Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Scientists Gone Stabby: Pimp My Villa

Click here for how the collaboration started. Spoilers abound so check the Scientists' Stats for where we are in the game if you want to avoid them.

Title: Assassin's Creed II
Publisher: Ubisoft (2010)

Scientists' Stats -
Time Played: 16hrs 8min
Last Achievement Earned: Podesta of Monteriggioni

Last Significant Event: Collected last of the 6 Assassin's Seals

In Jeff's last post he commented on some specific game features and one of the side quests. He left off with: "And back to Rachel. It seems like the story is still too nebulous for you (I don't disagree). Maybe it's missing a character to give it some cohesion. What character would help? A sidekick? Love interest? A better defined villain?

Also, let's say Ubisoft greenlights Assassin's Creed 3 (pretty much a lock). They come to you and say, "Rachel, you're our biggest fan. It's your pick - where and when is AC3 set?" What's your choice. Bear in mind that the general parameters of the game (running around a few cities, climbing buildings, assassinating targets) will be the same. A place or time that works well with conspiracy theories would also be a plus."

Oooh, excellent questions! I think you've hit the nail on the head with the nebulous thing and I think it's the villain that's dropping the ball here. Or villains in this case since it's the Knights Templar and it is a group. Anyway, it would be better if the group was better defined. As it is you just hop around from place to place being told whom to kill and that they are Knights Templar. But they don't have much to do with each other and it's mostly about oppressing local merchants. Now, I'm all for relieving oppression but we're supposed to be going after a super powerful weapon and I would enjoy it a bit more if the villains acted like they were trying to cover up a conspiracy rather than just control all trade in the region. Ok, sure, boo monopolies but, really, something that could be discussed in a Senate committee does not always make for fascinating video game fodder. And I know I've already said it but I sure would like to see other Assassins. As far as I can tell Ezio has three contacts and not one of them is an Assassin. Where the fuck are my compatriots? What if I need advice or tips on how to be stealthy (and holy shitballs does Ezio ever need advice on how to be stealthy!)?

I think a sidekick would be a bad idea but I would venture to say there's already a love interest. Our Ezio he likes his women and he's got this irrepressible boyish charm. Yes, that's right, the phrase "irrepressible boyish charm" does in fact describe our ruthless assassin. I'm glad he hasn't let his job change him. Anyway, the love interest. While I feel Ezio is more than happy to share his love far and wide he does have some good chemistry going with Rosa. She doesn't show up a lot but, really, he's busy with all the stabby so I can see how she's not around a lot. But when she is I definitely think there's something there and I like their chemistry. I don't think this decreases the nebulous factor (sticking with the villains on that one) but it is a fun part of the game.

I thought a lot about the locale for ACIII and, at first, I thought it'd be cool if it was set in France when the Knights Templar were hunted. I figured it'd be really easy to incorporate an Assassins story there but it turns out ACII is set after the dissolution of the Knights Templar (poss why the group seems so scattered and aimless??? or, more likely, the AC series is maybe not the place to go for accurate history:). So instead I'm going with Istanbul (Constantinople). The political backdrop would be the Ottoman Empire. So much can be done with that and there's even a lot more city possibilities so it would not only have to be Istanbul. It makes sense to me that the Assassins group would remain more to the East since they originate in the Middle East and the architecture possibilities (as we saw in ACI) are fantastic and endless for the free running. I'd also like Ubisoft to take another crack at getting the hero right. It's nice that Desmond Miles isn't all WASPy looking and it's great that Ezio appears to be from his time period. Altair, on the other hand, was a major visual/audio fail in ACI. Of course, he had the awesome outfit but he didn't look and sound as he should have to be from where he was from (Prince of Persia fail anyone????).

So we're at the point that comes in almost every game that bores me. It's the part between the set-up and the finale when you get to go round doing quests, collecting crap and every once in a while performing a mission. As that is the case I'm going to leave comments regarding that stuff more to Jeff since it's his area of expertise. For my part, I'm going to focus on the lighter side of the game. Our villa kicks all kinds of ass! We've done all the improvements and it's making florins like we've got money trees stashed in the corner. I love the routine: arrive home, check the books that Sis is keeping and collect money, go talk to your architect and look at the villa model and pick improvements. Huzzah! But you know what's the icing on the cake? The art gallery! We've got a fantabulous gallery! All the regions that Ezio explores (kills in) are full of art merchants and you can buy all the paintings and they hang in the gallery at his villa. It's super sweet and they're real paintings. I've actually seen some of them in person when traveling so it's really cool to see them appear in the gallery.

