because that’s not confirmed either.) Unsatisfying.

The time skips are especially bad. I’d be reading almost breathlessly, racing ahead to get to an anticipated point where two plotlines would collide and I could see the result, annnnnnnnddd *poof* 3 years later. That thing happened during those three years and it was cool but we’re past that now and won’t waste any time describing it, thanks. It happened every time and it made me so mad every time.

I have to say, I love the way the characters interact in this book. The characters feel so robustly human to me, full of emotions and flaws and character traits, and I loved them. But they spent a lot of time on superficial interactions and leave the bulk of the plot development behind the scenes to be discussed in hindsight while they go about their superficial interactions. I’m not sure how I feel about that. And apart from the main family (Kaye, Mitch, Stella), no one else gets a lot of development.  They have their template personality and that’s about it.  At times there are characters used from previous books that might have been thrown in purely so that there would be a backstory already in place and there would be no need to add further development.  It led to a lot of cardboard supporting cast.  There are even some characters who felt abandoned. Where are the rest of their stories? Such as:
Minor spoiler:
We skipped entirely over the bit with Stella and Will. Will exists in like, four scenes in this entire book? We start to get to know him and then *poof* 3 years later. Welp, nevermind that now.

I am so exquisitely torn about the main character too. I loved Kaye. I loved the interactions between Mitch and Kaye. I must have been in the right emotional (hormonal??) state of mind for it because I was more invested in their relationship than I was in the fate of the children, most of the time. I highlighted so many of their scenes together because they felt so real. The scene where Mitch finally snaps and Kaye recognizes how unfair she’s been:

“Kaye stood beside the bed and watched Mitch, eyes wide. Her chest felt wrapped in steel bands. She was as frightened as if she had just missed driving them all off a cliff.”

That moment when you emerge from your own misery and realize with a shock that it affects other people too and you’ve been a huge selfish ass about it. That is real.

But then, I don’t know. She struck me as a near Mary-Sue at first. It’s almost textbook – gifted genius girl who doesn’t recognize how good she is and everyone is in awe of her and everyone wants to fall in love with her oh my. But then she displays real, palpable flaws and it dispels the Mary-Sue threat. I found her to be a realistic depiction of an emotional (and at times irrational) female, but at other times she would drop down into a sort of “This is a female being written by a man” template and I’d find it disappointing purely because it was such a contrast to some of her other scenes.  It’s like she has transitions where she grows as a character and changes her behaviour, and then transitions where suddenly she’s just acting sort of different and it seems odd. And then she finds God or something, I don’t fucking know. It felt like a character departure at several points, in this book and the last.
Ending spoiler:
And then I was pissed at the ending. Seriously pissed. I think that means that my ultimate judgement of her is that I like her? I got the impression that the ending was supposed to be hopeful but I guess I’m just not religious enough for that because no, fuck you, give her more time with her family, you fuck. They’ve been through enough!  I think I’m angry at how unnecessary that was.  The injustice of it.  If that was the goal then bra-fucking-vo.

I don’t think I could read this again, but I think I’m going to be thinking of the characters over the next few days.

The Kings of Eternity

The Kings of EternityThe Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I almost gave up on this book several times.  It’s fairly short, but I was a full 25% of the way into it before anything happened.  I was just done with it.  I didn’t particularly like the character, it kept jumping back and forth between two time periods and my lack of interest in the character made it difficult to follow (in one time period there is a girlfriend named Carla and in the other there is one named Caroline, and I’m bad with names so I kept getting them crossed with each other which made his seeming 180 degree reactions toward them very confusing), but worst of all the language in the book was almost pretentious to read.  I had heard the term ‘purple prose’ before and I even remember looking it up once and thinking “aha, that is the name for that” but then forgetting again.  This book is purple prose.  I don’t think I will forget the meaning of it again, after this.  There is even a section in the book that I highlighted where a character reads out a section of writing from the main character’s books (who is also an author, naturally) and criticizes it for being “Interesting, if a little overwritten.”  That is this book.  I was about to give up on it and went back to the blurb on it to remember why I had even loaded it on my kindle in the first place, and went “Oh.  Hmm.  That does sound interesting.  Maybe I’ll keep going for a little more…”

Then I got to 25% and things happened and I was like “ahh, finally, the reason I loaded this.” and once I was into it even the over-writing started to feel more like Jules Verne than simply trying too hard, which may have been what they were going for.  And then at 40% I was like “holy shit this is pretty good actually.”  And by the end I was like “Eeeh, that was flawed, but these characters are cropping up in random thoughts throughout the day so I guess it’s pretty good.”  3.5 stars.

The premise, in case you’re reading this because you haven’t gotten 25% of the way into it yet and want to know if there’s a point to continuing, is that a reclusive author and his three friends stumble upon an anomaly in the woods which turns out to be a gate to an alien planet.  They have an encounter with an alien creature, save him, and are rewarded with some gifts in return.  One of those gifts is the gift of immortality (more or less) via what is not explained as but is almost certainly some form of nano-medical-technology.  Now they must deal with the fact that they will outlive everyone else.  But there’s more… they can give one dose to one other person each.  Who do they give it to?  How will they conceal their non-aging properties?  Use of the technology is forbidden… what will they do when the aliens come looking for them as lawbreakers?

There were a lot of things that I picked up on and I wasn’t sure if they were intentional or not.  A lot of things are repeated.  In a lot of cases it seems like it could be an attempt to signal something significant, but in other cases I was genuinely not sure if the author just forgot they had done that already.  For example, the author in the book writes a story about a reclusive author living in Greece who is finally charmed by a woman and brought out of his solitude.  Guess what happens to the character!  In exactly the same town as the book he wrote!  That can’t just be a coincidence.  But then certain descriptive phrases were used repetitively, like the one about heat hitting their skin like a physical blow.  It’s actually a plot point in the book that the author is accused of plagiarism because he accidentally re-uses phrases from books he penned under different names.  Are these repetitive phrases some sort of nod to that or just a mistake of editing?  Would there be a point to adding a nod to that??  I’m not sure.  It went over my head if there is one.

And I noticed an odd tendency to over-explain things, but only the things that really didn’t need any explanation whatsoever.  To make it even more irritating, when something actually needed explaining, it would be glossed over.  But if you ever wondered how an object got from one end of the room to the other, hoo boy nothing was left to imagination!  Except then sometimes it wouldn’t be explained and suddenly it was glaringly obvious that an object that had previously been described as on that side of the room was being picked up by a character on this side of it.  Ironically, the breaks in continuity wouldn’t have been an issue at all if it weren’t for the anal over-description of everything else.  There were times when I was absolutely positive I could see the author re-reading the scene and then going “Crap, what if someone asks about this,” and adding a bunch of extraneous descriptive text to head off any pedantic questions, then forgetting that it impacted a scene later on.

Minor ending spoilers:
I was actually surprised it worked out the way it did because it spent so much time building up to the ending that I was expecting it to be a twist, because it was just too obvious and the character had everything worked out and naturally life would throw him one last curveball and punch him in the gut or something because that’s how these things work.  But then… nope just the obvious happy ending.  Disney-esque, even.  Satisfying, though.

