Movies | Television

Movies I’ll Always Watch If They’re On

I was flipping around the TV channels tonight, and saw they were showing Predator on AMC. Well, that’s my evening, right there. I’ll always watch Predator. Always. If it’s half-over, if it’s just starting, if it’s the final few minutes… if it’s on, I’m watching it. If it’s on again tomorrow night, I’ll probably try to catch the parts I missed tonight, and depending on my laziness, I might just watch the parts I didn’t miss tonight, again. I think everyone probably has a few movies that, if they come across them on TV, they’ll always watch, no matter what.

These movies are generally not even what I necessarily consider my favorite movies. I tend not to own these movies on DVD (I don’t own Predator). A few of my favorite movies that I own –Blade Runner, Brazil, Seven, Das Boot, L.A. Confidential, No Country for Old Men — I rarely watch, maybe once every couple years. And I don’t watch them on if they’re on TV.

While I was watching Predator, I started trying to picture a movie channel line-up filled with my Always Watch movies that would keep me on the couch a full 24 hours because I can never pass up watching any of them. Here’s what I came up with.

What’s on your Always Watch line-up?

KNIGHT RIDER | Television

Deadly Maneuvers

I’m watching the 80′s TV show Knight Rider on Netflix, and it only now occurs to me that Knight Rider is probably considered science fiction. I mean, there’s an intelligent talking car, right? That’s science fiction. But it feels more like a shoddy detective show about a pretty incompetent detective. Anyway, on to the episode!

Season 1, Episode 3: Deadly Maneuvers

En route to a mission, Michael Knight stops to help an Army lieutenant, Robin Ladd, who is having car trouble. He drives her to her Army base where she finds out her Army father has been killed after driving off a cliff. Robin points out that her dad was good at driving, and that she couldn’t remember a single instance of him driving off a cliff and dying before. Seems fishy. The investigation begins.

After finding a spent shell casing near the crash site, Michael bribes a food truck owner to borrow his apron and paper hat, so he can infiltrate the Army base disguised as a giant handsome food-selling person. Predictably, his shitty disguise fools no one and he’s immediately arrested by military police.

Luckily, his interrogation takes place in an office that contains a single folder that might as well be labeled “THAT ARMY LADY’S FATHER AND HOW HE DIED IN A CRASH”. He gives the MP’s free candy bars, knowing they will weirdly walk into a corner and face the wall to eat. They do, and Michael slyly takes the folder, which mentions that Robin’s dad had blue paint on his hands when he died.

Michael and Robin go to dinner, they joke and chat about a few things, and eventually get around to discussing the details of her father’s recent horrible tragic murder. They quickly decide that spending part of an afternoon investigating was plenty, and that they should just give up. However, some evil Army guys try to kill Michael that night, so he reopens the case.

We then meet KITT’s mechanic, Bonnie, who, as a ten-year old Knight Rider viewer, I decided was the most beautiful woman in existence. I had a major crush on Bonnie. I pretty much spent all my free time fantasizing that Bonnie and I would get married, she’d fix my talking car, and I WOULD KISS HER MOUTH WITH MY MOUTH.

Can I run my fingers through your hair? It will take a while.

Michael breaks into the ammunition bunker at the Army base. Well, he walks into the ammunition bunker. Hey, here are some facts about the ammunition bunker.

  • It is completely unguarded
  • It is completely unlocked
  • It contains several hundred crates of artillery shells.

Here are some facts about the artillery shells.

  • The armor piercing artillery shells are painted with a blue stripe
  • The tactical nuclear artillery shells are painted with a yellow stripe
  • There is otherwise no way to tell the difference between the two types of WAIT DID I JUST SAY TACTICAL NUCLEAR ARTILLERY SHELLS
  • Yes, I did.
  • Did I mention they were kept in an unlocked unguarded room in a bunch of crates? Okay.

Still with me? Michael discovers that blue paint was used to cover up yellow paint on some nuke shells, and that a bunch of evil Army guys were smuggling the painted nukes out to sell them, and that Robin’s dad was killed when he discovered the plan. Robin, meanwhile, is snooping around, and gets locked in a tank on the ordinance testing range by her evil Army boss. Michael then drives KITT out onto the artillery range to save Robin, while stock footage of artillery guns shoot at them.

The Army general running the evil scheme orders three heat-seeking missiles fired at KITT, because heat seeking missiles can hone in on warm car engines, I guess? Michael uses KITT’s “rocket booster”, which I assume is different than his turbo boost, because it doesn’t launch KITT in the air, it just makes him poop out flames onto some grass, distracting two of the heat seekers.

Trivia: KITT is the first sentient car to light a fart on national television, paving the way for countless others

The third heat seeker blows up the food truck from the beginning of the show, which is putting out extra heat because of a broken thermostat. Look, I don’t know, I can’t explain, I’m just reporting this to you. Michael rescues Robin, and chases the general who is trying to escape in a giant slow-moving tank. KITT poops fire onto it, melting the treads, and the general is caught. The episode ends with KITT sporting a “GO ARMY!” bumper sticker, because the producers of Knight Rider want to let the Army know that they really do like the Army, despite depicting them in this episode as a network of lying murdering nuke-smuggling terrorists.

MICHAEL’S INCOMPETENCE: LOW
Disguises himself as food vendor, fools no one, is immediately arrested, but at least manages to steal a file.

