It is almost impossible to remember how tragic a place this world is when one is playing golf. ~Robert Lynd
Game: The Golf Club Developer: HB Studios Price: 39.99 Did I Pay For it: No.
Golf is a game of mitigated triumph; a nice drive then a pitch that slices so hard it ends up in the thousand acre wood. Playing the round of your life, only to six putt on the final hole and end up with a score akin to a high powered NFL offense. Phrases like ‘beginners luck’ qualify the good play of newbies, and wind and lie and balance dull the sting of defeat.
So, the last thing a golf videogame needs is a frustrating interface and long loading times – both which serve to rub salt in the wounds of a bad round and break the flow of good one.
The current king of digital golf is Tiger Woods PGA tour. A franchise more omnipresent than spectacularly good. It’s a quality game of golf, sure – but between strange in-air spin, fade, and draw controls, EA’s classic far-too-long loading times, and a lack of any personality have rendered the franchise stale and lacking in a true identity. Lets face it, if the biggest feature of a new release is the option to play as a kid Tiger Woods, something has gone terribly wrong.
The Golf Club, a new, indie, golf game on Xbox One, PS4, and PC solves quite a few of those problems. Save for some first-week server jitters and several annoying bugs, The Golf Club may very well put a dent in the windshield of Tiger Woods’ interactive golf dominance – all for a discounted price of 39.99.
It’s reasonable to think the cheaper price point would result in a lack of polish, and in some areas that’s true. While the graphics are about as pretty as you can expect, golfer customization is bare bones, with several clothing options, but no way to modify the face or hair or girth of your character – which is fine considering you’ll be staring at his backside most of the game. Obviously the developers couldn’t afford Jim Nantz, and instead went with a sardonic, low-key caddy type figure who comments on your shots, sounding like a happier Norm Macdonald. There’s also no licensed golfers or courses present in the game, but thanks to the insanely powerful course creation tool, you’ll be playing on a proper approximation of Pebble Beach in no time.
You’ll also occasionally see graphical glitches, and to my chagrin, aiming a driver shot at a club house results in the ball sailing though like it’s a mirage or hologram, to the point where you could quite possibly end up swinging from inside of the hollowed out geography of a structure.
But those are small caveats as long as the on-the-course stuff feels right, and boy does it ever. Organic is a word that gets thrown around a lot for lots of games, and it fits here, too. Swinging, putting, slicing, lofting, all feel *right* after a touch of a learning curve. Right stick swings, left stick aims, hold a button to adjust loft and fade, one to change clubs, another to change shots, and a shot preview button that gives you a general idea of where the ball would land on a solid thwack.
Explaining this to a non golfer is complicated as you can see above, but put this game in the hands of anyone whose poured 6.50 in a Golden Tee machine or played any Tiger Woods game, and they will find the lack of clutter and straightforward approach refreshing. There’s no putt previews, or tapping a button furiously to ‘power boost’ your drive, and the game is tuned juuuustttttt well enough where after about 10 hours with the game I’m coming in at -3 on familiar courses.
Which is encouraging considering online tournaments and tours are a major component of The Golf Club’s package. If every tournament had a leaderboard of 16 or 17 under pars, not only would the game become something…broken, it’d prevent many players from any serious attempt at tackling (and winning) a tournament. Right now, high scores on courses range from the -6 to -9 under range, which is still inflated, but not outrageously so.
Part of this is due to the complete lack of golfer stats. There’s nothing worse than playing a game online, only to get schooled by folks who simply have more time to pour hours into the game and grind XP, to the point where they’re hitting 400 yard drives and sinking 50 foot putts with ease thanks to their 99 ovr golfer. Here, everyone is on an even playing field, permanently.
The mechanics are great, but the pace is the real showcase. You can play a lot of Golf Club in a relatively short amount of time. Playing an 18 hole round, followed by a 9 hole course, clocked in at a brisk 38 minutes. You’re in and out of holes quickly, with no loading, easily skippable hole introductions and leaderboard updates, and zero unwanted downtime from shot-to-shot. It’s wonderful.
But yeah, about those bugs. For starters, if connected online and disconnected while playing Adhoc with a buddy as a ‘guest’ under your XBLA gamertag, and you’re kicked from the net and bounced back to the main menu, resuming that tournament eliminates your friend and makes it a one-man show. Additionally, the game hardlocked twice, and on one very special night, prevented the second player’s controller from registering any input at all. These are only an issue when playing couch co-op, and I would imagine patches, updates, and server tweaks will render several of these problems moot in the near future.
Regardless, like a punch shot on a steep decline, when it works, it fucking rolls. In and out of a round and a half in under an hour? A round that felt challenging and fair, briskly paced but calming and serene thanks the musical score you half expect Enya to pop up on? And a feeling of confidence in my growing skill to keep me coming back for more even after this review is posted? Sign me up.
If you like Golf games at all, give this a shot. If you’re the kind of person who finds ‘real’ golf games boring, and finds Hot Shots Golf a little too silly, this could be the perfect game for you. It’s simulation of golf, but the stuff that gets in the way – namely the pretension the ‘majesty’, are happily gone in favor of pure golfing bliss. Is it the best golf game of all time? No. That honor goes to Kirby’s dream course or Lee Carvallo’s putting challenge. But it is the most refreshing game of links in quite some time. It’s intuitive and smart, and if you play it, and like a foursome with that a-hole who made you get up at 6am to get to the course early, there’s no going back to how it was.
“Well, there are really only two ways to do it. Think of something that makes you really sad… or forget you’re you and really forget you’re pretending…” – Nick Nolte
It’s possible I was running purely on Mountain Dew (I guess advertising works) when I watched Lesnar vs. Cena at Summerslam about…15 hours ago. By the time it was over, things felt different. Intentional or not, Brock Lesnar finally appeared to ‘get it’. Special attraction or not, there to collect a paycheck or not, mercenary or not, the Brock Lesnar we saw at Summerslam was the Brock Lesnar I’d been waiting for – The Brock Lesnar Steve Austin referred to on his Podcast as what could potentially be if he fully invested in the world of sports entertainment..
This Brock, lording over the conscious corpse of the WWE’s poster boy had a ferocity we hadn’t seen in awhile. Sure, fans believed Brock was a monster, Paul Heyman believed Brock was a monster, and that chair he broke over Big Show’s dome believed he was a monster too, but until last night, I wasn’t sure Brock did. After last night, like Undertaker, Brock is now something more than human.
And if you’ll afford me the opportunity, I’d like you all to hop in my magic school bus as we travel up my own ass, and discuss the craft of acting.
If you regard the poster, you’ll notice two things. First, regardless of what you think of the guy, John Cena looks genuinely concerned for his well being.
Second, you’ll notice Brock Lesnar is clearly attempting to scare a five year old child at a haunted house by making his face look as close to a pumpkin as possible. But if you look into Lesnar’s eyes, they seem…confused, like he isn’t sure what the fruit he’s doing, but someone told him to make a scary face, so here it is. Can I have my check now, please?
And that’s a problem. It’s also a problem in sit-down interviews where Brock is clearly reading, or repeating lines verbatim a producer or writer told him to say like he’s on Total Divas.
I call this “confessional syndrome”. You’ll notice it in early seasons of popular reality shows like Pawn Stars, as the people in it get used to the idea of ‘playing themselves’. There’s the natural stuff, when Rick is negotiating and essentially doing the job he’s had for years, and the ‘storyline’ stuff where you don’t quite believe anything that’s happening, because the folks it’s happening to don’t either. If you want a fantastic example of some terrible reality TV ‘acting’, check out the first season of American Choppers.
If you’d like another example from actual drama, watch The Usual Suspects again and pay attention to Stephen Baldwin; from how he holds gun, to how he says his lines, to how every scene he’s in tries to make him look like a bad ass, but instead he looks like someone trying to ‘act’ tough.
If the people saying their lines don’t believe their lines, or act in an unbelievable way, it shows. And to act well, you need to believe. It’s not so much what you say, but how and why you say it. If you’ve ever listened to a grade school classroom recite The Pledge of Allegiance, they’re all saying it, but not many of em’ care what they’re saying so it feels a little hollow. As Brock Lesnar often did since his return
As a poor man’s example of…serviceable acting, here’s a video I did with a friend for a class she had. I was almost in a bunch of trouble for this thanks to the bathroom part, until my cohort revealed it was all pre-staged.
For whatever reason my friend was capable of reacting realistically to the idea of a crazy person hiding in her bathroom, and I was a believable enough weirdo to the point it’s possible I’d do such a thing, at least enough to make the folks watching seriously question if we were being ‘real’ or not.
If my buddy didn’t ‘act’ freaked out / pissed off / annoyed in a genuine way, and I didn’t let out that really fucking creepy laugh, folks would thought it was a dumb gag. They believed we believed so they weren’t sure if it was real until we told them it wasn’t. I’m not saying we’re good at acting, but I’m confident in saying I’m more believable as the kind of asshole who would play such an annoying prank, than Brock was in his various interviews before Summerslam .
But during Summerslam’s main event, somewhere in the middle of those sixteen German Suplexes Brock gave the human body pillow that used to be John Cena, he ‘got’ it. Look at the eyes again. He’s not contorting his face, he’s not trying to look tough, he is tough and pissed, and triumphant.
He’s no longer ‘playing’ Brock Lesnar: Tough Guy, he is Brock Lesnar: Tough Guy. More importantly, I believed Brock Lesnar believed he was Brock Lesnar: Tough Guy. He just engaged in legalized manslaughter, and came away with barely a hang nail. Before, he looked the part, now he *is* the part.
And what is that part? Undertaker 2.0. Putting aside obvious similarities: a portly manager who does most of the talking when not bowing before him in worship, an imposing frame, and ‘special attraction’ status, the number one thing that allows the WWE to slot Brock Lesnar into the ‘Taker role is that they’re now both supernatural characters.
In different ways of course. If Brock Lesnar ever comes down the Wrestlemania ramp, rolls his eyes back in his head, and removes his hood to the sound of cracking thunder, it’s game over. Brock Lesnar is supernatural in that there has never been a WWE Superstar with a more legitimate ‘real life’ resume.
Of course WWE can’t come out and say “Well you know, Brock actually beat people up whereas we’re just pretending here!”, but for smarks and marks alike, we believe Lesnar can do pretty much whatever the hell he wants to anyone he wants at any point and time, and after the insanity of last night’s match, the question of “Who the f*ck can ‘realistically’ beat this guy?” enters our mind the same way it did with Taker and his Wrestlemania streak.
He’s a real fighter who’s slumming it in the world of sports entertainment, and at Summerslam, Brock finally found a way to channel that “real fighter” mentality into a worked match that resulted in a truly menacing aura – something Dan Severn and Ken Shamrock couldn’t quite figure out. Unlike his first match against Cena at Extreme Rules, where he toyed with Cena like a cat who caught a mouse, at Summerslam, Brock was a killer whale ripping a baby seal apart limb from limb. Finally he’s being portrayed, and is portraying himself as, the brute we always wanted.
Thus, we have a living legend on our hands. Sure, you could argue Jericho and Triple H are still around and are future Hall of Famers, and so is Big Show if we want to be generous, but those three have been on our television and in our faces for years. At this point, they’re family – we know mostly what we’re getting, and that’s tricky because the thing about legends is they’re enigmatic.
We’ll never know if Brock has a real passion for the business, we’ll never know what’s fact and what’s reality as it pertains to his character and backstage personality – he’s protected in a way that allows the WWE and the IWC at large to play with our expectations, just like the Undertaker – whom we *rarely* heard from unless he was ‘in character’. There’s also the idea that the WWE needs Brock more than Brock needs the WWE, and with Heyman legitimately having the ear of Lesnar, I find myself filled with a sense of optimism.
It’s wonderfully exciting, isn’t it? Brock Lesnar is now a other worldly figure in regards to the WWE Universe. Only top stars wrestle him, and only the tippy top stars (or soon to be owners) beat him. His super power doesn’t come from a demonic urn, but instead a dastardly reputation and now – thank God – a truly menacing persona in the ring. When all is said and done, Lesnar may not end up with the same incredible legacy and oodles of respect Taker has, but I don’t care.
“I don’t have a photograph, but you can have my footprints. They’re upstairs in my socks.” – Groucho Marx
My sister grew up the biggest Michael Jackson fan. The weekend she visited me in Chicago, he died. She couldn’t sleep. She loved Jackson, and played his music with pride through the trials and creepy accusations, trusting the art and not the artist, while every person she knew, myself included, would continuously take cheap shots.
Hours after the news broke, we walked down Michigan Avenue and cars rolled by blaring ‘Beat It’, ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’, and other classic Jackson songs. My sister…was annoyed. She liked Jackson when no one else did, and now everyone was back on his bandwagon like they never once called him a pedophile or pervert. It didn’t feel…fair.
But it wasn’t up to my sister to to judge how people took Jackson’s death, just like it’s not up to me to judge how folks react to Robin Williams’, as memes and quotes and ‘best tribute yet’ articles take the place of genuine original thought. So, I thought late Tuesday evening, What can I watch with Williams in it? How can I honor Mr. Williams’ legacy in a way that isn’t typical? I looked at TheFisher King, Awakenings, and our family’s decades old Aladdin, The Bird Cage, and Mrs. Doubtfire VHSes. Then I saw it.
The Popeye movie. One of the first movies I ever watched. My great Grandpa brought it sometime before he died, and was babysitting, so I must have been under 5 years old. I hated it. What a perfect little personal tribute, re-visiting a movie with Robin Williams in it I watched before I even knew who Robin Williams was, before the world even knew who Robin Williams he really was. Surely, this movie would make a bit more sense now that I’ve maturagated.
Well, no. Robert Altman’s 1980 Popeye is…inexplicable, but I’ll try to explain it anyway. As a prelude, here’s Shelly Duvall singing a most remorseful song about Bluto’s sole redeeming quality.
If the name Popeye, or Whimpy, Bluto, Swee’ Pea, and Olive Oyl don’t ring any bells for you, worry not, whipper-snapper, knowledge of the Popeye canon will only serve to make this movie even more baffling than it already is. The setup is a Popeye origin story. Popeye, played by Robin Williams, arrives in town via dinghy in search of his pappy. All he has to go on is a picture frame…which says “my pappy” on it – one of numerous sight gags played totally straight, and it’s accompanied by a heart-wrenching moment as Popeye says if he can’t find his Pappy, worse case scenario they’ll see each other in 30 or so years when they’re both dead.
Popeye rents a room from the Oyl family, and the rest is more or less history. A love triangle (sorta), an abandoned baby, happily paying Tuesday for a hamburger today, spinach, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam,” and so on. The gang’s all here as they say.
But…man is this Popeye movie weird. Not bad weird, but not good weird, either. Picture watching a full grown man in a diaper juggling ostrich eggs on a pogo stick to ‘Oliver!’ soundtrack. You have no idea what the hell is going on, but it’s clear a lot of love and time and care went into creating…whatever it’s supposed to be.
The best way to describe the whole affair would be to imagine if the 1960s
Batman sitcom took itself even the smallest bit seriously. Silly costumes, prat falls, sight gags, sound effects – they’re all present and accounted for, but none of the characters, not a one, wink at the camera to let us know this is a comedy, even as Bluto stalks around a room pulling flowers off a daisy going “She loves me, she loves me not” and pummeling anyone in front of him whenever he lands of “loves me not”. Then Bluto busts out into a song called “I’m mean” and you just kinda go with it. It’s camp without the marshmallows.
But if anyone can own a movie dances the line between comedy, musical, drama, and high-art farce, it’d be Robin Williams. And Williams’ Popeye is…interesting. A great deal of his dialog had to be re-recorded as the microphones couldn’t pick up his kind of low, mumbling, Nick-Nolte-after-a-bender growl, and often times his mouth doesn’t sync up with the audio, resulting in this live action flick having cartoon-esque voice over work that’s kind of hard to hear sometimes.
But when it works, it works. Popeye is a kind man who means well despite his total lack of education. The movie’s most interesting moments feature Popeye standing up for himself or others, and despite routinely butchering the English language – “Another thing I got is a sensk of humiligration. Now, maybe you swabs can pool your intelligensk and sees that I’m axking you for an apologeky.” – his noble spirit shines through loud and clear.
Anytime Popeye subverts the idea of what a ‘tough guy sailor’ should be, it captures a strange kind of magic. Especkially during a boxing match where his foe’s mother is ring-side and Popeye refuses to fight in her presence. The scene is so chaotic and silly and flat out weird, that this subtle gesture results in a busted gut. There’s another tender moment, where Popeye (Or Mr. Eye as the Oyl family refers to him as) reflects on the abandoned baby he and Olive came across – “If I was gonna be Swee’Pea’s mother, I should’ve at least let Olive be his father. Or viska versa. I ain’t man enough to be no mother.”.
