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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Book of Henry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baby Driver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above All Things

Above All ThingsAbove All Things by Tanis Rideout

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

Homefront

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

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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

The 5th Wave

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

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

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

————————————-

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

>:( One star.

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

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

Husband and I are laying bets on his alienness now

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

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

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

He is lovingly tending to her wounds. Boning imminent.

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

He’s gonna be an alien he totally is

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

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

I WIN.

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

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

*Hurk*

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

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

Yeah.  That was awful.

Nova War

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

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Graceling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Rebel Heart

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

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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

It failed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there’s still no real plot.

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

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

Divergent

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zombex

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

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

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

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

After Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Splice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Dawn (2012)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Powerplay Manager (sort of)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guess what game I’M not playing!

The Grey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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