Sunday, March 31, 2013

Burn Notice 4.18 - Last Stand

Plot: Vaughn's in Miami. He wants to list, he knows Michael has it. Mike, Fi, and Jesse plan to hide it in a nuclear facility, where presumably even Vaughn can't get it, but he's using every law enforcement agency in the country to hunt for them. Which is how they wind up in a half-finished hotel, trying to hold off a heavily armed team. Oh, and Jesse took a piece of rebar through the leg.

Sam and Maddy are trying to convince Congressman Bill Cowley (last seen 4.7, "Past and Future Tense") to believe them and get them some help. That's not going well, at least until Cowley makes a call. Suddenly, the authorities are looking for him. For his protection, you understand. So Cowley's on board. By then, Mike and Fi have devised a plan to lure Vaughn and his boys in, the blow them to hell. About time you went with lethal force, guys. Too bad Vaughn's guys captured Maddy, which kind of short-circuits that plan. At that point, Mike decides to play kamikaze decoy so Jesse and Fi can escape with the list. Like Fiona was going to let Michael do that alone. Fortunately, the Army (or somebody in desert camo) shows up just in time to keep them from having to explode themselves. Vaughn gets arrested, Jesse and Maddy get medical attention, Jesse slips the list back to Michael, who promptly gets escorted away by guys in suits.

Who interrogate him for a week before dumping him off in front of an office building in Washington D.C., to be met by some guy he knows, but I've never seen before.

The Players: Vaughn (Guy Who Burned Michael/Not Michael's Pal)

Quote of the Episode: Vaughn - 'I gave you the chance to be my friend. Time after time, but that's over. Now you're gonna see what it's like to have me for an enemy.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? Kinda sorta. She made a charge to damage a water main, but Mike ended up using to to turn the Charger into a roadblock. That poor car, he treats it so badly.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 0 (41 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (9 overall).

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (5 overall). He did genuinely laugh, though. Right as he and Fi were about to blow themselves up.

Other: Sam didn't get to shoot Larry last week, which I had mixed feelings about. I like Dead Larry, but it it's hardly fair the Fi got to shoot Carla, and Jesse got to shoot (through) Mike, but Sam never gets to shoot people he hates. Anyway, this week he got to punch Vaughn's lights out, which was pretty satisfying.

I'm not sure about Vaughn as a suddenly imposing enemy. Part of the problem is that, as he said, he's tried to be Mike's friend this season. Carla tried to demonstrate her power by actively making Mike's life difficult. Disrupting his other work, siccing Victor on him, throwing Nate in jail. Management went the other way, showing his power by letting Mike struggle without it as support. Now the cops would come calling about explosions, now his old enemies could find him. It's actually occurred to me that might be how Simon was able to tell Gilroy where to find him.

Neither of those tactics worked, as Mike just kept on doing as he pleased. So Vaughn tried to buddy up to him, make them allies, rather than adversaries. It makes sense, but the problem is, it keeps Vaughn from appearing like a credible threat until suddenly, the plot demands he be one. The were two times prior to this we've really seen Vaughn flex his muscle. In the first episode of Season 4, when he and Mike traveled to the jungle to interrogate Michael Ironside. Vaughn's tactics accomplished nothing, it was Michael's attention to detail that saw important paperwork, and kept them from being killed by the lousy CGI drone. The second time was when Vaughn tried crashing the Bible trade with Barrett. For all his alleged power, he and his guys couldn't get past a dozen or so of Barrett's men. All he did was screw things up, leading to the situation where Jesse gets to shoot Michael to save him.

Now all of the sudden, he's decided to get serious, and he's actually almost effective. Maybe it's because he's had time to study his predecessors' mistakes, or maybe he's just smarter than Carla and Management, but he's a bit more wise to Michael's tricks. Not wise enough, or he'd have kept better tabs on Sam, but still better. It's a curious blind spot the antagonists seem to have. They all focus on Michael so much they forget his friends are running around working to thwart them as well. They wouldn't run with Michael Westen if they couldn't keep up, bad guys. Brennen and Larry got that, especially Brennen, maybe because they're used to dealing with things on a more personal level. They have to take care of their own details, they don't have people to do it for them. They just lacked the resources to completely neutralize these particular details.

Vaughn gave it a good try at any rate. Even had one of his boys hit Maddy. It's funny that I guess he was supposed to hit her on the back of the head, but he really whacked her on the neck/upper back. Then again, who feels good about hitting the elderly? Even Vaughn's guys have families.

Which reminds me, I liked the poor guy on the roof who served as Mike's counterweight. He knew when to fold 'em, so he copped to having zip ties rather than get shot in the leg. He didn't try anything while bound, just because Mike was preoccupied with the sniper. Unless you count telling Mike what he was up against and why he should pack it in. He's no wild fanatic or true believer, just a guy who had a job, to stop Michael Westen. He failed, it happens, live to do soldiering for hire another day.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Law Of Diminishing Returns Kicked In Forcibly

There are only two fighting game franchises I've stuck with over the years: Super Smash Bros., and Dead or Alive. A bit of a curious pairing. I had the original Smash Bros. and Melee (I don't own a Wii, but I've played Brawl on Alex'). As for DOA, there was 3, then Ultimate 2, and now Dead or Alive 4. The problem this presents is that, while there were certain things about DOA 4 that bothered me, upon reflection, I realized these weren't exactly new problems.

The final boss, Alpha, is pretty cheap in the sense of stacking the deck against, with her teleportation (even in the middle of being combo attacked) and attacks that take 40% of your health. But Genra, the DOA 3 boss had his fireball attacks (no else can attack at range), the shockwave he emitted every time you knocked him down (which shoved you far away so he could throw fireballs again), and the camera shifted to a perspective used at no other point in the game. And the Tengu (Ultimate 2), could fly, and had his weather-shifting cyclone attack. There's always something, but that something usually doesn't let them escape your attacks. If I'm kicking the Tengu in the face, unless he can counter the next kick, he's gonna get whalloped by it as well. Alpha can simply blink out of the way and reappear behind me.

The counters are pretty overpowered, but that's also nothing new. I've had fights where I hit my opponent 20-30 times with kicks and punches, and the entirety of their offense was 6 counters, and they won. It seems nuts some of these counters should be taking 15-20% of my health bar, but there it is. Like I said, though, this was a problem in previous games. The issue now is I feel like the computer relies on it more. It's perfectly willing to sit back and rely on the fact it's response time is better than mine, and just counter my attacks all day long. When a fight goes "punch , get up, low kick , get up, high punch , get up. . .", it's pretty tedious. I start waiting for them to go ahead and finish me, so I can make a fresh go of it. Except I can't even get that because they won't attack! I understand they may have finally adjusted the strength of the counters in DOA 5, which is nice, I suppose.

Here's something that wasn't present in the previous games, sort of. When you beat Story Mode, there's a little movie for each character, showing a little slice of what the character went on to do. Some are silly, some are badass, some are actually very sad. The guys still get that. Zack's is silly, Hayate's sort of badass (even if I still think he's a jackass). With the ladies, they went the T&A route, and yes, I know it would be stupid to be surprised about that with this series. I'm not really surprised, more disappointed. It seemed unnecessary, and I thought they could have done better, like they had previously. Maybe I'm at the point where that can't be the primary selling point. Yeah, the "She kicks high" commercial for DOA 3 amused Papafred and I enough for me to buy it went I got an XBOX, but that was almost a decade ago. I'd hope my mindset has shifted since then (I'm sure Papafred's has). Now, I find I'm actually invested in some of the characters and their histories, even if it doesn't always make sense.

Friday, March 29, 2013

You're Gonna Journey Farther West Than Expected

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is an entire game built around an escort mission, that manages to be really
entertaining anyway. Your character is known as Monkey, and he starts off locked up in an airship delivering him and others to be enslaved. One of those others is a plucky hacker named Trip, and she engineers her escape, and unintentionally, Monkey's as well. Trip's not much of a team player, though, as she refuses to let Monkey in the escape pod, so he hangs on to the outside. When he wakes up after the landing, he finds Trip slapped one of the slaving headbands on him, and he's going to get her home, whether he likes it or not.

The game play is a mixture of combat and I guess platforming. Monkey's not tech savvy, but he's strong, and he's agile. So you spend a lot of time climbing and leaping from handhold to handhold, to flagpole, to girder. It's not open world exploration, there's not more than two paths at any given time, and only one of those will lead to the end of the level (the other probably leads to a cache of plasma orbs, which you use to upgrade). It's easy to tell where you're going, since the next grip will have a glossy sheen that makes it stand out.

The combat's fairly well built, too. Monkey utilizes a staff, with a strong attack button, and a weaker attack button. You can combo them to a limited extent, and buy other skills like counterattacks and evade attacks that incorporate his agility into it. The staff can also fire plasma and stun blasts (if you have the ammo), and you can switch to that during a fight. The only problem is that when you do the camera shifts from a more distant, slightly elevated perspective, to one more common to 3rd person shooters (think Resident Evil 4). It's a good perspective for shooting, but the shift can be disorienting, not good in the middle of a tense fight. Short of changing the camera angle for the rest of the game, I'm not sure what would be a suitable solution, and it's not really worth that.

There are a few puzzles, but they're variants on turning switches in a particular order to align bridges or paths in a proper sequence. Nothing too complicated, but I imagine the more difficult stuff is being handled by trip off-camera. She's always using her wrist computer to do something.

A bit about Trip's role. She's the reason things happen, and you have to keep her alive. That's how the headband works, she dies, Monkey dies. The advantage is Trip is smart enough to hang behind until after Monkey clears the way. If that isn't possible, Monkey can serve as a decoy to draw fire until she can reach the next bit of cover. In a nice touch, Trip has a mechanized butterfly she can use to draw fire away from you. There are occasions where she's going to come under fire, and for those, she has an EMP she can use to buy you a few seconds to get your act together. Basically, the game designed so that the escort aspect is a plot device, a reason for the two of them to travel together, but it's downplayed as much as possible by the actual gameplay. Which is fine with me.