MICHAEL’S ROMANCE: LOW
Walks arm-in-arm with Lieutenant Robin Ladd, but doesn’t get a kiss.

KITT’S POWERS:
Video game console (Michael plays a racing game while KITT drives), rocket booster (poops fire)

Sim-plicity

Sim-plicity on PC Gamer!

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this here yet, but my Sim-plicity column (where I play down-to-earth simulation games) has been picked up by PC Gamer and is running Sundays on their website! Here are the articles that have been posted:

(The Sim-plicity columns I wrote for Screen Cuisine are right here, as well.)

I also recently wrote a game diary for PC Gamer about Skyrim’s Hearthfire add-on, which lets you build your own house in the game. I had some… difficulties with it. You can read the diary here.

Thanks to everyone at PC Gamer for publishing my stuff, and thanks to their readers (my readers, now!), who have been really great with their comments.

KNIGHT RIDER | Television

Knight of the Phoenix, Part 2

Season 1, Episode 2: Knight of the Phoenix, Part 2

How can we tell Knight Rider was made in the early 1980′s? When Michael escorts a waitress to a demolition derby, and her young son Buddy immediately disappears, no one is worried. “He’ll turn up,” Michael says, showing off his crack investigative skills by turning his head slightly to the left for one second to look around. Such an innocent, carefree decade, when a young boy could wander away at a crowded auto race and nobody immediately jumped to the conclusion that he’d been abducted/run over.

Another sign of the 80′s: Michael often has the sleeves of his leather jacket pushed up to mid-forearm.

We did this with our blazers and sport coats, too. God, we were terrible.

Anyway, in Part 2 of the series premiere, Michael Knight and KITT are hot on the trail of a gang of evil Silicon Valley masterminds who brutally murder cops, callously commit acts of industrial espionage, and fiendishly sponsor demolition derbies for charity. Michael and KITT have entered the race and Buddy, the irascible scamp that he is, has stowed away in KITT’s back seat and pops up mid-derby. KITT finally starts pulling his weight as a super-science car by driving on two wheels, which has the strange scientific side-effect of making Michael suddenly appear to be a heavyset middle-aged stunt driver wearing a giant black wig over a helmet.

Buddy, meanwhile, has turned into a mannequin who is, inexplicably, also wearing a giant black wig

More of KITT’s science powers are revealed during the derby, like oil slicks and smoke screens, plus the turbo boost (though it’s not called the turbo boost yet) which allows him to launch himself through the air as if flying off a ramp. All of the other cars get smashed up, Michael wins the race, and he tells the evil Tanya (the woman who shot him) that he’s interested in selling his science car, hoping to lure her into a trap. Tanya discusses it with her evil partner, and they agree that, yeah, Michael is definitely a cop.

Michael stops to use a pay phone (80′s!) to call Devon Miles, and the comical hoodlums from Part 1 show up and steal KITT. KITT drives them to a police station, where he demonstrates yet another power, the ability to throw ethnic caricatures out of himself using slide-whistle technology.

After some good-natured bickering that will become their hallmark, Michael and KITT head to a bar where Michael gets into a fight with all the other derby drivers. Another 80′s staple of television and film is utilized, as the fight is just a montage of goons getting thrown through doors, across tables, and onto floors, with no actual shots of punching. Michael is arrested and KITT is towed to COMTRON (the evil company) headquarters.

Michael’s response to being pestered by this guy: “Sit and spin.” Burn.

KITT escapes COMTRON by driving through a window, then bashes through the prison wall to free Michael. They drive back to COMTRON, and KITT ejects Michael onto a ten-story roof, this time silently (I guess the slide-whistle only works on minorities?). Michael reveals to Tanya that he is really Michael Long, and a security guard shoots him in the shoulder. He overpowers another guard named Baker and takes his uniform to fool everyone into thinking he is Baker, a clever ruse that works for literally zero seconds. Seriously, his plan fails so immediately it must be seen to be believed:

I love this for two reasons. First, it’s always good to see a classic good-guy plan shut down before it can begin. Secondly, the evil murdering boss is familiar enough with his security thugs that he not only knows their names, he can recognize their voices. It’s sweet. I bet every time he comes in for an evil day of work, he says “Morning, Baker! How’s Francine and little Emily?” And he’s genuinely interested, because he’s the evil boss who cares.

Michael escapes the building and is immediately captured by yet another guard, but KITT comes to the rescue. They drive to the airport to catch the evil COMTRON people, who send a fleet of evil truck drivers to intercept them, but KITT just turbo-boosts through one truck and over another. At the airport, Michael crashes KITT into the fleeing COMTRON jet, disabling it. Tanya runs over to KITT and tries to shoot Michael in the face again, but the bullet bounces off KITT’s window and kills her instead. The cops arrive and arrest all the bad people. Michael decides being a crime fighter with a talking car is a good idea, and the deceased Wilton Knight uses The Force to talk inside Michael’s head, reminding him that one man CAN make a difference.

In these episodes, KITT’s body and interior constantly look smudged and filthy. Will they hire someone to wipe him down between takes in later shows? Discuss.

