Pointless Nonsense

Posted in video games by Bill on June 27, 2017

Orwell had been on my steam wishlist for a while, since it showed up as recommended for me and hit a lot of tags I like (Sci Fi, choices matter, story-rich) and sounded interesting. I’m guessing it was due to Her Story, which has a somewhat similar format of revealing a story by hunting through a computer for clues. But instead of Her Story‘s video database, in this one you take the role of an contractor employed by a government surveillance group to search the web, snoop through people’s emails and chats and phones and computers, and provide relevant data to the government. I guess in the interest of not being too intrusive, they want only the contractor to see all the personal info, and you choose what snippets to send to the government. This turns out to give you a lot of power, since by selecting the right things out of context, you can give an entirely wrong impression.

The story unfolds about terrorist bombings designed to draw attention to the surveillance state, and a protest group that seems to be linked to the bombings. It’s an ok story, but given that you’re reading through webpages and listening to phone conversations (not really listening, watching text that the game tells you is a phone conversation), you start to feel involved, and I think that elevates an ok story to something a little better.

I do kinda wish they had voice actors for the phone conversations, some of the text scrolled too slowly (realistic for a chat session, but since the game could just spit it all out for me, it was annoying that I read so much faster than they type), and the interface for uploading data to people’s profiles wasn’t the best, but I did enjoy the experience. And it was weird to go from feeling like “yeah fuck big brother!” to “these anti-government activists are kinda douches” and back several times. And even though it very intentionally tries to be relevant to the real world and draw parallels to real events (even though it takes place in a fictional city in a fictional country), I don’t think it really has anything to say about the privacy vs. security debate. If anything, it seems to think that if you dig deep enough you’ll find shitty things out about most everyone.

Posted in tv by Bill on June 27, 2017

GLOW is Netflix’s new fictionalized account of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling with Alison Brie. It’s created by some Nurse Jackie/Weeds/OitNB people so that’s a pretty decent track record, and Marc Maron is in a supporting part and I like him, so that was more than enough to check it out.

Alison Brie is a struggling actress who can’t land a decent part, so a casting director recommends her for a new TV show about lady wrestlers. Maron is the show director and Piz from Veronica Mars is the producer/money man, and Sherlock’s Asperger-y girlfriend from Elementary is the other main girl. Some of the other wrestlers are vaguely familiar, but nobody else really famous, I don’t think.  Sadly, 80s hair and fashion don’t do a lot for me, but Ms. Brie is still quite easy on the eyes, even though they want her to look plain so she’s wearing like no makeup. She has some tasteful topless scenes, which ain’t bad either. The 80s music is kinda hit or miss too, though it improves as the show goes along.

It’s not great, but it does have a certain appeal. I can’t say I found it particularly dramatic, and over 10 episodes there were only a handful of especially funny scenes, but for whatever reason I ended up pretty invested by the end, and I don’t know why. It took a while to win me over, but it actually did and I can’t really say how.

Posted in video games by Bill on June 23, 2017

Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is Steam Summer Sale game #2, and the first refund. I may have just seen it in a discovery queue or something when I was looking to fill out my wishlist, because it doesn’t sound familiar at all.

It’s an open world fantasy action/RPG from 2013. A dragon attacks your village and you alone try to stand up to it. It kicks your ass, but instead of killing you, steals your heart and does some magic stuff to… curse you? Or bless you maybe? Anyway you’re driven to pick up a sword (or dagger or staff) and go adventuring or whatever.

It does some nice things, the character creation options are pretty extensive, and moving around is pretty fluid, but the interface was clearly designed for a console, and the map is garbage. It does this thing where it Matrixes over to show you something, freezing, rotating, and panning to show you something of note. Which would be great if the rotating and panning wasn’t slightly disorienting. Somewhere nearby, there was a peddler under attack who I needed to rescue. But I couldn’t tell what direction he was in, and neither he nor the enemies appeared on my map, so… fuck that.

Posted in video games by Bill on June 23, 2017

I still have some games from the Humble Monthly thing I signed up for to get Stellaris that I haven’t played yet (and if anyone I know wants Steam codes for Ashes of the Singularity: EscalationBrigador: Up-Armored Edition, or Shoppe Keep, let me know), but the Steam Summer sale is underway, and Steam’s return policy incentivizes me trying games I buy through them quickly, since after 2 weeks it becomes trickier/not worth bothering. So The Turing Test is on sale for $8, and it’s a decently reviewed puzzle game with, based on the title alone, a theme I expected to like.