Much bigger ending spoilers: Read more of this post

Take Shelter

I’m not sure how I feel about the movie Take Shelter.  It was entertaining, but I kept watching mostly because I was curious about the way it would go (and I mean, if you boil it down, isn’t that what ALL movies are?).

The premise is that a young man starts having terrifying dreams about a horrible storm and becomes paranoid, building a shelter to protect his family.  Along the way we discover that his family has a history of paranoid schizophrenia, and it’s constantly throwing questions in your face: Is it real?  Are his actions justified?  Is he potentially endangering his family for no reason because of mental illness?  Should they listen to him or should they force him to get help?

Unfortunately I just summed up all the best parts of the movie in a paragraph, and it drags on for two hours.  I liked it, because I like psychology and I wanted to see what they would go with in the end, but it was way longer than it needed to be.  It had tension and it kept your attention, but it didn’t need to be that long when it essentially didn’t really do anything new for about a whole hour in the middle.

Spoilers begin here. Seriously, don’t read this unless you’ve seen it or don’t give a shit.

Read more of this post

Windward

This might be a bit confusing, but I am going to start this review by talking about a completely different game.  It makes sense – trust me.

Patrician is a game where you sail ships around and buy low, sell high, eventually raising your rank and amassing a massive merchant army that rakes in tons of income per trip, making you a magnate of the seas. It is often described by haters as a spreadsheet with graphics, but I apparently really love that sort of game.  I even have a whole “Trade” section in my Steam organization list that is dedicated to merchant style games. Eventually you can buy up land within the towns, corner the market on factories, depose all the mayors, drive all your competitors out of business, and start price fixing once you control 100% of a commodity. It’s slow, but it is oh so very rewarding to get angry messages from NPC mayors as you slowly boot them out of their towns and build your mercantile empire.

Windward is like Patrician, except with all the content removed from it.

I really would like to like Windward – I’ve already sunk 4 hours into it – but I just feel like there’s no point.  You can level up the towns by doing quests for them, or make cash with the typical buy-low-sell-high formula (which it conveniently(?) indicates right where to sell it on the commodity so no thinking will get in your way at all.)  You sail your little ship from place to place (100% procedurally generated which is nice) and buy low sell high, or run quests like deliver passengers from here to there… and then you amass some gold and buy a ship that has more cargo slots.  Cargo slots are the be-all-end-all because no matter what your cargo is, it takes up one slot.  You can’t adjust for the amount of, say, rice you can carry vs big ass bolts of silk or whatever, because they all take 1 slot and 1 slot only, so the bottom line per slot is everything.

It’s also difficult to trade across regions, I found.  These guys are willing to buy stuff at way higher prices than the guys in my starting area, but there is literally nothing for me to take back (yet, anyway).  It’s all the same goods, but more expensive.  I found myself abusing fast travel just to insta-port to a dock, buy goods, then insta-port back to the other zone to sell them all.  But once you’ve sold one or two to them, they don’t want it any more.  So you’re stuck with goods you can’t even sell at a loss.  Unless you create an instanced trading zone to unload it all, which feels kind of like cheating.

I can’t even go to the next region until I’m level 12, and just trading for profit is apparently more lucrative but less exp-generating than running quests all day, so it ends up feeling like a bit of a grind.  I was initially pretty excited about taking over the world in the name of the Exchange, but the level restrictions on areas are so cumbersome that I find myself losing interest.

I am worried that I will be forced into combat soon.  I keep avoiding the pirate-focused quests because I tried a couple fights and it just wasn’t for me.  I didn’t pick a combat faction, and the controls are kind of clunky (must keep a certain side of your ship pointed at the enemy, have to hit certain buttons to make things fire, etc.).  My worst experience came when I tried my hand at a smuggling mission and every single fucking ship in the zone apparently picked up immediately that I was carrying illegal goods, and they all chased me down in a gigantic pack and slaughtered me instantly.  Maybe there is a skill to not display a big blinking “HEY GAIZ I AM CARRYNG ILLEGAL SHIT OVR HERE” sign or something.  It was a little discouraging.  But the next zone is not at all controlled by my faction so I wanted to see how bad it was to capture towns and expand our influence.  I am worried it will be 100% killing pirates and not at all about trading.

I would like to like this game, but so far it feels pretty shallow, and mostly makes me want to play Patrician or Anno again, both of which at least have a “speed up time” button so that trundling from town to town doesn’t become tedious :/

Upside Down

We’ve been doing nothing but binge-watching all 20 something seasons of Top Gear for the past month or two, and I didn’t feel compelled to write any blog entries about it (it’s good, FYI), but we finally wandered over and clicked on a movie on Netflix.  That movie happened to be “Upside Down”.  And what an odd movie it was.

The movie opens with a long winded intro that explains the situation, and it proceeds to drop scientific inaccuracies all over you before they’ve even gotten a few sentences in, but it’s probably good to get the suspension of disbelief over with early for this one.  He explains how they are the only planetary system with “double gravity”, with two planets so close together that they’re within reach of one another, but the people and objects from each world are only affected by the gravity from their origin planet, which makes traversing to the opposite planet quite difficult, you could imagine.   It also makes life difficult for the writers, because the number of times they screw up what should be affected by which gravity is pretty noticeable… poor writers.

The intro ended with the line “What if love is stronger than gravity?”, which caused both of us to burst into scornful laughter.  I’m still laughing at it, actually.

The world they built for this is pretty cool.  It feels fairly unique, and they do an awesome job creating visuals for it (except everything seems to be cast in blue and I don’t know what’s up with that).  I found myself enjoying the sets a lot while watching the movie.  Which is good because it didn’t have much else going for it…

The story is incredibly generic.  A guy falls in love with a girl from the other planet and spends the entire movie trying to figure out how to be with her.  No one expected that!  Also they are named Adam and Eve.  Errr… sorry, Eden.  Well my mistake, that’s completely original after all.  Also one planet is incredibly poor and one is incredibly rich (for no apparent reason.  It’s not like the rich planet can exploit riches from the poor one… oh wait they can because gravity barriers suddenly don’t matter when it’s important for the plot) and the rich planet hates the poor planet which sets up a cultural/social economic status barrier for the two lovebirds as well, because every time they try to talk to each other the police descend upon them like it’s some sort of fascist police state where you are not free to have a friendly conversation with people from the other side despite the already prohibiting circumstances surrounding it (and despite having actual office buildings designed for both sides to work together…).  And then, because there aren’t enough tropes shoehorned into this, she hits her head and gets Generic-MovieStyle-Improbable-Amnesia and he has to remind her who he is before they can get on with the sexing.  So he devises a way to go to the other planet, involving shoving material from the other world into his clothing so that it weighs him down enough to walk around down there.  Which is problematic because if the material stays in contact with material from the other planet for too long it will burst into flames, giving him a time limit per visit, and opening up a WHOLE NEW BARREL of plot problems (if material from the two worlds are incompatible, how is he wearing clothes from it without being set on fire?  How do they drink/eat things from the other world without their insides exploding?  And most importantly, how are they going to have sex??!??!?)