Another freaking awesome cosmetic feature of the game is Carnival. Ezio is in Venice during Carnival (what we from Louisiana call Mardi Gras) and it's a party in the street. Everyone is in costume and there are tons of celebrations and even fire breathers! It's super sweet. Conveniently, Ezio can avoid notoriety by donning a mask. He's still in his uber-awesome, uber-conspicuous outfit (totally tripped out with weapons) but one tiny mask that you can hardly see under his hood makes everyone mistake him for someone else. Mind you, this is the same guy that, in that outfit, spent the first 10 hours of the game shouting, "I am Ezio Auditore!" after every kill. Ah well, most people at Carnival are drunk anyway so maybe that explains it. 

And now let's send out some questions for the gamer. Jeff, what do you think about the high-brow puzzles, artwork, artifacts, and that you're best buds with DaVinci? What did you think about the flying machine? Interesting or useless addition to the game mechanics/missions? Also, do you think the missions are too easy? What do you think of my Rosa comments? And finally, what is your favorite cosmetic aspect of the game?

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Lion's Daughter by Loretta Chase

Title: The Lion's Daughter
Author: Loretta Chase
Publisher: Avon Books (1992); Berkley (2006)

Before I start properly I have two comments to make. Comment the first: I lurv this book! I mean I love it with a little achey in my heart love it. I've got some quibbles that I'll go into but for the most part just get ready for a big bucket of smoochey lurv! Comment the second: I hate the cover. I've got the Berkley edition with a guy looking nothing like any of the descriptions in the book but he does do a very good job of giving me the creeps. Yuck! Plus his crotch looks air-brushed... and not in the way one would expect (clearly I assume others have crotch-related air brush expectations like myself). It's like he had the MagCharger Maglite edition and so they had to smudge it out to keep from frightening us poor widdle readers. Even without the suspicious smudging I would still hate the cover. I prefer scenery to people on books. Always have. I prefer to retain sole mental possession of what the characters might look like. Anyway, lemme get to it.

Esme thinks her father has recently been killed and she is set on revenge. Born of an Albanian mother and an English father she rejects the idea that she should move to England after her father's death. Instead, she plans to exact the blood price of her father's death. Stumbling into her path is Varian St. George, a wastrel if there ever was one, who has been manipulated by his friend's son into traveling to Albania from Italy. A surprise attack throws Esme and Varian together and so our adventure begins.

I'm a big fan of Loretta Chase's writing style and The Lion's Daughter does not disappoint. While a more serious book than some of her others her dialogue is still damn funny. And there's some great situational comedy as well that'll get you laughing. As an example there's an early exchange between Esme and Varian that had me snickering for several minutes. Esme is many things - smart, focused, sympathetic - but what I love best about her is her directness. Varian is quite the slutty and so Esme feels the need to give him some travel advice (condensed):

Don't flirt with the women if you wish to depart Rrogozhina in one piece. If we come across a whore, I shall tell you so, but it's most unlikely we will. Albania has many more men than women, and the women are guarded jealously... Please keep this in mind.

...Certainly I will.Thank you for the warning. How dreadful if I should run amok among Rrogozhina's hordes of fair maidens.

Varian is no match for Esme's temper but his obstinacy was usually good enough to win an argument. One of his more fun qualities was his complete lack of pride of self when trying to get his way (common quality among unofficial whores?). For instance:

Arguing with me is a waste of breathe. You'll only tell me how illogical and foolish I am. But being so, I'm not likely to heed a word, am I?

Interestingly, it is about this time that you begin to see that Varian does actually have some pride. It's a tiny little seed at this point but that's not surprising; he decimated his family's entire fortune and the barony is in shambles. He's in considerable debt and spends his time on the continent sleeping around to pay for his food and clothes. His main skill appears to be making himself agreeable (oh, and he's probably a hot lay since he dresses so well:) but he's failing miserably at that with Esme. Esme has a shit opinion of Varian (and all English lords really) and is not shy about telling him so. And it's this that seems to set him off. It appears to offend him that she has this opinion but does not really know him (interestingly I think he'd be fine with someone having this opinion after getting to know him - huh).

Esme on the other hand is fiercely proud and has a fierce temper to match. But she's also fair and very sympathetic. It makes for a really fucking awesome combination. You see, she's the first to point out something idiotic but she's also the first to apologize when she's in the wrong. I really can't say enough good things about Esme's character. She's fascinating! And, of course, Varian sees this and gets the hopping hornies for her. For her part, Esme is also quite attracted to Varian (but, as we learn, who isn't? :). Teensy snafu though is that Varian thinks Esme is younger than her 18 years. That's a no-no in his book so he goes around constantly horny and wracked with guilt over being attracted to a too-young lady. This leads to my biggest quibble. It's very believable that Varian has issues with pedophilia. However, his other reason for trying not to get involved, he's broke and headed for debtors' prison, is even better and wouldn't give me the cover-guy creeps. Seriously, I can absolutely see him fighting his attraction to a maiden due to the debt thing until he just can't resist her. It's more than enough to work within the plot. But on top of that we have to have this pedophilia angle? Um, yuck! I was totally grossed out the first time I read it (I skipped over those parts the second time). I'm sitting there thinking to myself, "I know I'm supposed to like you because you're the hero, you're hot, you're funny, and you're such a lovable wastrel but dude, yuck! You're lusting after a minor!" That fact that she isn't is certainly convenient but the fact that he doesn't know keeps the creeps alive.

