Monday, August 31, 2015

"Fallout: Honest Hearts" Review

I finished playing "Fallout: New Vegas" the other week. It is the 2nd time I have played thru it and I played all of the DLC. I decided to play "Skyrim" a bit and it is good, but I miss playing Fallout. It is just a more interesting universe.  Fallout, for those who do not know is a dark comedy action RPG, it is set in a post-atomic war wasteland, but contains technology that is akin to a 1950’s vision of the future, personal computers that have black and green displays, robot security guards that look like Robbie the Robot of “Forbidden Planet”, an emphasis on the “Golly Gee” era of television, and Norman Rockwell like fashion.
Fallout has laser weapons straight out of sci-fi b movies of the 1950’s, and it makes lots of commentary on social engineering, forms of government, and perceptions of who people are, what they believe, and why they believe it.  While the 1950’s is key to its foundations the post-apocalypse angle is also at the forefront as ruins dot the wasteland of the old world, most of civilization is based around scraping together resources from the past, and making due with what they have (for instance, the currency of the wasteland is Bottle Caps, because they last for a long time, and are difficult to replicate).
            Until the upcoming “Fallout 4” due later this year, I guess I will just talk about the four DLC adventure packs for the last game with each of their positives and negatives, because none of them are flawless… And some of them are more slag than ore.
Let’s have some categories for evaluation: Story (which considering how this is an RPG and writing is probably the biggest draw, it is pretty important), Environment & Characters (because Fallout has always been about exploration), Enemies and Loot (who do you kill and what do you get from their corpse), and lastly any Gameplay issues (cause it is a game and that is a big deal).

"Honest Hearts": Make of it what you will.

Story:
            You are left alone in Utah after a trade caravan you are traveling with is slaughtered by a war tribe called the White Legs.  Managing to hitch your wagon to a pair of honorable tribes, the Dead Horses and the Sorrows, you must help them fight back against the White Legs and then get the hell out of Utah and back to Vegas.
            As far as stories go it is a good adventure outside of the urban and into the wild world, the emphasis being less on politics and a more straightforward good vs evil conflict.  Of the four, “Honest Hearts” is the straightforward DLC Narrative, and that sort of simplicity can be appreciated, the first time I played “New Vegas” the dizzying levels of choice available caused me to quit the game (4 years ago) and this provides a respite from that.
 
Sometimes it is good to have a world worth fighting for.
Environment & Characters:
            I liked this environment.  Canyons with rivers, trees, bridges, and a sense of not-being-a-wasteland-beyond-saving.  There are views that were graphically very pretty when the game was released, now they are merely good.  I like how much of the game is exploration of old camp grounds, encountering wild animals, and looking into caves.  Reading Gary Paulson survival fiction when I grew up fostered an affection for these types of stories.  It is also cool to see an area of Fallout that is made up of Indian tribes, tourists and campers, and survivalists that evolved into a new society in the isolation of the canyon.  It also has one of the coolest characters learned about only via lore and reading journals, Randall “The Father in the Cave” Clark who is just such a bad ass.

"Saw to the old couple. Sat them up against car, let them hold and comfort each other. Told them I was going to get help, everything be okay. One bullet through both heads. Instant."
            The 4 prominent characters to the story are each interesting, one is a young tribal scout who wants to see the world, another is a tribal warrior and mother who just wants to get back to her family in a new home safe from the White Legs, but the last two are where the narrative shines.  One is David, a Mormon missionary that presents something you don’t see a lot of in Fallout, religious conviction that isn’t presented ironically or subversively.  David legitimately wants to help people as an act of faith in god, but is also wracked with guilt for all of the other tribes that the White Legs destroyed and the loss of his home this puts him in contrast to the best character, Joshua “The Burned Man” Graham.
            Graham is a former general of Caesar (the biggest villain in the main game), he is wrapped in bandages after having been burned alive as part of a failed execution by Caesar.  Joshua is a fiercely intelligent psychopath who seems himself as an instrument of divine wrath and has been evading assassins since his escape from execution.  Joshua has become a legend in Vegas, and seeks to use his skills to destroy the White Legs, in contrast to Daniel who wants to flee to safety.  You ultimately have to decide between the two’s methods, either brutal enough fighting to win, or crafty enough evasion to get away.

Enemies and Loot:
            While the White Leg tribals are the primary antagonists there is also a lot of giant lizards, mutant bears, big bugs, and killer plants.  Things are colorful, bright, and at times weird in a fun way.  For instance, one mission has you get high on sacred fruit and fight monstrous flaming bear so that you can fashion a claw weapon from one of its paws.  The Mutant Bears are established from the series’ canon and are the most difficult things you will fight, so be aware of that.
            There are lots of guns and tribal gear, but there is also a variety of poison to use and a number of weapons, like the bear claw and a type pf war club.  Joshua has a signature pistol that is actually pretty nice in that it has easy to use sights.  I can’t classify the loot as a draw of the game, just that it is adequate for the game.
 
