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.]

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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.

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.

 

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.

Eidolon

I should really play Eidolon more before I try to review it but I bought the Hexcells pack in the Steam sale and every time I start playing that it magically becomes 2AM… so I should probably bang out some semblance of a review before I get distracted and forget everything about it.

An eidolon is an apparition, a ghost, a remnant of something that used to exist but now does not.  The game Eidolon has you exploring a “post-human Western Washington”, uncovering all the ghosts of what used to be Seattle.

The game has a sort of “walking simulator” feel to it, where you wander around (mostly aimlessly) trying to uncover the threads of the stories to figure out everything that happened.  This part of the game is actually pretty interesting, I felt.  You have a journal where you collect all your little scraps and you can choose which thread of the story to pursue next, or just see what crops up.

I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way:  The graphics are not good.  You are not playing this game for graphics.  It’s actually a bit unfortunate because I’m usually in it for gameplay so I’m pretty tolerant of low graphics (especially in games that cost 5 bucks or so)… but these graphics often left me wondering if I was having some sort of rendering problem that was preventing textures from loading.

This is a wall, I think?  A green wall?

I think this is supposed to be a crumbled wall, but why is it green?  Moss?  Let’s say moss.

That wasn’t even so bad until I wandered back and forth around a “rock” only to discover it was supposed to be a car.  I think.

This is a car, right?

This is a car, right?  Or a rock with a windshield?

Yeah… low poly trees are one thing but that car, man.  But the graphics are not without their own sort of “paper cut-out” kind of charm, either.

But anyway.  Gameplay!  As I said, you wander aimlessly trying to uncover the stories of the past, which largely include the individual stories of people who existed around the time the city was destroyed.  How was the city destroyed?  What happened to the people?  Well, that’s the game!

The game does not hold your hand at all.  You’re quite literally dropped into a forest with no explanation whatsoever.  Your journal says something about being too far from the beacon so you’ll die if you get injured or starve, but it doesn’t do much to explain to you what any of that means.  Where’s the beacon?  Are you visiting the planet from a space ship?  Time travel?  A different part of Earth?  Do you need to find that beacon?? Things do get explained to you (and there are lots of really weird and interesting things to dig up) but you have to work for them.  It’s refreshing, really.  It’s nice to just sort of pop into a world and get your bearings the old fashioned way instead of having a tutorial spoon-fed to you for the first 20 minutes.  My biggest complaint in the beginning was that it was a bit TOO aimless… the world is huge and there you are wandering in circles in a forest with no idea what to do or where to go.  I finally tripped over a story chunk and it gave me some direction, but I felt like the game should have started me with something to follow at first since the map is pretty much literally the size of western Washington.  Then I discovered there’s apparently a bird showing you the way to the first bits of story, and also I am an idiot.

What you’re looking for are little blinky cubes scattered around the world.  White cubes represent new tools, and green ones represent story chunks to add to your journal.  Once you’ve got a story chunk there’s a selection of related terms listed below it, and clicking one will give you a light to follow in the general direction of the next story chunk related to that story thread.  Or, you can follow birds.  Apparently.  The blinkies can be really easy to miss, as I discovered while I was attempting to warm up to make an attempt to swim across a channel to one in the distance, only to turn around and discover one right beside me /facepalm.  I did notice that sometimes they’re easier to spot at night, because they pulse.  But then it’s night and also really dark…

There's a green blinkie on the left, surrounded by haunting skyscraper skeletons.

There’s a green blinkie on the left, surrounded by haunting skyscraper skeletons.  Also it is coastal Washington so it’s raining ALL THE FUCKING TIME in this game.  Realism!