And then everyone wins.  The end.  Yay.  It was probably the most dissatisfying ending I’ve seen in the past couple of years.  I think the writers literally just ran out of ideas and went “Welp.  I’m done.  Let’s get a beer.”  It left a couple of threads barely tied at the end, in a big rush of “now lets conclude everything annnnnndddd done.” and I feel like a lot of time that was spent on unoriginal bullshit like amnesia subplots could have been spent developing more information about magical anti-gravity bee pollen and the aftermath of events.

I enjoyed it I suppose but I’m glad I found it on Netflix and didn’t waste any sort of effort hunting it down or paying money for it.  Movies like this are why Netflix needs to exist.

Resolution

I’m debating about even writing this entry because I finished watching the movie, thought to myself “That was pretty okay, I should mention it on my blog”, and glanced at some reviews to discover that I must have watched it all wrong.  All of these reviews are gushing about the meta commentary of the film and I’m sort of looking at them going “there was meta commentary?!”  So I guess this will be a review of the movie from the point of view of someone who doesn’t do the whole “movies as art” thing very well.  I do “movies as entertainment”, and Resolution was entertaining… although apparently it is even more entertaining if you like to read into meta commentary.

The premise of Resolution is that Michael gets a video from his junkie friend, along with a map to his current location, and decides he should give it one final try to bring his friend in to rehab before it’s too late.  Things are never as easy as “Let’s go to rehab” “okay”, so he handcuffs him to the wall and settles in for a week of dealing with withdrawal symptoms before he can try his final attempt at reasoning with the guy.

I’m going to pause right there and say that, when I originally decided to queue this one up for watching, the description mentioned a week of withdrawal and a warping of reality.  So I was expecting a “that-scene-from-Trainspotting”-esque sort of series of mindfucks that left the viewer unsure which things were truly happening and which were a result of the withdrawal.  It’s not that at all.

Instead, Michael spends the week trying to appease druggies who are trying to collect, also appease the owners of the shack his friend has been squatting in who want them out, and investigate a series of creepy media messages that are being left for him to find.  The messages get creepier and creepier, until they begin to star the two guys themselves.

The majority of the movie was interesting, but honestly it wasn’t very creepy until the last little bit when shit starts to get real.  A lot of it seemed disjointed, and things that came up never really came up again so it all melded into a big ball of “That was weird; what was that about?” but no real tension.  There was a lack of tension through the whole build-up actually, even though I was curious to see what happened next.  It could have been Michael’s reaction to the whole situation… he approached all the creepiness with a matter-of-fact curiosity that sucked all the creepiness right back out.  Almost every situation played out like “Hey Chris, look at this creepy thing.  I wonder what this is about.”  followed by Chris saying “How the fuck should I know give me some crack.”  Michael was interested to get to the bottom of it, and I was interested to watch him get to the bottom of it, but he never seemed to be unnerved by all the weirdness or have a second thought about investigating a strange noise.  Which might be why the ending has more tension for me – he finally starts reacting to the events with a “holy shit this is fucking weird” and “How can I get out of this alive…” attitude.  It takes looking at images of his own corpse to finally elicit a reaction.

Wait, was that the meta commentary?  That the horror “movies” didn’t scare him until it actually threatened him directly?  Maybe that was meta commentary.

Here’s some actual meta commentary discussion, involving ending spoilers (and I just realized the movie is named “Resolution”, which makes more sense now.  I thought it referred to video media resolution, as opposed to “ending resolution”, and then was confused about video resolution not really being a big deal…) Read more of this post

Budweiser

You know, I’ve heard all the jokes comparing American beer to water, but I always sort of figured that referred to alcohol content or something.

Budweiser was on sale today so we shrugged and picked up a big case of it.

This is literally beer flavoured water.  I mean, as far as cheap beer goes it’s not bad, but, damn.

How do they remove all the flavour while retaining the alcohol?  I bet there are useful applications for that…

Watch Dogs (First Impressions)

This is a verrrryyyyy early first impression.  I played the tutorial crap and did the first mission, then drove around and collected some check-in points.  But first impressions are the most important, right?!?

We got Watch Dogs for “free” with a new video card, which is convenient because I really really dislike Ubisoft and their disdain for PC gamers, so it meant I could try it at release instead of stubbornly refusing to give Ubisoft any money until it was dirt cheap on Steam.  (The greatest tragedy of the gaming world is that Ubisoft has the Anno franchise… alas).

I somehow managed to avoid the uPlay fiasco because I downloaded it (something I was apparently lucky to be able to do), immediately turned off cloud saving, then went into offline mode.  I did that because I hate uPlay and it fucks everything up far too often for me to trust it.  Well guess what!  It fucked everything up for everyone who stayed online.  I was able to go offline and play relatively unhindered, but it sucks for anyone who actually wanted to try the multiplayer invasion PvP stuff.  Of course, every time I boot it up, it whines at me about how I should really go online because I’m really missing out!  Ugh, uPlay.

But anyway.  Bitching about uPlay is low hanging fruit.  Instead, I will bitch about the game.

One positive thing I will say about Watch Dogs is that the enforced tutorial was NOT onerous.  It did have the little popup tooltips telling you what buttons to press to make shit do shit, but it didn’t get totally in your face and force you to stop, or prevent you from playing with your abilities until it had painstakingly explained the controls to you (despite the controls being exactly the fucking same as every other game, because if they weren’t exactly the fucking same as every other game, you would be doing it wrong.)  Of course, it’s able to get away with it by not giving you any abilities to start!  But that is an acceptable compromise.  I did dislike how it sort of dictated where my first skill point should go, though.

The opening mission was decently interesting, and it really didn’t explain much to you at all.  Some people might even find it confusing, but I enjoyed it.  I’m getting sick of having every game handhold you through the opening minutes.  However I do feel like it needed a bit more exposition, if only to help the player bond with the main character a bit more.  You’re sort of dumped into this guy, you have no idea who he is except you may have an idea that he’s a hacker if you’ve heard anything about the game before, and you’re sort of scrambling around trying to figure out why he’s doing what he’s doing.  Why you are doing what you are doing.  We’re hacking a stadium to escape because… uh… we’re stealing money?  We hate these guys?  I’ve already forgotten why he was even in there and I was just playing it last night.  It’s the same sort of problem books run into when they give you no reason to root for the protagonist.  Why do we care?  He knows why he’s doing what he’s doing but we’re sort of tagging along in a clueless haze, trusting that we will also care about his success once we know the whole story.  The problem lies in keeping the reader/player interested long enough to become invested in the story… but I guess when you’ve got a 60 dollar initial investment into it you might be more motivated to plow on.

Once you’re out of there it dumps you into the world and you are free to dick around, or move on with the story.  I dicked around a bit, realized I had no idea what I was doing (I’m stopping crimes?  So wait, am I a badass hacker thief or some sort of Spiderman do-gooder who also occasionally steals cars and robs ATMs?), then moved on to the story hoping it would all become clearer.

