Ex Machina is a science fiction movie, unrelated to the comic of the same name. All I really knew about it going in was that it had robots. And indeed it did. Also for some reason I thought the robot girl was Emilia Clarke. I think with just the face part of the face and no rest-of-the-head, all hot girls sorta look alike.
The guy from that time travel romantic comedy plays some coder at BlueBook, a Google-type company, who wins a lottery to get to visit with the company’s enigmatic founder at his remote home. There, he discovers that his weird boss has invented a hot girl robot, and wants him to participate in a Turing test to determine if she is a true AI.
It was pretty interesting, but not great. In the end, it falls to one of my least favorite tropes of AI fiction, but there was enough to like up to that point that I think it was a couple hours well spent.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the regrettable reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise, this time with Chris Pine in the lead. It’s the exciting story of a Russian villain who is buying up a sinister amount of treasury notes. Exciting, huh? Also, Keira Knightley does an American accent, which is just a terrible idea. At least for me, the accent is like half her appeal.
The Book of Life is a CG animated movie from last year that I thought had a cool art style (Pixar/Dreamworks do good work, there’s a bit of a sameness to their style), but I had worried it was too musical-y for me. But after getting assurances that there wasn’t too much breaking into song, I gave it a shot.
There is a fair amount of singing, but it’s mostly more organic than the classic musical style of talking through song, and other people joining in with elaborately choreographed dances. Instead, one of the characters is a singer/guitar player, so he just sings sometimes. Actual songs, not conversations. It’s a Mexican folklore-based story where the gods of the good and bad underworlds make a bet over two boys who are in love with the same girl. So, basically a love triangle becomes the entire plot. Which isn’t really my kinda thing.
So as far as kid-oriented romantic musical comedy goes, it’s pretty good. There are a few quality jokes, and I do like the animation style a lot. Probably mostly because it reminds me of Grim Fandango. I assume Geebs would love this, since it features both a love triangle and a bunch of cover songs.
Other Space is a Yahoo original SciFi comedy created by Freaks and Geeks‘ Paul Feig, which would make one think it’d be pretty great. But it isn’t.
The premise is a s spaceship crewed by novices become lost in another dimension with no hope for survival. The captain is kind of effeminate, his no-fun overachieving sister is the first officer, and his childhood friend, his crush, a weird nerd, and a kind of a stoner idiot round out the crew. And this girl plays the computer avatar, who I find incredibly hot.
Because of the hot computer girl and Paul Feig and a random appearance by Dave Franco, I gave it a second episode just in case. But no, still not very good.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II picks up where the last one left off and all the major players return. You’re again Crashdown from Battlestar Galactica, Vader’s apprentice guy. The PC port of this one is a ton better, and they fix some of the gameplay annoyances. The settings are actually in the game, the button prompts reflect your key bindings so I can use ESDF instead of WASD. They don’t give you a map anymore, but they give you a “force sense” ability that just points you in the direction you should be going.
However, it’s a significanty worse game. There are really only four stages in the game, and they run way too long and are really repetitive. The boss fights are interminable and not very fun. In the final stage, there’s a section where you jump onto a set of rotating platforms, then jump up onto a floating droid sort of thing, then up to a platform, then through a tunnel, and up onto another set of rotating platforms. This repeats like 8 times. I was worried the game was stick in a loop. In the final boss fight against Vader, you battle with him for a couple minutes, then he releases a bunch of little enemies to attack you and jumps to another platform. You kill those guys, jump to the platform where he is, battle for a couple minutes, then he releases more enemies. This also repeats like six times. I fell off the platforms a couple times, and I’m not sure if I started over at the beginning, or somewhere in the middle, but I ended up doing that platform dance for about an hour (with some breaks, because I was just getting mad at the game for taking so damn long to do anything). Despite being an action game, there were probably 10 times where I took a break just because it was boring and repetitive.
It keeps the mechanic (which I guess is called a Quick Time Event) where you’re prompted to hit a certain button or button combination at a specific time, except it makes them appear on different parts of the screen as an extra annoyance. These are done mid-cutscene, so it’s just like a big fuck you, to make sure you can’t really pay attention to the fancy graphics they probably spent hundreds of hours modeling, animating, and rendering. One of the prompts is there to tell you to press a button as fast as you can, and in the final Vader fight, there’s one that lasts over 30 seconds for some reason (see here for the video, that Y that’s pulsating is telling you to hammer Y, and it’s not until it flashes that you’re successful… that’ll show you the tail end of the game if you keep watching, so spoilers, obviously). I have no idea why anyone thought that was a good idea. “You know what would be fun here? If your hand hurt from pressing a button too much!”
