30 October 2012

Sleeping Dogs: Functional Edition PC Review

Okay, I finally got this game to work, with no help whatsoever from United Front or Square-Enix. I downloaded Catalyst 12.11 Beta 4 and now the game works fine. So if you have a ATI 7700 series video card and haven't been able to get the game to work, that may provide a solution but I make no guarantees.

Anyway, now for the review: This game was originally supposed to be the third game in the 'True Crime' series, well known for being a Grand Theft Auto clone, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if done well. The first two games were... okay, IMHO, not terrible but nothing really special. Rental fare at best. Then the third game was dumped by Activision/Blizzard and seemingly dead in the water but it was resurrected by Square Enix and retitled Sleeping Dogs.

As with the previous True Crime games you play a cop, this time undercover cop Wei Shen, who is attempting to infiltrate the Triad Sun On Yee and cripple it from within. This game's plot basically features every cliché from every cop movie ever made, including several Hong Kong movie stables as well. They even blow up a gas station at one point. Not to say the story is bad, just very predictable and well-worn. Perhaps I've been spoiled by Bioware's games where I have more control over the direction of my character and story, but I found myself wishing more than once that I could make different decisions that some of the ones made in this game.

As for Wei Shen himself, he seems to flip-flop between showing hints of genuine complexity only to resort to tired, foul mouthed, angry cop on the edge clichés whenever he meets with his police handler. Don't get me wrong, he's a far more interesting and likeable character than Nick Kang, thank god for that, I just think more could have been done with him and that his internal torment seemed more rehearsed than genuine at times.

The interface of the game was a bit clunky for me, though part of that may be because I used a keyboard/mouse and perhaps it's a little less so with a joystick. Still, there were some aspects of the interface that could've been a bit smoother for my tastes. For example, your phone periodically sends you updates about people you're investigating, and while there's a icon that appears next to 'Reports' when a new one shows up, when you click on it, you have to search carefully through the report to find the newest file because there is no icon in that menu. There are other little annoyances like that that I wish could've been made more user friendly.

This game borrowed a lot from previous games as well, though again a lot of it is implemented well. The combat takes a cue from Rocksteady's excellent Batman games, There's a few action sequences taking cues from a Uncharted game, and so on. To be fair, Sleeping Dogs has a few new tricks of its own and some of them are good in concept but underdeveloped in execution. The whole spot the drug dealer minigame, as Yahtzee already pointed out in his review, is ridiculously easy and could've been so much more interesting. You can also sing karaoke and thankfully, it's not a quicktime event so the interface was comfortable enough that you could sing as well or as badly as you like.

The graphics in this game are very nice indeed, especially the rain effects with the high-res patch. Hong Kong is exaggerated, of course, but that's pretty much the case with any Hollywood medium and it was very pretty to look at. It wasn't as much fun to explore as Stilwater or Liberty City, mind you, but it was still pretty. The music was good too with a surprising amount of Chinese content but I was disappointed there was no custom radio station option, as blazing down the streets of Hong Kong while playing the theme song from 'Police Story' would've made my day. ;P

Finally, it must be said, that the ending credits are one of the most boring credit sequences I've ever seen, to the point where they added a fast forward button and it STILL took me ten minutes to get through them all AND there was no bonus epilogue when it was all said and done. Just sayin'. ^_^;

And now, here's a few things I learned playing this game:

1) A man who has never eaten a pork bun is never a whole man.

2) Killing civilians is perfectly okay unless you're on a mission, in which case you get... DEMERITS!

3) Stopping illegal prostitution is important but engaging in illegal massages is cool, especially if you're a cop.

4) Are your clothes soaked with dirt, blood and possible brain matter? Just take a nap and when you wake up, they'll be crisp and clean again.

Overall, I did have fun with this and enjoyed playing it. It could've been better and more polished but I've definitely played worse. I'm glad I got it for half price though. Assuming there's no bugs on the XBOX 360/PS3 versions I'm unaware of, it's definitely worth a rental.

27 October 2012

#2LR - Too Late Reviews: The Avengers

There's always something about a second act.  In the second act, the characters are already familiar and since they are known quantities, a screenwriter can start working on the unknown quantities, like the surrounding characters as well as the plot.  The second act also gets the opportunity to build on the first act, to take the best parts of what works and use that as the basis for a new vista.

I know that there's been a ton of ink spilled on The Avengers, and that I'm pretty darned late to the party compared to everyone else.  That's really why this is called "Too Late Reviews" though, and hopefully I can take this as my own second act and build on the first.  Before we go on, I can't possibly imagine anyone would need this, but consider yourself warned of the extensive spoiler space below.  (If you haven't watched this movie yet, go do it like NOW.  The review will still be here, promise.)

The movie starts with the HX-368 cube that was carelessly dropped in the review posted below.  It turns out that this little blue MacGuffin cube is everything that Gallagher promised and more.  When we come to see the cute little dollhouse that they build for the cube, we also find Samuel L. Jackson being Samuel L. Jackson.  That's not only okay though, but as you watch the movie, you find out that Joss Whedon WANTED Samuel L. Jackson to be Samuel L. Jackson.

As the prologue keeps unwinding, we see the cube going haywire and summoning... well, he isn't even really Chris O'Donnell, but since he was in the first Thor movie and wasn't doing anything else, he'll do for the time being.  When Loki shows up, Samuel L. starts Jacksoning at a hyper-frenzy pace.  When a movie begins with this many explosions and ends up with a huge sucking hole pulling in all the local scenery, you know of what it will deliver.

At this point, we go into a sort of hybrid "prologue-2" / "Chapter One" kind of deal where the band's getting together.  And they may as well be the Beatles, with Captain America playing the Paul McCartney steady organizer role and Iron Man/Tony Stark filling admirably as a more tempestuous John Lennon.  They grab Bruce Banner from the mean streets of Slumdog Millionaire, though he's certainly not at his Ringo potential as of yet.  They're still missing a fourth though...