"Drink.  Tea is strong.  Tea is bitter.  Wisdom is strong.  Wisdom is bitter.  You see?"
Gameplay:
            This is a little mixed, often enemies will spawn in areas like a Dungeon Master rolling dice on a random encounters sheet, “Let’s see, two giant mantises, a giant cazador, a trio of baby giant geckos, and one White Leg warrior with a 9mm machine gun.”  Or you will just be ambushed by encounters that are obnoxious, “Oh you thought the last encounter was silly, okay tough guy how about three giant killer mutant bears!?”
            The companion abilities are lame, which is to be expected, they are meant to be used for a little bit and then forgotten about, they can only be used in this little adventure, so rather than having broad utility powers they have abilities that are contextual to Utah.
            Ultimately the final mission is too long, stretching to areas all over the map it feels decompressed, and when I got to the end and found out I had missed a group of survivors I was supposed to save… I just shrugged my shoulders and left them to die because going back meant walking so far thru uninteresting fights.
            Lots of perks can be useful in this area, the variety of animals and insects along with all of the tribal opponents, and the number of literal camp sights and need for rapid movement all indicate some useful abilities.  “Hunter”, “Animal Friend”, “Travel Light”, “Entomologist”, “Home on the Range”, “Tribal Wisdom”, and my favorite “Sneering Imperialist” which gives some condescending speech options with your enemies and allies.
 
"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. Remember, O Lord, The Children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem who said, "Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation." O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed. How happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones."
Overall Final Verdict:
            It might prove to be too straightforward considering how open the environment is.  Kind of a paradox.  You can go anywhere, but there seems to be no option to join the White Legs and sell out the good guys.  Considering you can be a villain in the main area of New Vegas, the idea that you are a good guy here by default is a little thin in the story department.  There are bad endings and you can be a foe to everyone if you want, but that limits the story even more.

If you like the environment you can walk back to the area where a chest full of all the unique guns and costumes will be waiting for you, which sort of cheapens your efforts to get treasure and participate in the world.  You also can’t tell Caesar about Joshua because Caesar can’t acknowledge that Joshua is still alive… it would be to admit weakness, you see, and a violent dictator can’t do that.  So even with a story that is kind of tied into Vegas well, it also has no impact.  At the very least you should get to keep 1 or 2 of your companions to go back to Vegas with, but no you don’t get that.  “Honest Hearts” is fun enough, but is simple and lacks impact.  Make of that what you will.

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

"Fallout: Dead Money" Review

I finished playing "Fallout: New Vegas" the other week. It is the 2nd time I have played thru it and I played all of the DLC. I decided to play "Skyrim" a bit and it is good, but I miss playing Fallout. It is just a more interesting universe.  Fallout, for those who do not know is a dark comedy action RPG, it is set in a post-atomic war wasteland, but contains technology that is akin to a 1950’s vision of the future, personal computers that have black and green displays, robot security guards that look like Robbie the Robot of “Forbidden Planet”, an emphasis on the “Golly Gee” era of television, and Norman Rockwell like fashion.
Fallout has laser weapons straight out of sci-fi b movies of the 1950’s, and it makes lots of commentary on social engineering, forms of government, and perceptions of who people are, what they believe, and why they believe it.  While the 1950’s is key to its foundations the post-apocalypse angle is also at the forefront as ruins dot the wasteland of the old world, most of civilization is based around scraping together resources from the past, and making due with what they have (for instance, the currency of the wasteland is Bottle Caps, because they last for a long time, and are difficult to replicate).
            Until the upcoming “Fallout 4” due later this year, I guess I will just talk about the four DLC adventure packs for the last game with each of their positives and negatives, because none of them are flawless… And some of them are more slag than ore.
Let’s have some categories for evaluation: Story (which considering how this is an RPG and writing is probably the biggest draw, it is pretty important), Environment & Characters (because Fallout has always been about exploration), Enemies and Loot (who do you kill and what do you get from their corpse), and lastly any Gameplay issues (cause it is a game and that is a big deal).
 
