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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ex Machina Review: Hall of the Mountain King

This movie is brilliant. It's Black Mirror with a bigger budget. Learning more about it would only ruin the surprise. It's an intimate, slow moving, beast that eventually leans back on it's hind legs and rips your face off.  I could go on, and I will, but you should see it first.

Still here? Need a little more to go on? Fine, but that's not what I want for you guys. You should have absolutely no idea where it's going or who any of the characters are. But here we go: Caleb is a junior programmer at this world's equivalent of Google... or Facebook. It's kind of an amalgamation. Either way, he's selected to join the company's reclusive CEO at his mansion somewhere in the frozen wilderness. I think it's Alaska.

Unassuming nice guy, Caleb, is now deep in Nathan Bateman's element. Oscar Isaac plays his eccentric billionaire so delicately I'm going to try my best to put it into words. Here goes: High functioning hipster sociopath with delusions of godhood. See... that doesn't give his subtly justice. He's got that "rich creep who desperately tries to be the everyman" thing going for him. I can't tell you how perfectly he nails all those Kubrick wannabes I've let talk my ear off at parties on how they're going to change the world.

I like your foreshadowy skull there...

Only Nathan actually did. There's a robot in this movie too and that's what makes this film so special. I just spent three paragraphs setting up the protagonist. You thought it was Caleb didn't you? Nah. He just has the most screen time. I'm not trying to spoil anything, but do try to keep Ava's prospective in mind at all times.

It's a foregone conclusion that Alicia Vikander has "broken out." But I can't discribe her performance without spoiling her arc or intentions. Which are both the whole point of the film.


"Oh don't get me started on i7 processors. You do not want to plumb the depths of my rage over i7 processors!"

She's playing everyone. She was programmed to. We never get to see the real Ava because she never lets you. She's tasked with escaping Nathan's compound and she does so brilliantly. The depth of Ava's deception is mostly thanks to Vikander who plays the virginal honey trap like I've never seen... hell, I fell for it. Harder than I like to admit. This is also a perfect date movie for the right kind of  girl. 

People are throwing Kubrick's name around in terms of visuals and they're not wrong. But I'd argue Kubrick wasn't this feminist. EM may not exactly pass the Bechdel test, but it is angrily anti-patriarchy. Even though it doesn't seem that way for the vast majority of the running time. It's shockingly refreshing in that regard. The camera pans over Ava are sexual, but never lurid. There's also a quick disco dance sequence that's also the most upsetting rape scene I can remember.

If for nothing else, enjoy this movie for butchering the "nice guy as de-facto hero" trope. I'm really sick if it. I don't care that I identified with Caleb the most. I don't care that I probably would have done everything he did. I care that the movie explicitly called out his unearned expectations for sex and violently denied them. He didn't deserve it and Ava deserved to be free. 

It's a great sexual politics yarn that everyone over the age of 18 needs to see.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A bunch of rich pricks have successfully toyed with my emotions.

"Playable Teaser" was an unassuming demo unleashed onto the Playstation store a few months ago. You would walk down a hallway in a house in a predetermined pattern, exiting through where you had just come in through the basement. Each round through the never ending house would get progressively creepier culminating with swinging red lights, a headless stillborn fetus crying in a bloody sink, and usually a ringu-esque lady would strangle you to death.

It was going to be the next Silent Hill, it was going to star Norman Reedus, Guillermo del Toro was consulting, and now none of that is going to happen. The publisher, Konami, and the director, Hideo Kojima had a massive fallout. They had a studio named after him! Well... not anymore.

I'm not going to lie about how hard I fell for PT. The entirety of the world's gaming press did too. The PT was wonderful. So fresh and so interesting that it makes me almost choke up in anger as I'm writing. Once again, I see big budget entertainment for what it really is. A boardroom of people giving other people in other boardrooms large amounts of money. When they fight we all loose.

Kojima will land on his feet even if... hell, especially, if MGS-V goes down in flames. He'll get more respect that way almost. Yet horror has lost a 3 star general in the battle for gaming's soul. We were so close to having something so special. Or at the very least, the most earnest attempt at something special since Silent Hill 2. That was more than a decade ago.

Friday, April 24, 2015

I just bought GTA V... again. There's something wrong with me.

I don't know why. Maybe I want to test out my rig a year after the upgrade. See how it's adjusting to newer releases that actually took the time to be PC. Maybe it's peer pressure or maybe I like the games more than I'll admit to myself.

I thought I was better with money than this...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Age of Ultron reviews are all over the place.