Because, y'see, as Samuel L. Jackson is pulling Captain America from his flashback punching bags (I *want* one of those bags, I don't even know what I'd flash back to!), he ends up turning around and sending Captain America on his very first mission... right back to Germany.  My very first thought was, "In the continuity, Captain America woke up like three days ago, and prior to waking up he was fighting Nazis over a period of years... good choice to go to Germany!"  What was the weirdest thing though was that in the ensuing scene, where the guy who plays Loki desperately wants you to think of him as a ham on wry, they end up calling attention to that very point through Captain America's dialogue... Joss Whedon has him remark what I was already thinking about the scene.

Between the Jacksoning and the references back to source material, I feel very at-ease.  Through these, I got the sense that Joss Whedon not only just wanted to make things as fun as possible, he wanted to invite his audience in as well.  And the movie, in my imagination, just gets better from there.  A scant half-hour or so into the movie, the main villain gets captured... just like that.  Not that it hasn't happened before, but the point here is that it hasn't exactly happened often, and that's good enough for me.  In the immediate scene afterward, we get more cultural references, including Captain America happy that he caught the reference to The Wizard of Oz.

There's already a pile of happy going on, and we haven't even met the (tortured metaphor) George Harrison of the group yet.  Thor shows up as Captain America and Iron Man are flying a surprisingly docile Loki back to the really super-awesome flying carrier... oh, wait, I didn't mention the super-awesome completely unrealistic but super-awesome anyway flying carrier?

Side-track for about two minutes here... THIS is what the Captain America film was missing.  Remember my complaint about reality being five percent different?  I'm not sure how they could have accomplished it in that movie, but I personally liked that when Joss Whedon tweaked reality, he went all-in on it.  Why give me things that are really kind of commonplace (like television cameras and B&W monitors and vague zappy rifles) when you can go all-in and fly me up a carrier?  I don't care that Joss cranked up the 'slightly different' volume to 'really different' with the Stark building looking *down* on the Chrysler building, or the flying carrier, or even the huge sucking hole... just make it AWESOME!  </Jack Blacking>

An-ee-way, next up is an actual fight.  Again, just a few minutes after Loki fought.  But this time, it's between the putative heroes.  Iron Man, in all his tempestuousness, takes exception at the fact that Thor wants to deal with Loki personally, because Iron Man was already dealing with Loki personally.  So, the villain gets completely ignored, George Harrison decides to test John Lennon's chops, and Captain America breaks up the whole fight.

The very next scene... Loki's still caught.  Huh?!  This movie is really pressing against those conventions, because if there ever was a time that the villain would escape, it would be when the heroes were occupied elsewhere.  On the flying carrier is a Hannibal Lecter cell where they cram Loki in, and we get everyone bringing out the worst in everyone else, where Iron Man's ego rubs Captain America raw while Nick Fury explains that weapons were being built which incites Thor because the cube is being used while at the same time Bruce Banner is getting more and more unhappy that he's been thrown into this mix and Scarlett Johannson continues to be in the scene.

Just after, all hell breaks loose.  AGAIN.  If there's one thing that filmmakers should learn from this, it's to keep using those superheroes, give the audience a breather for plot, make the plot darned good if possible, but get those superheroes back out there!  In this situation, the William Tell currently-evil Avenger shows up to strafe the carrier in his plane, Hulk starts going after Scarlett Johansson to complete the "superheroes fighting each other" trifecta, Captain America and Iron Man set their squabble aside to fix the flying carrier, Loki manages to escape as we find out that he just wanted Banner to Hulk out the whole time and screw the carrier up.  Loki traps Thor in the Lecter cage, but that's not the real news of this fight...

Throughout the movies, it's pretty much a given that you have to match up heroes with equally-powerful villains.  There's really no way to allow for a fair fight to have suspense otherwise, as the superhero should mop the floor with the Muggle.  One of the best sequences though was the one between Captain America and Random Dude With A Machine Gun.  It was a fun sequence because Iron Man could've cleaned Random Dude's clock in a second... but Iron Man was not only busy saving the flying carrier, but *depending* on Captain America to save his butt after getting the carrier going again.  But, unfortunately, Captain America's shield is out of commission and Random Guy can pretty much shoot his gun at the only superhero that would be vulnerable to such a weapon at that time... and Random Guy was really pinning two superheroes down, as he was effectively keeping Captain America from helping Iron Man.  I know that Random Guy With A Machine Gun was inherently evil, but man was he awesome.

So!  All that's going on, and this was supposed to be the "lowest moment" part of the plot!  The carrier is saved enough for it to limp back out to sea, Loki and most of the crew escape but Scarlett manages to bonk the other pseudo-hero on the head enough to clear his mind from takeover by Loki.  Hopefully the dude has some Advil, though it is shown later in the movie that all that bonking in the head didn't affect his super-eyesight.

Loki ends up accomplishing his goals by bringing an army of ID4 aliens to New York, and the Hulk finally shows up as the Ringo to the remaining three Beatles.  I keep using this tortured analogy because it really fit three of the four characters very well... Hulk was kind of the emotional center to the group in that all he wanted to do was smash, while the other three characters were kind of tiptoeing around it as much as possible.  Now that the Avengers have their rhythm section, it's time to bang heads.  With all of the aliens, about a quarter of Manhattan becomes rubble while all of the superheroes (even the mediocre Scarlett / Arrow Dude duo) get to flex all of their powers in what ends up being a pretty awesome final fight.  

There were so many good things to point out with regards to this movie.  Over-the-top, by definition, is a place where things can boil over and become a mess.  On other occasions though, over-the-top makes something so much more fun, as long as it's controlled.  With Samuel L. doing his Snakes on a Plane routine, Robert Downey doing what had to be a parody of three quarters of Hollywood, Chris Evans doing a parody of the other quarter--the producers trying to keep the talent in line long enough to complete a scene -- and the Hulk just being a lovable force of nature... all Joss Whedon had to do was to build a script that played each of the characters to their strengths and let everyone in on the jokes.  He did.  In spades.

Which brings me to another part of over-the-top, and what is one of the messages that I grabbed from this movie.  Being human can sometimes be really messy.  When some people rub up against other people or even just new situations, there's a wide range of what happens.  Love, hate, kindness, anger, envy, violence... and that's just the political process.  (Zing?)  I know that there's all sorts of glowing reviews about this movie, so if there's one thing to take away from this review, it's that humans can be simultaneously struck down to the lowest common denominator or raised to the highest heights possible all due to the ways that the heart connects itself to the brain.