For awhile, the game was just mildly entertaining. I liked it, but it wasn't anything special. Then they reached the remains of one of New York's bridges, and the Cloud was introduced. Because Enslaved is drawing elements from Journey to the West (just like Dragonball), Monkey has a Cloud, some sort of hover disc he can use in certain situations to zip around and pick up plasma orbs, scout things out, or to get somewhere to flip a switch so Trip can cross. I loved that, just whooshing across the water's surface, racing up ramps and jumping to the next platform. I'd have done that all day if they let me. The only problems are that one, you can only use it in places the game designates, and two, you can't attack on it. No using it to weave effortlessly through a horde of mechs, swatting them with the staff, or blasting them as you fly by. Still, its a lot of fun.

The ending was kind of a dud. Bit of the Matrix in there, but what annoyed was I couldn't do anything. There had been an extensive boss battle to end the previous chapter, and I was expecting to have do some fighting inside the Pyramid. Instead, I watch a cut scene that went directly to the credits. I would have at least liked to have a choice, two different endings, something like that. At the end of the day, though, Trip made the decision for Monkey, which shouldn't be surprising, seeing as it was her selfishness that drove the game. She wants to go home, she shackles him to make it happen. She wants to go after the person behind the slavers, guess what Monkey? You're going, too. She hates what the mastermind's up to (or just hates the mastermind)? The whole enterprise is coming down.

Which makes the romantic subplot they gradually built up all the more off-putting. She seems to grow attracted to him, and vice versa, which should be sweet, with the rising music and all that. Except at no point do I forget the headband Monkey's wearing was put there by Trip, and enables her to control his actions. Or that she had broken her promise about removing it. Monkey might be willing to forget, but I'm not.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Broken Teaglass - Emily Arsenault

The Broken Teaglass taught me more about the work behind revising and updating dictionaries than I'd ever imagined I'd want to know. That might sound rather dull, but it was actually pretty interesting. The idea that people have to constantly comb through magazines or books looking for new words, or new usages of preexisting words. How recent certain words or phrases are ("cop out" was apparently first noted in the early 1950s). Having to deal with people calling or writing, wanting to know why a certain word isn't in the dictionary, or can they use this word this way?

Well, that last part sounds maddening, but I've always known customer service wasn't the career path for me. The book's about more than that. Billy's just started working at Samuelson Company, Mona's been there a year. While looking through the citations for various words, they find an unusual one, credited to a source called "The Broken Teaglass". No such story can be found anywhere. Soon, more citations listed as coming from it are found, each one far wordier than necessary, each numbered, each one an excerpt from the same story. A story that seems to take place at Samuelson, and seems to involve a dead body. And some of the principals may still be around.

There's a bit near the end where Billy confesses he hates the word "closure". Mona replies that he shouldn't hate words, he should hate the people who misuse them instead. Perhaps overstated, but an effective point. One of the things the book seems to point out is that language is only constrained by us. By how we choose to use words, or not. By the things we hold back, or that hold us back. The words to express what we mean are there, and if they aren't for some reason, we could make them up. It's pointed out, anything can be a word, as long as you can utter it and make others understand what it means. Shakespeare created the word "moonbeam", because there were things he wanted to say the current vocabulary was inadequate for. Ideally, we should never have trouble saying what we mean, but we do, for reasons that have little to do with words, and everything to do with us. It's pretty obvious laid out like that, but I hadn't ever considered it that way, likely because I don't tend to think a lot about words or their origins. I'm thinking about it from the other end, the personal side, why someone can't get the words out, or what the right words are.

The book zips by, except I hit a slight bump between pages 100 and 150. At that point, the book was in danger of veering into tediously familiar territory, and I was dreading it. Then Arsenault surprised me, and continued to do so throughout. The manner in which the story Billy and Mona find was broken up among the citations encourages them and us to jump to conclusions, which are eventually blown up as more citations are discovered. It's an effective technique.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Solitary House - Lynn Shepherd

If it's a batch of books on loan from my dad, you know there are gonna be period mysteries in there, and sure enough, The Solitary House is set in London, 1850. I'm not much a fan of the Victorian period myself, so if you're interested in the more tawdry aspects of the time, that could bolster it for you.

As it is, we have Charles Maddox, recently ousted from the police force, hired by a prominent lawyer, Edward Tulkinghorn, to investigate some threatening letters sent to an almost equally prominent banker, one Julius Cremorne. Charles does so, growing more curious about what it is Cremorne did that the letter writer knows of. This curiosity only intensifies once he finds the writer, who dies very shortly after Maddox delivers his name to Tulkinghorn. There are also interludes written by a girl named Hester that describe some home she was living at, which she loved dearly. This naturally connects to the rest, and even to another case Charles was working simultaneously. Nice how that works out.

As far as the story itself, the book is fine. Nothing spectacular, but solid. I had some issues with Shepherd's writing style. She goes with third-person omniscient, but it's a very coy narrator. There are nearly constant references to things that will happen, but haven't yet, or things that occurred in the past which aren't going to be discussed outright. Example: 'But for all his precautions, and all his care, this gun of his may still prove to be his undoing.' There are a lot of lines like that, talking about how Charles doesn't recognize so-and-so, but we do, or how someone's temper is bound to get them into trouble. I'm perhaps not one to criticize for making talking directly to the audience in a story, but then again, I'm not using it in stories that involve digging up baby corpses or people getting fingers cut off. It's entirely too chummy, for the subject matter of the book.

Along those same lines, there are references to people who might become notable in the future, but aren't in 1850, so the narrator doesn't bother to specifically name them, only reference them. There's a point where Charles nearly walks in front of a carriage, only to have two fellows pull him back in the nick of time. Then he has a flash of inspiration and runs off without thanking them, leaving the two to remark on his rudeness. Then we're told they are writers (or will be), and may incorporate this anecdote into one of their works some day. I don't have any idea who she's referring to, and even if I did, why should I care? Does it have any relevance to the story? No? Then don't waste my time with these cutesy-poo winks to the audience. It's not character development, because we never see them again. It hardly qualifies as world-building, other than it tells us carriage drivers don't look out for pedestrians (we've already learned that), and there are writers in mid-19th century London (no shit).

There are some of these historical mysteries that try to use real life people, because they think it's clever, or whatever. The Alienist used Teddy Roosevelt; Pale Blue Eye (which is also in the box, but I'm skipping it) which is gonna use Poe during his days at West Point. This is like an uncertain version of that. It's feels like Shepherd wants to use some notable people (or thinks she has to because everyone else does), but doesn't have the confidence to pull it off (or doesn't really want to, so she does it half-heartedly). Either have Maddox meet Dickens - or one of the Bronte sisters, or whoever - for some reason relevant to the story, or don't, but pick one and commit.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Ink-Stained Trail - Chapter 4

The following day got off to a late start. Overslept, though you wouldn't know it from how cotton-stuffed my head felt. A shower only helped a little, so I headed for the diner, hoping breakfast would have more success. Heavyset flannel shirt - red this time - and his buddies were there again. Even waved hello as I came in. Burned Nose held up the tobasco.

"Need this again, fella?" The way my head felt, a good cleansing fire might be just the thing. Still, I shook my head. 'No, just the pancakes today. My sinuses and I understand each other now.' That got a laugh. I seated myself at the next table over, ordered my pancakes, and waited, tuning into the chatter around me again.

"There go the Cowbirds again." I looked up.

The guys were staring out the window. Across the street, Sean and Michael walked with 2 other guys. No lady in sight today. "Cowbirds?"

The oldest of the group, his wide straw hat hanging from his chair, glanced at me. "On account of them following that lady around."

"And they all got brown hair," Red Flannel added. "Just strange, is what it is." There were nods of agreement all around.

"Who's the lady? I've seen her around, but haven't been introduced."

The elder statesman responded. "Name's Maggie Duncan. Came here from overseas about five years ago."

"Naw, it was six years ago." The one with the burned nose corrected.

"The hell it was. She showed up the spring before the weevil blight. That was five years ago." Murmurs of agreement from the other two convinced Burned Nose to surrender and concentrate on his coffee. "Anyways, some of these boys came with her, others showed up later. Why you so interested?"

"Those two in the lead gave my car a push last night. We didn't get acquainted."

Burned Nose scoffed. "Hard to believe those fellas would help anyone."

"The lady told them to," I offered. That prompted a round of knowing looks and nods.

"That makes sense. Those boys would light themselves on fire if she said so."

"She's got a presence," the elder chipped in. "Don't rightly know what it is, exactly, but she's got that quality that makes you want to follow. had a sarjint in the war like that."

Down the street, the Cowbirds entered a drugstore on the corner. "Why are they in and out of the shops all day? More money than sense?" The fellas exchanged looks, but said they didn't know. I didn't press, I was just starting to make nice, no point in making enemies instead. My observations told me the guys spent most of the days going in and out, sometimes buying, but usually not. My breakfast arrived. I tucked in, hoping the sugar would help me connect the dots. Only one car followed me last night, out of five. Which means the others had business at the house. Which was as suspicious to me, as my presence had been to them. I knew what I'd been up to - nosing around - but what was their game? A more direct visit to that home might be in order, but I wanted to learn more about the land it stood on.

I paid my bill, actually introduced myself to the fellas, and got to learn their names. Burned Nose was Jeb, Flannel was Bill, the old man was Samuel, and Red Cap was Tip. Nice guys, at least when the coffee's flowing.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Burn Notice 4.17 - Out of the Fire

Plot: Marv's dead, Brennen has the list, Jesse very badly wants to kill Brennen. So Mike sends him off to talk to his old agency, and lie about what Marv was up to, so they stay out of the way. Jesse does not love this plan, especially since it means Marv's family can't know the truth. Maddy ultimately takes care of that with an anonymous phone call.

In the meantime, Mike's got problems. Brennen wants Mike to kill the people on the list, and make Brennen lots of cash. If Mike doesn't comply, Brennen also has Mike's interview with Marv, which he will send to Vaughn. And just to make sure Mike doesn't pull anything, Brennen's hired Dead Larry to watch over him.

