Thursday, June 28, 2012

Clash of the Titans & Wrath of the Titans

Both Clash of the Titans and Wrath of the Titans are part of two evil master plans of movie entertainment these days: 1) Endless, endless remakes. 2) The ongoing violation of ancient mythologies. These movies are essentially the Transformers of the sword-and-sandals mythical world, in terms of ridiculously over-the-top massive battles against titanic monsters. CGI artists compete with each other to see who can regurgitate the most absurd shit you've ever seen in a movie. Hell, in Clash, we even get a montage of our heroes casually riding gigantic scorpions through vast volcanic wastelands.

Pseudo-Interesting Concept meets Action Movie Clusterf***

I got a little bit interested at the start of Clash of the Titans. Just a little. It seemed to promise an interesting plot where humans fight against Greek gods in an effort to realize their own free will. I allowed myself a small flicker of hope that this could turn into an intriguing look at how the Greek gods are essentially humans themselves, just on a grander scale. After all, the Greek gods were always motivated by petty jealousies, a thirst for glory, and all sorts of drives, just like us. I looked forward to some scene at the end where humans faced gods and realized that they weren't so different after all. Another thing I thought about is that there's a reason the Greek gods are no longer worshiped; they are too similar to us, and humanity seems to enjoy worshiping figures who are so idealized as to be beyond comprehension. There could've been some interesting play on how the Greek gods of old were slowly replaced by the hope and inner spirituality of the new...

But why hope? Hah! Fact of the matter is that these two movies like to bring up interesting possibilities and then ignore them. Not to mention stomp over accuracy to original Greek myths. I've always found it quite puzzling how not a single movie is true to the Greek mythological tales. It isn't like they are lacking in exotic adventures or empty of gripping excitement. Despite this, movie-makers seem to jump at the possibility of twisting the mythology in one weird way or another.

One WTF moment after another... (AKA – Nitpick Central)

Why is the kraken, a creature of Norse myth, in the first movie? Why are the djinn, from Arabic myth? Okay, let me stop myself. Let's just forget about silly things like this and just focus on the continuity the movie created for us...

So apparently the kraken was powerful enough to take on the Titans by itself. It's like a big doggy for the gods. Isn't it a huge degree of overkill to send it against cities of humans completely unable to defend themselves from it? And, if there was any degree of actual danger (remember: they are operating from the perspective that Perseus is not a factor), why would you risk your ONE weapon capable of keeping the Titans contained? Their idiocy is the only reason the second movie's threat of Kronos' (the head Titan) release is real. Why not just let Hades kill the relevant important people? He didn't seem to have much trouble on his own. And, lastly, why the hell does Zeus send monsters after the humans while simultaneously giving swords and goodies to Perseus so he can fight said monsters? Does he have multiple personality disorder or something?

On the bright side, the second movie, Wrath of the Titans, has less WTF moments. But there is the huge whopper of why in the hell would Hades and Ares think releasing Kronos is a good idea? This is the father of the gods, the head Titan, infamous for eating his own children. The idea that he would spare any of them is so patently absurd that Zeus spends most of his time in captivity laughing at how stupid they are, making him a great audience stand-in.

Although, that reminds me, why are the gods so damned useless? Zeus gets captured by gargoyle monkeys who appear to take him and Poseidon down with hurled globs of flaming diarrhea. For that matter, where are all the rest of the gods in Wrath of the Titans? In Clash, we see the entire pantheon lording over the world. Also, it seems like Zeus did some extremely poor planning in turning to Perseus literally the day before shit started going bad.

Aaagh! Enough nitpicking!

Awesome or Failsauce?

Meticulous analysis aside, the real question is: are these movies entertaining and gripping? I'd say yes to the entertaining part and only occasionally to the gripping part. It's hard not to get a little bit of glee out of guys with godlike powers smacking the shit out of monsters and each other. In this, the second movie takes the win because it just feels like the stakes are through the roof. We're talking an armageddon of sorts, for humans and gods alike, and so it's easier to get into what's going on, not to mention the fact that the battles are more intense.

As for gripping, there was only one part of each movie which really held my attention. In the first movie, it was the moment we first see Hades, as he slays the soldiers who destroyed the Statue of Zeus. In the second, it was Perseus' nightmare of Kronos annihilating whole armies that were completely unable to stop him. It was moments like these that had me actually appreciating the scope and difference between humans and godlike entities. It's just too bad that such moments were far and few between.


All in all, silly as they are, I suppose I can say that I did enjoy these movies. They could be so much better if only they gave them to a rational writer and a director more attuned to character moments and less CGI-entranced. But, still, it's a treat of sorts to see the various actors cheese it up and a number of minor characters are memorable enough to prevent one's eyes from glazing over. I'm not sure if that actually counts as a recommendation, per se, but it is what it is.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Harper's Island (TV 2009)

By DionysusPsyche
"Seven years ago, John Wakefield killed six people. Now it's happening again."

Abby Mills returns to her hometown on Harper's Island for her best friend's wedding. While she is excited to reunite with her friends, it is her first time returning to the island in 7 years. She has been reticent to go back and almost didn't attend the wedding. She has bad memories of her hometown. This is because her father sent her away after her mother was murdered, and she hasn't returned.

Until now. Although it seems that everyone has moved on, Abby can't escape the feeling that it's not safe. At first, she just thinks she's being paranoid. However, her suspicions are confirmed when the wedding party and guests start disappearing...and then are discovered dead. 

The players

Girl Next Door
Abby Mills (Elaine Cassidy), the heroine of the series and main character, is reminiscent of Neve Campbell's character in Scream. She's kick ass and doesn't need other people to try and save her (although they do come to her rescue from time to time). She used to date one of the locals, and her best friend is the groom. She has a strained relationship with her father, and is shy in the beginning. No one has died since she left the island.

The Best Friend and the Blushing Bride
Henry Dunn (Christopher Gorham) is the groom. He and his fianceĆ©, Trish Wellington (Katie Cassidy), are the perfect couple. They met on the island while Henry worked for Trish's father on his boat. Henry is outgoing, friendly, and thrilled to be spending the rest of his life with the woman of his dreams. He had hoped that the island would be the perfect reunion, backdrop, and reminder of where their love first blossomed. Trish is sweet, adorable, and idealistic. She and Henry have both lost family members that they were close to, something that brought them even closer together.