In some regards, I know that it was somewhat cliche to have "the girl", Black Widow (Scarlett), be the one who "compromised herself" by being attached to another character... but in this movie, it didn't feel as cliche because each and every one of the characters had flaws somewhere, and it humanized them.  Iron Man maintained that he was a playboy, but was kissing Pepper Potts and seemed genuinely in love with her, which made it less of a stretch to have one of the other characters show similar emotion in the movie.  Captain America was sanctimonious (and, mentioned above, was vulnerable to Random Guy), Thor has a god's power but couldn't even control his little brother, and Bruce Banner came to grips with the fact that he couldn't control himself... all additional sides to the same coin.  They're strong, but still human.

The fractiousness of the beginning was needed in order to juxtapose the growth of the characters into the cooperative team of heroes at the end.  The only way that they did anything heroic was one-on-one (keep in mind, Loki pasted Captain America before Iron Man stepped in) until the last scene, when Captain America acted as the field commander we saw in the previous review.  It will likely take a similar threat to the world to get these characters working together again, but Heaven help the idiot that causes this to happen.

The movie's score gets bonus points because while it has Scarlett Johansson in a skintight suit for the majority of the film, it's not as if it's overtly sexual; she's fully covered in it, (with the exception in Scarlett's introductory scene).  As above though, sensuality is not treated as something front-and-center, and the only relationships pictured seem to really have a level of respect built in rather than being just pure lust. Additionally, even though there's a lot of explosions and things breaking, the gore is really minimized.   The violence is mainly limited to things breaking.  While there are certainly more than a few aliens that end up dying and metric tons of bullets fired, there's not a huge body count of bloody humans -- except for the gawking idiots who can't get out of their offices in time to avoid a charging Hulk and just kinda get run over for their troubles.

This movie is absolutely a 4 on my four-point scale, and I remain a huge fan of Joss Whedon.  

26 October 2012

Widescreen or Bust?

Lately when I've been checking my mail, I keep getting this annoying popup:

"There is a screen resolution problem

Your screen resolution is set below our minimum recommendation of 1024 x 600 pixels. You can continue with your current settings, but the newest version of Mail may not display properly.

Try increasing your screen's resolution (In Windows or Mac OS Help, search for "screen resolution"). If you're using most versions of Windows, here's how:"

And so on. Am I the only one who sets their desktop at 800x600 resolution because it's too small for me to read text comfortably otherwise? Not all of us have the best eyesight, young and old included, and there are people with far worse eyesight than me.

I realize computer monitors sold nowadays are widescreen standard and I plan to keep using my old CRT monitor until it dies, but it still urks me when I'm basically told that my resolution must be wrong as opposed to having it that way for a legitimate reason.

Now Firefox has a plugin option where you can increase the size of the text in your browser so you can adjust it as you like. Of course this does tend to get a bit annoying when you have to do it for EVERY website you visit, hence why I prefer to stay at 800x600 and even then, I still have to adjust it sometimes because half the webpage is missing otherwise.

My big worry is that one day I'll start getting messages that say 'This website CANNOT be displayed at 800x600' and I'll have no choice but to get used to squinting. I'd like to think that not spending years squinting at the computer screen is a major reason why my eyes aren't worse than they are now. But maybe I'm in the minority on this, I dunno...

22 October 2012

#2LR Too Late Reviews - Final Review, "Working!!" Season 1

By episode 13 of "Working!!", the narrative arc is firmly established.  The main narrator of the series is Takanashi, and while he may not be involved in every plot that goes on around him, it does seem as if he is the straight man to everyone's neuroses.  However, when there are an additional eight characters--each making at least one appearance through the end of this set of episodes--you can imagine that there is more than enough humor and conflict for all.

I do have more than my share of praises to offer the show, starting first and foremost with the pacing.  I enjoyed the fact that this was not in any way, shape, or form a bunch of one-off jokes with everyone returning to status quo by the end of the episode.  To be truthful, if there ever was a setting that this format would match best to, it would be a restaurant... any Gordon Ramsay show can demonstrate this very easily, or even Iron Chef.  The grand majority of food in one's life is only remembered as long as it takes to get to the next meal.  There are plot elements that followed this format, such as the aforementioned hot springs episode, or the episode where Takanashi's younger sister comes to work an internship.  Part of the joke surrounding the episode is the fact that his younger sister is possibly two inches shorter despite being between three to four years younger, and she pretty much towers over the remaining female cast.

The one reason that I continued to watch anime, though, was that the majority of the shows have a narrative arc to them.  The main conflict of the show is an issue that has both a very local dimension as well as a universal one, in that one of the other waitresses (Inami) has a fear of men, and when confronted with one typically hits him quite violently.  The remaining male cast has more than happily accepted Takanashi as he is now Inami's personal whipping boy, and the show focuses on how he tries to help her get through these issues.

The universal dimension to this is an issue that is as old as (communal) work itself... how do you deal with a coworker who is unable to adapt or cope?  Takanashi certainly has his share of options, and ends up picking the most difficult yet most rewarding... he tries to help her through it.  It certainly helps the series and the comedy that this is the solution that leads to the most humor, as long as one follows the "comedy equals tragedy plus distance" formulation.  Of course, the other thing that the series tried to do is to not show blood after the first time, as this isn't exactly supposed to be Mortal Kombat (or even "South Park".)  It would be so easy to follow the path that Takanashi's manager laid out, which was to schedule them opposite... but Takanashi, like many other people, doesn't mind a challenge.

Of course, the other issue is local in that these same two people are together and facing adversity.  The writers of this first series seem very careful (yet very gleeful) in not resolving any of the possible romances that they are trying to set up among the characters.  It would be very easy for me to conclude this review much like the writers are concluding Season One, by giving it an incomplete.  However, I'm going to swerve you a bit too, and give you a ceiling and a floor and the reasons why.

Ceiling for this series -- a solid 3.5.  I want a bit more humor, and I want more characters bumping up against other characters.  Workplaces are some of the most unpredictable places and outside conflict, just as much as inside conflict, can be used in very interesting ways.

