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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Best TV of 2014

2014 was a mixed year for movies and a deeply disturbing one for gaming. But it was another notch in the "golden age of television's" belt. It's been so good for so long, I'd almost forgotten about Hannibal! So here we go... and don't worry, True Detective isn't #1.

5. Bojack Horseman.

Yep. I loved it. I even watched it all again to try to convince myself I had just enjoyed it more while buzzed. Not so. Yes, the first 2 episodes are bland as the worst of Family Guy. But once it gets it's wheels spinning, once you see Bojack as the conflicted Machiavellian jerk that probably deserves all his poorly hidden misery... it gets good!

My review.

4. The Legend of Korra.

I'd admired the show since it started, it's really the only cartoon I still followed it week to week. But for some bizarre reason, I never blogged about it at all. I don't know why. It had a spectacular non-conventionally attractive female lead, a comic relief character that was actually funny this time, and each year it tackled dark and complicated political quandaries. Yes, there's a lot of talk about what the last scene in the last episode expresses, and that's impressive. But more than that I always loved the even handed approach it took with 3 out of the 4 antagonists. Excluding one power mad jerk, we had 2 marginally sympathetic terrorists and a 27 year old woman who convinced herself that her hard line militaristic empire would save the world. You guys! There was an animated show aimed at teenagers and children that struck up a meaningful conversation about the bloody unification of China! Take a bow, Konietzko and DiMartino, take a bow.

3. True Dectective.

Man, did this one wind me up. I wasn't the only one. While the ending was safe and expected, instead of shocking and original, I think it still ranks amongst that greatest police procedurals ever made. Because there is a fine art to stringing along ravenous viewership week to week. That's something this series absolutly mastered.

My review.

2. Hannibal.

Every time I want to gush about Hannibal I never know where to start. How about when Hannibal roasted a man's leg in a decorative clay cast and made him eat it as his last meal? Do I even need to go on? Read that sentence again. This show is bursting with style and substance horror movies never seem to have and this season was even better than the last. Watching Will Graham grow dark behind bars was a treat, if for nothing else than to give Hugh Dancy more to do than run a fever this year. He'd also make a much better joker than Leto. Just sayn'.

My review.

1. The Leftovers.

I struggled to put this at #1 But this show impressed the hell out of me. I mean, I would have put Black Mirror up here instead, but that show technically just made it here after running since 2011 in the UK... and 2 out of the 6 are kind of awful. But The Leftovers! Right, grief is really hard to convincingly put on film, but this show had to sell grief in every frame. The fact it never got tiresome is a minor miracle on it's own. The fact it wrapped up beautifully and was the work of  Damon Lindelof is even more shocking. I'm always happy when writers address their fan's biggest concerns.

As a rotating ensemble show we follow the different members of the Garvey family and what they're doing now that 2% of the world's population have dissipated. Mr. Garvey's just trying to keep his daughter close as his wife and son have shuffled off to their respective cults. Mrs. Garvey's cult is the most interesting as I don't really care for the son's arc in general. Though the plot twist was pretty brilliant. No, Laurie Garvy's "Guilty Remnants" are where it's at all season. They all wear matching white, they have a vow of absolute silence, they constantly chain smoke, and they break into people's houses and steal family photos. "You're wasting your breath" "They're not coming back!" They spell out in signs. They are beyond infuriating and are spectacular villains. Not monsters, you get both sides, but like all great villains... they go too far. Holy mother of macrame do they go too far.

And there's the side stories too. Some even taking up their own episodes. Christopher Eccleston almost stole the whole season with his. As a pastor with a catatonic wife, huge medical bills, and on the verge of losing his church, his episode almost stands on it's own. He's tremendous. But mostly I put this show in the #1 spot not just because it rewarded my patience and attention, but because out of all the great tv this year, there was something different about this one. It understood adults and teenagers in ways most shows never do. It explored all the different ways grief can warp your life if you let it. And that all it's fortuitous twists of fate feel truly, deeply, earned. You need to give it a shot.

See you in a few days with my games of the year. It's a short list...