Thus, Popeye is not easy. It’s not an action movie, that’s for damn sure, and it’s a strangely subtle comedy considering the insanity of the wardrobe and forearms on display. So, we’re in a territory where I have absolutely no idea what the fuck to think. The characters are nothing if not interesting, the scenery is nothing if not pretty, music nothing if not catchy, and there’s certainly nothing else on God’s green earth like it. There’s also the fact superstar producer Robert Evans got busted trying to buy cocaine on set, and Director Robert Altman spent so much money on building the sets that they forgot to leave room in the budget for believable special effects so the big climatic fight at the end feels a little..flaccid, which is to say the story behind the movie is just as bizarre as the movie itself.
Popeye Village still stands in Malta.
Aside from whether or not Popeye is ‘good’, the message it communicates absolutely is. The message? A person need not be intelligent to be a good person. Nor do they need to be articulate to be polite, or educated to be smart. They need not be well balanced or large or rich or pay for their meals. They need to mean well, and do well for others when they can, and that’s all you can really hope for in another soul. Like the late Robin Williams, “Popeye” the character and Popeye the movie are enigmatic. They’re all surface level cartoons, larger than life, silly, and maybe you only understand about half of what’s coming out of their mouths and a third of what’s turning the gears behind the curtain. Regardless, there’s a zen-like simplicity to Popeye and his “I am what I am” mantra. We are who we are, and that’s all that we are, but unfortunately, for many of us, that’s not enough.
I played ‘Journey’ yesterday. It’s a platforming game on the PS3, focused on visual beauty and abstract emotions, kind of like porno. While there are very few specifics about who you are, or where you are, you do, in a sense, know where you’re going. I mean, whatever your culture, you get the gist of what ‘toward the light’ means, ya know?
It’s a Hornswoggle short game, but upon beating it, I found myself filled with a warmth I’m pretty sure wasn’t pee. You know how when you hear a song with no lyrics it still makes you feel…things? That’s Journey. You don’t know why, but without a single line of dialog, it reaches out and touches you like that time at Summer Camp.
As I continue to tackle the mountain of movies I haven’t seen as a proper adult, I’m gravitating to the unique, visually interesting, or foundational – Like Journey is. Casablanca, The Good The Bad and the Ugly, and more modern movies that transform a camera lens into a portal to impossible sights and unexpected thoughts are the word of the day. I’d rather watch a flawed movie like Ender’s Game over something like ‘Primal Fear’ which is a more profound movie, but ultimately kind of flat in the visuals department. Big Fish entertained me more than Good The Bad and The Ugly, even though Ugly is clearly the more important and ‘better’ film.
Thus, presented for your dada-esque entertainment, another selection of movies seen by me in the past couple of weeks. Lets get started.
Guardians Of The Galaxy
Director: James Gunn
Run Time: 122 minutes
‘Well, on my planet, we have a legend about people like you. It’s called Footloose. And in it, a great hero, named Kevin Bacon, teaches an entire city full of people with sticks up their butts that, dancing, well, is the greatest thing there is.’ – Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, ‘Guardians Of the Galaxy’ Southeastern Massachusetts is not a hotbed for comic nerdom. In 2013 I attended the ‘Avengers’ marathon in a packed theater in Chicago, and a few months later attended a “Dark Knight Rises” marathon near my hometown, and there were seven people total.Yet within an instant of buying my ticket, there was a strange energy surrounding Guardians of the Galaxy.
I’ve never seen so many ‘admit ones’ in my life. This means we were all pencil-necked geeks with no life, hoping to get a gleam at Zoe Saldana’s perky gamoras, or we believed so hard in the Marvel Cinematic universe, we chose the closest, crappiest theater, one that still had ‘Ride Along’ standees in the lobby and a “Carnevil” arcade game charging 75 cents…erm, ‘3 tokens’ a play, to show our support.
And my Thanos, was our faith rewarded. Guardians Of The Galaxy is a ribald, silly, and ultimately warm space adventure that feels a bit like Star Wars had a baby with a Disney animated movie.
Our Guardians are Star Lord / Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt who brings a nonchalant but cocksure vibe to the role. There’s a lot of Han Solo and Mal from Firefly in his character. Abducted from Earth in the 1980s as an adolescent, his most precious possession is a walkman and tapes of classic pop songs his mother made for him before dying of cancer. In fact, it’d make sense if he modeled most of his adult ‘persona’ on Solo considering his frame of reference.
There’s Rocket Raccoon and Groot, who give off a strange “Of Mice and Men” vibe if Lenny was allowed to be willingly violent and George was…a raccoon. Rocket is great, and Groot steals the show multiple times, yet again adding another notch in Vin Diesel’s belt of awesome performances where he has less than a page or two of true dialog (see also: The Iron Giant).
Then there’s Drax, played by Grandpa Dave with a deliberate earnestness. His character is reeling from the death of his wife and child, and revenge is on his mind. He also has trouble with metaphor, which results in a bevy of creative one liners and gags. Imagine if Spock had an anger problem and an HGH prescription, and you’ll get the idea here. Zoe Saldana adds green to her color-coded career, after Avatar blue and Star Trek Red, and is a perfectly serviceable straight man to the surrounding cast of crooks, losers, and fauna.
The cast has great chemistry, especially when you consider two of our Guardians are computer generated voodoo. How this group of misfits grows together and eventually fights and cares for one another I’ll leave for the movie to explain, but it’s worth noting that it never felt forced, the characters bicker and annoy each other for a majority of the run time, and the antagonism is great fun.
The plot is complex, and involves all manner of Macguffiny names and objects and characters, but the casual chatter between the characters and rapid fire gags keep everything from feeling self important or exposition heavy.Even if you’re not invested in things like the infinity stones, Thanos, or credit cookies, you’ll have a great time here based soley on how well this cast plays off each other – to the point where you almost bemoan the fact it’s an action movie with space battles.
A little thing about action movies; Generally speaking you’ll have 2-3 ‘set pieces’ per action flick. Iron Man 1: The escape from prison, the Iron Man flying around taking care of business bit, and then the big fight with Iron Monger. The Incredible Hulk: The fight in the factory, the fight outside of the university, and then the big showdown with Abomination. This is the language of action cinema, and while Marvel is many things, they are not in the business of breaking the mold regarding how action movies are structured and escalate.
And while the action falls into familiar tropes of escaping a prison or saving a planet or assaulting a space station, at least they’re done in a left-of-center way that makes them pop. James Gunn has his roots in indie cinema, and happily subverts cliches while at the same time delivering some great action movie visuals, like a sequence where Star Lord ventures into the bleakness of space to save a character he isn’t even sure likes him. Interesting is the fact this scene works. A moment ago he was mumbling about Footloose, and now, bathed in the vastness of space, he looks like an actual action movie hero.
The above scene (and many more) because the movie is flat-out funny. There’s gags and pop culture references galore, and it’s easier to make you cry for someone after you’ve laughed with them. By not taking itself very seriously, and making us laugh so hard, this flick ends up getting you in the feelings quite a few times, mostly because we didn’t expect to be got there at all. You will feel true empathy for Rocket, Groot, Drax, Gamora, and Quill, and will likely relate to them all in personal ways, too. At one time or another, haven’t we all felt like an alien amongst our people?
I find myself forgetting that these Marvel movies are for kids too. Sitting in that theater, giggling out loud at the ballad of the great hero Kevin Bacon with a group of 60 admit ones, feeling sad for Rocket, or mouthing “What..the.fuck..?” uncontrollably every time Drax opened his mouth, made me feel like a kid, I can’t imagine actually being one, and how wide open my mind would be blown.
If I was 10, or 11, or 12, seeing this movie would have been foundational to my personhood. It’s silly, sweet, edgy, poppy, and above all else, actively wholesome – It would be the movie I’d play with friends while running around the back yard, arguing about who got to be Star Lord and wear my dad’s leather jacket, tasking the tallest kid to stick some twigs in his hair to be Groot, and arranging the chairs on the front deck like the cock pit of The (Alyssa) Milano.
I’d hate to be JJ Abrams right now, because I think Guardians just out Star Warsed, Star Wars. ——————————-
Director: James Gunn
Runtime: 96 minutes
A lot of folks probably haven’t heard of, or blew off, James Gunn’s indie film Super. Super follows Rainn Wilson’s religious Frank, a well meaning but weird (and he knows it) fellah whose Wife, played by Liv Tyler, leaves him for a drug dealer played by Kevin Bacon. After mourning, and a feeble attempt to get her back, a vision of God and his friendly tentacle helpers cut Frank’s head open and touch his brain with apparently devout power.
He decides to become a superhero, and we’re off to the races. If by some chance you have seen the trailer, you’re probably thinking of it as a farce and a knock off of 2010’s Kick Ass. It’s not. This is Taxi Driver in Spandex.
Early in the film a young Frank is whipped by his dad for having naughty pictures of Heather Locklear under his bed, because it wasn’t right in the eyes of God. This scene explicitly details how Frank could become a person mentally unbalanced enough to put on a red suit and hit people in head violently the name of justice and God.
Super is profound in that it works on several levels. As a new-moon dark comedy, character study, and yes, superhero movie too. There are creative and brutally realistic action sequences, but perhaps the most surprising level is one of poignancy. If Guardians of The Galaxy is warm and wholesome, Super is understated and painfully somber. We feel for Frank and understand him.
See, Frank is very binary. Whether you’ve killed, or cut in line, or dealt drugs, you’re getting the same punishment; a pipe wrench to the skull. You’re either in the wrong, or you’re not. There’s no degrees, no slaps on the wrist, and as Frank says, “The rules were written a long time ago, they do not ever change” – we just assume certain rules are more breakable than others. Frank does not.
He’s clearly a mental case, but an understandable one. By the end of the movie, after everything has resolved itself, you’re left feeling the kind of peace that gets caught up in your throat as you try desperately not to say something retarded like “that was beautiful,”.
Because Frank and the other characters are unbalanced and flawed, and the fact that this movie is, well, a movie and not a franchise, I found myself caring for the fate of everyone. In Batman you never felt Batman was in any real danger. You really think they’ll knock of Spider-Man anytime soon? Here, all bets are off and there is no smart money.
I loved this film, and I loved Rainn Wilson in it. Director James Gunn takes us into the nitty gritty of a well intentioned sociopath who thinks being a super hero is a good idea, and when Wilson takes on a side-kick, who is equally as crazy, played by Ellen Page (who does a truly frightening maniacal laugh) you get a sinking feeling these folks are not long for this world.
Special mention goes to the music and score, and the ‘two perfect moments’ theme that runs throughout the movie is uplifting, serene, and the kind of melody you hear in your head when pondering the life, universe, and everything. Two Perfect Moments
Anyway, if you’re looking for something a little insidious that pairs well with psychological study or a big fat pound of existentialism, this is for you. It’s an adult movie for adults about the fine line between nobility and insanity. No tie-ins, no action figures, no happy meals. This isn’t a franchise, it’s a film, and a damn good one at that.
Big Fish (2003)
‘And what I recall of Sunday school was that the more difficult something became, the more rewarding it was in the end.’
Big Fish is essentially ‘It’s A Wonderful Life” if none of that bad stuff ever happened to George Bailey, and Frank Capra dropped acid watching The Wizard Of Oz, then made a movie right after. It’s the story of a son who’s attempting to make heads and/or tails of his Dad, who has a habit of telling a story about his life, then expanding it in a way that is seemingly impossible. He tells tall tales. Big fish stories, if you will.
But really the plot is just a setup for awesome vignettes, all delivering an old-fashioned earnestness that harkens back to simpler times that never really were. There’s a scene where Ewan McGregor ganders at a girl at a circus. Their eyes meet in the crowd, time slows down, and in a flash, she’s gone. He falls instantly in love with this woman in the way we were told it would happen, but rarely does.
What follows is a series of events that would make anyone’s heart grow three sizes that day. To a bright smile juxtaposed elephant poop, to a field filled with a sea of bright yellow daffodils, to a monologue that is so sweet it gives you cavities, to a fist fight McGregor refuses to take part in because ‘he made a promise’, Big Fish becomes movie Synethesia.
Synesthesia causes your brain to correlate sounds into shapes, colors, and patterns, you see. It’s nature’s Winamp visualizer, and only one in two thousand people have the right hardware to run it. This movie does the same thing, but it goes from your eyes and ears to your soul. On the surface this means the flick wants to make you feel sad, or excited, or scared, but there’s an involuntary element, too.
There’s no telling what specific sliver of your psyche a powerful scene will slam into windshield of your mental dashboard. In this case, the scenes involving this grand romance will remind you of the one who got away, or the one you caught and held onto.
Big Fish is great at doing this kind of thing, all the while never explaining its motivations, so everything is ambiguous enough to keep you guessing. Is Spectre a metaphor for heaven or hell? Does it matter? Does it matter if the stories real as long as the morals are?
And God help you if you’ve lost a parent at any point in your life, getcyha tissues ready. By the end of the flick you never do get the answers to the questions the movie asks, but that’s okay. In this case, the questions let your imagination fly high and wide, and answers would only bring you back to boring, bland, droll, reality.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
“Though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation.”
If for some bizarre reason you wanted a window into the kind of thing me thinks is sexy, look toward the scene above, in which three ‘sirens’ sing an old Irish lullaby and prowl toward the three protagonists of O Brother, Where Art Thou, drenched in water and bathed in sultry allure. If everything but my voice hadn’t already hit puberty, the sequence depicted in the above picture would have kicked it through.
For the past week or so, my subconscious has barnacled itself to this scene, and this movie. The acting, the music, and the dialog. Especially the dialog, as characters talk in a southern-fried poetic verse. It’s fitting a movie based on an epic poem (Homer’s Odyssey) is written in this tense. The whole endeavor is an LP in movie form. Like an album, it stirs your emotions without being specific, with the poetic nature of the dialog allowing for some wonderful lines that would only make sense in such tense, including my favorite, “They desecrated a burning cross!”, which is a turn of phrase worthy of celebration.
Because the dialog and images and motions of the movie are unfamiliar, they’re more stark when you see them. Even if you don’t like this movie, you have to admit there’s nothing else quite like it. As a bonus it serves as a great gateway to getting into old works that may be a little…tricky on the ears. It may take a moment to parse the accents and the vernacular, but once you do, you’re treated to some sparkling exchanges. Even better, if you can get into how cool this movie sounds, I would suggest running to your closest theater company that specializes in Shakespeare and take in a show.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
There are two kinds of people in the world, my friend: Those with a rope around the neck, and the people who have the job of doing the cutting.
At one point I found myself in the mood for an old movie. I gave The Thomas Crown Affair a shot and disliked it quite a bit after sitting through the whole thing waiting for a payoff that never came and sitting through Faye Dunaway’s ‘acting’, and figured the mother of all westerns would be a nice change of pace.
And that it was. I’ll avoid getting into an argument about iconography here, but I will say the impact of the whole ‘dollars’ trilogy on our world is too massive to quantify, especially the music, which has been heard in so many different places I didn’t even know it was from *this* movie until watching it.
Specific mention who goes to Clint, and seeing this flick is sort of like seeing the genesis point for literally every stoic action protagonist ever. Snake Plissken, Aiden from Watch_Dogs, Spike from Cowboy Bebop, and on and on and on and on and on.
If you take all that extra-textual stuff away and survey it as a regular movie, it’s pretty good, but a bit dated, and really long. Both of which are fine with me. I enjoy movies that are ‘epic’ and good and ‘different’, and this got me itching to see Lawrence of Arabia again, and put Patton in my Netflix Queue.
The finale of the movie is a classic stand off with a twist for the ages, too, and worth the ride alone if you’re into seeing foundational films that are great in their own right.
Coming Soon: Casablanca / Enders Game / Face/Off / Now You See Me / Thor: The Dark World / Desperado / Jackie Brown / Reservoir Dogs / Dusk Til Dawn / Pulp Fiction / Inglorious Basterds / Death Proof / Django Unchained / In Brughes / No Country For Old Men / The Fifth Element / Zodiac / Kill Bill Vol. 1 / Kill Bill Vol. 2 /Apocalypse Now / Pain & Gain / The Talented Mr. Ripley / Das Boot / The Fan / The Departed
You can’t tell in the photo, but within moments of the picture on the left being taken, the right back leg of the chair I was in collapsed under my own weight, and I spent the night passed out in a three-legged chair. It was not a proud moment. It was 5 months after high school graduation.
The photo on the right was taken 20 minutes before a date with a very lovely girl with a degree in environmental sciences and an affinity for adventures and cheesy movies and third base. It was a day in which I displayed a confidence I didn’t know I had.
For a time I was bad with that confidence. I had more energy and thereby took on more responsibility at work, I was churning out a novel’s worth of writing content for WhatCulture and got burnt out right quick, and happened into a couple of romantic relationships with women who lived pretty far away. Those romantic relationships turned into romantic dinners, turned into popcorn at the movie theater, turned into skipping my workout to go spend 40 minutes getting cardio in a different way, if you get what I’m sayin’.
Thus, what I call being a hopeless romantic, and what medical professionals refer to as a serious chemical imbalance, has pros and cons. When I fall for something, I fall hard. Pulp Fiction blows my mind? I watch everything Tarantino did within a week. Pretty girl asks me out? I’m half ready to propose on the spot. But with a snap of the fingers the shine comes off the apple.