Floor for this series -- 1.8.  Yeah, it's highly volatile, and that's because I see some of the possible pitfalls forming. One is that almost everything is inside conflict between all of the established characters.  This gives the show more of a soap opera feel to it, and I hope that it doesn't bog the show down.  Takanashi's losing his quirks, which is a sad thing in my mind... I don't want him to be a completely impartial narrator, and I would love to see the other characters act as the straight man even occasionally.  I can navel-gaze with the best of them (you should've seen my first two rather pretentious starts to this review), and I hope that this series doesn't get too much deeper into its own navel itself.

If I were to give an overall current rating, I would say it's a 2.7.  It had a great start, and hopefully it will recapture some of its momentum.

21 October 2012

#2LR Too Late Reviews - "Working!!", section 2

When a show is struggling, there are a couple things that Hollywood usually tries in order to bolster its ratings without having to sever contracts to everyone else.  One is the "new character" route, the best example being "Full House", adding more and more infants to the lineup in order to squeeze out as many viewer shares as the kids' cuteness could manage.  I would hazard that they were most successful due to the fact that they literally built that show on as much kids' cuteness they could, so all they were really doing was just giving the audience more of what they want.

The other method that writers will use, especially in ensemble casts, is to throw a romance into the works.  This works because the romance almost becomes its own character, and ends up throwing conflict and humor in its own right.  The one major example I can think of is "Friends" with Rachel and Ross and Chandler and Monica, though television is littered with times that not only were romances introduced, but they even added another character (hey, it's Courtney Cox again!) to the show purely to put up a romance.

I say this because, as weird as it sounds, episodes five through nine of "Working!!" did both.

It's weird to see something that shakes up the core of a show happen so quickly, but it seems that there is happy news afoot.  "Working!!" is currently soft-pedaling the introduction of the new character Yamada (a young waitress), who has no background and lives in the restaurant's attic.  That's good news, because I think that if you try to make the new character the immediate focus then you've lost the focus you had on the characters.  So far, this doesn't have the same smell of desperation that other new characters have given off in the past.  Having this new character be present but not overly active is almost like hiding a time bomb in a basement.  At some point, some of the foundation will give way.  I would like to give extra points to "Working!!" for giving the new character a full part in the opening and closing credits... it was shoehorned, but not painfully so.

The only downside is that it seems painfully obvious exactly how the new character's conflict gets presented and even seems obvious exactly who will help resolve it... so I will watch, hoping to be pleasantly surprised that the writers will have some skill in completing the story arc.

The "throw a romance into the works" part comes from the main protagonist Takanashi, who is doing his level best to help Inami, one of the waitresses he works with, to overcome her fears and natural tendencies.  The show seems to be playing this off as an ersatz romance, which almost makes me wonder if this show is going into love triangle mode.  It's an easy way to generate conflict, but man it makes me feel slightly cheap because you know that the writers are doing their level best to try to play on your emotions ("I want X to win!") just to keep their viewers.  The worst part is when "love triangle" ends up turning into "harem", or goes full Ranma 1/2 and instead of lines between characters, there's scribbles.

The other characters introduced include Takanashi's family of sisters, who get more screen time in one of these episodes.  Much to the show's credit, they didn't go all fanservicey on the obligatory hot springs episode, there was pretty much no fanservice to speak of, though there is just a bit of a hint when the series focuses on one of Takanashi's sisters... she's just missing a Patsy Stone for full comedic drunken rampage.

It is quite impressive that there's so little restaurant-ing going on in the show so far...

20 October 2012

#2LR - Too Late Reviews - Captain America

It may come as no surprise that one of my favorite musicians is "Weird Al" Yankovic.  I started listening to his music at age 11 and still enjoy his music to this day, even if his output comes close to matching my output writing MSTs at the main site.  Yankovic has two main weapons... one that everyone is familiar with, when he takes a complete song and just puts new lyrics to it.  These are the songs that get the occasional airplay on radio and occasionally get on the Billboard lists.  Less famous are what he calls his "style parodies", where he writes a new song but uses all of the tactics used by a famous artist, perhaps exemplified best by a song from one of his previous albums called "Genius in France", which if you close your eyes you can see Frank Zappa easily singing (example track: "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow").

I say this because Captain America: The First Avenger uses this technique very extensively through the movie.  Straightaway, as the movie opens, it has a very distinct Indiana Jones vibe to it, as you have Nazis going after artifacts during World War II.  Unlike X-Men, I have very little knowledge of Captain America from the comics going in, and the opening of the film was really hard to grasp on the first viewing.  When the movie puts you off-balance so early, it's hard to recover.

Anyway, from the snow-covered sections the movie shifts to the United States so that we can see the scrawny kid that the military will eventually turn into Captain America.  He mostly complains that the army will not accept him to go to war as he has myriad disqualifying conditions (there was a list, but I didn't see all of it... the only one I remember was asthma).  He ends up capturing the attention of The Good Mad Scientist (with Action Jewish Accent <tm>!) and through showing his intelligence as well, The Good Mad Scientist decides that he wants to use his Super Soldier process on the scrawny kid.  This is where we find out that not only does The Good Mad Scientist have full authority to pick his victim (without ANY input from the remaining U.S. Army), he also gets the army to foot the bill for setting up an elaborate secret la-BOR-a-tory behind the facade of an antiques shop plus all of the expertise from Tony Stark's father (or grandfather?).

Thankfully, The Good Mad Scientist is a scientist at heart, or I'd also be complaining about the fact that he picked a dude with a massive laundry list of preexisting conditions, had a talk about how the process will magnify everything about a person, yet none of the preexisting conditions were magnified... they ended up gone.  This also relieves me of complaining about how The Good Mad Scientist picks someone with all these preexisting conditions yet expects them to survive the process... he must know about this thing more than I.

While we already met the token eye-candy of the film in the form of what seems to be the British secret-agent oversight of this U.S. project, we get the remainder of the eye-candy in the next scenes.  Instead of sending Captain America off to the front lines, he goes on a song-and-dance routine with the girls to whip up support in purchasing U.S. war bonds.  Here's where the outfit and first shield debut, and the handwave is certainly better than nothing.

