Friday, December 12, 2014

Interstellar review

There's been a tendency in popular entertainment to not explain things in story telling. Look at the TV series Lost, or the video game Destiny. While screenwriters are taught to show not tell, there are times that one must have some exposition or else the audience will spend most of their time trying to figure out what is going on rather than getting the major message of the story. This lack of exposition affects writer-director Christopher Nolan's film, Interstellar.

Interstellar takes place in a dystopian future where mankind is struggling to survive due to large dust storms. And if you want to know what is causing this environmental disaster, well you can forget about it. Writers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan aren't going to tell you. Widower Cooper (Mathew McConaughey) is a farmer and former astronaut struggling to raise corn and his family. His daughter Murphy starts to get strange coded messages from her bedroom which she says are ghosts. One of the messages are coordinates to a nearby secret NASA base.

Cooper and Murphy drive to the base. They are arrested and brought before Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia. (Anne Hathaway) Professor Brand tells them that NASA knows the world is dying but they have discovered a wormhole created by some intelligent beings. Deducing that the aliens put the wormhole to save man, NASA sends three astronauts separately through it. NASA is getting signals from them and that they have landed on three planets surrounding a black hole. Brand enlists Cooper to join his daughter to find the astronauts and explore the worlds to see which ones would support mankind in their exodus from earth. Failing that, there's another plan where the scientists would start humanity all over with fertilized eggs.

To enjoy Interstellar, you're going to have to accept its plot devices on faith. For some reason, Nolan decides not to tell you what is causing earth's drought. While the logical culprit is global warming, I wonder if the writers wanted to avoid the cause for political reasons. Can't piss off the Kock brothers, can we? Then there is the physics involved in the movie. Cooper and Amelia go to one of the planets and according to them they will age at a significantly slower rate than the rest of earth due to the black hole. I'm talking hours for years. It's gut wrenching to see Cooper get videos from his children now grown up when he's only been on the planet's surface for a few hours. There are additional twists such as Amelia's relationship with one of the lost astronauts that causes the film to feel disjointed. Without exposition, the plot twists make the story telling artificial, i.e. it's melodramatic for no reason.

While watching Interstellar, I spent too much time trying to figure out one, what was going on with the earth. And then trying to figure out the time issues regarding the physics. This could have been problematic if Interstellar wasn't so well made. The stakes to humanity are so severe that it kept the drama moving. The screenplay is intelligent and relies on serious science. Once Cooper and Brand land on an alien world, I was captivated as to what they would find. The film kept me glued to the seat with intrigue. There are some nice nods to other science fiction movies specifically 2001: A Space Odyssey. When you see the rectangular shape of TARS, the robot in the movie, one can't help think of HAL from 2001 and the alien monolith. I did feel the design of TARS was a little impractical but maybe the nod to 2001 was the point.

As for the acting, you can't go wrong with this cast. McConaughey loves his daughter and there's pain when he leaves her. Caine and Hathaway's scientists are brainy, and sincere. Jessica Chastain plays a grown up Murphy. She's wonderful as the hurt daughter who's dedicated finding a solution to earth's problems with Brand.

Interstellar continues the pattern of Christopher Nolan's filmmaking. He doesn't dumb down anything for the masses. Despite its flaws, the film is thought provoking and exciting. The grade is A.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

You stink Lizard Squad

It looks like for the second time this month, the hacker group Lizard Squad has hit XBOX Live. If you've been trying to play XBOX Live this morning and last night, you've probably been thrown out of the service and been unable to connect. Well, it's not your Internet connection. According to Neowin, it's the hacker group Lizard Squad. And they did it when the 2014 Game Awards was set to air. How's that for strategic planning?

It gets worse my fellow XBOX players. XBOX Live will go offline then come back online. Then after a few hours, it seems Lizard Squad attacks again. They've threatened more sabotage this weekend with a tweet that reads, "This will be an entertaining weekend."

