Before, when I drank green tea, I was wishing I was drinking coffee. Now I’m wishing I was drinking black tea.
The Citadel, where momentum goes to die.
When I got my Xbox one game I was eager to try out was Mass Effect. When I finally did, briefly, I was underwhelmed. I found the entire thing to be cold and sterile, with nothing about it hooking into me. I dumped it and went on to something else.
This weekend I decided to try again. I’ve heard such good things about it and hey, it’s not about zombies or medieval fantasy. I fired it up and went through the first bit on Eden Prime. “Hey,” I thought, “this is actually pretty good! Why didn’t I give it a chance?”
Then Eden Prime finished and I headed to the Citadel and I was brutally reminded of why I didn’t give it a chance.
The Citadel is like a dead shopping mall built by Italian Fascists. It’s boring and white and sparsely populated. Even the big important Galactic Council Meeting you go to looks like it’s taking place in a food court, with a handful of audience members hanging out like they’re checking out some Improv Everywhere stunt while headed to Sears. Long load times are disguised as elevator rides where you are literally standing and doing nothing while the machine takes you from one nearly featureless void with three people in it to a different one. And naturally, the places you have to go are all miles away from each other to give the sense that the Citadel is huge without bothering to fill that space with anything interesting.
Interesting is in the attention span of the beholder, though. If you want, you can talk to the people in the Citadel, who range from a guy who is unreasonable about the fact that the military is studying his wife’s dead body to protect people from alien attacks to a guy who is unreasonable about some religious bullshit that who cares. You can also get miles of backstory on alien races you’ve only barely seen so far and have no reason to take this level of interest in. This is the kind of stuff that Dragon Age tried to throw at me ten minutes into the game before. I didn’t care about it then and I don’t care about it now, even if it’s Krogans and Flatulox or whatever instead of Elves and Dwarves. There are ways to get me to read pages and pages of text about aliens; shoving it into a videogame isn’t one of them.
The momentum that’s built in the Eden Prime opening sequence comes to an abrupt halt in the Citadel, replaced with petty, slow, frustrating nonsense. Part of it is on purpose; The Powers That Be are too slow and cautious to react to The Impending Threat. We’ve all seen that script a million times. Part of it is because this is an older title and these things hadn’t advanced so far now. I’m sure the scale of the Citadel was impressive, even if it was largely empty space. Part of it too is the dated sense of visual design of this game. Nearly everything about it, from the tech to the ships to the armor is so clearly from the iPod age. It’s all smooth and white or silver, seamless and dull. There’s an audible sigh of just giving up in the look to everything, as though the entire game was visually decided on at 4:45 on a Friday afternoon before a three-day weekend. Here’s your spaceship:
Sorry, I started looking at that spaceship and kind of drifted off.
Anyhow, I was offered the advice that I should get out of the Citadel as soon as I could and I took that to heart. I didn’t knock around with any of the side quests there and got moving as quickly as possible. That made a big difference. I was soon back to playing a game and looking at things that weren’t featureless and white, and having a pretty good time of it.
My Shepard is a black woman named Jill because something had to not be white. (I kid. The game is actually pretty good about having a diverse cast of human characters.) She’s a soldier and doesn’t mess around. That includes messing around with the other members of my team, who I have taken no interest in except to give them better equipment if I come across it. As far as I’m concerned they’re walking shields and turrets and they should keep that in mind when attempting to chitchat with me in those damn elevators.
I’m now on the Mako missions. I had been warned about these, but I’m having a pretty good time with them. The Mako is this rolling, boring-looking tank thing that steers as though it was built by competing Russian low-bidders who could only communicate via smoke signals. The thing is durable, though, and I haven’t yet found a way to destroy it on a mountain. It also has the only jump button in the game, so I’m enjoying it. The Mako is dumb and fun and exactly what’s missing from the rest of the game so far.
Serves you right for trying to back up.
The Movies to Watch Project has begun! Netflix sent me a copy of Fritz Lang’s 1931 film M and Friday night I popped some analog popcorn and sat down to watch.
M is the story of a city in fear. Someone among them is preying on innocents. Everyone is scared and vulnerable. The authorities seem unable to do anything. No one knows when and how the villain will strike next. As the police flail around helplessly, citizens take matters in their own hands.