It sort of became clearer… but it also became a lot whinier.  We’re clearly meant to empathize with this guy, but it’s so heavy handed that I think I made an “ngh” noise out loud.  The line: “*dramatic pause* But now I’m afraid of the silence.” was so… you’re just trying way too fucking hard here, jesus.  Instead of empathizing I actually started to actively dislike him.

My biggest complaint (so far) is with the controls.  I enjoyed the opening mission because it was very Splinter Cell-ish – hiding around corners, using gadgets to distract or incapacitate guards so you could advance without anyone detecting you – and my only complaint was that everything was done with the same gadget, which just had different contexts.  I was sort of hoping that would improve as the game went on, but instead I just unlocked more contexts for my gadget.  There are craftable doodads which might alleviate the problem, but I disliked how they’re all stuck on a god damn flyout wheel and feel very awkward to swap between.  I hate flyout wheels.  I have lots and lots and lots of keys on my keyboard.  I want to use them to make switching items quick and efficient.  I want to select which button does which skill so that I can place my most used items exactly where I want to access them.  Fuck your flyout wheel.

But mostly I hate the camera.  First, an aside – I dislike how everything is enforced third person nowadays.  At least give me the option of first person if I want it.  I prefer not having a third of my screen be taken up by my avatar.  The character movement is really awkward and clumsy.  I’m not sure if I can articulate it better than that… it just feels like it’s imprecise.  I turn the character around and he kind of wobbles and flails and then I have to fine tune the direction I want him to go in.  I think it’s related to the mouselook camera not picking up diagonals properly with the WASD movement, because it’s designed for a control stick instead of mouselook and they didn’t bother to optimize it for mouselook.  Instead of turning gracefully, he does an about-face when you try to turn with a key, probably because it’s directly translating your keypress into a flat-out controller stick movement instead of having proper keyboard control.

The camera as a whole just feels floaty and awful.  The reason I hate controlling cameras with controllers is because it feels floaty and imprecise, where a mouse can move a camera with speed and precision.  I have a high DPI mouse and just a tiny amount of movement can swing a camera around for a quick scan of an area, but also instantly stop on a target in the middle if I spot something interesting.  I like having that level of control.  But even with the settings at maximum, the camera in this game feels like I’m using a controller, i.e. floaty and awful.  It’s not so bad that I won’t get used to it, but it’s annoying knowing that it’s deliberately awful because it’s designed for a controller, and they didn’t bother to optimize their mouse option.  I HAVE a controller for my PC and I did try it that way, but the camera is just as awful, which makes sense because the whole reason I dislike it is because I hate controlling cameras with controllers.  My husband tried the Mouse/Keyboard route then opted for the controller, but is disliking it as well.  His comment was “My favourite open world games are ones with great movement, and this game has the worst controls.”

Once you get out into the world you realize it’s not Splinter Cell, it’s Assassin’s Creed with GTA cars.  They’ve even got “parkour” challenges, which is another fad I’m hoping will stop polluting games soon.  It makes sense in AssCreed.  It doesn’t even make sense for a hacker vigilante to be a ninja wall runner.  Of course, I tried climbing some walls and he huffed it up the side of a box like he was a 40 year old man with arthritis, so maybe it does make sense.

The camera continued to betray me out in the open world, and I actually came across something I really dislike about contextualized commands.  I was doing a mission where I was chasing someone down, and I tried to use my gadget to gadget his ass.  Just as I went to hit the button, the cursor popped over to a camera nearby instead of the target I was trying to aim at.  I didn’t notice in time and hacked the camera instead, which made my dude slam to a halt and changed my view to look through the camera as the perpetrator ran the fuck away from me.  Sigh.  Having buttons change their function in the middle of delicate maneuvers really does make it feel like an AssCreed game.

And there is camera bobbing while running.  >:(
No headaches yet though, so I will refrain from ranting.  For now.

I’ll play some more this weekend, possibly while drunk, and see if it starts to suck me in.  I’m not sure how optimistic I am though, given that my husband isn’t too impressed either.  His short and sweet review is:  “Feels like a game designed by a committee.”

—-

[edit] Okay I played a bit more and the gameplay is improving as I adjust to the still shitty controls (mouse sensitivity cranked up helped movement a lot but the flyout wheel is still intolerable and I’m going to neglect my craftable items because of it…), but the characters and writing hasn’t picked up yet.  I’m hearing it starts out slow and gets better so fingers crossed.  I really hate this guy, though.  ugh.  So far the only character I like is his asshole psychopath friend.

It feels like they tried to pull all the most popular gameplay parts of GTA and  Assassins Creed (open world, cars, exploding shit, theft, parkour, a plethora of collectables and unlockables to find in your spare time), and slapped the dramatic overtones of The Last of Us on top, presuming that would somehow make it even more successful.  It’s kind of like dumping the wrong condiments into a recipe and assuming that it’s a good condiment that worked in someone else’s recipe so it will make the dish better by default.  It’s really not working.

[Edit again] The entire point of a stealth game is that you have the option of solving scenarios with clever stealth mechanics instead of just running in with guns blazing (although ideally you could just do that too).  So why is it that I am constantly pushed into a mandatory gunfight scenario in this game.  I just did a mission where I successfully snuck past every guard and got the objective without detection, only to have my buddy go “Hey look there’s lots of Fixers coming sucks to be you!” and suddenly I’m shooting 30 guys and a helicopter, despite being completely undetected up to that point.  It was so scripted that it even reset the gun I was holding once I walked past the checkpoint.  This makes me irrationally angry and I don’t even want to bother with this shit.

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.

Resident Evil 6 (Co-op)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Childhood’s End

Childhood's EndChildhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is hard to write a review for. I don’t know if it’s because I was only able to read snippets on lunch breaks for the last few months or what, but it’s just not grabbing me. This is my first Clarke novel I believe, and don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed his writing, but something about the story just isn’t clicking. It’s like there’s too much premise and not enough plot, and I’m already halfway through.

It’s too bad because I thought I would really enjoy it. Maybe I will try it again when I have more time.

View all my reviews

Chiptole Beer

I buy pretty much everything made by Whistler brewing.  They have me solidly in their pocket, I guess.  I have also liked all of them except for the Lost Lake IPA but that’s only because I hate IPA.  My initial reaction to their Chipotle beer was ” CHIPOTLE beer???  wtf.  … well I guess I’m buying that.”

On the back it says “initial mellow and malty, then giving way to warm and spicy.”  My reaction is “This is a really crisp and refreshing beer.  It tastes exactly like beer.”  I have not yet noticed any warm or spicy flavours.  Not even a smoky one.  Just beer, with a bit too much hops in it.  It’s Whistler so it’s good beer, but ultimately kind of disappointing.

Maybe all the chipotle is in the half of the bottle my husband took.  It didn’t SAY “shake well” but maybe…

Frozen River

We’ve both been really sick, so watching movies has been a popular pass-time this week.  We burned through all the mindless comedies pretty quickly.  Tonight my husband was like “I don’t care, I’ll watch anything” so I wandered around in the drama section for a change.  I came out with Frozen River, partly because it had been nominated for a bunch of awards, and partly because I didn’t want to expend any more energy looking.