One of the first things I discovered was a fishing pole, which I promptly used to catch some fish, which I cooked on a fire.  Which leads us to the next part of the gameplay: survival.  Eidolon joins the ranks of the open world “don’t die” simulators, where you must feed and warm yourself or suffer the consequences.  These are some of my favourite types of games, and the addition of a super creepy post-apocalyptic world with stories to uncover just makes it better.  But I find the survival gameplay in Eidolon is somewhat lacking.  Food is everywhere, and you’re really in no danger of starving at any point (at least so far as I’ve gotten in the game.)  The only thing that has killed me so far is attempting to swim across a freezing ocean just to see how far I could make it.  (The answer was: really far).  Fortunately (?) dying has absolutely no consequences whatsoever in this game, so after dying in the ocean I merely popped up somewhere else at 100% and carried on my merry way.  I climbed a mountain (possibly Mt. Rainier??) and fell off a cliff and broke a leg (I assume.  It just said ‘wounded’) which later became infected and made me sick.  Being sick meant I would vomit periodically, which would drop my hunger levels, but I couldn’t eat to stop starving because I would immediately vomit and waste the food.  Because I was wounded and exhausted I moved very slowly, which was really pretty annoying because it’s not like you’re particularly zippy in the first place and those blinkies are really far apart, man.  I couldn’t seem to heal my infection, which meant I couldn’t stop vomiting, and I couldn’t heal my leg to move faster again.  I finally came to the conclusion that it would be best to just fucking die and start fresh (and move at a normal speed again), but dying turned out to be really god damn hard to do.  I needed to find another cold body of water to freeze to death in again because I was just too stubborn to starve to death, apparently.

So let’s see.  This game has really interesting stories to hunt down and creepy/fascinating sights to see, but you’re constantly hounded by a largely pointless survival system that will force you to abandon your story hunting to pick mushrooms (and discard them if you’ve had them for too long.  And may I just say I GREATLY DISAGREE that blackberries become “old” after one day, and furthermore that “old” blackberries are no longer safe to eat.  *shake fist*  Now, had you said mouldy I could perhaps see your point.), and periodically you will be arbitrarily slowed down with some sort of infection or wound that will prevent you from reaching your goal of finding more stories or interesting sights to see.  At which point the best solution is probably to just kill yourself and start fresh because there is no penalty for doing so.  This does not sound like a well implemented survival system… it sounds like a nuisance system that was included because they felt the game would get too much of a bad rep for “lack of gameplay” if all you did was collect story bits.  But on the other hand, it’s nice that it’s not such a strict survival simulator that you’re constantly losing any progress you made toward finding story bits because you starved to death or were eaten by wolves like in Long Dark (grr, fucking wolves).  May I suggest a toggle for “story only” vs “survival” mode?

Eidolon is certainly not without its flaws, but the world is interesting to explore and presents a unique setting that I’m glad to see they did some intriguing things with.  The map is apparently accurate enough that you can recognize landscape features, and there are lots of sci-fi and post-apocalyptic story surprises waiting to be discovered.  I recommend checking it out if you’ve been interested enough to reach the end of this review…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—-

Just peeked at my BBB complaint status:

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

/golfclap

Predestination

I will sum up this movie in three words:

What the fuuuuccckkkk.

I’m pretty sure I don’t want to say anything more than that, other than the fact that I recommend checking it out.

Also: You probably shouldn’t watch it while drunk.  Fair warning.

Can I just say too: I had no idea who Sarah Snook was before this movie and damn.  Good job.

Her

I’m just going to copy/paste what I sent to my friend while I was watching this:  This movie keeps going from “lol” to “what” back to “lol” and then to “WHAT“.

I thought I enjoyed it, but I… I don’t know.  The only thing I am certain of is that it is unique.  Certainly worth a try, I suppose, but… what.

My husband’s review was “The thing I didn’t like about that movie is that they didn’t die in the end.”  So you might want to consider that, too.  (…spoilers?)

The premise is that a new operating system is invented that learns and tailors itself to become a companion to its user.  We follow the sad little life of a lonely divorcee who upgrades to the OS and, naturally, chooses the female option, only to start spending all his time with “her” (as does pretty much every other person who has one).  The OSes are programmed just a little bit too well, and start to gain autonomy and ask tough questions.