The Ex-Boyfriend
Jimmy Mance (C.J. Thomason) is Abby's ex-boyfriend from high school. He's a local fisherman in the town who still has unresolved feelings for Abby. When she returns to town, he hopes to see her as much as possible and talk to her since she never had the chance to say goodbye.

The bride and groom's families
Mr. Thomas Wellington (Richard Burgi), Trish's dad, comes from a line of wealth and is an investor. He disapproves of his daughter marrying below their class. He's there with Trish's stepmom (Claudette Mink), Trish's sister (Gina Holden), and her husband and daughter (David Lewis, and Cassandra Sawtell). I found the daughter creepy the entire time, although she'd probably be a sweet little girl in any other series.

Henry's uncle is in a lot of ways the opposite of Mr. Wellington. Uncle Marty approves of their love, and is something between a dad and a big brother. Henry's brother, JD, is the outcast of their family. A troubled individual, he suffers from depression and not unlike Abby, does not enjoy being on the island or around other people.

Location and Theme
Filmed in the scenic Vancouver B.C., the coast sets a beautiful and haunting picture to our story. The cabins, the forest area, and even the cliff's edge set an eerie tinge. The lighting and photography are things I noticed more about this show than others, although not for the show's lack of content.

It would be obvious to say that the past and unresolved issues are themes in the show, but nonetheless, it's important. When Abby packs up and leaves behind her home, she cannot forget or move on despite the distance. She's trapped mindfully on Harper's Island even though she's not really there. Her perception is that everyone has moved on and forgotten, the exception being one of the locals who like Abby is reminded of death and points out that at least Abby doesn't have to live there anymore. For our main character, this is both scary and sad--a reminder of who she could have become and how these series of tragedies ruined this person's life. The folks Abby relates to most are the ones who've also experienced loss of a similar vein such as J.D, Henry, and Jimmy.

While it seems like a lot of characters to handle, they're distinguishable (and die off frequently enough). The characters are extremely interesting. While one can and could stereotype each character as something, they each provide different viewpoints, strengths during crisis, and they all react in unique ways to the surmounting number of deaths that happen in close proximity to them. It's a large cast, but each actor brings something new to the table and is both untrustworthy and dependable from episode to episode although the psychology behind why each person would make a decent killer varies greatly. Everyone has motive, with the exception of two characters who I didn't find to be guilty throughout.

This mini-series is a thriller/horror television show; thirteen episodes of edge-of-your-seat excitement. The show kills up to five characters per episode. Every episode there was a different character that seemed to obviously fit the bill of killer. Even the most innocent of characters would do or say something to make themselves suspect. The characters are one or the other: they're either already quite close or they're enemies. The series is adept at building suspense, making cases for and against each character as to whom the killer may be, and both building alliances as well as tearing friendships down as the show continues. The show has a very "coming of age" feel that could be seen on 90210 or The O.C. with the added bonus of taking what's good about those shows and mixing in mystery and excitement. People also don't die in expected ways, which is interesting to see. Each episode is based on sounds of death which is creepy.

Every time I thought I knew who the killer was, I changed my mind. I like to rewatch old shows, but of all the shows I like to rewatch, I don't typically like to rewatch thrillers. You can only watch a show with shock value so often. I do own this show, and every once in awhile, I rewatch it just for fun. Even though I know what's going to happen. Despite it being a one-time watching sort of thriller, I still see things in it that lead me to the final conclusion about who the killer is.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Gone With the Wind [1939] Part 2

by DionysusPsyche

Warning! The follow-up post contains spoilers...

You'll never be anything but misery to any man...Heaven help the man who really loves you.” --Rhett Butler about Scarlett
When Ashley rebukes her and then the war comes, Scarlett feels true panic for the first time. She is striken between the idea that Ashley will be going away to war and that he'll be marrying another. So when she's asked, she agrees to marry a man out of spite—and also, because the war is coming. During the war, she goes to stay with her sister-in-law only to become a nurse to the Civil War's dying/seriously injured/crazy men. Then Atlanta burns while her sister-in-law gives birth to her first born. Her mom dies, and her father goes crazy.

By the time Scarlett owes money on Tara, she's been widowed once. She's taking care of what's left of her family by putting them to work on the farm while she takes care of Melanie and her nephew. She even kills a Yankee with a pistol for breaking and entering her home. On the verge of losing her house, her father dies. In order to not lose the only thing her father ever cared about, she decides to use the only bargaining chip she has and goes to Rhett Butler in clothes she made out of the drapes in their house. Rhett sees through her plan almost instantly, and although Scarlett offers him the farm or pay back, she's already deceived him.

She marries Frank out of desperation—no one else has money, and without it, everyone will starve. She knows that if Frank marries Sue Ellen, Sue Ellen won't care about what happens to the rest of them, and Scarlett has to look out for herself. She goes against all good judgement by marrying a man promised to another woman, but as Scarlett tells Frank earlier in the film, he should've proposed to Sue Ellen a long time ago. In the book, Scarlett has a child of her own to look out for!

A shrewd business woman, she helps Frank with his business. When she gets attacked, Frank, Ashley, and Rhett run to her side. They create the perfect diversion and alibi—despite it being a controversial one. As it turns out, Ashley's been injured, and Frank is dead, but Rhett plays it cool getting them out of trouble.

Scarlett brings a new meaning to the words heartbreaker and maneater. Although her motives for marrying (except for her first marriage, and come on how many people make unspiteful decisions at 16?) are good ones, she is not kind to men, even the men she loves. As I mentioned earlier though, she is truly interesting and exciting, even her love for an entirely forgettable man.

She's like me, Scarlett. She's part of my blood, and we understand each other.” --Ashley Wilkes to Scarlett about Melanie
Despite Scarlett's occasional and often superficial disgust for Melanie, she is actually closer to Melanie than nearly every other person in the movie. Melanie and Scarlett are closer to sisters than Scarlett is to her blood kin.

After Ashley calls Scarlett out on being mean to Melanie, Scarlett is never openly cruel to Melanie again. Melanie is kind to everyone she meets, and even after being insulted by Scarlett at Twelve Oaks, Melanie defends her when the other women, jealous of Scarlett's advances towards their boyfriends, speak ill of her.

