Thoughts About Thought About Pixels

Last week the Adam Sandler movie Pixels came out, to dismal reviews. The movie seems to be the usual Sandler fare: lazy, juvenile, wasteful, and unnecessary. Nothing unexpected or out of the ordinary. Sandler has become a favorite punching target for folks, and I can’t say it’s without reason, though I think he sleeps fine on a huge bed of cash. I’ve no love for Sandler. I’ve seen only one or two movies with him in them (one being Punch-Drunk Love) and don’t see much of anything there for me.

This time, however, one thing was a little different. Since the subject of Pixels was video games — particularly old-school video games — and therefore a nerdy subject, geeks decided to join in on the bashing. This is interesting to me because 364 other days of the year geeks will loudly and proudly declare that they don’t read reviews and don’t care about them because reviewers don’t know what they like and not every movie has to be Citizen Kane and what not. But this time it was very important to point out and laugh at the poor reviews Pixels was given and get mad when it left 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Again, usually they’re getting angry that someone failed to give some Marvel movie an A-plus-plus-plus-with-a-star-and-grape-job-sticker.

It was an odd moment to watch. Pixels looks like garbage, sure, and it most likely is. I’ve no doubt it deserves the thumping its getting by reviewers. But I can’t figure out in what way it’s quantifiably worse than any other garbage that usually gets a pass. Especially the stuff that usually gets a pass from the nerds who formed this unusual “enemy-of-my-enemy” alliance with movie reviewers, of all people.

In any given month we get several geek-aimed movies that show similar lazy pandering, vapid characterization, undercooked special effects, and so forth, and usually instead of gleefully showing them the exit we instead have to hear the usual litany of, “just turn off your brain” or “it doesn’t pretend to be more than what it is” or “so bad it’s good” or “I just go in not expecting much”. It’s worth pointing out that Pixels debuted almost simultaneously with Sharknado 3, which didn’t get the same treatment. I can’t figure out why 15 mediocre CGI-fests can get a “meh, I was entertained” but the 16th is just beyond the pale.

I commented elsewhere that I suspected that, if everything else remained exactly the same except Adam Sandler were instead replaced by Chris Pratt, we’d be hearing a different story. My supporting evidence for me is that two of the criticisms I saw thrown at Pixels was shamelessly trading on nostalgia and having only a handful of female characters, one of which is solely a prize for the hero. Well, I’ve seen The Lego Movie, which had both of those things in spades. Was it a better movie and offered more than I imagine Pixels does? I’d bet it does. But these things which are apparently dealbreakers for Pixels were largely overlooked. I would compare it with the phenomenon of how very concerned about poor relationships and role models fans of comics, anime, videogames, and such suddenly get when the subject at hand is Twilight and not, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

So I guess it’s the fact that Adam Sandler is a designated punching bag, as is Twilight or 50 Shades of Gray, which makes people who’ve gone to bat for much much worse schlock suddenly turn their nose up and jump on the anti-Pixels brigade. Nerds are famously very much against bullying until it’s them doing it to a convenient lesser target, and I can’t help but be reminded of the celebrated Geek Hierarchy chart which allowed geekdom to say, “Whatever I am, at least I’m not a *groan* furry.” As long as there’s something we can all agree is worse than whatever it is we’re into, we’re above reproach. I might watch any number of hacky-assed brainless movies, but if one of them wasn’t Pixels, I have a clear conscience. See, I do have limits!

Again, I’m not defending Pixels. It looks like a pile of worthless junk. What I’m saying is, it’s not the only pile of worthless junk I’ve seen on offering, just the only one that, for some reason, it’s very important everyone denounce as worthless junk. In the meantime, there will still be a supply of movies no better or worse than it which we’ll be told we can’t say anything bad about or else we’re “haters” or “bitter” or “hate fun”.

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Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

I’m not a good reader. I’m simultaneously too slow and too fast, taking forever to miss important details. I’m not attentive and I don’t get “lost” in books; I’m constantly being taken out of them. I’ve all but stopped reading fiction because I finally had to admit I wasn’t any good at it.

