Monday, December 21, 2015

Star Wars - The Force Awakens

I saw this on Saturday at the most expensive screen (not my choice) in the least popular theater in my area; there were like 20 people there or something out of 400ish seats. I’m sure if we had gone to the other theaters or cheaper showings it would have been packed but it was still a fairly small number all things considered. The film has received near universal praise so far, locking at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.8 on IMDB, so you’d expect it to be incredible; but in reality it’s just another JJ Abrams movie. I saw this with my oldest brother and my Dad; I found the movie to be solid, my brother loved it and my father was disappointed; perhaps for 62 year old fanboyish reasons.

Abrams is a reasonably talented director and poor TV show organizer that’s superb at introducing new ideas and then not really delivering on them; as far as movies are concerned he’s able to make a tightly constructed, fun action movie almost every time out; but those are the extent of his powers. No Abrams movie was ever going to be utterly fantastic or anything, he’s just the ultimate safe bet for a very safe movie. The Force Awakens is basically just a New Hope with a slight reskin in almost every case; and I do mean slight. The film adheres so much to the traditional look of the original trilogy that various aspects of it look sort of “cheap” in a modern context. It’s certainly possible to use practical effects incredibly well and make a film not use that much CGI (a la Mad Max); but in the case of Star Wars I just want to see some cool shit; I don’t really care if it uses actual models of star fighters or what have you.

So, while a lot of cool shit does happen in the movie some of it, especially early on, looks a bit suspect. For comparison’s sake the game Star Wars: Battlefront (which my brother bought for some reason) uses the exact same aesthetic and looks fucking incredible at all times. There’s a lot of uncanny valley going on in the new film, because everything looks pretty much identical to things in the original trilogy but ever so slightly different; just a little off to the point where it could bother you. It isn’t enough to hamper the film too much but it does speak to a very restrictive set of options that the filmmakers were given with which to create a product; they basically said “Here’s Star Wars, don’t fuck it up!” and as a result we have this very crowd pleasing acceptable movie that is generally unremarkable otherwise.

That said the level of polish and attention to detail in the movie is incredibly impressive and it certainly does feel like Star Wars. There’s a variety of cool scenes and scenarios reminiscent of a New Hope, and some general joyous swashbuckling on the part of Han Solo that everyone will appreciate. The new characters fit rather nicely into their pre-existing molds and don’t really do anything particularly astonishing aside from that; both Daisy Ridley and John Boyega seem to be very competent actors but their roles are very simple and have almost no backstory beyond general vagueness. My Dad found this to be reprehensible for whatever reason, but this is probably just a thing with modern films where there needs to be more action so they can’t spend time hanging out with Lars and Beru and the Cantina scene can’t have a few minutes without something weird going on immediately. It didn’t really bother me that much; the characters themselves are just totally acceptable and within the norms of Star Wars more or less.

As far as specific things that people bitch about in the prequels I think a lot of attention was paid to that as well, the force is used much more simply and directly; the bad guy just gets pissed off and aggressive instead of simply being evil, and the Lightsaber duels are more like an actual sword fight instead of just a ton of choreography. That said I don’t think the new Villain is as intimidating as Darth Maul and his backstory is a little too loaded to work particularly well. He’s played by Adam Driver who I’ve previously seen in the Woody Allen Noah Baumbach movie While We’re Young. In that movie he’s just a really charming, relatively nice (though ambitious) guy and in the new Star Wars he oscillates from being evil to whiny and evil again. To be blunt it’s hard to impress me with a villain now since that’s like the one great thing about the last 15 years of movies, so if you’re just going to have a villain that’s okay it’s not going to bother me much. He was probably more intimidating than James Spader’s comedy routine in Age of Ultron.

The film is paced well, has interesting action sequences, and will be somewhat watchable in the future; though it’s never going to be a New Hope; just a very well-crafted imitation of a New Hope. To my surprise the references in the film are toned down relative to the new Star Trek movies and while there are some extended universe nods they’re just there for the fans and not a massive aspect of the storyline. There are some surprisingly brutal scenes in the old Star Wars movies if you think about it, like Lars and Beru being scorched to skeletons or Han Solo straight murdering a dude in close quarters; or various other scenes in the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi; but the new film is extremely safe on that front. 

The only thing in the movie that really takes a horrifying beating is a bulkhead and most of the rest of the “evil” scenes are played for comedic effect. I don’t think Disney is incapable of making an interesting movie that pushes violence boundaries and so forth, the original Pirates film is testament to that; but the Force Awakens is very nearly “PG” caliber in terms of the level of violence on screen. I get that it’s kid friendly and all that and I have no problem with PG movies (Mr. Holmes is my second favorite film of the year), but they could have tried to do something shocking aside from plot choices.

Overall I’m optimistic about the next 20 years of Star Wars movies and reboots and prequels and sequels and spin-offs; The Force Awakens is certainly a step in the right direction. Universal consensus seems to suggest that the Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the series and certainly up there all time in terms of Action movies, but personally I like a New Hope the best and this movie had just enough of the right beats to keep me entertained. On the whole I think it’s around the 7th or 8th best movie I’ve seen this year out of like 25 in theaters, it’s certainly no Mad Max but I think it will hold up better on repeat viewings than Kingsman (though it is only slightly better) for example. Sicario is sort of an action movie so that would make it the third best one of those all year. Worth seeing if you like Star Wars, worth seeing if you don’t (actually from the general response those that dislike SW seem to like this one the best).

Aside: Christmas makes this unpredictable but it looks like the film is going to fall just short of beating Avatar's domestic run. Edit: Nope, definitely going to beat it. Probably not going to get a billion domestic but who knows. The brand is invincible.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Greetings friends, it’s time for your annual motivational story about boxing and montages, give or take 20 years between Rocky V and Rocky Balboa. Actually annual is perhaps not the best term to choose, but it does seem like this exact movie comes out an awful lot. However Creed is not a poor man’s Rocky by any stretch of the imagination; and while it’s true that the film is mostly predictable I think it deserves recognition for its own merits and at least some perception of the minor issues that it has. I’ll go at this review assuming you’ve seen the admittedly mediocre previews.

Creed starts depicting Adonis Johnson as a “good kid that likes to fight a lot” right out of the gate and he doesn’t really shed that tendency throughout the film. There’s a brief instance of arrogant swagger right near the beginning that quickly gets shut down in favor of him being a relatively mellow guy that just happens to be good at punching people in the face. So if the goal of the film was to create a mirror of Carl Weathers’ storied performance it’s definitely not even remotely similar. However that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Michael B. Jordan’s character is much easier for the audience to immediately connect with; if not be awed and inspired by.

On that note it’s kind of interesting that he was mostly raised in a well to do “family” with Claire Huxtable. After a rough early childhood he basically settled down and became a white collar citizen. It’s implied that he kept boxing on the side but we’re not actually sure of that and I’d actually be fairly interested in a portrayal of him in High School or something. Did he just randomly beat the shit out of people or did he keep that to Tijuana? It seems like whenever “Donny” has an emotional moment in his life his natural instinct is to bash into smithereens; and I suppose I can appreciate that approach.

It is novel then that Creed is able to make Adonis seem like a gentlemanly figure who cares for family and his elders as well as maintaining his self-respect. In fact his dialogue is almost exclusively positive aside from a few scarce scenes. He really does seem like a wholesome guy in the end, which if I was to make a portrait of Apollo Creed may not wind up being the case. His character flaw is sort of his biggest asset, punching things; but he never does anything shocking in that regard just gets a little frustrated with a door or a rapper or what have you.

I guess they didn’t want to add too much depth to Adonis so that they could still focus on Rocky still having a good, interesting, extremely emotional character arc. Oddly while this got something of a reaction out of me what really got me invested in the film were the training montage segments, especially the final one. The score of the film is extremely varied and effective, but it is perhaps at its most effective in that moment. I’m sure people will hail the eventual usage of the Rocky theme but that’s kind of super predictable so it’s not a revelatory moment or anything.

