Archive for the ‘Sci-Fi’ Tag

Ghostbusters 2016 In Review   1 comment

Ugh, what title to use… “Ain’t Afraid Of No Reboots”?  No… “Blockbusters Make Me Feel Good”?  No…  “Who Ya Gonna-“… oh, hi there!  Sorry, wasn’t quite ready, I was… I couldn’t think of a good title.  I’m just gonna… let’s just start the review.

Ghostbusters 2016 might not have been the most anticipated film of the year, but it was definitely one of the most talked about, and a lot of that talk was negative.  Like, strongly negative.  Like, unreasonably, angrily negative.  Some of it was a bit more reasonably negative, but the whole general tone seemed to fit on a three-point scale between “They’re ruining my childhood”, “Ugh, I can’t believe that they’re trying to reboot everything”, and most infamously “Ghostbusters are supposed to be dudes!”

The fact that nearly all of the previous cast of Ghostbusters were okay with the film being led by a female cast didn’t really seem to matter.  The fact that before this movie there were other movies and that this movie wasn’t going to be like those other movies in some way was an insurmountable obstacle for many.

Having said that, my birthday was July 15th, the opening day of the film, and I wanted to see a movie as part of my birthday celebrations.  Part of me wanted to see Warcraft, but Ghostbusters felt like it’d be more enjoyable.  Then, when I checked movie times, I discovered that Warcraft had actually been out of theaters for weeks now.  Ghostbusters was inevitable (though I still wanna see Tarzan, despite all the negative reviews.  I’m a sucker for pulp fiction.)  Enough preamble: on to the show!

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Naturally, a few spoilers will follow.

First things first, this movie’s script managed to pull off a really difficult trick: they created a story that fits the Ghostbusters aesthetic without just being a rehashing of what had come before.  One of the most frequently levied criticisms of The Force Awakens was that The Force Awakens was pretty much just a beat for beat imitation of A New Hope, and many (myself included) feel that this hurt the movie.  The creators of A New Hope were trying to rekindle a lot of the feeling of the first movie to assist in bridging the gap between old and new fans, and while I think the movie was “generally good”, I think it fell short.  J. J. Abrams himself has said that he went too far with this and would probably have toned it down had he known what people’s reactions to it would have been.

This movie, on the other hand, has a lot of fun nods to the original two movies but doesn’t make its plot beholden to anything that’s come before.  Rowan North, our villain, is played by Neil Casey, and he’s someone who reminds me of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters 2, but only indirectly.  He’s the sort of person who would research people like Vigo and hope that he could imitate them.  He doesn’t have a consuming obsession with figures from the past *cough*Kylo Ren*cough* but he is *very* aware of how these sorts of things work, and seeks out methods of bringing about his own power.  The movie doesn’t really focus on if the villain is working out some prophecy, or if “The Fourth Cataclysm” is a product of his own design, but I think dwelling on that would have slowed the movie down.  He’s ultimately a mad scientist who’s tapping into supernatural forces and incorporating magic and the occult into his work.  I liked what he brought to the production, even if I felt that his acting was underplayed at times (the part of “despised genius who’s decided that the rest of society isn’t worth saving” is actually tricky to pull off, in my opinion; too much and you’re chewing scenery, and too little makes you seem drab.)  They leaned too far in the drab direction when I feel like they should’ve gone in the scenery chewing direction; there were times in the movie when he wasn’t on screen and you could only get his voice, and I think at those times he really shined as a character, and I think if he’d acted on-screen as he did when he was off-screen he could’ve been a scene stealer.