This is one of the problems of the Internet. You get trolls and you get these guys, the hackers. Ha, ha. (sarcastically) Lizard Squad you got us. But you want know something my reptilian friends? I don't need XBOX to have a good weekend. I can go to a movie, or go out to the pub or watch football. But you will eventually be caught. That's because you're messing with Microsoft. These are the guys who run the PC world. It ain't Sony. You're interfering with the company's ability to make money through financial transactions not just players gaming with each other. They will crush you. Enjoy eating that prison food. And by the way, you guys are using Twitter to brag about your exploits. You really don't think they can't track you, do you? Who's the idiot now?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Destiny XBOX 360 review

Destiny, the video game, has been out for more than a couple weeks now. The game developed by Bungie, the guys behind Halo, is one of the most hyped games in years due to its pedigree and new manner of playing it. It's new to a degree since it's an online first person shooter that has RPG and MMOG elements. Certainly, this form of gaming is not trail blazing for the XBOX, as Defiance (2013) came out first. Bungie didn't want day one reviews because they claim the game must have thousand of players for it to gestate. I've played the game through campaign mode and multiplayer. Time for this blog's review. So , the question is does Destiny live up to the hype or at least live up to the aspirations of the kick ass live action commercial for it? (Embedded below.)

"Destiny! Destiny! No escaping that for me." Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) in Young Frankenstein (1974)

The prologue to Destiny starts with the introduction of the Traveler, a big spherical living being, at least I think it's alive that comes to earth. It's benevolent and helps man to achieve a new Golden Age where man is able to colonize the planets of the solar system. But hundreds of years later after the Traveler's arrival comes the pursuing Darkness . Okay you know with a name like that you can guess it's evil. What else are they going to call it? The Pinkness? But I digress. The forces of the Darkness causes a collapse of human society. You wake up in a ruined Russia by your Ghost (Peter Dinklage) who is kind of a cross between Guilty Spark from Halo and Bit of the Tron film. It's a good performance by Dinklage as he must be part machine and sentient life form. He informs you that you are a Guardian with a smart ass raccoon as your only friend. Um... okay that's Guardians of the Galaxy. Anyway, this leads to you exploring the planets and blasting bad guys.

That premise would be great assuming Destiny will enlighten us with exposition. But that's one of the major problems of this game. There's no explanation of anything. You just take the word of your Ghost or Guardian "supervisors" that certain aliens are bad and they need to be blasted. I didn't care about my character other than the fact I got to create his face which by the way is always a cool feature. But I also didn't care the other people in this half baked story. I can't even remember the other characters in this story. Mass Effect, this is not.

And here's another thing that bothers me about the story. It's supposed to be science fiction. But you got plants and buildings on Venus. Really? In real life, Venus is a hellish place. Temperatures there reach 788 degrees F. The atmosphere is composed of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and sulphur dioxide. Yeah, I get the concept of terraforming but Destiny's story doesn't tell you about that. So, how about a little science in the science fiction?

You will be treated to some gorgeous graphics. And I'm talking about the XBOX 360 version of Destiny. Yeah, the XBOX One version has more detail but you really won't notice the difference. I mean you spend most of your time killing aliens. Regardess, the colors of the planets are rich. There's much detail for them whether it's the rocks, plants or pools of liquid found on Venus. I felt like I was on alien worlds. Human and alien structures are all interesting though some of the buildings are repetitive since they're almost all ruins. Yet, they are rendered so well they beg you to explore them. You will love the look of your character and his or her costume. Helmets are kind of goofy though. How does a Warlock see through his helmet without eye sockets?

Interesting sound is what you would expect from a science fiction shooter. Weapons make futuristic sounds. Enemies sound quite foreign. But what I love about the sound is the soundtrack by Martin O' Donnell and Michael Salvatori. If you remember Halo's distinct themes you get more of the same. Destiny's music is lush, mysterious, heroic and dramatic. It adds to the conflict.

