Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An Ending, of Sorts

Leap Day seems like an appropriate point to make a major decision about how I spend my free time.

It's been over a year since I decided to streamline my approach to this blog (and the time I spend on entertainment), and it's been to my benefit to do so. I think it's time to do so again, because while the changes have made it easier on me, I still find myself wondering why I do some of the things I do. Why spend time typing up single paragraph summaries of things I've experienced, with no actual interesting analysis or entertainment value to justify it? I don't need to tell myself what I've seen and done, and no one else is being served by it either. I'm not going to stop blogging, but I'm going to stop doing so when I don't actually have anything to say. I want to start writing in a way that if someone were to stumble upon what I've written, they would actually be interested in reading more. Less fluff, and more actual thought. I thought a new blog with a new name and a clean slate would be best for such a significant change, so I'm going to work on that, but in the meantime this is probably going to be it for this blog.

When I have actual content to show for my attempt to do this blogging thing right, I'll post a link here, but more importantly on Twitter, where you probably got to this post from, unless you came from Things That Don't Suck, my Internet Friend Bryce's much better blog, and apparently my biggest traffic driver besides Google. So, thanks for that, Bryce. I might keep the posts with my various compulsively maintained lists updated, but other than that, this has been Pretty Sure I'm Right.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Movie Update 40

Man, 40 of these stupid things. No witty comment, just: man.

Anatomy of a Murder

One of a pair of long courtroom dramas I saw this last week, and one of a pair of movies starring James Stewart. He plays an aging lawyer who despite being out of practice, agrees to defend a soldier who murdered a man after he supposedly raped his wife. Strictly, the rape wouldn't be enough to qualify the killing as self defense, but Stewart uses it as leverage to help push a plea of temporary insanity. The film examines how precarious the legal system is, requiring the jury to ignore information they have been given and having cases rely on the always unreliable human ability to lie or accurately remember what happened. There's some terrific acting, and it's interesting how the truth is not what's important, but rather the trial itself.


Another really good James Stewart performance, one that props up a movie that is watchable but I wasn't particularly drawn to. He plays a man with a friend named Harvey who happens to be an invisible six foot tall rabbit. Everyone thinks he's crazy, even his sister, who may or may not also be able to see Harvey. Various people act like assholes towards Stewart, but in the end things turn out okay because blah blah whatever.

Judgment at Nuremberg

A movie about one of the infamous trials at Nuremberg, where four judges are put on trial for rulings they made during the Nazi rule of Germany. It's undeniable that they made decisions that contributed toward the horrible things that happened under the Nazis, but the defense makes a great case that they are no more culpable than other people who didn't actively work against the regime and even other governments that didn't stop them earlier. Maximilian Schell actually won an Oscar for his depiction of the defense attorney, and he was quite good, though personally I preferred the more subtle work of Spencer Tracy as the chief judge on the tribunal. It's important to be reminded sometimes of just how awful the Holocaust was.


A pre-Ghostbusters Ivan Reitman/Bill Murray/Harold Ramis joint that substitutes cursing, nudity, and general silliness for true wit or an intriguing premise. There's something still likable about Bill Murray's dickishness, but I thought overall Stripes was pretty uninspired as a comedy, although that doesn't prevent it from being pretty watchable anyway. It has a fine cast, including John Candy and Judge Reinhold as two of the more recognizable supporting members. Really, there's nothing terrible about it, I was just hoping for more from its talented core.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dead Space 2

Dead Space 2 is a fine example of a video game sequel that improves on what the original game offered without actually doing anything too revolutionary. It is again a polished, enjoyable, refined experience, one that takes few real risks but is solidly enough built that it is fun regardless of its lack of ambition. The biggest thing the game tries that the original didn't is turning protagonist Isaac Clarke into an actual character, giving him a voice and more obvious motives, and having his actual face appear much more often. It's a change that works, and helps give the game a bit more weight, as Isaac feels more like a person than a cipher through which to shoot a bunch of monsters.

Making Isaac into a person improves the game's ability to tell a story in general. The first game had an excellent presentation, with nice graphics and a lot of effective sound design that sold the brutally gory sci-fi horror concept despite a lot of the bare essentials not being very original. The way every bit of the interface is built into the game world itself sells the setting as a believable place, and helps you look past the obvious inspirations from previous games on movies. It was hard to care about the story though, and Dead Space 2 improves on that by characterizing Isaac and giving him more people to talk to and larger stakes for him to actually care about. It's still not a particularly intriguing or unique story, but I was at least more invested

The gameplay is pretty much exactly along the same lines as it was in the first game. You stalk your way through various corridors and rooms in a space station that has been overrun by freakishly mutated people, compelled to kill you by alien technology you don't quite understand, by any means necessary. You find a plasma cutter early on, a tool which doubles as a weapon, and use it to slice off the monsters' limbs in order to kill them. You will buy improved armor and new weapons at store kiosks, a lot of which you'll recognize from the first game, but some of which is new. It's a constant balancing act, as sometimes you'll find yourself with an inventory full of ammo and health kits, and at otherwise you'll be desperately scraping for any items you can find and hoping the next room has a save point instead of another swarm of enemies. Once in a while you'll come across a basic puzzle to solve in order to advance, usually in the form of some kind of machine you need to get working. It's all very familiar, but a bit more refined and balanced to keep you challenged but not too frustrated.