And then…I was hired at a clothing model.
About three and a half months into my DDP Yoga adventure, I was hired (presumably by a blind person) to wear and model fat guy clothes to the tune of 25 dollars an hour, and all the polo shirts I could eat. This isn’t why I stopped, but it was a good an excuse as any to not continue.
My daily yoga went from every other daily yoga, to changing the workout from the longer, more intense “Energy” workout to the easier and shorter “Red Hot Core”. All the mostly healthy choices I made turned into ‘some’ healthy choices, and I found myself at Wendy’s eating a god damn delicious Pretzel Pub Chicken sandwich I swore I’d never eat again…with a large Dr. Pepper.
It was a dark time. I fell out of DDP Yoga the same way a hung person falls out of their boxers – I was flopping around feeling like the world’s biggest dick before I knew it. People complimented me on the weight loss while I was buying junk food from Wal~Mart. People added me on Facebook based on the previous two DDP Yoga entries here, and I preached what I lapsed in practicing.
Then, two things happened about a month ago. First, I read Scott Hall no-showed an event. Whether or not it had anything at all to do with his various demons and shenanigans, it hit me a bit. My entire life I’ve been very…cyclical. I like something, get into it, get out of it, then never go back. I did not want to be one of these people again. If I couldn’t work my creative muscles, I would work my actual ones.
Second, a friend of mine who was doing a “Couch to 5k” stopped the program, and upon asking her about it, she said she felt like a big poop for stopping. “Well,” I said, “The only thing that would stop you from feeling like a big poop would be to start again, right?” She smiled at these words of encouragement.
And in a rare moment of someone actively taking their own good advice, just like that, I was back on the wagon. Energy every day. On days I was sore or busy, Red Hot Core. I was on fire. I worked and worked, mixed Yoga with golfing and hiking, and other physical activities I never liked, but now found myself at least…serviceable at, and actually enjoying my ‘active’ lifestyle.
I don’t know what my modeling boss is going to say when they see there is far less of me than last time, but hey, if I get to hear “You’re too skinny!” for the first time in my life, it’ll be worth it.
I weighed myself for the first time in months, and found I was hovering at a nice, odd, 270.8 pounds, down 20 pounds from the last time I stepped on the scale, and down quite a bit more from my all-time high water mark of 320 pounds. I put on a shirt I knew was too tight on me when I was in college, and low-and-behold, it fit wonderfully. I took the photo you see above, and posted on the DDP Yoga Facebook page because if you can’t tell by now, I crave attention like a commanding officer entering the barracks.
I was greeted with the following message a few hours later:
It’s entirely possible this was some sort of form letter, but regardless, as far as encouragement goes, I couldn’t ask for more. And encouraged I am. Back on the horse, feeling good, having waded through a valley that I rarely come out of when it pertains to health and fitness.
So, why did I stop? Why does anyone stop? That I can’t tell you. I can tell you people don’t start again because it’s scary. We only see before and after photos because the middle is murky. We’re told the best way to get back on the horse is to simply get back up on it. But the problem is the horse just threw you off its back like a sack of potatoes.
It’s not getting back on the horse, it’s the fear the horse can throw you off again that sucks. It’s the worry that all the hard work, and tough choices, may not pay off, even though they clearly have, so why bother continuing to make them? 90 percent of the game is half mental. Unfortunately for fat folks, those lacking in confidence, and people who are terrified a work out will leave them behind and feeling fatter than ever, the mental element is the trickiest part to conquer. In my most private moments, I look in a mirror and despite my better posture, loose clothes, real biceps, and healthy complexion, still feel like the guy who got dumped for a lesbian at a sophomore Halloween dance.
But that’s what photos are for. That’s what scales are for. For the first time, ever, suddenly the scale in my laundry room is a comfort. I look at the photo of myself in that Foodler shirt – which I used to wear under all my clothes and tuck into my underwear to make me appear skinnier, and marvel at loose it fits. I tried on a shirt I bought in 8th grade, and it fit. When your mind plays tricks on you, rely on the facts.
The Mirror has…5 faces.
And the facts are as they have always been. There are no secrets. There are no cheat codes. There’s hard work. And that’s scary because working hard on something only to fail is petrifying enough to stop you before you even get started. But DDP Yoga is a good kind of hard work. If you can find 20 minutes a day and a DVD player, and read the booklet, and will yourself, come hell or high water, to do it? You’ll be blown away by the changes. But God, you gotta keep at it, because if you stop after seeing what it does for you, it’s impossible to live with yourself.
In the words of REO Speedwagon, if you’re tired of the same old story, well baby, turn some pages. In this case, Diamond Dallas Pages.
“It’s unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same.”
After May and June, months where I wrote about 60 thousand words, I was pooped. Kaput. I had ideas and thoughts and topics I could write about, but they were weak, listless, and got jumbled up somewhere between my brain, arms, fingers, and keyboard.
So for the first time in a long time I said fuck this being a writer thing foe a minute, got a big ole bag of shrooms, and spent all my free time watching every movie I could get my dilated pupils and rapidly growing and shrinking and breathing hands on.
5 days and 30 movies later, I was a new man. I discovered filmmakers I disregarded, re-discovered movies I had seen as a kid but never understood, and studied any detail I could. This wasn’t a vacation, it was meditation. Picture someone stranded in the desert with tattered clothes, coming across a can of soda, popping it, drinking it, and making that “Ahhhhhhh” sound of refreshment. That was me.
I was watching to enjoy, not review – but I am who I am, so here I am anyway to tell you about why you should see these flicks if you can. The first batch of movies I watched were 90s flicks. Maybe it’s the lack of CGI, maybe it’s the idea that an ‘action’ movie back in those days weren’t all slam-bam action epics, and maybe it’s because I grew up hearing about all these movies as a kid, and wanted to go check them out as an adult.
Thus presented for your apathy are interesting takeaways from the first portion of my fungi-infused sojourn. I hope you enjoy.
I’ll Do Anything (1994)
Before “As Good As It Gets” James L. Brooks made this movie. This movie,”I’ll Do Anything” was initially filmed as a big-budget musical before test audiences reacted with such vitriol he axed the musical numbers and re-wrote a bunch of scenes.
This sounds like a recipe for disaster, but instead what you get is a movie with the whimsy of a musical, where characters are a bit more animated, a bit more eccentric, monologue often with wonderful results, and the score feels like a carnival.
For starters, this flick was written by James L. Brooks who had his hands in ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ and ‘The Simpsons’, and a bunch of other TV properties too. Regarding ‘The Simpsons’, it turns out the episode Brooks had the most to do with, creativly, was the “Lisa’s Substitute” episode If you’re seen it, you know he knows his way around a joke as much as he does a tender moment.
The plot concerns a struggling actor who through a series of circumstances ends up responsible for his daughter, and is woefully unprepared to be a full time father. He eventually ends up dealing with a big time movie exec played by Albert Brooks, gets involved with the ‘who the HELL is that foxy lady’ Joely Richardson, who toward the end delivers an emotional reaction to a certain character’s actions that deserves wild praise.
And then we have Nan, played by Marge Simpson herself, Julie Kraver. Kraver is damn brilliant in this movie, and she is worth the price of admission alone. It’s impossible to find clips from this movie online for some reason, so here’s some choice dialog from her character:
Matt Hobbs: (asking Nan about moving from Washington DC to Hollywood) Washington, boy, that must have been a big adjustment.
Nan Mulhanney: It wasn’t that bad. Both places have a lot in common: Over-privileged people, crazed by their fear of losing their privileges. Alcoholism. Addiction. Betrayal. The near total degradation of what once were grand motives. The same spiritual blood-letting. I kind of do miss the seasons, though.
Burt: Wanna have a little sex?
Nan: You know, I’ve never hung up on anyone in my life. Because what if the next thing they said solved everything? But I feel I must end this conversation.
Burt: That’s “no”? Hello…?
Anyway, if you’re looking for a surpsingly warm and silly and laugh-out-loud hilarious movie that’s right up the alley of film buffs – including a wonderful scene that explains how ‘acting’ works in a way that makes total sense, I’d seek this one out. If you have Comcast On Demand you should be able to find it under the “MoviePlex” premium channel.
Shroom Thought: The fact this movie isn’t more popular is a travesty, and I must now Tattoo Nick Nolte’s mug shot on my body. —–
Out of Sight (1998)
“It’s like seeing someone for the first time, and you look at each other for a few seconds, and there’s this kind of recognition like you both know something. Next moment the person’s gone, and it’s too late to do anything about it.”
I caught this movie on Crackle, which is kind of like the Salvation Army Thrift Store of movie apps. As a kid I remember this flick getting previewed over and over again on the guide channel, using words like slick and steamy and sexy.
For what it’s worth, I generally dislike ‘sexy’ movies. In much the same way a strip club is an expensive way to get an unusable boner, a movie featuring a lot of soft-glow love scenes feels like a good way to feel like sleezeball in front of strangers. If I want to watch people having sex, I want to watch them having sex for real, presumably on a porno site, not pretending to have sex. So when stuff on Showtime or HBO has that mandated 2-3 minutes of boobage you’ll see in pretty much any of their shows, I’ll roll my eyes.
It’s not that sex in movies is bad, it’s just sex for the sake of sex is bad. In a movie like Jackie Brown, the lone sex scene is played for laughs and conveys something about the characters, instead of conveying naked bodies to the eyeballs of the audience.
So when I say that ‘Out of Sight’ is one of the coolest, sexiest, slickest movies I’ve seen in quite some time, I mean it. The plot features a professional bank robber, prison escape, and diamond heist, but is more about the moment to moment energy of the characters. The way they talk, the way they act, how they zag when we expect them to zig.
I’m reminded of something billionaire philanthropist Montgomery Burns said, about how in his day the starlets could tantalize the audience by simply raising a finger or showing a little leg. Here, all it takes a trunk, a little red lighting, and a conversation between Clooney and Lopez that’s weird, esoteric, and forces a smile on your face like you’re watching something you shouldn’t.
In addition to the trunk portion of the flick, there are two scenes, the opening bank robbery, and another involving a ‘date’ between Jennifer Lopez’s character and George Clooney that belong in “That was so fucking cool!” wing of the library of Congress.
You can watch this movie, for free, right now, and quite frankly, it may be the most fun two hours you have all week.
Shroom Thought: Hey, is Michael Keaton playing the same character from Jackie Brown?! (He was!) —-
Crimson Tide (1995)
Yeah, horses’re fascinating animals. Dumb as fence posts but very intuitive. In that way they’re not too different from high school girls: they may not have a brain in their head but they do know all the boys want to fuck ’em.
Crimson Tide is what I like to call a TNG movie. When Star Trek tossed the science with the 09 reboot, a little part of me was sad. I grew up fascinated by the inner workings of the Enterprise, specifically the Enterprise-D and getting into the nitty gritty of how all the fictional systems functions. Crimson Tide does a lot of the same things, replacing a space ship with a submarine, and fictional techno babble with, well, real techno babble. If you’re the kind of person inclined to watch a movie because you like a good story, AND you like to know how something foreign and complicated works a bit better, Crimson Tide is one of those ‘entertaining and unintentionally educational’ flicks. The recent ‘Captain Phillips’ was a lot like this too – showing us a lot about how a giant barge and its crew actually functions and works, so when stuff goes haywire, we understand the hows and whys.
Of course that’s just a potato bread bun surrounding the beefy acting of Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman, both good men acting in what they believe to be the best interest of their country, and their duty to the Navy. The tension between the two is like a tea kettle. It boils over, simmers, and after the dust settles both men realize the other was only doing their job to the best of their ability.
This is a wonderful thriller and great fun to watch with parents or loved ones who don’t like hyper violence or intense vulgarity. There’s also some great talking points to pull out of the flick if you’re looking for them. But even if you’re not rest assured you don’t need to look very hard to enjoy this movie a great deal.
Shroom Thought: I wonder if modern day Submarines get good Wifi? —-
A Serious Man (2009)
“…with the right perspective you can see Hashem, you know, reaching into the world. He is in the world, not just in shul. It sounds to me like you’re looking at the world, looking at your wife, through tired eyes. It sounds like she’s become a sort of… thing… a problem… a thing..”
There’s a girl I’ve known for about a decade now who is essentially a big yellow light. We’ll go to a salmon run, watch the fish, and she’ll sit a bit away from me, then message me the next day saying I should have kissed her. A few months later I’ll suggest we go look at the stars in a field and smoke hookah, and she’ll decline, only to text me the next day saying how beautiful the sky was and wondering if I saw it.
I *hate* yellow lights. Which is a problem, because A Serious Man is essentially Yellow Light the movie. There are no real answers to the biggest questions, and you can either soldier through crises or become paralyzed trying to make concrete sense of it all. Either way, you’ll never know.
This is a two paragraph way of saying fuck those cock-teasing Cohen brothers.
With due respect, of course. Normally I can understand when a movie is good and not my cup of tea, or bad but enjoyable. But for whatever the Cohen brothers are laying down, I’m not picking up. On the first try at least. The Cohen’s make me feel like a moron. I haven’t seen their entire catalog, but what I have seen has always left me with a “huh? Did I miss something?”.
The Cohens remind me of the Hemmingway short story ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ about a couple waiting on the train tracks on their way to get an abortion or on their way back from one. Nothing is every directly communicated about the abortion and the schism in their relationship, but the characters, prose, and construction of the story make it clear what they’re upset about, even though you’re never told with 100 percent certainly.
And while I appreciate the sentiment, life has enough uncertainties as it is. ‘A Serious Man’ is about a man in a crisis of faith and confidence, as every one of those uncertainties break in the worse possible way. It’s ultimately a bleakly dark comedy with moments of gentle insight and understanding. There’s a scene involving an elder Rabbi, a tape recorder, a stoned boy on his Bar Mitzvah, and a surprising display of respect for Jefferson Airplane that touches the soul like an unexpected compliment from your company’s CEO.
Still the movie requires studiousness to understand and find fully enriching, and it may not hurt to have someone well versed in religion to ask questions of, depending on your ability to pick up on the definitions of things based on context.
Regardless, the sign of a great movie is that you’re thinking about it days after you’ve seen it, as I have. I don’t know what to think, but I like that its making me think regardless. I’d check it out.
Shroom Thought: I think having an Italian mom is like having a Jewish mom except you eat better and she has a mustache.
Coming Soon: Desperado / Jackie Brown / Reservoir Dogs / Dusk Til Dawn / Pulp Fiction / Inglorious Basterds / Death Proof / Django Unchained / In Brughes / No Country For Old Men / The Fifth Element / Zodiac / Kill Bill Vol. 1 / Kill Bill Vol. 2 /Apocalypse Now / Pain & Gain /
“Horror. Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and mortal terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.” – Walter E. Kurtz, Apocalypse Now
There are people who like horror movies and games, and those who don’t. Those who don’t develop a utility belt’s worth of ways to avoid looking at the screen when a jump scare or gross-out fest is imminent. This is not a good thing. It’s always better to open up our closets, check for monsters, and actually find one, than it is to leave the door shut and let your imagination churn through irrational fears and paralyzing contradictions for eternity.
Making a ‘friend’ of horror doesn’t make horror any less scary, just real. Understandable. Quantifiable. You can take action upon it. A lump on your left testicle is terrifying, a lump on your testicle that’s cancer is terrifying as well, but comes with a plan of action and some level of understanding of what’s in store for your twig and berries.
Which brings us to Outlast on Xbox One, a horrifying first person game taking place in a ‘haunted’ insane asylum, with a deliberate “Blair Witch Project” aesthetic thanks your character’s trusty handy cam. Some down-right horrid shit happens at Mount Massive Asylum and by the time the game is over or you quit, you’ll be up to your eyebrows in it.
You are Miles Upshur, a freelance journalist tipped off about strange happenings at this mental hospital by an anonymous source referred to as ‘The Whistleblower’. The setting seems a little cliched, but the game’s atmosphere and story is presented with a deft touch. Succinct, well written notes and memos from various employees and patients fill in the margins while major characters will haunt you in person, flick lights off and on, and generally terrify you in classic horror game style.
A good portion of the story involves inhumane studies done on the inmates on lucid dreaming and the power our unconscious mind has over our waking thoughts.Imagine how crazy you’d be if you woke up one day to find the actions you carried out in your most private of nightmares really happened. Imagine if you didn’t know when you were dreaming or when you were awake, then imagine you’re being manipulated by people supposedly trying to help ‘cure’ whatever mental illness you supposedly have.
Playing Outlast is a vulnerable experience filled with escalating apprehension. Your only real tool is a camcorder with a night vision mode that depletes the battery quickly. The camera is also used to highlight missions objectives and interactive objects, and recording specific events unlock little bits of exposition from your character.
This mechanic works in conjunction with various sliding, climbing, and jumping skills your character has, and while things never turn into a first person Mario Bros. you’ll be surprised how mobile Miles Upsur turns out to be.
