Short Movie Review: Whiteout

I can’t think about Whiteout without remembering how I had to buy the graphic novel twice because my original copy was stolen when Dan’s car got broken into many years back. (Also stolen: my graphing calculator, a frisbee, and a ridiculously clunky pre-ipod CD player that could handle MP3 CDs.)

So, Whiteout is the film based on Grek Rucka’s graphic novel about a U.S. Marshal solving a murder mystery in Antarctica(!) I enjoyed the comic but I passed on seeing this in the theatre due the weak reviews it received from critics. Unfortunately I should probably have passed on Netflixing it. It’s that lame.

Rucka’s underlying story is still mostly there, but the pacing of the film is so awful that it’s just crippled in the adaptation. All of the character that seemed quirky or mysterious in the comics come across as bland and uninteresting in the film. It also suffers from a glut of Hollywood/committee style dumbing down with elements like flashbacks (because the audience couldn’t possibly remember what we showed them 25 minutes ago), complete removal of any discussion of the history/politics of Antarcita (that are critical to why solving the murder is so hard in the comic), and the gender switch out of a major character, I guess to serve as possible love interest where that didn’t exist before? (Also we wouldn’t want to market a movie with two strong female leads, right?) Also sad: the comic ends with a cool Mexican standoff that resolves unexpectedly, the film has a silly extended fight sequence that didn’t quite make sense.

So yeah, really not worth your time even if you like the source material. Antarctica is a pretty sweet setting for a story though, go reread the comic, or if you want to see a movie set there rewatch John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thing.

Medium Game Review: Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood

I felt a little guilty starting a discount western shooter when I haven’t finished the Fallout DLC, or even started Mass Effect, but I’ll be honest: when I want to unwind, point allocation and managing inventories don’t immediately jump to mind, in fact that seems too much like work. (See also my critique of the Wii, sure it has fun party games, but who wants to relax by waving their arms around wildly? I mean that basically sounds like my job.) That’s right, when I want to relax I want to shoot at bad guys. With guns. Maybe as a cowboy. And possibly ride a horsey.


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Short Game Review: Batman Arkham Asylum

I waited to borrow Batman Arkham Asylum from a friend rather than buying it myself, but I was only barely into it when it became clear that purchasing this would have been well justified. Arkham Asylum is a really solid game that combines platforming, combat, and light puzzle solving in ways that remind me of how awesome Prince of Persia was on the original xbox. Strong gameplay elements combined with a near fetishistic obsession with Batman trivia and voice acting by many of the folks who made the Batman Animated series make this an absolute joy for any Batman enthusiast. Countless hours into it and the combat is still fun, the pacing is solid, and the side quest style content still hold my attention. My one gripe is that the character designs are a little over the top; the attempts to make an “adult” Batman game with even-more gruesome villains and over-sexed vilenesses makes me feel like I’m playing “Todd McFarlane presents Batman.” Arkham Asylum is a fun game and one of the few non-co-op games I keep feeling motivated to come back to.

Short Game Review: Borderlands

borderlandscoverBorderlands has been out for four weeks now and I can only  assume that the reason neither myself, Jason, Dan, or Kai has written anything about it is because we’ve been too busy playing it. I don’t follow previews and game development news as much I used to, so Borderlands kind of came out of nowhere as a surprise hit for me. Usually I only buy games on release day if it is something I’ve been anticipating for months (Left 4 Dead, Halo ODST, etc.) but many of my friends were set on getting it when it came out and I made what turned out to be a wise decision to follow them.

The most efficient description I’ve heard of Borderlands is that it is Diablo meets Fallout 3. In longer form: Borderlands is a first person shooter meshed with a loot-and-level-style RPG set on a post apocalyptic alien world where you’ll enjoy shooting things, taking on quests, managing an inventory, and allocating points on a skill tree (every nerd loves point allocation!) Consistently fun game play, near endless weapon permutations, amusing dialogue, and a novel art style combine for an extremely solid game playing experience. I’ve played through roughly the first half of the game with each of the four character types and even playing through a battle for the forth time is still fun because of the neat environments and the variety of weapons and skills you can employ. The story feels a little thin, but so few games that allow co-op even consider the other players in the storytelling that I’m willing to be pretty forgiving (I’m looking at you Halo ODST, Rainbow Six, and HAWX.)

I’m not sure what Borderlands is like single player as I’ve been exclusively playing it with 1-3 other people. The drop-in-drop-out systems for multiplayer works well and even with players having some range in their levels or duplicate classes is still fun. I personally like playing the Solider and the Hunter the best, but my partners in crime seem to get plenty of enjoyment from the the Brick and the Siren.

Is there anything bad to say about Borderland? Well it might serve as a dangerous gate way drug that will subvert console gamers into addicted MMORPGers, but it is probably worth the chance.