"Dead Money": I both love and loath this thing.
Story:
The mad scientist ex-leader of the Brotherhood of Steel has located a massive technological wonderland from before the nuclear holocaust.  The Sierra Madre Casino was cloaked in poisonous gas the day of the Nuclear War and since that time it has remained untouched by the outside world, hidden in its mysterious cloud.  The mad scientist, named Father Elijah (who is referenced as a major character in the game proper, but is not seen until now) has gathered you and 3 others to “help” him break in and take control of the Sierra Madre, using its wealth, defensible location, and an elaborate resource system he will be able to create his own little kingdom in the wasteland.
This is a great pitch for a series of adventures, it is a heist with a team that you cannot trust and are forced to work with by an unseen villainous asshole.  Your equipment is taken from you to keep you from being too hard to control and you are strapped with a bomb collar to keep you from ditching the mission.
I guess the use of bomb collars makes some sense, because the main villain is a thunderously large asshole about the whole enterprise, especially when he could have just politely asked for help in exchange for a share of the spoils, people would have helped him, lots of people work together in the wasteland in situations just like this without the need for bomb collars.
 
"So all you want is the Facility?  We get the money?  Yeah, okay."
Environment & Characters:
            Sadly the environment is as unpleasant as they come.  You start out in a Mexican villa style resort village outside the Casino, and it all looks the same.  Boring repetitive architecture randomly choked with brown poison fog and the occasional vending machine.
            Inside the casino is a little different, but it too gets very same old same old.  There is also the issue that the automated vendors in the game use pre-Nuke money, not the standard currency of casino chips that the vending machines use, and not the bottle cap currency of the rest of the wasteland, but the game still uses bottle caps to do exchanges, so if you want to sell off some useless gear rather than just having the game figure out how much pre-nuke currency or chips to give you it instead forces you to figure out how much pre-Nuke currency to ask for, so I hope you like doing algebra where finding “x” means how much fake money you have to ask for in exchange for a 200 year old 9mm handgun.
            There are four speaking characters, along with an elaborate background story to what happened to the Sierra Madre.  I feel that the main villain, Father Elijah is competent, driven, and dangerous, his voice actor does well, but I see a few holes in his plan.  The rest of your team is full of colorful characters, though their dialogue is really repetitive, I liked the final resolution to their stories, but only liked interacting with the mute woman because she had no dialogue to repeat endlessly (though even that had issues because when you talk to her they have text to describe what she is miming but the descriptive text is not on screen long enough for you to read all of it).
 
"...a mysterious blood red cloud began to roll across the Mojave, then West toward the Republic, no one knew where it had come from. Only that it brought death in its wake."
Enemies & Loot:
            The only enemies that you will regularly encounter are giant cockroaches (which are piss easy) and the Ghost People, who are mysterious jerks in hazmat gear that live in the sewers beneath the Sierra Madre.  The GP leave traps everywhere so be prepared to have your legs crippled every time you walk thru a doorway.  The GP also regenerate and pretend to be unconscious to ambush you later, so you have to dismember them or burn them to dust to make sure they don’t get back up.

They are very creepy for a while, unless you know how to use a spear.
            The loot is alright, you are given a steady number of casino chips to spend in vending machines, and the Ghost People have some rather brutal weapons, like a gauntlet with a bear trap affixed to it that cripples your limps.  The real issue with the money comes in the final confrontation  (SPOILERS for the rest of this paragraph) in which you are forced to leave behind a few dozen gold bars (each worth 10,000+ caps) in order to escape the casino’s lock down, otherwise you are entombed and lose the game.  It kind of plays into a story theme about letting go, and being dragged to hell by the weight of your own greed.  You might just end up feeling lie you went on a grand adventure just to leave (mostly) empty handed.

Gameplay:
            And this is where it all goes to pot.  The bomb collars are the WORST.  They can go off because you are too close to a radio or speaker that is playing a strange signal, you have a few seconds to back up before you are killed… But you often have to go thru an area with a speaker and you have no way of figuring out where it is if the thing is hidden behind a wall or stake of shelve, so you often have no chance to shoot out the speaker/radio.  You will die A FUCK TON.  I think I died 40+ times from this bullshit.
            The Ghost People would be interesting bad guys, but quickly become boring, they just lack variety.  And if you have the “Bloody Mess” perk which causes people killed by you to explode in gore, they the GP’s only clever feature of getting up after pretending to be dead to be a non-issue.  And the whole mission gets even easier if you have a lot of ranks in melee weapons which are all over the place and will be the default way of killing things, and the GP are aberrations, so if you have the “Purifier” perk which gives you a melee weapon damage bonus against aberrations then you will go thru them like butter.  And nearly all of the traps that serve to soften you up and slow you down are rendered close to useless if you have the “Light Step” perk.  If you have the “Them’s Good Eatin’" perk then the whole thing becomes fantastically easy because you will have plenty of time to recover from injury by eating all the sausage you will find.
 