Tally for the premiere episodes:

MICHAEL’S INCOMPETENCE: HIGH
He’s shot in the face, drives through a wall, falls asleep at the wheel, blows his cover, loses a boy, has his car stolen, gets arrested for brawling, allows KITT to be towed, gets shot again, strips a guard naked to steal his uniform and fools absolutely no one, and gets caught by another guard. Not a great start.

MICHAEL’S ROMANCE: LOW
Gets a kiss on the cheek from a waitress.

KITT’S POWERS:
Collision detection, two-wheel driving, oil slick, smoke screen, turbo boost (x4), ejection system (with comical whistle for ethnics), bulletproof everything, dual sunroof

KNIGHT RIDER | Television

Knight of the Phoenix, Part 1

I recently noticed that the 1980′s television show Knight Rider is on Netflix Instant. I was about 10 when this show came out, and I loved it, because what wasn’t to love? David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight was cool, wore a leather jacket, had huge hair, solved crimes for pretty ladies and then kissed them, and drove a talking black Pontiac Trans Am named KITT that was made out of SCIENCE. For a little boy, the only thing that could have made Knight Rider any better would have been if Michael Knight had also had a pet dinosaur.

I watched it religiously back then, but I’m sad to say I don’t remember a heck of a lot of specific details about it now. It’s all sort of a vague, shadowy blur of turbo boosts, that vooh-vooh noise KITT makes when it thinks, and the recollection that Michael Knight and KITT both had evil twins at some point. So, I thought I might watch a few episodes to see if it’s actually a decent show, or if I was just a stupid kid.

Season 1, Episode 1: Knight of the Phoenix, Part 1

I’ve watched the opening few minutes of this show twice, and I still can’t tell what’s really going on. There’s Detective Michael Long, his partner (who is disguised as an electrician), a woman stealing secret plans from a casino hotel room, Michael’s boss who is working with Michael and also working with the thief-woman, an old gambler who Michael is protecting from something, and the old gambler’s wife who is working with Michael’s boss and the thief-woman. Everyone follows each other around and talks into wristwatch communicators, then Michael’s partner gets shot in the parking lot by Michael’s boss’s henchman, then Michael gets shot in the face by the old gambler’s wife in the desert. This all happens in about four minutes.

KNIGHT RIDER!

Michael is taken by helicopter to a sprawling mansion, where an old man named Wilton Knight gives Michael a new, surgically altered face, changes his last name to Knight, and has Michael Long declared dead, all without asking Michael’s permission. The plan: to turn Michael Knight into a crime fighter, a man capable of taking down the criminals the law can’t touch, by giving him a Trans Am filled with computers. Michael demonstrates to his new employer, Devon Miles, what a great choice he is for the task by immediately driving the car through a fucking wall.

Wilton Knight dies, Michael Knight puts on a red mock turtleneck and a black leather jacket, and heads out to find the woman who shot him, who is working in– as Devon puts it– “a place called Silicon Valley.” Ooh, sounds futuristic. En route, Michael discovers that his car can talk. The Knight Industries Two Thousand, or KITT, introduces himself, and Michael, rather than being completely amazed by his talking car, is just slightly annoyed. He tells KITT to shut up, drives away, and promptly falls asleep at the wheel. Luckily, KITT can drive himself, though there’s some comical business where Michael has to pretend he’s a deaf man with an injured neck to fool some cops who pull him over (I don’t really feel like explaining it any more than that).

KNIGHT RIDER!!!!!

Michael reaches Silicon Valley and visits a restaurant where the woman thief from the casino happens to be hanging out. He tries to slyly get some information from a hot waitress, arousing the suspicions of the thief, who calls the people who shot him, who immediately decide he must be a cop. Smooth, Michael. You’ve got a new name and a new face and yet you’ve been made six minutes after arriving in town. Meanwhile, in the parking lot, a duo of adorably offensive stereotypes spot KITT and excitedly plan to steal him later.

“JOO WANT TO STEEL THEES CAR, MANG?” “WORD, BRUTHA!”

Michael follows the waitress home where he discovers the same people who shot him also killed the waitress’s husband, and she and Michael team up to bring down the whole evil Silicon Valley crew. Michael meets the waitress’s son, Buddy, who says adorable TV kid things, like “Are you gonna marry my Mom?” causing everyone to smile, because kids, they’re such awkward dicks. Michael tries to figure a way to get closer to the people who shot him, and it turns out they’re sponsoring a demolition derby. Hey, that’s convenient, since he has an indestructible car and all. The demolition derby is tomorrow, also convenient, because if it had been, say, yesterday, he’d have to spend 364 days sitting around the waitresses’ shitty apartment, hoping like hell it was an annual event.

That’s the end of the first episode. Something I noticed about Michael Knight that completely escaped me as a kid: he’s ridiculously incompetent. In the space of forty minutes, he gets his face shot off, drives through a wall, falls asleep while driving, and blows his cover. I’ll have to keep an eye on this in future episodes, and see if he continues to be the worst secret detective agent with a talking car ever.

KITT doesn’t do much in this episode, but I remember, as a kid, being in awe of KITT’s digital speedometer. That seemed like the coolest thing back in 1982. I still don’t have a digital speedometer. My odometer is digital, but it’s not really that exciting.

Video Games

Bullet Points: Dishonored

So, I’ve been playing Dishonored, the first-person stealth/action supernatural assassin game. And it’s really great. Here are some great things about it (the game is nearly entirely great) and some not-so-great things (there aren’t many). And then there are also some other things. A bunch of things, essentially.

