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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Mindhunter Review: How's your mom?

Mindhunter isn't the exactly the best police procedural I've ever seen. It isn't even the best new show this year ( The Keepers). But nevertheless I INHALED it. Horked it all down in less than 48 hours. Would you have enjoyed David Fincher's Zodiac if it was 10 hours long? Because that's exactly what it is even though it covers several more killers.

This is a meatball sub. You know what's in it but that doesn't mean it can't surprise you. The bread is a garlic baguette made fresh that morning, the meatballs are grass fed beef, and the red sauce is a Sicilian family secret centuries old. Nothing here is going to win any awards but I could watch this show once a week for the rest of my life. You know... if there was a new one each week.

This is meant to be a deep dive into the dawn of behavioral science in law enforcement but it shines as a nickel tour of American serial killers time forgot. Ed Kemper, Jerry Brudos, and even Monte Rissell get... justice doesn't feel like the right word. Great performances at any rate. If you love true crime like I do, you're gonna get a kick out of the many interview segments that break up the character drama. Which is sadly the weakest link.

It's not a deal breaker but it does feel like filler compared to how electric the procedural elements end up being. Holden Ford ( the hundredth character based on John E. Douglas) is a teacher at Quantico who is deeply frustrated by why motiveless spree killings keep happening. He teams up with the older Bill Tench as they go on the road teaching various police stations about "sequence killing" by day and interviewing a murderer's row of... murderers by night.

Their personal relationships needed more work. Johnathan Groff just isn't as talented as his girlfriend Hannah Gross. She kinda acts circles around him and you wonder why she keeps putting up with his stodgy self centered BS. Not that Groff is "bad" he really shines during interrogations. But during the relationship scenes he is just so devastatingly charmless.

Anna Torv eventually gets on board as the basement crew's psychologist/M. and I'm stunned why she doesn't get more work. She's perfect for film noire and Fincher's low key baroque style is a wonderful fit. It's honestly a shame we don't see more of Tench's and her personal life. I found his adoptive parent situation and her dilemma of leaving her professorship to start over much more interesting than Ford's flailing attempts at romance.

To be fair their relationship arc is pretty great.
But ultimately it's the meatballs that make or break this sandwich and the mystery vignettes are spectacular. One is a hunt, the other a he said/she said clusterf*&k that tears a small town apart and one more involving a elementary school principle that is something that should win a writing Emmy. It won't but I'd vote for it. They hammer home just how radical this method of getting into killers heads, empathizing with them, and predicting what they'll do next seemed to people at the time. Killers were born killers. Nothing you could do about it.

There's a great running gag with a beat cop who waits for the road school to be over and comes up to them before they leave and says "so there's this one guy..." There were always one or two cops that saw truly horrific killers slip through the cracks in their methods. Without guys like that, Douglas's research may never have been proven right and so many more killers may have gotten away with  higher body counts. Mindhunters shows how effective cooperation can be and never talks down to the locals.

Lastly, my favorite point the show makes is something I've noticed over the past year or so devouring true crime podcasts and reading The Man with the Candy. It's that scant few serial killers are actually "born" that way. Most suffered incredible kinds of abuse physical or otherwise. Most had absent parents or were never listened to when they cried for help in their own way. They aren't Hannibal Lector, in fact most are fairly dim. Sympathy is a strong word for what Mindhunter says they deserve but it makes a fine point in saying that most people haven't been through what they have and they are far more pathetic than popular fiction would have you believe.

The dialogue may be overwrought at times and it's relationships a little soapy. Yet I found this show impeccably researched and refreshingly honest. The only huge knock I have against it is the foreshadowing of BTK. He's teased in 8 of the episodes, mostly before the opening credits for only 10 seconds. They treat him like the season's big bad but he doesn't get caught until 2005. If they did some day in the life stuff with him, great. But there's barely any of that. So there you go. An occasionally gripping true crime drama with a sub plot involving a creepy home security installer that goes nowhere. Enjoy!