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Seriously... I've never been this sick before.

I had uncontrollable chills. I could barely sleep because of the pounding pulse in my ears and apparently if I take more than 4 dayquil a day I can go into liver failure. That's not enough, DAYQUIL!!!!!!!!

Figure it out.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014

RIP: Stephen Colbert, The Imortal.

It happened last night, a great American was lost to us. Sure, Stephen Colbert will be taking over the Late Show in May, but I'm not talking about Stephan Colbert, I'm talking about Stephan Colbert. The well informed idiot that listened to his gut no matter what nationalistic nonsense it spewed. The Colbert that knew that something was only true if it felt true. The Colbert that proved our nation wasn't as intellectually bankrupt as we feared.

In the end, his legacy will be one of coy rationality. A true pacifist's message delivered by a rabble rousing stooge. I can't be alone in picturing the archives of the Report as historical record and seeing quotes of his being lauded along side Mark Twain's.

We may not have lost Stephan Colbert, but we have over seen a funeral for a great man.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Guy Pearce has some serious pipes

Let's get something straight... Prometheus wasn't Pearce's fault. Yes, the story was a slasher flick abomination of one of the most wonderfully cerebral horror films ever made. The point is, he threw all his weight behind that shoddy script and ridiculous old age makeup. All of it.

He does the same in his pop music debut. He's going for a David Bowie-Freddie Mercury feel, and I say he deserves a pat on the back for it. It's a good song, but it's an even better music video. Sure, the demonisation  of commercial excess has been done to death, but watch Guy Pearce do it. He looks like he's having a ball playing so viciously against type. I think you're gonna like it.

Final Fantasy XIII-2: The tail is wagging the dog so hard I'm getting dizzy.

It suuuuuure is!

I can put up with a lot. Throttling frame rates, dated graphics, and late to the party console ports if you give me a game worth playing for 2 weeks. For only $20 and a C+ from PcGamer I thought I could put up with some cheese to see what that franchise had been up to since 2006. But mother of god, I did not see this coming.

For the first 40 minutes there was no dialogue, just... exclamations and jargon. I know I haven't played the first in the series but Jesus Lord, this is some impenetrable bullsh*t. I'm not gonna grouse about the pop acid jazz abomination that is it's soundtrack, I'm just going to speculate that no writers actually wrote this sucker. Or that the "writer" was really a visual designer that needed to cover his tracks to support whatever fever dream he needed plopped onto the screen.

Games in recent years have been making big strides for better stories and characters. I guess I've become a bit of a snob. But I didn't what to punch every other character in the face in FFXII for opening their over-designed mouths. Or in VI or IX... maybe in VIII.

I'm gonna keep wading through. I'm on a mission now, I'm getting the same pain in the back of my neck that I got from watching The Room. This could get awesome if I didn't have to work today and could down a shot before diving back in. I'm weirdly invested now.

Come on... tell me you don't wanna punch him in the face. I mean, is hair bleaching a huge thing in Japan or something?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dragon Age Inquisition Review: What a show.

You wanted Bioware to make Skyrim? You got it. If there was one thing wrong with Bethesda's opus (and there were many things) it was it's hok-tacular story telling. I mean they got Michael Gambon, Michael (goddamn) Gambon, and all he was asked to do was... dragon shout tutorials.

But Bioware is better than that, less inclined to sprawling open worlds, and more comfortable carefully crafting three dimensional characters. Then the combat and then the story. Those are the best things about inquisition in descending order. The cast is once again, exceptional, and the combat keeping in step with 2's methods. I.E every character has a bunch of skills that cool down and cost stamina and you can switch to anybody you want on the fly.

The story doesn't get as much love as it should. At least the main narrative doesn't. The end comes off as more of a mid-season finale then the show stopping trilogy capper I'd hoped to have seen.

If looks could kill, I'd be bleeding out.

But those are mostly communication problems. As massive and as satisfying as the game is, it does an absolutely terrible job managing your expectations. When I was a third of the way through it felt like the game was just getting started. Near the end I noticed two continents on my world map were completely untouched. Surely I couldn't be done yet... I haven't even seen half the world! 15 minutes after I thought that, the game was over.