The movie was… good.  I think.  It was very realistic with really excellent acting, which I think is what impressed most people and won it awards.  The characters were so believable that I checked to make sure it wasn’t based on a true story… because if it had been based on a true story, it would explain why nothing happens.  I mean, stuff happens, but I don’t see the point.  Why would you write a story that feels this, I dunno… generic?, if not to immortalize something that actually happened?  It feels like the movie should have been a lot more poignant than it was.  Instead, it just felt like “Bad Decisions and Their Consequences: The Movie”, where the characters make bad decisions and then exactly what you would expect to happen goes on to happen.  I gather from some other reviews I peeked at that there was a racial/cultural element that they were going for, so maybe it went right over my head because I live in an area where all of those cultures aren’t nearly as stigmatized as they were maybe expected to be for this movie.

The premise of the movie is that a woman (Ray) is trying to raise her two sons (15 and 5) off of what she earns at her part-time retail job, after her husband runs off with all of their savings in order to feed his gambling addiction – just a few weeks before Christmas, no less.  You know things are rough when all you have to eat is popcorn and orange tang.  To make it worse, they had put money down on a new double-wide trailer which was to be delivered shortly after her husband split with the cash.  Without the savings, the delivery cannot be completed and now she will not have a new home to replace their decaying trailer, AND she’s out the $1500 down payment if she can’t come up with the rest of it before the deadline.

She spots her husband’s car in a parking lot, but it’s being driven by a woman (Lila) from the local Mohawk tribe who claims she found it abandoned at the bus station.  They have some somewhat unfriendly exchanges where they establish that no police are called because apparently it’s legal to steal cars as long as it’s on a reservation where the police have no jurisdiction (wouldn’t the license plate and registration be enough proof of ownership??). Then a hole is casually shot through the door of Lila’s home, to which her reaction is to bitch that she’ll need to have that fixed now.  I know America has a bizarre tolerance to guns but I can’t decide if that was realistic or not.  Lila finally relinquishes the keys, but as Ray is attempting to rig up an incredibly unsafe-looking towing solution to get her two cars home, Lila suggests that she knows someone who will buy the car from her for $2000, which is far more than it’s worth.  Ray agrees to go, and they bounce off down the road with Ray displaying incredibly undisciplined-trigger-discipline as she waves her pistol around to assert her authority while also driving.

Turns out Lila wasn’t actually going to sell the car, she was using the trunk in a smuggling operation to transport illegal immigrants across the border from Canada into the USA.  Since the Mohawk tribe extends across the border, they can cross the frozen river to cross the border and be out of the jurisdiction of the police while doing so.  Each trip nets them $2400.  Lila originally promises to give Ray half, then inexplicably tries to steal the car again (what part of this is going to work out for her, exactly?  Ray knows where she lives, what she does, has a gun, has legal ownership of the vehicle… wtf) before just running off with the cash.  Ray goes home (without picking up her other car…), begs for a promotion to full time at her shitty job and is denied, discovers her TV is about to be repossessed by the Rent-To-Own people (more evidence of bad decision making.  Do not rent-to-own shit, especially not gigantic TVs you can’t afford), then decides to go back to Lila’s house and demand her half of the profits.  Somehow, despite all the backstabbing and shooting, they partner up to do more smuggling runs.

Bad decisions lead to consequences lead to bad decisions lead to consequences, and then the movie ends.  I would not claim the characters learn much of anything through their actions in the movie, which is what made me question why the movie was written.  All I can really find is that there is a theme of “mothers love their children”.  Ray is trying to provide a nice house (and food…) for her children.  Lila is trying to provide money for her son which was taken from her because of a perception that she would be unable to provide for it.  There is a sequence involving an immigrant woman and her baby.  I gather from commentary that the message is that all these women are from different cultures and situations, but they all love and provide for their children… do we really need a movie to tell us that?

It’s not like it wasn’t interesting to watch – it’s incredibly realistic (the bad decisions they make are exactly the kinds of bad decisions you would expect, rather than feeling like an artifact of lazy writing) and the acting is worth a look-see – but it really did feel largely pointless in the end.  I was expecting more from something that won so many awards, but I suppose I just didn’t “get” it.

The Purge

I saw the previews for this movie and immediately scoffed at the premise.  I suppose it’s an interesting thought exercise but as a movie plot… Ennnh.

We were looking for some good Halloween type movies and it turns out we may have seen every not shitty horror movie.  While I was deliberating over whether to risk a movie where a murderous bigfoot terrorizes a town, or the ghost of a shark terrorizes some fishermen, The Purge popped up in the list of horror movies and we decided we may as well see just how bad it is.

It was surprisingly not shitty.  For most of the movie, anyway.  The premise was just as shitty as it seemed like it would be, but they got past it pretty quickly and got right down to the suspense.

The suspense part was good. I actually really enjoyed the way it was shot and the tension was palpable at several points in the movie, which is all I really ask from a horror thriller.  Well that’s not true I also ask that it not be so stupid that I can’t stop laughing the whole time, and it surprised me there too.  The preview clips made it seem like the “purgers” were trying to get into the house kind of at random, but in reality the plot had some plausible explanations for all of it.

In case you didn’t have the opportunity to laugh at the premise if this movie yet, it is set in the future when the United States of America has decided that the best way to solve its issues with violence is to give everyone a period of 12 hours once a year where they can commit any crime they want and just get it out of their system.  Hate your boss? Just wait until the purge and then murder them!  This solution is so very effective that violence no longer exists.
The main character of the movie is a guy who has become rich selling security systems to people who want to lock themselves away safely for 12 hours once a year. Because somehow there aren’t more people taking advantage of that extremely obvious cash cow.

The purge begins and this guy’s young son sees a man running down the street begging for someone to help him.  The son decides to help him, disarming the system and letting the guy into the house. The guy is not only black, but also wearing dog tags to indicate he is a veteran, just to ensure the symbolism is obvious.  They did earn a few points from me for only showing the dog tags in every scene, and not having a character blatantly and repeatedly point it out.

The people participating in the purge are not pleased with this decision and give the family an ultimatum – turn the guy over to be purged, or you die too.

This is when we learn the security systems this guy sells are a very expensive equivalent to The Club. It’s a visual deterrent where they move on to a juicier target, unless they actually want to enter the house, in which case all they need to do is spend about 5 minutes attempting to break in.  Also there is a disturbing lack of copious amounts of guns which could mow down any assholes standing on your lawn while you remain safe inside.  That probably would have been the first feature I asked for when defending against a night of free-for-all murdering, even if I planned to never use it.  They proceed to spend a large amount of time creeping around inside the house and fighting, and it was pretty good for a tense thriller type movie.

Then the ending happened and I discovered why it has such a low rating.  Why.  Ugh.  The premise is so fucking stupid, all you needed to do was spit it out as a setup and then ignore it. Noooo you had to go try to make some kind of social statement. A terrible, stupid social statement.