This film was not nearly as elusive as the Martian and I was able to go out and see it just this morning; for some reason my newest movie buddy likes going to very early movies, presumably because of the relatively cheap price. Due to Bloodborne I’ve been waking up early for a week or two so it’s not a huge deal on my end; and hey ultimately I save a little money on my never ending crusade to see every potentially good movie that appeals to me, and even the real classics that are outside my repertoire.

Boxing films are movies I enjoy though most of them follow a similar arc, the notable exception being Raging Bull which kind of has a dichotomous storyline. The Fighter of recent years had a unique flavor to it and actually had Christian Bale showing some of his youthly range again so I was all over that one. But as far as Rocky goes I’ve only seen the original Rocky and Rocky IV. Rocky IV is of course a hilarious movie and a masterpiece on that level alone; any movie or piece of fiction that spurs on popular culture is always worth seeing even if the film itself is not up to the usual standard. I’ve also seen Cinderella Man and I think that is more or less exactly the same quality as Creed.

Creed is a fantastic Boxing movie and one of the year’s best. The most impressive part aside from Stallone and the score was the fantastic cinematography. There is an entire two round fight in the film that is a single 5-6 minute cut; and while that’s difficult enough to do in any scenario it is incredibly hard to fathom how they managed to pull off boxing choreography with no cuts or dramatic zoom angles and so forth. Faux Boxing in films is generally done at much lower speeds than actual fights for obvious safety reasons but it seems unlikely they could have made it look convincing in a single cut; and I’m sort of curious how they did it other than make the actors take actual swings at each other. So if this movie gets nominated for Cinematography and (criminally) Mad Max does not this is probably my second choice for that award. Next to best Actor and Picture I think Cinematography is the highest determinant of how good a film actually is with relation to the Oscars; though obviously Picture can go awry.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Martian

Ah the elusive Matt Damon failed to elude my grasp forever! I asked five people to see this movie and all of them had similar “I despise Matt Damon” responses to the question. So I had pretty much given up on it at that point, but I finally found a willing soul a month later. I’m something of a Ridley Scott aficionado and this film is likely his best in over a decade; though many of his others have been conceptually interesting at the very least.

This is of course your requisite Gravity/Interstellar Space and “Science” movie for the year but it falls somewhere in-between on the scale of absurdity. Interstellar has been praised for being relatively grounded in actual science, which isn’t surprising given the meticulous detail of one Christopher Nolan; and Gravity on the other hand has been disparaged for being totally implausible. I don’t know where actual Scientists stand on the Martian but for the most part it isn’t strictly a series of improbable events.  It seemed believable, though perhaps optimistic for a variety of reasons.

Yes this film is a happy one believe it or not, happy films (that aren’t asinine) are all too rare so I’m glad to have been able to see it while it was still relevant.  I don’t think it is quite as intelligent as Mr. Holmes as far as the expansive “Happy, Smart” genre goes but it does move the plot along with relative efficiency without being overly insulting to the audience.  At one point I was sure the film was going to drag as they justified a potentially confusing decision for 5 minutes and they just immediately moved on to the next part of the film, to my pleasant surprise.

The movie does however have a shitload of “stock” characters; actually I think every single character in the film is a stereotype other than Matt Damon (who’s just a short brown haired guy protagonist of course). This is something that happens in almost every movie of course, but for an exclusively excellent film to do it is a little perturbing.  The optimism of the film clashes with the bleak presentation of over a dozen typifications of humanity.

However despite these issues I still felt almost the entire cast was excellent and they played their roles quite admirably. Matt Damon’s character (Watney) is played humorously, which takes the edge off the solitude and loneliness of Mars; it would have been very easy to make a depressing or tiring character but instead we have an entertaining one. Damon himself plays the role quite well as he tends to in less serious movies; he is certainly not as inordinately offensive as he was in Interstellar; and instead of despising him at the end of the movie you’re just happy you were able to witness his incredible Botany Powers manifest.

Overall I think this movie is just about dead even with Sicario for the third best film of the year; haven’t really decided which one I like more. Sicario is on the outside looking in as far as Oscar nominations go and the Martian will sail to a Gravity-like dozen or so nominations; but as far as actual valuations of movies go it’s hard to say. I think it just depends on your personal preference; a happy elaborate yet simple movie or a brutal, complicated movie with an at best ambiguous message. As always naught will touch Mad Max (which may actually be in Oscar contention) come year’s end.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Daniel Murphy

So this is the first sports post I’ve written in a long while, to commemorate the glorious magnificence of one Daniel Murphy and his improbably nay impossible postseason performance so far. There will be numbers ahead but I’ll try to stick to the semi-legible ones and make fairly simple comparisons so that more people can understand it. Most (but certainly not all) stat minded baseball people are God awful at expressing themselves in an intelligible fashion so I’ll try to avoid too much of their densely overwrought writing.

If you hadn’t heard at this point Murphy, he of 12 regular season Homeruns, has hit 7 in this postseason and 6 in his past 6 games; assisting the Mets in a sweep of the beloved Cubbies. Despite being a White Sox fan I didn’t grow up in Chicago so I have no real hatred for the Cubs but them failing over and over is still amusing. Especially when they have the best Manager in baseball and one of the better GMs. Theo Epstein is probably at least a little overrated but Joe Maddon really is a messianic figure. Speaking of which Lord Murphy definitely fits that description as well.

In the regular season Murphy hit 281/322/449 (771 OPS), a generally unremarkable figure, he’s more or less average or slightly above average. Nothing is offensively bad about Murphy and nothing is particularly great either, he’s just an alright MLB player. He is however white and also has a shitty OBP so that means people will like him a lot for no particular reason; he’s the nitty gritty heart of the team and all that shit. Never failed to run out a ground ball, Rudy personified, effort, passion, love of the game and what not.

So out of the blue he just decided to have a fucking insane postseason to this point and in the NLCS alone he hit 529/556/1.294 (1.850 OPS), with a home run in every damn game of the series. That is, quite simply, preposterous; it just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. He’s not even a young player where maybe he could be having his breakout moment or something, no this guy’s a pretty set in stone alright guy and will continue to be so. How does that series line stackup? Well let’s look back at some old chums of ours and compare:

Carlos “former Lugnut” Beltran 2004 NLDS 455/500/1.091 (1.591 OPS)
Alex “Sucks in the Postseason” Rodriguez 2009 ALCS 429/567/952 (1.519 OPS)
Mickey “Mick” Mantle 1960 World Series 400/545/800 (1.345 OPS)
Barry “My Ego is as big as my Head” Bonds 2002 World Series 471/700/1.294 (1.994 OPS)
Babe Fucking Ruth 1928 World Series 625/647/1.375 (2.022 OPS)
And last but not least David “The Forgotten One” Freese 2011 NLCS 545/600/1.091 (1.691 OPS)

That my friends is a fascinating list. This upstart from New York has some mighty fine company, outclassing all but possibly the best two players who ever touched a baseball bat. Yes yes small sample size and all that, but that’s what makes this whole thing fun. Babe Ruth gives no fucks about legends and so forth, he’s just the best; he didn’t need no fancy ass numbers to prove it back then and now they all vet him and grovel before his transcendent magnificence. Barry Bonds, he of the 36.8% Hall of Fame vote, merely posted a 700 OBP in his lone appearance in the World Series; only a slight improvement over his 2004 regular season stat of 609. Bonds, he was just on base, like always. 400 OBP’s good you say? Nah fuck that shit, 600 or you suck; as Barry would not doubt inform his captive audience.