He is not a very skilled fighter however, and there is no combat in Outlast. Step out of a hiding spot too early? Dead meat. Peek through a door (you can open doors fast or slow, actually) and make eye contact with a crazy person? Run for your life. If you get grabbed by a wandering inmates, you can fight them off by mashing a few buttons, but otherwise the game plays up its Blair Witch Project vibe and features a lot of running away and hiding from things you saw or heard and hoping they go away.
You will see and hear many things, and they will look great. Especially from the POV of that there camera. It’s surprising the whole ‘found footage’ thing hasn’t been done in gaming, especially since it works so well here. Being in a pitch dark room, turning on the camera’s night vision, and finding yourself greeted face-to-face with something you didn’t want to see – and never want to see again, is a common occurrence If you like horror games, this is awesome. If you hate them, it makes you want to stop playing.
Outlast uses Unreal Engine 3.5 which blasts you in the face with awesome lighting affects. Light beams through a window and casts shadows on rotating, hung, corpses, there are faint blue glows from computer monitors and busted televisions – the game is a marvel to look at in the dark, light, or greenish hue of night vision.
With the beauty also comes a narrative richness. Outlast gets points for the lucid dreaming stuff because it’s a real thing. The mysteries of what we dream about and why are endless, and the fascinating nature of lucid dreaming – I.E the idea that you have full control over the reality your mind presents you while in a dream, generates questions and ideas and thoughts that can exist outside the game. It’s kind of like how Casino makes you want to learn how Vegas ‘really’ works, or how The West Wing could inspire you to be a politician or a lawyer or Jewish. Outlast prompts you to explore the stuff it’s talking about in a way not many other horror games do.
And many times diving into that stuff is as terrifying as the game itself. Which is to say America’s treatment of the mentally ill is…not great. Here’s a taste of what went on in my home town in the 60s. ‘Insane’ people were locked away, treated like dogs, poked, prodded, bullied and disregarded. A quote from the above link? “One “paranoid” patient, told he has shown no improvement, argues that the prison is making him worse, not better. This sounds like the simple truth, and the film leaves us with the impression that institutions like Bridgewater are causing mental illness, not curing it.”
It’s also entirely possible I’m the only person on the planet who got to pondering about how to lucid dream, and the crappy shit we do to crazy people after playing Outlast. Regardless, it’s here if you wanna look for it, and what you’ll find is fascinating and soul-wrecking.
Also here is a really good, definitely scary horror game that does some new things well, and the stuff we’ve seen before done pretty good, too. The story is full of extractable nuggets about a variety of things, including a character obsessed with this thing:
Outlast is game I would never buy. When I put that “Did I pay for it” thing up there a few reviews back, it wasn’t to show off and say “look at all the free shit I get” while wagging my internet dick in your face, it was to provide perspective. I would have never played Outlast unless it was sent to me, nor would I have dove into lucid dreaming, the history of insane asylums, or learned what in the blue hell that creature above this paragraph is.
Did Outlast change my mind? Would I buy it now? Probably not. It’s so good at doing the things it sets out to do, I didn’t ‘enjoy’ it. I’ve never found the fun in being spooked and terrified. Paying money for long stretches or apprehension that are paid off by bursts of true shock and terror, is not my cup of tea. Regardless of Kurtz’s quote, Life has enough horrors to befriend on its own, I don’t need my entertainment to provide them in bulk.
But I’m also not the kind of asshole to say that just because I don’t like something, it objectively sucks. Everyone has their taste, and clearly Horror is a popular choice for many people. In which case you could argue that the fact Outlast made me stop playing because it was ‘too scary’ could be the stuff box quotes are made of.
“This game made me realize I’m the pussiest pussy to ever pussy! 5/5” – MeekinOnMovies
Platforms: Played on Xbox One, available on PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, 3DS, Price: 59.99 Did I Pay For It: No
“Can I play a game?”
“Is it violent?” Said mom, aware that the majority of modern day Xbox One content was pretty gross. “Nah, it’s a new Transformers game, ‘Rise of The Dark Spark'”
“They’re still around?”
“Yup – but since there’s a video game about them I don’t need my imagination to have fun with them like I did as a kid!” I made a motion like I was cradling my precious Optimus Primal and Dinosaur Megatron toys in my hands and smashing them together Psshshhh Boososshhh Chishhhhh. You never remember the day you stop playing with your favorite toys. Everyone put away their Hot Rod, Starscream, Soundwave, and that giant Godzilla toy with the removable tail for the last time at some point, but the specifics are always murky. But the (un)fortunate reality of the situation is Transformers: Rise of The Dark Spark does it better than your imagination ever could. Situated as a tie-in game with Transformers: Age of Extinction, Rise of The Dark Spark is actually another game in the War For Cybertron series developed by High Noon Studios, even though it was technically developed by Edge of Reality- the guys who did the ports of the Tony Hawk games for the n64. Regardless, the game feels right at home right away.
This is a high-octane third person shooter without cover mechanics or regenerating health, with a strong focus on weapon upgrades, tech modifications, special abilities, blowing enemies into circuit boards, or melting them via corrosive poison like a 50 foot tall Wicked Witch of The West. It’s a blast.
Initial impressions are positive, and the first robot you control is Drift, a samurai robot voiced in the movie by Ken Watanabe. The game gets the tutorial stuff out of the way early, and by the 20 minute mark you can transform, boost jump, melee, and you’re also introduced to the endless number of meta objectives.
For example, while Drift is given a photon cannon, he says he’d prefer to use his sword. If you beat the level without firing a shot, you’re rewarded with a ‘gear box’ which holds all kinds of upgrades, like weapons, character skins, and more. The fan service in this game is insane.
The action is equally as insane and pretty tricky, and you’ll die a lot as success requires a fair amount of strategy. You’ll need to strafe, flank, conserve high-payload ammo for when you need it, and generally avoid running directly into the oncoming fire of multiple enemies. You may find yourself wanting to play Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark as a brainless action game, but it’s…I’m sorry…more than meets the eye in that regard.
Speaking of your eyes, and what’s pleasing to them, on the Xbox One everything has a shiny gloss, and the metal reflections go a long way to making your favorite characters look better than ever. There’s very little texture pop-in, and while the graphics won’t blow you away, there are plenty of great explosions and neat touches that will get your pulse pounding, and watching certain characters transform is almost as cool as it was when you were a kid.
If you were a kid with a bevy of Transformers toys, Rise of The Dark Spark also serves as one final trip to the toy store. You’ll see the Insecticons and remember which of them you had and which of them you wanted. You’ll see Starscream in all his blue and red and gray glory and immediately remember how jealous you were of your friend Dave across the street who owned two of him. You’ll play as Soundwave and instantly flash back to that time your Dad stepped on poor Razorbeak and cut his foot.
You may also remember the stories you told while smashing these robots together on your bed which doubled as a battlefield, or kitchen table whose edge was a perfectly fine place-holder for an active volcano.
When it comes to the story in this game, well…meh. The last two games in the series – War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron, told a pretty creative origin story about how Optimus Prime and the Autobots fled Cybertron for earth, and the last one ended on a cliff-hanger that would hopefully result in the next game in the series re-telling a good chunk of the Generation 1 mythos in its own special way.
So it’s unfortunate that this game is actually kind of a mid-quel, taking place between those two games, while also slamming in the Autobots and Decepticons from Michael Bay’s Transformers games and very direct references to the *actual* 80s cartoon. This is all thanks to a macguffin known as the “Dark Spark” which allows the person who controls it to jump between dimensions and alter the very fabric of reality.
Which remains odd, even though Transformers has always been a pretty theological property. Depending on your favorite ‘generation’ you’re dealing with ancient guardians, various matrices of leadership, sparks of power and / or darkness, Energon, something to do with being enlightened as a ‘Prime’ and lonely monkeys in the desert which is surely a metaphor for something.
It’s all pretty strange and hard to really dive into, and once you toss in alternate dimensions and more than one version of some of our favorite heroes and villains, the whole thing becomes a mess. An entertaining and really fun mess, sure, but eventually you just go with the flow and enjoy the cool moments without actively trying to make sense of anything.
It’s sort of like how X-men is supposedly a metaphor for inequality and homosexuality and racism, but all the popular stories seem to involve aliens and space travel. Transformers doesn’t need all this extra stuff to tell an entertaining yarn about giant robots punching each-other.
Anyway, if the worst thing you can say about a game released as a tie-in to a movie where the plot isn’t important, it that the story kind of sucks, you can’t really complain. This game is quality. It’s exciting, it’s challenging, there’s a ton of supplemental content, including multiple multiplayer modes with a bunch of customization, a horde mode, and more.
Most importantly, it’s old-school in that if your 12 year old brain pictured the perfect Transformers game, it’d look quite a lot like this, and you’d never pick up your toys again.
And yes. Stan Bush is present and accounted for. ——————————————————————
Platform: Xbox One (also available on PS4, Vita, PS3, Wii U, Steam)
Did I pay for it: No.
Like a stern high school teacher looking over your shoulder during a test and coughing in your ear when your answer to the essay question is only two sentences long, 1001 Spikes guilts you into bettering yourself. You cannot come lightly to it, else perish on a forgotten trap or die jumping directly into an arrow you really should have known was coming.
Taking a retro 2D platforming art style, offering same-screen multiplayer, and hundreds of levels, 1001 Spikes will conjur up ghosts of the first Spelunky, but outside of the visual style and genre and requiring keys to progress to the next level, the games aren’t that much alike. Yes, there are traps and spikes and enemies, but Spelunky encouraged speedy and skillful play and 1001 Spikes demands focus and patience. It’s the difference between The Fast & The Furious, and Drive – both movies features cars and violence, but they could not be more different. Additionally 1001 Spikes is a bit more streamlined. You have a jump button, and attack button, and that’s it – whereas Spelunky involved item shops and all sorts of goodies and nicknacks to aid you on your journey.
Though by the end of 1001 Spikes fifth level you may be rooting around the level for some cyanide to end your suffering. When people say Golf is a bad way to ruin a good walk, they’re essentially saying the intense challenge and frustration of golf results in a stressful, but ideally rewarding experience. 1001 Spikes is the same way.
Namely because 1001 Spikes does a wonderful job of setting the rules. You know what a given level is going to entail, you just need to be prepared and maintain focus long enough to succeed – It’s like taking that aforementioned test, if you’re prepared, it’s not nearly as scary as it seems. There are few ‘gotchyha!’ moments, and despite using 200 of the 1001 lives you’re given at the start of the game, I never felt cheated or unfairly punished. Instead I turned the rage inward, blaming myself because I either took a shortcut I shouldn’t have, or miss-timed a jump I made a dozen times before out of frustration with my own skill.
1001 Spikes is from Nicalis, the creators of the excellent Cave Story, and they share similarities in their zen like nature. They require peace of mind. With distractions, slamming doors, people talking in your ear, or worries about what tomorrow will bring, 1001 Spikes will eat your lunch all day long. But in a meditative state of concentration, the progress you make is as rewarding as it is enthralling – it’s acing a test you actually studied for. It’s getting a birdie on a par 4. It’s asking the cute girl from the movie theater out on a date while maintaining eye contact and not stumbling over your words.
You find yourself surprised by what you’re capable of.
Which is to say that in its best moments, 1001 Spikes helps transcend your own perceived limitations. There will be frustration and seemingly impossible challenges, and you will fail way more often than you succeed. But because the failure is your own fault, victory is your own doing too – and all the more sweet because of it. To paraphrase Taylor Mali, 1001 Spikes makes you work harder than you ever could, coughing in your ear that you better not dare waste its time with anything less than your very best.
But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the *new*. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations.
Mayhaps it’s time I stood up for myself. I’m not trying to go crazy, or lash out, or condescend to anyone, and I’m only going to do this once.
The value of a critic, especially a critic in today’s day and age, isn’t to tell you what to see or what movies are worth your money. With the way film works now, seeing a movie early and first and spoiler free is almost always the way to go. A critic is about validation, or lack there of. Seeing a movie everyone says is good – like Argo, having a negative reaction, and finding someone paid to think and write about film who agrees with you is what people go for now. Which is fine.
I’ve been watching movies / playing games quasi professionally since 2010. You can find all the movies I had to review for that movie review show I made, here. I’ve been writing creatively more or less since 2001. Recently I’ve been paid to do so, decently well, for a website I won’t mention else be labeled a shill. Before that I was paid decently well to manage the work and writing and ‘legacy’ of Roger Ebert, and before that it was pro-bono.
My point is that it’s clear I’m not handsome enough, popular enough, rich enough or confident enough to be taking any of this lightly or to be doing it because I only got lucky. Yes, I lucked into some great chances, but I made the most of them, and if my pile of student loans and general output doesn’t tell you I love media in all its forms – movies, games, television, books, theater – you’re nuts.
Of The AFI top 100 movies I’ve seen 61 of them, and naturally countless more not on the list. I’ve been on film sets, edited short films, whether or not any of the results are good, the fact I’ve done it, and had my hands in it, I’ve seen actors blow up at Directors over their lines, I’ve rigged up PVC pipe to create the illusion someone puked all over their boyfriend.
Being on set, and doing these things, and understanding the work and nuance and patience and strife that goes into making a film, even a BAD one, is the difference between some guy who watches a lot of movies and someone who feels qualified to speak about them on a larger level.
And I am qualified to speak about them. If you don’t think I know what I’m talking about, I’m willing you bet you haven’t read much of what I wrote. And in fact, to prove it, if you respond to this post without using the codeword pumpkin kitten, I’m going to assume you skimmed over this, too, and just like giving me shit because it’s the internet and being mean on the internet is a wonderful way to fill whatever voids you have in your life when it comes to assertiveness, directness, clarity, and insecurity.
Similarly, if you think that somehow missing a ‘classic’ movie makes me a fraud, you’re a dope. You tell me to go watch Armageddon again? I was god damn 12 when that movie came out. You say it’s terrible that a movie ‘expert’ hadn’t seen Apocalypse Now? Why the fuck do you think I got around to seeing it? There are holes in everyone’s catalog, Roger Ebert is missing reviews for quite a few popular flicks, and I’m sure the guys on ESPN or Fox Sports haven’t seen every ‘great’ football or baseball game, just like every famous chef hasn’t had every single ‘great’ dish from across the globe.
Shit, there’s stuff Scott Keith hasn’t reviewed, lets all call him an idiot.
If you want to challenge me on something I say about a movie or a game or TV show, if you disagree with me that I think something is good or bad or bad in the best way, that’s fine, but getting personal so quickly and so immediately is a sign of insecurity and often times jealously. If you truly had a point you wouldn’t need to call me an idiot to do it. If you truly cared about what I said or about engaging with me, or anyone else on a human level, you would not need to resort to cheap shots and dumb insults I’ve heard millions of times before.
If you take one thing away from this over-long and pretentious and pissed off rant, let it be this: If you don’t think I mean well, you’re nuts.
But damn it is hard to care about you assholes when everything I say, or type, or write is disregarded in favor of cheap insults about my weight or voice – all things I’m keenly aware of and have heard thousands of times before and bring up often. You think a person who writes on the internet doesn’t have thick skin? You think a fat guy isn’t used to being called fat? Why call me terrible, then answer the question anyway?
So why am I telling you all this when surely I shall be met with vitriol and scorn and general internet dickwadary, becuase I guess I’m an optimist. Despite the generally horrible and terrible things you all say about me, I maintain that behind each of those words and usernames and hollow insults is someone who’s an actual human being with hopes and dreams and fears and insecurities and is just as much a person as anyone else.
I do not understand why, for the life of me, I am met with this insanity. Is it because I’m on a wrestling blog writing about stuff that isn’t wrestling? If that’s the case, fine, I guess, but I don’t go to 411mania or ESPN.com and complain when those outlets cover something other their chosen fields.
At best I like to think I provide a point-of-view that ISN’T uber movie expert guy who has seen everything and knows everything, because I’m not. I like to think I know a little about a lot. A bit about writing, a bit about subtext, lighting, tone, pacing, theme, pathos, ethos, and so on. If you read my stuff and think I come across like a know it all, read what I’ve done again with an open mind. It takes a lifetime to become an expert, I’m *four* years in.
Everything’s subjective, and when it comes to art there are no right or wrong answers. That’s what I try to say, that’s my voice. That’s what I think of when I review something – does a movie have value for all people, certain kinds of people, or no one at all. Can someone who’s not a super heady cinema snob enjoy movie X? Then I’ll suggest seeing it. If a movie is so far up its own ass that you REALLY need to get over the eye roll and pretension.
The only absolute is that negativity doesn’t do anyone any good. I’m on here because I swear to god I’m trying to entertain and spark discussion, especially when seemingly everyone is actively miserable about the WWE, it would make sense to have something a little less depressing to chat about, right?
Maybe misery loves company.
Love my QOTDs, hate my QOTDs, love my reviews, hate my reviews, love me, hate me, the fact remains I’m never boring. I’m not on here asking the same questions about god damn Lex Luger or Hulk Hogan or Triple H being an asshole, and clearly I spark SOMETHING in most people here, but maybe I’ll take off for a bit, maybe I won’t, who knows. Regardless, a little civility goes a long way.