I knew I had to read Wolf in White Van, though, because I very much enjoy the songs of author John Darnielle’s band, The Mountain Goats. Darnielle writes hauntingly incomplete portraits of people in crisis. I call them “pre-apocalyptic” because while things may not be great now, something horrible is looming on the horizon. But they’re not “wacky” dark or melodramatic, and that catastrophic moment never comes, and perhaps may never come, or perhaps has been coming very slowly for some time now. The people who populate his songs are human: they make poor decisions and live with the consequences, they are angry and sad and confused and sometimes taking what slivers of joy they can or figuring out how to keep going.

Wolf in White Van extends one of these characters. Sean is a loner, a survivor of an even that disfigured and changed him forever. He is outside of society and spends much of his time finding a comfortable niche to inhabit. In return, Sean has created a game, a sort of “choose your own adventure” game played by mail. People send in their moves and he mails them back the results an their next options.

Sean’s game world is post-apocalyptic. The players are survivors seeking a safe haven called the Trace Italian, but Sean knows what few of them do; that though the Trace Italian exists, they will never make it there. And then something happens in the game that ensures that even Sean’s fantasy world can be of no lasting comfort for him.

Much of this is established at the beginning of the novel because the various threads are told backwards. All these roads are leading towards the same crisis point, a big bang that spawns the resultant events. The moment, when it finally comes, retains its shock value because, even though the point is inevitable and the reader’s been bracing for it the whole time, it still somehow surprises.

Darnielle’s writing is crisp and tight and did, in fact, pull me in. And he has a knack for going along with some perfectly fine sentences and then suddenly dropping a bomb into it that reveals a new angle on Sean and his situation.

Darnielle is a nerd and in many respects this is a nerd book. Not like one of those nostalgia or reference parties, but because he speaks from and to a world of isolated weirdos. It is easy to start wondering where Sean would have ended up if not for his “accident” but Darnielle shows you plenty of possible examples and none of them are super promising. The critical moment in Sean’s life radiates in both directions, and it’s questionable just how much it changed his life in actuality.

If you’re a normal person, Wolf in White Van should be a quick read, but really dig into it. It deserves to be read well.

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I Played That! #21: Planescape: Torment (PC)

This game, from the studio who did Fallout 2 and Baldur’s Gate is widely considered to be one of the best computer RPGs of all time.

I kind of don’t remember anything about it?

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My Tweek on Twitter

What I did these past two weeks on Twitter, the Facebook of Tumblr.

* BEST OF THE WEEK imo:

* Lol

* He just doesn’t have a very good track record

* Let the President talk to him

* He’s neither your lover nor your friend. You can’t even comprehend what he is.

* RT of the week. This is one of my all-time favorites.

* “people who are friends all like exactly the same stuff, right?”

* Jesus, the linked article here

* I did a brief hashtag game. This was the best one.

* second best one

* I get all my news on Twitter

* jk I use it all the time

* ‘Identity Crisis’ is super terrible is the joke here

* I’d do it for much less

* The people who will line up for ‘Punch of the Superheroes’ heard about a bad movie

* the beauty of this joke is that even if you get it, it’s garbage

* Another MVP tweet that showed up in my TL again

* I wonder how long it will take for one to kill someone

* this is the absolute truth

* yet another all-time fave

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Thirteen

It’s Friday, but the fact that this blog’s thirteenth birthday is actually tomorrow keeps things from being total bad luck. Saturdays are slow around here, so we’ll celebrate a day early.

Thanks for reading, those who still do!

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Fallout Shelter Status Report

Despite there being not much to it, I have been playing Fallout Shelter for a solid month now. It is frightening how much time I have wasted on it.

Since we last spoke a lot has happened in the game. First, I got to 200 Vault Dwellers! Second…well, actually that’s pretty much it. I got more inhabitants and gave them dumb names and occasionally found something interesting (a new outfit) in the wasteland.

200 is the maximum occupancy, which means if I want more people, some are going to have to go. In fact, I have some ladies who are stuck being pregnant forever because I can’t have any more people in the vault. In theory I could just knock up every woman in the vault and then have the men leave one by one, to be replaced by more pregnant women. That’s kind of creepy, Bethesda.