But since I love almost everything else so much let's move past that. I thought the plot was great and really engaging. I love how the adventure is set up and all the players that are involved. The supporting cast rocks (complete with Precocious Child - we should be so lucky as to have a world full of Chase's literary children - being well-spoken and smarter than most adults I know) and I love love love the scene with Esme, Varian, Ismal and Ali. Trust me, it'll rock your pantaloons and you must read this book if only for that scene. My quibble with the plot is spoilerish so highlight if interested: I wish Ismal had just been a bad dude. I could have done without the bizarre angle of trying to make him seem like a misguided, love-struck kid. He was plotting to overthrow his kingdom and he was betrayed and wanted revenge. Being thwarted he goes after the girl. Fine. Not outrageously creative but believable with his character and the plot. Why try to redeem him?

Esme and Varian are great fun together. Obviously their dialogue is totally awesome (when is it ever not with Chase?) but it's also wonderful to watch the way their relationship grows. They are both pretty honest about everything and not afraid to share. It makes for a refreshing lack of Misunderstandings, though there are still several, they work with the characters and so do not feel contrived as Misunderstandings often do. One perfectly reasonable Misunderstanding was regarding marriage at one point. And from this we get one more of those great lines from Varian:

Good heavens, you do think I come cheap, don't you? That wounds me, Esme, truly it does. You think I agreed to wed you for a mere thousand pounds? My dear girl, I should not agree to shackle myself to Aphrodite herself for anything less than twenty thousand. In gold.

This book really has it all. The plot is great, the characters rock (including the secondaries) and the writing is wonderful. I know I'll be reading this one again and again. In fact, I liked it better on the second read than the first as I felt like I got to know the characters better. Esme was especially hard to get to know with only one reading. She's pretty complex and until you know her well some of her actions are a little mystifying. What at first does not make a lot of sense becomes pretty clear as you get to know her. I still don't agree with her passive acceptance to being separated from Varian while she stays with her grandmother but she pretty well made up for that once she visits his estate. Let's just say it's a good thing Varian is well-practiced at handling women because someone as awesome as Esme requires utmost skill. You can't half-ass a relationship with her; it's all or nothing.

So there you have it! A big bucket of smooches for this delightful gem. I'm sure I'll read it again soon but in the meantime make sure you get out there and find a copy for yourself.

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Scientists Gone Stabby: Agent 47 > Ezio

Click here for how the collaboration started. Spoilers abound so check the Scientists' Stats for where we are in the game if you want to avoid them.

Title: Assassin's Creed II
Publisher: Ubisoft (2010)

Scientists' Stats -
Time Played: 8hrs 45min
Last Achievement Earned: The Conspirators
Last Significant Event: Solved Glyph 6

Jeff last signed off with "The real question is: do you think it's an accurate depiction of what 15th century Florence would look like? And another question for you Rachel...what part of the game is unchanged that definitely should have been fixed?"

I'm pretty sure the first question is rhetorical as Jeff knows full well I am no expert on 15th Century Florence but I certainly agree that it's very cool to go running around with Ezio and recognize parts of the city. As for the second question, boy howdy(!) do I ever have an answer!!!!

Assassins should act like fucking assassins! Just as Altair in ACI, Ezio goes about killing targets with as much attention getting prowess as a whore in church. It really makes no sense whatsoever that the game punishes you for not walking down the damn street like a sneaky bastard but barely puts you out at all if you attract the attention of every city guard whilst making a kill. Dumb, dumb, dumb! The game should encourage and reward you for being sneaky (to review, you're a fucking assassin!); it would make the game more interesting and realistic. (Ubisoft, please refer to Hitman if you need help with this.)

Ok, with that out of the way let's talk awesome. Climbing about buildings like a juiced monkey goes without saying but one thing I've found surprisingly fun is building up the country villa. This appears to be just a fancy way of making bank but it's still fun. There are a few game events there and it's where your mom and sister are living. Sis actually keeps the books and runs things while you go about pissing off guards and shoving obnoxious guitar players around.

Also, the outfit, while conspicuous as all get-out, rocks! The added assassin's blade just makes things double cool and I don't even mind the arm cape. That's right, apparently Ezio can't spring for a full cape and he goes round with this less-than-halfsy thing that covers his left arm. He must like it a lot though as he's always pulling it over his arm during the game. And since I'm talking personal looks I'm also going to mention that I like Ezio's video game lack of 5 o'clock shadow which I saw a lot of in the trailers.