This image does a lot to encapsulate the humor of the main game.
Overall Final Verdict:

            I might have lied about loving this.  The more I think about it the more flawed this becomes.  It is claustrophobic, lacks variety, and is excessively oppressive without enough dark humor to balance it out.  And the cherry on top: you can never go back, all the other DLC’s allow you to return to their environments to fully explore them, get more gear, and other fun little completion activities.  So the game basically tells you, “and stay out” as soon as you exit, like it didn’t even want you to play it from the get go.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

LootCrate "Villains 2"

            I have been getting LootCrate for 4 months now and this is the first time I had the bright idea to just post pictures of the stuff on this blog, I have no idea why as it is accessible content that appears regularly and my initial experience in getting the stuff was as a birthday present from my roommate so it makes for a good story about friendship… I guess I just blanked on it.  Regardless of past months, let’s look at the items this month.

            First up is a Los Pollo Hermanos kitchen apron from one of the best TV shows ever, “Breaking Bad”.  Since I do not cook this is one of those fun but impractical (for me) entries in the crate.  Most likely the use I will find for it is as a display medium for the numerous pins and buttons that come in a typical crate.

"Breaking Bad"
             These are this month’s button and pin.  It is standard for each loot crate to come with a themed pin (and often they come with pins from other franchises related to the theme).  This one is a villainous monster mouth.  The pin is a highlight of the box, a prop replica of those used in the movies.  While it does seem odd to wear the C’Thulhu esc emblem of a Nazi super-science cabal, it is still cool in spite of the Nazi connection.  Fun aside, the reason there were almost no “real Nazis” in the Captain America movies has to do with toy sales, it is really hard to sell toys that have swastikas on them.
            Next we have a wooden Joker Toy with a switchable face.  The arms, hands, and to a lesser extent the legs have movement and can be posed.  It is a quirky display item and I like it except for one issue: what do I do with the second face?  There is no storage slot or place to put the extra piece, so it is destined to get lost.  I still like it, stylized representations of characters are always cool.
            This is the highlight of the box, one of a pair of mugs, I of course got the Carnage mug.  Carnage being a popular villain character of the 90’s Dark Age of comics.  He is a symbiotic alien monster like Venom, but instead of being attached to a jock loser like Eddie Brock, Carnage instead attaches to a serial killer.  The murderer’s mania allows him to bond more perfectly with the alien and they go on several thrill killing adventures in the Marvel universe.  I don’t really like Carnage as a character, but the mug looks awesome.

"A gun that shoots good feelings"


            Lastly we have the LootCrate magazine and the box itself which depicts a Joker hideout where he is building a giant attack size version of the wooden toy.  The magazine is a little thin, it talks about each item and has an article about people in your own life whose toxic personalities might mimic those of Batman’s list of foes, kind of a heady article with a strange framing device.  The magazine’s real drawback is the use of dark red font on black backgrounds which makes some words hard to notice or read.
            The Box is actually badly designed.  There seems to be no logical way to fold it to show all the art it offers.  There are 6 surfaces with art, one is on the bottom of the box, and another is covered when it is folded into a box with the art facing out.  It almost works, but falls short.

            Overall I think the mug makes up for a lack of a t-shirt (I usually find the shirts to be the highlight of any crate) and the other stuff is of high quality and cleanly on theme.  Not a lot of clutter or fat to be cut.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

My Thoughts on "Inuyasha"

“Inuyasha” is an action-romance anime and is one of the first anime I watched regularly.  This show is the source of a lot of nostalgia as I first encountered it when I was going to college and it was on its first run on Adult Swim, so I am probably a lot easier on it than I should be when it comes to criticism.

By the standards of most anime programs I encounter these days the story is decompressed, the full team featured in the opening credits isn't entirely introduced until nearly 20 episodes in, the first dozen episodes dealing with the titular character, Inuyasha (a half demon warrior who looks like a silver haired man with puppy ears), and the main character, Kagome (a girl from modern day Japan displaced to the land of fantasy via a magic shrine on her family’s property).  I feel this slow build plays to the series strengths.  There is plenty of time for broad-cute humor, lots of character development, and a big extended cast (which includes a cowardly talking flea man, a badger demon, an old priestess, and lots of bad guys).

The other three principle heroic characters are Shippo (a shape shifting fox demon who uses illusions, but is still a child and mostly assists as a distraction rather than a team heavy hitter), Miroku (a Monk with a black hole in the palm of his hand, a devious personality, and he’s a lecher), and Sango (the last survivor of a tribe of demon hunting ninjas who fights using a giant boomerang).