The future of video games?

The first thing about Destiny's gameplay that grabs you is the gun mechanics. This is certainly where Bungie has learned quite a bit from its Halo games. Firing a weapon is a joy whether you are aiming or free firing. Aim. Put your bullets on target. Melee is fun too. Finally a melee attack that instantly kills lower level enemies or ones that have very little health left.

But maybe Bungie should have just stuck with guns. Because Destiny introduces superpowers kind of like Mass Effect but with much less success. First you can upgrade the superpowers but since they don't explain to you how to do that, you're stuck having to research this. And the superpowers kind of stink. They regenerate every four or so minutes. And unlike Destiny's glossy ad below they are not so powerful that they wipe out a boss with one blow. You've got to degrade an enemy boss to a sliver of armor for one power, one kill. Then there's the armor. It's confusing since each piece has stats for regenerating grenades, superpowers or melee powers. And there other things or items that improve your lot in life but since nobody explains this stuff, you're just going to be confused on what they mean. Spinmetal? Hadronic Essence?

What about the missions? Extremely repetitive. Most of the time you are guarding your Ghost as he hacks something and you get attacked by bad guys. Then there are the boss missions. Kill alien boss while he spawns minions to harass you. Speaking of spawning, aliens will spawn in areas you have cleared. Kind of discourages going back to explore areas. Okay, there is fun as you and your buddies take on missions. The questions is how long will this fun keep your interest in the future.

The Social Network

Destiny is supposed to be a social game. But everybody is not talking at me and I can't hear a word they're saying. I mean you see random players and nobody talks or maybe they can't talk? For example, the Tower is an area where players upgrade weapons, get bounties, equipment etc. I've tried to talk but get the silence of outer space. I get more social interaction from the mean streets of Grand Theft Auto V. And speaking of the Tower, there's nothing to do there. You can dance outside but who cares. Meeting some interesting NPC (non-player character) or even have a mini-game would be welcome. Since you can dance how about a dance game?

The multi-player aspect of Destiny comes in two flavors. Co-op or player versus player. Going against other players is enjoyable since your weapons fire as well as they did in the campaign. In other words you have a chance here. Finding your opponents on the map can be difficult. And chances are you're going to get whacked and humiliated by an eleven year old. Co-op is great since your buddies can help you with a difficult boss. And trust me, you don't want to play missions on the Hard Diffculty setting by yourself. You will end up taking two hours to bring down a boss.

Being a game that must exist online creates a new set of problems. If you have trouble with your home network, or Internet connection, you're screwed. And this happens to everyone in online gaming. You're about ready to take down that alien boss when you lag out or get disconnected. That's already occurred to me while playing Destiny. Doh!

Hype and Glory.

You've heard me compare Destiny to Mass Effect specifically I should say Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect 3 gets it right. The online multi-player works with the single player campaign. From a plot aspect, Mass Effect 3's online gaming is consistent as you join forces to fight the aliens threatening the galaxy. That being said you can play the campaign without going online. And one more thing. Mass Effect's story is rich, smart and emotional. I cared about the NPC characters in the game.

A great video game should have two components. A rich single player game which does not require online access. And a fun multi-player that is online and can also be done as a network. Bungie did well with Halo 3. And as I have pointed out, Mass Effect 3 works perfectly. I think the video games that will stand the test of time and be successful will be like Halo 3, Mass Effect 3 and Grand Theft Auto V.

Destiny does not live up to the hype. It's an uninteresting but well made first person shooter. To really enjoy it, you will have to put in more effort to get into it than a great video game. The grade is B.

Too bad Destiny is not as cool as its live action trailer.