The guards are quite gentlemanly in this game and do their damnedest to not attack Ezio all at once. At most you might have two guards attack together but the rest hover about and wait for their turn to die. This led to the best quote by a scientist so far: What's with the gentleman fighting, Ezio? I just want to stab him in the fucking back!

And now we punt... So Jeff, how do you find travel in the game altered from ACI? Better, worse? And do please explain the efficacy of the wanted poster locales. Also, I complained a bit about the non-cohesiveness of Ezio's life as an assassin. I get the impression this doesn't bother you as much. Do you feel like Ezio is working towards some definable goal? And how do you feel about your side job as a grave robber?

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

Title: The Eagle of the Ninth
Author: Rosemary Sutcliff
Publisher: Oxford University Press (1954); Farra, Straus and Giroux (1993)

The Eagle of the Ninth is set in Roman Britain in 2nd Century AD. The eagle standard of the Ninth Roman Legion disappeared, along with the Legion, over a decade ago. The Legion marched north to suppress a rebellious group of Britons and was never heard from again. Marcus, a former Centurion and son of the commander of the Ninth Legion, has been tasked with going north and finding the lost eagle.

This book was very slow to start for me. In fact, I set it down twice for a couple weeks during the first half but once the second half rolled around I finished it in the same day. The first half felt like a lot of getting know Marcus, whom I liked but it was still a bit slow. The second half was more exciting for sure and I really enjoyed the action and the descriptions of the north. The well-realized environment was a strong point of the book actually and the atmospheric nature of the landscape really drew me in. I felt as creeped out by the mist as the characters when the creepy mist was out and about (cuz, you know, sometimes it's just regular mist and there's no need to get the creeps).

While I liked Marcus quite a lot there were some aspects of his character that took me out of the story. He was really ahead of his time in regards to the rights of the empire and slavery. I naturally enjoyed his kinder, gentler views on the world but they didn't seem realistic. I found the expression, both internal and external, of his feelings to be very natural but I didn't buy what those feelings were at all times. It was all just a bit too 'we are the world' for me.

Overall, though, I recommend the book. Be sure to stick with it if, like me, you find it slow to start because it really picks up and is a very cool story. There's a note from the author in the front about her inspiration for the story. On a related note this is my first Sutcliff book and I'm looking forward to the rest of her backlist.

rating: 4 of 5 stars

ETA: Anthony Lawton dropped by and sent a link to a site he manages that has tons of information regarding Sutcliff's books. Click here to start exploring this excellent resource. 

Scientists Gone Stabby Begins

sgwordy and scientist gone gamer have hooked up for some cross-blogging fun as we play through Assassin's Creed II. Spoilers will abound but you can always check the Scientists' Stats to see where we are in the game.

Title: Assassin's Creed II
Publisher: Ubisoft (2010)

Scientists' Stats -
Time Played: 6hrs 43min
Last Achievement Earned: Steal Home
Last Significant Event: Assassinated Stefano Da Bagnone

I was dubious at the outset when a street brawl was the opening scene of the game. I mean, seriously, I signed up for the cool armor and the awesome arm cape (more on that later) and I'm punching guys in a street brawl??? But on the upside I did like the interaction of Ezio with his brother Federico. Then of course they go free running along roofs and other cool shit so I'm like, ok, the brawling is over and now we can get serious. But then Ezio goes running across roofs and slips through the window of his girlfriend's house. Hmmm, what kind of game is this?

So thankfully you do eventually get round to your awesome armor and the super rad outfit. But before and after that there's all this meandering about getting to know Ezio's family. Let me be clear that I really like Ezio's family and the development of his relationship with them is definitely a strength of the game but really? I need to spend HOURS on this? I believe my initial response was, "I'd like a little less family and a little more stabby." As Zero Punctuation mentions regarding the first game in the series it sometimes feels like it could be called Faffing About Creed.

Eventually the stabby does come along but the development is still slow. Also, I feel like there's no cohesiveness to Ezio's actions. He sort goes round taking instructions from anyone. It appears he's on the right track but these Assassins are a group, they have a CREED for crap's sake, and I haven't seen any other assassins yet. Where are they? Why did they not come to talk to Ezio as soon as he took over for his father?

So I turned to my gaming expert partner and he doesn't know where all these assassins are either. But he did point out that many assassination assignments come via carrier pigeon and we can assume those are from the Assassins. Well done Ubisoft! Carrier pigeons. Totally boss!

Also, I was complaining about the graphics not being as good as the first game. Jeff asks... do you think it's because the graphics aren't done as well or that it's the inherent differences of the setting? I definitely think it's because the art is not as well done. In ACI the landscapes/city views were vibrant and absolutely phenomenal. In ACII the immediate surroundings are as detailed and awesome as ever but in the Eagle Views the far away stuff just sort of dematerializes into a mist.

Another question for Jeff: What do you think about the plot development in ACII vs ACI? Oh, and what, so far, do you think is the most improved aspect from I to II?