All of these characters have some tragic backstory, they have desires and motivations that are made clear to the audience, and parallels between their situations are constantly seen between them.  For instance Shippo’s father was a powerful fox demon who was killed by a pair of evil brothers, Inuyasha’s father was a powerful wind/dog demon and he has an evil older brother, Kagome has a younger brother and her father is unseen in the show but she carries on the legacy of her family tending a shrine, Sango carries on the legacy of her family a society of demon slayers and her younger brother is being kept alive and brainwashed by black magic by the series principle antagonist, That antagonist is responsible for Miroku the Monk’s father and grandfather being dead, and the black hole in his hand which is slowly consuming Miroku.  And round and round the character comparisons go creating a good narrative echo, even on things I did not mention.
 
This is Tessaiga, a magical sword that under normal circumstances looks like a tiny katana, but when Inuyasha uses it to defend humanity, specifically Kagome it grows into a huge buster sword.  Symbolism.
The series could definitely be lumped into the superhero genre as well, as they are sort of a mystical medieval Avengers (as fans of “Demon Knights” weep that I don’t reference that because of it already being obscure).  They have a functional rouges gallery that has 3 recurring villains (though more appear down the line as minions for the main bads).

Last bit of praise, I think the animation really works.  The action flows, all of the characters are well designed and look elegant.  Sure Inuyasha’s murderous brother Sesshomaru looks like a Final Fantasy villain, but the restraint shown in the design of the principle cast is almost uncharacteristic in a show of this type.
 
Hooray for costumes that won't break the bank for people who want to cos-play them.
Some complaints, first of which is my only narrative gripe.  The series starts with Kagome traveling back thru time to the age of mystical demon haunted Japan.  A teen girl from 2000 in some years during Japan’s feudal era.  But she is able to travel back and forth between the future and the past without much issue, and often demons will follow her back to her time.  And the two time periods run concurrently, a day in the past is a day in the future, so when she goes quest for 4 days, she misses 4 days of school, her normal life is suffering for her time spent adventuring.  There is some narrative value here, the idea that she could leave at any time, to a world without danger and just be a normal person but chooses to stay and rick her safety to help others makes her a good person, but it also defuses some potential tension.
The series could have been a Wizard of Oz type plot in which she can’t get home and meets the various other heroes, that would add stakes, and ultimately the series would hinge on whether she wants to go home after all of the adventures or if she wants to stay, as is the only tension is a “will they won’t they” romantic tension with Inuyasha, and the “they will” is so obvious that it’s not really an issue.  I can see the ending coming and they really should just get to it and provide closer to the series.  (I realize that “Escaflowne” had a similar set up in this regard, anime have lots of main characters that work as audience surrogates).

Then there are some non-story issues, this show is not great to marathon, a lot of each episode is recapping events from previous episodes, "Remember, this, that, the other thing, and one more thing" it gets annoying when you literally just watched what they are talking about.  This sort of thing crops up a lot in shows produced prior to 2005, before the advent of the DVD and streaming market meant that missing an episode meant missing important plot details.  The only way to get around that was to have characters recap to each other (and indirectly the audience) the ongoing story.
(On a related note the 4th season of “Angel” has this to a toxic level, several episodes happen over the course of a few hours and they still spend 5 minutes telling each other what is happening, I bet that show got incomprehensible to new watchers at that point, I should review it at some point).

Another issue, sometimes the dialogue is repetitive, lots of yelling other people's names, people yelling the names of their signature attacks or weapons.  This I think is a genre convention that allows for easier identification of the characters for purposes of marketing merchandise, but even with the rhyming or dramatic declaration there is only so many times you can hear the attack “Iron Reaver, Soul Stealer” before you wonder why he never learned another move to yell.  Making fun of this was part of the advertising.

Also, the opening theme and end credits are obnoxiously long, more than 10% of each episode (they are pretty and have good music, but come on, and the Japanese pop music that accompanies the openings sucks, I can’t even find the decent orchestral opening that I am familiar with and that is on the Netflix stream [FOUND IT]).  This is again another genre convention, as it is supposed to help get people in the move for the show, the opening number is a sweeping score accompanying images of the setting and the characters, and the ending credits are characters being melancholy (a tone immediately broken because they have a preview for the next episode, something I am shocked was not cut for the stream on Netflix).