The most fun I’ve had is with this citizen:

Your Mom came in from the wasteland, and trained up her Perception to 10. Then Your Mom went to work in a Water Processing Plant. In that picture she’s talking to Dave Lartigue, who she then had sex with.

I was trying to breed citizens for special traits, like putting two people with 10 Strength together to make a super strong baby, but that didn’t really work very well. These days I mainly use sex for increasing the happiness in my vault. When I feel like the people need to be happier, I make two of the unhappy people knock boots together, which cheers them up.

When I’m not forcing people to have sex and naming citizens juvenile names, I’m trying for better stuff. I don’t really need better stuff, as my vault runs pretty well and I have a reliable crew of wasteland runners. Still, I’ve only gotten one of the rare dwellers and I want more.

I’ve bought six of the lunchboxes you can pay real money for. One was just to throw some cash their way and then they had a sale where I bought a bunch of five. Other than that they’ve all come from achieving goals. I did get the absolute worst lunchbox, though. It contained one stimpak (I generate about 6 of these every minute or so), some water, an outfit I had scads of, and a rare item: a gun that does 2-5 damage. I throw away any gun that does less than six, and that’s starting to become 7 and 8.

Here’s my vault as it stands now. It can’t even all fit on the screen.

There are a lot of people just wandering around or hanging out in the dorms because there’s nothing really for them to do. I suppose I could build more rooms for them to work in, but all the work is currently being done just fine. I wish there were some other rooms I could build for them, things you actually see in the games like an atrium, movie rooms, and such. I want my guys to do more than work, train, and have sex.

While I’m wishing for stuff, I also think it would be cool if you could get things for your vault like a Mr. Handy or a Protectron or a dog. Maybe since the game is more popular than they expected such things will eventually come.

I guess I’ll keep my main vault going in the hopes of scoring more rare dwellers. That going to mean some people have to be thrown out the door. Before that starts happening, here’s the current roll call:

#*$@&!; 3.14159; A Tower of Scorpions; Acorn Head; Aggressive Rodent; Agua Frijole; Alfred Beast; Angel Love; Anton Chekov; Asbestos Jackson; Assistant Manager; Avenging Hathaway; Ba’al; Banksy; Beefaroni Murray; Beefcreep Newton; Bert Brandon; Bittercup; Bling Bling; Boo I’m a Ghost; Booty Rumper; Bubble Yum; Bug Eater; Calamine Lotion; Caligula; Cap’n Dad; Cave Canum; Charlie Angel; Charmander; Chocalatey Delicious; Cindi Mayweather; Clawhammer; Clowny C. Clown; Crawdad Hicks; Crazy Phil; Creepshow Newton; Cronk Flonker; DJ Facey-Face; Dave Lartigue; Deborah Bo Beborah; Diphenhydramine; Dodgy Sam; Dogmeat; Dot Matrix; Dr. Bosco, PhD; Dr. Legcramp; Drowning Victim; Dumpster Goblin; El Lucha Hombre K; Evil Twin; Extra Crispy; Fancy Pants; Fistoplex; Flux Anchovy; Freedom Rock; Friend to Children; Fussy Eater; Gentleman Davis; Glamdring; Glorpox of Regulus V; Goatboy; God-Emperor of Dune; Godzilla Fisher; Grosse Tête; Gruff Grumbles; Hammerhead Brooks; Hands-Free Jones; Hangnail; Hashtag Winning; He-Man Winning; Hello, Miss?; Hellyeah Express; Higgs Boson; Hipster Baby; Hobo Joe; Home Fries; Honda Civic; Hope Jobscash; Iambic Pentameter; Ice Cream Man; Interesting Billy; It’s Toasted!; Jell-o Man; Jenny From The Vault; Johnny Two-Times; Jupiter Q. Proton; Kewpie Doll; King Vitamin; Kirby Dots; LOL Legcramp; La Llorona; Lady J.A.N.E.; Lass Girl; Lawn Cloud; Lego Minifig; Li’l Boo Price; Lisa Cuppatissa; Livingston Frost; Loomis, the Rat King; Lord Hunkmeat; Lugnut Grant; Magnetic Dog Boy; Mairzie Doats; Major Tom; Master of Bees; Maxwell’s Demon; Mc Joing Boing; Merseinne Prime; Miss Nuka Cola 2268; Miss Thang; Molly Waka; Mookie Wilson; Mophead; Mothgirl; Mr. Caa; Mrs. Mystery; Muad’Dib; Munka Face; No Problemo; Nobody Likes Tom; Noodles; Not David Bowie; Number 115; Oasis Liker; Oedipa Maas; Ol’ Beanstalk; Old Man Baby; Orange Crush; Paaaaaang; Party Angela; Pascal Fortran; Patient Zero; Pentagon Man; Ppppp Hernandez; Princess Wondra; Professor Junior; Pugg Dogg; Pure Energy; Queen Rex; REO Speedwagon; Recessive Jean; Sacajawia; Sad Tony; Sadtrombone Henrique; Secretary of Defense; Sex Pope; Sexxxtra Grant; Shasta Newton; Sip Hole; Sister Laser; Soap Boy; Some Jerk; Space Filler; Spap Oop; Sparkplug McGee; Spongebath; Stegosaurus Rex; Sutekh the Destroyer; Swamp Thing; Taco Doritos; Taters Precious; Taylor Swift; The Beard That Walks; The Chuzz; The Combover Kid; The Foretold; The Freshmaker; The Grape Avenger; The Mayor; The Transponster; The Unknowable; Thrust Flexpound; Thumbless Larry; Tiny Hitler; Todd; Tornado Alley; Toxic Wombat; Trig Star; Trudy; Turbo Blast; Twinklepixie; Um Actually; Uncle Grease; Underdog Newton; Unfrozen Cavewoman; Unit BX-52a; Utinni; Valkyrie Amazon; Vazzensnare; Wasteland Strangler; Whispers of Night; Wolfman Greg; Womp-Womp Phillips; X-Ray Eyes; Yada Yada; Your Mom; Zazz Murray; Zippy Zowie; Zoom Zoom; [Name TBA]