In this case the city is Berlin and the terrorist is a murderous pedophile, but it’s really hard to view this in post-9/11 America and not feel like you’re seeing a commentary on The War on Terror. In the rush to catch the villain the police subject citizens to punishing and disruptive searches, and when the criminal underworld starts conducting their own search they’re not above using torture to gain information.
But there’s only so far that such a reading will take you, because that’s not really what M is about, and that reading kind of stands in the way. There are several key moments in M that raise it above a mere “the killer among us” type of thing. First is when the criminals decide to hunt the pedophile themselves. The searches have not only disrupted their enterprises, but this criminal has crossed a line even they honor. They don’t want to be associated with him merely because they’re all on the other side of the law. This crime of child-murder is anathema to them even as their “leader” is described in boastful terms of having killed three men who tried to capture him. When the underworld captures the criminal, they subject him to a kangaroo court, and even provide him with a defense counsel. And Beckert, the villain, gives a stirring and surprising defense.
These scenes turn M into a psychological thriller, peering into the mind of a hunted, terrified man. Beckert is well aware of where his sins fall in the human scale. When he discovers that the criminals intend to “try” him he doesn’t want to submit to their justice, the justice of the people who live and breathe evil (the person who helps identify Beckert is, naturally, blind). Beckert wants to be turned over to the police (who, by this time, are on to him as well.) The criminals see this as a ploy to cop an insanity plea, go to an asylum, and hopefully get an eventual release and escape. It’s hard to say that this is Beckert’s true intention, however. He wants mercy; the criminals only offer justice.
But more than just a look at the psychology of Beckert, it’s also a look at the psychology of the hunters. The normal social institutions we rely on — the police, the state, the media, neighbors — are ineffective when it comes to finding the killer. The police, despite a lot of time and resources, admit they don’t have much to go on. When they finally get a break it’s a chance discovery that could have easily been prevented. The media gives the killer a sounding board, publishing a letter from him promising more attacks, ramping up the fear level of the populace. The effect of the siege on the overclass(?) again returns us to the terrorism comparison; the criminal whittles away at the sense of stability until there seems to be no hope, nothing but the fear. And to drive this home, the last line of the film turns not to Beckert, not to the criminals or the police or the state but turns an accusatory finger back at the populace itself. It’s an unsettling coda.
M is slow going to a modern audience. The movie spends its first half underlining the fact that there’s a killer on the loose and the police have absolutely no leads. It’s the second half, when the underworld takes up the case, is when things start moving, and they ramp up so fast that the final fifteen minutes of the movie pack a lot into them. Whether by accident or design that quickening pace drives home the feeling of the net closing in on Beckert.
I wanted to watch M because I recently read some “Mister X” comics by Dean Motter, which are very much influenced by German Expressionism and noir. M is Expressionistic (at least by my Wikipedian understanding of the term), though more in feel than in look. The performances, while still grounded in realism, seem more expanded because of the needs of silent movies (M is Lang’s first talkie, and Metropolis was only four years previous) than because of that movement. The idea of the city searching for and zeroing in on Beckert is also handled more through plot than set design. (I grant that my again limited knowledge of these things is through comics and more modern movies that are perhaps exaggerating Expressionistic tropes.)
M was the movie on that list which I was most interested in seeing, and I’m glad it came first, as it really made me feel good about this project. I really want to see more things of this type. We’re off to a great start here.
In 1976, well before the trivia fad that the Trivial Pursuit boardgame spawned, my mom got hold of The Joy of Trivia, buy Bernie Smith. I glommed on to it and just devoured the thing, reading it over an over and over. The book is nothing but small paragraphs of, well, trivia, arranged sort of thematically. I found it fascinating, reading about history, science, arts, animals, ad interesting people all at once. I read it over and over again. I didn’t always get Smith’s jokes and references, many of which were already past their sell-by date even in 1976. I distinctly remember riding in the car reading this and asking my mom what a “prostitute” was. She told me something like, “a woman with bad morals” and then asked what I was reading; I knew right away I was veering into “adult” territory.
My mind has a certain aptitude for storing trivia, at a cost to more important things. I did okay at Trivial Pursuit (the Sports category killed me) and was on my high school’s Quiz Bowl team, though that was largely due to being in the room when the need for a quiz bowl team came up. Books like this (other trivia books would soon follow) fed a constant stream of often dubious facts into my head.
In fact, books of this type are now a specific genre to me: “cereal books”. They are perfect for reading while eating a bowl of cereal. You pick one out, open it up to anywhere, and read until you’re out of cereal. I have an entire shelf or so devoted to cereal books.