Be sure to surf on over to scientist gone gamer for more ACII details and answers to the above.

I talked more about what I didn't like rather than what I did so next time I'll focus on the things that ACII is doing right!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Assassin's Creed II (Again and Finally)

Remember when I absolutely could not to save my fucking life shut up about ACII? Then there was a giant silence regarding ACII? No? This was not foremost in your mind at all times but most especially when visiting sgwordy? Huh. Frankly, I'm shocked!

Well the silence will soon lift, my friends, as gamefly has finally decided that the scientists deserve to have ACII just as much as anyone else. I am so ridiculously excited that I may pee a little in my britches. The funny thing is, I'm totally prepared for a letdown. ACI was a huge letdown yet I cannot get over my excitement about the entire series. And you know what? If ACII turns out to be a dud I'll piss and moan and stomp my feet but I know I'll get just as excited about ACIII when the advertising begins. I mean, seriously, the pictures are just so damned pretty!!! How is a person to resist?

Anyway, get ready! The fun, it will begin!

Welcome to my home, Ezio!

Monday, February 15, 2010

In Protest

My horse injured himself in pasture over the weekend (no worries, inconvenient but not overly traumatic) and while I bandaged him up and readied a stall for his convalescence I had plenty of time for my mind to wander. And so I decided to compose this little post regarding a pet peeve of mine that crops up A LOT in books that feature horses.

Except in very rare occasions - so rare, mind you, that I haven't actually ever witnessed one of these hypothetical occasions - horses do not neigh or snort "in protest" to a human action like, say, shifting your weight in the saddle or other such things I read in books that occur to make a horse neigh or snort in protest.

List of horse breeds I am around on an almost daily basis:
quarter horses

List of actions that have elicited neighs:
separation from herd or buddy
greeting herd or buddy
food is on the way (even this is more often a nicker)
human buddy arrives (except for some overly "chatty" horses this too is fairly rare)

List of actions that have elicited snorts:
a surprise (like, whoa-nelly I didn't notice there was a potbelly pig over there - snort, snort)
exercise (deep exhalations often sound like snorts)

Horses communicate with their bodies not their mouths. To protest, horses pin their ears, toss their heads, kick out, swish their tales, strike, pull back, buck, rear, freeze, bolt and any number of other actions but it's almost always with their bodies not their voices.

As a little illustration my horse that I have owned for 5 years has neighed at me twice, once for food and once for a greeting (though he probably knew he would soon get food so maybe it wasn't a greeting). Not once has he neighed or snorted in protest though he has tossed his head, swished his tail and bucked in protest. Of course, I try not to give him anything to protest about but it still happens from time to time and he's smart enough to let me know when I've done something wrong. But always with his body.

So please, authors, spend a little time with horses if you are going to put them in your books. Just a little time and then you'll see how efficient these beautiful creatures are. They don't waste their breath because they know just the right look is protest enough.

And since I manufactured an excuse for cute pet pics yesterday I certainly can't waste this excuse to post a piccy of my equine sweetie. This is from a couple years ago when we still lived where it snows. (trust me, we are loving winters that feature sunshine-filled days with highs in the upper 60s - this weekend was gorgeous)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

District 9 (2009)

Title: District 9
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Studio: QED International (2009)

The most disappointing thing about District 9 is that this story was a great idea that was fucked up. You watch something like this and it has such potential but then the stank rises and you know there's no option for a re-do because it was just done. Ugh!

Brief (oh so very brief) comments on what was done well:
  • Excellent job with an authentic anti-hero (course this was jacked by the portrayal of said anti-hero at the end)
  • Decent script without too many cringe worthy lines from one dimensional characters
  • Good directing with amazing cinematography
  • Super rad shot of helos going towards giant - and effing awesome - spaceship
  • Excellent special effects

Now it's time to buckle up because the bad, oh it was plentiful!

Note: Some of these might be considered mild spoilers so read at your own risk.

The first clue of the stink was one of the opening lines when the chosen location of the spaceship was described. "It could have been Manhattan, Washington or Chicago but it chose Johannesburg." Really??? Those are the three cities you thought of? They aren't even the biggest in the world and they're all on the same damn continent, in the same country! Plus, one of them isn't a city.

Then I'm supposed to believe that a population housed on the money of a corporation has to give individual signatures on eviction notices before they can be moved? And then the organization filmed the unlawful way they obtained said signatures? Wha???

Additionally, I could tell from the sentimental close-ups and sincere soundtrack that I was supposed to care for this population but they were most often shown fighting over crap and generally acting buffoonish. Shouldn't the viewer get a few shots of them trying to carry on with daily life? Maybe show me the conditions of their homes or what type of food they have access to? Seriously, they were living in a slum which will generally elicit the sympathy of anyone but you totally skip over this opportunity?