A few notes on some of them:

Iambic Pentameter was resident #200.

Bittercup is a rare dweller. That’s the name she comes with.

Avenging Hathaway, Bittercup, Caligula, Dave Lartigue, El Lucha Hombre K, Jenny From The Vault, King Vitamin, Mookie Wilson, Ppppp Hernandez, Sex Pope, Sutekh the Destroyer, The Unknowable, and Zazz Murray are my regular wasteland explorers, with Ppppp being the best one.

El Lucha Hombre K was named for Kyle Starks. Previously he was El Perro Negro.

God-Emperor of Dune is in the process of getting trained up to 10 in all stats.

Number 115 was, in fact, citizen #115.

I have the reinforced vault door, which does nothing except make raider attacks take longer. If no one is currently guarding the door, Lego Minifig and Merseinne Prime come up from their power plant to take care of invaders. Should raider make it past them, they go into the Diner of Doom, where everyone is outfitted with top weapons.

Yes, I know I spelled “Sacajawea” wrong. I need to fix that.

DJ Facey-Face is Taylor Swift’s son. I don’t remember who his dad is because I changed that guy’s name.

Oops I misspelled “Mersenne Prime” as well.

Here’s Dave Lartigue without his power armor on.

I have an incredibly nerdy idea for a second vault, but man, I dunno if I need another one, given how much time I’ve wasted on just this one.

Posted in Videogames | Tagged , ,

Comics I Read: HeroesCon Edition

It’s been a month since HeroesCon, where I bought some comics! And now I have them read. Here’s what I thought of them!

The Wicked and the Divine (Book 1: The Faust Act) (McKelvie, Wilson, Cowles, Image) – I’ve heard a lot of buzz on this one, and I don’t think I read any McKelvie stuff before, so I gave it a shot. It’s an interesting premise, a story of random gods manifesting themselves as current pop stars for a brief span of mortality. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous, and it has some great moments, but I pretty much couldn’t stand every single character on the page.

Copra: Round One (Fiffe, Bergen Street Press) – Nearly everyone I know has raved about this, but I was hesitant, as I was getting a vibe off it that it wouldn’t be a thing for me. But then someone else pitched me on it and assuaged my fears, so I headed over to Michel Fiffe’s table and bought it. He’s a super-nice guy and we had a great conversation and I was glad to be buying work from such a dude. The thing is, though, I was right. This is just not a thing for me, though I can definitely see why it appeals to those it does. If you like action comics, fights, and tons of wild superpowered characters, by all means check out Copra.