When did I get it? It came out in 1976. I know I had it when I was in elementary school, so that sounds about right.
Do I still have it? Yep, though the dust jacket is long gone. In fact, I was reading it and eating cereal just last night.
Shared bookmarks for delicious user
- Thiel-a-Vision » Boardgame Full Of Monsters
Can’t wait to play this!
Tagged as: [games friend]
- chainsawsuit – internet humor, fresh-cut » pull yourselves together
A photograph of Tumblr
Tagged as: [geek comics]
- The NSA’s Secret Role in the U.S. Assassination Program – The Intercept
Well, this opens up a whole bunch of new ways to despise our drone program.
Tagged as: [war crime death secret]
- Tim Armstrong blames “distressed babies” for AOL benefit cuts. He’s talking about my daughter.
Let’s once again note that Tim Armstrong was paid twelve million dollars last year.
Tagged as: [health class money stupid]
- Jordan Davis Case—Black Kid Killed by White Man Over ‘Loud Music’—Comes to Trial | The Nation
What do you suppose they mean by "thug music"?
Tagged as: [race crime]
- Come Watch John Oliver Yell At Tech People For Being Terrible Rich Terrible People – Happy Nice Time People
John Oliver is a gem.
Tagged as: [funny video money tech]
- Colorado GOPer: Aurora Shooter Having 100-Round Mag Was ‘Maybe A Good Thing’
This is what passes for a serious gun control debate in America. How many bullets should you be able to shoot at movie patrons in one go?
Tagged as: [guns]
- How Many Sociopaths Did It Take To Kill This Unarmed Black Boy? One, And That’s Not Funny
I suppose we should be glad that Dunn doesn’t have a fan club. Yet.
Tagged as: [race crime death guns]
- Online trolls are just “everyday sadists,” according to new paper
Not lulz, just assholes.
Tagged as: [mind jerk]
- The Little Girl from the 1981 LEGO Ad is All Grown Up, and She’s Got Something to Say
I was going to post on this, but I’ve said it all before. Lego is getting some deserved hits for its attitude towards girls, but I think it really is trying to do better.
Tagged as: [lego gender advertising]
- Here’s how many LEGOs were actually in The LEGO Movie · Great Job, Internet! · The A.V. Club
This actually seems low to me.
Tagged as: [lego movies]
Depeche Mode, and this, their fourth album, cannot be overstated in the development of my musical taste or self. For a long time I had liked some bands, and had some albums, but didn’t really have any favorites that stuck with me. In 1985 that changed dramatically, and this is the album that helped springboard it.
My friend Gene introduced me to the band, and something about them grabbed hold of me hard. Before long I was totally into the group and listening to them constantly. I had a tape with this album on side one and their People Are People compilation on side two and I played both sides until I literally wore the tape out and it popped in my player.
I can’t say why this album succeeded where so many before had failed. I liked the music a lot, I thought the lyrics were interesting and deep (and still admire them), and the cover imagery, of the wedding couple in the factory, just blew me away. Dave Gahan’s deep vocals meant I could actually halfway competently sing along with it. It was probably the first album I ever really listened to, and definitely the first one that made me want to look beyond it to the rest of the band’s catalogue. I had a Depeche Mode t-shirt, posters (one combined the sickle-wielding woman from A Broken Frame with the hammer-holding guy from Construction Time Again and my mom was Concerned because the Communists want to destroy us all), and their back catalog.
Their first two albums I didn’t really go for; in fact, at the time, the less said about Speak and Spell the better. (Thanks to this I learned a valuable pop music lesson fast.) Construction Time Again I liked a bunch. But this one: it is all-killer, no filler. Every track is gold. Maybe the weakest is “If You Want” but even that one bridges “Master and Servant” and “Blasphemous Rumours” so well and I love it anyhow.
It was the soundtrack to 1985 to me, and this musical awakening accompanied other awakenings. For a long time it was so associated with memories that to listen to it during the fall months was an invitation to gut-kicks of painful nostalgia. Thankfully, that has passed, but it’s still difficult to separate the album itself from the memories that surround it, and I don’t listen to it as often.
I stuck with Depeche Mode through Exciter, which not only wasn’t very good, it was following a descending trend since Violator, the last of their albums I really enjoyed. I heard a bit of Playing the Angel after that and don’t remember much about it. I haven’t paid any attention since.