Enough about the villain, though; this movie has four main characters who did a great job.  It’s really, really, REALLY tempting to look at each character and compare them to the original four Ghostbusters, but I think such a comparison would be unfair and inaccurate.  The closest comparison that can be made is between Melissa McCarthy playing Abby Yates and Dan Akroyd’s Ray… uh, Ray… *frantically searches IMDB* Ray Stantz.  …huh.  I only remember him being called Ray in those movies.  Anyway, the closest comparison between characters is between Abby Yates and Ray Stantz in that they’re both the scientist who’s devotedly enthusiastic about exploring the supernatural, but where Ray always had a kind of oblivious “Why wouldn’t this be interesting or believable?” optimism, Abby has a sort of “The world isn’t going to believe us, but we shouldn’t stop just because of that” cynicism.  She’s been hurt by people in the past who’ve mocked her beliefs, and even feels a betrayal from her colleague Erin Gilbert, so the sunny optimism of Ray’s character has hit some darker clouds under McCarthy’s characterization.

Speaking of Erin Gilbert, this is probably the biggest departure in terms of point for point characterizations.  Erin Gilbert, played by Kristen Wiig, is arguably the film’s protagonist, and holds a position with the group similar to Peter Venkman as played by Bill Murray by being the scientist with a foot in the “real world”, but the comparison ends there.  Venkman had a detached comical side that acted as a shield between his paranormal research and how society saw him, and he was laid back enough that it wouldn’t be hard to imagine him as legitimately being a fraud or charlatan just like his opponents claimed he was.  Gilbert, on the other hand, is trying very hard to be professional and to be respected, and the fact that she used to be a paranormal researcher is a black mark that she feels could hurt her chances for becoming a tenured professor.  Actual, tangible evidence of ghosts reels her back in to the life that she abandoned, but her character keeps craving legitimacy and acceptance in the public view.  Arguably, this is the main thrust of the film: is it better to be known as legitimate, or is it better to be known as a fraud while *being* legitimate?  Gilbert’s character has to wrestle with that over the course of the film, and the question paints a well-balanced comparison to the “why can’t women be main characters in action movies?” conversation that’s been playing out over the last few decades (especially in the last few years.)

Leslie Jones plays Patty Tolan, and a comparison to Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddermore is hard to avoid; both characters represent a non-scientist who’s stepping into the job.  Neither character starts off knowing a lot about how ghosts work or what they represent, but they’re both more than capable of picking it up as they go.  In a way, Patty is a negative version of Winston because while Winston joined the Ghostbusters for a “steady paycheck”, Patty shows up for the fun of it, which in a way helps to ground her in reality more than any of the other characters.  She also knows New York history and architecture (which is convenient for knowing about all the biggest murders in town and best ways to drive around), and can provide a car to help mobilize the other members of the group, so she’s the catalyst that lets the Ghostbusters roll out faster and more efficiently.

Finally, we have Kate McKinnon playing Jillian Holtzmann.  She’s probably the most tempting comparison to make, but calling her “The Egon” isn’t accurate.  There’s a trend in sci-fi or action films to have a freewheeling tech-head or hyper competent hacker, and while Jillian Holtzmann is part of that trend I don’t feel like Egon was.  Egon was an almost emotionless calculator who, while not devoid of emotion, humor, or empathy, was certainly detached from much of what was happening in a way that brought a clinical acknowledgement to the bizarre.  Holtzmann is eager and more frantic, acting like she can’t make her new technology fast enough.  Also, no matter what she winds up seeing, she maintains the same aloof giddiness.  Arguably, the biggest comparison to Egon is unflappability since they both keep effectively the same attitude no matter the circumstances.  However, she also has two very real and very human moments in the film, one near the very end, and another during the transitional period between acts 2 and 3 where she sees a lot of her work being demolished.  There’s a moment of genuine panic and grief when the gadgets and guns she’s been working on are threatened, and I think that actual emotion keeps her character from being too one-note.  Ultimately, she’s the group’s mad scientist, and she plays the part well.