Oh, and one last thing on that whole knowing what I’m talking about thing – I brought a reference:
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was a short story about a man with an oppressive wife, who constantly has flights of fancy in order to escape her meandering omnipresence. Due to its popularity and name recognition, a movie about the short story kicked around Hollywood for awhile, getting attached to names like Jim Carey before eventually finding its way into the hands of Ben Stiller, who stars and directs the very loose adaptation.
Stiller’s a great choice, as he’s an actor who built almost his entire resume on willingly embarrassing himself in front of Robert DeNiro, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and most recently Eddie Murphy. In Meet The Parents he was brilliant at generating palpable uncomfortable silences that made the audience erupt with laughter. In Tropic Thunder he directed Robert Downey Jr to an Oscar Nomination for a comedy. Heck, the only reason Zoolander succeeded is because he played the titular character with such a serious earnestness you legitimately felt bad for the guy.
These are wonderful clubs to have in the bag if you’re making a light hearted drama about a guy who thinks too much. And boy oh boy, does he come out swinging.
The story finds zone-out prone Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) as a weak-willed, shy, introverted photo processor for Life Magazine. Naturally he’s attracted to a girl at the office, and in a nice touch is so socially paralyzed he doesn’t anguish about asking her out, no, he anguishes about sending her a ‘wink’ on Match.com.
Walter has fantasies ranging from saving the girl at work from a fire, to living with her in a weird Benjamin Button (another loose adaptation of a short story) kind of thing, and even little things like the right thing to say at the right time. The less outlandish ones sometimes go on for awhile before we snap back and see the scene was all in Walter’s head. These scenes are irksome and annoying, not without purpose – ultimately giving us a window in Walter’s world as both he and the audience feel the jerked around by his emotions.
Eventually Walter finds himself butting heads with a new boss, slowly befriending the girl at work, Cherly (Kristen Wiig) and is ultimately charged with the task of locating a missing photo that’s going on the cover of final print issue of Life Magazine.
That little motivating factor takes him from the dour grays and pale blues of the Life Magazine office to the welcoming lush green pastures of Iceland and the bone chilling cold of the arctic – ultimately exploring himself along the way.
We’ve seen this kind of thing before – a person goes on a journey of unintended self discovery, often in exotic lands, and arrives at some form of personal enlightenment. See About Schmidt, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Forest Gump, The Station Agent, and we can toss in that Julia Roberts flick where she goes to India. The point is these flicks come in numerous permutations from buddy comedies to feminist rallying calls to even classic stoner comedies.
Stoner comedy? Yep. The movie has a lot in common with John Cho’s arc from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle if you replace weed with geeky photography talk. There are moments of broad comedy, unexpected enlightenment, uplifting resolution, and a drunk guy (not Neil Patrick Harris) flies a helicopter!
Walter and Harold’s change in outlook doesn’t happen right away, and they aren’t so inept at the start of the movie that their change is impossible, either. But most importantly they’re uplifting in a way that doesn’t feel contrived or overtly melodramatic.
Especially in Walter Mitty, where there are no grandstanding proclamations of love or tell offs to the boss, and instead the confidence comes via posture and eye contact. Ben Stiller looks almost like a completely different person by the end of movie, and the change is so subtle you don’t notice until you do, ya know?
Starring: Godzilla, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, and Aaron Tyler Johnson
Between the Roland Emmerich comedy…thing, and the Japanese movies that haven’t aged well, for a time Godzilla was most valuable as an idea. We saw movies that aped Godzilla’s genre for low-fi horror movies like Cloverfield, or big budget, tonally bizarre flicks like Pacific Rim. Even watching “Godzilla 2000” requires accepting it as a cheesefest and not so much as an actual movie made with dramatic intent.
However, thanks in part to director Gareth Edwards and some deft directional choices, it’s clear the King of Monsters is back, and anyone who wants to take his crown better bring their “A” game. Since Godzilla movies are a lot like pro wrestling in that they’re ‘fake’, we’re pretty sure we know who’s going to win, and in the meantime we’re hoping to get a healthy dose of chaos and destruction, we should take a look at the under card. After a prologue sequence reminding us of all the terrible things folks have done with nuclear weapons, and a short scene with Ken Watanabe that may purposefully be similar to one in the last Godzilla remake, the movie opens with Bryan Cranston at the center of a nuclear meltdown in Japan that ultimately claims his wife.
Flash forward a dozen or so years and we watch catch up with Cranston’s son, Ford, returning home from the military, only to be forced to go to Japan to bail his dad out of jail, who then reveals a massive conspiracy, then they go to uncover the truth, and blah blah blah blah eventually the secret is let out of the bag, and there are monsters in our world, and they’ve woken up from hibernation.
Obviously the plot isn’t important in the sense that we really care about the characters or what they have to say, or how their world-view should be respected, but the movie gives it an earnest shot and the results are pretty good. Cranston has a wonderful bitchfest about his wife to a one-way mirror, and Ken Watanabe looks every bit at stoic and troubled as you would hope him to be – just a hair south of the point where he would feel like a South Park parody.
More important that realistic plot details is how these disaster movies approach their world-wide atmosphere. The Dawn of The Dead remake handled the world changing implications of its story by combining fake news footage, a haunting Johnny Cash song, and footage of real riots and violence to convey the world as we know it is over. Similarly, something like Godzilla appearing would be a massive news story world-wide, and it’s treated pretty well here, with constant news updates in the background on TVs, including a very “Cable News” info graphic of the monsters that landed a chuckle. If these scenes didn’t work, none of the stuff occurring in the movie would be all that enjoyable or dramatic, because it’d feel like a fantasy movie with no longer-lasting consequence.
There are quite a few action sequences involving the monsters, including a chilling sequence in Hawaii and a fun gag in Las Vegas. The highlight of the movie involving non-monster-on-monster combat involves a sequence on a bridge that is truly pulse pounding.
Eventually Godzilla, the two other monsters, the Army and their plan involving nuclear weapons, Ford, and the wife he’s been trying to find the whole movie collide in a Californian Battle Royal for the ages as Godzilla engages in an inter-gender handicap match against his two foes.
I’d rate it about ***1/2 stars. It was fun and got the job done, but considering the under card had so much world building and explaining to do, it would have been impossible for the brawl between the three beasts to deliver, and considering this is Godzilla’s first PPV in quite a while, we all knew he had to go over and go over strong.
What’s nice is that even the heels get some sympathy and you understand their point-of-view as well, which makes the whole brawl feel like an inevitable confrontation than a staged fight, and the resolution a solemn victory instead of a celebrated one. The way they turn Godzilla face is clever, too.
Ultimately if you like Godzilla movies or anything featuring giant stuff destroying smaller stuff, this is a great movie to catch with a group of friends for a matinee where you can chortle at the screen a bit and giggle at the occasional portion that makes you roll your eyes. But the joy in Godzilla is that those eye rolls come from a place of respect as opposed to disgust or reaction to cheesy effects. It’ll be because there’s a scene that made you scoff, or a monologue given to a naval captain that felt a just a touuuchhhh too heavy for a summer action movie, but you appreciate the effort and can’t wait to see more anyway.
You Don’t Know JackiOS / Android / Facebook / (Ouya?)
In this world, there are few places for B-type personalities to massage their egos. You can write a 13,000 word diatribe defending the “Star Wars” Prequels,get a writing gig, kick-start that graphic novel. but the ability to have an honest-to-goodness pissing contest is the privilege of the macho. So they play trivia.
But once people know you’re good at trivia, they don’t want to play with you any more – especially if you celebrate correct answers like Superbowl touchdowns.
Until…you meet a pretty girl. I wooed her with a trip to the giant Dave & Buster’s trivia machine, the sly maneuver of giving my prize tickets away to a kid, and not much else. Trivia came up again, and I mentioned owning “You Don’t Know Jack”.
Her eyes lit up, and I was suddenly inviting a girl back to my place to play video games. This is why I fondly refer to the ‘old’ You Don’t Know Jack as the game that got me laid….
So years later when I saw that same girl’s Facebook page light up with stats and updates about her “You Don’t Know Jack” scores, I was instantly curious. Little did I know a mini phenomenon had swept the nation. You Don’t Know Jack was mobile! There were people, all across the country, playing this game? And they wanted to win? And they liked the jokes? And I can play DIRECTLY against people on FB whom I base my entire life worth upon my sense of superiority over?
At this rate, You Don’t Know Jack is going to be the best man at my wedding.
So I downloaded the game and immediately had trouble doing much of anything because the game doesn’t play nice with 3G connections. After getting myself a more stable connection, I found myself enthralled. “You Don’t Know Jack” gives you an asynchronous gaming experience that actually manages to feel simultaneous thanks to some ingenious voodoo.
It works like this: You Don’t Know Jack is broken down into a series of episodes. Your Facebook friends play the game, and their score for each question is calculated, and pushed to your phone or iPad while you play that episode on your own time – so it looks like you’re playing against four other friends. So while your buddy Joe may have played his episode against completely different people, for your experience, it’s as if you’re playing Joe in real time. It works splendidly. Many a delight comes from watching a friend you know get a particularly easy question wrong, or shooting your way to the top of the standings after answering a hard question the fastest. This is totally addicting stuff.
You Don’t Know Jack presents itself as a ribald, irreverent trivia show. There are fake sponsors like “The Warehouse Supply Warehouse” (with all your warehouse supply, supply needs), and Nacho-pedic Beds (and pillows). The writing of the questions and associated jokes is fairly strong, and while there are a few groaners, the quality of writing is incredibly strong considering the bone crushing amount of content Jellyvision has pumped out in such a short time.
Annddd if you want to play a lot of that content, you’re going to have to pony up some dough. While the app is free, and you get one ‘free’ episode per day, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to play more than one a day, heck, you may want to play five, or six, or seven games in a day. Which is cool. “You Don’t Know Jack” has successfully brought the arcade to the iPhone, asking you to pony up about 2 bucks for a thousand coins, which equates to five or six additional episodes or so (depending on how many coins you’ve previously won, earned bonuses, etc). I’m a big fan of this sort of structure in my mobile games. If I want to play more, or feel like I should support the developer, I can drop a buck or two and feel like I’ve done my good deed for the day. Similarly, it’s also entirely possible to never pay a dime for “You Don’t Know Jack” and have a daily dose of irreverent trivia.
The trivia itself is mostly a mixed bag depending on your tastes. Hosted by the tastily named Cookie Masterson, each game is broken down into 5 questions (and five associated wisecracks by Cookie). The topics range in variety from pop culture to movies, to sports, to science, to English and grammar, and a variety of others. The faster you answer the question, the more money you earn, and you lose more money for a wrong answer if you buzz in quickly, too.
The final round consists of a “Jack Attack” which has you doing some quick-fire word-association, and there are a few other trivia formats that occur occasionally through a game, as well, such as a “Dis or Dat” which has you associating a phrase with one thing or another, and the accurately titled “put the choices into order and buzz in and see if you are right….Question”. The person with the most money at the end of the game wins coins (used for purchasing more “episodes”) and bragging rights. Yes, you can *actually* brag on your friends Facebook walls if you enjoy the taste of victory with a side of petulance.
On the subject of petulance, it’s entirely possible you’ll hate this game for the reasons I like it. The so-bad-they’re-good jokes tickle my fancy, while it may grind yours like sandpaper. The graphic heavy A/V presentation could tax older devices and lead to lower scores, and it’s entirely possible for folks to buy ‘Point Boosters’ for a round that allow them to get 3x, 5x, or 10x the points for a correct answer.
Look, if have ever fancied yourself a trivia hound, you owe it to yourself to at least give “You Don’t Know Jack” a try. It’s completely free and playing your first few games will cost you absolutely zero dollars, and barely 10 minutes of your time. It’s engaging, it’s funny (to me), and hell, you may even get laid (or learn something!).
There’s also a healthy dose of Celebrity episodes, and the game is constantly updated with new jokes and questions. If you like trivia with a side of crazy – give it a shot. It’s free!
Trials Fusion is an unholy marriage of Sonic The Hedgehog and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. While masquerading as an over-the-top motorcycle racing game, in reality it’s a tough-as-nails platformer.
Seriously. Between the flips, jumps, spikes, flame pits, loop-d-loops and bounce pads, I half expected Doctor Robotnic to swing a giant wrecking ball at me at the end of the first world.
It’s also a game I’d never buy. When the kind folks at Ubisoft graciously gave me a review code thanks to this blog’s surprisingly pungent demographic, I figured I’d see if the title was worth a go for people who wouldn’t normally seek this kind of thing out.
In a word? No.
In more words? It depends. I played the first two Trials games with friends, loved the multiplayer, and found much joy in the nearly endless number of free downloadable levels.
So playing the game by myself makes first impressions strange. The title menu is a strange techno / EDM / Sci-fi infused vomit of color and options, and the vibrancy is striking compared to the understated nature of the first games. In fact it seems bigger and brighter is theme of Fusion, and by the end of the tutorial mission I had already performed more jumps over bigger gaps doing more flips than I could ever pull off in the previous titles.
But while jumps and flips are nice, in reality Trials Fusion takes the unsung hero of motocross – balance, and applies it to videogame platforming. you’ll be adjusting your weight from the front to the back of the bike in order to change your spin and angle upon approaching the ground. Land too slanted you’ll topple over, land too flat and you’ll lose all your momentum.
As a result, going as fast as you can in this game isn’t always the best course of action. When you have a motorcycle between your digital legs, that’s a hard ball-bearing to swallow. Much like how Sonic the Hedgehog promotes its speed, but also requires great reflexes and even occasionally patience, Trials Fusion promotes its insanity but requires deliberate thinking.
But, if you’re willing to suppress your inner speed demon, you’ll find a challenging experience with a rewarding aftertaste (if your mouth isn’t filled with dirt or snow). There are times you’ll come across a seemingly insurmountable wall, only to adjust your balance juuusttttt enough to make it over – and in that moment you’ll feel more accomplished than all the triple back-flips in the world can offer.
Each level features objectives to complete in order to unlock more stuff, and while some are simple – do X number of flips, don’t crash, and so on – some of them are downright insane – including one that requires you to crash your bike in a way that launches you, ass-first, onto a flag pole. This is not only possible, but by the time you reach this point in the game you’ll be so comfortable with the controls you’ll be excited to see if you can do it the first try.
There’s dozens of tracks available after you make progress in the campaign mode – unlocking new bikes (and an ATV), gear, and assorted goodies along the way – but the real showcase is in the absolutely bizarre stuff folks online come up with.
There’s a level that involves you toppling ass over bike for roughly two solid minutes down a stairway, completely without control, only for the game to ask you to stick the landing after this dizzying display.
Thus you would think Trials Fusion offers infinite repeatability, and if you don’t have any IRL friends, it does. Getting gold medals on tracks and trying to top leaderboards are the kinds of challenges that can make a person play this game for years if they so choose.
But if you’re looking to sit down and play with like, a real human being, you might be a little bummed. There were only 8 relatively sedate levels to partake in, and with races only being a couple of minutes long, we had seen and done it all in no-time flat. There was nothing new to discover in that mode.
Ubisoft has said all kinds of new content is coming to the game to sure up the multiplayer experience – but that has yet to materialize.
Ultimately I’m not super stoked about Trials Fusion – it’s a weird title when you think about, a platformer with no jump button, and a motorcycle game that requires more strategy than reflexes. But that also makes it unique and something worth coming back too when other titles fail to scratch whatever itch it is you have.
Because it’s so weird, because it’s so unique, because it’s so not what you think it would be – you kind of have to applaud it for the effort, even if the result isn’t up everyone’s alley – kind of like that not-action-movie with Ryan Gosling, Drive.
HOWEVER, because you guys are Blog Otters for life, I will say that this game’s wild-west themed iOS / Tablet cousin, Trials: Frontier, is completely free and perfectly suited to the platform where you’ll be playing in 10-15 minute bursts, as opposed to the hours you’d want to invest in a given console play session – and I like that version quite a bit more than this one, simply because a game that’s ‘pretty good’ on consoles can quickly become ‘really great’ when you have it everywhere you go. Trials Frontier is free-to-play so it’ll occasionally bug you to sign up for X or Y, but the gameplay is so sold and such a blast on mobile that you forgive it immediately.
Anyway, Trials is a franchise that I’m happy exists, even if it’s not what I personally seek out when it comes to games – I’m happy I played it, have it, and can encourage others to enjoy it if they think they will (and you would), but for whatever reason, Fusion didn’t gel the way I though it would.
“Simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright
The Hitman Series is a weird one. The first game came out over a decade ago, and there’s been four sequels since, all with interchangeable subtitles like “Absolution”, “Blood Money”, and “Silent Assassin” that conjure up a mind’s eye view of generic power fantasy blech.