Freese was a very young player in 2009 so he was a bit of an unknown going in and could have theoretically become a very good player; instead he’s just kind of okay. He became Daniel Murphy over time while Daniel Murphy has just been living his workmanlike $8 million/year life and casually posting an OPS+ over 100. It’s very possible Daniel Murphy has a career year in the next few (post contract ironically) and further justifies his existence, but the man has no chance of ever being a legendary hall of famer or anything. At best he’ll get his number retired by the Mets or something, assuming they win the World Series (get fucked Royals fans). At worst he’ll be like Freese and be an obscure bar trivia question in a few years (I was the only one in the bar who knew it).

What does Murphy’s future look like contract wise? Well he’s probably going to get 4/48 at least, maybe 5/60, maybe something inbetween. Without this postseason I doubt many non-Mets fans would be aware of his existence, even for a short while; and that prominence means he’ll come up in more contract talk, but ultimately it will only boost his price by 10-15% or so; nothing particularly abrasive. I’ll remember you Murph, if no one else does; you did good kid. Now go back to being a normal sized Nick Punto. Unless of course the White Sox sign you, then you’re doomed.

Aside: I’ve only seen Interstellar once so no references, alas. Murphy, it's you.

Friday, October 2, 2015


Sicario is a film centered around the Mexican drug trade and America’s specious involvement therein; the film carries on the legacy of Traffic and the Counselor, but also takes inspiration from other films as well. A simple way to describe it is Black Hawk Down plus No Country for Old Men in the setting of the Counselor. Sprinkle in a little Zero Dark Thirty minus the ambiguous patriotism and you’re set. No Country also follows the drug trade but is much more focused on individuals than ideals so it doesn’t really fit the same exact mold.

You’ll recall the Counselor is a film written by Cormac McCarthy directly for the screen, said film was very divisive but certainly had fantastic dialogue and characters even if the plot was of the meandering variety. Sicario has very similar pacing to the Counselor, which is to say it doesn’t really care about constantly having something happen or having each scene explicitly tie into the next. However Sicario does sort of have the “comfort food” of shootouts and so on that make it a little easier to digest for most people; the shock value in Sicario is limited to a few specific scenes whereas the Counselor just has really weird shit happening the entire time. I wouldn’t force you to pick between either movie (both are excellent) but it is rather obvious why critics prefer the more recent film.

The Black Hawk Down connection is fairly simple, the first major action (if you can call it that) sequence of the film involves a huge train of SUVs with Texas Rangers, Delta Force, CIA, FBI, and Iraqi Combat Troops alongside the Mexican Police straight up invading Ciudad Juarez, heading extremely deep into your Mogadishu stand-in; at this point I was super invested in the movie and they definitely could have gone a whole lot of places, but the one they chose makes a bit more sense than various cinematic options that could have happened. There’s very brief and sudden violence in this part that reinforces the notion that Benicio Del Toro’s titular character is on even footing with America’s Elite troops, which is likely necessary for the (much later) best scene in the film to work.

Del Toro plays Alejandro, a Colombian equivalent of Anton Chigurh (whose background remains a mystery) for all intents and purposes, however instead of being an odd philosophical sort he’s basically just a mercenary boogie man that everyone is terrified of. Perhaps his most impressive trait is his method of interrogating people, whereas Chigurh might flip a coin and give you a mysterious speech Alejandro just invades your personal space. He more or less gets right up next to whomever and each one in turn is scared shitless by his very presence. Benicio Del Toro is 6’2 in reality and maybe bulked up a little for this film so I could see that working, especially if you had a universally known reputation.

Josh Brolin meanwhile just eats that shit up and cackles maniacally off to the side. At the outset of the film Brolin is introduced as a DoD operative but it quickly becomes obvious his origin is of CIA descent. He recruits FBI Agent (?) Emily Blunt after the exceptional initial scene of the film; who is basically a license for the Brolin to do extralegal activities in and around the United States. This is sort of a plot point in the movie but it’s kind of insanely obvious so when Blunt and her partner eventually realize this it falls flat since it’s so late in the film. This isn’t a huge issue with the movie but it does make those characters seem a little more foolish instead of just seeming idealistic.

The only other major flaw the film has is that presumably everyone watching knows everything is fucked and that nothing good or happy can come out of the film, such is the nature of Mexican Drug Cartel movies; however that didn’t stop them from putting in a really weird scene where there’s a brief interlude of presumed happiness which quickly aborts into something else entirely. I don’t necessarily have a problem with the scene in question and I really like the supporting scenes and how they tied it into the plot, but it just kind of dragged a little bit too long; especially when you realize the cause/effect right at the start of a ten minute sequence.

A point I haven’t really touched on too much so far is the film’s acceptance and even staunch belief in American Imperialism in the Western Hemisphere. This isn’t something that the film wants you to believe or even suggests overtly, it simply is in the film and is almost mandatory for you to understand the film. That being so it’s hard to say who exactly the antagonist of the film is, Del Toro is basically just a gun for hire; though a particularly menacing gun for hire. If this film was Traffic they would have included politics in the whole proceeding, but politics are decidedly absent from this film and anyone who actually understands American politics should be able to perceive why. There is no clear difference between the parties at present when it comes to Foreign Policy, and while this film is dealing with a matter closer to home the construction of the film is very much in the vein of a foreign policy matter; or at the very least a black ops matter.

There’s no elected officials in the film to begin with, though it is directly mentioned that the order and organization of the task force came from “on high” more or less. Those would be your typical villains, but this movie really doesn’t have any standard antagonistic characters. Antagonistic things happen and characters do things that would make them obviously the villain in a lesser film; but it is abundantly clear that there is no real, malicious intent on the part of any of the characters. Everyone is just doing their part in a horribly corrupt system more or less, and the people that question this are brought into line.

The victims, on the other hand, are very clear as we have a few more weird scenes in the film that make this a bit more obvious. The only people that really get fucked in the film are the Mexicans, sure Emily Blunt is in peril sometimes but that leads to a breakdown of her sense of justice not irreversible damage to her person. Emily Blunt is probably fine at the end of the movie, hell she might wind up being Brolin’s best bud in the future who knows. But we all know who gets the short end of the stick, because it sure as hell isn’t the Americans.

Overall this was a fantastic movie and is either the 2nd or 3rd best film I’ve seen all year alongside Mad Max and Mr. Holmes. The unorthodox structure is incredibly appealing and I’m glad they were able to work in enough of the more basic concepts to make it appeal to critics. At the end of the day, while there is at least one (the dining room) scene which is one of the best of all time, the film doesn’t really challenge you in the end, it doesn’t leave you with this lingering sense of dread, regret, or confusion. So while the film might technically be better than the Counselor it isn’t as thought provoking or as incredibly difficult to reconcile. A clearer portrayal of a similar message.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Woody Allen and Straight Outta Compton

Well I keep forgetting to write my review of Irrational Man and am finally manning up now; but even more recently I saw the distinguished film Straight Outta Compton and so we now have this amusing double post of two wholly unrelated movies. Alternate titles include: Philosophy Guy finds his true passion, Murder and Ice Cube really doesn’t like the Police. We’ll begin with Irrational Man, I’ll do my best to write a belated review.

Woody Allen’s 50 billionth film begins with Joaquin Phoenix plays Abe, a disaffected yet somewhat distinguished Philosophy Professor, who has just moved to a new university. The problem is he’s just in a depression haze the entire time and really can’t seem to find anything of worth in his existence. He meets Emma Stone and some promiscuous older Professor lady and they lounge about for a bit. Eventually Emma and Joaquin wind up overhearing a conversation in a diner, a wonderful and ubiquitous device in movies to be sure. Said conversation entails just how villainous and pure evil a Judge is and how utterly ruined these (total strangers) people are as a result.