Lastly, there are too many episodes, the show became successful and they started to stretch things even though a logical end point for the series was reached, instead you get an anti-climax and the story basically reboots (the series is so long, not all of it is on Netflix at time of this review, only a little less than a 4th of their 193 episodes and 4 movies).  If the series had edited out all of the recapping of previous events and tightened up the latter half of the series it would be great, as is it is just good.
I have no issue understanding why this was popular and remains fondly remembered, and I have no trouble understanding why people deride it, it has flaws just as it has strengths, but it should not be totally disregarded by anybody who likes watching Anime in general.
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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Product Placement

            Let’s talk about product placement, really more to do with placement of it in movies and TV shows than anything else.  Superman slams into an IHOP in “Man of Steel”.  Dunn plays “Halo 5” at work in “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”.  Scott Lange works at Baskin Robbins in “Ant-Man”.  And clandestine meetings happen at Denny’s, or in the parking lot of Lowe’s Hardware on “House of Cards”.  These are a few examples, but you are already thinking about the types of cars they drove on “The Walking Dead” and “Breaking Bad”, and that episode of “30 Rock” in which Verizon is the best phone ever.  I am doing this off the top of my head and I could go on probably forever.
            Is this a bad thing?  I am going to say “No”.  And here is why.

1) In real life, as I write this, there is a can of sprite to my left, and a “Boarderlands” gaming mouse pad to my right.  You see, while lots of companies do pay to have their stuff featured to various levels… That shit does exist.  And making it part of the character’s world is not unreasonable.

            2) Movies and TV are really expensive to produce and having Coca-Cola help pay in exchange for having their brand on screen in a subtle way helps to defuse the cost and allow for more ambitious productions, I don’t know if they could afford to have Kevin Spacey murder political loose ends while soliloquizing to the audience unless the audience wanted to also clench their thirst with a Coke.

            3) From a historical and social standpoint this is nothing new.  Many of the great works of art in history and especially the great works of architecture have been commissioned by merchants and with streaming and commercial skipping technology becoming the standard way of doing things I see no other way a company can justify creating an entertainment product while at the same time telling the audience that they did so.

Really I find the inevitable outcome for this to be something like this: “Game of Thrones: Episode 55, Brought to you by Pepsi” or “Sony Presents: House of Cards”.  Companies will just become producers of material and will be part owners of it, so that people who like a particular program will have to think of the company when they watch or talk about it.

And eventually people will see it as part of the landscape, just like people used to not bat an eye at Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen having breakfast together so they could talk about cornflakes, or the Flintstones talking about cigarettes.  Marvel will perhaps have the easiest time with this, as they have been having superheroes fight bad guys over fruit pies for decades.
 
Sure this is boarder line immoral.  But at least they aren't anti-vaccers.
I mean, Superman did cigarette advertising too... But much like in "Man of Steel" it was mostly incidental destruction.

            This blog brought on by seeing “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” a movie that I highly recommend. There is the occasional wrinkle in which I thought of how they could have done something a little different, or how they should have a gadget for such an occasion, but it is my favorite action movie of the year, beating out "Mad Max: Fury Road", "Jurassic World", "Ant-Man", and "Avengers: Age of Ultron".

I come to find out it is written and directed by the same guy who did "Jack Reacher" and has a lot of the things I liked about that movie in here too. Lots of funny dialogue, no romance subplot, a couple of great chance scenes, and a good bad guy. Unlike "Reacher" it doesn't give away the whole mystery at the start so it ends up working better on that level. Best of the series.  I will eventually give a full review of it, just like I do every other movie I see each year, but for now I must point it out as a must see for the summer.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

10 Horror Questions

            I found a list of questions on the topic of horror by a comedian who pretends to be the resurrected author, HP Lovecraft.  I figured I would just answer those questions because I have not written anything for fun in a while.

What is the first horror movie you remember watching?
            I think “Aliens” in a TV edit.  But I am not sure that should count.  I remember flipping to it, finding the “Ripley and Newt locked in a room with face huggers” scene too intense and flipping to something else, but then coming back cause it was awesome.  I do remember seeing the Power-Lifter vs Queen battle at the end and I had no idea what the hell was going on aside from, “Yoaw-Zah! Giant Monster Battle.
            The first scary movie I watched all the way thru is “House” when I was 9?  I think.  I remember watching it and commenting on how tense I was, that my butt was clenched.  I am certain it won’t hold up to my adult sensibilities but I have not tried to confirm those suspicions.  Maybe I should watch it again to gain some perspective.

Considering the only trailer I could find of it has "scaryforkids.com" in the corner it is probably not going to leave me chilled.

What is your favorite horror movie?
            Maybe “Poltergeist”.  I feel that it is such a well-paced film beyond the elements of being spooky.  Stuff is strange with chairs reordering themselves and the white noise on the TV… then the tiny psychic shows up and starts battling the devil.
More importantly though there are human elements.  The family acting like a family sets “Poltergeist” above most other crap in horror.