The reports of 80 hour run throughs have been grotesquely exaggerated. If you sip and savor the game; Mine the best stones, find the rarest ingredients, kill most of the secret dragons, and track down those friggin' shards, you'll milk 45-50 hours. At most. It's not as long I wanted it to be, but only if I compared it to Mass Effect and DA2 before it. Inquisition is unique. A grand experiment in story telling across a massive world. In that way it feels more successful. 

The massive scale allows time for Bioware to be goofy. I'd be lying if I said my favorite parts of all their games are when they break the po-faced "save the universe!!!" bravado and just make me laugh. There's 30 secret bottles of liquor hidden from start to finish, each weirder than the last. "Bitterbile, a vintage that is not so much served as it is brandished." There's a quest for a missing ram called "The Ballad of Lord Woolsley" and Varric's back. God, I love Varric.

You quippy, authorial, lil' munchkin, you.

Speaking of which, have I ever told you guys I'm the one person on planet earth that hated origins and loved (like head over heels, loved) Dragon Age 2? No? well stick around and get angry! 

I did, though. The design of the first game was so rote and expected I thought Weta Workshop would sue. Millions of dollars spent to essentially recreate the same dreary high fantasy fare I'd a seen a million times before. After I killed the big purple dragon, I called it gilded vomit and put it down for good. But I was a Bioware faithful, Mass Effect had a lot of pull for me in 2010, so I got DAII on the cheap. I steeled myself for a rushed amateur hour and was absolutely stunned at what I saw.

The combat was faster paced and more intuitive. The characters were more interesting and original. The story was focused on smaller, slow boiling, political catastrophes. The vast majority of the design work had been redone and improved. Yes... dungeons were reused too much, but I can forgive 5 overused locations if they have more personality than most of Skyrim's paint-by-numbers dungeons combined.

I said all that so I can say this: Inquisition is DAII-2.

...with a couple familiar faces if you skipped it.

I mean that in the most flattering way possible. The story has a large international politics bent as well as the rote "kill the big bad wizard" deal. Guess which one the team focused on more? It's actually kind of a shame, too. The villain is so much fun to look at, it's absolutely criminal how little screen time he has. You literally only meet him 3 times. And as I said before, the show stops just as it feels like the rising action is starting.

But that's just the main story. For once, the main story in a Bioware game is not the main event. I hope you like crafting, because this game will have you scouring the world for secret herbs, magic pelts, armor schematics, pissed off dragons, lyrium smugglers, astrolabes, invisible keys that lead back to a massive dungeon that demands hundreds of the aforementioned invisible keys. Oh, and fortresses to storm.

Can you ride an Elk?! Damn straight, you can ride an Elk!!!!

There's too much to do and you're gonna have a blast getting lost. I've sunk 78 hours over two characters and I'm more than pleased with A. how deep the character creation tools are, and B. that you can choose two different voices for each gender. My roguish, English, human was a far cry away in personality than my brusk, American, wizard elf. Yep. You have 4 actors to choose from and the two I chose were pretty solid. Nothing approaching Jennifer Hale's FemShep... but you shouldn't have your expectations so high. Get down from there!

In the end, Inquisition couldn't save 2014 from generally being a miserable time to be a self identified "gamer." It didn't live up to the heights of Mass Effect 2... but it didn't toy with my fragile emotions by letting me down as hard as ME3. It's not a great game, some of Bioware's stellar DLC may change that, but for now it's a very, very, good one. In a year littered with massive delays, disappointments, and over hyped mediocrity, I say it's enough.

Friday, December 12, 2014

I'm kind of obsessed with "busy earnin'

Ever since Tales from the Borderlands I've been listening to it at least twice a day. I can't really articulate why.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cristopher Lee is 92 and metal as hell.