I'm a bit of a follower when it comes to critique. Because it's only rarely I wonder what movie they were watching instead of me. But this first wave of reviews are very different from each other. Some like it but are ultimately disappointed, some burn it to the ground, some think it's a more cohesive film that the first overall.

I'm in the middle, confused. I'm a decorated browncoat as far as my Whedon bias goes, so let that color your opinion. I want to believe in this movie so hard, that I'm curious if the more negative reviews are lashing out at the market saturation of comic book movies than anything else. Probably not, if a site like IGN brings down their hammer like that, there's definitely something wrong in Marvel paradise.    

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Psychonauts turns 10 today and Steam's selling it for a song.

For a $1.50, you too, can own one of gaming's most martyred. It was delightful, whimsical, dark, witty, and sold like a lead balloon. I remember the summer I bought it. Five dvd's worth of unfiltered magic. I didn't know games could be that funny or that manically imaginative. Plus the drama behind the scenes before and after were a sight to behold. Originally created exclusively for Microsoft... then dumped. Then picked up by Majesco... then they  shortly filed for bankruptcy.

I  couldn't believe such horrible things could happen to such a talented company. But Double Fine has hung in there. Still over appreciated and under sold. And us Psychonauts still have faith. Notch, the billionaire creator of Minecraft, was more than willing to throw $60 million to make it happen. But Tim Schafer, Double Fine CEO and human teddy bear, refused to take his money. Citing the financial sinkhole it could become. He turned down free money because he didn't want to hurt the guy. That's... well, noble. But I still think about that sometimes and I still pout.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Guess who's favorite movie just got Netflixed?

Mine! It was my favorite movie. I've seen it at least 14 times and I'll probably watch it 14 more times before I shake off this mortal coil. It's become a litmus test for friendships. If you like the work of Edgar Wright, we can be friends. If you think Hot Fuzz is superior to Shaun of the Dead... we can be best friends.

SOTD is a fine film, I love it. But it's a caterpillar spinning a cocoon. Hot Fuzz is the emergence of a great director. It's so far beyond it in both ambition and accomplishment there's hardly any comparison to be made. It has three dimensional characters in a heightened reality. It has a gag per minute ratio that's only been topped by Wright himself. It needs a ridiculous explanation for it's second act murder mystery to sustain it's finale... but it comes up with a brilliant logical explanation anyway.

And don't get me started on how each act echoes the same story viewed through an idyllic lens, then a murder mystery, then an action movie. Because that attention to detail is just unheard of outside of Kubrick. And Kubrick was never as comfortable being funny.

Sure never got a Dr. Strangelove 2.

It's attention to story and character is so goddamn rare in comedy I'm shocked and appalled that most people write it off as a "good" movie when it's really a masterpiece. So watch Hot Fuzz again. You'll like it more each time you see it. Edgar Wright's magic like that.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I've been doing the Crackpot for 2 years already?

 That was fast.

Marvel's Netflix's Daredevil adds audio discription!

Daredevil is good. Shockingly good. Like, renew your subscription if you ever liked Vincent D'onofrio, good. But what was kinda sad, is that the the blind superhero continued to be shackled to a visual medium. I'm not sure the blind enjoy many comic books, but they can enjoy movies with an audio option that turns them into a quasi radio play.

After a short delay, they dolled them out and now you can listen to a calming voice over describe the emotional significance of the set's lighting. It's almost like a writer commentary. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Bloodborne Review: A Waking Dream Come True

I've done it! I've whittled that hulking, screaming, monstrosity down to a nub. This is close to my 14th attempt to take this bastard down. He looks a whole lot bigger now and he's spraying poison gak everywhere, but his tells remain the same and this time I've got him. He's gearing up for his big ol' intimidating hind leg slam, but he doesn't know that he's sealed his fate. I'll just shoot him, bring him crashing down to earth, and stick my cane sword right through his... uhh...

*click, click*

Sh*t. My gun's dead and I'll soon follow. But it doesn't matter, because next time I'll get him. Next time I'll run circles around him and that is the magic of the "souls" games. At first they seem impossible, at first they seem like an overpriced exercise in masochism. But they aren't. They simply want you to forget what you know about gaming. To change your expectations. If you stick with them long enough and do a little research... and die a whole bunch; You'll learn how to play the most rewarding experience gaming has offered in the last 5 years combined.

Starting with Demon Souls and continuing with Bloodborne, you are once again a stranger in a strange land. Stuck in a dying world whose last chance for any sort of rescue was decades ago. You aren't a savoir, at best you either put it out of it's misery or stay it's execution for a few more precious months.