What is your favorite horror franchise?
            I do not think I have one.  In all honesty I think most horror movies only work in a limited sense and quickly transform into crap when extended beyond the initial introduction.  The best long running horror series are borderline anthology shows with a cast of characters moving from one strange thing to the next (“Supernatural”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “The X-Files”) or are just anthology shows (“Tales from the Crypt”, “Twilight Zone”, and “Outer Limits”).
I guess I will go with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” but that is barely horror, as it is a direct subversion of horror tropes and characters by a superhero.

Who is your favorite horror director?
            James Wan.  While “Saw” is the poster child for my above condemnation of horror franchises (and I do not even like the first one) Wan knows how to create tension and pace a scene.  He knows how to make a movie look and feel good.

What is your favorite horror movie genre?
            I actually had to look this up because I find the term “genre” to be really odd.  It could be described in terms of tone, subject matter, themes, or setting (for instance, “Ex Machina” is a cerebral-feminist-science fiction film, while “Shawn of the Dead” is a horror-comedy-romance).  There are even genres that are styles of filmmaking, like Dogma, documentary, or found footage.  So looking on horroronscreen.com I found that the subgenres of horror mostly have to do with what is causing the horror.
            I fall very much into the Paranormal group.  I find that ghosts, hauntings, curses, and the like fall more into my view of the world.  My life is mostly dictated by the repercussions of bad decisions made by people in eras gone by.  Laws I do not agree with, the economy being a mess, the environment trying to kill everyone, and my own personal anxieties are all ambient hauntings of a world gone by.  That speaks to me.
What horror genre scares you the most?
            I guess Paranormal, for the reasons listed above.  Going a little deeper I find that people going mad or breaking under the pressure of paranormal influence adds to it.  I like “Insidious”, “Sinister”, “The Conjuring”, “In the Mouth of Madness”, “Jacob’s Ladder”, but I don’t really like “The Shining” which would be most people’s ultimate example of this, because I find it boring.

What is the last horror movie that actually scared you?
            Going back more than a decade to “The Ring”.  I do not know why but it came together.  The mystery element, the sense of the oncoming specter of death, and some of the horrific violence (or implied violence) that is well used.  I felt tense watching “The Ring”.

Who is your ultimate scream queen? Past and Present
            Another thing I had to look up (can you tell that horror is not really a genre I ascribe to?)
            I decided to go with Charisma Carpenter, Cordelia from the “”Buffy the Vampire” TV universe.  She is attractive and is a good foil for all the characters in the show.  Ultimately she has an arc which takes her from typical damsel-victim up to mature-hero.  Or am I just supposed to judge this category by looks alone?
 
Strangely, the article I reference this photo from does not share my opinion of her.
What is a concept that you’d like to see in horror?
            Really my tastes are already kind of served.  Since I do not consume too much of the material and I can read metaphors into what is already there just fine.  Horror movies tend to explore what I find scary to an adequate level.  Haunted by past trauma and anxiety, a loss of control in one’s life spiraling out of control into madness.

What is your favorite on screen kill?

            I am not a fan of gore for gore’s sake, and I tend to require a good character being killed in a way that naturally raises the stakes of a story.  So obviously my first thought went to Johnny Depp in “Nightmare on Elm Street” who is turned into an anti-gravity blood-fall (like a waterfall, but blood).

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Predictions for Marvel Movies

            I occasionally make predictions about plot points, character moments, or jokes that will appear in Marvel movies because I have read a bunch of comics and a lot of media that was produced by the movie’s creative teams.  I especially like the “Language” joke from “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, though if it had been up to me I would have had it be more of a running gag, with Cap unironically asking others around him to not curse… but then being put into a situation that seems so hopeless or dangerous that he says “fuck” in a dissatisfied tone and everyone looks at him shocked, and he says something like, “Sometimes language is called for.  I was in the army.  I met Patton once.”  But the idea of the F-word ever making it into a Marvel production is the day I pilot a robot suit to battle the forces of evil.
            Regardless I have been seeing some patterns in the movies and I have two predictions I want to put out there so I can feel smug when I am proven right, or smug when people tell me my ideas would have been more interesting than what actually happened.  I was partially correct the last time I did this with X-Men, but not so much as to feel a sense of psychic link with the creative staff.  Maybe this time I will strike creative oil.

Prediction 1 (AKA, the least complicated one): “Guardians of the Galaxy 2”

            In the comics Drax has a daughter, the superhero known as Moondragon.  A bald psychic bi-sexual (those are seriously the three largest aspects of her persona) who has been an Avenger and a member of the super team Infinity Watch (a group that uses and protects the Infinity Stones, the things the Marvel movie universe has been about since Thanos showed up trying to get the blue cube in “Avengers”).
            In “Guardians of the Galaxy” Drax mentions that he had a family that was murdered by Ronan, but that Thanos was pulling the strings and was really responsible for his family’s deaths.  We also establish that Thanos has a habit of adopting the daughters of families he has murdered, both the bald blue psycho cyborg, Nebula and the mean green killing machine turned Guardian, Gamora were raised by Thanos to be agents of his murderous will.
I think that Moondragon is Drax’s daughter, she is alive, and I think that Thanos raised her to be his bald psychic evil servant.