Christopher Lee has a Christmas single (apparently he sings) and it's fizzle of standards rewritten to praise a slightly... different deity. The God of rock and all that is metal. Also I just just remembered how lucky I am to be alive. How awesome is life, guys?!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Binding of Isaac Rebirth, Review: Between Heven and Hell.

Defenseless at the knife wielding hands of his delusional mother; Isaac retreats into the basement to fight though a nightmarish horde of the unholy. He's armed only with his own tears and a lifetime of mementos detailing a harrowing story of hope, loss, and deep emotional abuse. Yep. Isaac shoots tears. Also his dead sibling's fetuses are power ups. So this is not for everyone, but would you believe it's not anywhere near as sacrilegious or cynical as it sounds? Well ok... it's a little sacrilegious.

The Binding of Isaac was never a game I'd say I loved, but one I didn't seem to stop playing all throughout 2011. You could play it for 20 minutes or 4 hours at a time and reaching the end bosses were honest to god achievements. Because this game is harder than you've heard. Like a more unpredictable Dark Souls. Reaching an end takes as much skill as it does luck, but it's somehow not as frustrating as it sounds.

A lot of the things that try to kill you smile in this game. Does that make you uncomfortable?

I beat the original every which way and still bought Rebirth. That's how good it was. While Rebirth is technically the same game, it's faster, it's bigger, more accessible, and it's every bit as good as before. This is a damn good remake, that oddly needed nearly twelve people where the original took 3. But nothing more. It does not reinvent the wheel, merely providing hundreds of different kinds of the same wheel. The result is a little scatter shot, and I'm not talking about the actual scatter shot.

Some of the new comers are great! Fire tears seem like an early game breaker, but they can make enemies spontaneously combust, forcing you to keep a healthy distance at all times. Others are a confounding mess that can ruin a flawless run. Like gravity tears. F**k them. I wanted to shoot straight, not have them form concentric circles around me like a dingus. All in all, the good outweighs the bad, because new power ups and new bosses are never a bad thing for these kinds of procedurally generated deals. Also the final  boss (or is it?!) before the game branches off into either the heaven or hell ending has been reworked and is much more satisfying.

Hey gravity tears? F**k you.

The only thing that actually bothered me was the soundtrack. The original was wonderful. Haunting, beautiful, and badass. The new one is... fine. Sometimes approaching Danny Baranowsky theme building and then chickening out into ambient pointlessness. After so many promising steps forward, that was a massive stumble backwards. Also the new pixelated ascetic allows for better performance and bigger rooms, but the loss of the hand drawn look bums me out more than I expected.

Though, this is a great game for veterans and new comers alike. That tight rope act is not lost on me. Sure, the game has a "normal" mode, but it's really the easy mode. Even a slightly easier version of one of the hardest games ever made is going to rough you up a smidge. Though I still cannot say whether this is the "definitive" version. Technically it is the deepest, but the absence of the original soundtrack robs so much of the atmosphere. But I've harped on that enough, this is a steal at twice the price. If you've craved something radically different, something that can make you feel physically ill then tease a little chuckle out of you, this is your game.  

And a here's a piano remix of Baranowsky's work just in case you think I'm messing around, here.

I am NOT messing around. Not here. Not ever.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The rights to Blofeld have shifted back to the Broccoli estate... then this:

No more "quantum" half measures, guys. The Bond films own Blofeld again, which meant that they could slowly introduce a modern riff on the most iconic Bond big bad of all. I thought they'd try to make it a third act twist, but no. The whole movie is called "Spectre." To which I start hopping up and down and foaming at the mouth. Because I know Christoph Waltz is playing a villain and I know the creative team these days would absolutely murder a Ernst Blofeld arc.

I absolutely cannot wait another fuggin' second for this.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Did you read Chris Rock's Vulture interview?

Because you should. It's tremendous. It represents the best of his unique talent. It provides a simmering, justified, anger that you can't help but relate to. Everything from Cosby to Ferguson, to Robin Williams, to Obama is covered with wit and style. Yeah, the interviewer shoves the questions into obvious directions with little tact, but Rock rolls with the punches like a champion. It's the best interview I've read all year.

You need to read this. Right now.