Monday, September 15, 2014

John Oliver explains Scottish independence for you and begs for Scotland to stay with England

It's going to take an Englishman to explain Scottish independence to us Americans. So luckily for us, John Oliver of Last Week Tonight is here to do it. Very funny stuff. I especially like the joke about Mel Gibson. Courtesy of HBO.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

John Oliver on the Ferguson riots and police militarization

Here's John Oliver from HBO's Last Week Tonight with a segment on the Ferguson riots and police militarization. Funny stuff for a tragic situation.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Wolfenstein: The New Order Tips for Chapter 6, London Nautica on the Uber difficulty setting

Today, we discuss the hardest parts of Wolfenstein: The New Order, Chapter 6, "London Nautica." The difficulty setting is the hardest, i.e. "Uber." First, review my general tips for Uber. Second, let me say both "London Nautica chapters, Six and Fourteen are some of the hardest levels in the game.

1. Main Hall

Once Bobby, destroys the front of the building, make your way to the opening of the London Nautica. Before you get there, you get attacked by a guard robot. Throw a Tesla grenade at its feet. While it is shocked go around the back and shoot it, aiming for the circular vent or area below its neck. One dead robot. Now loot its metal for armor and look for ammo scattered about. You're about to go into the Main Hall.

Go into the Main Hall. A door opens and a heavy robot with soldiers attack you. Run to your immediate left. Go through the vestibule and enter a room full of ammo. Stand behind the glass door to the closet of ammo. From here, you are going to kill the ten to fifteen soldiers who will try to rush you position. Remember, "patience." They throw grenades at you but if hug the door, you will take little damage. In the meantime, kill soldiers dumb enough to run into the closet. You will also see soldiers on the stairway across from the room. Take them out. Once it's quiet, get ready to run.

Run out of the closet, back into the hallway. The heavy robot is still there, but we'll deal with that later. Run and I mean run up the stairs to your left. A door opens and a soldier manning a gun turret opens fire. Kill him and take over the turret. Okay, here comes he second wave. Kill them with the turret. If you have to, fall back into the door behind you and run into the cafeteria, looking for cover from the kitchen area or salad bar. Wipe out this second wave.

Now all that's left is the heavy robot. You now have the advantage. You have the higher ground as you are upstairs. Remove the turret. Shoot the robot from the safe distance of the cafeteria. Now loot the whole area. Move on. Eventually you will encounter the last part of this Chapter, the hangar.

2. The Hangar

Before you crawl in the duct that leads to the chopper hangar, get all the armor from the lab and one opposite from duct. Okay, now arm you pistol with the silencer and drop down into the hangar. Immediately crouch behind the cover of the railing. There are platforms with the choppers. On one in front of you is a soldier. To the right is a commander. And on the same, platform you are on is another soldier. He's actually the closest to you. Oh yeah, there are two guard robots here. One on a platform and another on the floor.

Take your silenced pistol. Stay crouched. Move the targeting reticle over the soldier on the platform across from you. Free firing causes the reticle to turn red. Shoot. Now look to your right. Target the commander. You can take out the soldier the closest to you first. Anyway, take down the first commander with your pistol. Then kill the soldier next to you with the pistol or a take down. There's one more commander. He's to the far right in front of the control room. Shoot him with the silenced pistol. If done correctly, you've killed the first wave by stealth.

The rest of the way cannot be done by stealth. Drop down. Throw a Tesla grenade at the feet of the guard robot. Quickly, shoot the circle on vent on the back with an assault rifle or shotgun. One dead robot. Now take cover beneath the platforms from the other robot. It's too stupid to jump down. Move between platforms to get a good shoot at the circular vent from the back. A few shots from a sniper or assault rifle and it's over for this robot.

Now comes the second wave of soldiers. I think it's about ten to fifteen. Run to a control room. I use the one where we took down the second commander. Run to the far right of the room and crouch. They can't shoot you from the floor and the soldiers must rush into the room. Kill them as they enter with a shotgun. After you've killed about five to seven of them, you can peek out of the windows of the control room and snipe the rest.