The story is almost nonexistant, despite lots of cutscenes. Spoilers: having appeared to die in the first one, you wake up in a cloning facility and Vader tells you you’re a clone. You escape. You go to rescue General blind guy from the first one and do. He tells you Jedi can’t be cloned, so you must be the still-alive guy from the first one. You go to find your sexy pilot friend from the first one, but she gets captured by Boba Fett and brought back to the cloning place. So you get the rebel alliance to assault the place. You use some force mojo to help them in the assault, then go through the place to find her. Vader’s got her, he appears to kill her, so you beat him down. Then you get this dark side/light side choice to capture him or kill him, which obviously I chose light because I’m a goody-goody, and it turns out she’s alive and you capture Vader and ride off into the sunset with your lady friend, except Boba Fett chases after you in an obvious “sequel goes here” moment. Except the story sucked so obviously no one wanted a third one to be made. And this leaves the whole “are you a clone or the real guy?” thing unresolved.
I looked up the dark side ending, and it’s total bullshit. Your choice changes things that happened before you made the choice. If you pick dark side, it turns out your lady friend really did die. And in that one, it’s very clear that Crashdown in the first one died and you are in fact a clone, because another clone kills you before you can kill Vader. So
The Messengers is a new CW series that I thought was a sci-fi-ish/Heroes-ish sorta thing, but it’s more religious-ish. Some sort of space event happens and a bunch of random people get super powers, and when they see their reflections they have angel wings.
It stars literally no one I recognize, which is weird for someone who watches as much TV as I do. Fake-name-sounding Shantel VanSanten, and also fake-name-sounding Sofia Black-D’Elia, and… well those are the main attractive actresses, which for a CW show ought to be top-notch, but they’re a bit underwhelming here. They do cast a lot of handsome dudes who are devoid of charisma, so maybe they’re aiming to appear more to the ladies.
I started to lose interest pretty early, and I think I missed some stuff, because they had these totally separate storylines and they didn’t connect any of them at all until pretty late. There’s the undercover Fed whose partners/handlers turn on him when he has the evidence to put the bad guy away. The scientist who saw the space event and sees some sort of cover-up. The televangelist son of another televangelist. A single mom trying to keep her kid away from her abusive ex. A bullied high school kid. And some weird guy who might have ridden in on the meteor or whatever it was, and he might be Satan? They all end up heading to Houston. Because… God, apparently.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is yet another game from that Star Wars bundle. It was decent enough to finish, mostly because I thought the cutscenes were pretty well done. But not actually good. Fortunately, it’s also pretty short. ~15 hours total.
This game was 100% made for the console, and not a lot of effort was put into porting it to the PC. Starting the game actually brings up an options screen that includes the graphics and key config options. Once inside the game, you can’t see your key binding options. And the on-screen help will tell you to hit E to use a force power no matter what key you bound it to. So that’s dumb. And forces me to use the dumb WASD controls that everyone (including Abed on Community) seems to think is a good idea, when ESDF is clearly superior (it’s where your left hand is supposed to be on the keyboard, and there’s the little bump to tell you your fingers are in the right place!). The mouse is useless in the UI, Also when you bring up the actual game, there’s a good 15 seconds of unskippable company logos. It’s actually a pretty cool animation for the LucasArts one, but I really only needed to see that once. And the options lets you change the volume for music, sound effects, and voice. It started pretty loud, so I cut all three by half. Then I discovered none of those changes the volume for the cutscenes, so when I selected “play” I got a deafeningly loud rendition of the main Star Wars theme.
But on the plus side, it looks a hell of a lot better than the much older games I’ve been playing recently. Again an artifact of the console port, it doesn’t support windowed mode at all (without using a 3rd party program), but at least it does 1920×1080 so I can alt-tab out without having to switch resolutions. My attention span is too short to even focus on an action video game for very long. But of course when I alt-tab back, my left hand is on the wrong key, so I always hold down E to run forward, but end up force pushing.