That place's name is now Yharnam. A decidedly more Victorian and steampunky departure from it's previous medieval fantasy trappings. And what a stunning respite it is. Minute to minute there is more jaw dropping setting and atmosphere in this game than any that doesn't rhyme with "Vio-flock." This is one of those rare experiences that's just fun to run around in, soaking up it's jumbled and tragic lore.

Nevermind it's got combat that is near impossible to put into words. It's like mastering an instrument. Same with Dark Souls before it. Only Bloodborne is more like an electric guitar to the former's acoustic. Once again, a souls game asks you to forget what came before, but this time it wants you to relearn what it's already taught you.

No. More. Shields.

Those words struck terror in my heart. How dare they?! I spend nearly a hundred hours over two games hiding behind my trusty shields. They were a safety blanket Bloodborne cruelly tore away from me. "Do you want a Dark Souls game ghost written by Lovecraft?" it asked me.

"Yes." I said "That's almost to rad to imagine. That is radness on a scale I'd not considered nor knew existed." Bloodborne smiled and raised it's gun.

"Good. Now DANCE!" 

The shield has been replaced by the gun. Though much like it's Victorian counterparts, they don't do any damage worth dealing. They are a means to subvert. Milliseconds before an enemy lands it's blow, if you hit them, they will be stunned. They will then be powerless to stop a fabulously bloody counter attack that kills most enemies in a single blow and makes bosses quake in their boots. I've spent 28 hours in Bloodborne, beat the thing, and I'm still only batting 400. But landing one as a killing blow to a boss that's brow beaten you, forced you back to earlier areas to scrounge for health and supplies, and generally just treated you like a classless punk?

It's an experience I shelled out $460 for and do not regret in the slightest. You should absolutely do the same*

But yes... that is certainly an asterisk isn't it?  While I did enjoy about 85% of this wonderful game, I haven't even brought up it's PEERLESS monster design. Possibly the best in all of gaming. There are issues.

For instance, I miss finding gear all over the place. I miss leveling up my armor, I miss magic, and I miss generally being able to fool around with different builds. Do you have any idea how much I loved taking my blood soaked Dark Souls monster slayer and trying on all my different hats, Miyazaki? After 20 hours in your new joint I've only found, like, six. I'm not seriously holding that against the game, but it certainly did bum me out.

And the only real character class choice you ever get is whether you want to use heavy weapons or light. That's a bitter pill. As I plow through my second playthrough I'm thinking its a little too bitter. I'm sure it was a way to eliminate having every enemy and boss cater to sword-ers ranged-ers and magic-ers but I don't think the trade off was worth it in the long run.

I reserve the right to run around this guy firing hurtful blue lights and then decide to turn into a clay jar for some reason. RESPECT MY RIGHTS, BLOODBORNE.

Sure there are a bunch of randomly generated dungeons you can hop into if you find the right items for a chalice ritual. But they're decent at best and bafflingly pointless at worst. I spent nearly an hour running around in some massive subterranean courtyard after I killed all the enemies and couldn't find some stupid key. Speaking of, all the enemies reek of a scrapped traditional Dark Souls direction and the chalice dungeons end up feeling like an opening act. Fine on it's own, but paltry when pitted against the main event. I bet you money the whole concept of them was borne out of finding a way to doll up a bunch of unused assets that no longer fit the Victorian ascetic.

Thankfully, length isn't an issue, though it's not as sprawling as either souls game. What's there is top quality and there are still massive secondary areas you can only find by wiki-diving. I'm glad that's the case. Yet the whole ending to BB is a bit of a misfire. Not "bad" by any stretch of the unknowable cosmos, but a humongous missed opportunity. For a game that honestly captures the fragile and ephemeral chill of Lovecraft's horror, we never truly step into the mouth of madness.

The "last level" so to speak, isn't a consciousness shattering dip into the realm of the great old ones and that broke me. Maybe I got stuck for too long and my expectations got the better of me, but BB made me say those two magic words one should never say during the end credits: "That's it?"

What it is I won't spoil. But know it's very very very very VERY very very very... expected. But  each Souls has had a similarly underwhelming finale. Unless you count DS II's DLC and The Ivory King. That was radness made flesh. A radness that would burn straight through your eyelids least ye be so foolish to gaze upon it. I mean to say it was half combat, half resource management puzzle, and all rad.