He ends up getting to the front line with his backup dancers on the USO tour and the soldiers predictably tell him to stuff his routine and that they'd rather see the girls.  Captain America then meets up with the original British spy and the original colonel (Tommy Lee Jones) that oversaw the beginning of the project.  After questions regarding his manhood, and realizing that his friend didn't come back from a raid, he goes single-handedly with Stark and the British agent inserting him into the warzone.  They end up getting shot at in the plane, and Captain America is inserted via parachute (?!, in a hot war zone where he's a sitting duck to ordinance fire?).

From what I'm remembering of the single time viewing the show, we are told earlier that the remainder of the battalion that Captain America's friend belongs to is held thirty miles from "the front".  They go there.... and find a massive erection of concrete.  This thing was supposed to have been a weapons factory plus prison... and all the "bogus" bells start firing again.  Why in Italy when you have so many Black Forest / Bavarian hills / out of the way Alps that you can build a weapons factory, rather than risk it falling if either the Allies took Italy (the PERIPHERY!) or if Italy told the Axis to bug off?  This thing was also very recent, which speaks to how much money and manpower it took to build it.  I'm misremembering exactly when Elrond/Mr. Smith decided that he wasn't a Nazi anymore and that he'd be his own country (Heil Hydra!), but it's amazing that this soldier has the money and pull to be able to build this massive facility plus dungeon plus manpower plus the other five facilities plus the setting for the last fight.

Shortly afterward we get a chance to check out The Great Escape, as Captain America frees the convicts.  Then we go into a set piece of Saving Private Ryan.  And, if it wasn't completely apparent from the submarine seen in the first act, we find out that this movie is a style parody in a different way.  It's a style parody of reality.  We have the 1940s, New York, old-timey vehicles, facial hair, the whole nine yards, so that we're grounded in real reality.  But then we find out that there are video cameras the size of a pack of cigarettes and monitors that are black-and-white but contain a nine-inch screen without a four-foot by four-foot by two-foot cabinet behind them.  The villain also has modern vehicles dressed up to look like tanks... they're essentially Humvees with turrets.... despite the fact that 1940's suspensions would have made them an expensive unpractical boondoggle.  It's this point where you figure out that this isn't really supposed to be our world circa 1940, but Marvel's slightly askew world circa 1940 where 95% of the things that happened in the real world happened here, but the last 5% (superheroes, selective technology) also happened here.

Warning -- spoilers start here.  So, Captain America frees the convicts, gets Tommy Lee Jones' approval as well as the additional approval of the British superspy, and ends up forming a team of men to combat Elrond's (well, Red Skull's) various additional weapon plants that they foolishly left on a corporate directory (see, the Internet wasn't quite around at this point, amazingly enough).  Captain America ends up losing his friend on a bullet train in the Alps (?! again) and goes to the final facility to beat up Elrond.  While I know that the fight in The Phantom Menace was not only two-on-one but also with lightsabres, I can still squint and see the same fight in Captain America.  At this point, Elrond escapes in Dr. Wily fashion to his B2 Spirit, where we find out that the bombs in the bomb-bay are really superfast small aircraft.  And oh, by the way, the B2 has the same speed as an SR-71, as it's coming into New York in a matter of minutes.  After Captain America traps Red Skull into a HX-368 style cube (talk about movies evoking other movies!), he decides that the only way to save New York City is to crash-land the B2, forgetting that Gander AFB is like three inches to the right.

And at the end of all of this, we find out that there are motherf@#*$in' snakes on this motherf&*$@in' plane.  I know, Hollywood, you got the idea to telegraph sequels when Steven Spielburg told Robert Zemeckis that it was okay, but this habit's really getting annoying now.  

Overall, this movie is enjoyable in two circumstances... if you're a fanboy or fangirl who likes the comics and wants to see Captain America's current origin story and can ignore whatever inconsistencies there are (are there any?).  The other way is to suspend as much disbelief as possible and to remember that this world is 95% similar to the History-Channel world we inhabit, and to allow the other 5% to be just more of the Captain America story.  There is some small amounts of humor in with all the action, but this is purely action through and through... no matter how much they wanted us to take the short detour of angst with Cap's buddy dying.

Review: 1.8 out of 4

Sleeping Douches...

I don't know why I'm surprised...

I just bought 'Sleeping Dogs' on Steam for 1/2 price, I should've known there was something wrong with that from the get-go. Ironically, I passed up getting 'Alpha Protocol' for $4.99 because I knew how buggy it was and figured I'd go with the safer, more stable bet with 'Sleeping Dogs'...

What a fucking joke... and it's on me.

I booted up the game, and yes, my system, video card, drivers, etc are all capable of running the game and they're all up to date. Everything was running fine at the menu screen. And then when I started a new game, it just froze and crashed. I tried adjusting the settings for a while, nothing. I tried the game vanilla, nothing. I tried it with the high resolution patch, nothing, freeze and crash, rinse and repeat.

So I looked on Steam and various other forums for help, and to my great dismay, I found that not only was this crashing problem fairly common, it has yet to be fixed TWO MONTHS after the game was released! Despite about six or so patches being released for the game so far.

This is just mind-boggling to me that a company could be that fucking lazy about fixing such a critical bug. I previously complained about Fallout: New Vegas being buggy during release but they FIXED IT within the first couple of weeks and at least that game had the decency to run for a few hours before crashing.

Apparently now I have to check the technical issue forums of every game I ever think about buying beforehand in order make sure it isn't an unplayable pile of shit. And I don't care if the pirated version works, I don't WANT to be a pirate! I paid for the game, I want it to FUCKING WORK! -_-;

Anyway, I'm planning on complaining to Steam tomorrow and hopefully getting a refund or store credit so this wasn't a complete waste of my time and money. I already tried visiting the Square-Enix forum and the best advice they could give me was 'Make sure your disc isn't scratched'. Wow, thanks, Square-Enix. I can hardly wait to see how badly you're going to fuck up Hitman: Absolution now... ^_^;

18 October 2012

#2LR Too Late Reviews: First Impression, "Working!!"

Reviewing an anime series is a bit different than reviewing a movie.  If an anime goes on for twenty-six episodes, it ends up at about nine or so hours, give or take a few minutes based on commercials, opening theme, and next week's preview.  There's so much more time to fill with an anime series than there is a movie.