Without ever talking to the other people Abe decides it is his profound duty and charge as a good human being to murder this judge who he has never met before on behalf of these other people that he doesn’t know. As Abe thinks and plans the murder he becomes a totally energized person and has a new and wonderful passion for life, a passion for murder. This is of course a very Woody Allen usage of irony in a movie plot. With that in mind you can sort of see where critics fall out with this movie.

However since the movie is about philosophy I still find it interesting fundamentally even if the specific case handled in the film is ludicrous. What is the John Stuart Mill Utilitarian value of a human life, and what is the prospective value of the loss of that life on others; is there a possible situation where murder becomes justified if it saves enough other people in the process? When one commits a heinous act in the hopes that it prevents another heinous act does it redeem his actions? Can even the most evil act be resolved if the prospective target is Keyser Soze himself? Yes, the fabled Hitler question. Personally I think there is such a point and I doubt many other sane people would disagree, however Abe’s proclivity for murder eventually leads to some shall we say “relationship troubles.”

This is a film I have trouble criticizing, for the same reason I can’t really criticize the Counselor; I like the director, I really like the lead actor and actress, and I like pretty much all the conversations they have. You add a side of an interesting philosophical notion and suddenly I’m even more invested. So yes even though the plot itself is relatively shallow and/or stupid I really enjoyed the movie and if you have any interest in a massive amount of dialogue thrown at you in a short timespan from two good actors then you should definitely go watch it.

On to the blockbuster film de jour. Straight Outta Compton is a really fascinating movie about a really fascinating subject. This is coming from someone who has virtually no affinity for rap but still a driving interest in the culture that produced it and the subsequent impact on society; as well as the decline of the music industry into a corporate mess which in some sense is attributable to Jerry Heller, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre.  The film begins in 1986, everyone’s in Compton (including Red Bull’s Snake Eyez) and the police are a bunch of assholes.

Pretty much every scene at this part of the movie is fucking incredible, like super compelling from beginning to end, and the film holds this up for about an hour up to the formation of NWA and some events which may or may not have happened in real life (I have no idea to be honest) but are definitely awesome in the context of a movie. And yeah, it turns out Rap wasn’t so bad once upon a time and maybe even had a fundamental and useful message for a short time. However as these things go money becomes an issue and Eazy E and Paul Giamatti have it, while the rest of the group has somewhat less of it. Eventually enough becomes enough and Ice Cube splits from the group; leading to a feud and beefs and so forth.

At this point the film starts to slow down a bit, instead of being about how awesome the group was it’s about how shitty the individual lives of everyone other than Ice Cube were at certain points in time. Dr. Dre is still successful when he eventually heads over to Death Row, but he has to deal with the incredibly compelling psychopath Suge Knight now instead of the relatively reasonable Jerry Heller. This section of the film reeks of danger that never happens, a compelling climax that is entirely absent. And the reason for this is simple: the most interesting thing to happen in that era was the Tupac Biggie Smalls feud; and that is outside the scope of the movie.

Instead we’re treated to realizing that Eazy E is very sick and the eventual revelation that he has HIV/AIDS. The scenes involving this are very well done but it’s still kind of funny that the man with “Bitches Galore” wound up being done in by his own vice. That seems to be the general message of the film; there’s a strong anti-Police sentiment (because why wouldn’t there be in this day and age) but it is quickly overwritten by a dichotomous sentiment that the real Gangsters (i.e. Suge Knight and Eazy E) get fucked and the people that turn into businessmen become successful.

The problem is that music sucks because of big business, but businessmen like Jerry Heller enabled NWA to exist in the first place. It’s a bizarre catch 22 and I don’t think the film is unaware of this fact. Hell the movie is nostalgic ABOUT ITSELF. Man we could’ve had so many albums if it wasn’t about the fucking money, damn I wish I could’ve wielded my baseball bat in Jerry Heller’s office instead of hilariously acted Priority Records guy’s office. Eazy E was just trying to get the band back together then AIDS came up and bit him in the ass. Everyone is an idiot for trying to confront Suge Knight without bringing a fucking battalion along.

If you want to hear my aural thoughts about Compton (while I play Mortal Kombat, naturally) here’s a link, the bit at 12:17 is pretty good.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Let's Play Lords of the Fallen - Test Video

Howdy guys I'm just posting this here to get an idea of what people think of it. Obviously there's the audio issue of either me breathing into the mic or it picking up my fan which is something I've sorted out for future videos. I'm mainly interested in whether people thought the video flowed well and whether I sounded reasonably intelligent in the proceedings. I will undoubtedly redo the episode in the future and while I don't think I can do a better opening monologue I can certainly improve on the other aspects of the video.

I intend to play through the entire game with Rogue, I'm unsure whether I'll play any other classes aside from random additional videos to show off whatever boss weapons I can't or don't pick up over the course of the LP. If someone knowledgeable about the game has any specific advice as to what things I should look at, remember, talk about et cetera I'd be very interested in what they had to say.

Don't be afraid to bash the video (aside from the aforementioned audio issues), I'll take any sort of criticism I can get just to get a general idea of what the public perception the video will wind up being.

An idea as to what I could talk about with more specificity is explaining that the opening cinematic is demonstrating the Mimic spell in a very over the top fashion, though since I'm not playing a Cleric I don't think it immediately flows well to implement such a discussion. If you have any questions regarding the game or its status as a "Souls Clone" and why I think that very concept in and of itself has lot of merit then feel free to ask.

Here's me singing Battle Hymn of the Republic for no reason in particular:

Edit: Here's the actual first video, fixed most of the audio issues:

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Mr Holmes and Bad Lieutenant

Out of the blue my mother asked me to go see Mr. Holmes earlier this week, the rare opportunity to see a PG movie in the wild was irresistible. We saw the film at 3:30 PM and the theater was packed with octogenarians. The film stars Gandalf the Grey as an aging Sherlock Holmes, a wonderful fit for the role. Mr. Holmes takes place in the post WW2 era and Sherlock is at the ripe old age of 93; though they also show him at a comparatively younger age as well (late 60’s/early 70’s). Ian McKellen is only 76 at this point (17 years younger than Christopher Lee) so it’s an interesting age dichotomy as they put on makeup to make him look more ancient and makeup to make him look younger than his present age.

Holmes is effectively a more realistic portrayal of a brilliant detective who has had fictional tales written about his exploits from the dear, absent Watson. In the place of Watson we have his housekeeper; played wonderfully by the incomparable Laura Linney of Truman Show fame, and her young son Roger. In contrast to your typical annoying child role Roger is actually a fairly interesting character and I suppose the closest thing to an audience insert that the film has. He looks on Holmes with wonderment and wants to emulate his every step, but is also reasonably clever in the proceedings.

As a last act in his life Holmes wants to write a “the true story of” sort of adjustment to one of Watson’s tales. However he simply can’t remember it so he takes various herbal remedies in an attempt to adjust his memory, all for naught. In actuality the mental activity of discussing things with Roger is what helps him to remember the tale. Over the course of the film this mystery alongside two others are resolved, with some relatively predictable moments of peril along the way. However the main overarching mystery has an interesting resolution that isn’t entirely obvious and leads to an intriguing ending.

This is on the whole simply a satisfying movie, since it is PG nothing particularly horrible could happen but you can still have the implication of horrible things happening. It is rare for a film to be simultaneously intelligent and “happy” as it were and Mr. Holmes certainly accomplishes that. Mithrandir, Olorin, and Magneto are all wonderful additions to the Holmes Filmography and the film’s appeal to “Genius troubles” might just earn it some Oscar support; though it isn’t nearly as overbearing as most of those movies.

So, what’s the best thing to do after you see a heartwarming PG movie? Well of course you want to go see an NC-17 movie. Admittedly I didn’t realize it when I bought it but the DVD version of Bad Lieutenant definitely has that rating. It’s hard to say whether it would keep the same rating if made today but it would certainly at least be a hard R. I went into this film with relatively high expectations as the unmatched masterpiece that is Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans certainly set the bar extremely high.