Although Ashley talks of duty and honor, Melanie is the one who walks with that title. She is more Christian towards Scarlett than anyone. Melanie may trust Ashley until the end of the earth, but Melanie recognizes that Scarlett has delivered her baby, moved her away from the fire, taken care of her while she's sick, and taken her under her wing. Of all the people, Melanie's the one who helps her bury the man she shot, while coolly lying to protect everyone else from the travesty.

Even when the whole town talks of Scarlett and Ashley, Rhett makes Scarlett go to the birthday party, because he “won't deprive [Melanie] of an opportunity to publicly order [Scarlett] out of her house.” Melanie even asks Scarlett to help her receive her guests as India didn't go to the party, which leads us to believe that either India didn't have the gull to be present or more likely Melanie told her cousin that she should not come for the rumors she'd been spreading.

In a way, she's a visionary, because Melanie sees the best in everyone—qualities that Scarlett, Ashley, Rhett, and even Belle Watling don't see in themselves. She knows Scarlett loves her even if Scarlett doesn't fully realize it for a long time.

At first glance, I hated Melanie, because I liked Scarlett so much, but over time I've realized that Melanie is just as strong as Scarlett—if not stronger for holding her tongue and being nice—except as Rhett points out Melanie has heart and is a truly sweet person. The only airs that Melanie ever puts on are because she genuinely cares about people, not to impress anyone. I'm brought to tears at the benefit when she gives her only piece of jewelry to the cause.

How could I help loving you? You who have all the passion for life that I lack? But that's not enough to make a successful marriage for two people who are as different as we are.” --Ashley Wilkes to Scarlett
Scarlett confronts Ashley time and time again. She wants what any woman wants—a definitive answer that Ashley loves her and wants to be with her. Somehow over a period of years, Ashley drags out his true feelings and instead yammers on about duty and honor. Even as a little girl, I always wondered how Scarlett could love Ashley. He's passive, with his head in the clouds, his heart never completely in anything he does (the exception being when he's with Melanie). There are inatimate objects with more personality than him. He's kind of like a boring version of Kermit the Frog, except without any excitement or song singing, and Scarlett is way more interesting and attractive than Miss Piggy. Even before the war he seems vaguely depressed and mellow about nothing and everything. His discussion with Melanie on the balcony makes me want to vomit.

This is an excellent film. It has history, romance, adventure, the whole nine yards. Don't watch it directly after a break up, because a lot of depressing moments happen in the film. The film is also tedious at times and quite lengthy, something to keep in mind. I had to shorten my last viewing over several days.

Gone With the Wind [1939] Part 1

by DionsysusPsyche

Written by Margaret Mitchell, this film is an adaptation of the book which showcased in 1939. A top box office seller, the director looked and looked for the perfect herione before turning to his own wife, Vivien Leigh. It's hard to believe that anyone could ever portray Scarlett as perfect as she did. Although she wasn't in many other works, and none as memorable, Vivien Leigh has an energy and disposition that shines through this character.

It is said that the author based her book on her relationship with her husband, and her characterization which is legendary and intricate ties to early notes she had are a “thinly disguised astrological allegory,” down to the title Twelve Oaks which is the plantation Ashley Wilkes lives on.

Although the novel provides luscious back story and descriptions of both the inner worlds of Scarlett and company, I prefer the film. There are great historical references (which usually bothers me when history is mixed in with fiction, but here it doesn't), and both the book and the film are chalk full of some of the greatest and plentiful quotations.

As God as my witness, I will never go hungry again.” --Scarlett O'Hara

I wince when people both completely adore Scarlett and completely despise her. Most people know her as her movie self which deprives them (mostly the naysayers) of the rich, inner life of Scarlett's mind. Yet a more in depth look reveals that Scarlett is one of the first strong, independent female characters. While she has help from men from time to time, Scarlett is a survivor, and she vows that she will prevail.

In the beginning of the book, Scarlett is a sixteen year old who looks and acts like a Southern belle—someone straight out of a beauty pageant. She's young, vibrant, and boy crazy. Like any teenager, she pines for someone who may or may not love her back.
Scarlett at Tara
Scarlett finds out the love of her life is about to marry another woman. The object of her affection, Ashley Wilkes, is bound by tradition to marry his cousin Melanie Hamilton, but her father tells her that he specifically told Ashley's father that Ashley would not marry Scarlett. The typical teenager, Scarlett wants to know why her father is ruining her life, to which Mr. O'Hara echoes a sentiment that will continue throughout the movie, “Because I want my daughter to be happy, and you'd not be happy with the likes of him.” It states in the book but is also clear in the film, that Scarlett, the oldest of three, is clearly Gerald O'Hara's favorite. The moments between them are truly sweet, and Scarlett may have her mother Ellen's good looks and practicality, but she has her father's Irish spirit (except for the horse riding—must skip a generation).

An ongoing topic is compatibility. While opposites may attract, Ashley uses likeness as his reason for marrying Melanie and Rhett uses it as his for loving Scarlett—“bad lots, both of us.” Everyone seems to know better than Scarlett about who and what makes her happy. Her father, Ashley, and Rhett all point to Tara, her plantation, as a literal and metaphorical place of strength for her. It takes her from childhood into adult to realize what she really loves—one of those things being Tara.

Our heroine is surrounded by strong women—her mother, Mammy, and Melanie. Rhett even goes out of his way to earn Mammy's respect. She's raised Scarlett, and Rhett wants to prove he's worthy of Scarlett's love.

With enough courage, you can do without a reputation.” --Rhett Butler

Captain Rhett Butler has to be hands down one of my favorite characters consistently throughout the film. From the moment he appears, he is mysterious and interesting to the moment he exits which is strong and credible. Though the book and the movie stray to convey the age gap between him and Scarlett.

Although he's charming and arrogant, Rhett speaks the truth in the most hilarious fashion. Gone with the Wind is worth watching for him and Scarlett alone, but even if you don't like Scarlett, you're bound to have some affection for Rhett. He's probably the most relatable character in the entire film, and his intentions are good. Even when he does something damaging, he goes back to try to repair it. He cares not about reputation, but he does care about the people he loves and good people at that. Although he's not as apt at Melanie for always seeing the good in others, he very dearly loves Scarlett and wants to spoil her regardless of what it costs him in any sense. He adores his daughter and sees her as a reflection of all the things he loves in Scarlett without any of the nastiness.