It’s great if you like artsy philosophy scenarios (I don’t…), fairly amusing from a nerd culture perspective (which is what I enjoyed the most, although I have often joked about my computer storming off in a huff and the concept of an OS that can actually do that is awful!), and contains a large number of incredibly awkward “sex” scenes that are kind of like watching someone have fucked up creepy phone sex.  Which is where most of the WHAT comes from.  It also moves pretty slowly and has a lot of talking which may or may not be at all interesting to you.  I actually wasn’t that bothered by it, but apparently my husband thought it came across as really whiny.  Viewer beware.

So I guess that’s a way of summing it up.  If you would like to watch someone whine about being lonely and then have creepy phone sex with a computer, oh boy have we got a movie for you!  If you find the philosophical themes interesting, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Mary and Max

I can’t remember how I found this movie.  I think it was when I was picking up random foreign films, since it came from Australia, but somehow we didn’t get around to watching it.  Last night we watched it and I went on a real rollercoaster, from “Wow this is awesome and unique” to “Woah, unexpected” to “I’m not even sure I want to write a review about this because I’m not sure what I think…”.  It was a GOOD MOVIE, don’t get me wrong, but much like “UP” you probably shouldn’t watch it if you’re looking for something to cheer you up, jesus.

The movie is claymation animation, which, according to evidence from some reviews I saw, probably fools some people into thinking it is for children.  It is not for children.  Good god no.  It almost needs its own genre… it’s a black comedy but also a drama and a bit of a social statement at the same time.  There’s a lot of very crude (non-North-American style of crude) humour (all well executed, I might add) layered overtop of a lot of very sombre issues.  The basic premise is that Mary is a lonely little girl who picks a name at random to write to because she wants friends.  She ends up writing to a reclusive man with aspergers, who also has no real friends.  They chat back and forth about the various issues in their lives, spanning many years of time.  Almost nothing good happens to either of them. Maybe that’s a spoiler but I almost feel like you should be prepared before you go into this thing because I sure wasn’t.  The ending was one of those bittersweet “I almost feel like this is a good ending and I’m kind of happy, but at the same time, fuck everything” endings.  I think that means it was a success… I’m not sure.

Probably the only thing I am going to actually bitch about is that the movie starts off saying “This is based on a true story”.  The events near the end of the movie were starting to make me a little skeptical (but then again, truth is almost always stranger than fiction) but it was convincing enough that I scampered over to Wikipedia to discover the origins of the movie.  I had to do a ctrl-f to even find the reference, and it pointed back to an interview where the writer said he had a pen pal once, and that’s pretty much the only thing not fabricated.  Disappointing, and downright false advertising, I say.  If I were giving it stars I would subtract one just for lying to me.

If you can handle the deceit and depression, I definitely recommend trying to find this movie.  It was unique and well orchestrated, and even though it was depressing I wouldn’t say it was trying to be emotionally manipulative, just blunt and raw.

Blood Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

View all my reviews

The Quiet Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metropia

Metropia popped up on my recommendation list because it was dystopian and sci-fi (…kinda).  We watched it and the whole time I was thinking “Oh man this is so bizarre and unique, this will be a great blog entry.”  And then we finished it and… I didn’t really know what to say.  I could barely remember what the movie was about, let alone say anything about it.  It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, and it’s not that it wasn’t unique so there’s definitely some things to talk about… it’s almost like trying to grab on to something incredibly slippery and then it squooshes out of your grasp and out of your line of vision and you can’t remember what you were doing anymore.  I suppose that is appropriate for this movie, though perhaps not intentional.