So how does this film stack up? Well, it has most of the same basic plot elements but not much of the charm or intrigue. Bad Lieutenant is basically all about drug abuse and has very little to do with police work or mystery solving but the pseudo sequel actually accomplished both sides of the story quite well.  There’s also maybe 15 solid minutes of old baseball broadcasting (not historical, though aside from the conclusion most of the broadcasts sound legitimate), and as much as I like baseball I don’t necessarily need that directly in the middle of the film I’m watching. Yes it does contribute to Harvey Keitel’s mood but I think you could chop it down to 3-5 minutes and do just as well.

The crime in this film is the raping of a Nun by 2 noble churchgoers, including some rather visceral details. And so for like 25 minutes of the movie Keitel actually engages in police work in an attempt to solve the case, to no avail. After a late interview with the Nun in which she says she has forgiven them Keitel has a crisis of faith and you get to hear the indiscernable Mr. White moaning from Reservoir Dogs for what feels like 10 minutes. He has a mental projection of Jesus who he asks “why?” to perpetually. As a religious person I actually find this scene rather fascinating but I have no idea how someone who didn’t understand that mindset would respond to it (apparently rather well), this is a great scene and sort of makes the movie all by itself.

The rest of the film is perfectly adequate in demonstrating how much of a horrible person Harvey Keitel is (Nicholas Cage’s character is more of a “Chaotic Good” sort). The ending is a predictable enough result whereas the ending of Port of Call is total insanity. I think this film is trying to be disturbing at its core but the thing is, I’ve seen Oldboy and nothing is disturbing now so it doesn’t really work for me personally. I really like dirty cop movies and I liked Dark Blue quite a lot which I saw recently, but this one is just sort of alright. Not a bad film by any stretch but not a particularly amazing one either.

A random criticism I have of the film is that all of the women in the film are ridiculously gorgeous, and if you’re trying to make a film “gritty” as it were you have to dress them up in such a way that they don’t look like that. Port of Call has only one attractive woman in it and even she still looks fucked up half the time, but regular old Bad Lieutenant apparently has a drug dealing/perpetually using woman who just looks fantastic all the time, no side effects guys; those only impact the Keitel.

This review comes off a little harsh but I don’t mean to disparage the film that much.  It’s still quite good and you should see it, just make sure you watch Port of Call New Orleans at some point because that shit is fucking amazing.

Aside: I bought Edge of Tomorrow and saw that yesterday, still pretty damn incredible. Guess what the first trailer is when you boot up the DVD? That’s right, Mad Max. So WB has put out in the past 2 years the best two movies as well as Shadow of Mordor, The Witcher 3 (US distributor, the overwhelming GoTY favorite), Mortal Kombat X, and Arkham Knight, good work WB I dunno how this happened but keep doing what you’re doing.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

What's so wrong with Arkham Knight?

I recently played through the entirety of the new Batman game and am in the process of 100%’ing it. The game is really interesting with superb gameplay, but I acknowledge it has some minor issues going on that prevent it from being superior to City; I’d say it’s arguably on par with Asylum overall (maybe a little bit better, as someone with a gameplay slant). Of course in Asylum you can get perfect variety in almost every fight in the game which is fun and it’s virtually impossible to get perfect variety (around 30 different moves) in Arkham Knight with a finite number of enemies; but I still find it fun to try.

The first major “dungeon” of the game, Ace Chemicals, is utterly fantastic and makes surprisingly good use of the Batmobile, combat, and predator rooms and even has some pretty intense drama at the end of it. The problem is the somewhat non-linear aspect and feel of that dungeon is only duplicated at one other point in the main game; the rest of the game is just a series of short diversions in various different areas. You might consider the usage of the batmobile nonsensical but it does work on a gameplay/puzzle front and that’s ultimately what matters; the main underlying Joker theme is pretty damn nonsensical and that’s probably the best part of the story.

Speaking of the Batmobile at first it feels rather awkward and forced, but over time it sort of grows on you and the game throws some very difficult fights at you assuming limited upgrades (we’ll get to that in a bit) which are really interesting and entertaining. The issue is that early game fights are very bland and straightforward; the game doesn’t ramp up on the tank front until the final few tank battles the game has to offer. Fortunately those specific fights are excellent and you can really see the potential of the Battank. The major tank boss fight in the game is great, though the major regular ass batmobile “fight” is pretty terrible (again without upgrades, probably not that bad otherwise); that isn’t because of the batmobile though just the boss fight itself is badly designed. I immediately started playing through the game again a second time and the batmobile’s awkwardness had almost totally faded away and it was quite fun to use, so I think it’s just a substantial learning curve plus some rather tedious usage of it in the game that turned people off.

The upgrade system in this game is extremely robust, however in the process of simply beating the main story and doing one major sidequest I was only able to unlock less than 10% of the abilities available. I forgot to upload a screenshot of it (playing at my brother’s house), but there’s a whole huge ability tree for everything imaginable and most of them have some relatively expensive parts to them. To give you an idea there’s a tree that has close to 20 different nodes that are all exclusively related to gadgets. Essentially you have to do a whole lot of the expansive different sidequests just to even get a mildly upgraded Batman in the end. Ultimately this actually makes the game reasonably difficult in a non 100% run which is a common enough criticism of the previous Rocksteady Arkham games.


The 100% process is actually not overly painful this time around, and this is the main thing this game has over Arkham City; there’s not quite as much Riddler Diarrhea to go around and the rest of the sidequests are generally more interesting than their Arkham City counterparts (and of course the main game is substantially less interesting aside from a few elements). Brad was fascinated by the Super Grapnel in the Quick Look but there’s actually 2 more upgrades to the Grapnel Boost beyond that so you have the Super Mega Ultra Grapnel Boost (5 X button presses then hold) by the end which makes flying around the city incredibly fast, this allows you to make traversal in a fairly large environment substantially less painful. Though the area covered is ostensibly 5 times larger than Arkham City it certainly never feels like it just due to the sheer speed of your character (also there’s not a big fuck-off wall in the middle).

A major change from previous Arkham games that also aids in relieving some of the 100% stress is there’s very few traditional “challenge rooms” in the game, instead you have several different kinds of challenges integrated into the world with a really cool leaderboard system. A personal favorite of mine is the one where you have an infinite supply of enemies and the objective is simple: don’t get hit. The sheer limitless skill opportunity this provides is kind of mind boggling to comprehend but I gave it a good try with no upgrades near the beginning of the game (having no idea what half the enemies were naturally). However even the dreaded Batmobile Challenge Rooms got pretty fun near the end of the game and the one that I thought was underwhelming was fun to do after having learned how to play with the vehicle. As someone with a specific fondness for the old challenge rooms I still welcome the change and especially the more compelling leaderboards for each of these, it really does make me want to go back and perfect each of them.

Overall I feel like Arkham Knight is an outstanding game, the problem is the year that it came out. If Arkham Knight came out last year it would be a strong game of the year contender, but since it came out this year alongside Bloodborne, the Witcher 3, Mortal Kombat X, Helldivers, and of course Rocket League; with Metal Gear Solid V, Fallout 4, and Just Cause 3 still on the way it was really hard to stand out. The game’s handful of disappointing moments and generally hamfisted plot (complete with overly obvious “The Dark Knight” references) combined to lessen its impact. However I still whole heartily recommend the game.