Sigh.

It was okay but don’t expect any thought provoking social commentary, whatever their original intentions were.

Neverwinter – Second Impressions

I feel like I have to comment on the absolutely masterfully managed* (*this is sarcasm) situation that Neverwinter has become.  You’ll find more and better details on probably every other site on the internet, but I feel like I should comment on it anyway.

I commented before that Neverwinter released as “open beta”.  They also promised they would not be doing any more wipes.  So really it just means “This is a full game launch and it’s going to be buggy as shit, so we want the Beta label as an excuse.  Also a year or whatever from now when everyone is sick of it and people aren’t playing anymore, we can “release” the “full” game and attract a new wave of suckers!”

It’s a great strategy, unless you actually need a beta period.  Beta exists solely to test and find bugs that will bring your game to a crashing halt, so that you can fix them and present a fully running game at the time you release it.  Open beta lets you test it with a huge wave of players, which is useful both in server capacity tests and also because the more players there are, the more likely they are to look under the carpets and find the bugs your disgruntled coders may have swept away and hoped no one would see.  Opening as a “beta” and then promising not to wipe anything just means that if you find an absolutely game crushing bug, you can’t actually fix it because you can’t wipe the damage away.

Guess what’s happened!  You’ll never guess!

A game crushing bug was found.  Well, several of them… like the ability for certain classes to one-shot anything in the game, or people to drop and re-take quests repeatedly to just collect the reward chests over and over and over again… but one bug in particular.
If you’re not familiar with it – Neverwinter has a free to play model where you can pay real cash for Zen, or you can earn Astral Diamonds in game and then buy Zen with those.  The auction house deals solely in diamonds, you can’t use any other currency on it.  Someone discovered that if you bid a negative amount on the AH, it paid you that amount.

Of all the things you’d think they would test in closed beta (or alpha…), anything that might possibly come in contact with their revenue model would be something you would expect to be near the top of the list.  Buuuuttt… nope.

What’s worse, apparently this bug has been known about for awhile.  I’m just going off internet posts, mind you, so god knows how accurate any of them are… but supposedly it was reported in closed beta and never addressed.  Then it was exploited for awhile awhile after release, until someone or someones finally got banned for it, at which point they spilled the beans and word got out.  The AH ground to a halt, items and Zen flew all over the place like party streamers, and the game was finally taken offline for an extended period.

Well, now what.  The game has just been brought to its knees, the diamond market is fucked, the zen market is pretty fucked (directly threatening the profitability of the game…), tons of ill-gotten gains are floating around out there… and you’ve promised no rollbacks.

They did some rollbacks.  Responses have ranged from extreme outrage to flat out cognitive dissonance of the “I paid real money for a lot of items on the Zen market the day before, and I seem to have lost them all and not been refunded, but it’s a beta so it’s totally expected and it’s okay because I can just buy them again!” style.  My personal response is more of a bemused incredulity.  Could this have been handled any worse?  I’m glad they did a rollback because jesus… but supposedly they’ve only really rolled back the period of time that the exploit explosion happened.  The exploiting that occurred earlier than that was not so widespread, and it was salted well enough into the playerbase that they can no longer track “dirty” transactions and separate them from innocent ones.  The problem is that it happened at all and to this extent before something was done.  Especially if it’s true that it was reported during early Beta…

As a token of apology, every character created before the disaster got some items in the mail, including some cosmetic thingys like a cape commemorating the incident, to some exp boosters and teleport scrolls which are kind of handy.  That was cool of them, but I’m utterly terrified of actually spending money on their market if this is how well things are being handled back stage…

I wasn’t personally affected by any of it because I hadn’t logged in for awhile.  I think I’ve gained my last five levels through crafting on the Gateway.  The gameplay itself just isn’t really grabbing me the way I had hoped.  Going through quests and dungeons is kind of fun with a group of friends, but then again few things aren’t when you have buddies to shoot the shit with on voice chat while fucking around in a game. We’ll probably go back and finish the levelling content, but… ehhh.

I bitched about it before but the game seems to be poorly designed for co-op.  Quests that are steeped in interesting lore are tedious in a group because of the way dialogue works in a group. I’m a speed reader so I can blow through quests solo and enjoy the writing as well, but in a group it’s like you have to choose between missing all the text or coordinating with everyone to discuss the story over voice chat (decidedly not the path of least resistance… and the writing usually isn’t interesting enough to bother :/).  A simple log that shows text you’ve missed would help a lot even if it meant people stood around uselessly reading it after everyone else is done and ready to go, but it’s so clunky right now.  All it takes is one hotshot who’s in a hurry and the quest dialogue is meaningless because they’ve clicked through it all.  Since the quests themselves are all variations of “go here, kill/get that”, the dialogue is really what’s needed to set things apart.  There’s rarely any branching quest decisions to make, and if the foundry is any indication, it’s because it’s not supported in the game design.  Quests are very linearly laid out in the foundry, which makes it hard to do anything unique.  It shows when the developers who created the tools can’t even do anything really interesting with them.

I really dislike the quest marker.  It can be turned off, but that means absolutely nothing when you’re grouped with random people because they haven’t turned it off.  Dungeons are completely wasted in Neverwinter… you can spend tons of time making an amazing location with hidden goodies, but it means nothing because every group will follow the sparkly line from start to finish and ignore everything else.  And since they’re conditioned to do that throughout the game, you can’t just disable it either or that’s immediately the least favourite dungeon and no one will do it.  We can hope that won’t be the case, but it likely would be.

DDO did it much better in that regard.  Your individual actions in a dungeon are tallied against a score sheet, and you got your reward at the end.  Exploring mattered.  Disarming traps mattered.  Killing huge groups of mobs only mattered in that you needed to not die because you needed to get to the end.  I really feel that it’s a better design for a group dungeon – give them objectives and have them to work together to succeed.  Not “This monster has so many hitpoints that you need a group of 5 to reduce them to zero”, but stuff like “the path is branching and we need two people to push a lever at this end and two people to push a lever at that end, otherwise the door won’t open”.  DDO was full of clever stuff like that.  Neverwinter is full of a sparkly line that everyone follows like they’re tethered to it.

Neverwinter is definitely a more casual game, though.  Assuming there aren’t more hilarious disasters (there probably will be…), it’s definitely a fun game to pop into and dick around with for awhile, especially if Foundry content gets enough upgrades to let players be creative.  It just feels so shallow right now, though.  It’s all such mindless combat so far.  I’m finding it unsatisfying.

—-

EXPLOITS UPDATE:

Apparently people discovered that almost anything in the game was susceptible to memory editing, meaning it’s all handled client side.  It looks like they’re scrambling to move it server side now, but… wow.  To their credit, Zen was handled server side, so someone over there has a brain, but how do you create an MMO that handles important game stats client side in today’s day and age?  They learned that was a bad idea twenty years ago before memory editing programs became common…

Neverwinter – First Impressions
Neverwinter – PvP

Lockout

Lockout was a rare gem, in that it was a “science fiction” movie that we had not seen before.  I mean specifically my husband and I, because I’m pretty sure we’ve seen every single sci-fi movie that exists, so we jump on every sci-fi-ish movie that staggers out of the box office, even when they suck.  And boy do some most of them suck.