Metropia is a European movie (Swedish, apparently), set in a future Europe where there is no more oil and vehicles are kaput, so everyone must use the underground rail networks to get around.  The main character finds going into the underground incredibly unsettling, especially since he’s starting to hear voices in his head when he goes there.  Over the course of the movie he discovers that the voices in his head are not imagined, and he sets out to uncover the truth.

That synopsis sounds kind of interesting, but I had to go read the plot on Wikipedia to summarize things because all I can really remember is him jacking off in the shower because of advertising, his wife’s creepy huge eyes, spending entirely too much time establishing his depressing life, his wife almost cheating on him with a huge asshole that was totally not worth her time, and something about a conspiracy involving dandruff shampoo that controls you.

The bit about the shampoo is kind of the whole plot of the movie, and yet it’s the part I remember the least.  I wasn’t even drunk!  Even after reading some synopses to refresh my memory, I’m not exactly sure what the world running out of oil had to do with any of it.  It seemed like it should be a huge part of the plot with how much the blurbs emphasized it, but it was more of a “now everyone uses these tunnels” and that was that. I’m not sure that the plot required them to be in tunnels, though.  And how many people are in this city?  Do they have a single person monitoring each and every one of them?  That seems expensive and impractical.

But anyway, it’s unique and probably worth a look if you like unique things.  The animation is certainly something else.  Wikipedia tells me all of the animation is based off of photographs of random people they recruited off the street.  The result is a highly bizarre and somewhat unsettling “uncanny valley” effect where you’re like “I’m not sure that I like this animation… but I also cannot claim that it is BAD animation…” which probably helps the atmosphere of the movie.  If this were a live action movie I suspect it would be wholly forgettable, really.

In short, I think I liked it?

Papers Please

To be fair, I have only played this game for about an hour, and I lost terribly, but it was enough for me to drop the demo and go buy it full price on Steam and start again.  I bought a game on Steam that wasn’t on sale.  It’s only 10 dollars, but still.

Papers Please is a unique indie game that simulates being a border guard in a communist country, trying to regulate who is legally allowed in and who is a terrorist that is going to blow your shit up.  Meanwhile, you’re making pennies a day (okay, dollars… but not MANY dollars) and you have a decent sized family that is freezing and starving to death.  Do you stop this guy’s wife from crossing the border because she has an invalid passport, or do you take the bribe and hope it’s worth it in the end?  Bear in mind, make too many mistakes (even intentional ones) and your pay is docked, which might mean you can’t afford food tonight.  If your bank balance is negative your ass is in jail and your family will be deported to their eventual doom.  Plenty of people want your job, you know.

The actual gameplay is probably something that will be considered tedious to some people.  A person walks in your booth and hands over their papers, you inspect them and decide if they’re legit.  If you see a discrepancy you highlight it and the game starts an interrogation, from which you can decide if it’s actually legit, if they should be rejected, or if they should be arrested and detained for suspicious behaviour.  A lot of the discrepancies are obvious, assuming you watch for them – expiry dates that have passed, names or serial numbers that don’t match, pictures that don’t match, even genders that don’t match.  Some of the trickier ones are watching for incorrect issuing cities (who the fuck is going to memorize all these city names and the countries they’re from!) or incorrect seal logos.  You have a handy dandy reference book, but you’re paid per person that’s processed so you don’t have all day to leaf through that thing, man, move move move your kid needs some medicine!

The interesting part of the game is in the background narratives.  Some people return over and over again, trying new tactics to get in.  Some people try to bribe you.  Occasionally a terrorist hops the fence and turns your guards into giblets.  Sometimes people slip you notes and ask for favours with regards to denying or approving a future passport.  Can your paycheque take the hit, or should you play it safe and risk retaliation from the seedy underbelly later?  Do you help the rebels try to free the country, or play it safe and try to keep your family happy and healthy with your steady (but shitty) job?

And if you’re not sold yet… you eventually get access to a full body scanner.  The game has a “nudity” toggle which confused the fuck out of me, but once I unlocked the scanner it all made perfect sense.  Bonus:  I confirmed someone’s gender with it!