There are movies that promise an immersive experience, such as Avatar, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or even the Harry Potter series.  You may note that there is, quite often, a direct relationship between how immersive the experience is and how long the film is.  (I'm sure that if you were to crunch the numbers, the eight films of Harry Potter would exceed the screentime that a season of anime brings.)

When you have all this time though, the setting itself almost becomes a character... Planet from Avatar, Middle-earth, Hogwarts... due to the fact that characters interact far more with the background when there is time and reason to show them interacting with the background.

I am currently viewing the anime "Working!!", set in a family restaurant called Wagnaria in Hokkaido, Japan.  (The English production is known by the name "Wagnaria!!")  As of so far, I am at episode 4, which has been introducing the characters one-by-one.  The show opens on what seems to be the current main protagonists, Takanashi, an 11th-grader who is roped into being a waiter at a family restaurant by one of his (here-to-fore unknown) classmates, 12th-grade Poplar.  She's super-short, and Takanashi loves short stuff, though "not in a creepy way" he maintains creepily.  Takanashi's mouth gets him into trouble at times as well.

For her efforts, Poplar is short and reminded of it constantly, from customers mistaking her for an elementary-school kid to not being able to put things on high shelves to not being able to carry dishes to the sink.  One of the enjoyable things about Japanese though is that practically everything is a pun, and Poplar in this case is no exception.  Her happiness and bubbly personality have made her popular (see?) with her coworkers.

The other denizens of this series are being introduced as well, including the manager who does not lead by example, her second-in-command that lives only to serve the manager, the two cooks (one aloof and the other conniving), and the other waitress who is scared of (and therefore hits) all men.  Since there's so much studio space to explore, the characters are gaining backstories, additional quirks, and other sources of conflict and comedy as the series goes on.

If I were to compare this series to anything, I would say that it would be as close as one could get to crossing "Azumanga Daioh" with "The Office", and setting it all in a restaurant.  Much like "Azumanga", "Working!!" came from four-panel comics which gives the episodes a feeling of hit-release-hit-release that wouldn't normally occur with a twenty-minute show... most times when you're watching a show, the action builds on itself while there are times that a set piece is purposed for a joke, and then everyone goes back to what they were doing.  While the plots for each episode are self-contained there are still moments where you can almost see the direction your eye is supposed to go to get to the next comic.

And yes, this all loops back to the introduction.  The restaurant itself, Wagnaria, is a family restaurant.  There is no fine-dining here... but everyone's set up for it.  The waitstaff is all impeccable in their crisp white shirts, Takanashi's bow-tie, and the girls' skirts.  The kitchen staff is just as impeccable -- amazing in the context of a restaurant that there's not even a single stain on them.  In one episode, Poplar is trying to demonstrate how to dry dishes without fingerprints left on them, which shows a fastidiousness that may be purely Japanese but is still unfamiliar for such an informal restaurant format.

So, therefore, at this moment in watching the series, I feel as if the restaurant (i.e. the setting) itself is throwing the most major paradox.  I may be off-base and seeing something that isn't there, but these characters almost don't fit in the box that's been drawn for them.  On the other hand, you could even say the same thing for the characters of "The Office", in that the whole conceit was that you had all these dysfunctional people brought together to complete a goal that they would possibly be better at without all the other dysfunctional people underfoot.

Since it had been a while, I checked a few other series ("Soul Eater", "Puella Magi Madoka Magica") along with "Working!!" to see if there was one I would be interested in watching.  I realized that the last few series that I have enjoyed the most ("The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya", "Azumanga Daioh") were ones that could be called "slice of life", and that "Working!!" is similar in tone and setting.  I expect that this series will get a couple extra notches due to my biases, but I will strive to offer both the good and the bad of this series as best as possible.  And yes, I will be working back to the other series mentioned above eventually.

The plan is to stop every few episodes and to give an indication of my thoughts, especially since when you stack four to five episodes it's practically movie-length anyway.  Reviews will follow and Season 1 (there are two) will receive a grade once I reach the end.

15 October 2012


I have created a Twitter feed for myself at @ZoogzMST.  At this point, I have been putting up blog announcements, but in the future there may be additional comments/commentary especially if I am doing a liveMST-style running commentary on any television shows or movies.  Feel free to check it out.

Edit for 21:00, same evening -- I also updated the blog.  I was tired of not having an "older posts" link at the bottom, instead making everyone page through the archives with the date links.  I suppose that's what you get when you decide on a template in 2007 and *never update it*.

Too Late Reviews (#2LR) - X-Men: First Class

Last week, we covered the art of the sequel.  This week, we will be covering the art of the prequel.  As far as comic books go, your reviewer has some slight familiarity with most characters.  As far as X-Men goes though, I had the benefit of watching the Saturday morning cartoon which allowed me to become at least passingly conversant with the characters.

It turned out that it also at least helped me to know some of the plot of X-Men: First Class in advance too.  Ultimately, this movie was about connections... the first one is between Magneto and his rage, personified by Kevin Bacon, and the second between Charles Xavier and Mystique.  From there, we learn about a rogue (HA!) team of mutants headed by the same Kevin Bacon (cross THAT off my bucket list) who just wants the world to blow up.  Just after, the CIA makes the connection between funny business and mutants with the help of another recurring character, who was amazingly never caught when sneaking (or, really, *slinking*) up and checking out what all the noise was about.

It is then that Xavier and Mystique ("Raven" in this story) get drafted into the CIA, picking up Magneto ("Erik") as he attempts to go after Kevin Bacon out of revenge.  Not a surprising impulse, I'm sure.  The rest of the team gets sniffed out by Xavier and his +3 Radar Dome of Casting Call, including a brief Hugh Jackman sighting.  It's during this part that the movie does some of its most... subversive work, as they find and add two white boys, a Hispanic girl, and then the token African-American character driving a taxi.  After the "team" is gathered, it's proven that the CIA stands for "Cannon-fodder Is All-of-us" as they get decimated by the Bacon Mutantz.  Bacon himself has his diabolical speech, including asking if the mutants being housed by the CIA want to be "slaves"... as the camera then goes for the tight-focus on the black guy... and when the Xavier/Magneto mutants decide that they do not want any part of being a Kevin Bacon production, the black guy is the one who buys the farm.