It’s actually kind of hard to tell that Lockout is sci-fi.  It is set in a prison colony that is orbiting the Earth.  The vast majority of the movie is spent inside the colony where absolutely nothing resembles space and everyone uses conventional tools like pipes to hit each other over the head, instead of futuristic laser guns or whatever.  You could alter a small handful of scenes and drop the sci-fi label from it entirely, so it was disappointing in that aspect.

The plot was so thin that I’m not entirely certain I can explain it to you other than “they go to a prison in space and blow shit up”.  That’s just about all you need to know to understand this movie.  It opens with a thing happening and a guy trying to clear his name but the guy who can clear his name is in the prison colony, and meanwhile a completely separate event happens where the president’s daughter goes to the prison colony and proceeds to not make a single good decision for the entire movie, resulting in every single prisoner getting out of stasis and wanting to rape her.  Naturally the president wants his daughter back and who cares about the other hostages, but hey if we storm in there they will almost certainly rape and then kill her, so we better do this covertly by using the guy who has an ulterior motive for wanting to go to the prison colony!  Also this guy is amazing at every single thing he does, is the only character in the entire movie who does anything correctly, and he may as well be superman because he is a pretty terribly written “Gary Stu” style character.

My god, the writing for that character.  The entire movie he attempts to be funny. Every single line – EVERY SINGLE LINE that this guy says is an attempt at a witty one-liner.  Some of them are amusing; I chuckled a lot in the beginning.  It very quickly became obvious that the writers were trying way way too hard.  They tried so hard that they began throwing in self-referential jokes where the other characters start making fun of his one-liners.  When you are writing characters that are making fun of you for writing badly, you should probably step back and reconsider whether you can write less badly instead.

They blow shit up.  Much shit blows up.  If you want exploding shit you will probably enjoy this movie.  I didn’t dislike it enough to give it an “I don’t like it” tag, but the bad writing was just too much for me to give it a like tag.  One thing I noticed while shit was exploding, though… a lot of the action scenes are artificially sped up and intentionally jerky to obscure what’s going on.  The speediness annoyed me and added to the whole “wow look at how fast this guy moves he’s so amazing” bullshit that I was already annoyed with, but then the arbitrary dropping of frames to hide actions just made me suspicious that a lot of corners might have been cut.  The exploding shit is all this movie has going for it, so it didn’t bode well.

I already mentioned the bad decisions on the part of the characters, but seriously.  Does she do anything right?  I think it was intended that we see her as some sort of badass independent-minded and intelligent chick who can take care of herself in the end, but, no.  You got off the fucking escape pod, meaning you completely wasted the fucking escape pod (not to mention all the time it took to escort your ass TO the escape pod) and now no one gets to use it, and all you accomplished by doing that is getting every single other hostage killed and also you got in the way of mister Gary Stu here who clearly does not need any help because he is perfect.  That was probably some kind of spoiler but it’s okay because you’re only watching this for the exploding shit anyway.

So there is your checklist:  Exploding shit – check.  Terribly written characters that will make you want to vomit or stab your eye out in frustration – check.  Snappy one liners that will probably amuse you (especially while drunk!) but get kind of wearisome by the end – check.  Sci-fi… uhh kinda not really but if you close your eyes you can pretend it’s sci-fi.  If the list corresponds to your “things I like in movies”, you should check out Lockout.

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.

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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Lost Lake Unfiltered IPA

Another Whistler brew popped up so we had to try it.  It’s another one of the big 650ml bottles.

I’m not generally a fan of IPA, because I’m not really a fan of hops.  I had even more trepidation when I read the label and it said “bold and hoppy”.  Nnngh… but it’s Whistler so I’ll try it.

The label proceeds to say “fruity notes of grapefruit” but what they clearly meant to say was “our best impression of unsweetened grapefruit juice”.  The beer even has a cloudy look that makes it seem like it could be grapefruit juice.  This works in my favour because I actually like grapefruit juice.  That said, it’s kind of meh.  If you like lots of hops it’s probably above average, but I continue to rate IPA low on my list.

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

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.

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Dear Esther

I had heard a bit about Dear Esther and was intrigued, but not enough to actually pay money for it until it came on sale for 2.50.  At that price I decided it was worth a shot.  It’s not exactly what you would call a “game”.  You do not play Dear Esther.  You experience it.  It’s marketed as a sort of interactive storytelling experience, but in reality not very much of it is interactive.  Literally the only thing you can do is walk and move the camera around.  You can zoom in on things to take a closer look, but really it doesn’t do anything or trigger anything.  The story comes in chunks as you walk from place to place and trigger them.

For a game that’s lauded for its writing, I was expecting to “play” a really good short story.  That’s all the game HAS so the writing must be pretty damn good, right??

Ehhh… to be honest, I found the writing to be the weakest part of the whole thing.  First of all, I get annoyed very easily with “fluffy” writing.  The game’s dialog chunks are bloated with unnecessary simile and metaphor that sound like they’re trying way too hard to be impressive.  If you’re trying too hard to impress me that means you’re not spending enough time on fleshing out your writing.

Secondly, it didn’t make a lot of sense.  I went and looked up some spoilers afterward to try to figure out what the fuck happened, and I discovered the game actually picks random story chunks, meaning each playthrough can result in a slightly different story.  Supposedly the ambiguity is supposed to let the player draw their own conclusions, which is something that worked reasonably well in the game “Home”, although most of the time I find that technique just means lazy writing that relies on the player/reader to fill in the gaps so you don’t have to actually plan to fill them yourself while writing it.  The human brain is SO good at making connections that it can make connections where absolutely none were originally intended, which means the author can come along later and be all “See, look how deep this story is!” when really they were just pulling it out of their ass and didn’t have any real initial plan. (See: “LOST”).  I’m not necessarily opposed to that sort of storytelling – christ, I really love the way House of Leaves comes together and that book explains absolutely fucking nothing to the reader, to the degree that the vast majority of the internet argue about all the most trivial parts of it (and annoy me by skipping all the parts that delve into deeper layers and actually fucking matter… of course you didn’t like it if you skipped those!  …anyway, that’s a different review, although a number of parallels can probably be drawn in the way things are constructed).  I’ve only played Dear Esther once, so it’s difficult to say, but I could have just gotten unlucky and gotten some random chunks that didn’t really mesh well together.  Suffice to say, my story made no goddamn sense and no amount of gap filling really helped.  I did pick up on a few of the themes I read about afterward, but there were so many ends flapping in the breeze that it felt like only a few of them actually connected.