Despite his inability to put into words, Rhett likes that Scarlett is firy and can take care of herself. Even when he sees Scarlett out of the city, and turns back, he doesn't understimate her ability to take care of herself—something that sets both her and Belle Watling apart from other women in the film and of that time era.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Did you ever see the movie, The Dark Knight? It was that most popular of Batman movies with the late Heath Ledger as the Joker, an Oscar-winning role that had him serving as a madcap lunatic clown. I think I've told maybe one or two people since seeing it but, watching it the first time disturbed me deeply. It wasn't that the movie was inherently scary; there aren't many moments that are horrifying or gross. But, on a conceptual level, it messed with my head.

The Dark Knight shows us a world based strongly on order. We have the police, the media, civilians... People living their lives. Gotham is based on every urban city we're familiar with. Things make sense and work based on a system of laws. Sure, you can break the law, but you can then predict that the police (or Batman himself) will try to catch you. Your rational actions have consequences that you can predict.

What disturbed me about The Dark Knight was watching that system fall apart and be made moot. It managed to powerfully convince me that, if someone were so inclined on a lunatic level, the system and society that we take for granted is absolutely meaningless. At the heart of it, people are going to look out for themselves and their closest friends and family before all. So, if everyone is pushed to the limit, then everyone is out for themselves. It's the law of the jungle. The crumbling of civilization. Can you imagine how hard it would be to operate in a world where, at any moment, somebody can kick down your door, cripple you, steal all of your valuables, and injure your partner in ways you don't want to think about?

I'm not sure if I've done a good job of explaining what affected me so powerfully when it came to watching The Dark Knight for the first time. But this is relevant because, as I watched Chronicle, I had a similar gut feeling of revulsion and fear. This made the movie quite powerful but, at the same time, it made it genuinely difficult for me to watch. I'm sure this feeling will disappear when/if I watch it a second time, like it did with The Dark Knight. But it is indicative of a really good movie when it manages to get under your skin like Chronicle did for me.

With Great Power...

Chronicle is the story of three high school boys who stumble upon a glowing artifact of unknown power and origin. They investigate, touch it, and laugh at it like high school boys are wont to do. It surges in power, their faces start bleeding, and they barely drag themselves out of there. When they come to, they swiftly realize that they've acquired the power of telekinesis, the ability to move things with their mind. The movie feels like a documentary of them learning how to use and abuse said power, and how it affects their lives in high school and at home. When looking at it from afar, the plot has every similarity with every superhero origin story that we've ever seen. What makes Chronicle unique, however, is that it is realistic.

Even though we like to think differently and even though our favorite stories may state otherwise, the truth of humanity is that, given power, we don't always use it well. We like to think that, when given the opportunity, we would use superpowers much like Spider-man would. Spider-man's motto is that, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Part of growing up is taking characters like that and aspiring to them, but realizing that the world isn't quite as black and white as they make it sound. Everyone, no matter how much awfulness they bring into the world, believes that they are doing good. We all think we are the heroes of our own story and so we rationalize however we may that we are worthy individuals. It takes a lot to tell yourself that your path is wrong, and not everyone is capable of changing, even when what they do can hurt others, physically or emotionally.

Youthful Braggadocio

Chronicle thus looks at how the average high school guys would do if they actually received such powers. No, they don't throw on capes and start fighting crime. Instead, they dick around with it. They play pranks on each other. They revel in the fun of it and, inevitably, they slip and mess up. They're high school kids and, to them, this is just another plaything. They are young, the world is their oyster, and they think they're invincible.

There's the antisocial nerd who hasn't yet figured out how to fit into the 'cool crowd'. There's the guy who cultivates a rebellious sort of personality to hide the fact that he doesn't really know how to talk to girls. And then there's the 'popular kid' who is in all of the clubs, running for school president, and yet hasn't been able to make any truly close friends. There are aspects of us in each of these characters, and the movie does an expert job in making each of these guys three-dimensional and relatable.

This combination of factors deeply unsettled me. I was a high school nut just like these kids and, for better or worse, I could see that this is exactly how I would have handled such a power back then. They don't really try to do bad things with it but, because they're so filled with youthful braggadocio and believe that they are completely in control, you wait for and feel fear for every moment that they use their powers. You just know that things will go wrong at some point. You just aren't sure how. And when they do, there is nobody who can stop things from happening. Their parents are ineffectual. The police are completely powerless. It turns into a situation straight out of Irredeemable (only read if you don't mind spoilers being hinted at). And then you feel as helpless as everyone else.

Dear god. This is what it must feel like to have children. Chronicle is so effective at making you care for the characters that, when you watch them play with their power like it's nothing, at first, you laugh. Then you cringe. Then you start getting really worried about them. And then things start to go wrong. First, just a little mess up. And then things fail spectacularly.


This movie is filmed via the 'found footage' technique, where it is as if the camera is held by one of the characters. Usually this results in an annoying sort of 'shaky cam' but, when done well and when the shaking is minimalized (as it is here), it truly adds to the intimate and intense nature of it. And, because it is filmed this way, you just know that something bad or horrifying will occur at some point. This knowledge adds an additional sense of foreboding that sticks with you until that time where things do start going wrong.

But until then, this movie is a truly touching character exploration of three boys in high school who have problems and joys of their own. That's part of what makes the movie so damn effective. You get to know them, love each of them in turn, and then watch as their brotherhood gets ripped apart. I don't want to spoil things but another thing this movie did well is successfully fool me on which kid was going to 'go rogue'. You just know someone is going to do it for such is the nature of superhero movies, but it definitely wasn't who I expected it to be.

Altogether, Chronicle is well worth seeing and is probably the best superhero movie I've ever seen. I'm a sucker for the dark dramas and this one defies its own genre by treating something as childish as superpowers with an intensely realistic slant. But beware. This is not a happy movie and there are some genuinely disturbing moments in there. You'll connect with the characters and wish the best for them. And then you'll watch as their world is shattered before your eyes.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Written by Joe the Revelator

My expectations going into this film were not high. The Alien franchise (Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, Alien vs. Predator, AvP: Requiem) has been on a steady decline over the years since Ridley Scott's original Alien concept. Prometheus was advertised as a prequel of sorts, to show the origin of the Alien species. I expected a high budget CG thriller packed with screeching, acid-spitting, banana-headed mutations. The result however was much deeper.