It reminds me a bit of the Arkham Asylum games, what with a lot of focus on combat animations, somewhat at the expense of gameplay. You hit attack a couple of times, and you’re locked in a fairly lengthy animation. And the gameplay is kinda nothing. You run around clicking attack when you’re near the bad guys, sometimes hitting other buttons to do combos. It’s pretty easy to kill stuff. The only real challenge is figuring out what they want you to do to advance to the next area. There’s usually a highlighted thing, sometimes that means you need to use force lift to move it around, sometimes you need to use force lift to fling something at it, sometimes you use force lightning to electrocute it. Which ultimately feels kind of dumb. The map only occasionally gives you an indication of the general direction you need to head. But sometimes that’s “2:00 relative to how you’re facing” in a multi-level area, so that’s no help at all. There’s no north on the map, and sometimes you run into a symmetrical room twirling around doing combat animations for 4 minutes, you can frequently forget which door you came in, and then go back the way you came and be confused why there aren’t any enemies anywhere. And the combat animations cause you to step every time you swing your lightsaber, so when fighting an enemy near a ledge, you quite frequently walk right off the edge.
The boss fights take you out of a traditional first person view, and switch to a fixed camera. This is annoying as hell, because it’s 3D at about a 30 degree overhead view, and aiming at someone from a distance, particularly when it’s not a straight east/west or north/south angle, it’s a pain. I sent quite a few force lightning attacks off into the ether, wasting force energy. The worst though is that when you get down to defeating a boss, it switches out of combat into a cutscene-like animation, and to successfully complete the finishing move, you have to quickly respond to a series of buttons to press (this is why my own keymapping is impossible, it flashes “E” on the screen, and you have about a second to hit your force push button… so basically if that’s not E, you’re going to screw it up all the time by not reacting in time). I’m sure the animations are all cool and stuff, but you can’t really enjoy them, because you’re focusing on the bottom of the screen for the next button to hit. I’d much rather a short series of buttons to press show up at the beginning of the finishing move, and if you get them right, the animation plays out and you can watch it comfortably.
Crashdown from Battlestar Galactica (who I guess is the vampire guy on the American Being Human? I watched the pilot of that, and for some reason I didn’t remember that fact) voices/mo-caps the protagonist. Your character has a lot of costume changes for some reason. Jimmy Smits shows up to voice Bail Organa, even though none of the other movie characters get their actors to do their voices. Wonder Woman from the Justice League cartoons voices one of the Jedi you’re sent to kill.
When you first meet your sexy blonde British-accented pilot, she makes some comment about what your job is, and you go “you don’t need to know what I do, you just fly me where I need to go,” like you’re all secret agent need-to-know-basis guy. Then one brief tutorial later, you get your mission briefing right in front of her, naming your target and everything. That’s just poor writing. Also, your pilot wears basically the same uniform as Imperial officers, the monochrome hat, jacket, pants, with the patch of blue and red squares that I think indicates rank. Except her jacket doesn’t reach in front, to make room for what I guess is relatively tasteful cleavage by video game standards. But why not just give her the regular uniform? And then if the story progresses to where she feels more comfortable around you, she can take the jacket off later? Wouldn’t that make more sense for the imperial uniforms, actually be a way to show a character’s attitude towards someone evolving, and you’d still get to show your CG cleavage?
The version with the bundle had 3 add-on missions. I played the first one, which takes place during the Empire’s raid on Hoth, but you end up converting Luke to the dark side, which I found kinda lame. It was light on story, so I didn’t bother with the others.
Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is the follow-up to BioWare’s original, but this one by Obsidian Entertainment, and there is a pretty dramatic dropoff in quality. The game is bigger, the advancements in technology let them do fancier graphics and bigger areas and more of them and more cutscenes and all. But while the main plot is fine, a lot of the side plots are pretty lame, and despite a lot more interaction with them, the characters aren’t really as well developed.
You play a former Jedi who joined Revan and Malak in the Mandalorian wars, but returned to Dantooine to face punishment when that war ended. You end up cut off from the force and exiled from the Jedi. A creepy old lady helps you start to reconnect with the force, and as typical for these sorts of things, you hook up with a bunch of companions to save the universe.
I played as a Consular/Master, the physically wussy but full of force powers type, which was a bit of a struggle early on, but by about 1/3 of the way in, I unlocked a thing that made me almost unkillable, and then 2/3 of the way in, I unlocked another thing that let me use one force power before combat and I’d one shot most anyone (and made my defense even stronger). So that probably could have used some balancing. Also, they force you to play as other characters on a number of occasions, and if you have to solo as someone who’s not a Jedi, it’s a serious struggle. Like, I used more health packs in the two missions where I was forced to use Mira solo than in the entire rest of the game. And one time I was forced to solo as Atton, who I hadn’t made a Jedi yet, and I died almost instantly three times before discovering I could hide behind a bar where the enemies wouldn’t follow, and I could shoot them from a distance.