Don’t get too excited though, the graphics are……… well, let’s just say not great.  It would probably be at home on my old Tandy 2000, with nostalgic CGA style cyan and magenta blocks.  The entire game is 37mb to download (lol) so yeah, don’t expect dazzling textures here.  I’m not complaining though – I enjoy pixel style graphics and it adds to the uniqueness of the game, but I know today’s crowd can be pretty fickle when it comes to things like that, so fair warning.  This is not a game you play for eye candy.

When I lost terribly, the game informed me that I had achieved 1 out of 20 endings.  So there might even be a decent amount of replay in this thing, too.  Unfortunately it seems like the beginning is pretty similar… the same people came through and asked for the same favours, the same terrorists hopped the same fences and blew up the same guards, the kid got sick on the same day…  I feel like it could be a bit repetitive to play a lot in close succession, but then again if you know who to accept and reject in advance you could save up one hell of a nest egg, if you’re that sort of “trial and error” gamer.  Of course, there’s also Endless Mode, which I have not tried, but I assume it will be truly random from start to finish.
[edit] So now that I’ve said this… I went and restarted and it actually lets you pick any day you’ve completed to start from, so the repetitive problem isn’t really a problem until you’ve finished all 20 endings, and by then you’ve probably got your 10 bucks worth. [/edit]

I feel like it’s unique enough that it’s worth the 10 dollar entry fee, but if you want to see for yourself, you can try the beta version as a demo: http://dukope.com/
The Steam version is definitely more polished with more events, and achievements, of course.  I made it to something like day 6 before just going and buying it on Steam – see how you do!

The Jacket

I can’t remember why I picked up this movie.  It was probably on a list of “psychological thrillers” and was one of the only ones I hadn’t seen yet, since I am partial to them.  It’s possible it got lumped into a sci-fi category somewhere.  Long story short, we really enjoyed this movie, and then I was surprised to discover it got relatively poor ratings overall.  I guess it got a 7 on IMDB and that’s not really so bad.  I do find it a little ironic that almost all of these poor-scoring reviews claim that all the movie does is copy other popular movies, when it was apparently inspired by stories straight from actual inmates, which in turn also inspired a Jack London novel in 1915.  God damn you humans, never doing anything original anymore.

The story is about a former soldier who survived being shot in the head, although he was left with severe memory problems and periodic amnesia, not to mention severe PTSD.  He goes about his merry way after the war, then wakes up on the side of the road next to a gun and a dead policeman.  Unable to remember the details of what happened to prove he is innocent, he is placed in a prison/medical facility for the criminally insane, and soon discovers he has been chosen by one of the doctors for “reprogramming” experiments.  These experiments involve being strapped into a straight-jacket, injected with a cocktail of drugs, and locked in a morgue drawer for hours at a time.

The movie reveals things in bits and spurts.  The main character’s memory works in bits and spurts, so we get flashbacks to things that happened before, as he remembers them.  We also occasionally flash to the other characters and reveal more about the backstory of the hospital and the history of the “reprogramming” program.

During one of his sessions in the morgue drawer, the main character discovers he is actually speaking to people 15 years in the future.  Convinced that he is now actually time travelling, he starts welcoming his trips to the morgue and starts digging around in the future to find the keys to the past.  As a result, he also learns the date he will die… and it is soon.

It’s a bit of a wild ride from that point.  I spent the whole movie figuring I knew what was going to happen, and then it would do something else and I would have to start guessing again.  Calling it a “thriller” is a bit generous (and the poster displayed on wikipedia apparently has the tagline “TERROR HAS A NEW NAME”, to which I laaaauuuuggghhhhhh)… IMDB has it listed as a Drama/Sci-Fi/Mystery which feels accurate, and it’s definitely a good mysterious story that keeps you wondering where its going.  If you want to sit down with a notepad I’m sure you can pick some huge holes in this thing.  There are plenty of plotlines that don’t really seem to do much in the end, almost as if they’re laid down to act as red herrings as the story unfolds, and I don’t even want to think about things from a plausibility angle.  The ending is probably a little bit unfulfilling, too.  Everything is wrapped up, but there are a some big questions that don’t feel very answered – but they’re questions that you as the viewer most likely came up with while watching, not questions the movie posed directly.