PS: Things.

The Great Stuff

  • I feel like games that promise stealth and action wind up doing a good job with one and not so good a job with the other. But I’ve played through Dishonored twice, once focusing on stealth and once focusing on action, and both approaches are absolutely valid and enjoyable ways to play the game. Stealth, I think, is honestly more fun, but the combat, if you choose to go toe-to-toe with your enemies, is plenty satisfying.
  • The stealth… okay, it’s weird and there’s two parts to it. First, there’s not really a stealth system. Like in Deus Ex or Batman: Arkham Asylum/City, there’s a system. You stick to cover, so you know you’re properly in cover. You can move between cover by rolling or sliding or whatever, just by hitting a key. There’s an actual system to it. In Dishonored, there’s nothing like that. You just try to kind of hide and hope no one sees you. And sometimes they see you.
  • The stealth itself, the act of being stealthy, is great. There’s all sorts of places to hide: rafters, sewers, alcoves, walls, ledges, tunnels, closets, the tops of streetlamps… you can even hide in trash bins. The first thing I do when entering an area is look up and see what I can perch on, and get as high up in the level as I can.
  • Once you get good at stealth and teleporting around with the Blink spell, you sort of turn into a Victorian version of Batman. You can get a spell called Dark Vision that lets you spy through walls, like Batman’s Detective Vision. And you can drop down on dudes (lethally) or land/teleport just behind them and choke them unconscious, then Blink back up to your hiding place.

  • The environments are really lovely, the art direction is fantastic. I wish I had some screenshots, but I’m usually too engrossed in the game to be taking pictures.

  • The character design is great, too.
  • The loading time between levels is so quick. There are these little tips they give you to read while levels are loading. I have no idea what the tips say, because the levels load so fast. I even wish it wasn’t so quick, because I could maybe use those tips.
  • I was so damn stealthy in my first play-through that I didn’t realize guards could throw grenades until my second, action-oriented play-through. I had also forgotten that enemy assassins could use, like, magic powers of their own. They just never had a chance in my first run: they were dead or unconscious before they ever got a chance to do anything. That says something for the stealth in Dishonored, and why you should try playing it both ways. It’s an entirely different experience. Enemies do all sorts of different things if you give them a chance.
  • The combat, if you choose to play that way, or if your stealthiness just happens to fail leaving you no choice, is a huge amount of fun. The swordplay, which involves parrying, means you have to do some careful timing to block attacks. Some enemies have guns (more on this in a minute). If they don’t have guns, and you’re out of reach, cockily sitting on a ledge you’ve Blinked up to, they may throw things at you. This was a fun surprise on my second play-through.
  • This is maybe my favorite thing about the entire game: when an guard decides he’s going to shoot you, he will announce his intention to fire, by saying something to his comrades like “Stand clear!” or “Preparing to fire!” I realize the in-game purpose of this: it’s to warn the player that a gun is about to go off, so he can Blink away or use the Bend Time spell, avoiding the shot (or plucking the bullet out of the air while time is done bent). But the warning you hear before an enemy fires a pistol also works, I think, as a little world-building detail. Pistols are crummy, inaccurate (you can upgrade yours quite a bit, however), untrustworthy, possibly a fairly recent development in this world. If you’re a soldier, you don’t just shoot a gun off, you issue a warning to your comrades first, so they know an inaccurate, unpredictable piece of lead is going to be flying their way. Surely, this is a rule for these guards, this is something they do, owing to a history of people shooting guns and hitting their allies by mistake (which does happen sometimes in the game). Enemies with a pistol in one hand always have a sword in the other: guns are simply not the dominant weapon in this world, and I love how that comes across in the game.

  • This one guy has his own steampunk video chat system. It’s cute, because you’re there to assassinate him, and you can call him up and let him know you’re there to assassinate him before you assassinate him. If you want to be a real badass, that is.
  • There’s no hacking minigame! Hurrah. Not that hacking/lockpicking minigames are even that bad. I played through both Bioshocks, Deus Ex, and Oblivion/Skyrim, which all have minigames for hacking and lockpicking. They’re not terrible. But, it does get tiresome, playing the same minigame over and over and over. It just turns into busywork after a while. In Dishonored, you can rewire enemy security devices to work for you by using a rewire tool that you can find or buy. The only game you have to play is: can I scope the place out and discover the control box that is connected to the device I want to hack, and can I stealthily get myself into a position to do so without anyone seeing me? That’s the only game necessary. I’m glad they didn’t try to drop a little Pipe Dreams type of minigame on top of it.
  • Speaking of which, one of the pleasures of the game is having rewired the devices, to spend time getting some kills with them. Walls of Light are crackling force fields that restrict access to certain areas. Guards can walk through them, but they’ll fry you unless you rewire them. Once you have, you can pass through harmlessly, but they’ll disintegrate the guards. So, naturally, everything gets put on hold until I determine how many guards have to walk through this force field to justify the time I spent sneaking over to rewire it? The answer is: all of them. I spent like 30 minutes one night trying to get every single guard to walk through the Wall of Light.
  • If you can lure them one at a time, they’ll all pretty much get fried. However, if one guard sees another guard get fried, he will back off, run away, or throw rocks or cobblestones at the field. Which is fun to watch.
  • One guy would not walk through, so I spent a good 10 minutes trying to back him into it during an extended swordfight. He wouldn’t go through. So I shot him.
  • Also note: the Walls of Light have a power source, and the more guards you fry, the more power it uses. So, if you’re on one side of the wall, laughing at all the guards frying themselves in the field, remember that the WoL may suddenly run out of power and the guards will suddenly be surrounding/stabbing you.
  • Also also note: if you’re standing directly in the field and someone else gets fried in it, you also get fried. Found that out the hard way.
  • If you’re looking around with Dark Vision, and you see a couple guards standing stock still, staring at each other, get closer to them. They’re probably waiting for you to get within earshot so they can engage in a conversation you might want to listen in on. There’s some weird, interesting stuff going on between NPCs in this game, worth checking out. A conversation can turn funny, or, as below, turn dark.