After you've taken down the soldiers a big heavy guard robot busts out of a door across the way. The Laserkraftwerk (LKW) is the key to victory here. Run to center platform. Don't worry the heavy robot is confused by you running somewhat close to it. This platform has two chargers for your LKW. Alternate between the two while using the platform for cover. Give that robot a dose of fully charged shots. Boom, down it goes.

The hanger section is actually easier than it looks. Just be patient.

The Expendables 3 review

The Expendables 3 starts out with Wesley Snipes and Sylvester Stallone in drag going across the country to compete in the "Miss Drag Queen of America Pageant." Um... that's the plot of "To Wong Foo!... Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar." (1995) Okay, this movie starts with the Expendables in a helicopter trying to free Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) from a prison train. They are successful only to have Doc run amuck and take over the train. He then rams the train into a prison to kill a tyrant. Now how did he know the target would be behind the wall at that time? Thus begs the question, "Can a movie that starts out dumb, turn out to be good?"

Well, it gets even dumber. Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), team leader and his Expendables have a job to stop an arms deal done by a drunk, racist pig... um sorry I'm describing Mel Gibson. But wait he is in this movie. Their job is to stop an arms dealer who is played by a drunk, racist pig that being Gibson. The twist is that he's Conrad Stonebanks, a former Expendable who turned bad. Did I say it got dumber? Okay. They take Doc on the mission immediately AFTER they break him out. You got it. No training. No shrinks for being locked up all those years. Nothing.

Anyway, the mission goes bad. And it takes Indiana Jones to retrieve The Ark of the Covenant from the Nazis. Er... Sorry fo that. CIA handler Drummer who's played by Harrison Ford now wants Stonebanks captured. Ross is worried his team is getting too old... ha, ha. He recruits a younger team. (Victor Ortiz, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell) If you can't figure the rest of the plot from the trailer then you haven't seen many modern action movies.

Usually, I discuss the acting performances for a movie. But what's the point? There are so many old guys from the eighties along with the new kids, it all played like a party in a bar that you were not invited to. That can mean this movie is going to stink. Okay, I will say Antonio Banderas as over the hill assassin, Galgo, was a lot of fun. The man moves with such grace. And his earnest desire to join the team seems to be a metaphor about Hollywood dumping actors for younger people. What can I say about Stallone? He comes off as a meathead. Whereas Harrison Ford adds some elderly dignity to the CIA handler. With all due respect, because I'm not a young whipper snapper, Ford should be done playing Indiana Jones. Of course, this wouldn't be a an Expendables movie without Arnold Schwarzenegger firing a big gun and saying some catch phrase from one of his movies.

The screenplay by Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt and Stallone makes more sense than the second movie. I mean in Expendables 2, you had Chuck Norris appear out of nowhere. But there are some problems. The aforementioned opening scenes and when Ross gets his young team together, there's no training montage. I mean these kids went into the mission cold. That being said, thankfully Ross listens to youthful wisdom and uses the high tech way to capture Stonebanks. So the last two thirds of the movie makes some sense. Okay, I'm still wondering how the Expendables prop driven airplane evades another country's radar.

Director Patrick Hughes is competent. There are some nice tracking shots but he suffers from the same cinematic disease that has been inflicted on modern film. There is way, way too much fast cutting. (Edits of a scene so it lasts no more than three seconds.) Too often it's used to show action. But in this movie, it only adds to the confusion. A good fight scene is like a dance. We must see the bodies in action and I mean the full bodies. The same thing with a war scene. If you're going to use that much fast cutting then it's got to have logical flow. The Expendables 3 was cut like it was made for people with ADHD. Yet, with all the confusion, the story was correctly told and it was an interesting and fun tale. Finally Brian Tyler's score was very good with a nice heroic theme.

The Expendables 3 is time wasting fun. It's not going to win any Oscars. And it's better than the last one. But that's like saying a deep fried twinkie is better than a normal twinkie. The grade is B.