It’s basically the movie Ex Machina mashed up with Portal.  You’re a lady who wakes up with an AI giving her instructions. First person, you have a gun that helps you solve a puzzle. When you finish the puzzle, you go through a transition area that destroys any leftover bits from the previous puzzle and autosaves. When you enter the next puzzle, an AI talks to you. So… extremely Portal-ish. But you do talk. Plot-wise, the puzzles are supposed to be an actual Turing test. You’re in orbit around Europa and your ship lost contact with a station below. The people on the station built the puzzles to let a human in but keep an AI out (which ends up not making sense because you couldn’t make it through some of the later puzzles without the AI’s help, but whatever).

It has that thing where it lets you remap key bindings, but they don’t entirely work right. E defaults to “use” for a WASD setup, but I like to use ESDF because it’s totally superior. When you remap the keys though, the game interprets E as both “forward” and “use” (Fallout 4 had the exact same problem). Also the on-screen prompts tell you the default key to use, not the actual one. So I went back to default keys, and every time I alt tabbed out, I’d mash E to go forward and nothing would happen until I remembered I have to have my fingers on the wrong keys for this game. Also it sometimes captures the mouse even after you alt tab out, which is weird. Only major issue is the forced binary ending, since there’s an obvious in-between solution, but given the choices, only one made any sense.

But those complaints aside, it’s a good game. On par with The Talos Principle (which had better/more puzzles but a worse story).

Posted in tv by Bill on June 23, 2017

I didn’t entirely love the movie version but I thought it was interesting, so I figure I’d give a shot to Spike’s new series adaptation of The Mist. I figure it would be Under The Dome-ish with a group of people in crisis stretched out over several seasons, with a supernatural status quo that makes them turn on each other. But somehow the pilot is largely concerned with heavy teen drama (that I think really has only one way it can go).

Gripe with Spike: they ran a “this season on The Mist” ad with 10 minutes left in the show. Why? That should go right after the credits if it has to be shown at all. You know at 59 minutes in when the mist comes across one of the major characters? Well guess who we know isn’t going to die because she appears “this season on The Mist“?

Anyway, it’s not very good. They have like 5 different storylines and I was only really intrigued by one. The cast is entirely unfamiliar to me except for one old lady (though apparently Clay Davis from The Wire shows up) and not all that interesting. No hesitation about passing on this one.

Posted in movies by Bill on June 14, 2017

Oh, Hello On Broadway is Nick Kroll and John Mulaney’s comedy play thing where they play two old guys that Netflix recorded and put up. And I like the two of them ok, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Apparently these characters have appeared on Kroll Show, Late Night with Seth Meyers, Comedy Bang Bang, and Conan, none of which I watch, so I was until just now under the impression that they were original to this show. It’s kinda weird, it has a lot of jokes about New York stuff and theater stuff that I didn’t get, and a lot of stuff that the audience laughed at but I didn’t find very amusing at all, so maybe I missed out not knowing the characters already? But it also had a few really funny lines (paraphrased: OJ Simpson murdered those people so hard that they no longer make the Ford Bronco. Can you imagine doing something so fucked up that they quit making Toyota Corollas?). It’s a long show to watch for a few brilliant moments, so I’d have a hard time recommending it.