  • The UI is surprisingly customizable. Shockingly customizable, even. You can turn just about every element (quest markers, pickup logs, health/mana meters, item glow and descriptions, etc) of the UI on or off, and in some cases, set them to contextual (for instance, if you only want to see your health/mana meters when you lose/gain health/mana). It’s pretty neat. I’d leave most everything on for your first run, but play with the settings for your next pass, and turn off the stuff you don’t want to see.
  • The powers are all pretty much fun and incredibly useful. Blink, obvs, for getting around, and Dark Vision, for seeing through walls. But there’s also Possession, which lets you drive rats and fish around, and later, people. Cluster of guards blocking your way? Just possess one, walk him into a nice private corner, let him go, and choke him out. Repeat if necessary. Devouring Swarm is just good, grisly fun. Rats will make short work of a single enemy or provide the perfect distraction for a group, or just eat whatever bodies you’ve left lying around. Wind Blast, I didn’t even use on my stealthy run, but in combat, it’s great for knocking back a crowd, and also excellent for killing swarms of rats. Bend Time, incredibly useful for a number of reasons, especially when used in conjunction with other spells or weapons.
  • Rat swarms, either summoned by you or just encountered in the game, are fun to watch as they wreak havoc:

  • Probably one of the neatest things, not evident until you’ve played through a couple times, is how the world changes based on how you’re playing. If your body count is high, if you’re just killing everyone you encounter, the game will note this and change in later levels, sometimes subtly, sometimes pretty obviously.
  • I love how fast the guards run. I’m used to games like, I don’t know, Half-Life 2, where if an enemy soldier runs after you, he’s not really moving very fast. Essentially, he’s just sort of jogging. Guards in Dishonored, when they run, they run. Great big huge fast long loping strides. They haul ass when they need to. It’s surprising and fun.

The Not So Great Stuff

  • Plant monsters. Why are there plant monsters? About halfway through the game, there are suddenly plant monsters. They feel out of place with the world, which had previously been just people, rats, hounds, and technological traps. And, fine, you want plant monsters in your game, I’m not one to say otherwise. Thing is, the plant monsters are just no fun to fight. They just sit there and spit at you if you get to close. Grenades are good on them, and guns, if you’re close, and you can possess them, which kills them when you leave their stupid plant-bodies. But I’m sure no one has killed a bunch of plant monsters and thought, Wow, that was such a satisfying plant monster fight! I want to reload the game and do it again!
  • Okay, one time I chucked a whale-oil canister from the top of a tall building and it landed smack dab in the middle of a bunch of plant monsters and killed them all, and that was satisfying, but only because it meant I was done dealing with plant monsters for a while. And I did reload the game to do it again because I promptly fell off the roof and died. But that doesn’t count.
  • This is probably on me, but the Dark Vision spell is so freakin’ useful that I more or less keep it on the entire game. You can see through walls, spy on enemies, spot useful items and figure out where technology is wired. This is all great, but like Batman’s Detective Mode, it’s tempting to just always be using it, so I tend to always use it, meaning I’m looking at this gorgeous game through a sepia tone filter, which is a shame, because the game is beautiful and should be looked upon with mortal eyes. I recommend popping it on, taking a quick look around, and popping it off.
  • There’s a dude, without giving away much, who is important to you and the building of your supernatural arsenal, and he’s really lame and boring. He’s the plant monster of characters: he feels entirely out of place in the game and I just dread seeing him.

The Mixed Bag Stuff

  • The dialogue and voice-acting. Some of it is top notch, some of it is pretty bad. I spent a lot of time eavesdropping, and there are some great conversations to overhear, and some terrible ones. Example: occasionally, you will encounter a guard who is muttering to himself. And that is meant literally: he is literally muttering weird fake words and sounds. He might as well be saying “Mutter mutter mutter. Mutter! Mutter mutter.” Usually, however, listening in on conversations is fun and often useful: it can fill you in on some story details, or point you to hidden locations to check out.
  • As far as the overall story and characters, I don’t have a lot to say, because there’s not a lot to say, because there’s not much of a story, and what there is isn’t very compelling. I never felt much interest in any of the characters, even Corvo. That said, there are tons of extra story details, in the form of books, letters, journals, and conversations you can listen in on, that provide a fascinating picture of the world and the events you’re involved in.