At that point, the movie starts to hit some of the continuity stuff.  Xavier is shown training his mutants, Magneto starts with the mutant pride rhetoric, which pulls in Mystique, and Hank McCoy becomes... well, a blue bear-wolf-dog thing which presumably leads to him being the Beast.  The Blackbird makes its appearance as well.

The last third or so of the movie is the big set piece, where aspects of the Russian Missile Crisis serve as the backdrop to Evil Real Kevin Bacon's diabolical plan.  Y'see, he wants World War III because... well, because it'll kill lotso Muggles, I suppose.  Part of Bacon's pep talk to the other mutants was that they could live like kings... but Kevin Bacon was already living like a king, with a yacht AND a nuclear submarine, all pimped out like mad.

Side note here... it's fascinating how many times this trope is seen.  Don't all diabolical masterminds understand that owning everything is useless if there's no one to maintain it to your best benefit?  What's the point of destroying humanity if no one's going to run the power plant to make sure your 112" 1080p television works, or to make sure that there's water enough for your jacuzzi and indoor pool?  Who's going to design the next Bugatti for you to own, and who'll act as the policemen to snarl traffic so that you can laugh at them as you zip by, knowing that traffic jams are for peasants?  This even extends to the Atlas Shrugged set, because railroads are extremely, EXTREMELY useless without people at both ends demanding transportation or cargoes, and bluesteel/copper/unlimited free energy in large quantities is pointless if no one is there to consume it.  And, most importantly, what is the point of power if there is no one around to worship you for your amazing power and for you to exert control over to demonstrate how cool you are?

Anyway, the X-Man team flies to where the Soviets are sailing the missiles into Cuba, has one of the Soviets completely blow up the second ship (?!, not really very non-violent, Mister Doctor Professor Xavier) and then Magneto unearths the nuclear sub.  The Magneto-Kevin Bacon fight commences, and as predicted Magneto wins with Xavier's help.

At the end, it's shown that Magneto really just wanted to be Kevin Bacon but couldn't be on Kevin Bacon's side.  It's (half-hearted spoiler alert) while he agreed one hundred percent with Kevin Bacon's treatment of every one else, he couldn't agree with Kevin Bacon's treatment of his own dear ma-ma.  After that is the denouement and the oh-so-predictable credits.

You may notice far more plot being outlined here, and that's because the movie was pretty much all plot.  They attempted to shoehorn in Xavier's message, and they even did an admirable job of taping together the fact that Xavier's worldview is as caught up in Xavier's circumstances as Magneto's worldview is caught up in Magneto's.  They even did an interesting job of showing how some people may have other's best interests in mind, but they end up coming off as sanctimonious jerkwads (i.e. the Mystique situation, where she refers to herself at one point as "[Xavier's] pet".

At its heart, the movie is an action flick though, and the action sequences are not bad for pacing and for motion.  There were a few nausea-inducing roller-coaster spots, because when you have mutants that can fly you're gonna get that green-screen stuff in somewhere.  It's not as if I am expecting X-Men: First Class to carry a deep message and make me think, but the scriptwriters, producers, and director knew that the story going in was going to be just as much cerebral as action because of Magneto's character arc.  Giving a bit more time to exactly why Magneto decided that Kevin Bacon was his future course would've helped the plot (and the climax, and the conclusion) to have at least a bit more consistency.

Final rating : 2.1

11 October 2012


There are two paths to creating new knowledge... study leading to new ideas ruthlessly subjected to scientific process and peer review which take days, months, years, decades, even generations for possible overall acceptance... or making it the hell up.

10 October 2012

Odd thoughts on a Wednesday...

What if humans are really bacteria's greatest design ever?  We're not only food for them, but we've taught them how to eat other foods (e.g. petroleum) and helped to make them immune from debilitating drugs (e.g. penicillin).  They probably made us so that we could learn to launch spacecraft; then bacteria could inhabit new worlds on our space probes with their new-found superpowers.

06 October 2012

2LR: Johnny English Reborn

Typically, you know what you're getting with a sequel.  The old characters come back (at least the ones who got paid), the adventure feels somewhat derivative but it's a comfortable feeling because you don't have to spend quite so much time giving character setting.

When the movie involves Rowan Atkinson as the lead, there's also not a whole lot of need for character exposition.  Between "Mr. Bean" and his movies in the U.S., you know that you're going to get a comedy with slapstick and crazy expressions.

As a Johnny English veteran, I was familiar with how Atkinson spoofed spy movies in the past.  His character was as extreme a bungle as possible, and got himself in so many goofy situations with the patented Atkinson mugging.

Johnny English Reborn started much the same way.  It was actually reminiscent of one of my more memorable Atkinson movies, Hot Shots! Part Deux, in that he probably trained at the same temple that Topper Harley was located at by Huddleston and the guy who now plays Granger on "NCIS: LA".  One of the first images that the movie treated the viewers to was Johnny English dragging a rock with a rope attached between his legs, presumably tied to his balls.  The whole time, Rowan Atkinson's goatee makes him look like a poor man's version of Joe Mantegna (Rossi from "Criminal Minds")

From there, we join Johnny as he reenters the British Secret Service, as the spoof continues with the Service's sponsorship and Johnny playing with Gillian Anderson's cat.  (No blue humor, promise.)  He goes to Asia first, and that's the first indication that this isn't entirely a spoof movie.  While in the first chase and first fight sequence, the Asian street tough starts in with the parkour routine, while Johnny does his best imitation of British stiff upper lip -- if there's a barbed-wire fence, the Asian guy goes over it while Johnny uses the gate.  It segues into the boat chase, where the Asian tough uses a Zodiac raft and Johnny commandeers a yacht.  The final fight sequence shows Johnny as... surprisingly competent.

And that's the major twist with this movie.  It's a sequel in character only; in tone, it shifted from sheer spoof movie to comedic action romp.  After all, the ending sequence shows Johnny being incompetent yet extremely competent.  This change in tone comes with a requirement for the viewer... you have to adjust from watching expecting jokes at all times to being able to allow the movie some measure of suspension of disbelief in order to accept Johnny English as an actual agent, though there are still more than a large share of comedic set pieces (the golf course and helicopter flight should send pretty much anyone looking for a laugh into guffaws.)