While Larry and Mike learn the identity of their first deadee - one Albert Machado - by breaking into a courthouse, Sam and Fi try to track Brennan with his phone. Except he has some doohickus that makes this impossible. Upside, only a man named Alfred could have hooked him up with it, and after some prodding from Fi (following a surprise visit through a skylight), he reveals he installed a safe for Brennen as well. Great! Bad news, it has a biometric lock, so you ain't getting in without Brennen.

Good thing Larry's there after all. See Brennen's management style needs a little work, and while he's busy not giving Michael time to make plans, he's ignoring the ones Larry makes. Like, reverting to the original plan to kill Machado (Michael had convinced Brennen to go with kidnapping instead), or getting Michael to tell what he's got planned. Oh, and killing Brennen. Which means Vaughn's gonna get that conversation, which means Mike has to go to war with Larry at his side, right? Well, Mike thought about it, and he'd rather fight alongside his friends and Larry can go straight to jail.

The Players: Tyler Brennen (Very Interested in Michael), Larry (Michael's Biggest Fan/Spy with Nine Lives), Albert Machado (Dirty IMF Official/Part of the Organization that Burned Michael)

Quote of the Episode: Brennen - '$122,654.37. That's how much I've spent in the last year keeping tabs on my favorite burned spy.' Michael - 'Thanks?'

Does Fiona blow anything up? She blasts the wall the safe was set in so they can steal it.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 1 (41 overall)

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (9 overall). He had a little scuffle with Mike, but it was a ploy, and nothing but shoving, anyway.

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 2 (5 overall).

Other: Mike used no alias, but Larry was briefly Tom Nickerson.

I assume Jesse was being rhetorical when he said he would get Brennen to tell how he made Marv flip. Marv admitted Brennen threatened him and his family right before he was shot.

I question Michael leaving Larry for the police. No, Larry doesn't want to die in a hail of gunfire, but you'd need a lot of cops - say, two dozen - before I'd peg Larry as the underdog.

Even when he lets Larry drive his car, Mike still won't wear a seat belt.

I like that Maddy is less convinced of the magic healing powers of the truth than Jesse. There's been a lot of ugliness in her life that it wouldn't help anyone to have aired. At the same time, she sees it means a lot to Jesse, so regardless of her misgivings, she helps out. Because maybe he's right, and it will bring some comfort to Marv's family.

Michael's angry look, the one Larry was so happy to see, is ridiculous. He looks more pouty than anything else.

I like how, after Larry says he'd kill for a bone saw, there's a beat where Mike looks at him. With Larry, it always pays to confirm whether he's serious or not.

I'm disappointed the Super Villain Team-Up didn't last longer. Not surprised, I mean, Larry wasn't going to leave Brennen alive if he managed his double cross, and I doubt Brennen would have spared Larry when the time came. I wonder if Brennen's mistake wasn't getting too invested in Michael. The advantage he's always had is that his battles with Westen weren't personal. Mike was a potentially useful asset, or he was an obstacle, but nothing critical either way. Brennen could have just taken the list, hired Larry to do the killing, and left it at that. Worst case scenario, if Mike gets wind of it that Larry's around, use the debriefing to keep him at bay. But once he specifically decided Michael would carry out the killings, he had to start concentrating on not letting Michael pull a fast one on him. And while Brennen may believe in compartmentalization, he failed to put someone in charge of watching Larry, while Brennen was busy watching Michael.

Sorry to see Brennen go. I loved the smarmy attitude Jay Karnes brought to that role. He even sent Nate a Christmas card! I would love to see Nate's reaction to getting that in the mail.

Now it's time to prepare for the Wrath of Vaughn. As far as it goes, I'd be more concerned about a woman scorned, or Montezuma's Revenge, but that's me.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Red Fox - Anthony Hyde

'I had disappeared. The car had disappeared. For one night at least, I could enjoy the greatest freedom - or horror - conceivable in a totalitarian country: I had no official identity.'

You can tell The Red Fox is a product of the 1980s. It's very concerned with the Soviet Union. With its crumbling status, the forces struggling within it, whether its for power, for some racial theory, for nationalistic pride, whatever. That doesn't step to the forefront until the last quarter of the book, but it exists throughout.

Robert Thorne's a writer, formerly a journalist, called to Toronto by his one-time fiance, May Brightman. Her father's gone missing, and she thinks Thorne can use his contacts to help find him. Then the man turns up dead in Detroit, an apparent suicide. But by then, Thorne's already on the trail of something. May was adopted, but things about the adoption don't fit, people have been reading his mail, looking for something. The trail leads to Russia, and into the past, naturally. May's, and Thorne's.

The book gains momentum slowly. The first quarter of it was not exactly a page-turner. It's right around then that Mr. Brightman's body is found, and things pick up a bit. That might seem strange, considering he's dead, and apparently killed himself, but it forces everyone else to alter their plans. Leads have to be pursued more aggressively. One issue I had with the book, other than the slow start, was the seemingly large number of coincidences. Thorne seems to stumble into several situation where he just happens to be in the right place at the right time to see someone. He observes a hunting camp from an opposite hill for several days, then decides to try watching from his car on the road, and following them. And it's only after he starts in with that, he's led to another trail to pick up. I know those sorts of things aren't uncommon in these stories, but Hyde leaned on it too much.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Dash Through The Solicits

Three things relevant to me in the latest batch of solicitations:

- New Atomic Robo mini-series! Savage Sword of Doctor Dinosaur! I wonder what makes the sword savage? I'm sure the good doctor will tell us. It's probably crystals.

This is the best news, though I am curious to see if Dr. D holds up as well over a multi-issue story. He's very good as a single issue antagonist, but will his act wear thin over 5 issues? Hopefully not.

- X-Men's already running late. That took less time than I expected. To be fair, I don't know why issue 3 wasn't solicited, though I suspect Copiel, but it's not a good sign it's falling behind already. {Edit: Tip o' the cap to Anonymous, who informs me the delay is due to a family emergency for either Wood or Copiel. The fact there's an emergency is bad news, but strictly from a comics perspective, the delay is a little heartening. I can take it as a sign Marvel is serious about this creative team working on this book, and they're willing to wait to make that happen. That has to be a strong sign of support, assuming I'm not misreading the situation completely.}

- Fearless Defenders #5. The more I've thought about, the more the first issue bothers me. Not because there was something awful about it, just the way it made no impression on me. The writing wasn't bad, but it wasn't anything spectacular, either. Same for the art. I'm left wondering if I should dump it or not. I was hoping to read #2, see if it swayed me, but I don't have it yet. Decisions, decisions.

Oh what the heck, one more.

- Dial H #13. This isn't anything about the solicitation itself, merely the fact it exists. I've assumed this book was on borrowed time from the start, so each month it continues to ship is a pleasant surprise. Especially as DC seems to be swinging the cancellation axe more frequently as the relaunch progresses.

I wonder what Mieville makes of all this creative upheaval at DC, as someone who hasn't spent much time in the comics industry? Does he find it all terribly unprofessional, or are there similar horror stories in the sci-fi publishing world?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Black Widowers - Isaac Asimov

I'll have to ask my dad whether he bought this with me in mind (because it's Asimov), or for himself (because it's a series of mysteries). Sci-fi isn't really dad's bag, so it's possible the name didn't even register with him. Never can tell how much he's paying attention, given my tendency to ramble.

In the foreword, Asimov says he loved mysteries, and wanted to try writing some that weren't the least bit related to science fiction. Several of the ones included here were originally published in the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, but he's included a few that weren't, made a few changes in response to reader corrections, and gone with his original titles, which were sometimes changed by the magazine's editors.

Every story involves a group of friends having a monthly get together at a restaurant. They call themselves the Black Widowers, I guess because no wives are allowed (Asimov apparently took this idea from a story about a similar group in Hollywood in the postwar period). It's the six of them, and their waiter, Henry, with one of them serving as host each month, and bringing a guest. Normally, the six set about questioning the guest, with questions such as 'How do you justify your existence?' which would rather set my teeth on edge, but I suppose the host warns his guest ahead of time. What happens here, though, is that a guest has a problem, and as he lays it out, the six attempt to solve it.

Out of the dozen or so, I was able to solve about 4 of them. Some almost immediately, some a half-page before the answer. What made it a worthwhile read was that he stuck to a consistent cast, and had certain bits carry over from one story to the next. He did note he removed some of that for the magazine, since a reader might have missed a prior issue, but collected in one volume, there's no worry. It lends a sense of continuity, and allows him to build the characters up more than any one of the fairly short stories would allow by itself.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spellbound

My dad loaned me a mess of books and movies over the weekend, so I guess we'll be making our way through that for the immediate future. Possibly also the intermediate future.

So, Spellbound. He must have bought this recently, hadn't even been unwrapped yet. Lucky me. I went in expecting that Constance (Ingrid Bergman) would struggle to prove that "Edwardes"/J.B. (Gregory Peck) was not who he said he was, that he didn't evee know who he was, and that he might do anything to maintain that secret. Instead, his amnesia was revealed in the first half-hour, and Constance helps him to recover his memory, and elude the police in the meantime.

Constance herself has it pretty rough. At the start of the film, she's chided for being an ice queen, too detached and clinical to really help her patients. Granted, this is coming from another doctor who's interested in her, so the accuracy of the statement is questionable, but that doesn't make it less annoying. Then, once she develops an attraction for "Edwardes", the doctors all start kidding her about blushing when she hears his name, or being too emotional. She gets it coming or going. The movie does slide dangerously close to that territory of the weepy female character, who sobs and asks a male character to fix things a few times, but for a lot of the time, Constance is in the driver's seat. She chooses to find Edwardes, to keep treating him, even when he gets loud or abrasive. She won't let him turn himself in, she prods him when he needs it, practically carries him at times when the strain gets to be too much. And she's the one who saves him in the end, with her mind, and what I'd suspect is the same detached certainty she was being criticized for in the beginning. Which is why I like Berman more here than in say, Casablanca, were I felt like she was just tugged back and forth between Rick and Victor.