I don’t want to give away much of the plot or the jokes of the film, and it’s hard to say much more without that.  I will say that the movie contains a number of homages and references to the Ghostbusters franchise ranging from the subtle to the blatant, and many from the original cast (apart from Rick Moranis) had small cameo appearances that touched on the plot of events in the reboot.  The film isn’t set decades after the original movies, but it’s almost easy to believe that this is a parallel reality of sorts.  I doubt it is (at least, I doubt it is in any official, easy to get on paper fashion), but the movie is well aware of its roots, ranging from a smirking bust of a dearly departed buster to a familiar receptionist managing the front desk of a prestigious hotel.  The movie also makes a few reasonable jabs at its own impact on the fandom, with comments from YouTube thinking these Ghostbusters aren’t up for the job.  (I’m mostly unfamiliar with the whole “nice guys” and “fedoras” side of the Internet apart from hearing a few things from friends, but I thought it was interesting that the primary opponent of the Ghostbusters wore a fedora which was commented on as a “nice hat.”)  The movie treats these sorts of naysayers in, I think, a fair and reasonable light: thinking that it’s unfortunate that they have these opinions and even uncalled for when the meaner comments show up, but ultimately the Ghostbusters move on and keep doing their work without letting it get to them too much.

Speaking of negative YouTube comments, I think this movie had a shocking lack of violence, cursing, or gross-out humor.  Maybe I’m just desensitized to it, but I really didn’t notice much.  I’d even say that there was more in the original movie than in this, so having said that I’m surprised this film has a PG-13 rating.  I’d personally rate it as PG, although I come from the era when, as The Nostalgia Critic once put it, “PG actually meant something.”  I mean, yes, there are one or two gross jokes, and that’s not even counting the huge amount of slime (this is a Ghostbusters film, after all) but in addition to being a fun addition to the franchise I think it’s even appropriate for younger kids who can handle scary ghost images.

The movie isn’t without its flaws, but I think my complaints with the film amounted to less than thirty seconds if not less than twenty seconds, something I already said on Twitter.  Most of my problems were related to aesthetic taste, however.  Case in point: the opening scene has a few obvious jokes rather than being a straightforward ghost-story cold open like in the first Ghostbusters movie.  I would’ve preferred that opening scene to just be a regular horror story opening, with the humor coming later, but that’s not what happened.  Ultimately this isn’t something that made that first scene bad, it just made it an opening that I would’ve preferred to see tweaked.  Similarly, the movie includes Slimer, who is (in many ways) the franchise’s spirit animal.  At one point Slimer steals the Ecto-1 for a joyride, which I thought was brilliant; later, you see him still joy riding but with another lady Slimer who’s wearing a wig.  It was a funny idea, but didn’t quite work well for me (although seeing those two at the end of that subplot was great; the two Slimers getting along felt like an appropriate metaphor for the relationship of this film to the previous ones, one where they can coexist without really hampering each other, and both can have fun together.)

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So, my final verdict: this is a great popcorn flick.  I hate calling it that because the term “popcorn flick” is usually synonymous with “bad”, and this isn’t a bad movie.  It’s good, really good.  It’s a fun piece of summer movie action that you can enjoy and have a great time with, and it’s got an attention to the craft of movie writing that most mindless blockbusters lack.  It’s not Citizen Kane… thank heaven it’s not Citizen Kane… but it’s not trying to be.  This is just a good fun movie.  Enjoy it in theaters and maybe, if we’re lucky, we can start reclaiming popcorn flicks that are enjoyable instead of popcorn flicks that are stale.  Enjoy your time at the movies, everyone!

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FTL Continuity Shift   Leave a comment

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A friend of mine, Kent, introduced me to FTL a few months ago, and I’ve been obsessing about it since then. The game does marvelous things with next to nothing. Its music is wonderful, its sparse story is engaging and the galaxy it randomly generates is enticing. There’s just enough information about everything to make you wonder and imagine. My friends who play the game have been surprised by the amount of stuff that I’ve found in the game. Either I’ve just played a lot more than they have in the short amount of time (which given my obsessive nature is possible), or I’ve had some ludicrous lucky streaks that showed me more things than they’ve seen (which given the nature of RNGs is also possible.)