Where the game is definitely improved is in the segments where the gameplay dramatically changes and forces you to do something else. This might take the form of a zero gravity segment, which features improved controls and maneuverability over similar areas in the first Dead Space, or something else entirely. The more dramatic moments rely less on familiar video game tropes such as boss fights or the original's dreaded turret sequences, and more on creating exciting scenarios straight out of an action movie and having you struggle through them on your wits and reflexes. It's both fresher than a more typical divergence and simply more fun to experience, and definitely something I'm glad they worked on, as it was the biggest issue with the first game.

The Dead Space franchise is never going to win awards for originality, and the extent to which they expect you to play all kinds of other games and watch movies and so on to actually get the entire story, when the story itself is far from the real draw, is a bit off-putting. But you can't deny that the games are well made, and deliver on their promise of bloody shooting action in a fun and occasionally creepy setting. Some of its attempts at horror are cheesy or just downright exploitative, but you can't say they aren't trying, or making a boring product. A third full game is supposed to be on the way, and I wouldn't be surprised to find myself playing it in a couple of years.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


50/50 is less a comedy about cancer, and more just a serious film about cancer that happens to be quite funny at times. Knowing that it was based on the writer's own experience, it's not hard to figure out how the movie will end, but on its way there there's plenty of raw emotion and dramatic weight to scenes that require it, so it's definitely not the easiest movie co-starring Seth Rogen to watch that you'll ever see. I thought the script did an excellent job of balancing the crap that the main character has to go through and not sugar-coating the tough reality of being sick with the required levity of a wisecracking best friend and some romantic elements. It allows the movie to be respectful of the pain and loss cancer can cause without getting too self-serious or overindulgent in examining the suffering of human existence. Not every moment is perfect, but the movie is sincere and pretty consistent rewarding.

The cast is also pretty solid, with a mix of younger stars and talented industry veterans. Joseph Gordon-Levitt had to step in at the last minute, but I thought he was good as usual. His character isn't as charming as he usually is, since a lot of the time he's weak and sick and in an understandable bad mood. But he stays likable anyway, and somehow makes being a cancer patient seem relatable. Rogen is actually friends with the writer in real life, so in a way he's acting out something that's already happened to him, and while he doesn't exactly have to do a lot of serious acting, his character is an important one for keeping the story balanced and he's fine as his usual Seth Rogen self. Anna Kendrick's role definitely reminded me of her part in Up in the Air playing a woman who seems a bit young to be in the position she is professionally, and again makes that sort of character sympathetic with a mix of quirks and flaws. There are other characters who come and go throughout the movie to varying effect, but I thought the scenes featuring Gordon-Levitt and one of the other two were usually the best in the movie. I guess it was a bit too much of a raunchy (dialogue-wise, anyway) comedy to get serious award attention, but it's definitely one of the better movies from last year that I've seen.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Movie Update 39

You know the drill.


A comedy/thriller/romance thing starring an aging Cary Grant and a still young looking Audrey Hepburn, who try to track down some money her husband stole before his death before they get killed themselves. It's sort of like an Alfred Hitchcock movie that doesn't take itself quite as seriously, with plenty of twists and turns in its mystery and plenty of murders getting dramatically discovered. The script is really fun and never stops adding new elements, though by the end I was really wondering if so much deception by certain characters was really necessary or advisible. An entertaining movie nonetheless.

The Game

One of David Fincher's earlier films, and another one with a script that packs plenty of memorable moments and surprises but doesn't quite end up telling a believable story. Michael Douglas is a wealthy businessman who perhaps takes his job too seriously, and whose life is turned upside down when his brother (played by Sean Penn in a small but interesting part) gives him the birthday gift of a "game" from a company that promises to make his life exciting and unpredictable in the spirit of fun. Things start to go horribly wrong, and you're left to wonder whether it's all part of the game or if the company is actually out to get him and the money he controls. I couldn't really take the premise seriously because it was just too elaborate for anyone to really pull off, but I still enjoyed the movie for Douglas' increasingly perplexed and unhinged performance and Fincher's direction, which was already distinctly in his own style.