It's been mentioned in prior movies that the aliens were "perfect" in their aggressive behavior and defense mechanisms, eluding to a grander design. Thus Prometheus serves as an introduction to the designers; a race of hyper intelligent proto-men called the Engineers, who stand roughly eight feet tall, have translucent white skin and rodent black eyes, and are built like bald wrestlers.

From the opening scene we are led to believe them the creators of life. One Engineer stands on a cliff side by a waterfall; his mothership in the background taking off, abandoning him on the desolate planet. In a ceremonial Sepukku fashion he drinks a mysterious ooze that looks like it came from a Tool music video, and while his body decomposes, falls over the cliff side into the water. We watch his DNA blacken, unzip, recombine, and begin a new chain of events. One man to fill a world with life.

Hand-Vagina Facehugger

A team of scientists find clues to the location of these Engineers by matching paintings and hieroglyphs of giant men pointing toward a star constellation, dug out of caves and tombs from all over the world. Lacking the funds to hire a ship and crew to investigate, they bring their findings to the most trustworthy corporation in the galaxy; Wayland Yutani.

As the team uncovers strange relics left behind on a faraway moon, it becomes evident that H.R. Giger's fantasy designs for the first Alien movie still carry a lot of weight. The ancient caverns are gray, with rounded organic shapes, like ribs and bones. The statues are are vaguely humanoid with strange, unsettling aberrations. And the alien creatures that are spawned from the black ooze resemble fleshy genitalia. Slight similarities to the human form give the aliens an added level of grotesque fascination, which is a decided improvement over leggy women with exoskeletons and fangs (some of Giger's early works depicted Aliens with mammaries and sex organs)

But the visual depth of Prometheus doesn't stop at the visceral, gut-wrenching reaction of seeing a vagina with teeth. Or a Cesarian section being performed on a woman giving birth to a squid. There is symbolism abound in Prometheus, with references to mythology (Prometheus stealing fire. Zeus's head cracking open, giving life to Athena, organ/primordial jars, Pandora's Box) as well as major religious overtones. After all, the question they hope to ask of the life-giving Engineers is; Why?

No Man Needs Nothing

My conclusion is simply this; go see Prometheus. While it is a Rated-R thriller/horror, the level of gore isn't astoundingly disturbing. Yet, as I mentioned, the suggestive form of the creatures and the way they infect their hosts can be cringe-inducing. I also believe it was tastefully done.

I would also like to praise the characters, especially David, if not for their depth than for their interesting quirks, which far surpass any other Alien movie. But anything more than a brief nod would reveal too much about the film. My only complaint about Prometheus seems to be it's convoluted evolutionary chain and how the black ooze functions. My example;


If the black goo melts DNA and recombines it, like primordial ooze, then why the hell does this create an Alien over a few generations of infectious reproduction? If Maggot + Ooze = Vicious Eyeless Anaconda, then why does Human + Ooze = Alien? Is the movie stating that zerglings are the final evolutionary form of man? This may be true in Korea, but I always assumed the rest of mankind would reach a shape resembling the "Grays" from Close Encounters.

Or I may be misunderstanding the black ooze and its function. It could simply be a miracle muck, spawning whatever the hell it wants. Or it could be mysterious plot-moving soup. But if it's simply a device to justify the existence of the aliens, it's a clever one, because it still has me scratching my head.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman (book)

Reviewed by DionysusPsyche

This is the sixth book of Chuck Klosterman's I've read (there are seven), and his second published novel. Klosterman has been on the writing staff of SPIN, The New York Times, and ESPN to name a few.

Klosterman's idea for the book came from research he was doing on his last book Eating the Dinosaur, and he read The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. Being first and foremost a journalist, Klosterman writes some (though not certainly all) of the novel in interview form. Everything is from the viewpoint of Victoria Vick, so we never get a full look at the mind of Y_____, although personally, I am okay with this.

Primary Characters
Victoria Vick is a therapist living in Austin, TX who receives a call from a stranger. From there, her life takes a turn for the bizarre as she takes him on as a patient. The patient is referred to by Vick as Y_______, a subject who has the technology at his fingertips to be invisible to those around him. Believing him to be an extremely troubled individual, Vick agrees to counsel him as she would any other person in need of help. Yet, Y_____'s professional relationship with Vick defies the bounds of normal patient/therapist relationships from the beginning and continues into an even odder world.

Y______'s character is self assured, highly intelligent, and cunning. And how could he not be considering he has a superhero like quality that is admired at the very least by every teenage male. He speaks of his invisibility process and the work he does while he's invisible. This project seems entirely self-fueled, although Y_____ claims he used to work for the government. He speaks of his own subjects which he observes through his cloaking device. Given he is in a safe zone for speech, he judges people aloud to his therapist. Stubborn and insistent, he can be sardonic and abusive towards his therapist, verbally. He takes advantage of the fact that he can be unseen by those around him. Although, that part of the book does work to our protagonist's advantage, Y____'s questionable moral ground for a project could easily be regarded as the worst form of human observation.

The weird thing about Vick is that she does see through his odd tales, his choice of how he spends his days, his type of selection, and the manner in which he tells his stories. Victoria Vick, in nearly every way, is the opposite of Y_____. She's a woman who cares about the emotions of her patients, and she is insecure both in her career and personal life. The type of personality that would agree to such terms would be in keeping with her character. This was actually the one thing I liked least about the novel was Vick's inability to properly perform her duties as a therapist. At every turn she is in violation of certain aspects of psychology which would make her effective in changing Y_____'s behavior. However, despite my personal issues with aspects of the story, it does stay in keeping with the characters most of the time.

The author has always been a fan of the question "what is reality?" This is a specifically enticing query when covering ground of science fiction and psychological thrillers. I wouldn't call this the latter--it does skim the idea of psychology but it's more sociological than anything. Culturally, we as a society are always asking ourselves about the pros and cons of technology. Should we be "getting back to nature?" Are computers and cell phones a hindrance or a leg up?