What’s probably the most damning is that when I go and look for discussion about the writing, I find a lot of confusion and wild speculation, and no clear consensus as to what the fuck is going on.  (I actually found a wiki for the game, and all the “explain the story” sections were left blank. HMM.)  The vast majority of descriptions for anything other than island fixtures are preceeded by disclaimers like “seems to suggest that” and “there is a possibility that…”.  Nothing is clearly laid out, and everything is ambiguous to the degree of being explained in multiple ways. There are even arguments as to who the “protagonist” actually is in this game.  Are you the narrator?  Are you Esther?  Are you some random person wandering around on an island learning about them but personally have no connections to them?  No one fucking knows for sure.  What that says to me is that the writing does not have any clear direction… so you can make of the story what you will, but the ambiguity is literally all you’re going to get.  There is no plan here, no direction (or at least not one they managed to connect clearly for the player… which could be a symptom of moving from mod to expanded game), and therefore no real story except what you make of it.  For a “game” focused solely on storytelling, it’s incredibly disappointing.  I was looking forward to a creepy stroll through a beautiful but possibly sinister island, slowly uncovering the dark secrets of the past, eventually leading to the horrible truth that was simply too much to bear.  What I got was some random ramblings about events that didn’t really make much sense together, but maybe there were hints that the bigger story was about to unfold, and then it… uh… ended.  Without a sensible build-up the ending felt shallow and unsatisfying.  I sat there and said “…it’s over?  What the fuck just happened?” which led to some googling because I assumed I had missed some side paths and integral plot points somewhere.  Instead it led to writing this review(slash rant).

What the game excelled at was atmosphere.  The island is fucking gorgeous to walk around on.  If it weren’t for the amazing island, this game would not exist, because I don’t think the writing is what propped it up and moved it from “Source mod” to “for sale on Steam”.  I’m not even going to put screenshots in this review… you really need to walk around on the island to see how amazing it is.  There is no part of it that’s boring to look at.  Even in the dry grass fields at the start, you have wind whipping around you and dust blowing past and you feel like “holy shit I’m on an island and I’m looking at the ocean and I can practically smell the salt water.”  When you start getting into caves and can see the light reflecting off of damp surfaces and slightly luminescent fungi… it’s awesome.

And it’s made even more awesome by the soundtrack.  I was expecting the whole experience to be really creepy… and it is to some extent, with a few whispered words in your ear… but for the most part it’s a very melancholy atmosphere.  The soundtrack is fantastic and very fitting.  I’d go so far as to recommend dropping the extra buck on the soundtrack version, if you happen to like orchestral style scores.

The atmosphere makes this game.  Or “game”.  The unfortunate part of a storytelling game like this is that it only takes an hour to play through (80 minutes, in my case), and you could easily just fire up a Let’s Play video and literally see the entire game without missing out.  In the case of Dear Esther, the writing actually isn’t the draw… the experience of walking around on the island, listening to the score and examining creepy glowing diagrams is what you’re after.  For 2.50 on sale, it’s well worth the experience.  For 9.99?  … I don’t think I would go for it.  The writing just isn’t good enough to be worth the price of a good book.

Here Comes the Boom

I could probably end this review with one sentence: “Surprisingly not shitty!”

My husband wanted to watch something “stupid” so I said “Hey there’s a new Kevin James movie!”.  Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t all that stupid and we actually enjoyed it, but it really doesn’t do anything unique or unexpected.  If you read any blurb about the plot you probably know what’s going to happen well enough that you could just skip seeing it, unless this is like, the first movie you have ever seen.

The plot follows a teacher at what might be the worst high school ever (…or… is it average. Sigh.)  There are a lot of thrown away plot points here which I thought was kind of odd.  He’s lazy and slacking off at his job, coming in late, sleeping through class instead of teaching, whining about being penalized for it, constantly reminding people he was teacher of the year once… none of that really matters for the movie and it’s kind of annoying, really.  The movie plot actually begins when they have a staff meeting where it is announced there are a bunch of cutbacks and the music program is being shut down as a result.  After some protesting, they are told it’s going to cost 48,000 to keep the program so it’s not happening unless you pull money out of your ass.

So, naturally, they go pull some money out of their ass.  A series of side jobs leads Kevin James’ character to try MMA fighting, because a loss in the UFC is worth 10k a piece, and who can’t lose a fight, right??

It’s mostly generic, but there are some funny moments.  [Spoiler Alert] The movie goes full out Disney when his class (which he constantly abuses throughout the film, except for like, one class where he bothers to teach them some dubious information about cells in an amusing manner, so it’s somewhat of a mystery why they end up liking him so much all of a sudden) rallies around him and gives him the strength to carry on and all that kind of shit.  Shockingly enough (oh man you’ll never see this twist coming!), he gets a random offer to go fight in the UFC!  And you’ll never guess what happens next!!!
[Seriously – Spoiler Alert] In case you can’t guess, just before the fight he only needs 8k to save the music program, so the loss will do it for him.  Then he finds out that some asshole embezzled all the money he’s raised so far so he needs 48k to save the music program.  Winning gives him 50k.  OH MY GOODNESS WHAT WILL HAPPEN?  Will the power of love and friendship prevail over the years of hardened training and experience that this UFC champion opponent has accrued?!??!  [Spoiler alert – it does.  /hurk]

I’m pretty convinced there’s just a blank template somewhere that a writer can go fill in the blanks and submit as a screenplay.  “[Character] is a down on his/her luck [Profession]____ who needs to raise $____ in order to save his/her beloved ____, so they begin training for ____ and just when you think they’re going to fail and lose everything, _____ inspires them and AGAINST ALL THE ODDS….”

It wasn’t a waste of a couple of hours but don’t expect a whole lot from it.

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!

Uncharted Waters Online

I have a dream.  A dream of a trading-based MMO that doesn’t suck.  I mean, it’s hard enough to get a crafting system that is both meaningful and doesn’t suck, much less a decent economy that allows for players to build their own trade empires. I need a Harvest Moon MMO.  You hear me, Nintendo?  I want to grow crops and sell them at the market and upgrade my fucking barn with the profit I make from undercutting everyone else’s turnips.  And no, not Farmville.

When I went on a hunt for a trading based MMO, the majority of hits on Google were people suggesting playing the Auction House in World of Warcraft.  /facepalm.  The rest of the suggestions that sounded decent were in games that required combat, so really it wasn’t a trading based MMO, it was a combat based MMO with some decent trading (like Pirates of the Burning Sea, with an interesting looking crafting and trade system that is completely overshadowed by the conflict involved in transporting your goods, since the game focuses on sea combat and uses the trading as a means to force you into combat situations.  Ugh).  And then of course there is EVE, but I would also like to be able to jump in and have a hope in hell of getting anywhere without years of investment first, not to mention the sheer griefing potential that I would like to avoid…
So yeah.  Basically, my ideal game does not exist.

But then one of the suggestions I stumbled across was Uncharted Waters Online.  I had never heard of it, so I took a peek.  Apparently it was a moderately successful MMO overseas, and it was just recently bumped over to North America.  So the graphics are dated (originally designed for consoles, I think, so designed for weak hardware too) and some of the translations are a bit wonky.  All in all it didn’t get a whole lot of attention but it was staying afloat, somehow.  It was also free!

I decided to check it out.

Could it be? Have I found the MMO of my dreams?