Either way, I had a lot of fun talking to friends and asking if they’d seen things. “Have you seen a crystal or ice encrusted ship carrying a cryogenic pod yet?” “Did you see the Voltan who mastered time and space?” “So, the other day I found a hollow moon…” Generally, my friends just roll their eyes, but sometimes they also nod eagerly, knowing exactly what I’ve been talking about.

So, last week when my computer updated FTL so that the Advanced Edition became available for free to Steam users… well, some friends and I were very excited. We’ve already seen a lot of new, exciting things. A friend of ours who’d not gotten into the game before gave it another chance, and this time he actually really enjoyed it. However, there was an oddity… he apparently couldn’t upgrade his weapons system.

Confused, Kent and I invited him to log onto Steam with my laptop since I had FTL installed. He entered the game, it synchronized with his game data, and allowed him to play. So far he’d only unlocked the regular ship and the Engi ship (I know that doesn’t mean anything to non-players.) We looked at it, deduced that it was just a simple matter of him not quite understanding the different layout of the weapons system (he was quick to figure out what was going on once we asked to see a couple things) and called it a night.

That evening, I logged into FTL from home where I have no Internet access. It used his game data for me. I shrugged, decided to play it that way, and resolved to resynchronize my data with my online presence the next time I had an Internet access.

The next day, it didn’t work. Even on the Internet, I still had his game data, and not mine. I posted a question on the game forums, and the person who responded wasn’t sure, but imagined that my game data file had apparently been overwritten in the process.

The silver lining of all this? Last night, I decided to just remove my game data and start over. Since I’d already lost all my ships and achievements, it means I get to experience them all again. And where before I earned most of my achievements on Easy mode? This time I’m playing on Normal. I’m discovering that I have more Scrap in Normal than in Easy mode, even with Easy mode’s bonus scrap percentage (I wonder if enemy difficulty improves scrap acquisition beyond what the Easy mode bonus allows.)

I’m glad to say that last night I unlocked two ships (Engi and Voltan), and a few tricky achievements (Death By Asphyxiation). Hopefully my bizarre string of luck will continue into this new version of the game.

 

Dollplay ARG Stumbles From The Start   4 comments

Dollplay, the ARG (or “participation drama” as they’re calling it) for Joss Whedon’s new TV show Dollhouse, failed from the first step for me.

At first I was excited.  I really liked Dollhouse’s first episode.  I tend to really like Joss Whedon stuff.  And I really, really like ARGs.  So what went wrong?  The very first freakin’ introductory paragraph, that’s what.

I can’t get it to load for me now, perhaps it knows my IP address.  But when I first went to the ARG’s website, do you know what it said?  Roughly, it told me that I was about to enter an ARG and that I should pretend it was real, and that everything on the website after that point would be “in game.”

Well, that’s fine and dandy, thanks.  Except now it’s no longer an ARG.

An Alternate Reality Game (concatenated to ARG for brevity’s sake), is a game that can arguably be defined by two rules.  1) The game designers should not acknowledge that it is a game.  2) The game designers should not create a playing field.  Purists might insist on putting up rule 3) The game designers should not create a game.  I consider rule 3 to be something of a hair-splitting thing, though: even if you’re “just creating an experience”, I still classify that as a game.  But I can certainly see why someone might disagree with me depending on your definition of game.

Anyway, that first introductory paragraph broke the first two rules of what an ARG is.  Part of me wants to be bitter at the ARG.  Part of me wants to be bitter at executive meddling.  Part of me wants to be bitter at the laws of England.

Why England?  Because a few years ago, when Perplex City still had some life in it, a law regarding the treatment and definition of hoaxes was passed in England.  Due to the wording of the law, many ARG fans wondered if it would negatively impact the future of ARGs as the classical idea of what an ARG is would now be deemed a “hoax.”  Ever since then, whenever I see a promising ARG, I see it ruined by Microsoft logos or disclaimers in the screens.  It’s removed the mystery, the sense that maybe you made a wrong turn and are actually in over your head, and a definite flavor of fun.  Other fun can be had, of course, but the feeling that you were actually involved in a real-life drama was absent.  More to the point, even American based ARGs can be affected if the ARG’s puppetmasters want the game to be playable to much of an extent in other countries.