The Non-Lethal Approach

  • Some notes on playing non-lethally, that is, trying to get through the entire game without killing anyone, even your main assassination targets (there are non-lethal options to take out all of your targets, and they’re all pretty horrific in their own way).
  • I haven’t tried a complete no-kill approach. My first pass was pretty non-lethal. I opted for drugging/choking out guards, simply because it’s quieter, less messy, and more predictable. You choke a guy, he passes out. Dart him, he passes out. Shoot him? Maybe he dies, maybe not. If he doesn’t, you’re in for a fight with him and anyone else who might be around. Still, when my stealth failed, I did wind up occasionally killing people.
  • One thing about a non-lethal approach: there really aren’t a lot of different tools to use. You can choke dudes unconscious, or sleep-dart them, but that’s the only way to take people out without killing them.
  • Well, that’s not exactly true: you can sneak past them altogether. Which is probably your best option for non-lethal: just don’t even try to take anyone down, because even if you safely knock someone out, you’ve got an unconscious body to deal with, which is problematic. Sometimes, there just aren’t enough tall bookshelves to hide bodies on:

  • See, subduing an enemy is only half of it. That’s the easy half. The other half is, to make sure they don’t die after they’re unconscious. It’s damn tricky. For instance:
  • I shot a sleep dart into a guy, and he toppled off a roof, landed on his head, and died.
  • I choked a dude out, tried to lay him on top of a tall bookcase, he slipped off, and died. Another guy, I tried placing him at the top of some stairs and he tumbled down, dead.
  • One guy spotted me on a balcony, and started swinging his sword. I just held up my sword to block him — just block him — and he staggered back, off balance, and went flying off the balcony and into the water below. Dead.
  • I had three guys stowed under a staircase, unconscious. A swarm of rats ran over and messily ate them: obviously, they died (and rats will eat unconscious dudes — I’ve heard people say they won’t, but they do, trust me).
  • I darted a dude on a beach, carried him away, and laid him down. I immediately noticed he was laying down in about three inches of water, I scooped him back up, but he was already dead, presumably of drowning.
  • I gave a maid a heart attack. I have no idea how. I’d cleared out a building of guards and was walking around. The maid saw me and was sort of defensively crouching. I simply walked over to her to see if she had a key that I could lift off her. I had NO INTENTION OF HARMING HER. I did NOTHING VIOLENT. But as I walked away, she let out a gasp and flopped over. Dead. I don’t know what could have happened. Did I bump into her as I walked, and this somehow killed her? Did she just have a Victorian stroke? No idea. But it was weird.
  • Unconscious dudes snore. Snoring can attract curious guards. Curious guards get alarmed. Alarmed guards are harder to quietly deal with. If you’re going non-lethal, for reals, just bypass as many people as you can.
Movies

Some Spoiler-Free Words About “Looper”

“I don’t want to talk about time travel.” — Joe (Bruce Willis), in the film Looper

“I kinda do.” — Me, in the audience of the film Looper

(Note: There will be no spoilers here, the only real information I’ll be talking about are things evident in the movie trailers.)

There were two things I knew about Looper before I saw it. Both of those things were revealed in the trailer for the film, and both of them worried me, because both of them seemed pretty stupid. I’ll get to both of those things in a minute. First, some praise!

Looper is a GOOD MOVIE. Go see it. It’s interesting, entertaining, funny, exciting, violent, cool, thought-provoking, and best of all, completely surprising, and you should definitely go and see it, despite all the paragraphs of whining you’re about to endure. Or, don’t endure them! You don’t really need to keep reading, because if you just go and see Looper, you’ll probably enjoy it. I don’t want to say much else about it, other than the two things I will go on to say, because it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible.

Now, the two things I knew about Looper before seeing it. The first thing that worried me was the general premise: in the future, the mob controls time travel, and uses it to send people back in time to be killed by hitmen. Before I saw the movie, this just seemed patently absurd. And, having seen the movie, it is still patently absurd.

Look, I can see the mob controlling, say, gambling, prostitution, drugs, weapons, maybe even politicians. Maybe even secretly controlling some sort of science, like a pharmaceutical lab or maybe some kind of high-tech gadget firm or something. But time travel? Which would be the biggest and most important scientific discovery ever? That seems about as plausible as the mob controlling space travel. I just can’t envision a future where a bunch of mafioso types walk into NASA and say, “Yeah, you gotta nice space program here, but we’re gonna be making some changes, capice? Dis is Big Vinnie. From now on, you wanna go to da moon, you wanna go into space, you wanna, I dunno, do da thing where you send a rocket to look at space rocks on Mars, badda bing, badda boom… you talk to Big Vinnie foist.” *straightens tie, walks out*

You do get a little explanation of how it works, and why the mob uses it the way it does, but the explanation is brief and, from a logical standpoint, pretty unsatisfying. But, that’s kind of okay.  Sometimes, in science-fiction movies, the fiction is more thought-out than the science, like in Back to the Future, where the focus is on the journey of Marty and his parents, and the science is just a magic car and a photograph that people disappear from a bit at a time. We accept that, or at least it doesn’t bother us too much at the time because we’re enjoying the story (though it’s definitely fun to pick it apart later). Other sci-fi films focus on the science, such as in the time travel film Primer. In Primer, the science was definitely nailed down, but the fiction, in my opinion, was crap (and here fiction includes things like storytelling and acting and making the audience give a shit about anyone on the screen).