The anti-hero worked pretty well but he was one of the forerunners in the stupid contest that was clearly being held by several characters. While serving the eviction notices he gets sprayed in the face with an unknown substance from an alien looking object. Shortly after, he vomits, projectilely. This is not cause for alarm? You do not need to be checked out?

What the fuck keeps the spaceship in the air for two decades? If this type of technology was hanging up in the sky for all to see am I supposed to believe that it would not have been dismantled for research?

Why can't military trained personnel ever act like professionals? Why must they laugh maniacally and get a gleam in their eyes whenever they can be destructive? They are professionals for shit's sake.

The aliens have some pretty fantastic weaponry. Hot diggity this stuff can do some damage. It's tied in with their DNA, though, so humans can't use it (nifty.) One of the human slum warlords really wants to be able to use these weapons. Let me be clear on WARLORD so that you understand that he is a leader. He also trades in weaponry and has a fucking ROBOT in his house. It's an alien robot but still, he sees it working and knows how weapons work. I'm supposed to believe that this guy actually subscribes to the theory that EATING the aliens will result in his being able to use their weapons? Come on!

At one point, a group of idiots have decided it is a good idea to saw into a patient's chest without tying him down or knocking him out. This is bad enough but it gets worse. The patient is not too keen on the chest sawing (for obvious reasons) and so goes a bit apeshit and knocks a bunch of people out. This whole operation is going down in a secure facility run by a multi-billion dollar corporation and when the alarm is sounded only ONE PERSON responds. wtf???? Then the patient uses a hostage to escape this one person. Yes, you heard that right. We're in a facility where they will saw into someone's chest with no anesthesia but they will not shoot one insignificant medical attendant to retain the patient who is the key to their billion dollar project. Oh, and he's escaping a biohazard facility with alarms, lock downs and armed-to-the-teeth security personnel (well, one at the very least) but he easily slips out a side door onto the street. Again, what the fuck?

My last comment is 100% spoilerish so highlight if interested:
'Member those cool weapons I spoke of above? Well, they are scattered about willy nilly. Not sure how many there are but they pop up often enough that I'm gonna say there's a nice stash available. In fact, one of these stashes is actually in the slum under the care of our lovable but unbelievably stupid warlord. (and let's not forget the robot that is there that can also only be controlled by an alien and contains weaponry upon its person, or robotness... whatever) But what do the 1.8 million aliens who have the exclusive skill of using these weapons do? They hang about in a slum being mistreated by the organization that supposedly cares for them. It also becomes clear that they have superior physical abilities and strength. They can hop on top of shacks and throw humans really hard. So this sitch has been going on for two decades and what is it that finally get these aliens riled up? That's right, it's our very WASPy looking anti-hero, who has "gone native" due to the earlier splatting of the unidentifiable substance in his face, taking control of the robot and using its ass-kicking abilities to shoot the baddies thus inspiring the aliens to rebel against the gun-toting totally-non-professional military jizzwad. Give me a fucking break!

There's actually a lot more that could go on this list but I think you get the point. Nonsensical shit happened in almost every scene. In short, almost total disaster. And again, what a disappointment. This is a great idea for a movie. Maybe it'll get remade in a couple years and they can get it right.

If you're interested in some nice camera work and some good effects then District 9 will certainly fulfill your needs. If you'd actually like an original story or at least a decent story told well then you might want to skip this one. I have a feeling the six minute short film it's based on is probably much better since there's a lot less time to screw it up.

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Style Nod to FJM

Mr Musacha says... I'm breaking this one down FJM style:

The movie studio that produced the mega-blockbuster, "Avatar," had no problem with the film's alien race being blue -- but it turns out they were initially concerned about the Na'vi being too green.

Damn jealous aliens.  Or are they sick?  There's actually a lot of metaphorical ways people (and aliens) can be green.

According to director James Cameron, 20th Century Fox had some initial apprehension that his $2 billion-dollar-baby delivered the wrong kind of message -- the message of environmental conservation.

Oh, the aliens are environmentalists.  I heard about those guys during the Super Bowl...apparently they're quite the group of fascists.  No wonder the studio was nervous.

Cameron recollects the studio's warning as being: "We really like the story. It's great. But, well, is there a way to not have so much of this tree-hugging, 'Ferngully' stuff in it?"

Wow.  Even studio executives, the most useless and uncreative people on the planet, recognized that Avatar was just a ripoff of a cartoon movie. 

The famously exacting director wasn't going give up on the central point of the "Avatar" story.

Anyone who thinks the "central point" of Avatar wasn't the special effects is kidding themselves.

"I said, 'Not with me making it,'" Cameron said. "Because that was my purpose in making the film. I wanted to make an environmentally conscious mainstream movie."