In that way the book was disappointing. About 3/4 of the way through the book, Y_____ describes a situation that takes place. That chunk of story reels one in, and the imagination runs wild wondering where the book could go, ways it could become interesting, and take on a new dimension. It didn't go where I hoped it would, yet it didn't leave me angry. I understand that the author didn't want to be predictable, but I was really hoping for a crazier approach (i.e. Ender's Game or Shutter Island) and on that front, I didn't feel like the book delivered.

Y_____'s character also brings up a topic that is important: being alone. How one can feel completely alone in a group of people or completely at ease by oneself. Who is our authentic self and what is the truest form of self? We are most certainly happiest when we are with our closest friends/family unless there is a perforation or a lack of genuineness in those relationships, and Klosterman discusses that as well.

It also touches on the topic of abuse. Whether or not someone is abusing themselves and what rights one has as an outsider to interfere in such matters. Does doing this make these things better or worse? For whom? Y_____ talks about several different subjects he encounters who are taking abuse, one from herself, the other from a friend. Vick herself takes abuse from Y_____ and develops an unnerving fascination on a potentially dangerous person who she, who quite literally sees him better than anyone else, views as not dangerous!

I did finish the book--something I can't say for most books--and although there were lulls from time to time, Klosterman's general style of writing is good about keeping the audience entertained for more than half the time which is more than I can say for most fictional works. He even comments (true to his former publications) about the reason that people enjoy television so much is that it makes them feel involved and invested in the characters. While I didn't feel tied to either character and didn't identify with any of the characters in the book to any substantive point, I did stay in it for curiosity's sake. It's possible that if I wasn't already a fan of Klosterman, I may not have finished, although I didn't finish one of his other works, and found myself beyond bored and quit the book not even halfway through (now having read this, I may try it again). The book has renewed some of my faith in his writing dashed by Eating the Dinosaur although another fan of the author that I know disagrees with me since he enjoyed E. the D. The Visible Man was about average, maybe slightly better than average--as with his other books, I could either skip a chapter as it encompassed one complete essay or was so like others that I didn't feel I'd miss anything. I didn't skip over any parts of this novel though, which may make it the first Klosterman novel I've read all the way through.

The writer's style has changed over time, but I will have to review his other novels before I can say more about it in depth. I will say that Klosterman's branching out in this novel provided some uncharted territory for him, and I am guardedly interested in any future works he has.

The Visible Man does not have the broad appeal of some of Klosterman's other novels, and of his fictional works, I prefer Downtown Owl. However, I did enjoy the book for what I got out of it, and may at some point read it in the future, although it will not be listed on my "highly recommended" works section.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Sometimes it is hard to start writing a review. When it comes to something you love, you really want to have every part of it grip the reader. Part of the fun in writing reviews comes from that desire to hold the audience spellbound, to convey upon them that, “Yes. You should buy/read/watch/play this,”. Not because you are some sort of advertiser or marketer, but because you honestly want others to enjoy and experience what you have, even if their own journeys turn out differently.

I almost didn't write this review. The fact of the matter is that my respect and adoration for Deus Ex: Human Revolution is so immense that I worried that I couldn't do it justice. I have the same feeling for most things that I love. I have probably mentioned my favorite book, Blade of Tyshalle, a dozen times in this blog, but have I reviewed it yet? No. Instead, I lamely review the prequel and sequels surrounding it, as if admiring it from afar.

Hence, I go into this review with some trepidation. It is the same fear that comes from showing something private to a stranger. You want to have them appreciate and love that which you love but, when it comes to the question of, “Why should I?”, you don't know where to start. So, more than probably any other review before this one, I've thought this over, turned upon it repeatedly in my mind, pored the internet for the best pictures that I could find, and then settled down to write this, no matter how awful it may turn out.

Technology's Dominance in the World of the Future – The Augmentation Debate

Where else could I start but with the setting of the game and the quintessential question behind it all?

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a game set in the near future of 2027, a time where corporations have superseded the power and influence of governments. The world is dark and urban, reminiscent of Blade Runner. Technology, and the advancement of it, is paramount, and the world is captivated by the invention of biomechanical augmentations and their effect on society. It is hard to overstate how powerfully the debate on augmentations affects the story of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Incredibly, the plot and backstory are so well written that we are given a wealth of information and perspectives on the technology. And the arguments are so persuasive on all sides that it becomes genuinely hard to determine what is the right path.

The first perspective we see is that of Sarif Industries (your employer) and other corporations who build the augmentations and distribute them to the public. They provide the argument that augmentations are the next stage of human evolution. Through mechanically enhancing ourselves, we are better able to seize our destinies and improve life in general. This has merit; we see time and time again that augments are used to easily replace limbs, enhance/replace eyesight, delay aging, fight lung failure, and more. And it is no surprise that the use of augmentations is opposed; most new technologies receive a fair share of demonization before people are used to the change.

But there are also those who hate the concept of augmentation and believe that the human body is perfect as it is. This manifests in different ways. There are some who regard the body as a divine vessel that shouldn't be tainted with machinery. There are others who believe that augmentations are too dangerous and can be misused. This gains credence when you see how dangerous augmented soldiers can be when the technology is militarized. And then there are others who point out that augmentations are affordable only for the rich, thus making the gap between rich and poor even starker.

In between, we have those who believe that research and distribution of augmentations should be encouraged, but only under the weight of strict regulation so that it isn't misused or manipulated by those who have the power to do so. In their defense, the pro-augmenters point out that the technology can only help humanity and that the regulation of it will prevent realization of the technology's full ability to take us to places that we've never dreamed of reaching.