In reality Hitman games are pretty heady – or at least want to be. From all kinds of religious subtext and orchestral arrangements, to trippy content and no-win plot scenarios, Hitman’s failing seems to be one of half measure. It can’t be the post-modern, dour, slow-burn thriller like the movie “Drive” is, and it doesn’t want to be the ballsy over-the-top campy game like “Max Payne” either. As a result the games live somewhere in the middle; truly bizarre titles with a variety of interesting – if not completely compelling, narrative ideas.
I bring this all up because despite what you may think, it has quite a bit to do with Hitman: Go, a simple, addicting, challenging, elegant, board game recently released for tablets.
First impressions are interesting. Without a tutorial, welcome message, or blinking cursor, Hitman: Go settles on its splash screen with quiet confidence. Upon hitting “Go” and selecting a board, the design will strike you immediately.
Imagine if Frank Lloyd Wright designed a board game where everything looks modern, retro, and minimalist all at the same time – it’s like you’re exploring a scale model of a house he was intending to build. It’s wild.
It’s this presentation that solidifies the fact the folks making the Hitman games are brilliant cats. This *is* a board game first, and a videogame second, and the details are sublime.
Guards all appear connected to some underlying mechanical device that moves them across the board on a track. Rocks you pick up for distractions are buttons you stand on to activate. Moving your character results insults in a satisfying click and clunk like you’re moving a high quality chess piece.
Video game concessions are of course made – guards will turn around on their own with a little black question mark above their head, and hiding in bushes completely hides your character from view – all largely unrealistic things that couldn’t happen in a board game. But at one point toward the end of a tricky level, “The Ave Maria” kicked in and I was hooked by this game’s….well…everything.
But what about the game part? Well, like the best board games, playing is simple in theory, but wonderfully complex in action. Each level presents a board, guards, a set few paths you can traverse, a goal, and often times a bonus objective like a suitcase.
Getting around guards lethally or non-lethally requires thinking two or three steps ahead, with many levels giving bonus points for minimizing your moves. The key to all this is interrupting the movement patterns of the people in your way. If you can find a way to get a single step ahead of them via backtracking, throwing a rock, or simply taking an alternate path, you’ll often break the level right open and be able to progress to the end – and feel instantly compelled to go back and do it again for an optimal score.
Completing a level feels quite a lot like solving one of those tinker-toy puzzles where you have to twist the interlocking bolts in just the right way to separate them and feel like a super genius. You naturally do it again and again so you can perfect it.
It’s quite soothing, and playing through a level or two of Hitman: Go is a wonderful stress reliever from a long A/V heavy work day, and a nice way to get your brain cranking in the morning on the train commute in without bombarding your eyes with bright colors and fast paced actions. It’s the kind of game that pairs well with a cup of coffee and bemused existential ponderment.
The word that enters my mind when I close my eyes and think of Hitman: Go, is elegance – so much so that I’ve chosen to write this review in the more elegant of fonts, courier.
This game’s choices in music, art and music direction, and gameplay and menu design show remarkable class and maturity. It’s wonderful that a game on a platform not particularly well known for its mature experiences, has such an unassailable identity – so much so that attempting to describe it feels futile – the experience is in seeing it and playing it and half-smirking the whole way through.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll be struck by the screenshots and check this game out for yourself and find yourself happily engaged in the first Hitman game that truly feels at home.
The photos on the left of the banner are how anyone who has known me in the last…12 years has seen me. The two photos on the right are how I look after barely a month of DDP Yoga, and not stuffing my fat, cow-like mouth with shit as often I used too. Being from a film background I’m fully aware of creative camera angles and all that, but I deliberately did not suck in my gut, nor did I try and ms-represent the results.
Perhaps my body image is playing tricks on me – I feel great, but don’t see much a difference, but two dozen Facebook likes from folks who had no clue I was doing this DDP Yoga thing can’t be wrong, can it?
“share your secret!”, “Where did the rest of Paul go and what did you do with him?”, “Wow!!!! You look amazing! Congrats- I know how hard it is!” From a former “Cosby Show” writer: “WTF! NFW! Niiice…GQ ass.” – The only comment I put on this photo was “One Month Later”.
It’s important to note I was NOT perfect with this, either. I stuffed my face full of crappy potato chips once or twice due to ‘Taker streak-related stress, ate far too many fries, and probably skipped a workout or two I shouldn’t have.
Before I go any further I want to re-re-re-iterate that I’m not trying to sell you anything, I’m not in the affiliate marketing program, and generally speaking I think 99 percent of anything labeled a ‘miracle’ is 100% bullshit.
That said, this bullshit is a miracle.
The whole endeavor was spurned on by a heart-to-heart with my best friend and soon-to-be-nurse who said in no uncertain terms that if I wasn’t careful I’d probably die at 45 years old and be absolutely inundated with health problems most of my adult life. We made a qausi-pact, I’d get on his ass if he drank too much, and he’d make sure I was keeping my fat ass in check
I then badgered my best friend to try it. I wanted a DDP Yoga sponsor. Someone I could bug about it, brag about it, discuss it with, someone that could share my new found…interest in physical fitness that wasn’t going to beat me over the head if I skipped a particularly tricky move, or think the whole workout was lame because they were already in shape.
I shit you not, after one Diamond Dozen workout my best friend was hooked. He’s about 6’3 and in pretty good shape, but after the workout he was sweating and as pumped as I was, likely because the dynamic resistance portion of the workout used his (far stronger than mine) muscles against him in a positive way. In fact, earlier that day he had gone to the doctor for a sciatic nerve, and by midnight he was jumping around like a doofus on both legs with no pain.
For two weeks running now we’ve met up, done the Yoga, eaten something healthy, then done something really damn stupid to reward ourselves, like drop <rhymes with lake placid> or get really stoned and marathon movies until 8am because we’re so damn energetic from the workout.
My friend is so far the only die-hard convert. I’ve done a workout with my sister and her boyfriend, but due to the low cielings in my house it’s a little tricky to find the room to spread out and do the workout properly. Thus I’ve been tackling it mostly at work during my ‘break’ where I turn the computer room in my own personal DDP Dojo.
Thus I am still singing the praises of DDP Yoga to anyone who will listen. I’ve suggested it to coworkers, friends, relatives, and often I get a tepid response or a “well I need the space” kind of thing.
I don’t want to sound like a know-it-all after such a short amount of time, nor do I want to seem like all my problems have been solved because I can do a Down Dog for 10 straight seconds without shaking, but it seems the hardest part of anything is starting.
Once you start, an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Even if that motion is a little stilted or sometimes stalls out briefly.
A side benefit is that if you tackle an ‘Energy’ workout prior to a red-hot date with a Megan Fox / Selena Gomez / Oliva Munn / Mila Kunis looking chick, you’ll have stamina for hours and hours and hours to the point where you may want to tarp off the ceiling of your car.
I’m still on the “Energy” portion of the workout, which is a 21 minute athletic coup d’état on your body. By the halfway point you’re stunned by how much you’re sweating and how much you’ve sworn at DDP Yoga as you drive to get your leg just a little higher in the air, or finally, for real, attempt and succeed at your first real man push up…ever.
It also seems the “Energy” portion of the workout focuses on balance quite a lot – and I’m bad at that. getting me in a true runners lunge where I’m only on the heel of my back foot is an incredible disaster every time I try. A lot of the upper body stuff like push ups or holding yourself a few inches off the ground via your upper body is so hard it’s embarrassing. Also toss in the fact that anything that requires me to bend or stretch my foot via my ankle is a pain as I have absolutely zero flexibility there, but I’m working on it.
Regardless of the pitfalls of a given workout, it does get a little easier every time as long as I stick with it. If I skip two days then come back it’s a little harder. A day on / day off cycle seems to work the best, as you get the full day of “WOW I FEEL AWESOME” results.
But here’s the strange thing – I’m not quite sold on myself yet. I feel wonderful, I stand up straighter, I’m eating mostly better, I make eye contact with hot women and don’t feel like Ducky in from “Pretty in Pink”, and the reaction has been pretty incredible. In fact I’m grabbing a hold of the shirt I’m wearing right now and the amount of fabric I can pull away from my body is insane.
But in my head I still have a chip on my shoulder, like all the people saying nice things to me are just doing it to be nice, and all the good things I’m feeling / noticing / experiencing are also all in my head because that’s how I’m supposed to feel. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt this isn’t true, but from my eyes looking outward, I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Some kind of bad news or dark cloud or “Oh well yeah Yoga may be good but did you know it’s actually bad for penis length” or some other kind of crap that tends to happen when stumbling upon something that appears to be too good to be true.
Things like “my clothes are always baggy, my pants are always loose, so maybe I’m just noticing things that aren’t there because I want to notice them” run through my head – as if I’m looking for excuses to NOT believe the very obvious results everyone is seeing. I’ll cheat on the proverbial diet, get a bag of chips, and find myself instantly depressed until I realize I can just make an extra 20 minutes in my day tomorrow and the next day and get back up on the horse.
The Future Soon
When they say 90 percent of the game is half mental, they mean it. For all intents and purposes I am a far healthier person now than I was a month ago, and the results were so damn quick and apparent that my mind hasn’t caught up yet. After 20 years of being fully aware of my fat-load-ness and four weeks or working to change it, and seeing how much better I feel and look and it simply doesn’t quite compute.
And I guess the way to make it compute is to keep fuckin’ that chicken, as they say. More veggies, less fast food, more yoga, more confidence, pushing myself to reach higher and stretch longer,and spreading the word because I simply cannot get over it.
All my life I’ve really, really, really, really, really hated telling people when I was on a diet, because it meant that when and if I failed on that diet they’d likely ask that demoralizing “I thought you were on a diet?” question that shatters confidence like nobodies business.
But this isn’t a diet. I even have a hard time calling it a workout because it comes so naturally and the benefits are so immediate I’m half wondering if they slipped crack cocaine into the heart monitor. As time goes on I imagine the INSANE results will start to die down and it will be replaced by marginal gains over time, which is fine. The point is that of all the things I’ve tried, this is the one thing that’s taken in a way I never expected. I’ve also deliberately avoided weighing myself since I started – I was hovering at 301 pounds without shoes or pants, and I’ll have a new number for you this time next month.
There’s also the diet element that I’m actually enjoying quite a lot. Carrots, Steamed broccoli, mixed veggies, a little hot sauce, and Almond milk have become my go-to non-special occasion snacks. At first you may find them a little meh, but after a bit – and I’m not just saying this – you’ll find yourself looking forward to eating vegatables as a snack. And again, I’m not perfect. I still get Ice Coffee (with sugar) on my way to work, but go with skim milk. If I absolutely NEED that fried chippy goodness, I’ll get Pop Chips, where you can down an entire bag and only be out 300-400 calories depending on the falvor.
Some of this stuff is more expensive than others, sure, but you’d be surprised how much longer a bag of baby carrots with a little A1 on them goes compared to a 99 cent bag of Sour Cream & Onion Chips or a bag of M&Ms.
I cannot stress ENOUGH to people who look like me (Kids in school have asked you more than once, to do the truffle shuffle), and have felt like me (namely hopeless), to give this a try and to KEEP trying it. It’s 20 minutes a day. That’s it. It’s one less sojurn into the world of porno, one less cigarette break, one less episode of “Scrubs” or “Trophy Wife” and I SWEAR TO GOD by the end of your second workout you’ll be hooked enough to keep at it.
Howdy Otters – the Ottie Awards are likely coming tonight / tomorrow / Monday depending on when I can get my video editing software working properly / build the right graphics, until then, a round up of movies I’ve seen, including Captain America: The Winter Solider, Wolf of Wallstreet, True Detective, and Saving Mr. Banks. Also a review of South Park: The Stick of Truthis at the bottom.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
What a rush! While The Winter Soldiernaturally refers to the super-powered villian in the movie, it also refers to the role of someone like Captain American in our current America, where the general idea is that we’re very quickly turning into an Orwellian / Minority Report kind of world.
It tackles questions of security vs. freedom in a surprisingly even-handed way, and finally offers the counter-balance to the “stop spying on us NSA!” thing, which namely is an uptick in things like domestic terrorism. Robert Redford, looking like a non-eye-patched 616 continuity Nick Fury says something like “A Dirty Bomb in Atlanta, an EMP blast in Chicago, it’s inevitable!”, and sadly, it probably is. As technology grows and information becomes more wildly available to those people on the fringe with warped minds, these sorts of events become all the more likely.
The action is also *awesome* with the hand-to-hand combat being particularly skillful. You can savor all the crazy choreography without feeling like you’re watching a rehearsed dance number, and there’s quite a few action set pieces, including shoot outs, chase scenes, a heist, and a climatic battle that doesn’t end the way action movie flicks normally do, along with some great twists and turns and callbacks that make the movie feel like a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe without it feeling hokey or tacked on.
It’s well acted, too. Scarlett Johansson seems to be doing a Rashida Jones impression, Chris Evans plays a man out of time really well, and Robert Redford brings so much legitimacy to his role that you almost feel bad for the guy. His heart was in the right place, it just got…tangled up along the way.
As far as the post-credits and overall Marvel connective tissue stuff goes, this movie nails it. Perhaps because this is now the 9th movie in that universe, but the call backs and references are becoming both more obscure and more obvious at the same time. There’s a couple of scenes involving a list of ‘targets’ that likely has enough Easter eggs to last you until the resurrection of Christ.
With Guardians of the Galaxy on the horizon, and Avengers coming next year, it looks like the Marvel Universe is in great hands. This is probably the most well-rounded of any of the Marvel Flicks, with the quiet scenes informing the action, the action being satisfying, and the message being front-and-center in a way that makes you think about it, but isn’t up its own ass like in say, The Dark Knight Rises. ————————————————————————————-
The Wolf of Wallstreet
I saw most of this movie on a post workout high where I was giddy and hyped, so the sheer insanity of this movie was totally welcome. Interesting is that this ultimately a comedy and a farce. It’s even labeled as such under Red Box. And that it is. When movies claim they’re “Outrageous!” odds are they often times are trying to hard to be that way. “Wolf of Wallstreet”
Like the best of his movies, this one is about process. We follow Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort through his rise to Wall Street supremacy as he brings friends, drugs, women, insanity, midgets, farm animals, fast cars, expensive suits, and Rob Reineralong for the ride.We understand what penny stocks are, who they exploit, why there’s no backlash from customers for awhile, and generally speaking over the movie’s three hour run-time we understand enough of what Leo and his band of merry men are doing, so that when it goes wrong, or something goes poorly, we get it. Compare this to American Hustle where you get a lot of time on the broad strokes of the various scams, but never really get a sense of the nuances that make them feel real.
It helps this is a true story and adapted from a memoir, allowing you to dig as deep into this subject matter as you want – additionally with the story being told from a first person perspective, when Belfort narrates about the various horrible things he’s done, it comes with remorse, sure, but also a sense of “Can ya blame me? Really, can you?” – as a result the wish-fulfillment aspects – the money, the women, the drugs, the parties, are all just a hint more rollicking and fun because we’re not being hammered with “THIS IS BAD FOR YOU”.
To borrow from Michael Cole, this is vintage Scorsese with a modern twist. Biker ‘Taker if you will. It doesn’t take itself as seriously as Goodfellas, Casino, or Shutter Island and the movie is better off for it. It’s a ribald parable, the R-rated uncle to “Catch me if you Can” and less stuffy cousin to “Wall Street”. Belfort isn’t Gordon Gecko, he’s the guy someone like Gecko is worried about. Good comedy comes from drama, and boy oh boy does Marty know drama. ————————————————–
True Detective (I know this isn’t a movie, shut up). A good sniff test for a great work of art is that you’re thinking about it after you’ve seen it. Even if you react negatively to something – like American Hustle, if you’re stilling wrapping your head around some of the juicer parts a week later, odds are it affected you in some way. True Detective has been swirling around in my head with every back road I ride down and dilapidated house I see. It’s a show about the horrible things that can happen on the fringe. The fringe of our mind, the fringe of society, the fringe of America, the fringe of the law, and so on. It’s totally bleak and nihilistic, but also darkly funny and poignant, and any time you get someone monologing about 4th dimensionality I’m up for it.
I also had the advantage of seeing six episodes of this show in a row while sleep deprived and on [drug that rhymes with flaccid], which added an entirely new element to the proceedings, which made the disturbing elements all the more disturbing and the awesome moments all the more awesome – including a 6 minute unbroken take scene in the 4th episode that is simply masterful – though I imagine there was a little compositing going on.
Anyway, I feel strongly about True Detective but I don’t have anything very strong to say about it. It’s great, well worth your time, and I can’t believe that Woody Harrelson has become such a reliable force in our entertainment, he’s the new Gene Hackman in that you can find him in some movie somewhere on cable at any given moment. ——————-
Saving Mr. Banks So this is the movie about how a raging anti-Semite and a child-abandoning lesbian wacko come together to make one of the most endearing movies of all time – Mary Poppins. Of course the anti-Semite and Child-abandoning and Lesbian things are completely ignored since this is a for all ages Disney picture, so instead we get a churned-up-inside tart of a woman who has to let go of her most precious possession – Mary Poppins in order to stay afloat financially.