I always want both sides of the equation to have equal heft. I want some good science, and I want some good story, and while it’s pretty rare to get both, films can work just fine with just one. Overall, I don’t think Primer is a good film but the makers really did an amazing job of logically portraying time travel, probably the best anyone has done to date, and that part of the film really works. Meanwhile, the time travel in Back to the Future is silly garbage, but the film is fun as hell and has a fantastic script.

Looper basically falls into the Back to the Future camp. The science of their time-travel is redonk, and doesn’t really try to be anything else. The quote at the top of this entry, said by Bruce Willis to his younger self, is more or less the attitude of the film. Another character says roughly the same thing, and these comments are really directed at us, the audience. The mob controls time travel, they send people back 30 years to get whacked, don’t worry about the reasons or how it works because it doesn’t, really, and even if we sort of wish it did, the story Looper tells is entertaining enough without it.

Now. The second thing from the trailer that concerned me: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is covered with facial prosthetics (see disturbing image above) to make him look like a young version of Bruce Willis, since they play the same character at different ages. Even in just a few seconds of trailer footage, I found this kind of distracting.

In the two-hour movie, I found it immensely distracting. The contact lenses, the eyeliner, whatever the hell is going on with his stupid fake eyebrows, the curved nose they stuck on him, the giant oil painting of a bottom lip they glued to his real bottom lip… all of these things just kept me staring at parts of his face for the entire movie through squinted eyes thinking, jeez, I am so distracted right now. Is that a lip or a throw-rug? EYEBROWS! EYEBROWS! Lip. Liiiiiip. Contacts. LIP! Nose. Fake nose. Eyebrows eyebrows LIIIIIIIIP.

But it’s not JUST the make-up. It’s also the constant facial contortion he’s undergoing, rigidly holding a lemon face to approximate Bruce Willis’ sour mug, and the raspy muttering Bruce Willis voice impression, and the attempt at the famous Bruce Willis smirk, and the worst part of ALL OF THESE DISTRACTING DISTRACTIONS that he STILL DOESN’T FUCKING LOOK OR SOUND ANYTHING LIKE BRUCE WILLIS.

THUSLY, there is NO POINT. We would have easily accepted the idea that they were the same person at different ages if the film just told us that. We may have thought initially, well, they don’t really look anything alike, but we wouldn’t be obsessed with it for the entire movie. (LIP. LIIIIIIIP.) We would probably just accept it. Suspending disbelief isn’t always easy, but it’s especially hard when you’re staring at an actor who you like and who you are familiar with while he does a shitty Bruce Willis impression for two hours with a face covered in plastic noses and fake eyebrows and lip-murals. AND, if you insist on covering JGL with weird, distracting make-up, why not have him play dual roles, so the young JGL is just JGL, and the old JGL is JGL covered with old-person make-up? At least that way, while one JGL is covered in stupid, unconvincing make-up, you still have one that isn’t.

Anyway. Those were my two concerns going in, and they remain my two concerns coming out, but they are both ultimately overshadowed greatly by the quality of everything else. There’s a great story to Looper, and the film has plenty of excitement, several WTF moments, some great character development, and if you can let the science go, and do your best to forget JGL is wearing a Bruce Willis mask that doesn’t look anything like Bruce Willis, I think there’s a lot to enjoy. Go see it!

Movies

The Bourne Legacy: Two Reviews

I’m a big fan of the original Bourne trilogy, though by the third I felt they were treading pretty familiar ground. So how is The Bourne Legacy, the Bourne movie without Bourne? Two reviews follow, one short and concise, the other a muddled meandering mishmash of something beginning with M.

Here’s the first:

In attempting to launch a new chapter of the Bourne franchise, The Bourne Legacy sticks too closely to the beats of the original trilogy to feel fresh or new. Shaky-cam fights, rooftop and busy-street chases, and government data-mining scenes have been all been done before, and done better. The best part of this film is Rachel Weisz’s performance, which is fantastic, but Jeremy Renner, as the replacement for Matt Damon, elicits little sympathy or interest.

The second review below. Spoilers follow for all four Bourne movies, so don’t read unless you are planning to lose your memory and travel through the most recognizable cities in Europe to unravel the mystery of your past and then watch all the Bourne movies.

[Read more...]

Movies | Netflix

Warrior: Two Reviews

Warrior, the mixed martial-arts drama, came to Netflix instant, and I watched it, and here are two reviews of it: the first short and spoiler-free, the second, a long floppy flood of finger-farts containing all of the spoilers for absolutely everything in the movie. First review:

While it veers into melodrama and hits a number of incredibly familiar sports-movie beats, strong acting performances and exciting, believable fight scenes turn Warrior into a decent sports film. I hope you noticed my clever wordplay back there. Because it’s a fighting film, and I said hit and beats.

Okay, onto the SPOILERY PLOT SUMMARY OF SPOILERS.

[Read more...]

Television

12 Things I Learned From The 2012 Olympic Games

The 2012 Olympics are OVER! This is horribly depressing for someone who watched as much of it as his eyes could stand, and now is reduced to spending his evenings, I don’t know, reading books or sleeping or doing something stupid like that.