As you go through the game, the characters you meet and the places you go subtly press the perspectives surrounding augmentation upon you. And all of it comes to a head in one of the most brilliant endings I've ever encountered in a video game: a confrontation of ideas where you influence the direction of the entire human race in a selection of different possible options where there isn't a wrong answer. It is one of the most difficult choices I've made in a video game and, if I were to talk about it, it would take up pages by itself. It is the purest realization of the saying, “Knowledge is power,” and easily proves that video games are capable of talking about immensely complicated and deep social issues.
Adam Jensen
Plot and Characters – Corporate Espionage in a War of Shadows

In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, you control Adam Jensen, the head security chief of Sarif Industries, one of the main producers and innovators of augmentation technology. Within minutes of the game's start, the corporation's headquarters are attacked by an unknown faction. Jensen investigates and is nearly killed trying to stop augmented mercenaries. The only thing that saves him is months of surgery and the willingness of his employer, David Sarif, to insert Jensen with enough biomechanical parts to keep him alive. From here, much of the plot is finding out why Sarif Industries was attacked, discovering why many of the scientists were killed, and realizing that there are immensely powerful players and factions at work whose objectives influence you, your companions, and the entire world.

The story of Deus Ex: Human Revolution is one primarily of corporate espionage, operating in the shadows, and investigating people and businesses when and where they least expect it. In this, the game succeeds brilliantly at being somewhere between a dark science fiction and crime noir novel. Much of the time, you just don't know what is going on, and one of the best parts of the game is discovering one small piece of information after another that gives you a better concept of what is happening. If I were compare it to a movie, I would compare it to Quantum of Solace, that most recent Bond movie where we, as the audience, don't quite know who or what the enemy is or how to stop it. That same disturbing realization that there are powers at work beyond your comprehension permeates the atmosphere of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
David Sarif
Along the way, you meet a wide cast of characters who help, oppose, or operate independently from you. They have their own motivations, complexities, and quirks to a degree that you rarely see in a video game. One of my favorite relationships in the game is between Jensen and Frank Pritchard, head of Sarif's cyber-security team. Throughout the game, especially in areas where you are on your own on an infiltration mission, Pritchard's is the only voice you hear through your receiver. And the guy is a prick. Seriously, the moment you meet this guy, the first thing you want to do is reach through the screen, slap him in the face, and call him an asshole. But, despite it all, you work together and are on the same team. Thus it is interesting to watch that, even though Jensen and Pritchard are annoyed to high hell with each other most of the time, they have a mutual respect and, on some level, an attachment and caring for one another. It is a measure of nuance that I didn't expect to see, and was pleased to encounter it.

These nuanced sorts of relationships are everywhere and help turn a good plot into a great one. You and your employer, David Sarif, have a peculiar sort of father-son relationship. Your confrontations with Bill Taggart, a spokesman for the anti-augmentation movement, take on a baiting quality that illustrates that Taggart respects you while simultaneously reveling in attacking your personal positions on the augmentation debate. Jensen's relationship with Faridah Malik, his pilot, is one that slowly takes on the quality of feeling like two people clutching to each other in a storm that they do not understand. Hell, just talking about the depth of this game's characters and story makes me want to stop writing about it and just play it again!

Gameplay – Choices Beyond Measure

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is designed to provide an enormous amount of player choice. Aside from the different endings that you can choose from, the game offers a vast multitude of ways that you can play the game. To fully illustrate this, let me create an example for you:

At one point, you infiltrate a competing augmentation corporation in search of sensitive files that will help tell you what their overall goals are. You have snuck inside and now you have a number of choices regarding how you want to try and search the facility. Before you choose, though, you look around the corner and see cameras, a concealed security turret, a half-dozen patrolling guards, and, in a corner office, a scientist typing away at a keyboard.

At this juncture, you have a number of possibilities:
  • You can run at the first guard, dispatch him with the razor sharp blades hidden on your forearms. You then take cover and gun down the remaining guards while tossing an EMP grenade to dispatch the turret.
  • You can observe their patrol patterns and silently approach each guard in turn, knocking them out one-by-one and dragging their unconscious bodies into areas or cubicles where they won't easily be discovered. You can then watch the tracking of the camera and sneak past it when it's faced away from you.
  • You can do the same stealthy observation routine and just sneak by everyone without knocking out anyone at all.
  • You can discover a nearby ventilation shaft which you can crawl through in order to bypass the entire area or attain a better vantage point.
  • You can look for a security console in a nearby room, hack into it, turn off the cameras and fiddle with the turret's safety measures so that it can't distinguish friend or foe. The resulting firefight could either take out the guards or provide a distraction enough for you to bypass them.
  • You can sneak into the scientist's office and persuade him that you are: A. A guard who forgot the access code into the next area, B. Someone who he really doesn't want to piss off right now and thus should give you his computer passcode so you can read his emails and perhaps retrieve the information you're looking for, or C. Appeal to the fact that he really hates his job and has no loyalty to the corporation and thus should help make your corporate espionage easier.
  • Knock out or kill the scientist and get access codes from his cell phone.
  • Any combination of these options.

And I haven't even mentioned the possibilities that open up from the augmentations that you can use. One augmentation enhances your ability to lift things, thus allowing you to, if you wanted, pick up nearby vending machines to hurl with incredible force at the guards as if they were bowling pins. Another augmentation enhances your jumping ability, meaning you could jump to the second floor and bypass any need to access the stairwell, if that was a concern. You can punch through a weak wall and make your own entrances. You can activate a short-term cloaking device to roll from cover to cover. You can implement your rebreather/oxygen supply augmentation so that you may scatter gas grenades everywhere and then walk casually through the coughing and soon-to-be-unconscious guards. And a whole slew of others.

But what was perhaps most impressive to me was the inclusion of what are essentially persuasion boss battles. This is where you run into someone who you need to convince of something (it could be someone threatening to kill a hostage or someone considering suicide), and you have to try and gauge how best to persuade them to do what you want them to do by reading their reactions and trying to understand their perspectives. You can choose to confront, redirect, appease, accuse, and on and on... And the decisions and choices that you make truly matter. If you choose to threaten to expose a cop's drug addiction in order to get him to do what you want, he will lose his job, show up at your apartment, and try to kill you (this happened to me, and I was so surprised that he actually succeeded and I had to reload). If you successfully persuade someone that you are trustworthy, you might get information about what's going on to a degree and extent that you wouldn't have received otherwise. It's hard for me to convey how unique and immensely satisfying it was to convince a dying man to take on augmentations to save his life, even though he loathed augmentations with every fiber of his being. I basically had to turn around his entire life's philosophy by reading his reactions as he was dying in front of my eyes.