Thursday, October 12, 2017

My Cuphead runneth over.

My podcasting buddy Chamberlain asked Chance and I for our steam ID's today. Maybe he's in the market for a gaming pc, I hoped against hope, but no. It was so he could give us both an early Christmas present, two copies of Cuphead. It is from the bottom of my heart that I say...

Thanks dude. For realz.

A Belated Birthday Gift.

Mmmmmm... fluffy.

When my older sis gets presents she never repeats herself. Whether it's a cutting tool to turn beer bottles into drinking glasses or a vice grip for those sticky jar lids; it's always weirdly useful left field stuff. This year she's outdone herself. Mugs with recipes written all over them that can be made in the mug. I just whisked myself a fine portabello and red pepper omelette in less than 4 minutes. Its just dawned on me that I've no frying pan and spatula to clean.

This changes f*%iking everything.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Civ VI's new update notes bury the lede.

You'll hurt yourself craning your neck like that.

New UI tweaks... nice, I get it. The flood of updates telling you what all the players were building each turn was drowning the screen, that's neat. The AI will now build navies, I had noticed they never seemed to. Weird. Oh and uhhhhhhhh, warrior monks. F*%ING warrior monks. Finally your late game stock pile of faith can pull your ass out of a war. That's awesome, Civ VI. Never stop gradually becoming the best in the series. You're definitely my favorite.

Monday, October 9, 2017

War of the Chosen Review: The Glorious Cause.

Firaxis has a habit of making near perfect games. Then they have a habit of making old school, honest to god, expansion packs that crawl closer to perfection than you thought possible. No game is "perfect" but no one has the art of striving for it down harder than this company. Civ V started out disappointing but eventually came into it's own. Xcom 2 started out great and is now... well, now its f$%ing amazing.

To be fair $40 is a huge asking price and unless you know exactly what you want out of this dlc you could get burned. Do you want more maps and mission types? How about more soldier classes? An espionage mini game? If all that sounds good to you then this is money well spent. But did you try, and despise, the alien hunters DLC like I did? Then this becomes a harder sell.

Because this massive content pack is centered around a trio of sumptuously well animated alien assassins. If you are not a fan of enemies with health bars a mile long popping out of nowhere and ruining your mission strategy, you are not going to like them. WOC is designed to break you. It sees you turtling up and using overwatch like you have a million times before. It sees you and it laughs. New enemies and one of the chosen are straight up immune to overwatch. A massive chink in my strategic armor that humbled me to the point of having to crawl to easy mode. I'd never touched it in XCOM 2, I wasn't particularly jazzed about it. But it was for the best.

WOC has changed the game to the point where you have to re-learn it. It is absolutely worth putting weapons research on hold to focus on the resistance ring, the new espionage feature, which is also the only way to put the Chosen down for good. I love it. It took some time, but the main series has finally taken up the best idea from The Bureau. In that game you could send your raw recruits on off screen away missions and train them up without having to deal with their freshman bullsh*t. There are tons of different stuff you can make them do. Whether you need supplies, weapon upgrades, contacts in other countries, even knocking a few notches off the doomsday clock. Whatever direction you need to go in the resistance ring will put your lowly squaddies to good use. It's magnificent.

If there's one thing I didn't really enjoy after about 2 playthroughs (one easy one normal) is that the game can spam an obnoxious amount of enemies while also throwing a chosen at you. Once I had a mission where there were 7 turns before a bomb went off. It would take 4 turns to disarm it and it was surrounded by 2 captains and 6 faceless.

Six. Six of these muthers.
Often XCOM is frustrating and sometimes the only way out involves losing a good soldier... but that mission was goddamn impossible. It wasn't the only time I ran up against that crap either. It was super rare but I knew that eventually the game could decide to stop playing fair and that was a super sh*ty feeling.