Here’s what I learned from the 2012 Olympics:

Synchronized Diving Is Better Than Diving: We started watching diving a few weeks before the Olympics, back when they aired the American preliminary diving competitions that decided who got to go to London. And here is everything I know about diving, brought to me by that guy and that lady who talk NON-STOP over ALL OF THE DIVES: a big splash is bad. That’s it. That’s all I know. That’s what hours and hours of their constant talking have taught me. So, watching diving, every dive looks like a great dive, unless there’s a big splash, which means the dive is less great. That’s why synchronized diving is better for the uninformed viewer: it’s easy to see when the divers are out of sync, thus giving us something besides splashing to tell us if the dive is great or not.

Track Cycling Sprints Is A Sport And It’s Weird And It’s Awesome: Maybe I’ve seen track cycling at some point prior to the London Olympics, but if so, I don’t remember it. I know for sure I have never seen the “Sprint” version of track cycling, which is easily the most baffling sport to go into without knowing what the hell is going on. Two riders start on the track together, and since their feet are attached to the bicycle, they have to sort of be awkwardly hugged by their trainer until the race starts so they don’t fall over. Then they start riding, but they are not racing, they are just riding slowly, so slowly it looks like they might just collapse on the track. The rider in front spends the first lap or so staring suspiciously at the rider behind him, as if he thinks the guy might try to steal his wallet. This goes on for a while, as they circle the track at .0003 miles per hour. Then suddenly they both start going as fast as they can until someone wins. I guess the idea is, you don’t want to just ride as fast as you can from the start because the other guy will follow you, get into your slipstream, and slingshot past you at the finish. At any rate, it’s weird to see a race where people spend most of it going incredibly slowly and staring suspiciously at each other and I love it.

Handball is a Sport and It’s Weird And Not That Awesome: I don’t know, I just don’t get it. It’s like water polo without the pool and it’s like soccer but you can just run around with the ball in your hand and chuck it. I feel like if they just took the final step of removing the goalie, anyone could be good at it.

Nobody Likes Pole Vault But Me: I love pole vault. NBC, not so much. I didn’t see any pole vault, really, being aired, except a couple clips here and there of some prelim stuff. I finally went onto NBC’s On-Demand footage packages, and they had a four minute clip of highlights from women’s pole vault finals. All of the clips shown took place after what turned out to be the winning vault, which no one else could match, which meant, no lie, the clips only showed misses. Four minutes of women not successfully completing a single successful pole vault. Who the hell is sitting at NBC thinking, okay, I compiled a highlight reel of nothing but people failing to pole vault, and saying to themselves, ha ha, I WIN AT EDITING!!

Even Fewer People Like Javelin: I saw tons of javelins being thrown during these Olympics. Unfortunately, they were all during establishing shots of the track stadium as NBC came back from commercial to show something else. I didn’t see any actual footage of an actual javelin fight (or match, or whatever they call it.) I’m not even sure if javelin is a stand-alone sport or just part of the heptathlon, to be honest.

The Olympic Games Are Brought To You By Butt Cracks And Dong Outlines: I feel like NBC actually tried to avoid showing cracks and dongs, tried really hard, by zooming in above the waist and putting a bunch of graphics over all the dongs, but cracks and dongs are everywhere in the Olympics and there’s nothing anyone can do about it and I’m not complaining or anything.

Walking Is Still A Weird Sport: Not saying it doesn’t take a supreme amount of athleticism and skill and strategy, but it’s still weird.

Being On The West Coast of the US Sucks: Time-delay, I obviously get. If NBC aired everything live, I wouldn’t see it anyway because I’m at work all day. I’m fine with the tape delay. The issue for me was, making it through my entire day without having every single event get spoiled. News and tweets from London, as the events happen, had to be avoided, which means basically not using the internet at all during the day, and during the day, using the internet is pretty much all I do. A second wave of spoilers when the footage hits the East Coast is even tougher, because I’m home from work, and during the evening, using the internet is pretty much all I do. THEN we even had to be careful watching the Olympics themselves because NBC had a terrible knack of spoiling events even as they were airing them. Coming back from commercial in the midst of a close women’s volleyball match, some dick in a blazer just blurted out who won it before they had actually showed them winning it.

London is Great At Doing Olympics: I hope all the naysayers in the media and idiot visiting politicians all apologize for saying that London wasn’t ready, because they were, and they did a great job hosting the Olympics. I hereby declare that London is the best state in the USA! Seriously, great job.

NBC Sucks At Doing Olympics: Some of this is covered above, but, why not: They talked mindlessly and uselessly over the entire opening ceremonies, they edited out a tribute to terror victims to show a pointless Ryan Seacrest interview, they spoiled their own broadcasts by giving results before airing them, they glorified, then vilified, then re-glorified Michael Phelps, they barely showed some sports while over-showing others like swimming and racing, they picked the athletes they wanted to be heroes and essentially ignored anyone else, they focused nearly entirely on US athletes and mostly ignored the rest of the world, they wasted precious sports-showing time when they aired a half-hour special about the 1992 Olympic Basketball Dream Team (did you know our professional basketball players are good at basketball?) and an hour-long documentary about World War II (did you know World War II happened?), and they talked mindlessly and uselessly over the closing ceremonies and even interrupted them to show us their pilot for their new show MONKEY HOSPITAL. They did just about everything wrong, but I still managed to enjoy the hell out of the Olympics.

I Don’t Think This Is 12 Things: But I didn’t count.