The Motorcycle Diaries

A movie about a bike trip that Che Guevara took around South America with his friend and wrote about himself, one that turned him from a normal upper class Argentinian into a political revolutionary who would eventually become one of the world's most notorious radical communists. The movie doesn't go too far into what he would eventually become, but inequality is definitely a bit part of the story, and Guevara is portrayed very sympathetically, almost saintlike in his devotion to honesty and helping people when he can. Ignoring any thoughts you might have about the movie politically, I thought it was a well shot and beautiful movie, if sometimes a boring or tedious one. Not great, but it was certainly interesting to see the perspective.

OSS 117: Cario, Nest of Spies

Before director Michel Hazanavicius and stars Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo made this year's Best Picture frontrunner (I'm guessing) The Artist, they collaborated on this, another tribute to older cinema, though in this case it's 50s and 60s spy movies rather than silent film, and more overtly parodic. Dujardin stars as 117 a suave and talented French secret agent who is sent to clean up a mess in Cairo after his old buddy and partner gets killed while undercover. He meets a local played by Bejo who acts as his liaison in Egypt, and then proceeds to uncover or stumble into a complex web of betrayals and conspiracies that make up the secret underground of the city. 117 is at times both the perfect agent and a joke of one, sometimes effortly dispatching an assailant or slipping into bed with an exotic beauty, sometimes being obnoxiously sexist or intolerant of Islam or missing an obvious clue. The movie slips up with a sour moment now and then, but it's most a very entertaining spoof, and Dujardin is a great leading man, meaningless comparisons to George Clooney aside. They made a sequel, and I'd like to see it soon.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Game Update 21: 3DS GBA Ambassador Games

I've still only touched a handful of the ten free Game Boy Advance games I got along with other early Nintendo 3DS owners late last year. I've played quite a bit of them though, and this is what I think.

F-Zero: Maximum Velocity

There's a type of gamer that has emerged fairly recently, one who probably has the skill to complete games on harder difficulties, but is more interested in seeing all the content a game has to see than being challenged, and so plays on easy mode in order to do so without frustration. They are content tourists, and I have been known to become one when I'm playing a type of game I'm not really into. Racing games where you have to finish a certain place or better to advance to the next course are not kind to this type of gamer. F-Zero is even worse, because there's no chance of coming from far behind - you have to finish at a certain place in each lap, and that place gets higher with each circuit. And with the fact that every course looks pretty much the same, I'm not much interested in acquiring the skill to do better in order to see all that content. A functional game but not a very fun one.

Mario Kart: Super Circuit

Super Circuit is a bit better than F-Zero, because at least the easiest mode actually seems like it's pretty easy. It's still not terribly entertaining, though - racing games done with non-3D tracks are just a dicey proposition, and this version of Mario Kart is playable but just not very enticing. I've played a bit of Mario Kart 7, and it's night and day how much more fun that game is, even with the increase in annoying item usage. Another game I don't intend to revisit.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong

This is a fun though occasionally frustrating puzzle platformer, which at times places great emphasis on both of those skills. Donkey Kong captures a bunch of Mario's little robot versions of himself, and he has to get them back. Each world has a similar progression - six standard levels, which require you to find a key on one screen and then a robot on the next, a seventh level where you have to guide the robots you've collected to a toy box, and a boss level where you face off with Donkey Kong before he runs away and you go to a new world with a different theme. As I said it's a pretty entertaining game, though there are some weird quirks, like how there's a tutorial video before each level that only hints at what you'll have to do next, and even with all of that help plenty of game elements are introduced without explanation. A whole second mode was unlocked after I saw the credits the first time, but I don't find myself interested in it - I think I got my fill of the gameplay already.

WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$!

I definitely had more fun with this than anything else on this list, despite the WarioWare thing not really being a fresh concept anymore. The game is basically the industry itself in a nutshell - you visit various developers around the city, and try out their various games in some sort of strange situation that can handily represent your metaprogress in the actual game itself. The games can mostly be finished in three seconds or left, and your goal is to just finish as many as you can before you make too many mistakes, as they are randomly chosen and fly by at great speed. It's a funny and addictive experience that's also packed with a lot of extras such as endless versions of some of the microgames or special two player ones which can be played on a single system. There's a manic, crazed energy to the whole thing, and it's just a good time.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Movie Update 38

Hey, how about I write a little bit about some movies I saw recently and then you can decide whether or not you agree with me.