Short Movie Review: 2012

I didn’t have high expectations for 2012 and was generally fearful that it might be pretty similar to the rather dreadful The Day After Tomorrow (notable for an extended sequence of characters being chased by a cold front.) I was pleasantly surprised to find it much closer to a movie close to my heart, The Core (notable for being awesome.)

2012 features your pretty standard disaster movie requirements: an array of scientific nonsense, depictions of your favorite landmarks dying fiery deaths, and more people-escaping-in-the-nick-of-time sequences than is worth counting. There are three separate scenes with airplanes taking off from runways being consumed by fire! Three! I was actually somewhat surprised at the array of characters they chose to follow throughout the movie and none of them particularly grated on me in that way most one dimensional action movie characters tend to. 2012 is generally fun and has some unexpected twists in the story toward the end, so if you haven’t seen a movie with lots of explosions and not much thinking this may fit the bill. Expect nothing intelligent about this movie and you’ll be fine.

Lawrence Lessig: Getting Our Values Around Copyright

I had the pleasure of being in the third row for this talk Lessig gave on copyright and culture last week. If you’ve read his books you’ll enjoy this, if you haven’t read any of his books yet you probably owe him the 60 minutes:

Someday when I’m free of certain professional entanglements I’ll write my book about my lifelong career in media piracy and how it provided me with key job skills I have today.

Short Movie Review: Punisher War Zone

For an action movie Punisher War Zone is pretty disappointing: it is certainly not good, but it is also not bad in any interesting ways like say The Spirit or Shoot ‘Em Up. I wanted to like this if only for Dominic West playing the villain Jigsaw; we know he’s capable of a solid American accent but as a villain he sounds like a mishmash Italian/Russian generic mobster. My experience  here was similar to the Max Payne movie: some interest in the source material led me to what would end up being an unsatisfying movie experience.

Is there anything particularly notable about Punisher War Zone? We’ll there’s an obsession with colored lighting that makes it feel like the movie is set more in Joel Schumacher’s Gotham than New York City. You’ve also got an almost fetishistic enthusiasm for depicting not just people getting shot, but stabbed, decapitated, impaled, and exploded. This dedication to gruesome depictions of murder at times make me feel like I’ve been tricked into watching a slasher movie set in the Marvel universe. I’m all for a bit of the ol’ ultraviolence, but War Zone just feels gross at time.

So yeah, if you’re really into the Punisher I’m guessing you’ve already checked it out when it was in the theatres, everyone else can probably pass.

Daily Doom 9/29/09

After much delay, here is the next installment in your increasingly un-daily Daily Doom:

DOOM

  • Want to feel great about life? Then don’t read this amazing report from Wired about the still active Soviet nuclear countermeasure system Perimeter—or, as it was more often known, Dead Hand. (The name choice once again reminds us that the Soviet military’s main failure was one of branding.) Perimeter is designed to launch an automatic nuclear attack on the US should the USSR be hit with a surprise attack. Of course the creators of Perimeter fell victim to a common blunder suffered by many who control doomsday devices: they’re only really effective as preventative weapons if you tell all your enemies about them. Secret doomsday devices, on the other hand, are just fucking terrifying.
  • “Let pandas die out,” says naturalist Chris Packham. He argues the resources we are dedicating to save pandas would be better spent on less adorable creatures that have some chance at survival without constant human intervention. Packham happens to be president of Britain’s Bat Conservation Trust, where he is dedicated to preserving only the ugliest of bats.

Exotic New Products from our Corporate Overlords:

NASA’s Latest Research

Crimes Foreign and Domestic

Medium Game Review: Halo 3 ODST

I finished the story mode in Halo 3 ODST last night so I now feel pretty safe telling you that this is a good game, and though markedly different from the other Halo games, possibly the most interesting. 

Rather than placing you in the boots of Master Chief, Halo ODST has you take on the role of Rookie, a rather generically named soldier who is an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, basically a space paratrooper. The game starts with you dropping to Earth to fight the Covenant invasion, crash landing,  getting a concussion, and waking up 8 hours after all your squad mates have theoretically started their mission. Right off the bat you know this is going to play out somewhat differently than the others Halo games in that at the start of Halo 3 Master Chief basically shrugs off reentering the Earth’s atmosphere sans special equipment.

As the Rookie you find yourself alone, abandoned, and up against the standard cadre of Halo aliens you’ve seen before, except that suddenly they seem much more threatening. Through your search for clues as to the whereabouts of your squadron, much of the gameplay takes place via flashbacks that basically show the events of the day while you were busy being passed out. There is a nice thematic divide between these section with the flashback gameplay through the eyes of the veteran soldiers set during the day and filled with lots of explosions and vehicle combat, compared to the Rookie’s experience wandering the relatively desolate streets at night by himself. The use of music in the night time scenes is particularly well done; the music in Halo games have always been a nice touch but I feel like the designers have usually let it serve more functional than thematic purposes (because there is still dramatic music playing, that means there must be one enemy still hiding behind a rock we have to kill.)