Aside: After playing Arkham Knight I even said to myself “hey this game is totally better than Shadow of Mordor and that was easily the best game last year.” But the thing is I went and played some Mordor just to test out this theory and uh… yeah Mordor’s better.  I don’t think it has better combat or even better exploration but there’s something about the specific feel and tension of the game that Batman just doesn’t have. When I booted up Mordor I checked out my handy dandy ubiquitous 100% save file and to my surprise all of my abilities were *poof* gone and I could run around the world with a completely basic character. Whereas in Batman this is mildly frustrating because you really just want to be a little OP as Batman, in Mordor you become too overpowered too quickly so being decidedly underpowered (while still being a fully capable murder machine) is actually very compelling.

This led to me trying out the “Test of Defiance,” a relatively easy challenge with a fully upgraded character that takes about 35-40 minutes. However, with a baseline character it took me over 2.5 hours and I had lots of really close calls and a lot of usage of uncommon tactics that were nigh useless in the regular game. With zero upgrades in Mordor you have no access to Branding, Combat Finishers, Mounts, Fast Travel, Explosions, Teleporting, and various other things; but to my surprise the game is still fully functional and almost every captain variant in the game is killable in that state (though you’re very fragile so extended combat is infeasible in most situations). The test furthers the complication by making it so you can’t drain enemies for health or arrows, which maximized the necessity of learning and knowing the environment to find herbs and fixed arrow locations. All of this combined to make for a wonderful experience and I can’t help but thank Monolith for unnecessarily patching the Game of the Year edition in and fucking up old save files; good job, it made the game more fun somehow.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Youtube Musings

Note: This is a post from this giant bomb thread, but it is something I wanted to talk about on my blog at some point and seemed reasonably articulate in that regard.

Okay so I have a vaguely successful Youtube Channel at this point (300,000 views, most of them since late March), I think a lot of that had to do with just random ass luck but also playing a new game (Bloodborne to start with). I have zero production values other than trimming videos and pretty much just straight upload stuff from the PS4 with no commentary, I do have “ambitions” of becoming a dedicated LPer on Something Awful or what have you but simply don’t have the setup for it at present, nor is there much evidence that doing so would cause the channel to grow. I think talking on a mic and having a facecam would, but not necessarily having high quality videos.

The esteemed Supergreatfriend, the best LPer in the universe, only has like 13,500 subscribers; and a random douchebag like Kailvin has roughly the same amount. I suppose there’s another lesson to be learned here and that is to buddy up with someone else who has a youtube channel, for example Northernlion’s wife is a twitch partner and has 43,000 subscribers on youtube. I haven’t done this  yet but it could feasibly happen in the future when I’m actually in LP mode and not just upload a bunch of stuff mode.

So what sets me apart aside from playing new games? I happen to be good at games, like almost every game. Okay, maybe not Rocket League. I think that + luck + relevancy/immediacy is what causes a channel to grow. You might want to start out with a smaller game with a devoted Reddit community, this is sort of what I wound up doing with Helldivers and it’s possible simply having a couple dozen videos with a few hundred views was enough to propel all the Bloodborne videos to whatever “heights.” As far as retaining the audience, well my current Bloodborne videos get like a dozen views in a couple weeks time (whereas some of the ones closer to release have over 10,000); I mean it’s just a vicious decline due to the average attention span of the modern video game player. I do however get 1-3 subscribers a day and theoretically that will eventually help to outweigh the desolation of interest in anything older than one month/one week/one day/one hour.

A large question is “how important is charisma?” Well, it certainly is important but maybe not on the absolute bottom, I think charisma is more of a thing that matters later on, that’s what keeps viewers watching Kripparrian throughout his entire adult life; early on what’s more important is playing new stuff, playing it reasonably well, and uploading something every single day; possibly a lot of things. If we look at the Men Drinkin’ Coffee, perhaps the most charming bunch of gentleman on the face of the earth, they’ve been at it for at least 2 years and they only have 4,000 subscribers; I could feasibly reach that number (assuming a natural growth) in the same time period without ever saying a single word in any video I do.

As far as what games to play, well play something that you can distinguish yourself with; if you play an adventure game that plays out almost exactly the same as everyone else’s run then there’s not really any reason to watch yours over someone else’s that the viewer is presumably already familiar with. This is why Bloodborne is such a great game to start with, there’s very disparate approaches to the game and there just weren’t a ton of people doing Logarius’ Wheel stuff at the moment when I started, which led to at least like 40-50 thousand views on that concept alone.
So if I wanted to start afresh I would begin with Dark Souls 3 when that comes out and try to play with weirdass weapons and play with them well.

For more evidence of the recency issue: when it was released I did a Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition run through the weirdest mode with the new characters Lady and Trish and it has done pretty well aside from copyright issues (apparently every song and almost every cutscene in the original is content ID matched); one of the videos is over 1000 views now and I’m sure several others will be there at some point. The game is like 7 years old or something, but not this edition.

I’ve also done Arkham Knight videos 3 or so weeks after it came out and almost every video is still in the single digit view count as far as I know. Now granted while Batman has a huge skill ceiling it is difficult to actually show that off and people just aren’t that interested in it on that level. DMC has an even higher skill ceiling but whereas absolute perfection is what you go for in Arkham in DMC you can still play well and occasionally take a few hits; which leads to a much different viewing experience from player to player. So DMC is a more specialized game and I played it right when it came out and this is the reason why the videos do well but the Arkham videos do terribly.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Here's this really dumb thing I did in the Witcher 3

I’ve been playing the Witcher 3 a fair amount in the past week, though due to work and youtube stuff I haven’t had a ridiculous amount of time with it yet. Once I reached the larger overworld I immediately set to exploring as much of the world as possible with no regard to my miniscule level; and lo! I found a pretty interesting quest line that was level 24. So I decided what the hell, let’s give it a shot. And somehow it worked, big assist to NPC helper buddies. The quest reward wound up being pretty crappy since I was so low level but it was really fun just being able to dick around 30-40 hours past where I was supposed to be.

Eibhear Hattori, an elvish scumbag, wants you to help him secure supplies so he can go back to being a smith, which apparently he’s pretty good at. However he was forced into the dire trade of “Master of Dumplings” (“mmm… tasty” says Geralt) and amusingly enough this has proven to be quite profitable; however he grows tired, hence the initiation of the quest. Eventually you wind up negotiating a la the Departed or something, but the guy you’re negotiating with really isn’t that unreasonable so you kind of just realize that Eibhear is a moron; regardless (I believe) you wind up fighting about 6 level 24-25 dwarves, all of which could kill me in one hit. So I went and cowered behind some boxes until the NPC guy did all the work. Hell of a guy that King of Beggars assistant.

This then leads to a few amusing scenes and Eibhear eventually runs, terrified, back to his shop. You meet him there and he keeps whining for a bit; but suddenly has a bright idea (why wasn’t this the plan all along?) to send you to Sukrus of Skellige; who you have to fight outside a bar. Took a while for the NPC to actually load in so I just sat around for about 45 seconds. Fortunately fist fighting isn’t scaled to your level so I still managed to kick Sukrus’ behind; and then we had a chat in the bar. Turns out he’s just a super cool dude; way less of a douche than Eibhear himself. I love the Witcher’s depiction of these kinds of characters that runs totally against the standard generic oaf.

Anyway you help him out so that he eventually helps you out, then you meet a guy who makes a Witcher 2 (and possibly book) reference, I wound up just getting level 3 in Axii to make this go smoothly. After this there’s a big rumble outside, but true to form the game provides you with more allies so you don’t actually have to do anything. Foolishly I decided to try to participate and died to the last guy when he had about 2-3% hp left or so (in one hit naturally), then it took me a few tries to find a safe afking location; but pacifism eventually won the day.