Posted in comics, movies, top10, tv by Bill on June 14, 2017
Belated annual top ten of stuff from June 2016-May 2017 (so Wonder Woman will show up next year).
TV Half Hour:
  1. Bojack Horseman – Still loving this show, and it started to get some real critical respect this year (Time named the mostly-silent episode the best TV episode of 2016).
  2. The Good Place – I found the show fun and funny at first, though I was a little iffy on how it would work long-term. The end of the season did an amazing job in… not exactly making me sure hot it would work, but desperate to know where it’s going.
  3. Master of None – Getting close to the line of taking itself too seriously, but fortunately it remains pretty full of jokes.
  4. The Detour – I feel like this show shouldn’t be as good as it is? And yet it has huge laughs in almost every episode.
  5. Fleabag – Downer comedies (aka “sadcoms”) are kinda my thing, especially when there’s a self-loathing protagonist.
  6. The Last Man On Earth – Also a running theme here is plot-heaviness. This and The Detour are as serialized as any drama.
  7. Brooklyn Nine-Nine – First traditional sitcom on here, where the status quo is maintained after most episodes and the tone is generally upbeat. Andre Braugher continues to get robbed during awards season.
  8. Great News is the new 30 Rock. Also Briga Heelan is totally cute.
  9. Silicon Valley annoys me with the technical stuff this year (mobile networks lack the bandwidth and phones lack the uptime% to serve as nodes on a peer-to-peer network, even with fictionally good compression!) but it’s still really funny. The hot dog app alone is enough to make this season a win.
  10. The Mick – I kinda thought this would suck, but it manages to do It’s Always Sunny style comedy in a more traditional sitcom format. There’s a family learning lessons and all, but there’s also episodes that build up to a huge payoff of characters being shockingly horrible in hilarious ways.
Missed the cut: Veep, Archer, and Kimmy Schmidt are all still good, but none at their peak form. Veep has actually had some of their more memorable filthy insults this year, but the plot direction is… meh. I don’t give two shits about a library. Love had a solid second season, but it’s clearly a second-tier sadcom. Rick and Morty had only the one episode in the past year. Trial & Error was pretty good and is surprisingly renewed even though nobody was talking about it (or, judging by the ratings, even watching at all).
TV Hourlong:
  1. Black Mirror‘s first season on Netflix was ridiculously good. If I was doing top 10 hourlong episodes of the year, I think there would be 3 from this one 6 episode season (I’m not on the San Junipero bandwagon though it was pretty good, and Men Against Fire and Playtest were only ok).
  2. Better Call Saul – I heard an interview with Chuck Klosterman talking about the ethics of Breaking Bad – the main character starts as 100% ethically sound, but by the end of the series he’s 100% ethically corrupted, and the question is when do you, as the viewer, recognize him as a villain rather than a hero? I thought that was kinda interesting. And it applies some here too, though Jimmy/Saul starts out fairly ethically compromised already. It builds tension better than anything else on TV, which is even more impressive given that I know the fates of many characters.
  3. Westworld caused me to spend more time theorizing about what’s going on than any other show in a long time. Also I like seeing comics writers I like (Ed Brubaker in this case) break into higher paying gigs with a union and health insurance.
  4. Fargo probably wouldn’t be so high if Mary Elizabeth Winstead wasn’t so trashy-hot this season. It’s still very good, but not up to season 1 or 2 levels, IMO.
  5. Game of Thrones is still awesome, but it only had a half season in the 6/16-5/17 period.
  6. The Expanse didn’t have the breakout season 2 that I was hoping for, but it was still good.
  7. Sherlock kinda disappointed with the overarching plot, but it was still fun and had interesting cases of the week.
  8. Stranger Things seems like more than a year ago, but it was just last summer. Season 2 isn’t until this fall, so I figure at that rate, by season 4 all the kids will have deep voices and be tall and gangly and weird, so get ready for that.
  9. iZombie mixes the short- and long-term plots as well as any show currently running. Not surprising given the Veronica Mars connection.
  10. Luke Cage is the only superhero TV show here, which speaks both to the fading quality of most superhero shows, and to my own level of burnout on them. But this one was definitely good.
Missed the cut: Preacher is pretty good but I still don’t know how they’ll handle the big moments without losing every sponsor. I liked The Night Of a lot. Gotham has gotten highly entertaining, even if it still makes little sense.
Movies:
  1. John Wick 2 – Really my only complaint is that Bridget Regan wasn’t in it. Who would have thought my favorite movie of any year would star Keanu Reeves?
  2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story I think might turn out to be not-essential-rewatching, but it really was well done and a fun ride.
  3. Arrival was really thought provoking and I always appreciate when a studio spends money on a non-franchise sci-fi movie.
  4. Logan is a nice conclusion to the original set of X-Men movies. I kinda wish they’d stop making them for a while, but that’ll never happen.
  5. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 remains full of amusing wisecracking and whatnot.
  6. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping apparently only made $9.5mil at the box office, which is ridiculous. But maybe it appeals to the kind of people who would either pirate it or wait for it on netflix or something. As I did. Equal Rights alone is worth the price of admission.
  7. Doctor Strange and the ones below it are here because I don’t see enough new releases anymore. It was fine, but hard to get too excited about.
  8. All the Way, the HBO adaptation of the LBJ/MLK play, was pretty decent.
  9. Loving, about the couple that helped overturn interracial marriage laws, same.
  10. Swiss Army Man, I guess? I didn’t particularly like it, but I’m certain it’s the best farting corpse movie I’ve ever seen.