Peck, for his part, carries an intensity that's a little frightening, which makes the viewer a little more doubtful about him than Constance is. Usually in movies, characters don't look directly at the camera, they look to one side or the other. That's what all the other characters do in this film. Peck has several scenes where he's staring directly at you as he speaks, typically in a frustrated voice that carries a hint of anger beneath it. Since you aren't certain what exactly he's angry about, it's pretty unnerving. Especially because Constance isn't looking directly at the camera, it creates a sense she's not seeing this like we are, which makes you worry she's missing something critical.

It wouldn't be a Hitchcock film if he didn't do try something with the camera. In this case, he likes to put it in a fixed location where a character is, and leave it there while everyone else moves  around it. He does it a couple of times, each time with a potential murder weapon in the foreground. It's that thing he likes to do with suspense, the bomb you know is under the table that might go off at any second. The camera swivels so that the other character is always in the shot, but the weapon is always there, too. You can't ignore the threat, and it leaves you dreading the moment something in the foreground changes. A hammer being cocked, a step being taken, something you're sure is coming.

There's also a dream sequence J.B. has that incorporates designs from Salvador Dali into it. When I actually watched it, I thought it looked silly. People falling off roofs, guys with some sort of cloth stretched across their face, walls of eyes. The more I think on it, though, the more I like it. Nowadays, you figure something like that would be done with CGI, probably look incredibly slick. The fact it's done with real sets and props makes it more solid, which makes it more strange. The guy with no face is all the weirder because I know that is a real guy, he does have a face, it's just hidden. Someone actually made the misshapen wheel he dropped after he stepped out from behind the chimney. It's a physical thing, which makes a noticeable sound when it's dropped. The man on skis pitching off the roof looks so silly and awkward, it's more like how I think a dream should go. The farther away I get from my first viewing, the more effective that dream is at sticking in my brain. It's impressive.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Ink-Stained Trail - Chapter 3

The sun finally sauntered its way below the horizon. I waited a while longer, for the last of the daylight to scram before climbing into my old jalopy. It started with a cough and a rattle, like me after a long discussion with a bottle of Scotch. We chugged down to Main Street and hung a left, heading towards the new homes to the southwest.

In about a minute, we were out of town and into the fields. Feels damn unnatural at first glance, all this open space. Then you notice how it's all fenced off with barbed wire. They say the wire keeps livestock in, but it tries pretty hard to keep people out. Maybe not so different from back on the coast, where the blocks are split up by the families, and the lines are maintained with guns and knives.

The air was thick that night. I had the window down, but it didn't help much. My hand felt like I'd wrapped it in a wet towel. I tried to ignore the unpleasant, clammy feeling and concentrate on finding the right road. All these gravel roads look alike, but I got where I was going eventually.

I stopped on a rise, pulled off to the side and got out. From here you see could see miles in any direction, so I had a good view of these new houses. A half-dozen or so. Nice, if you like two-story wood frames with a big porch. The boys in the diner weren't kidding about isolation. A fella could get his daily exercise just walking next door for a cup of arsenic. The Polo Grounds could fit in some of these yards. Seemed like a real waste of space to me. Most of the houses were dark, but there was one place with lights on.  Two of them, one in front of each of the windows overlooking the porch. I slid back into my car, released the brake, and coasted downhill, coming to a stop at the edge of their driveway.

I approached the house through the grass, not wanting to announce my presence with the crunch of gravel.  I could have approached them directly, but I wasn't sure what I was looking for yet, and wasn't sure what to say. I moved closer, eyes open for a dog. Folks out here love dogs, but not this family. Lucky me. I peered in through a window. Not much to it. A happy couple and their two kids eating dinner. Typical domestic bliss at first glance, except nobody was talking. The adults kept glancing at a clock up on the wall. It could be they wanted to shuttle the kids off to bed so they could fool around, but it was a different kind of nervous energy.

I circled the house, trying to look into other rooms, but each one was either dark, or the curtains were drawn. There was a basement around back, but the door was locked from the inside. Completing the circuit, I paused by the porch and looked up at the sky, only half-noticing all the stars. This hadn't revealed anything so far, and I wasn't sure of my next step. Knock on the door? They were nervous, maybe I could bluff answers out of 'em. It had worked in the past, though I usually had a better idea what I was after. Then I heard engines, and caught movement inside the house out of the corner of my eye. The family rose, and the kids were sent upstairs. After they were gone, the lady vanished into the back of the house, then returned a moment later.

It might be wise to move my car. I ran back down the driveway, the sound of the engines getting closer. As quiet as it was out here, they could still be a way off. I could see headlights on the ridge, or was that my imagination?, so I tried to speed up, even as it felt like the air gelled around me. I lurched into my car, turned the key. Nothing. I tried again. Nothing. Peachy. By now they were cresting the ridge. I decided to roll with it the best I could. I stepped back out and into the middle of the road, waving my jacket. The procession of cars, six in total, came to a stop. A man emerged from the passenger side of the lead car. As he stepped in front of the headlights, I saw it was the fella with the bad dye job from this afternoon. I put on my best cheerful idiot face.

"Could you give me a hand? She sputtered out on me at the top of the hill, and this was as far as she'd coast. I think with a push I could get her movin' again.'

Dye Job eyed me like a bug he debating whether or not to step on, a sour look on his face. " There was no one in the house to ask?" I put on a look of confused surprise, like it never occurred to me. His frown deepened.

A woman's voice drifted out from the back of the lead car. "Sean, the man asked for help. Why don't you and Michael give him that push?" There was warmth to the voice, a familiarity that made the order sound more like a request you'd be happy to grant. The firm line under the warmth, though, made it clear it was an order.

"Sean's" frown deepened even further for a moment. If it got any worse, his face might fall off. Still, he barked out, "Michael!" and another guy emerged from the 2nd car. Bit younger than Sean, about the same height, about half as wide in the shoulders. Brown hair looked genuine.

They stepped behind my car and look at me expectantly. I got in, they started her rolling, and I whispered, "Now'd be a good time to start, honey."

Give her credit, when you ask nicely, my car's real responsive. The engine caught, and we sputtered away. I remembered to wave to them like a dope as I left. If I had doubts about whether I fooled them, it didn't take long to receive an answer. The headlights of one of the cars, but only one, appeared in my mirrors. I drove around a bit, to see if I could shake him without being too obvious. Problem is, I don't know the roads around here well enough to drive like a complete idiot without risking getting stuck. I gave up eventually and went back to the boarding house, though I tried my best to stretch and breathe deep when I got out, like someone out for a nighttime drive. The headlights stopped a block down before making a right and heading east.

I stayed up the next several hours, watching the street through my window. Nothing went past but a couple of dogs that might have been coyotes.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Burn Notice 4.16 - Dead or Alive

Plot: Michael's decided to turn the flash drive with the list of people who burned him over to the government. So, no bloody swath of vengeance then. They opt to give it to Marv, though he'll only agree if Mike goes on the record, while being polygraphed. Mike agrees to it, maybe just to get Marv to shut up.

Meanwhile, Sam has a buddy in trouble (for the 3rd time this season, I believe). Kevin is a cop who's gone missing. He's also suspected of killing some drug dealers and stealing their coke. Sam promised Kevin's wife Claire he'd find her, and for once, Michael doesn't complain about being asked to help. Sam's rather determined, so he goes outside the law a bit to track down a two-bit loser named Ted Kevin had been talking with. Turns out Ted was working with Kevin's partner, who is the real killer and drug stealer, and they killed Kevin. Which means all that's left is to convince Pete to bring the drugs out, so he gets busted, and Kevin's name is clear. Mike poses as a distributor who used Ted to approach Pete, then killed him so it could just be him and Pete. Certainly impressed Pete, but maybe scared him too much. They attempt to nudge Pete, by suggesting Kevin's still alive out there, working to clear his name, but that only convinces Pete to try and kill Mike. except, because that fails, it gives Mike the perfect excuse to lean on Pete until he finally brings the drugs out and gets busted. So that ended well. As well as it could, but Kevin was already dead by the time they got involved.

That's where the good news ends. Mike and Jesse hand the list off to Marv, who is acting very nervous all of a sudden. Perhaps it has something to do with the silencers on the Homeland Security guys' guns. Or perhaps it was just because they were threatening to kill him and his family. Because they're working for Brennan, and now he has the list.

The Players: Marv (Jesse's Old Handler), Claire (The Client), Ted (Drug Dealing Scumbag), Tyler Brennan (Part-Time Spy/Full-Time Sociopath)

Quote of the Episode: Marv - 'Oh please. I've seen your file. Where there's that much smoke, there's usually a flame or two.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? Nope. She borrows cop shoes from Madeline, and states she'll kill Mike if he bails on her the way he did last time, but that's it.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 2 (39 overall). At one point he turned down a mojito, and I thought this would be a Sam doesn't drink at all episode, but no.

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (9 overall). He even held a non-dirty cop at gunpoint and got away with it.

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 1 (3 overall).

Other: Michael's Ray Gant.

I don't see why Mike has so much trouble understanding Fi. See, she wants Michael to no longer be burned so he has a choice of whether to be a spy or not, and then she wants him to turn it down. He doesn't understand, as he puts it, 'You want me to have the choice, but you want me to choose to turn it down?' I've not been in a relationship nearly as serious as his and Fi's, and I still understand the idea of sacrifice and compromise for people important to you. How is this such a difficult concept for a guy who routinely risks his life helping people?

Do schoolchildren pay enough attention to the news to know one of their classmates has a dad accused of being a dirty cop? I have a hard time believing that. Unless their parents are yapping about it. Maybe.

I like the interrogation of Ted in the shipping container. How Sam's face is in shadow once Ted starts talking. Not subtle, but Sam rarely gets to play the heavy. Even Maddy gets to play scary more often than him. How when Ted says "the body", they show Michael's reaction first. Which is to glance over at Sam. It's a mixture of concern for Sam, and concern about what Sam might do to Ted.