Lethal Weapon 2

I have to admit I kind of miss movies like this - big summer blockbusters that don't rely on high concept science fiction to get their thrills. It's not that I don't like science fiction, obviously, I just miss action movies that aren't about superheroes or robots or vampires or whatever. Lethal Weapon 2 isn't even that spectacular - it's just a solid buddy cop movie with a enjoyable rapport among the main characters and some fun, bloody action scenes. But that's all it really had to be. I'm glad I watched it.

Peggy Sue Got Married

I don't know how many times I can keep saying that Francis Coppola had a strange career after the 70s, but it's still true. Back to the Future got the lasting attention, but Peggy Sue Got Married is another time traveling 80s high school comedy thing, starring Kathleen Turner as a woman who loses consciousness at her 25th high school reunion and wakes up as a 17 year old again, determined to make different choices and not even sure that any of it is actually real. The movie plays up the drama a fair bit and is less wacky than most movies of its sort, but its highlight is definitely Nicolas Cage, from his hair to his bizarre voice to his whole demeanor. Odd, but more fun than most of Coppola's other odd movies.


I believe this is the final film from AFI's revised version of the 100 best American movies that I've seen, and it's a pretty good one. Alan Ladd stars as the titular character, a gunman who tries settling down with some farmers out West, but finds he is unable to escape his past when they get increasingly harrassed by men who want control of the whole territory. There's an annoying kid who comes close to ruining the movie on a number of occasions, but it manages to survive as a classic example of a solid but not great 50s Western.


Another fine example of a blockbuster action movie that didn't need an impossible concept to work, although it does rely pretty heavily on a gimmick. I know I'm one of the last people to see this movie, and I don't need to tell you what it's about, but I will say the movie does a pretty good job of adhering to a traditional and workable story structure despite a great deal of it taking place on a speeding bus. There's very little in the way of real human on human violence, but due to the clever exploitation of the plot's strange circumstances and the chemistry of the main cast it remains exciting for most of its duration. I liked it more than I expected to in any case, and Keanu Reeves' bad acting is in fine form.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Game Update 20: DLC Round-Up 5

It's getting close to a year since I've done of these. I'm not quite as focused on seeing every piece of content from every game I play as I used to be.

Bioshock 2: Minerva's Den

Minerva's Den has a reputation as one of the best DLC add-ons for a game ever made, and it's well earned. If you didn't need to buy Bioshock 2 first to play it, I'd say you could just skip it and play Minerva's Den to get all you need out of the experience. It serves as a sort of smaller version of the main game, again having you play as a Big Daddy and collecting most of the same equipment as you experience a story that's a lot more tightly written and emotionally effective than the main game's. It always seems a bit odd to focus on praising the narrative of a video game, especially a downloadable add-on, but Minerva's Den really is exceptionally well conceived and executed. Worth checking out even if you didn't love the main game.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution: The Missing Link

Another add-on that acts as a microcosm for the main game, The Missing Link explores a gap in Human Revolution's story and basically allows you to make a new Adam Jensen from scratch that you will use for a few hours before the story wraps up and connects back to the main plot. You begin on a ship and eventually end up on another secret base, which you can either sneak or shoot your way through until you reach the ending. Obviously this DLC doesn't capture the other side of the game that lets you just walk around and explore, and there were a few annoying aspects of the level design, particularly the way the mission requires you to go back and forth in the same space repeatedly and pass through the same extremely slow doorways until you get sick of them. But if you really enjoyed Human Revolution like I did, it's hard to say no to another clandestine base to infiltrate, especially if you can get it on sale.

L.A. Noire: Rockstar Pass

None of the DLC for L.A. Noire was very substantial, but the way Rockstar distributed it was very cool. There were several individual cases that were available for download for okay prices, but if you knew you wanted to play all of it, you could plop down a little extra for the "Rockstar Pass" and get all of it as it came out at a lower rate. It encouraged people to pay more up front with the knowledge that they wouldn't miss anything. The cases themselves seem like they were merely snipped out of the main game without much thought, some of them even revealing certain story elements that were referred to "later" in the main plot without explanation. The original game was plenty long enough, so I didn't feel cheated, and the cases themselves were a natural extension of what made the game fun in the first place. Neat investigations and adequate action sequences abound.

Portal 2: Peer Review

The best kind of DLC is free DLC, and Valve knew that when they put out Peer Review, an extension to Portal 2 that added something similar to the challenge mode from the first game that was missing in the sequel, and more importantly, added a new section to the already stellar co-op campaign. This section mixed and matched various concepts from earlier in the co-op to put together some really fiendish puzzles, creating perhaps the most difficult (and no less entertaining) Portal gameplay that I've experienced. And of course it's framed within the context of Portal's very funny and entertaining universe, which means plenty of new GLaDOS quips and robot antics to laugh at. It's hard to get a better value for your no dollars.