My friend Twon referenced some mixed reviews when asking if he should buy Halo ODST, and I’m guessing that those might be due to how the gameplay shakes out a little differently than other Halo titles. You’re much less durable than Master chief, you can’t dual wield guns, and you never get to use an energy sword. Instead of shields that recharge there is a peculiar stamina system and you actually have health, so its back to old school FPS hunt for the health packs. Some people might not like the night vision/targeting display visual mode, but once you get the hang of it I found it helpful. Feeling much more vulnerable than in previous Halo games does take some getting used to, and might be something other people don’t want to get used to. I’ll admit that a couple hours into the campaign you encounter a pair of hunters, and I simply avoided them. That’s right, instead of laying waste to entire races of alien creatures Master Chief style, I ran away!  So ODST plays somewhat differently than previous Halo games, but it is still very, very Halo: you’ll fight grunts and brutes, you’ll drive warthogs, and you’ll have a the standard arsenal of assault rifles and rocket launchers at your disposal. 

I think the story is perhaps Halo ODST’s strongest feature, which was somewhat a surprise to me as I bought it mainly for a new multiplayer experience. The search for your comrades is interesting and seeing the flashbacks of what happened to them was interesting in a way most FPS stories simply don’t deliver on. The other characters are all variations on the generic soldier archetype but I still found them more compelling than the Arbiter/Cortana/Gravemind/who exactly am I supposed to care about in the other Halo games? Voice acting by the several Firefly actors was kind of neat, though I find it somewhat distracting when game designers also model a character’s visuals off the exact appearance of the voice actors. ODST even manages to deliver a kind of interesting mystery that is actually resolved before the games ends (!)  

My one gripe with ODST is that the main character, Rookie, plays the stupid video game role of silent protagonist. Later in the game where characters attempt to engage in one-sided conversation with you it feels particularly awkward, but it just seems an odd choice given that you play half the game as the veteran soldiers who each has their own personality and offers commentary throughout their exploits. I’m sure there was some rationale for this, perhaps that it lets you put yourself into the role of the rookie and decide if you are are terrified to be abandoned or courageous in the face of adversity etc., but I’m sick of cut scenes where someone says “oh you’re the strong silent type”, “you don’t say much” and so on, it just feels clumsy. Designers: if you’re going to take this route please don’t smile and wink at it with weird one way conversations; I simply don’t believe that other characters are going to open up to me and tell what is going on with them when my character won’t said hello. 

Even though I keep screwing up the acronym and calling it Halo ODSTK or Halo SDK, this is a fun interesting game. The choice to tell a story on a different scale (spoiler: you don’t save the galaxy) was used well to tell an entertaining story set in the Halo universe and I’d recommend this to anyone thinking of checking it out. Special bonus to be aware of if you don’t own any other Halo games: ODST includes a disk that gives you access to all the existing Halo multiplayer stuff, so now you can do that as well!

Daily Doom 8/4/2009

Once more we keep you informed on the latest developments in robotics, wild life, computing, and human misery that foreshadow the end of the world:

Aquatic Life – Are you living every week as if it was shark week?

  • nursesharkA rider on the Miami Metro reported encountering a shark on the floor of the train, alive but not doing so great. Police later found the body of a nurse shark, at that point deceased, in the middle of the street. “I have never seen a shark in the middle of the street in Overtown, but nothing surprises me in Miami,” said Jorge Pino of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I may have an elevated fear of sharks, but if I found myself in a line of work where encountering a shark in the middle of the street didn’t phase me, I would be searching for a new occupation significantly further inland. 
  • A huge mass of what scientists are calling “goo” was spotted off the coast of Alaska. The sticky blob stretches for miles with many speculating whether it was a byproduct of an oil spill or of organic origins. The amateur cryptozoologist in me hoped this might be an exciting new globster, but test later revealed it to be an unusual algae bloom. At least it quelled the fear that discarded remnants of Nickolodeon Gak had gained sentience.
  • Squid attacks in San Diego are on the rise with an influx of hundreds, if not thousands, of Humboldt squids. Normally found off the coast of Mexico, these 5-foot-long cephalopods are known for their aggressive behavior when feeding. As if a 5-foot-long aggressive squid wasn’t terrifying enough, the Humboldt squid is also know to travel in schools of up to 1,200 and “can skim over the water to escape predators.” On the upside, they are not yet known to possess Miami Metro passes.

Robots! Now more terrifying than ever

Two Stories about Consuming Gasoline in one month? 

Social Media is Nothing but Trouble