After bidding Sukrus good day I went off to see the smith and collect my shit, unfortunately even though the quest scaled to level 24 the loot didn’t and I wound with a level 2 “relic” sword that was worse than a random drop that I found on the quest. It’s possible the sword is upgradeable and it does look cool, but naturally this was a bit of a bummer; one that you’d expect a douche like Eibhear to provide. However I still immensely enjoyed screwing around with the game’s difficulty systems and unlocking a master smith super early on for the hell of it. I’ll revert to an earlier save just so the sword isn’t useless but this game’s pretty good; even if it seems like you’re directed on a particular main route you can still dick around wherever the hell you want and might even be able to finish elaborate questlines to boot.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mad Max - Fury Road

Mad Max is easily the best pure action movie to come out in well over a decade, that doesn’t mean everyone will like it equally but the first 2 action sequences are amongst the best ever put on film. The final action sequence is almost as good but I think the audience will be very slightly weary of the same basic setpiece, even if it’s an incredible fucking setpiece. Also the leadup to the denouement is just a little bit too long, it’s certainly not tiresome in that process but if you want to compete with T2 your pacing has to not only be good or great but absolutely perfect.

So how does it stack up to Terminator 2? Well they both have ridiculous trucking fetishes that I’m sure most people will appreciate, they both have female badass characters, and they both have motorcycles and lots of explosions. T2 is mostly actually stuff they filmed though (including a helicopter flying under an overpass) and Mad Max is probably about 50/50 or 40/60 on CGI (which is certainly much better than most movies at present). I actually like the annoying kid from T2, I freely admit it, but for all the people that don’t this movie’s closest analogue is not that young and has so much gusto it’s very hard to dislike him. Nicholas Hoult, the guy who plays Beast in X-Men, plays this character and shows quite a bit of range so doing.

Just how metal is this movie? I think it’s probably the most metal you can fit in 2 hours before you ascend to Chrome Valhalla Heaven. As a Man’o’War fan I really appreciate the obsession with Norse Mythology and the fucking incredible vehicle/character designs going on. I suppose it’s worth mentioning that Mad Max himself (played well by Tom Hardy, I get the feeling this is the Bane voice minus audio editing) looks amazing when he has an iron imprisoned mask on and just looks sort of bland afterward. I mean the villain has a gigantic fuck off army of 60-70 vehicles ranging from Mustang-Tanks to VW Beetle Monster Trucks to a rival Semi the likes of which the legends speak. To prepare yourself for this movie I highly recommend this video:

It’s just so fucking cool, I don’t have any other way to put it, one admires the raw industry of the villain and his methods of controlling the populace. There isn’t really a comparable movie out there, every Super Hero movie follows a very similar arc so they’re inherently predictable; which ones are vaguely close to Mad Max in some way? Iron Man 3 is probably the best comedy in the past 10 years, the first Avengers is the best CGI action movie but still certainly vastly inferior to this on most fronts just due to the nature of CGI, Edge of Tomorrow is a much more interesting movie fundamentally but can’t stack up on the action side of things, The Dark Knight is probably a better movie but does flipping a semi in real life compete with blowing up 3 or 4 semis with explosive spears and the aid of CGI? I dunno. In a world where Furious 7 grosses 1.47 billion to actually have a good car movie come out is kind of shocking to be honest; sometimes the movie industry just pulls magic out of the hat and you really feel like there’s some originality and creativity left in the world. As long as there’s milk farms consisting of giant fat ladies the world is safe and sound.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Breaking Down a Game of Thrones Action Sequence

So this past Sunday the beloved Barristan Selmy was presumably slain at the hands of the “Sons of the Harpy”. This was particularly surprising considering he’s still alive in the books and is probably one of the more likely characters to not die for quite some time. I actually applaud this decision and the willingness to stray quite clearly from the path that the lethargic George RR Martin has set, it means the show will be less predictable and it also means that Peter Dinklage will likely have a more interesting role in the future; which can only be a good thing.

However in eliminating an exalted combatant such as Selmy one needs to take special care that the audience doesn’t lose faith in his skills in the process of him dying. In this case 7 Unsullied + Barristan fought around 20 knife guys and apparently everyone died except Grey Worm (Grey Worm himself being another of the foremost warriors in the world), this wasn’t an ambush in favor of the 20; no no no in fact the assassins were chased down and caught essentially, which in any case would put them at a severe disadvantage.

Non Orthodox troops, such as guerilla fighters in modern wars will only have a functional advantage when fighting regular Orthodox troops if they have the initiative; if the ambush is laid by them and triggered as they expect. Orthodox troops will absolutely annihilate non-Orthodox in a straight fight, and must be worn down over time. The Unsullied are supposed to be amongst the best troops in the world so naturally they would have an enormous edge in this fight, even when outnumbered. For the whole “Dagger beats spear” in close quarters argument, yes that’s true but Greek Hoplites also wielded swords and it’s rather farcical for spearmen to be roaming the streets as police when they could easily be using their swords instead; however even if they used spears they would probably still have an edge simply due to superior training and teamwork.

However in the show they really don’t have any teamwork, in fact there’s little or no communication at all once the fighting starts. The Unsullied could have easily held the hall with 4 or so men abreast on either side (reminiscent of Winfield Scott Hancock’s stand at Chancellorsville that secured the Union retreat); but instead they split up for no reason and just acted like morons in general. Even accepting that the Unsullied somehow lose this impossible to lose fight you still have Grey Worm and Selmy backing them up, and presumably these 2 could probably take a whole shitload more knife guys unless they were incredibly capable (from the shows’ depiction they just seem to be fanatics and not ably trained warriors).

For Grey Worm I’ll draw a comparison to one Zhao Yun or Zhao Zilong, Zhao Yun is historically one of the greatest Chinese warriors who ever lived and his most famous accomplishment was riding amongst a 200,000 man host with only a few companions and wreaking havoc for about 5 or 6 hours, saving the totally worthless Liu Shan in the process and even nabbing a really nice sword for more killing. This is ably discussed in Three Kingdoms but as far as I know this is not a fabrication, there are certainly elements of RoTK that are but Chang Ban is an historical event and Zhao Yun really did lead a cavalry charge through enemy lines reminiscent of JEB Stuart’s performance during the peninsular campaign. So essentially Zilong was worth say 200 guys or so on that given day, if he is capable of that then surely a fictional character in a universe with dragons and undead ladies is capable of taking on 10 chumps with daggers.

As far as Selmy goes he even has it worse, he gets in there right near the end of the fight which should have been quite a surprise for the Harpy bros and immediately starts murdering fools. But the harpys don’t even give a shit, they’re not taken aback by his presence instead they seem to fight with even more fervor; this is not how this supposed to work. He only had around 7 to fight and he could easily eliminated 3 of them with his opening salvo so there would remain 4 or so, and these 4 would not really be up for fighting immediately if he doesn’t give them a chance to catch their breath and pushed his advantage; he might take a few wounds so doing but this is the best warrior on the planet surely he can handle some random guys. Nope.

If we want to go more in depth with the numbers game we can look at more Three Kingdoms examples, such as Zhang Liao’s 800 man rush into Sun Quan’s army of 100,000 which led to the defeat of the Southern army. Yes perhaps in actual history Sun Quan only had 10,000 men or so but that’s still over 12 times as many troops; so yes 8 elite warriors can take on 20 knife wielding scrubs and even do so easily as long as they’re not in a horribly disadvantageous position. The preposterousness of the scene just eventually caught up to me, despite my appreciation for killing off Selmy randomly.

So, what options do we have to make the scene better? Well I count three. The first is simply to add a shitload more Harpies, hire more extras you cheapskate bastards, if there were 80 of those guys in there I would have totally bought what happened; but it just wasn’t compelling enough as is. The choreography could use some work as well but that’s beside the point. Though of course 8 guys could probably take 80 in a narrow hallway where the number advantage was largely negated, so this option is not really that great.

The next option is to let Selmy and Grey Worm win the fight, however as they reconcile and gradually walk off into the sunset out of the blue an individual harpy runs up from behind and stabs Barristan through the heart. Selmy is enraged by this impossible event, turns around and decapitates his assailant. He then says “I am a Knight” and dies in Grey Worm’s loving arms. This is a little silly but it does work, the only situation where the Non Orthodox troops will win in a straight fight is when they catch the opponent unawares.