I'm disappointed Michael didn't tell Marv that he's kept his mother in the loop (sort of). I'd love for Marv to try interrogating her. He wouldn't be able to sit down for weeks. You know, if he hadn't been killed shortly thereafter.

In some ways, the end of the episode works even better when you know what's coming. Maybe because it makes me appreciate Marv a little more, the fact he's about to die only because he was someone in the government they knew and felt they could trust (who would actually talk to Michael). Mostly, I was giddy about seeing Brennan again. I could not wait for the SUV to drive by, for the thug to shoot out Jesse's tires, and the to see Brennan lean forward and smile at Mike as he drives by. Michael's quiet "Brennan" says everything. Dread, anger, defeat, concern. He's the guy who keeps squaring off with Michael and getting away, and not because Mike has some misplaced compassion for him, ala Dead Larry. He's the one who came closest to killing someone close to Mike, and it meant nothing to him. Just business. Even now, he's taking the list because it's an opportunity for him. Sure, screwing over Michael is a nice perk, but he wouldn't do it if he couldn't profit from it.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Your Annual Notification

Just letting you know the 2013 Cape Girardeau Comic Con is only a little over a month away. It's April 19th through the 21st.

I'm hoping to make it again this year, but it might be tricky. I have to work that weekend, which normally wouldn't be a huge issue. I could get finished by late morning, be at the con by 2 at the latest. I'd at least be able to have some fun on Saturday.

Unfortunately, the con also falls in the middle of turkey season, and typically I'm not allowed to go into the field at sunrise as I'd prefer during that time. Not out of concern for me. They don't want complaints about someone's hunting being disrupted. We'll see how it goes.

But irate hunters are probably not an issue for you, so no using that excuse! Go to the convention! You have five weeks to get ready, how much time do you need?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bring The Bad Guy Down With His Own Scheme

Had a thought typing yesterday's post. Hawkeye couldn't shoot the Orb of Necromancy because of his firm belief that Avengers don't kill. Which is a largely emotional response.There are likely legal reasons, but for Hawkeye, I think it's simply a belief he has, that the Avengers stand for something, and that they don't kill, no matter the situation. Which is a pretty inflexible and possibly unreasonable approach.

The techno virus is described as removing emotion and replacing it with cool logic, asserting an objective reality. Removing emotion from the equation, in other words. Might have been a good ending to have the virus change Hawkeye enough that his emotions are gone.

At which point he releases the arrow and destroys the Orb. because if he's truly committed to stopping the Singularity, then he has to destroy the Orb. Objectively, there is no other way to achieve that goal, and it's only his human emotions that held him back.

If Remender wanted it established Father would absolutely control people through the virus, say the decision was made in the split-second between emotion deserting Clint, and Father being able to command him. If you want that left ambiguous, just make it a flaw in Father's plan. That he never considered that someone might oppose him, but be hamstrung by morals his virus would remove, thus freeing them to stop him.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

In A Collective, Some Are More Collected Than Others

I noticed last week that every threat Remender threw out during his Secret Avengers stint involved some sort of unified mind. Father and his goal of a technological singularity. The Abyss and its desire to spread its nothingness over the world through others. That relative of Mar-Vell's who used his son's mental powers to make an entire world passively await the Phoenix' arrival*.

The last example would have led to the collective suicide of a world, against the general populace's will. The Abyss would do much the same to Earth, given the yammering its followers did about embracing the void. You could take that as simply an absence of individuality or free will, not unlike Earth after Darkseid got going in Final Crisis. Either way, it's not a good scene for the people.

Father and his plan are a slightly different matter. His claim is he'll elevate humanity, beyond sickness, frailty, blinding emotions, even death. They have physical bodies now, but in the long run, the plan seems to be to have some cloud of their collective consciousness moving about in space, unencumbered by physical limitations.

That sounds like a pretty good deal, provided you don't mind your mind linked to every other person in the world**. There's cause for suspicion, that Father, like Abyss, like Kree guy, will be in an elevated status. Certainly, the Avengers seem to think that's happening. Braddock attributes Pym and Jim Hammond's behavior to Father, and there's certainly credibility to it in Pym's case. I'm less sure about Hammond; he could have let his desire to not feel so different overwhelm any concerns he might have. Or he was being controlled.

But for Braddock, there's no doubt Father isn't on the up-and-up, hardly surprising when you consider what they'd encountered recently. In general, collective minds are presented as hostile, usually because they want everyone to be in the collective, willing or not, it's just a clever way for one person to accumulate absolute power, or just because it's different from us.

Was Father going to use it as a means to control everyone, or would it have been the great advancement he promised? Did the Avengers have good reason to be suspicious, or did they let past experiences Father wasn't responsible for color their judgment? In one interpretation, you could say Remender's point is collective consciousness doesn't work because someone is always going to try and assert themselves on another, and this can lead to extinction. The other interpretation is more about how humans tend to see patterns and correlations where there are none, and make poor decisions because of them.

Remender might not be driving at either of those, though. It might be about the importance of individuality, or how it's the struggle to achieve that makes accomplishing something worthwhile***. Hawkeye's archery and status with the Avengers are impressive because of how hard he worked to reach that level, not simply that he did.  Ultimately, it's individuals that decide things. Jim Hammond decides it's wrong to force this change on humans, and destroys the Orb. There's nothing a collective can do about it. And they're all brought low by it, save Parvez, who never seemed affected to begin with. When the Avengers arrive to rescue him, he isn't hostile, he's glad to see the Black Widow. For whatever reason, the true Descendant was never part of the Singularity at all. Which may be how he's the true success of Father's plan, by carrying their genes on to future generations, gradually integrating them into humanity in a less intrusive manner. 

* You could argue the threat in that arc was the Phoenix, but the team wasn't going to stop the Phoenix, or die against it, because they were just in an AvX tie-in. Anything like that would be saved for the main series. For the purposes of that story, certainly, the Phoenix was a MacGuffin. It might have been one for all of AvX. Something to get the team near that particular Kree world, so they could run afoul of Mar-Vell and his cousin.

** To me, that sounds like hell, and yeah, that's strange coming from a guy who's been mouthing off on the blog to whoever reads it for seven years, but I choose what I share and don't share, just as you choose whether to share or not in the comments, or on your own blog. The idea that people are privy to your thoughts constantly, and you to theirs, or that you can't even tell where the line between them lies is not appealing. If you're someone who enjoys their solitude, where do you go?

***  I don't know if I'd agree with that, but there is some research that suggests people appreciate something more if they worked to get it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Firearms, Swords, And Booze, It'll Be A Wild Trip

Probably the last video game review for a few weeks. I'm not close on anything else.

Wet benefits from my rotating game approach. If I focused solely on playing it until I beat it, it would have gotten old. Play it once a week, or once every two weeks, that problem's avoided. The game boils down to: Enter room. Kill every person in the room who isn't you with firearms and various acrobatic moves. Use acrobatics to reach next room. Repeat.

There is some variation. Sometimes you get a sequence where you shoot while riding on top of a moving car, and have to hit buttons at certain moments to leap successfully to a different car. There's also some of that timed button-hitting for killing mini-bosses (who are usually toting mini-guns)*. There's a level where Rubi's falling from the wreckage of a plane, and you have to maneuver her freefall through the wreckage and catch up with a section that has parachutes (I died a lot on that one).

And there's Rage Mode. The gameplay for Rage Mode isn't any different from the standard play, but the presentation is. The screen is practically all red (see above), except for the enemies, who are black-and-white outlines. When you kill them, they disintegrate, or fall to pieces. Rubi calms down eventually - after you've killed enough people. All in all, the controls are smooth and easy. The game is all about killing people in flashy ways, so they tried to encourage it. There are always tables to leap off, bars to swing from, wide open floor space to slide across, it's very accommodating.

The story isn't much. Rubi takes a job to find and return a young man to his father, only to be double-crossed on completion. Then it turns out her employer wasn't who she thought he was (honestly, he was voiced by Malcolm McDowell, how could you trust him?), and it turns into a revenge thing. The ending was a bit of an anticlimax. I was expecting him to have more security, but I guess he figured he only needed his really pale, possibly supernatural bodyguard lady. I would like to know what happened to Ze Kollektor. Bastard stabbed me in the gut, and I never got a rematch.

The game is presented as a sort of grindhouse flick, I guess. When Rubi's low on health, the screen starts to get these black splotches, and when she dies the film the game is on tears or reaches the end of its spool. There are these promos movie theaters would use interspersed through the game. You know, go to the lobby and get snacks, one about the magic of VistaVision, stuff like that. I wasn't aware that was a feature of the game, and I don't have any particular history with grindhouse films, so it's just something I have to sit through.

I'd imagine Wet isn't a bad representation, though. There's lots of violence, much of it bloody. A lot of the action is ridiculous, from the plane wreckage level, to all the 'jumping about and monkey guns' as the bad guy put it. Lots of profanity - Rubi can hardly go a sentence without at least one curse - and some classic "hard person" dialogue. I was fond of her 'You're just a sad, pathetic little man, and I should pity you. But I don't.' Then she leaves that guy to die crippled in a fire.

Most of the characters are pretty thin. Not much in the way of character or motivation. Rubi's a little better. She curses, she likes swords and guns, she likes to drink, she'll take most any job, but she doesn't appreciate clients not being honest with her. She lives in an old boneyard, a dumping ground for old planes and such, even though she hates planes. Or maybe because she hates planes, and these can't get off the ground any longer. It's strange to say, since much of the movie is Rubi on the vengeance trail, but she's very businesslike.  Outside of drinking, I can't say what her interests are outside work. She's singularly focused on what she's paid to do, and she lets her guns, swords, and fists do the talking there. She doesn't banter, doesn't use sex appeal to make guys act like drooling idiots. She makes demands, and they either comply, or they die. Straightforward.