The few minor flaws aside, I think it’s an excellent use of 103 minutes.

Jack the Giant Slayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Splice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond Belief

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing EscapeBeyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t know much about Scientology before other than it seemed to be a “church” based on ridiculous beliefs that was taking advantage of its tax-exempt status in what should be a criminal manner in order to fleece its followers. And the internet started a war against them and a lot of suing happened, but not much else. I saw the title of this book and I knew that people had reported non-stop harassment for even casual curious inquiries into the “readings” and whatever else, but I thought to myself it was a little dramatic to label quitting as an “escape”. Couldn’t you just stop going to the “services” or whatever equivalent they have and just ignore the harassing phone calls and letters asking you to come back?

Boy, have I been educated.

This is the story of the niece of the man who took over leadership of the church, so her family was buried quite deeply in the organization, in the “Sea Org”. Essentially where the sun doesn’t shine, and associating with non-scientologists is considered a crime. You get a good look into the depths of the church – maybe not the actual heart where the decisions and rules are made, but the inner layers where the officers are trained. It’s also a fascinating look at how brainwashing works. I knew Scientology was known for brainwashing techniques, but this is brainwashing 101.

Jenna describes her entire life from very young ages all the way up to early 20s-ish or so when she finally manages to leave. I started reading and was thinking “This isn’t so bad… I mean, it’s bad but not completely unusual for fanatical religion.” And then it got worse. And worse. And worse… and … okay it’s pretty fucking bad.

What I found really interesting is the potential glimpse into the motivations of the church. I thought it was 100% a scam designed to pry every last penny from its followers – and it’s certainly that – but it almost seems like the church was designed as a money making scheme and it’s slowly been warped into an entity that, on some levels, actually believes it’s doing the right thing. Some of the decisions made make absolutely no sense if the only goal is to make money. In a lot of the decisions I can’t even see what the goal WAS. The church may have actually brainwashed itself at this point… fascinating.

The book is definitely not well-written, but when you look at the background of the author it’s easily forgiven. The sentences are stilted and dry, and often lack any emotion, but, well… it seems pretty damn representative of what the church attempts to do to a mind. Definitely worth a look if you’re curious.

I hope I don’t get sued for writing this “suppressive” review!

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Found Footage (Comparison)

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

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

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

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.

Selected Stories of Philip K Dick

Selected Stories of Philip K. DickSelected Stories of Philip K. Dick by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely amazing. I’ve always meant to read some of his stuff, so a book full of short stories seemed perfect. It contains most of the stories which have been adapted into movies I’ve seen, so it was great to see the source material.

I found it fascinating from a psychology perspective too. I had heard that Dick may have been schizophrenic, and I can absolutely see where that comes from, now. So many of the stories involve paranoia, warping of reality, or a complete disbelief in reality. That he is able to tackle those themes on such a deep level and still construct fascinating stories all around it shows how much skill he had.

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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!

Triangle

Triangle is hardly a blockbuster movie, but it was apparently quite popular overseas and then went straight to DvD in North America.  I can’t imagine why, but it almost certainly has nothing to do with the actual quality of the movie because it really deserves more than that.  So I feel like I need to give it a plug.  Even the cover does it a disservice in North America.  It’s marketed as a cheesy slasher pic but it’s actually pretty clever, and gives you a few things to think about.

Not many things, mind you.  Don’t get TOO excited or you’ll be disappointed, but trust me, do not judge the movie by its shitty inappropriate cover.