We might also want to aim for a more dignified costume.

Tim Gunn has already talked about how he wants the next movie to be about fatherhood, “At its heart, Guardians is a story about families, and if the first film was about him and his mother,this is a story about fathers. So it's exciting to go there."  Which most have taken to mean the obvious, that we will meet Star Lord’s mysterious alien father, who will probably either be Adam Warlock (super hero leader of the Infinity Watch in the comics) or his father in the comics, J’Son of Spartax (leader of a space empire that is trying to incorporate Earth under his control to, presumably take control of its superhero population).
            But when you take all of the elements together, first meeting Star Lord’s father, then having Thanos be the villain (as he is Gamora’s father), and then having Drax meet his daughter whom he thought lost… that would be several strong parallels.  Then you have Groot say, "I am Groot" to break up this Maury Povich drama.
Prediction 2: “Avengers: Infinity War” parts 1 and 2

            The Infinity war involves the retrieval and use of the 6 Infinity Gems, each containing power over an abstract concept: Space, Time, Reality, Power, Mind, and Soul.  When assembled they create the Infinity Gauntlet, allowing for the wearer to control all of existence, Thanos manages this feat in the comic and kills half the universe, only being stopped by luck and stupidity.  There is a scene in which he kills all of the Avengers by hand.

A story in which Thor is turned to glass, Iron Man is decapitated, and Cyclopes is suffocated.
            We have so far seen 4 of the gems.  Space, which is the cube in “Captain America: The First Avenger” which killed the Red Skull, and then later showed up in “Avengers”, now it is currently in the vaults of Asgard.  Reality, which was used by the dark Elf Malakith in “Thor: The Dark World” and is currently in the Collector’s possession on Know-Where.  Power, used to destroy Ronan in “Guardians of the Galaxy”, and is currently under the protection of the Nova Corp on Xandar.  And lastly we have the Mind gem, used by Vision to finish off Ultron during “Avengers: The Age of Ultron”, it is on Earth in the possession of Vision.  The other two, Soul and Time will probably be introduced in “Doctor Strange” (Soul more than likely) and one of the other movies (“Black Panther”, “Captain Marvel”, or “Inhumans”… it could be any of them, though I am betting on Inhumans, having the ancient race of monster people transported thru time to modern day would be a good use of the gem).
            In each instance so far the gems have been used by or against villains and that has resulted in their destruction: Ultron, Malakith, Red Skull, and Ronan.  I predict this trend will continue with the other two gems.  I also predict that Thanos will get all 6 gems in the Gauntlet.  And lastly I predict that when the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Inhumans, and other heroes team up to fight Thanos… Thanos will use the Gauntlet to summon a team of bad guys to help him fight the heroes, those bad guys that were all killed by the gems will come back to fight the heroes.

Side note: STOP KILLING OFF ALL THE BAD GUYS.  There are lots of stories that can be told with them and you are shutting the doors too quickly.  Too many Iron Man villains are gone for good and it is a waste.
Red Skull will fight Cap but he will be more powerful, maybe he will teleport or have a hoard of Hydra goons to help.  Malakith will transform into one of those Super-Dark-Elf-Warriors that kicked Thor’s ass and only died because of Loki using a black hole grenade.  Ultron will be a swarm of robots made out of energy, or just one giant robot.  And Ronan will have a rematch with the Guardians using his massive hammer (maybe have Thor go hammer to hammer with him cause that would be fun).  Same for the other as of yet unknown bad guys.
 
"Okay, just so we are clear... Next step is to cross this over with Star Wars because money isn't going to print itself."
Bonus Prediction: “Avengers Infinity War” parts 1 and 2

            I do have another prediction.  In the comics Thanos has an advisor for how to use the Infinty Stones to greatest effect… The literal devil.  Mephisto, the Lord of Hell sits at Thanos’ right hand Grima Wormtongue style.  Since Mephisto doesn’t exist in the movies at this time I think that part will be played by a different character: LOKI!  Who at one point will try to gain control of the gauntlet, and one of two things will happen.  Either 1) Loki tries to use it but fails because he (as Agent Coulson put it), “Lacks conviction”.  Or 2) Loki actually does save the day and seeks acceptance from the Avengers and Thor specifically as a hero and worthy of being well regarded, which is what Loki has always wanted anyway.


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