The third option is a lot more interesting and would show a level of tactical thought that neither George RR Martin nor whoever directed this episode possesses, however one can dream. The Unsullied chase down the Harpies, who briefly fight and lose a few men and then run (as Non Orthodox troops would always do in this situation), the Unsullied give chase and wind up in a large empty room. Suddenly over a hundred Sons of the Harpy close in from all sides and bumrush the Unsullied. They still fight poorly in comparison but the positional advantage combined with the surprise leads to their eventual victory after taking many casualties (think Tet Offensive numbers); Selmy bursts in and the tide seems to be turning in favor of him and Grey Worm, but Selmy is mortally wounded in the proceedings.

This is called a feint, a simple action to pretend an offensive measure only to lure the opponent into a more dangerous trap; feints are a thing of beauty and something that Satellites have kind of ruined as far as major wars go. In executing this tactically brilliant maneuver the Sons of the Harpy seem much more threatening while Selmy’s erstwhile invincible reputation remains undisturbed and everyone’s pretty much happy in the end.  Except Bronn because he really is invincible.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Avengers - Age of Ultron

This film is odd, it comes out after literally millions of other marvel films have hit the market with the exact same template; only it has the Joss Whedon template as well which is also very similar between movies. The first Avengers may have had that issue going in but it had some really amazing action sequences and the movie didn’t really drag at all; there were a lot of characters in the first film but they didn’t feel the need to make every one of them feel super special and unique or anything so there wasn’t a shitload of idle dialogue.

That’s not the case here, almost every major character has roughly the same amount of screen time and they all have backstory (yes, backstory) embedded in the movie as though that’s what you’re looking for out of an Avengers flick. Aside from the villain I really don’t think anyone needed backstory in this movie; maybe Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver but that’s about it. Essentially the film has mountains of “Mass Effect” style dialogue where the characters are just kind of standing around performing very similar animations that you’ve seen before and talking about cool stuff that doesn’t actually take place in the movie. So yes a Black Widow origin film could be good Mr. Whedon, but I don’t really give a fuck in the context of this movie so please just let me see some badass shit happen; that’s why I’m here after all.

It has to be almost an hour between the first two action sequences and the entire time is filled with exposition, backstory, or vaguely interesting but still somewhat terrible romance sideplots. So, how is the action, you ask? Well it’s good but it’s not the best which is what I would have expected from this movie. The coolest bits aside from Hulkbuster are when Thor and Captain America do a “team super” but those are each about 2-3 seconds long so it’s not like the whole movie carries that intensity. Jeremy Renner is fucking incredible in this because he’s Jeremy Renner and actually a good actor, but at one point he’s like “you know I just kind of have a lame bow and arrow” and while the line delivery is fantastic he’s absolutely right as well; to make Hawkeye work he really needs to be doing crazy/impossible trick shots at every turn or something but he only has a few in the movie and they linger for less than a second so the audience could blink and miss them.

How are the new characters? Again I think they’re alright, James Spader performs acceptably in his role; in fact with a better movie surrounding it I think his role would be perfectly functional; but he would really have to be intimidating/super awesome to negate some of the lethargy of the rest of the film. Scarlet Witch is played by Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister of Mary Kate and Ashley), who has been in a lot of movies and I know for a fact is a talented actress but she’s just underwhelming/disinteresting in this; I’m sorry. Quicksilver is okay, he sucks compared to the dude from X-Men though, who was in that movie for like 3 minutes. Paul Bettany’s role is improved I suppose and should be relatively interesting in future movies.

This movie kind of just starts and ends with no impetus on either side and only a little bit of legitimate tension throughout; in fact I think the trailer made moments in the movie that are underwhelming seem intense. There isn’t really an action climax to speak of; the end has 15-20 minutes of action that’s all pretty good but it doesn’t build up in a satisfying fashion and the pacing isn’t the greatest throughout. The movie kind of just ends with your stereotypical Joss Whedon plot twist thrown in there, but just due to the context of the film they couldn’t actually make that interesting or use someone important in the machinations (whereas the plot twist in the first Avengers worked rather well and didn’t just randomly happen at the end, even if it was also predictable).
In some sense this movie feels like Serenity, a movie where the characters are already beloved and you’re going to be seeing them for the last time anyway. That is obviously not the case for most of the characters in this film. Also Serenity had a 28 million dollar budget so the fact that it didn’t have a ton of action was understandable. For this movie they must have just spent way too much money on actors without actually bothering to put together a cohesive plot; so with 300 million dollars you don’t actually wind up getting all that much of that bombastic, ridiculous action that you go in expecting.

Alright so I don’t think this movie is bad, in fact I think it’s pretty good but there were 3 Marvel movies that came out last year that were better. There was Edge of Tomorrow last year and it completely obliterates this in every way imaginable (there’s a movie with 2 characters and it crushes your 15 character movie). The most interesting part of this movie is just going to remain how well it does at the box office; and if 30% of the audience feels that it’s underwhelming then presumably it won’t do totally insane beyond the first weekend. But we’ll see I suppose. Hopefully they learn some stuff from this and the third movie is fantastic again.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Does Mortal Kombat X have the lowest average skill level ever in Fighting Games?

Note: This isn’t intended to be inflammatory, it’s purely a matter of science and curiosity. I’m ignoring the launch of Street Fighter 2 for obvious reasons.

As a remarkably slightly above average fighting game player I somehow was in the top 40 of Injustice about a month after launch; and my win rate was about 3.5 wins to 1 loss; or 78%, as was almost everyone else on the list. My secret? Well Injustice’s playerbase wasn’t too hot either; also I played a supposedly low tier character and bodied everyone; and even had backup characters for bad matchups. But in MKX the top 100 is almost exclusively around 95-98%, now you say 78-98’s not that big of a deal man; it’s only 20%! Not so sir, as anyone that plays Freecell knows, if you played 500 games at 78% you would lose 110 matches, if you played 500 games at 98% you would lose only 10; 11 times as many losses. So basically MKX’s playerbase is eleven times worse than Injustice’s; okay 98% probably not fair; let’s stick with 95%, you get 25 losses for those 500 games and that’s still 4.4 times as many losses.

I didn’t play Street Fighter IV at launch so I’m not sure how bad it was there, probably closer to Injustice’s tick. But let’s have some fun and compare with other games. If you look at Guilty Gear Xrd’s top 100 the average win rate is about 55-60% (mine is personally about 40%, which I’m damn proud of), sure there’s a handful of people that farm lower ranked players but for the most part almost everyone that plays that game is super legit; a lot of this has to do with the tiny, though quite devoted, playerbase.

I also played KoF XIII to around a 50% tick, matching up with 60-65% players or thereabouts at the top; though that wasn’t that close to launch. Tekken 6 is yet another game I played recently, inspired by my success on the free to play circuit, and boy did I get completely massacred by those guys. A pretty old game so naturally the only people left playing were pathologically insane monstrosities who took my soul out and ate it. I won 1 game after about 50 matches, good enough for the platinum trophy.

MKX is a fucking huge game and all those people that played MK2 like five centuries ago (myself included) are playing it for whatever strange reason and pretty much all they know how to do is uppercut and hold that block button. Additionally EVERYONE in the FGC is playing this game, and all of them are pretty damn K-Bradlike. So the sheer size of the game has compounded with nostalgia, E-Sports, Twitch, and the power of friendship to create a completely insane, ridiculous top 100 filled with assorted random familiar players from a whole bunch of different games, and all of them have 80-140+ winning streaks going right now.

I’m happy that MKX is so big, but it’s also pretty amusing and I hope you take this in good humor.