Other than all THAT though, I found the new soldier classes fun at worst and indispensable at best. The skirmishers, advent hybrids who have defected and have grappling hook attacks, are a fun compliment to the rangers. If they get a little too stab happy and are pinned down at the end of their turn, your skirmisher can hook an enemy up to their high ground. They'll get a melee attack in and even knock them out for a few turns. The codexes can't clone themselves after a grapple attack... food for thought.

The templars are a melee based psyonic class which you can snag real early in the game if you get the ring up and running. Their sub-machine guns are less than useless. But their armor ignoring gauntlets coupled with being able to block the first attack on the next turn are NOT.

The reapers stole my heart. Stealth was never something you could rely on in the vanilla game. You could build a ranger around it but even then it wasn't a card you could play more than twice a mission. If you're careful, the reapers can LIVE in stealth, just as long as they always get the kill shot. With a reaper my odds of a flawless mission went up 30% and they made that irritating UFO ambush mission a breeze. With a reaper and a few snipers I could take out entire squads without ever alerting them. The skirmishers are fun, the templars are fantastic, but the reapers changed the entire way I approached the game.

As someone who really enjoyed XCOM 2 and WOC even more so... I can still see people balking at the price tag. If you were bored of what the original game demanded of you but still want to dive back in, this is for you. If you haven't touched XCOM 2 and see a 25% deal for it some time down the road prepare to watch the next 2 weeks of your life evaporate. It may not technically be perfect, what in this world is? But it's as close as this series has ever gotten.

Good luck, Commander.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Hopscotch Purgatory.

Sometimes games grab you and don't let go for a week or two. But all good things must end and eventually you have to find something else to do. I usually wind up jumping from game to game from my shame pile trying to re bottle that magic. Suffice it to say, The Long Dark is no War of the Chosen.

Maybe some of you out there enjoy waiting 30 seconds to see if your digital fire catches but I'm still not on board with games that sit you in front of timers more than anything else. So now what? Civ VI? Maybe. After a game and a half I usually drop it for a couple weeks.

What to do...

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Good Place is, in actuality, the best place.

Here be spoilers.

Mike Schur is a genius. I'm sure I've brought this up before. Parks and Rec will forever and always be my chicken soup show. But I've struggled to pin down what I care about most in what he does/what he encourages out of his crew. I think I've figured it out, because it's what's kept me from loving most other comedies. I wanted to get into Big Mouth more than I did, it was funny as hell, had a killer premise, and 5 or 6 brilliant sketches about puberty/relationships. But there was something missing. Story structure.

Scenes would stop the instant the funny ran dry whether it made sense or not. In Rec even the smallest scenes always had a beginning, middle, and end. Or at least a punchline. In Rec, characters like Donna and Jerry evolved slowly from joke machines into fascinating people in their own right. Their absence would be felt. Whereas Big Mouth's most ubiquitous punching bag, the upbeat/crushingly lonely PE teacher, could  have died off camera by next season and I would be just a teensie bit relieved.

Strip out everything that's funny about Schur's shows and you still have a brutally honest look at small town America and it's politics. In this case, a lighthearted but cutting twilight zone epic about the bureaucracy of hell. Sorry if that's a spoiler. It's been on Netflix for a month and a half. What I love most about the Good Place isn't just that its giving philosophy majors everything they deserve... it's outplaying Lost.

In the first 60 minutes this year we have blown through an entire season of plot development. I thought I was so damn clever in thinking that there would be some sort of truce between the torturers and the torurteries. But, like, in 10 more episodes. I have absoulty no clue where they can go from here and I f**king love it. I'd watch Kristen Bell in a version of The Good Place half as compelling as this (lord knows I've seen the 3rd season of Veronica Mars), but this is one of the most intricately plotted shows on the air. Period. It may become the victim of it's own hubris but not yet. Right now, in the pantheon of great American comedy, Schur is competing with himself.

And winning.