The game is full of bugs. There was one cantina that crashed the game about half the time when I entered it. I ran into two bugs where a plot-critical event wouldn’t trigger, and I had to go back to hours-old save games to re-do things. Which made some of the unskippable cutscenes really annoying. But then I also had some cutscenes that I think never happened? Or something. Like, towards the end, you send a robot to do a thing, but then another robot shows up to foil the plan and the first robot wasn’t going to be able to do the thing. And then I never saw either robot again, and the plan went off without a hitch.
And the main Sith antagonists, Darth Sion and Darth Nihilus, were basically non-characters. I swear I never even heard Nihilus’ name until I was facing him at the end. And both, other than being bad guys wanting to destroy the Jedi/the Republic, I felt like I didn’t know a thing about them. Nihilus looked cool though. Which is probably why he is featured on the box art. Maybe if you take the dark side, they aren’t just pointless mustache-twirling villains? I dunno.
I should say, other than the bugs, the game is perfectly fine. The “surprise” villain who really any idiot could see coming a mile away
Batman vs. Robin is the latest DC direct-to-video movie. This one combines an adaptation of The Court of Owls with one of the early New52 Batman and Robin arcs, in actually a fairly clever way. Except the end result is that neither the story of the Court of Owls nor the story of Damian’s temptation to kill bad guys gets the attention it needs. So the only people this could appeal to are people who read the comics and just want to see it in cartoon form, or people who didn’t read the comics but want to know what happens but don’t want to just read a wiki?
Jason O’Mara voices Batman again, he’s ok. Simon Tam is Nightwing again, meh. Jeremy Sisto voices the main Talon and is pretty good. They get Kevin Conroy to play Thomas Wayne in a flashback, which is kinda cool. And Weird Al to be the Dollmaker for some reason. The animation is on the same level as all of these since they started doing New 52 stuff, which is to say kinda unimpressive.
Daredevil is Netflix’s new series about Matt Murdock, blind lawyer/superhero, who is, behind Batman, my favorite superhero, which had me pretty hyped for this. It premiered at 3:01am ET, so I seriously considered staying up really late and watching a bunch before sleeping, but that sounded like a bad idea, so I just woke up early on Friday to watch a bunch before work. There was a definite chance I was too excited about this and it couldn’t live up to my expectations.
I like it. Quite a bit. The most important part to getting Daredevil right is getting Foggy right. It’s easy to reduce him to the chubby guy who’s comic relief, but he’s a lot more than that, and this adaptation understands that. They really nail him. They do a great job with a lot of the other supporting characters too, and have a really interesting take on the Kingpin.
If there’s one weakness, it’s white guys awkwardly trying to speak Asian languages. It sounds goofy to me, but I’m sure it’s even worse if you’re fluent in those languages. In most cases, they’re talking to people who also speak English, so I don’t get why the two parties don’t just both speak their own languages. Or have both sides speak English, just for the audiences sake.
Frank Miller’s The Man Without Fear seems to be the primary influence. Which is reflected in the black costume, very dark tone, brutal violence, the presence of Stick, etc. There are a lot of nods to the comics: a strategically placed ace of spades, the ridiculous alias Mike Murdock, Josie’s Bar, Randolph Cherryh, gratuitous shots of water towers. Missed opportunity: the fake newspaper is named the New York Bulletin and not the Daily Globe (they couldn’t use the Bugle because they hadn’t made nice with Sony about Spider-Man rights until after this was in the can). They do have a lot of references to the happenings in Marvel movies that are mostly surprisingly subtle. It works perfectly fine on its own, but they are definitely inhabiting a New York were The Avengers happened.
Charlie Cox plays Matt Murdock, Deborah Ann Woll is Karen Page, this guy I only really remember from Idle Hands is Foggy Nelson, and Vincent D’Onofrio is the Kingpin. Battlin’ Jack Murdock is played by an unfamiliar actor. Scott Glenn, Bob Gunton, Rosario Dawson, and several other people are in comics-familiar roles who I didn’t identify right away, so leaving their names out to avoid spoilers.
But a bunch of spoiler things come to mind (I’ve already finished, this includes a couple mild spoilers for things towards the end):