This is a pretty great flick actually if you avoid checking into the ‘real’ story before watching it. It presents about fifty dozen cliches, sure: “The magic of Disney”, “Curmudgeon who doesn’t like fun,”, “Blue collar guy melts the heart of aforementioned up-tight curmudgeon”, and the eventual “Heart to heart between creatives” thing, but they are all executed pretty well.
This is a movie for fans of movie making. I saw it with two people, one who has seen “Mary Poppins” and one who hadn’t, and not seeing that flick makes a lot of the various references and call-backs feel hollow if you don’t know what they’re referring too. It’s weird. They’ll make a joke about how “Dick Van Dyke will never play that role!” and it’s dropped, but because you know what happened in reality, it becomes a funny gag.
The cast includes Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, Emma Thompson playing pretty much the exact same character as she did in Stranger than Fiction, BJ Novak, Bradley Whitford, and Jason Schwartzman as jolly producers writing the movie and music (the “lets go fly a kite” scene in this flick is wonderful and heartwarming even to an old cynic like me), Colin Farrell as Hollywood’s idea of a drunk, and Paul Giamatti as a limo driver with a heart of gold.
Ultimately, good stuff for the whole family. Not ground breaking, trend setting, or mold breaking, but as far as general Hollywood mass-produced stuff goes, you can do a lot worse. ————————————————————————–
South Park: The Stick of Truth
If Kurt Vonnegut was the “Moralist with a Whoopee Cushion”, “South Park” packs a flaming bag of dog doo instead. Through 247 episodes and counting, “South Park” has grown into itself, the intelligent writing and unique point of view hovering below the scatological surface becoming apparent. Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s brain child became something of a socioeconomic court jester, using Kyle, Stan, Cartman, Kenny, and a supporting cast of dozens to call out society’s hypocrisy and extreme polarization, while being foul mouthed and ribald and touching and scatalogical and subversive and popular and instantly quotable all at the same time.
And now RPGs and “South Park” have combined via Obsidian’s oft-delayed, publisher shifting “South Park: The Stick of Truth”, which is certainly “South Park”’s biggest undertaking in the gaming space, ever, and yet another high-profile licensed title from Obsidian, who’ve previously taken the reigns of “Star Wars” and “Fallout”.
And “Stick of Truth” plays great once you get your hands around the gelatinous nature of the combat and environmental interaction. By which I mean the tutorial and introduction to the gameplay is anything but solid. A cohort I shared the first four hours with openly cursed when Cartman mocked her inability to parse the strong / weak attack timing mechanics for the fifth time.
Battles are turn-based, fast-paced, input-intensive, and getting comfortable with the timing, item management, and various buffs and debuffs will take a couple of hours, plus one or two more if you want to figure out the best way to synergize all your equipment modifications for a proper build. Attacks require hitting the right button at the right time for a ‘perfect’ hit, and you’re encouraged to hit “A” when being attacked to block some incoming damage. It actually feels quite a lot like the “Super Mario RPG: Legend of The Seven Stars” in that every spell or attack involves some sort of mini-game or input from the player to achieve the optimal result.
Like “Mario RPG” is the way you can affect battle conditions via environmental factors. Fart on enemies, they’re “grossed out” to start the battle. Hit them with your bow? Dazed. Knock a lamp onto an enemy or two? The boss battle starts with two enemies already downed. It’s really creative and lends an almost point-and-click adventure appeal to the non-combat parts of the game.
The combat difficulty is scalable, and on the normal setting I found hitting one or two powerful attacks could vanquish most enemies with ease if you know their weakness. Boss battles are tougher encounters, and you’ll find yourself engaged in a great back-and-forth struggle as enemies throw their best attacks and various defensive maneuvers at you – a particularly enjoyable battle involves being sure to defend every attack from an umbilical cord or else it regenerates life infinitely.
Once you’re cozy with all the systems, the whole shebang is quite a lot of fun. A neat addition is that you can also use items and attack on the same turn, which makes battles go by way faster, and a little easier to swallow for non-gamers or folks who picked this up for the “South Park” name but generally avoid RPGS. If you’re a game dev looking for a gameplay innovation worth popularizing, this would be a great one.
Ultimately combat feels great once you get the hang of it, and is made all the more sweet by the various South Park tropes that are layered on top. You’ll be utilizing things like bathroom robes for wizard cloaks, tin foil for helmets, cardboard for horses, and so on – in addition to actual ‘real’ looking weapons and armor too. Beyond that, you get to pick from several South Park mainstays as a battle companion. Butters is a lighting focused Paladin who decries “I uh…I was just seeing if it worked!” upon knocking out a fake elf with a very real ball-peen hammer. Jimmy is a bard, his special attacks requiring you hammer the “A” button when he stutters during one of his debuff creating songs. Stan uses his dog in all manner of not-PC ways in combat, and Cartman, of course, lights his farts on fire for AOE damage.
However one problem is the size of “The Stick of Truth”’s proverbial boat, versus its motion in it’s the ocean. I played “South Park” in about a week’s time, savoring a fair amount of the content, talking to pretty much everyone and completing the side quests that seemed interesting, and clocked in at around 12 hours play time if the save screen is to be believed. A lot of this 12 hours involved walking from Point A to Point B, arranging equipment, and watching cut-scenes. With such a robust combat system and litany of customization options, it’s a shame you find yourself nearing the final third of the game before you know it. I’m not one to harp on game-length, but I can’t help but feeling bummed by how quickly the whole thing wrapped up.
But the length could also be a “South Park” problem. There’s only so much to do in a single mountain town (and parts of Canada), and maybe Obsidian didn’t want to overstay its welcome, or Trey Parker and Matt Stone simply didn’t have it in them to write and perform the dialog required for a sprawling 30-40 hour RPG.
Regardless, it’s impressive how well the RPG part of “South Park: The Stick of Truth” comes together, to the point where it steals the show from the narrative. The only real gameplay misstep being the two non-combat special abilities you earn. One allows you to teleport over gaps, and the other allows you to shrink. While novel, switching from your bow to cross a gap, then hastily switching back to your bow to get a quick pot shot off at an enemy to daze them before combat, is a hassle, especially when a jump button would have been welcome and felt a little more organic to the experience.
Speaking of organic experiences, It’s almost…sublime how developer Obsidian managed to capture “South Park”’s crappy animation to perfection. Friends *will* think you’re watching the show if they casually glance at the screen. The school, all the characters’ houses, Tom’s Rhinoplasty – it’s all here and accessible to explore, and all completely authentic to the show. There are literally hundreds of callbacks to prior episodes spread across the open world, with cameos by the underpants gnomes, Mr. Hankey, the aliens from the pilot (“Cartman gets an anal probe”), Mongolians and the “Chitty wall”, and countless more in the various item descriptions and NPC one-liners. The bigger the fan of the show you are, the more masterful the world becomes, down to correct geography, and the diegetic audio being popular songs from the series. It’s a real nostalgia trip, with many moments not only calling back to a specific episode, but subconsciously stirring up the memories of whatever you were doing at that time in your life, too. And of course, Cartman, Kenny, Butters, Stan, and the supporting cast all get moments to throw in their most known phrases, and naturally Kyle’s mom gets called a…well, you know.
So It’s kind of a big fat bitch that the tale told in this fantastic world feels a little underwhelming. Look, I didn’t expect to be moved emotionally, nor did I want some grand deconstruction of gaming. I did expect some level of intellectual stimulation, be it a message, theme, blatant allegory – anything! Instead ”Stick of Truth” presents itself as a high-quality farce and nothing more, which is fine. “Airplane” is a high quality farce. So is “The Naked Gun”, “Young Frankenstein”, and “Family Guy”.
But “South Park” is a farce with a point, damn it. “South Park: The Stick of Truth” delivers shocking content in droves. wangs, balls, racism, abortions, sexism – it’s all here, and a lot of it will make you laugh in the “how did they get away with that?!” way. Yet, there’s little context to set up a lot of this stuff…so in a way it’s just a lot of (funny) racist, sexist, offensive, humor…without a point, which, if my memory serves me, is the exact same thing “Cartoon Wars” got all bent in a tizzy about in regards to “Family Guy”.
Previously, when “South Park” dipped its toes into the interactive media space – the N64 FPS being something of a cult-classic, “Chef’s Love Shack” trying to do the ‘Mario party’ thing, poorly, cart racers, tower defense games, and beat em’ ups, the titles were received lukewarmly. The problem with these titles is they took the look and feel and style of South Park, but none of the creative pungency of Matt Stone and Trey Parker – creating a “South Park” experience in name only.
My theory? I don’t think Trey Parker and Matt Stone are very big gamers. They’ve tackled videogame related topics in “South Park” before, and have done so admirably, but generally those episodes have treated games as a sort of macguffin to arrive at a larger point – The “Chinpokomon” episode generally speaking to how fads can be good and bad, and it’s best not to get too riled up about them. Similarly, “Towlie” featured the ubiquitous Okama Gamesphere as an object of single-minded desire for the characters, but had little to say about gaming culture. The “World of Warcraft” episode is lauded, but ultimately closed with a lasting image of our South Park heroes sacrificing their lives and well being for a pointless MMO. Toss in the brutal message at the end of the “Black Friday’ trilogy about how the kids should use their imagination to play – not needing 500 dollar consoles to have fun, and not only do I think Trey Parker and Matt Stone aren’t gamers – I don’t think they “get” gaming.
Which is…okay. One thing Parker and Stone do very well is educate themselves on a topic before tackling it. I’m sure they’ve played games, lots of games in fact, because their entire livelihood depends upon being up-to-date with pop culture, and “South Park” certainly know the broad strokes of the who, why, how, and where of video gaming culture.
But considering their generally sour take on the medium, I don’t think they have anything (more) to say about gaming. Especially considering what they’ve said before is that gaming is a life-sinking, imagination killing, electronic, interactive, dopamine dispenser – all things you probably don’t want to communicate through a video game people pay hard earned money for.
Thus I find myself in territory similar to Remedy’s “Alan Wake” – a game I bought for the story, but loved for the gameplay. Here, “South Park: The Stick of Truth” delivers fantastic combat, customization, and strategy in droves – you can sink your teeth into the system and feel mostly full by the time you’re done chewing. However, if you’re a person who loves “South Park” for what it says, versus how it says it, you may find the story portions a little malnourished, not because they aren’t good, or entertaining, or funny, but because ultimately it’s mostly empty calories.
Look, there’s no way a game where this much care, and effort, and personality doesn’t get a proverbial thumbs up from me. It’s a high-quality game that doesn’t quite live up to *my* high-standards of what “South Park” is, and can be, but it doesn’t stop me from appreciating it for what it is – a surprisingly deep, terrifyingly funny, oh-so-very beautiful, old-school, RPG that despite being brand new, will flash your brain back to 1997 and all the years in between with startlingly regularity as through not only a game, but 17 years worth of television history that may just be a little more important to you than you may think.
Players: Upto 24 online, 4 player split-screen, too.
The phenomenally successful Plants Vs. Zombies is a game I avoided until a girl I was dating withheld sex from me until I played it. It was pretty good. The game wasn’t bad either. Plants Vs. Zombies has a weird charm to it. With each advancing horde of the undead, you’d frantically try to upgrade the right plants, and stem the onslaught anyway you can. Particular credit goes to the A/V design – the moaning of the zombies and various plant sound effects created a unique multilayered and off-kilter soundtrack without any music to speak of, and the cartoon graphics presented a ribald charm that felt right at home with the most idiosyncratic of the Nickelodeon Nicktoon classics.
It’s essentially a stationary RTS. It was also wildly creative and wildly addicting, easy to find (appearing on over a dozen platforms), easy to get the hang of, but difficult to master.
On the flip side of that “easy to get the hang of” coin is the modern military multiplayer first person shooter, with a learning curve resembling a left facing U. Generally you get caught up in the hoopla of awesome graphics and destructible terrain, but eventually find yourself in a massive map running around trying to find anyone you can shoot because you’re not quite sure where to be going. Worse, when you do find someone to shoot, they’ll likely be better than you, shoot you first, and you have to start the whole ordeal over again. This is a real downer if you’re just starting out. By the time you think you’re making some real progress you run up against a server oopsie, a sniper shooting you from afar, or some other hiccup that puts you off the whole experience, unless you join a clan or have a bunch of friends to play with. The modern online FPS is as casually enjoyable as a snuff film.
If you ask EA, it seems the fix for this problem is a bit of Popcap fertilizer. The deft touch of a studio that refined Pachinko and honed match three color games to such a fine powder that you yearn to grind it up and rub all over your gums when not playing. Say what you will about ‘casual’ games, but they’re popular for a reason. They don’t waste your time. You’re there to match jewels, drop balls, shoot colored orbs out of a frog’s mouth, clash with clans, or settle the long-brewing war between Plants and Zombies – no cutscenes, no respawn wait, no insanely difficult learning curves, just good, clean, fun. Until you hit a paywall at least.
Which brings us to the not free to play Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, which attempts to bring the FPS to kids. Or rather, the poor kids whose parents won’t let them play Modern Warfare or Battlefield or even “Titan Fall”.
First impressions are interesting in that anyone over the age of 11 and below the age of say, 18, will probably blow it off as a ‘kiddie game’ and go back to listening to Miley Cyrus or something. In reality The Xbox One graphics are bright and colorful. Characters are nicely detailed and display sufficient personality on the surface – especially the whacked out zombies. This is only enhanced by various unlockable skills and class customization options.
Class variety is good, with each ‘faction’ getting your standard scout / sniper / soldier / medic / mechanic classes, with a couple of differences. There’s a cool piranha plant class that essentially lets you burrow under ground and jump up and devour an enemy in one gulp, not unlike a certain Mario bad guy that likes to reside in big green tubes. Each class unlocks a few skills like rocket packs, friendly buffs, heals, barriers, and you’ll likely gravitate to whatever suits your particular play style. Overall, it looks and feels authentic and well crafted. That idiosyncratic charm is carried over,
But it’s harder to appreciate charm when an enemy is rushing at you guns blazing, as opposed to slowly shuffling through your defenses. You may also have trouble aiming at that enemy. It may be my controller or subtly degrading fine motor skills, but the controls feel a bit twitchy. Since the game runs at 60 FPS, characters are speedy as hell, and a small adjustment to your aim can send you wildly off course if you don’t have your skills trained from other shooters. Playing as the Cactus class, which is a sniper, I found myself doing that thing newbies do where they end up looking at the floor or the sky the entire time in order to ensure they’re lined up perfectly should a character walk into their frame of view.
An adjustment or two of an auto-aim setting and control stick sensitivity alleviated these problems somewhat, but for whatever reason the control didn’t feel as tight as I’d hope for a game aiming for a mass audiences of kids who may never have played a multiplayer shooter, or can’t-believe-they’re-adults that need a proverbial booster seat. It’d benefit quite a lot from a Grand Theft Auto V model, where you can lock on to a given character and adjust your aim within the confines of the lock on, instead of the standard free aim model they use now.
This would at the least help cut through all the chaos happening on screen at a given time. There’s explosions, beams, bullets, glowing orbs, pulsating statues, random AI controlled zombies, enemies on roofs, underground, and on jetpacks, and its difficult to settle on a target amidst the insanity. Thankfully when approaching battle you do get an enemy indicator icon on screen letting you know a bad guy (and what type of bad guy) is near by, which are just the training wheels new players, and players like me who just aren’t very good at honing my skill in this kind of thing appreciate.
You’ll be (poorly) honing those skills across about four game modes and several maps – with the promise of completely free DLC in the future. You have your “Garden Ops” which is horde mode, your standard deathmatch, and variations on ‘plant the bomb’ ‘capture the flag’ and ‘control the rally point’ – all gussied up with lants Vs. Zombies charm. So the bomb you have to planet is strapped to a gnome’s back, the control points you defend or attack are graveyards, and so on. The environments are colorful and bright, and provide sufficient nooks, crannies, and hiding spots in which to unleash your mayhem. There’s also various spawner points in a map, and activating one unleashes one-or-two AI controlled teammates to serve as “Titan Fall”-esque canon fodder. There’s also a decided effort to streamline the whole thing, with fewer buttons and simpler mechanics. You’re not calling in air-strikes or toggling the fire mode from auto to semi-auto, for example.
Unfortunately on some of the larger maps there is a lot of back and forth walking from your spawn point to the battle, and once there the sheer insanity of it all makes it tricky to stay alive for an extended period of time unless a teammate revives you – which is standard for the genre, but continuously disengages you from the action.
So the question remains, what specifically is this game going for? Is it “Baby’s first first person shooter”? If so, that baby is better at games and more patient than I. It’s a $40 dollar game with a strange demographic, but perhaps the Plants Vs. Zombies brand is powerful enough to compel die hard fans to dig in.