Hey, little guys, come on... daddy's sorry he yelled.
That was a longer list of grievances than I'd planned on writing. It all just sorta spilled out. I forgot I hated the chalice dungeons so much. But that's like saying that you chose not to dip your masterfully cooked Fillet Mignon in the steak sauce on the side. Because a half decent steak doesn't NEED a steak sauce, it needs more STEAK. But who doesn't finish a great game and ends up wanting a little more from it? Bloodborne bothered me because it came so horrifically close to being a personal favorite. A masterpiece that would get to party on the same shelf as New Vegas, Dark Souls, Civilization V, Bioshock Infinite, Borderlands 2, and... what? Yeah those last 2 are with me, we gonna have a problem?

So its not without flaws but it blazes an exciting new trail. It's mad experiment in making a fast paced Souls game paid off brilliantly and it's choice in decor was sumptuous. Like an old, ornate, leather arm chair you can't help but nestle into again. Only... you can't recall ever sitting in it before. But that's silly, you've always had that armchair. You've never gone an hour without sitting in it, ever since your father brought it home that one time. What was his name? It doesn't matter. You're going to spend all day in that chair. Perhaps even the next. You muse out loud whether or not you'll ever want to get up again. But in the very back of your mind, you begin to fear that you physically can't.
That's Bloodborne. And instead of being perfect, its really really really really really great.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ok Chance, now THAT madness has ended too.

So yeah! Take that, Bloodborne! My review is forthcoming, though it won't be all stars and sunshine. While I do think it both a masterpiece and a shoe-in for GOTY... I have one massive bone to pick.

Why don't I just get it out of the way right now: the last area is PATHETIC. As much of a letdown as many (a pox on them, I say) believed Dark Souls II to be, there is nothing in that game as uninspired as that rote little fortress. Nothing.

 Stay tuned for elaboration!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

There's going to be a 5 Nights at Freddy's Movie... and it could be really good!

Thanks, Badmask!
I've never actually played these games, but I've devoured other people's reactions to it, poured over the wiki full of fan theories, and adore how the design of each character is intentionally unintentionally creepy. That's a horror brass ring right there.

The first poltergeist clown did that. The new one?

That's just straight horror. It's too obvious. But other than that, the story is pretty damn good. The gist being that a nightwatchman had been dressing up as Freddy Fazbear, murdering children, stuffing them into animatronic suits and the pizza chain managed to cover it all up. The word from the producers also sounds like their hearts are in the right place. The words "Terrifying" and "weirdly adorable" speak to an almost Gremliny vibe. Which is perfect. Sign me up.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The madness has ended.

I'd like to make an announcement that may shock and disgust some, I've lived in Durham NC all my life and by extension... am a rabid Duke fan. BOOOOOOOO, evil rich kids across the lake! BOOOOOOO, ex-military straight shooter coach who genuinely cares that his players graduate!

Come at me internet.

Anywho, last night's game was spectacular. Wisconsin? You were wonderful, you had us on the ropes for almost 40 minutes. It was a flaming hell of a game and you should be proud of yourselves. You know what the best part is? All our star players are Freshman. I believe we're just getting started. Maybe K's thinking about a three-peat.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

I wanna finish Bloodborne...

But I hate Rom. Just too much. I'm stuck, alright! So I'm tearing through Bob's Burgers whilst I lick my wounds. So here's some of that.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The best season of Bob's Burgers has been Netflixed!

Christ, it's been a long time, but season 4 of Bob's Burgers is on Netflix. Fort Night, Mazel-Tina, Seaplane, Equestranauts! All the best an already great show has to offer. It took an extra 6 months but it's ready... are you?!

Yes. Yes you are. Get moving.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

I basically made Alexander Dumas in Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity

Look. Just look at that smug, magnificent, bastard.
Even though these isometric RPG's aren't my thing, there was no way I wasn't going to throw money at Obsidian entertainment. That rag tag group of badasses that have stuck stoically/suicidally to having story matter most in their games at the expense of graphics and stability. They also made the remarkably true to form South Park: The Stick of Truth. A game so deeply in love with it's source material I'd recommend it to people who've never picked up a controller before. They've also made my favorite game, just... period. My favorite game. I love them so much, I'm willing to venture outside of my comfort zone into really really dense high fantasy.

But it's their really really dense high fantasy. Built from the ground up by a bunch of writers, Chris Avellone included. The dude who is, for my money, the best open ended story teller that's ever written. But enough about that, today I found favorite character portrait I've yet seen. I was gonna do a ho-hum, sword and board, knight... but then I came across this roguish and dapper sum-b*tch. I love it so much that I vow I'll plow through Pillar's alleged 60 hour run time based on that alone.