And while I’d hoped that this ARG would be promising (after all, if I were to, say, see Dollhouse logos everywhere, it would make sense in this ARG), the opening disclaimer both told me that it was a game, and also established the playing field as existing only on the website.

So it makes me sad.

Now, I’ve not had a chance to look at more than a few of the file histories and things on this website.  It could be that there’s a good ARG here (this is one of those times where my difficulties watching videos on the web will really, really hinder me).  However, whether from executive meddling, a concern over the laws across the pond, or other reasons that aren’t yet clear, Dollplay has, it seems, not granted a positive first impression.  Here’s hoping, though.  Here’s hoping.

Dollhouse   1 comment

Well, the wait is over, and Joss Whedon fans have had just over a full hour now to digest the first episode of Mutant Enemy’s latest production, Doll House.  I’m a pretty solid Whedon fan, and I thought at first that I wouldn’t be able to watch it, but fortune smiled upon me and I was able to make the mad dash into my living room to flip the TV on.

My first thoughts concern Eliza Dushku.  Buffy and Angel fans will remember her as Faith, the rogue slayer, and when the episode first started we saw Dushku (did they call her Carolina in that opening?  Caroline?  I’m sure it wasn’t Coraline, I would’ve made note of it) playing what felt a whole lot like Faith.  I considered what a sci-fi show starring Faith would entail, and I got a very “Dark Angel”ish vibe off of it.  (One last note about that intro: “Have you ever tried to clean a slate?  You can still read what was on it before” simultaneously struck me as a really cool line, but also like the kind of line that people would never say in real life.  Make of that what you will.)

However, the rest of the episode quickly convinced me that we weren’t going to be seeing a show starring Faith or Max.  Instead, we meet Echo and the Dollhouse organization.

I enjoyed the episode, but I want to say that it struck me as being very different from Joss Whedon’s standard presentations.  He said once that all of his shows are about “created family.”  And while I can certainly see that as being a potential direction that the show might eventually head in, this first episode never gave a sense of  “these characters are your protagonists.”  Buffy had the core four of the Scoobies discussing why Buffy didn’t want to fight vampires but why she would.  Angel had the soon-to-be charter of Angel Investigations being fast-talked into setting up a proper business.  Firefly gave us a pull through of the whole ship which gave us almost all the characters (one who wouldn’t be a character, and one major player yet to be revealed.)

In this show?  I never got that sense of togetherness, and I think it was intentional.  I could tell who the main characters were, but they were clearly not a family.  They were coworkers, and in an organization such as Dollhouse it would make sense that familial relationships might not be a priority.

I also appreciate the fact that several characters repeatedly stressed that what was going on was criminal, and a variation on the line “we aren’t interested in justice” appeared at least twice.  It’s not a wacky-fun-lovin’ group, it’s a morally ambiguous (at best) and potentially evil (at worst) enterprise.

What we have here might be likened as the upside of Wolfram & Hart (keep in mind that I’ve only seen the first two seasons of Angel, and as such don’t know how very wrong later seasons might prove that comparison to be.)

Now, it’s altogether possible that the reason why this episode didn’t feel like your normal Joss Whedon Pilot is that it wasn’t the first episode created.  I believe that we’ll be seeing the original first episode next week.  Will it feel like a more standard Joss Whedon show then?  Possibly.  Would that be a good thing?  Possibly, but I’d argue no.

Of course, we’ve only got the first episode for a lengthy series (did they say the phrase “five years” at the beginning there?  A five year mission, boldly going into new TV conventions?)  Anything goes, and probably will.  However, this episode didn’t suffer from the weaknesses that so many pilot episodes suffer from, so I’m wondering what the show will be like months from now when I can look back at the pilot from an established status quo.