Comics (I used to split these up into superhero and non-superhero but I’ve really cut back on my reading):

  1. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – Nothing is more reliably entertaining. Marvel’s in the midst of a really ill-advised crossover event, and this is one of the few of their titles I haven’t stopped reading.
  2. Injection – Literally 3 issues this year, but I don’t care. I really like this series.
  3. Saga had only 6 issues but it’s still very good too.
  4. Sex Criminals only 4 issues, thanks to artist Chip Zdarsky taking on a bunch of writing gigs and becoming a bit of an internet celebrity (I don’t follow his (or anyone’s) twitter, but when I do see things reposted from it, they’re very funny…. “going to go see Wonder Woman and if it turns out Wonder Woman’s mom isn’t named Martha I’m fucking leaving”).
  5. Black Widow had a short run by the Waid/Samnee team that did a killer Daredevil run. This wasn’t at that level, but it was still a good read.
  6. Invincible is wrapping things up and has kinda renewed my interest in the series (that never completely waned, but it was for a while kinda low priority reading).
  7. Kill or Be Killed is the latest Brubaker/Phillips thing, this one a supernatural (maybe?) revenge story.
  8. Ms. Marvel is avoiding (mostly? so far?) the crossover business, and it’s still light and fun.
  9. Lazarus – The TV section’s theme was sadcoms and serialization, the comics section’s theme is “6 or fewer issues for the whole year.”
  10. Clean Room turned out to have a short run that ended this year (I’m still not entirely sure if it was always intended to be 18 issues or if they wrapped it up quickly due to sales). Not was good as I’d hoped given a promising start, but I liked it.

Posted in tv by Bill on June 12, 2017

Claws is a new TNT series about a group of women who work at a nail salon and live a life of crime. It stars Niecy Nash, Carla from Scrubs, Ben Linus’ real life wife, Karrueche Tran who I don’t know why I even know her name, and the girl from Justified who ran the bar that Raylan slept above but who isn’t as hot as she was a few years ago. It seemed from the commercials to be a crime comedy, which is one of my favorite subgenres, but this turns out to not be very funny at all. It has some comedic moments, but so do most straight crime stories. And I didn’t really find the comedic moments that entertaining, nor the crime part particularly engaging.

 

Posted in tv by Bill on June 5, 2017

I’m Dying Up Here is a new Showtime series about stand-up comedy in the 70s with Sebastian Stan, Ari Graynor (with a very unattractive version of 70s hair), Alfred Molina, Melissa Leo, Clark Duke, Al Madrigal, Dylan Baker, and the somehow-still-alive Dom Irrera.

I’m not sure if they’re all supposed to be actually good comedians, though Stan’s character is supposed to be, since the show opens with him on Carson. But I think writing and performing good stand-up is tough, because it doesn’t feel quite right. The couple actual comedians do it a lot better than the actors, but it’s still not great.

I thought this would work pretty easily, the format calls for funny people and frequent jokes, so that and the 70s music should in theory keep my interest long enough to get drawn in by the characters and stories. But there really wasn’t a ton to laugh about, and a lot of the jokes were just kinda blue for the sake of being blue. So I’m passing on this.

Posted in movies by Bill on June 5, 2017

Wonder Woman had a lot of expectations hung on it, being the first female superhero movie since the genre exploded. Elektra and Catwoman managed to tank superheroines for over a decade, so if this sucked, we might not see another for a while. Fortunately, it’s perfectly fine, and is really better than any of DC’s movies since they set their sights on a movie universe.

Wonder Woman is a tough role to pull off, and while I was never feeling like Gal Gadot was great, I also never felt like she was bad, which I guess means she was right for the part. Chris Pine ends up doing most of the heavy lifting and was actually quite impressive in it. Being a stranger in the world of men, Diana is the fish out of water, and he has to show her around, which is the source of both the comedy and the thematic stuff. It’s a lot to do, and he manages to carry it without grating on me at all.

The story’s just fine, the action is decent, a little bit shaky on some of the CGI but not a big deal. Themyscira didn’t really give me paradise vibes, but it was nice enough. The villains weren’t too exciting. Basically, Diana and Steve worked, and that was enough to make the movie pretty decent.