I don't know the exact carbon footprint involved with the making of Avatar, but Cameron employed an entire crew of special effects artists to work around the clock for two years on a fleet of computers powerful enough to draw his fancy jungle movie.  That doesn't even account for the impact of the filming itself.  So let's just assume the carbon footprint was SIGNIFICANT.

Hey James, here's an idea for your next environmentally conscious's you handing a check for 2 billion dollars to Greenpeace, filmed on a camcorder, then not making a feature film.  The environment will thank you.

"FernGully: The Last Rainforest" was a 1992 animated film -- also released by 20th Century Fox -- featuring the voice of Tim Curry as the villain who gains his power from pollution.

Was it so long ago?  From the commercials on my T.V. I could have sworn FernGully came out a few months ago.

Instead of backing down, Cameron, instead, reveled in the environmental themes leading up to the climatic conclusion of "Avatar". "I think there's something amazingly satisfying when the hammerheads come out of the forest and start mowing down all the bad security enforcers. Nature gets to fight back," he said. "It's 'Death Wish' for environmentalists. When did nature ever get to fight back in a movie?"

Jaws. Birds. The Ghost and the Darkness. Pretty much any movie where animals go after humans (usually explained by territory encroachment).  Hell, what about King Kong?  Pretty strong message about humanity's exploitation of nature there, and Kong kicks all kinds of ass before biting it.  The Ents (sp?) have their day in Lord of the Rings.  Or how about Fern Fucking Gully???  Wasn't that shitty Open Season movie about people encroaching on the woods and the animals fighting back?  That happened in Dr. Doolittle 2 as well.  Shit, these are just off the top of my head, James.

Cameron concedes that 20th Century Fox wouldn't have been the only studio with concerns. "To be fair…any of the other studios would have said the same thing. Fox ended up being enormously supportive and wrote this huge check. But they would have been much more comfortable if I had eliminated what they called the 'tree-hugging' elements."

Maybe they just wanted a story that wasn't so contrived and corny. 

James Cameron's environmental concerns can be attributed to being a parent of three young children and the fact he would like them to have a world to grow up in. "I think there's a way to live and raise your kids with a set of values that teaches them the importance of hard work, the importance of respecting other people and the importance of respecting nature. And that it's not this consumer society where you buy something and then throw it away when you get the next new thing, filling up huge landfills with plastic and electronics."

Good call.  That's probably why you approved the licensing of Avatar merchandise to McDonalds so they could produce plastic replicas of vehicles and animals from your movie and distribute them to children in Happy Meals.  I'm sure people will view those trinkets as treasured keepsakes, and that none of them will ever end up in a landfill.  At least you're dealing with a company in McDonalds known world-wide for their outstanding contributions to the environment.   

Cameron's environmentally friendly message has not, as the studio was initially concerned, negatively affected box-office receipts. "Avatar" has so far grossed over $2.2 billion worldwide – which is well over a billion ahead of the ticket sales for the closest best picture Oscar rival, "The Hurt Locker." That film (which also has an arguably controversial message in its coverage of soldiers in Iraq) was directed by his former wife, Kathryn Bigelow, and has only taken in $12.6 million in domestic box-office sales.

Take that, Kathryn Bigelow!  I'm shocked - SHOCKED - that a big-budget movie crammed full of special effects and with a derivative plot is more popular than a challenging drama about soldiers who risk their lives to disarm bombs in Iraq.  It's like I don't even know the American public any more.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Almost Like Being in Love by Steve Kluger

Title: Almost Like Being in Love
Author: Steve Kluger
Publisher: HarperCollins (2004)

Travis, a slightly OCD nerd, and Craig, a successful athlete, meet during a production of Brigadoon in high school and fall in love towards the end of their senior year. After spending the summer together they attend colleges on opposite sides of the country and eventually lose touch. Flash forward 20 years to 1998 and Travis, a slough of unsuccessful relationships behind him, wonders if the love of his life is still Craig. And, oh yeah, is Craig still thinking about him?

Almost Like Being in Love is a really sweet story. I mean a really, really sweet story. In fact, it'd be a little over-the-top saccharine if not for the fun style and Kluger's obvious sense of whimsy and humor. The story is presented via newspaper clippings, assignments, journal entries, library research requests and even trial transcripts. It makes the story a fun puzzle but don't worry it's never confusing. It's also laugh out loud funny most of the time. Like on p. 157 when Travis, a history professor, presents an extra credit question to his students regarding the best way to track down Craig. Remember, Travis is a stickler for order and correctness. Student Chuck Navarro answers:
I vote for St. Louis because you're ready to handle it. Know how I know? Go back to multiple choice (a). "There's laws against stalking." Wrong. "There ARE laws against stalking." Welcome to the Human Fucking Race.

Or on p. 251 when Travis's friend, who's writing a screenplay based on the whole fiasco, says:
I'm running into a little snag. I thought it'd be more realistic if Craig had a boyfriend--but I think I've written myself into a corner. How do I keep Travis from giving up?