The other caveat is that the writers have a thinner margin to deal with.  They have to make sure that the comedy part doesn't intrude too far into the actual plot.  Rowan Atkinson's faces and mugging for the camera happened at the end of the movie, but they were a vital part of a plot point that was not intended to be played completely for laughs.

In my opinion, the writers really did a decent job of this, and this allowed me to give the movie enough belief for me to enjoy the finished product.  I think though that the whole metaphor of the movie is focused on the image of dragging the rock by the balls.  You're either going to succeed or fail miserably, there's no middle ground... which I'm sure that the viewers would agree with.

Final rating for Johnny English Reborn: 2.8 out of four.  I would certainly not be unhappy to rewatch in the future.  This leaves me wondering if they try another sequel and if they do, which direction they go from here.

Last note, I want more movies to present me master-of-disguise assassins who happen to be older Asian ladies... she had almost no dialogue, but all of her scenes were enjoyable.

05 October 2012

2LR: The Lorax

So, I finally have a good description for what I'm doing... I'm calling it Too Late Reviews, 2LR.  Today's 2LR will be of The Lorax, which came out only seven months ago.  I suppose I'm catching up way too quickly.

The movie opens almost immediately on a song, which in some ways I thought was a bit worrisome.  There are more than a few movies that use songs to cover up deficiencies, and other movies that are told by the studio that songs are necessary and breaks the flow of the movie.  The song was inoffensive enough though and introduces the plastic, completely artificial town and O'Hare Air, evil business du'jour, which takes a page from Spaceballs by peddling a home-based "Perri-Air" business... y'see, the air is terrible here.  Except it's really not shown... ?!?

So, the main character "Ted" tools around the town and then kickstarts the plot in one of the most cliche ways possible.  Y'see, Teddy's in LUUUUV, and the source of his crush is a girl that took the time and effort to paint Truffula trees up and down the backside of her house ('cause, y'see, she's a girl and doesn't have any parents).  She tells him about the Truffula trees, though how she knew we don't know.  Ted goes back home and talks to Grand-mama -- voice of Betty White, and I endorse her work -- and she finishes the prologue by referring Ted to the Once-ler.

So, the movie takes a hard right turn into flashback mode, when the forest was full of Truffula trees, where the bar-ba-loots play and the fish sing (!?).  Once-ler not only wields an axe, but plays one too.  His electric guitar is in direct counterpoint to the fish singing (!? again), and sure enough the first Truffula tree is felled, bringing in the Lorax.

At this point, you could almost extrapolate a Warner Bros. cartoon from the setting.  There's a dude with a guitar, a bunch of bar-ba-loots including the big fat one and the little cute teddi-loot, the honky birds, the singy fish, and the Lorax.  There were a couple of cute jokes going on, including one involving static electricity.

The show cuts back from "The Lorax" to Ted's story again, and we find out that... surprise surprise... the rich dude not only has everyone under surveillance, but also that he's threatened by the idea of trees.  This actually becomes the more important part of the movie, which will be explained later.

Anyway, Ted slips the surveillance and sees the Once-ler the next day, and the Once-ler goes through the second half of the book itself.  During this sequence, there was another song ("How Bad Can I Be?"), and this one was actually rather enjoyable.

Right after the song, a bunch of the threads come together (no pun, I swear).  Between O'Hare and the Once-ler, you can almost draw a direct line between all of the bad habits that literally help businesses.  Companies pay big money to access information about people in order to tailor their products to market, and companies are also very interested in erecting barriers to entry.  After all, the tree symbolizes something for free that people used to pay for, so the air tycoon O'Hare is more than happy to try to stop it in any way possible.  Directly after the song, the Once-ler has a line that is very telling, when he tells the Lorax that all of what the Once-ler is doing is "perfectly legal."

And it is.  That's the biggest key though... the Lorax in the book and in the movie is supposed to represent not only "the trees", but the Once-ler's conscience.  When the Once-ler tells the Lorax that what he's doing is legal, he's telling his conscience not only to shut up but also saying something very profound.  There are quite a few people who believe in Adam Smith's "invisible hand", but self-interest also results in the invisible hand punching hippies and other bums who attempt to represent a different point of view.  Earlier in the movie, it was shown that the Once-ler's family bowed to the Once-ler's promise to the Lorax not to cut any more trees down... but after the family proved to be incompetent, the trees started falling and never stopped.  There was never a point where the Once-ler could say, "We have demand covered for the time being, let's slow down"... it was full speed ahead.

And obviously, it is a cautionary tale because the trees are truly a renewable resource, and even then the Once-ler managed to run out of them.  Businessmen have since learned that the Once-ler's model is not correct, because enforced scarcity (especially in a monopoly setting) allows for price gouging.  Anyway, the Once-ler gets the seed to Ted, Ted takes the seed back to town, the townspeople at first agree with O'Hare to tell Ted to stuff the seed, and then Ted takes heavy equipment to break down the wall.

The wall is the catharsis and the key, I think, especially when it comes to this day and age.  The wall galvanizes the crowd because they see the abject misery of the environment beyond the walls.  Then comes the last song where the crowd gives approval to Ted to plant the tree in downtown... up to and including O'Hare's heavies.

Two last points... even O'Hare's heavies abandoned him at the end of the movie.  This doesn't happen in real life, when there are so many people that are dependent on companies that can tend to destruction for profit, especially when money can be passed around to make sure that enough people are "taken care of".

The second point is this... Ted, the main character, did ALL OF THIS... destroyed the status quo, possibly made other people sick due to breaking the walls and letting in the dirty air, breaking the O'Hare monopoly... in order to get a kiss on the cheek from the token female prize.  *sigh*

Overall, the songs actually add to the film, the film does have a very important message though it is a bit out-of-date to our current situations, and the movie has enough humor to be interesting for the little ones.  I would give it a 3.1 rating on my 1-4 scale, I would certainly enjoy seeing it another time and seems to be a good way to illustrate some of the natural conflicts that occur between the marketplace and the community.