If you are one of those people who couldn’t understand what was going on in Inception, you might want to skip this one.  It does not hold your hand (and thank god for that), and even though I guessed what was going on fairly early, there were still a number of “Aha” moments where it started to fall into place as the ends tied up.  Being unable to keep all those ends in mind as you go might result in one of those movies where you turn it off and then go “what the fuck just happened.”

I still sort of did the “wtf” thing, but it was accompanied by a “that was awesome.”, too.  It came to a satisfying conclusion that left all the right kinds of questions behind.  I’m not even sure how easy it is to find, but if you do spot it, I say give it a try.

Crabbies Spiced Orange Ginger Beer

CrabbiesOrangeGingerBeerAnother one of those “What the hell is that… we should probably try it” impulse grabs at the liquor store.  We only picked up one bottle and I only took two sips, so it’s not exactly an in-depth review (because clearly I put so much thought into these things), but I will say “Not as bad as I expected”.  It tastes pretty much exactly like ginger beer with orange.  So they succeeded on that front.  I don’t think I could drink a whole lot of it but it wasn’t unpleasant, so it has that going for it!  If you like ginger beer you’d probably like it.

Chocolate Mint Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cloud Atlas

As we watched Cloud Atlas, I thought to myself “I bet this is based on a book, and it makes a lot more sense as one.”  I was right!  I am debating whether to read the book now, simply because it looks like it does a lot of fairly clever things, but I’m not sure I agree with the message of the story enough to want to bother.

The movie is actually six different stories, each set in a different era.  Each story is being told by someone in a subsequent era, as they either recount or discover the story (they might be telling the story around a campfire or reading a journal, things like that).  Not knowing any of this before going into the movie was… interesting. Actors are reused for each era, with some interesting results (Hugo Weaving in drag is fantastic), because one of the messages of the story is that people live on in new lives.  Themes to look for involve how each character(/actor) changes as they move from era to era… do they become a better person, or worse?

I don’t think I will say much more than that because it risks getting into far too much philosophical discussion.  I’m not particularly interested in reincarnation, but I enjoyed the movie primarily because it was so unique. Without having even read it I do think the book probably did a better job of it, so if you’re going to pick one I would go for print.  If you’re looking for a challenge, you might like the movie though.  There are blogs out there that say “Go watch the movie, and then we’ll explain it to you”, which, naturally, I found while trying to figure out the details of what the fuck I just watched… and that’s about all you need to know to get started.

Out of the Dark

Out of the DarkOut of the Dark by David Weber
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Alright. I stumbled through the first 30% of the book and came away with the impression of a book that used vivid writing to create nice scenery, some interesting characters that you might be able to relate to and grow to enjoy, and waaaayyy too many words. It takes 25% of the book for anything to even happen because it’s too busy describing things, and then once something happens, it has to stop and describe that too. It’s great if you like reading about military hardware or computer hacking in painful, pedantic detail, but I felt it was unnecessary and bordering on some kind of writing equivalent of masturbation. “Look! Look how much I know about these topics! See, I know all these tiny little details about them, isn’t that impressive? Aren’t you impressed?” No, I am not. I did not need all these details to understand the story, so you’re just wasting my time.

Around 30% is when the war starts rolling, except it was filled with the aliens being blown away by the Americans and continually being shocked about it and thinking to themselves “Hmmm how can this be, these humans are so puny – how is it that these “Americans” from this “United States” are so good at fighting us???”. I was already low on patience from all the wordy descriptions, so the prospect of wading through a book full of all the worst parts of the worst alien invasion movies was not appealing to me. I held out hope that it was going to get better, but I peeked at some other reviews and spoiled myself to see what might be up.

At which point I learned that the end of the story consists of…

This is a spoiler!

God forbid I ruin this shitty book for you!

…DRACULA rescuing humanity?

Really?

Really?

Yeaahhhh… I’ll go read something else for now. :/

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