This is that obvious sense of humor of Kluger's because right around this time, as a Reader, I was like, "Hey, Mr. Kluger, how are you going to get out of this without making Travis look like a jizzwad?" I had to laugh as Kluger clearly knew what I was thinking.

But then you'll also run by a section that has some real meat to it. On p. 233, in a nice Kids Say the Darnedest Things way, 11yo Noah asks (condensed):
"They won't let you and Clayton get married, right?"
"And a long time ago, they wouldn't let Rosa Parks sit in a bus either--right?"
"And now everybody thinks the people who arrested her were skanks, right?"
"So how come they don't know that in a hundred years we'll think the same things about the skanky guys who won't let you get married?"

(I love the excellent use of skank.)
(I also hope it's less than a hundred years.)

Travis and Craig are great protags to root for and the supporting cast isn't bad either. Gordo, Travis's roommate in high school and present day, ended up being a huge surprise. When he was first introduced I had no idea he was going to become so interesting. He's also a great friend to Travis which is always good. However, the supporting characters did sometimes fall into a few cliches I could have done without. Like in Gordo's case, why does there always have to be a slutty friend? Is it just me that's missing out on a ridiculously slutty friend? If I were a character in a book would I then have a slutty friend? I fully support anyone's right to do the sweaty tango as often as they like with as many people as they like but it's just so often overdone in books.

Also, I found the characterization to be a bit flawed. Sometimes I'd be reading a journal entry and forget whose perspective it was. Character voice over-lapped quite a bit. I really liked the characters so it didn't bother me too much but I still think they should have been more distinct.

The book reminded me yet again how awesome the webbie be! Holy crap, it's so much easier to do research (read: stalk the world) in the age of the internet. I've assimilated so well into this age that I have relegated my pre-internet life to a dark corner of my brain so I don't think about it much but holy shit the world wide web is fucking awesome!

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Shadow Prowler by Alexey Pehov

Linky Love

Skipping around the webbie I came by this article. I thought it was interesting.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


"The freethinking of one age is the common sense of the next."

                                                     -- Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Freakonomics and Agnes and the Hitman

Odd pairing, I know. As far as I can tell the list that follows comprises what these two books have in common: they were published in English, they have two authors, I read them in the same week, neither elicited a strong enough response from me to actually want to give them a proper review. So instead, just a little blurb on each.

Title: Agnes and the Hitman
Author: Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (2007)

Holy hell I can't remember the last time I saw italics used so extensively. I think my brain actually started to fizz like pop rocks due to the italics. I eventually had to mentally edit them out as I couldn't take it anymore.

Crusie's books have always been sort of hit or miss with me. I don't know if it's all of her books or just the ones I've read but the courtships are always so fast; that never works for me in contemporary romance. What did work for me in this one was the hilarity that was Agnes's anger problem and the awesome supporting character of Carpenter.

rating: 3 of 5 stars (without italics) 
            2 of 5 stars (with italics)

Title: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Author: Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Publisher: William Morrow (2006)

This book is chock full of interesting information and I can see why so many people have read it. I didn't care that it didn't have a 'unifying theme' but I was often struck by how random even the individual topics were at times. Analogies were used that I thought would be explained later but were really just as random as they appeared. Seriously, through the whole thing I was like, you're not going to say any more about the pantyhose than that?

My favorite bit from the book was this (p. 89 of the paperback edition):

It was John Kenneth Galbraith, the hyperliterate economic sage, who coined the phrase "conventional wisdom." He did not consider it a compliment. "We associate truth with convenience," he wrote, "with what most closely accords with self-interest and personal well-being or promises best to avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation of life. We also find highly acceptable what contributes most to self-esteem." Economic and social behavior, Galbraith continued, "are complex, and to comprehend their character is mentally tiring. Therefore we adhere, as though to a raft, to those ideas which represent our understanding."

I was once in a friendly debate with someone and they kept saying something that I really didn't think was true. However, at that time, I didn't have evidence to back up my position. I decided it was time to finally get some evidence. I did extensive research on the topic, compiled dates and numbers, proudly organized it all and then presented my shiny new evidence. I was so thrilled with what I was able to find because some of it was even a surprise to me. I thought how great it was that we were going to have some hard facts to talk about. You can imagine my flabbergastation when this happened:

sgwordy says - Look at all my shiny evidence. Can you believe that this is what is actually going on?
someone's response - I don't care what the numbers say that isn't how it works.

I was, to say the very least, stunned - and not just because gathering that evidence required reading over some DOD budgets (ugh!) and I was a bit put out that my effort was not rewarded. I was truly stunned that someone could be so stuck on the "conventional wisdom" that s/he would not even entertain evidence to the contrary. Galbraith's words describe so succinctly what I could not understand. I think I'm going to have to look him up for some future reading.

rating: 4 of 5 stars