Trees (Book 1: In Shadow) (Ellis, Howard, Image) – I found this for cheap, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have grabbed it. I’m not a big fan of Warren Ellis’ comics. The premise interested me: an “invasion” of huge extraterrestrial structures called “Trees” that stand over various places on Earth and…seemingly do nothing. What if the invaders don’t care about humanity at all and don’t even see them as anything to have to interact with? How these things affect the locations and people around them differently is a great idea, and Ellis tackles it in a solid, mature way. This is one I am going to stick with.

Wild Dog 1-4 (Collins, Beatty, DC) – Found all 4 issues cheap. Uhhh, no, not really for me.

Saga of the Swamp Thing (Book 1) (Moore, Bissette, Totleben, DC/Vertigo) – Nope, had never read any of Alan Moore’s seminal run on Swamp Thing, except for one story in one of those DC Best Comics of the Year digests. Now I know what all the fuss is about. “The Anatomy Lesson”, which I’d long heard referred to in reverent tones is amazing, at once “rebooting” the character while staying true to its horror comics origins. Even the fact that these stories are obviously still working with plot threads from previous issues doesn’t prevent this from being an excellent starting point. Moore may be a cranky weirdo these days, but the guy knows his way around a story.

Russian Olive to Red King (Immonen, Immonen, AdHouse) – Everyone was talking about this positively, and I decided to take a gamble. What a gorgeous book. The art, the words, the story, it’s a heartbreakingly beautiful work about what happens when the person you love, the person you depend on the most just to get through the day, just isn’t there anymore. To say too much about the contents would rob the reader of discovering them herself. This is one of the best of the year, and worth your time.

Sex Criminals (Book 1: One Weird Trick) (Fraction, Zdarsky, Image) – Chip Zdarsky is funny as hell, and Matt Fraction is no slouch, yet I hadn’t yet bitten at this book by the two of them for some reason. They were both at Heroes and their stuff was everywhere, yet I still found this one in a box of cheap trades and considered it a major score. The book is hilarious and odd, yet also very human and warm, despite the fact that it travels all over the landscape of its subject matter. It’s funny and, yes, sexy, but where a lot of creators would be content to stop there, it actually delivers far more. I’m along for the ride now.

ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times (MacLean, Dark Horse) – I like post-apocalyptic stuff so hey, this seemed like a good buy. (In fact, I only hesitated because I thought I might have already ordered it online.) There’s a lot of familiar ground here: person who’s managed to survive against odds due to crazy weapon skills, searching for something of great power connected with the “What Happened”, and an animal sidekick. The general storyline, while nothing particularly fresh (despite an interesting reveal towards the end), is still a quick, pleasant read with appealing art.

That’s the HeroesCon batch, but more are on their way soon! Comic books!

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The Movies-to-Watch List: Jaws (1975)

Nope, I had never seen Jaws. I don’t know why. It’s rated PG, it was by Steven Spielberg, it was a huge phenomenon, but I never saw it. Part of it is that I was 7 when it came out, but to have not even seen it since? I don’t know how that happened.

It’s a great movie, and a lot of fun. As with Alien, it works because someone thought about what would be happening when the monster wasn’t on the screen. It’s hard to talk about how well its done, knowing in hindsight that a lot of its strengths were born from the failure of the shark prop to work correctly. Sure enough, the movie is at its least effective when the shark finally breaches for extended periods. But by that time it doesn’t matter, you’re already invested.

I haven’t stuck with Spielberg, even for his genre stuff. There’s a saccharine taste in the stuff I have seen that kind of turns me off. There’s very little of that here, and it’s nice.

Jaws was a case where I pretty much knew everything going in. I knew how it ended, I knew most of the beats, the characters, the moments. It’s an iconic movie, well discussed and dissected. Yet I was still thrilled by it, still eager to see how it played out, still delighted by “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” A well-earned classic, and a pleasure to have finally seen for myself.

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