I don't expect Wet to make it into my top 5 for he 360, but it ought to be pretty cheap by now, so if you're in the mood for a little mindless violence, it wouldn't be a bad pickup.

* The button-pressing in Wet is more forgiving than in Resident Evil 4, at least at Normal difficulty. Even so, these kinds of things annoy me because I have to focus on the part of the screen where the next command is gonna appear. Otherwise, I get distracted. I do want to watch the cool fight scene that I'm nominally helping along.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

It Cuts Like A Knife Because It Is

I picked Velvet Assassin because it looked like hardcore third-person stealth game, along the lines of Thief: Deadly Shadows. Except I'd be busy killing Nazis rather than stealing from people too stupid to guard their possessions better. The game certainly delivers on the Nazi killin', and it mostly delivers on the stealth.

Violette Summers is a British agent, and we guide her through several missions, some about disabling chemical weapons plants, others about highlighting submarine locations, but mostly about killing particularly nasty officials in the SS. It gradually becomes apparent Violette is remembering these missions in dreams, and the story eventually reaches her present circumstance, which is dire.

Most of each level involves sneaking from one shadow to another, figuring out the guards' patterns, and picking them off one at a time. If you can sneak up behind them, you're prompted to hit A, and automatic kill. Usually it involves her knife, but it can vary depending on circumstances. If they're in a room full of toxic fumes, she'll remove his gas mask and let him asphyxiate. If you're not having much success with that, there are other, less subtle ways to kill people. Explosive barrels, pools of fuel on the floor, pools of water (and convenient switches for turning on the electricity). If you can sneak up on someone, but want to take out multiple people at once, you can always try triggering their grenade. You can also just start shooting, but Violette, like Garrett, isn't well suited for being shot multiple times, so I'd avoid it if possible (which it isn't always).

The Nazis are like most guards in these sorts of games, even after they know you're there, they get bored eventually and go back to their patrols. Their peripheral vision is limited, but they can surprise you with their awareness occasionally. Depending on how patient you are, this could lead to a lot of hesitation, as you try to figure out whether that guard over there will see you if you sneak out to stab the guy in front of you. There's probably a way to handle most situations silently, depending on how willing you are to watch, and how lucky you are sneaking around to get in the proper position.  What's key is, the game plays fair with that. There's an outline of Violette in the lower left corner that acts as her health gauge. If it has a blue outline, you're safely concealed unless a Nazi gets really close to you. As long as you keep that in mind, you're fine. So that's nice. I love the stealth parts of the game (mostly).

It's not all stealth, though. Near the end of several levels, you find a locker with some larger gun. A shotgun, maybe even a machine gun. At which point stealth goes out the window. The guards finally realize you're there, and you have to blast your way out. Shooting is smooth (though reloading is a time consuming pain in the ass), and you can fire from your "sneak" crouch, so you can use cover, but it's a sharp shift in gameplay. I don't understand it myself, and it wasn't what I'd signed on for.

You see games sometimes where there's an element (driving, hand-to-hand combat, puzzles) shoehorned in. As though the designers didn't really want it, but felt they had to include it, so the controls don't feel natural and it doesn't mesh with the rest of the game. The combat in Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, for one example. That isn't the case here, possibly since shooting people is an option available even during the stealth parts, thanks to the magic of silencers.

I said I love most of the stealth parts, but there's the disguise option. In some levels, Violette finds a woman's SS uniform. There are closets and outhouses you can hide in, and you can use them to change into or out of the uniform. It's useful in theory if there happens to be a sniper or a lack of cover. The disguise can be seen through, though. This is is represented by a white bar across the bottom of the screen, which shrinks as Nazis get closer. Problem: The designers based it strictly off proximity, with no regard for the surroundings. I've nearly had my cover blown by a guard whose view of me was completely obscured by a truck, and also by a guard on the level below me in a cell block. Apparently he used x-ray vision to look through the metal walkway and determine Violette's undergarments were made with Egyptian cotton, which means she's obviously a British spy. Or something. In a most ridiculous circumstance, my cover was blown by a guard in a different room entirely. He had to walk down a hall, through a door, turn right, and walk through another door to reach the room I was in. Yet somehow he had known to investigate there.

The Saboteur has the disguise option, but they exercise a little common sense. If you're running through the grounds of a museum and a troop of Nazis drives by, they don't get suspicious if there's a 15-foot high wall between you. Why? Because they can't see you! The whole disguise thing is the worst part of the game. The parts where it turns into a shooter aren't my favorite, but the game gives you fair warning when it's going to happen. The disguises are still part of the stealth gameplay, but they're not done properly. The good news is, it only comes up as an option in 3 of the 12 missions.

Violette has something of a character arc over the course of the game. The farther into the game you get, the more personally disturbed and disgusted she gets with the Nazis' actions. She doesn't like them prior to that, but she's largely impersonal about her missions. She might take some pleasure in killing a particular officer, but it's largely about completing the mission. As things progress, the horror sinks in, and she gets a little more vengeful about it. Several of the missions have secret objectives and in one level, it is to kill every single Nazi in the level.

But there are repercussions for these actions and by the end, I'm not sure she isn't questioning whether she's accomplished anything whatsoever. Yeah, she's killed a lot of Nazis, but what good is it? It's always after those guys have killed lots of people. Now innocent people are dying horribly as reprisals for her actions. Killing the Nazis doesn't bring those people back. It's hard to tell how much of that really sank in with her, she seemed to have a nervous breakdown at the end*. That might not even be the point, as the end tells us she didn't properly finish the job on one of her targets (I knew that petrol tank in his hotel room was fishy).

* A side effect of all the morphine? Morphine is sort of Violette's version of Mario's Invincibility Star. Use a vial of it and the rest of the world becomes a off-white, slow-motion scene with flower petals blowing about, until it wears off, or you kill somebody.

Monday, March 11, 2013

One Pair Overstocks Hair Products, The Other Pouches And Belts

As I was typing Saturday's post, and yammering on about how Angel's expression suggests someone suppressing the urge to smile, I realized it was reminding me of something. Namely, my favorite scene from Cable/Deadpool.

Issue 41, as Cable's island sinks because of something from Mike Carey's X-Men run I didn't read. Sabretooth's loose, and using Irene as a shield to keep Domino at bay. Cable and 'Pool haven't been speaking recently, but Wade parachutes in, blasting Creed so Domino can get Irene to safety. They reach the evacuation craft and Cable asks about what happened to Creed. Domino replies simply, 'Wilson.' Cable gets a huge smile on his face and looks back in that direction. 'Really? Just when you think you know everything the future has in store. . .' Something to that effect. I'm working from memory there.

I like that scene for a few reasons. That Cable can actually be surprised, since he spent most of the series up to then playing the "I know everything 'cause I'm from the future!" card. More importantly, that he's pleasantly surprised, because Deadpool came through. I think Deadpool comes through more than people think, but I can't deny he screws up a lot. He has the wrong goals, the wrong motivations, he doesn't think things through, and he lets people down a lot.

He's Spike, in other words. Which makes Cable, Angel. Which isn't too out there. They both seem to aim high, save the world, save the future, slay the seemingly unkillable foe (Apocalypse, Wolfram & Hart). They're reserved, secretive, moody. They both get so wrapped up in their missions, they forget what the point is. That's usually when they screw up, and then they alienate their friends. Angel pushed away his crew more than once, and Cable's wrecked multiple friendships with people (G.W. Bridge, Domino, the X-Force kids), only some of which he was able to fix. Angel lost a kid to another dimension only for him to return much older and crankier; Cable is a kid who vanished into the future and returned older and crankier.

Spike and Deadpool tend to focus on more personal goals: love, respect, revenge, but they're capable of selfless acts. Mostly though, they seize on what looks like the quickest path to get what they want, and it usually ends badly. Wade tried to be registered hero, Cable made him look like such a loser he got fired. He tried to get some work done on his brain, the Black Box/Comcast/Gareb turned him into a sleeper agent meant to kill Cable. Spike tried to get a soul so he'd be a better person , it let the First use him as a killing tool. They both hurt the people they care about. Spike with Dru and Buffy, Wade with Blind Al, Weasel, Siryn, probably some others.

The relationship between the two aren't quite the same, since Cable didn't have a hand in creating Deadpool. Unless someone's retconned Cable into helping start Weapon X. But it seems like William became Spike at least partially in response to Angelus (the other part begin to distance himself from who he was as a human). Angelus basically lorded his strength, experience, and the opportunity to shag Dru and Darla over William, daring him to do something about it. Spike kills a Slayer. When Angelus returned in Season 2, Spike teamed up with the Slayer at least in part to screw Angelus over (and get Dru back, and save the world). Throughout his attempted courtship of Buffy and helping the Scoobies, before and after the soul, he was constantly being measured against Angel. That had to be frustrating and tedious, to not be measured on his own successes or failures, but judged by someone else's as well. I think the two of them are different enough they'll never be chums, but at the same time, they lived closely together for 20 years. There are things they can discuss with each other that no one else would really understand.

Cable pushed, and poked, and prodded at Wade, trying to get him to do the right thing (as Cable defined it), through threats, hiring him for jobs on the sly, and in his most questionable move, hooking Wade's subconscious into the Infonet so he could be bombarded with visual representations of his innermost doubts nonstop (that nearly resulted in a bloodbath). Given that Wade did show up to help, and then continued to try and do the right thing after Cable's apparent death, it seems like it worked. And I think Wade encouraged Cale to loosen up some. There was never the level of hatred between them the two vampires have, because most of Wade's attacks on Cable were just business, and Cable spent enough time as a gun-for-hire to understand that. They're still annoying, still dangerous, but there's not as much heat there, except when Cable's attempts to play God screw Wade over somehow. Even so, there's a strong level of trust, especially considering Wade's unpredictable tendencies. Deadpool's tried hard to be better, partially for himself, partially for others, and Cable (depending on the writer) relies on and cares about Wade more heavily than he might have ever anticipated.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Burn Notice 4.15 - Brotherly Love

Plot: It might raise some eyebrows with Vaughn if Mike traveled to the Dominican Republic for the list auction, so that falls to Sam and Jesse. Their problem is that Justin Walsh is keeping the list constantly on the go until the day of the auction. It's gonna take Sam's skills at making friends, and Jesse's skills at deciphering a lot of information to sort this out.