Conclusion – Go Play This Game

All in all, Deus Ex: Human Revolution offers tricky social concepts, incredibly interesting characters, a perfect cloak-and-dagger plot, and gameplay choices beyond count. It has themes on transhumanism, intelligent references to mythological tales such as the story of Daedalus and Icarus, and blah, blah, blah. This game is amazing. You know I think it. If any of this appeals, then you are missing out if you don't check out this game. It's definitely worth your time and is one of the best and most comprehensively awesome games I've every played.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Diablo III - Story and Setting

A long time ago in a galaxy pretty close and nearby, a certain computer game called Diablo was made and released. It featured taking a warrior through an incredibly long dungeon of multiple levels, fighting through hordes of demons before taking on and defeating Diablo, the demon lord, himself. The game's ripples were few but its profit was enough to justify the creation of a sequel. I never played this original Diablo.

Then, Diablo II emerged from developmental slumber and took the world by storm. Entire summers were devoted to slaying fiends. Millions of people found that they could live with less than eight hours of sleep so long as they had just one more opportunity to get a rare or unique item drop. Fields, deserts, jungles, and Hell itself... Every biome was tread and retread until we found ourselves at war with the cows themselves. They marched forth with halberds raised and droll moos as their battle cries and were cut down in turn, collateral damage in our madcap quest for “phat loot”.

The addiction that Diablo II brought with it was legendary. Games like Super Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Call of Duty: Insert-Bullshit-Number-Here have had their fans, but nothing short of that behemoth World of Warcraft itself has been able to command such a obsessive-compulsive brand of gameplay. But this story is not over. As you may have heard, the thousand-pound fiery-eyed demonic gorilla that is the Diablo franchise has come out with the newest and latest form of video game-equivalent crack/cocaine to sucker in an entirely new generation: Diablo III, the reason why hundreds of thousands of people won't be seeing sunlight this summer.

Does it Measure up? - Setting and Story

Yeah, I know. Cue the boos. The immediate reaction of much of the video gaming population is that, “Diablo's gameplay is the important part. Who cares about the story?” The answer is: I do. Deal with it.

The Diablo series is known for putting the combat and treasure hunt first and foremost, leaving the story and details of the greater world in the background. It's there if you want it and, if you aren't looking or interested, much of it can be missed and leave you blissfully unaware. Neither camp is wrong. Some people like blasting through the games so that they can get the next epic upgrade to their equipment. Others take their time, talking to the NPCs (non-player characters), learning more about the world, and gleaning knowledge of the gigantic conflict that seems to perpetually arrest it.

First things first, I have to point out that Diablo's world (hilariously and ironically called “Sanctuary”) has got to be the most godawful fictional world ever created. Have you ever asked your friends the nerdy question of, “What fictional world would you most like to live in?” Yeah, Diablo's would be right at the very bottom. It's a miracle people exist at all much less maintain civilization and cities to live in. The countryside is fucked. Demons butcher anything in sight. Vultures roam about and attack you when you aren't paying attention. Even the damned flowers try to kill you if you get too close.

Then Things Got Ugly

Diablo III takes this setting and makes it even nastier. Think your king has been acting a bit weird lately? Yeah, he's probably a demon lord. Think you're safe in your mountain keep? Some trollop with a rock might piss off the wrong archfiend, causing him to emerge from a volcanic wasteland with a hundred thousand angry demons to utterly destroy your day. God forbid you're one of the soldiers in Act III; your life expectancy is less than five seconds, particularly if the main character steps anywhere near you.

However, on a setting basis, I found that I enjoyed Diablo II better. Diablo III is certainly a very pretty game and its vistas hint at an astonishing amount of depth. But, aside from the surprising turnabout in Act IV, it feels as if it is simply retreading the steps of D2. The first act of both games? Nighttime plains/marshland. The second act of both games? Interminable desert. The third act of D3 copies the expansion act of D2, but does it poorly; an epic snowy landscape is quickly replaced by unending circular dungeon crawls into the center of a volcano. Theoretically epic? Perhaps, but in practice I got bored pretty fast. These things are important to note because Diablo games are built on the premise that you will be going over these terrains over and over. I already feel like I covered most of this ground a bazillion times already in the previous game.

Stay a While and Listen”

As for the plot, the fact of the matter is that D2 felt like a more interesting and epic game. In D2, you are fighting to stop the Prime Evils. Baal, Mephisto, and Diablo slowly come into prominence and plan to summon legions of demons to basically end the world. To stop them, you must venture into Hell itself and smash their soulstones upon the Hellforge.

I won't go into the details belong that because, frankly, even I don't care to. But it is important to note that D3 just isn't at this level of intensity. Your main foes for much of the game are two of the Lesser Evils: Belial and Azmodan. Diablo does emerge at the end to threaten Heaven itself (which pleasantly surprised me), but it feels too little too late. It was like the writers remembered that the game series is titled Diablo at the last moment, and so felt they had to rush the big guy into the story just so he could be beaten yet again. In addition, Act IV felt absurdly small in comparison to the others and didn't even have its own town area.

The game tries to create some empathetic connection to the player by having us follow the story of Deckard Cain, his daughter Leah, and the archangel Tyrael. But this ultimately fails. Leah is built up to be the main character but then comes off as daft and ancillary to what you are doing. Tyrael is supposed to be this big badass former archangel but becomes significantly less awesome when you realize that he (and all your henchmen/escorts for that matter) are almost completely useless in a fight, particularly when compared to the standards of D2. And Deckard Cain dies within the first few quests, so good on him.

The other characters are one-dimensional and often more annoying than interesting. Zoltun Kulle's betrayal is painfully aware from the moment you first talk to him, and his only claim to awesome is an incredibly epic sounding voice. Imperius simply shows us that even archangels can be pricks and spends not even a single moment doing anything remotely intelligent. If God exists in this world, he really sucks at picking his subordinates. And don't even get me started on Leah's mom.

Despite all this nitpicking, though, I wanted to point out that D3 is still a fantastic game. Though I'm not sure if I'll get around to reviewing the gameplay aspect of it (as it is easy to write that off in a sentence by saying it expands upon D2 and makes it better in just about every way), it almost goes without saying that the game is horrifically addicting in the best possible way. But in terms of staying power and how it feels compared to its predecessor, the story, its protagonists, and its antagonists just fail to make it feel like D3 is truly better than D2.