Look, Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare Is a quality shooter for sure, and a ton of TLC went into the art design and aesthetic presentation to create something bright, colorful, and unique visually. But it doesn’t innovate or iterate on the genre – providing a coat of paint, toning down the complexity, and ultimately leaving a game that kinda sorta exposes the reasons why I’ve personally never been able to get into these kinds of games. There’s a lot of waiting. Everyone is likely better than you. Aiming requires precision, and confidence requires practice and sacrifice – toss in Kinect being the default mic and getting an awkward audio peak into the living room of other players, I can safely say this is a only game for fans of the genre or people who want their kids to be fans of the genre.
Simply put, whether you’re an American Soldier, Master Chief, or a giant, anthropomorphic sunflower, for a some of us, war is hell. But for millions of other gamers, war is a hell of a lot of fun. If you have kids and you’re itching to play something with them (and already bought “Lego Marvel Superheroes”), or you have a kid who is yearning for a Call of Duty game but you don’t want to relent, you can do a LOT worse than Plants Vs. Zombies Garden Warfare. But if you’re not into this kind of thing, don’t expect the grass to be greener on the casual side of the fence.
“I like the game is chode-like in that it’s thicker than it is long.”
– Paul Meekin
While playing “Thief” on my Xbox One, I was baffled – I loved this thing – it was studious and deliberate, challenging but fair, and pretty as all get out. Yet, the word on the street pre-release was not good nor has it improved since. The development history was moderately infamous, especially when the working title of “Thi4f” was announced, but I didn’t get it.
Then it dawned on me. The virgin effect. From noted video game personalities like Yahtzee at “Zero Punctuation” to the Idle Thumbs podcast, to the folks on “Youtube” and “Penny Arcade” – the people I looked toward for intelligent gaming discourse, played the “well it’s not as good as…” card. It’s not as good as “Dishonored”. It’s not as good as the first one. Its world is not as open, its characters have all changed, its different from what “Thief” should be.
These people, so passionate about games, so touched by the world of interactive media that they’ve been able to get full time jobs either talking or writing about them, let the idea of what something should be, affect their idea of what this “Thief” actually is, which is pretty damn great.
The setup finds you in the shoes of long-time protagonist Batman. I mean Garrett. Yes. Garrett. After a mission goes awry and your quasi-ward, Erin, falls into an otherworldly explosion, Garrett is knocked out cold and wakes up a year later with absolutely zero memory, save for who he is, who his friends are, and that some crazy ish went down the night of the explosion.
It’s decently acted and does a good job immersing you in this dystopian “Hey I should see Les Mis, again” world, with a secondary “I’m not a hero,” theme happily clicheing its way along, too. The supporting cast includes a jovial black-market merchant Basso, the altruistic-but-possibly nefarious Orion, and the aforementioned Erin, your now missing, possibly undead, cohort. The game’s antagonist “The Thief Taker General” is a real bastard you love to hate, with a delightfully outlandish and curlable mustache, and a bald patch on the top of his head signifying the insecurity he takes out on underlings, prostitutes, and ultimately anyone who crosses him.
While there’s nothing unique or investable about it, Garrett’s story succeeds in the places a game like “Tomb Raider” failed, specifically in the characterization. “Thief” allows characters room to breath, injecting personality and levity into the proceedings. Basso is the closest thing Garrett has to a friend, and takes turns alternatively worrying about, and bemoaning, Garrett’s oft-nebulous where-a-bouts. Orion is as ‘Jesus’-y as it gets, but you can’t help but question his holier-than-thou motives – this kind in this world is suspicious, and Garrett suspects him. Unlike “Tomb Raider” where the characters mostly exist as macguffins – “Save her, find him, get the X for that guy,” here the characters feel like…somewhat real people who have something resembling personalities and lives outside of a given cut-scene. None of this is groundbreaking, but a little nuance and character differentiation go a long way.
“Thief” plays a little differently than what you’re used to, too. While stealth games currently come in 52 different flavors, the most popular are predatory ones like “Far Cry 3” The Batman “Arkham” series, “Crysis 3”, “Assassin’s Creed”, and the good parts of “Tomb Raider”- all making the player feel like John Rambo, the alien from “Predator”, and / or Batman with regularity. The predatory element common amongst them also allows gamers to play how they want. Yes, the idea is to sneak up on a base and silently take out the guards quietly as possible in “Far Cry 3”, but if you’re impatient or not into that kind of thing, a guns-blazing approach can work just as well. You get all kinds of offensive gadgets and tactical advantages in the “Arkham” games, and even the most recent “Splinter Cell” offered rewards and points for playing the game as a one-man CIA killing machine.
“Thief”, is not a predatory stealth game. You’re given the shadows, a limited amount of resources, non-regenerating health, an objective, guards, lights, glass, things to avoid, and that’s about it. Combat will likely get you killed. Taking down a guard in the presence of another guard will probably get you killed. Attacking people you shouldn’t…will get you killed. The game takes points away for takedowns, detections, and kills – you want to cause as little of a commotion as possible. Playing on the “master” difficulty, it becomes an almost masterclass in what true stealth games can accomplish – namely making the player feel like a genius through thought and action.
Rest assured, there are a serviceable number of doodads to tinker with and ability upgrades, but none result in making combat the optimal play style. This forces you to think your way through a given objective. Unlike seemingly every other stealth game, distracting guards via thrown bottles, and freaking them out by hitting light switches or extinguishing flames are viable tactics and encouraged throughout the duration of the game, not just until you find a gun or ranged weapon, or run into a thrusted-upon-you action set piece.
“Thief” is so secure in its quasi-pacifist design that the the bow featured so predominantly in the promotional material is more of a utility than a weapon. You stock it with blunt arrows, water arrows, and fire arrows, and while you *can* attack guards with these, you’ll probably just annoy them or cause minor damage. They’re better served hitting light switches, extinguishing flames, and igniting flammable materials as a distraction. The whole idea is to use these tools on the environment to get around guards, cover your tracks, and progress to the objective as silently as possible, but a whisper in the shadows.
The limited resources thing also plays into the upgrade and shop systems – money is scarce in “Thief” and a lot of the upgrades cost quite a lot of dinero – you can either buy a pair of trap disabling wire cutters…or stock up on arrows and other tools to make taking advantage of the environment a little easier. It’s a tricky balance that encourages you to scour your surrounding area for all the loot you can find, and to then spend that loot wisely. You’ll occasionally come across a side mission that requires a rope arrow or a tool you don’t have, and while frustrating, it ultimately makes you eager to nick everything that isn’t locked down you can go back and buy what you need.
And getting “back” to where you buy stuff is hassle and bone of contention among many. There is no fast travel in “Thief”. The city you inhabit is a twisting labyrinth of interconnected roads, roofs, apartments, and sewers. It’s dizzying at first, and since the streets are always populated with guards on the look out for you, simple navigation becomes a harrowing experience – almost like the “Dark Souls” of pathfinding, especially since the locations and types of guards on the overworld change as the you progress through the game. The only shortcuts are the ones you create or discover.
The other complaint regarding the overall design has been it’s not as open as prior “Thief” games. I have not played the other “Thief” titles, but generally speaking, crafting a wide-open world on the level of which the original had would be prohibitively expensive development wise, and likely dilute the overall experience into a “Skyrim” kind of situation. The truly interesting parts would be few and far between, trapped in an interconnecting series of samey rooms, roads, and paths – like a PB&J sandwich your Grandma made that featured the “J” in name only. Then again, lots of people like Skyrim and its thin coating of J across a massive landscape.
What Eidos Montreal has done, and what I think is the optimal approach, is deliver a hearty but not massive PB&J snackable treat, meaning what it lacks in scope is delivers in density. From the start “Thief”’s world is teeming with mystery and out-of-reach shiny things you know you’ll be coming back for later. There are ledges you can’t yet reach, doors you can’t yet open, and ropes you can’t yet climb, all piled on top and beside each other throughout the city’s labyrinthian landscape. There’s a great ‘nooks-and-crannies’ vibe, with a good sense of verticality, alleys to poke around in, and distinct landmarks like a very pesky, well lit, guard tower that always seems to be on the way to the next major objective. There’s a good chunk of side missions of varying quality, some simply requiring a tool, and others requiring your brain to figure out a code or decipher the location of a particular piece of loot.
It’s all about the loot actually, and there hasn’t been a mission or moment that’s felt out of place or annoying outside of a puzzle involving rotating staircases. I haven’t been forced into combat sections, nor has remaining undetected been a cakewalk. I feel my options are many and creative, including a mid-game mission where I overloaded an opium dispenser and knocked out the entirety of a brothel. As a bonus, difficulty is nicely augmented by just how badly you want every piece of loot, which is often stashed in hard to reach areas, locked safes, or on guards and enemies themselves.
This all controls pretty well after a bit of a learning curve. Navigating the menus can be kind of irksome, there’s iffy takedown mechanics, and the parkour elements feel a little tacky considering it borrows the “Tomb Raider” thing of coloring stuff you can jump on or use white, and there are a couple of areas where you think you can make a jump and can’t. While we’re at it – selecting an item requires a couple of extra button presses than it should.
On the flip side, holding “X” to steal coins from enemies as you sneak behind them just to release in the nick of time, or quickly picking a lock while someone’s back is turned all control well, and you’ll rarely curse the controls as the reason you died or failed an objective. Beyond that you’re always aware of if you’re visible or about to be spotted, a handy focus vision highlights interactive objects, and you never feel confused, unfairly challenged, or cheated.
It’s tense. It’s a special kind of tense, too. If the internet personality “Super Bunnyhop” is to be believed, when Hideo Kojima pitched his vision for “Metal Gear” to Konami over two decades ago, the powers that be initially balked – refusing to believe that a videogame where you avoided combat could be popular – and it wasn’t at first, hence “Metal Gear”’s ‘cult classic’ moniker. Kojima’s “Metal Gear” threequel “Metal Gear Solid” made that idea viable. Sneaking past guards, disabling cameras, spotlights, and creating noise to distract potential threats delivered a whole new type of tension to the masses.When you’re hidden and an enemy walks past, It’s almost a second cousin to the “Don’t go in there…don’t go in there!” goosebumps you get watching a good horror movie.
While the settings, locations, characters, and monsters “in there” change, that tension remains the same exhilarating sensation. A good stealth game gets this tension right. When a game gets it wrong, it’s often because developers are worried the players will get frustrated, feel pigeon-holed, or not have enough tools to do what they want to do or grow impatient. You’ll notice “Metal Gear Solid” evolved into more of an action game as time went on, with stealth elements saddling up awkwardly to the shooting, and it seems in general developers have made stealth either a forced-upon mission type (Looking at you, “Assassin’s Creed”), or an element of a power fantasy like in “Far Cry 3”. Not that “Thief” isn’t a power fantasy, but here the power comes from a much different place. It taps into the part of our soul that loves the last three moves of Jenga, pulling off an insane trade in Monopoly, or getting “Final Jeopardy” right a week in a row. It empowers your super-genius fantasies, not your superhero ones.
Thus, when it comes to why I love this game and seemingly no one else does, I’m reminded of “The Karate Kid” reboot. It took the basic ideas – namely a kid learns karate from an old, wise, eccentric guru to change his life for the better – and jumbled everything else. The setting was changed, character traits were changed, the scope was changed, “Wax on, Wax off” became “Jacket on, jacket off”, and The guru’s demons were a little more personal. I *loved* it. It was fun, silly, sweet, conveyed a positive theme, and was pure entertainment. So of course three or four people forced me into seeing the old one because ‘it was the best’, and I thought it was a little slow – more an iconic film than an enduringly watchable classic.
My experience with “Thief” is much the same. I like that the map is hard to traverse, I like that guards have a half dozen alert statuses, I like that fighting is an absolute last resort, I like that money is hard to come by and equipment is rare – and hell, I like the game is chode-like in that it’s thicker than it is long. It isn’t so massive that if I put it down or a day or two I come back completely lost, but there’s enough girth there to warrant grabbing ahold of the game with both hands.
So, yes, “Thief” is a game I know manufactured on the shoulders of creative giants, but if you never met, or spoke with, or even put eyes upon those giants, “Thief” stands mighty tall all on its own.
I think everyone has one or two people on their Facebook friends list that use the social media platform as a scheme to push some product they believe in to the annoyance of others and the benefit of whatever affiliate marketing program they’re a part of.
These folks so believe in this product – Plexus Slim, Shakeology, All Day Energy Greens, whatever – that they lay into you with a golden shower of enthusiasm and quasi-subconscious “WHY ARENT YOU DOING THIS!?” talking points. When someone is so blatantly enthusiastic about a product, my ‘BS’ meter goes off. Especially if that product claims to kill the pounds, lose the weight, kick-start my sagging metabolism, or give me rock hard pubic hair.
So it was weird that I was eager to try DDP Yoga. It’s weirder still that I really like it. Before I get started I want to let you know that I’m not trying to sell you anything and my technical mastery of various work out terms is suspect as best. I am to exercise was David Arquette is to WCW World Champions.
The DDP Yoga package is interesting. The deluxe edition I ended up with has 6 DVDs, a heart rate monitor, a booklet (see above), a poster of all the moves, and enough positive energy to jump a dead car battery. It’s all contained in a paper / plastic bag kind of thing, and I’ve taken to carrying my DVDs in a re-purposed “The Sims 2” case for a little more security.
The booklet is pretty wonderfully written and got me to drink the DDP Kool-Aid to a point. He explains his story, how he discovered and invented DDP Yoga, why it works, how it works, what’s contained on the DVDs, and it’s reassuring as all get out. If you cheat on your diet a day? Just work out a little harder the next. Skip a workout? get back on the wagon. DDP has done a kind of wonderful thing here, positioning himself as a surrogate “Cool” uncle. I have half expecting a “Go get em’ champ!” by the end of the booklet.
The actual end of the booklet, when he gets into the nutrition side of things and starts talking about starches, complex carbohydrates, and breaking food down into serving sizes and cup sizes, caused me to go a little cross-eyed, but there is a bevy of quality information in the booklet for those looking to get their diet mostly on track AND get in shape.
Still, considering how approachable the workout has been (so far) it’s a bit of a bummer the diet portion is more technical and complicated that I’d like.
Stick your arms out to your sides and flap them up and down 10 times. Now do the same thing again, but while making a clenched fist and flexing where your muscles should be as you can. The second one is a bit harder, right?
I don’t want to give away the farm, but it seems the ‘secret’ to DDP Yoga is the idea of dynamic resistance training, and if how sore I am is any indication, it works like a charm.When DDP refers to it as “Yoga for Regular Guys”, he’s not kidding. There’s several references to making the work out ‘your own’. There’s a few ways to modify some of the trickier yoga maneuvers if you’re lacking in upper or lower body strength – which is good. If you can’t bend all the way down, or do a complete push up, he presents a variety of move modifications that still benefit your workout without completely sapping your stamina. In fact that’s what I like so much about this particular program.
There’s an element of shame to working out for the first time – for me at least. After 27 years of being a somewhat sloth-like human being, taking first steps toward fitness can be a little embarrassing if your weight has made you a self conscious individual. You go jogging and immediately feel intimidated by those who are running faster and with more ease than you are. You try to eat right and naturally someone says something about how the thing you’re eating that you thought was good for you, is loaded with sodium or carbs or gluten or some other thing that kind of discourages you from the whole shebang.
But with DDP Yoga, the only person who knows you’re making an idiot of yourself is you….and your Xbox One camera if you’re a conspiracy theorist. Even better, so far, I haven’t felt left behind, or out of shape, or like a fat load with no hope in sight. For whatever it reason it hits a very specific sweet spot that is satisfying and cardio intensive, but not exhausting or overwhelmingly demanding of your chicken-nugget-shaped body. By the end of the first workout I was sweating, tired, but elated. Filled with so much piss and vinegar I wanted to build a science-fair volcano.
I’m three ‘official’ workouts into DDP Yoga, doing two yesterday and one this morning before work and am about to tackle another after posting this and before checking comments. I’ve also tackled his ‘office’ workout which explains the whole concept behind dynamic resistance better than I can. It’s pretty freakin’ wonderful.
Overall Right now I’m pretty sore, but it’s a satisfying kind of sore. My armpit muscles hurt, my upper arms, my ass hurts, my legs hurt, but at the moment I can’t get enough. I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that I’m going to stick with it for the rest of my life, nor can I say, yet, if it will change my life.
But thus far, in the proverbial glow of a new thing that promises to make my life a little healthier, while ALSO appealing to me as a pro-wrestling fan (One of the moves is a “Hulk Up” kind of thing, its fun!), I can’t get enough.
There’s also a wonderful community over at teamddpyoga.com happy to offer advice. I’m not sure how many of them are going to try and sell you the system and get commission, but it never hurts to sign up and have a peek around.
Anyway, this is the most confident I’ve felt about this kind of thing, ever. I’ll come back in a month or so and provide a status update and maybe some kind of before and after and some updated impressions. Until then, I’m down to answer any questions or whatnot as it pertains to a totally out of shape guy bending himself in ways he’s only seen in the kinky porno.
He’s a real Doctor
Hopefully Farva is around to answer any like, medical based questions, and perhaps can speak to the benefits of yoga in general! I’ve included a picture to the right in case you see him.