In the meantime, Mike has to pick up Nate at the airport. The little brother's come to town to find a stolen car for a couple of old friends, Jeff and Billy. It's a little more than a car, though. The car was loaded with drugs belonging to Hector Rivera, and he and his lieutenant Caleb want those drugs. Michael can't let Nate handle it alone, so he's in, but he's gonna need info. Tony Soto's (2.11, "Hot Spot") the man to talk to, but Tony knows "Johnny", not Michael, so put that old role back on.

Tony points Johnny in the direction of Buckwild (hey, I didn't name him), but Caleb (who Rivera insisted accompany Johnny) shoots Buckwild before they can learn what happened to the car. Little suspicious, that. It gets worse when Caleb says he found the car, in a property Billy and Jeff happen to own. Fortunately, Fi and Nate got there first. Now comes the part where they have to use the car to incriminate Caleb before Hector loses patience and kills both the Taylors (and Johnny). Things all work out in the end, except for Caleb, and Nate heads west with some money for his incoming baby. Mike's headed south to help acquire the list, which goes remarkably smoothly. Now it's a matter of what to do with it.

The Players: Justin Walsh (Auctioneer/Covert Intelligence Thief), Jeff & Billy Taylor (Nate's Clients), Hector Rivera (Car Enthusiast/Drug Kingpin), Caleb (Michael's Cheerleader), Buckwild ('Former' Car Thief)

Quote of the Episode: Johnny - 'If I had known it was a party, I would have brought my floaties.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? She sets off a lot of little smoke bombs to cover Mike's escape with the list.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 3 (37 overall)

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (9 overall)

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (2 overall). Johnny's still not much of a laugher.

Other: Yes, he reuses the Johnny identity this week. Good times.

They burned Buckwild's chop shop down, per Tony's request. But the other 2 stolen cars were there and they presumably belonged to someone. Probably Rivera, but maybe not. Are they just writing them off as lost causes?

That hat Sam wears does not go with his shirt. Then again, it's a Gilligan hat and speaking from experience, those don't really go with anything.

Why was Nate wearing a cross when Mike picked him up at the airport? Has he found religion? More critically, is this what it's like to have a younger sibling? Being constantly held responsible for their bad decisions? I understand Maddy's concerned with Nate's looming fatherhood, and Mike's the trained operative, but she spends the entire episode acting like this is Michael's mess. Would she prefer he stay out of it? Maybe sucker punch Nate and put his unconscious form on a plane back to Vegas? No? Then stop giving Michael shit about it.

The bit where she whips out her camera to get a picture of the two of them all dressed up was cute.

Is it possible to dismantle an entire car, then put it back together in working condition in less than 8 hours? With no more than 3 people? Seems improbable.

This isn't a bad episode. I enjoy the return of Johnny, though I might have enjoyed seeing more of Sam and Jesse working together. A lot of their stuff was relegated to montages, and I don't think they ever really discussed Jesse's getting burned the way Jesse did with both Mike and Fi. It is hard to stay mad at Sam, though. The only issue I have is that Nate feels a little shoehorned in. Like they realized they had barely mentioned him this season, and maybe they ought to check in on him. I suppose the fact he's going to be a dad could be contrasting with Maddy's admission last week that she doesn't expect Mike and Fi to be having kids any time soon. Nate's growing up, concentrating on being a parent and all the annoying responsibilities that entails. Mike is running around with a gun negotiating with drug dealers and stealing lists of ruthless government employees.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Angel Has More Than Two Expressions! Maybe.

I mentioned last Saturday I loved the expression Rebekah Isaacs gave Angel as Spike announced his presence. So why not look at it?

As best we can from this blurry photograph, anyway. Sorry about that. It looked better on the camera screen.

The upper and lower halves of his face tell different stories, don't they? The lower half is a slight frown, which might not even be notable. This is Angel we're talking about. Slightly down-in-the-mouth is his default setting. The upper half, though, has the raised eyebrow as he looks to his left.

Maybe it's different for other folks, but for me, a raised eyebrow doesn't usually accompany anger. A smug expression? Absolutely. A cocky grin? Hell yes. Admittedly, a cocky grin is more Spike's style than Angel's, but we know these two have been changing themselves in response to each other for decades, as part of some macho posturing, alpha male thing.

I look at the eyebrow, and I think Angel's smiling a little, maybe in spite of himself, but he is. Of course he isn't, but that only makes me believe he's suppressing it. He can't be surprised that Spike would announce himself with a jab at Angel. It's Spike. Poking fun at Angel is what he does. Maybe he's relieved. He's so close to being able to resurrect Giles, to set things right, and it's the moments when Angel's almost got what he wants when things tend to go south. Sure enough, there's a full-fledged demon between him and his goal, and he has to rely on a lot of brassed off Slayers. What's more, they Slayers are pissed at Faith, which means she's pissed at him, which means he's on the verge of losing the one person who's had his back throughout.

But here's Spike, leaning against the doorframe, the swagger, the cigarette, the little swipe at his grandsire. Even with everything else going wrong, Spike's the same as he always was. Has to reassuring after the shock Angel received when he ran into Drusilla.

I wonder if Spike knows about that. He has contacts. Could he have heard? I wouldn't be surprised if he was keeping tabs on Dru. Trying to make sure she didn't cause enough damage to land in the Slayers' crosshairs, for everyone's sake.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Arrows Can't Solve Every Problem

Ann Nocenti started her stint (not really long enough to be a "run") on Green Arrow with Ollie standing on a rooftop. He's lamenting all the horrible tedious paperwork that comes with owning a company, and contemplates ditching it to do superheroing full-time. In her final issue, he saves a boy from an exploding building, while worrying about the future the kid will have in the juvenile criminal justice system.

It highlights just how much he managed to lose over the course of her run. This should be the sort of excitement he was looking for, but he barely even notices what he's doing. It's autopilot. Defeat bad guy, ensure bad guy doesn't die, save civilians, repeat. Even when he gets what should be good news, that a woman he kept from committing suicide previously has decided she does want to keep living, and credits him for saving her, he barely notices.

At the same time, that company he found so tedious is lost to him. It may not have reached his conscious mind, but on some level, he realizes now how much he could do with it. Too little, too late. It's one of those differences between him and Batman. Batman was smart enough to realize there are ways he can use Wayne Enterprises to improve Gotham that don't involve raiding its R&D labs for stuff he can slap a Bat-logo on. In the past continuities, Ollie would occasionally realize that, but he'd also distance himself from it, out of some form of guilt over it. And sometimes, he'd have it stolen right out from under him. Some things never change.

Ollie can't find the proper balance. There are ways Green Arrow can be useful. The cops wouldn't have been able to talk Pike out of blowing himself up, and they probably couldn't have saved him from the explosion. Green Arrow's involvement probably saved Hawkman, though you're welcome to question if that's a good thing. He saved Pauline when it's doubtful anyone else could have. So there are good reasons for him to be Green Arrow, and there's no reason he shouldn't enjoy it. He just needed to recognize the value he had in his company, beyond its potential as a toy chest.

A superhero trying to find balance isn't new. Batman struggles with trust issues, Spidey tries to juggle saving lives with work and relationships. They don't always succeed, but they make the attempt. But not Ollie. He's all or nothing. He's a lazy goofball throwing parties on an oil rig, until he decides to take out a cyborg criminal and his gang with a bow. Which blows up in his face. He's willing to follow a pretty face anywhere, until he thinks she betrayed him (never mind she had two identical sisters), at which point, hit the bricks, kid. Then he swears off relationships entirely. He doesn't want his company until he doesn't have it. He's desperate to keep his blood out of Lear's hands, but runs around Seattle for days with a head wound bleeding all over. There's no moderation to him.

Is that why he's going constantly? He gets sucked into the Hawkman thing on the way back from China, and clearly didn't waste any time after that getting on Harrow's bad side. He seems intent on keeping going until he can't any longer. Mainly though, it keeps him from confronting what a wreck he's made of his life. Company gone, personal fortune nearly gone, alienating his friends, at least some of the citizenry questioning whether he's helping them at all. If he keeps moving, he doesn't have to face it, doesn't have to decide what to do about it. Except that doesn't work. There are always going to be moments where things are quiet, and now even in the busy times, his mind wanders. Just once, he needs to plan something, but that's a moderate path. He isn't doing nothing, but he's also not doing something, and he can't have that.

His last lines are, 'Somebody once said fate is what happens despite the best laid plans. One arrow at a time.' Does that explain it? Ollie's given up any idea of preparing, because something's already predetermined the outcome. He's just going to go in shooting arrows, and whatever happens, happens. Seems like a neat way to absolve himself of responsibility, and maybe that's what he wants, is to not feel guilt over his failures. Even as he keeps a wall of pictures of people whose lives he wrecked, as he put it. Claim it's fate, but still blame himself? Ollie doesn't know whether he's coming or going, just that he's moving.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Can You See Your Reflection In The Edge Of A Mirror?

I had two major issues with Mirror's Edge. One, I liked the look of the cut scenes, more than the look of the game portions. I know it's intentional, the city being remade into some dull and mind-numbing, but the overabundance of white made me worry I was about to go snowblind. The cut scenes tended towards solid colors, too, but there was more use of shadows, more richness to the colors. The city is a lot more interesting as a series of slightly abstract silhouettes than a wall of white. This wasn't ultimately a deal breaker for playing, it just meant I was a little disappointed when the cut scenes ended and the art style shifted back.

The second issue was the decision to go with first-person perspective. The game wants me to feel immersed in the world, like it's me jumping across rooftops rather than Faith. I get that, I appreciate the intent. My problem is that so much of the game relies on timing, making certain you don't jump too soon (and fall short), but also don't jump too late (at which point you don't jump at all because you fell off the edge of a building).

If I were doing all this myself - setting aside the fact I'd have broken my neck five minutes into the tutorial - I would be conscious of where my feet where in relation to the edge without looking. Because they're my feet, you see. They're connected to me, they send me signals. I'm not connected to Faith's feet like that, so I found myself craning the camera down so I could tell when to jump. That makes it rather hard to see where I'm going, and the controls can be a bit touchy. I had a few occasions where I thought I was lined up properly to leap to the next rooftop, only to find I must have gotten slightly diagonal and watched Faith plummet into the void.

I think a third-person perspective would have made for a smoother gameplay experience. It's not as though there have been plenty of games that did that successfully. The mid-2000s Prince of Persia games, for example. Maybe they wanted to make certain it was distinct from those.

With Mirror's Edge, the experience of playing it reminds me of the PS2 Shinobi game, albeit with considerably less swordplay. When things are going well, it's thrilling, it's fun, I felt like I had things figured out. Then I'd mis-time a jump, or end up off-target, and things would grind to a screeching halt. OK, try again. Nope, jumped too far this time. Maybe try wall-running, then jumping. Nope, the landing kills you. On and on.

There's a fair amount of combat in the game. Sometimes you can just outrun the Blues, but other times they'd shoot you to pieces while waiting for a door to open. The right trigger handles almost every attack in Faith's arsenal single-handedly. What enables you to mix it up is you can combine it with her various acrobatics. Run towards them and jump to get them two sneakers to the face. Or baseball slide and kick them in the groin. If their gun turns red, hit Y and you can go for a disarm. then you've got yourself a gun, if you want one. At a certain point, I realized there was an Achievement for making it through the game without shooting anyone, so I worked to avoid that. I managed it, which made me happy, even if I died a dozen times more than I would have if I'd just taken the damn gun and shot the guys. As far as I can see, shooting's pretty easy, too. Point and click. Most of the Blues are slow enough it shouldn't be much trouble keeping the reticule on them.

There is one issue for the combat, at least for me. Like I said, right trigger is attack. The right bumper, set in front of it, makes Faith do a 180. The left bumper is the jump button, among other functions. I can't count the times I would charge towards a Blue, jump, then hit the frickin' right bumper instead of the trigger, earning Faith a pistol whipping to the back of the head. Couldn't they have keyed the 180 to clicking the right joystick, since that already controls where she's looking?

Something a little random. I enjoyed the music for the last level a lot. It had a quick beat, an undercurrent of determination, but the instruments they used - I visualized it as tapping a crystal - made it mellow, as well. The net result was I didn't feel pressured to find the way out immediately. I could take my time, think it through, look around, as opposed to running about randomly trying to climb things.

My ultimate assessment of Mirror's Edge is it had several elements that meant I should have really enjoyed it, but there were details in the controls or the gameplay that kept tripping it up.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

There'll Be More Descendants, Eventually

I've had mixed feelings about Rick Remender's work on Secret Avengers. One thing he did that I liked was that he put the Orb of Necromancy in the hands of 3 Avengers unlikely to destroy it. Destroying the Orb would stop Father's plan, but also kill all the Descendants. Hawkeye, Beast, and Captain Britain don't want to do that. They all have friends and acquaintances that are artificial intelligences, they even had a teammate for one at the time (two actually, but they only knew about one).

The problem is, they don't have the time to devise some other countermeasure against the technovirus mist sweeping the globe. Even if they don't want to use it, they may have to at least threaten to use it. Then there's the question of what happens if Father calls their bluff. As it turned out, Jim Hammond ended up making the choice for them, and I can't decide whether I'm happy about that or not. I'm definitely pleased Hawkeye isn't responsible for killing an entire race*.

At the same time, it's a bit of a cop out, isn't it? Clint was presented with a choice: Kill the Descendants, or allow Father to forcibly alter every human on the planet. Based on what he believes being an Avenger is about (tenure under Bendis excepted), he can't destroy it. Which means humanity may be lost, depending on how you'd define it. Then Hammond swoops in and does the job. Clint doesn't have to make the decision. Good for him, maybe.

There's at least a question of whether the pleas people were making to Clint were genuine or false. People being converted were claiming to be happier this way, but there's at least a hint that Father may have been pulling the strings. We saw that in the first arc, when Father told Emperor Doombot to sit down, and he did so without a peep. Is that sheer force of personality, or as their creator, can he exert a certain amount of control over them. I couldn't help but notice Pym was trying to destroy his teammates until Beast shorted out something in him with an EMP. At which point, Pym went back to fighting the Descendants. And something sure turned Jim Hammond around for a bit, to the point he was leading Father's forces.

I'd be more inclined to take them at face value if Father didn't seem so two-faced about everything. The way he talks about bringing his children together to plan, then making it clear he'll talk, they'll listen. The way he encourages squabbling amongst the different groups with a kind word here, or a cutting remark there. Setting the O'Grady LMD loose amongst the Avengers to be his mole, then complaining about how you can't trust LMDs. Well not when you've made them to be deceitful, no.

He whipped the Descendants into a frenzy with talk of how the Avengers would destroy them the way he claimed they destroyed mutants. His claim is the Avengers will never recognize them as true life, and so they have to make everyone like them. If the Avengers were as bad as all that, there wouldn't have been any debate whatsoever about using the Orb. They'd have done it the way you unplug a toaster. Does seeing this indecisiveness cause Father to reconsider? Sure, the U.N. shot down his claim to ownership of Bargalia, but if the Avengers backed them, maybe things would be different**. But no, he finds it amusing. he mocks them for their fear, attributing it to their being scared of change, when really, none of them want to commit genocide.

It's hard for me to believe things would have turned out well if Father had gotten his way. The idea humanity would become some galactic consciousness sounds like the sort of thing that convinces all the alien powers it's time to eliminate Earthlings once and for all. But I've never found the idea of hive mind consciousness to be appealing. I want my thoughts to be my thoughts, and your thoughts to be your thoughts, and that's it.

Parvez did survive, and Jim Hammond is still kicking around, so the Descendants are gone yet. Father may get his wish in time. It'll take generations, but Parvez' descendants may help merge organic with technological in a way. I don't think it'll be what he was shooting for, but at the same time, it'll also hopefully be a lot less painful, because it'll be more gradual.

* Since they're able to breed with humans and produce children such as Parvez, they can't be a separate species. Though I'm sure there would be plenty of people in the Marvel Universe who would ignore that as readily as they do for mutants.

** Or maybe not. I don't know what the current U.N. attitude towards the Avengers is.

Monday, March 04, 2013

JCVD

I wouldn't agree with the blurb on the box, which suggests Jean Claude Van Damme deserves an Oscar for this movie, but JCVD did cause me to reevaluate a few things. van Damme plays himself, 47 years old, still appearing in terrible movies. But he knows they're terrible, and he wants to do better films, but this is what he's offered and well, he's losing a court battle for custody of his daughter and he needs cash for legal bills. He's returns to Belgium, to get away from it all, recharge a little. He stops at a bank (which is also a post office, which is perhaps common in Belgium) to make a cash transfer, it's being robbed, he's now a hostage, but everyone thinks he might be the one robbing the place. Things go downhill from there.

Maybe the key for van Damme is to do movies that aren't in English (I watched the theatrical version, with English subtitles). It isn't his first language, right? Maybe that makes it harder to emote, when what he's saying doesn't come naturally. Parts of this film are in English, the parts in the U.S., but most of it is subtitled because he's in Belgium. Maybe it's easier for him to give a good performance because he's playing himself, letting all his frustrations with his life out.

I make jokes about how I hope Richard Harris was in The Deadly Trackers because he had a coke habit that needed financing, because it's terrible. But that assumes he doesn't realize that, that he isn't doing the best he can with the material presented. He might be phoning it in, or he might honestly have believed it was a great film, but I shouldn't necessarily assume that. I think we tend to assume actors live off in their own little worlds, where they see things completely differently from the rest of us. A lot of things add to that perception. The glowing interviews they give when hyping a film, where they all talk about how excited they were about making it, and then it turns out to be garbage. Well hell, they knew that, but do we really expect them to say that ahead of time? Apparently. Sometimes other things force our hands. I imagine most of us have taken jobs we didn't really want at one point because we needed the money. You put on a happy face for the people that matter, and concentrate on getting through it in the hopes there'll be something better.

That's van Damme in this film. He wants to shoot in a studio, not some factory in Bulgaria. He wants a real director, a cinematographer, a decent script, not something that's a piece of junk because they're committing two-thirds of the budget to his salary. But he can't seem to get that; maybe he's traveled too far down the other road to get back. That bit, where he argues with his agent about it is an excellent scene, the way his agent is offscreen throughout, and van Damme is sitting on a couch, slumped against the wall. He looks beaten, exhausted, but he's determined to do better films. Then he has to swallow his pride and call his agent back.

There are a lot of good scenes in this film. The one with his daughter during the custody hearing. How, while he's inside the bank, the other hostages are always looking at him, their eyes saying, "Well, Mr Hot Shot Action Star? Do something! Save us!" van Damme's usually slouched a little, so it's like the weight of their stares is crushing him. The conversation with his cab driver. The hell of being a movie star is you can't ever have a bad day, or even be tired. All it takes is one short response or cross word, and suddenly you're getting berated for being a jerk, for being too big for your fans, and just who do you think you are, anyway? All you wanted was to catch a cat nap, and now you're an asshole.

What keeps it from feeling like an actor lashing out at fans is that van Damme is pretty open about his failings. He made bad films, perhaps with good intentions, but they weren't good. He messed with drugs, he got away from the things that were important to him. Those are his mistakes, and he sees them, but there's a question of what he can do about them at this point. Can't go back and erase them, he can only go forward and try to do better.

I'm curious to see him in other films now. Real ones, not the Bulgarian factory ones he's sick of. Not necessarily as a leading man, but he showed me something that suggests he could be a good supporting actor, in the right roles.