This album, however, is one of my top ten albums ever, and I’ll always love it. More to the point, though, the album opened me up to really getting into music and having it be something in my life that I took a part in, instead of just taking whatever I was offered by the radio or MTV. I was now hitting up record shops, paying attention to new artists, hunting down singles, and building a record collection. I hadn’t really done that before. Some Great Reward is 17-year-old Dave pressed into vinyl.
I really didn’t intend to not post anything else this week, but I have a project at work that’s gobbling up my time. I’ve been busy, but it’s a good kind of busy, and it’s nearing the end. So I apologize for this unintended pause. I’ll get back on track soon.
This weekend I actually went out to the cinema and saw The Lego Movie — in 3-D, no less! It was a fun time. The movie is laugh-out-loud funny with stuff that will make everyone laugh without the poop and fart jokes that seem to be de rigueur for kids’ movies, judging from the previews we saw. The voice acting was pretty good, but the real star of the show was Lego itself. The way the movie committed to a Lego world was fantastic, and the look-and-feel of everything was spot on. For a Lego fan like me, the touches were a lot of fun. I like that Lego made “The Lego Movie” with a thought of what exactly Lego was, and that was reflected a great deal in the script and action. In fact, a lot of the “building” sequences happened really fast and I kind of wished they were slowed down so I could really see it happening.
If you go see The Lego Movie you should have a generally good time. Just don’t think about it much.
Which I did. I’m sorry, I can’t help it.
So stop reading if you don’t want to see fun brutally murdered. Also there are spoilers.
Even a die-hard Lego fanatic like me knows that Lego has a problem with girls. They have made steps to address that, and although there are a lot of legitimate complaints there’s also a bunch of misinformed and just plain wrong foolishness. But it can’t be denied that this company has not had great success in talking or listening to girls. This movie doesn’t help it in that arena. There is only one major female character, Wyldstyle, who is mostly okay. She’s capable and smart. In fact, she is on her way towards being “The Special” of a prophecy when the main character, Emmet, just kind of bumbles his way into it. At that point, despite being more competent in every way than Emmet she is relegated to being his sidekick at best. She is otherwise presented as being Batman’s girlfriend and then Emmet’s girlfriend at the end. Since Emmet eventually proves to be more capable than Batman, this makes sense; the best man wins the only girl. It turns out the “prophecy” is just “made-up” in the end and everyone is potentially The Special (we’ll get to that in a moment) yet Wyldstyle is still an also-ran. She’s cool, confident, creative, and capable, but she’s still secondary to Emmet.
The other two female characters are a cat with wild mood swings and a toddler. Towards the end of the movie we discover that the conflict going on is between a Dad and his son. (There’s another female character in this portion, the mom, who exists only to call the men up to dinner. This also reveals that Wyldstyle, though a female figure, is still being controlled by a boy, so it’s okay.) We’ll talk about this conflict in a moment, but at the end, when they have come to an agreement and the son is allowed to play with his father’s creations, the father says that the boy’s sister will also get to. We then see Duplo-style creations appear and threaten the now tranquil environment. It’s a funny joke, but it’s really hard to not see the threat that allowing a girl to play seems to present. Again, given the prevalent view of Lego and girls, this seems like a big misstep.
Speaking of this conflict, this is also something that needs to not be thought about too much. The stated conflict is between Lord/President Business, who wants things orderly and by-the-instructions and the Master Builders, who are more creative and whimsical. When we get to the “real world” scene it’s the father who represents law and order and the son who represents creative chaos. Although they eventually come to an agreement that both sides have their strengths, this seems like an odd conflict for a Lego movie to present. Who does the father represent here? Who is it that is demanding everyone always follow the instructions? Who superglues Legos together, other than when creating something mean to be a permanent fixture (such as the Legoland models)? Even the dad in the film isn’t following instructions; the things he’s created that are off limits to the boys are still his own creations. The idea that you’re only being “creative” if you’re building wacky things with all kinds of crazy colors and pieces makes no sense for Lego to promote.
The other thread of the conflict involves conformity and, to as much extent as a movie based on a branded toy line can afford it, consumption (despite the bad guy being “President Business”, there really isn’t much of an anti-capitalist message here, despite some folks claiming such. “Lord Business” could have just as much been “Lord Order”). The orderly world of Brickopolis is shown with everyone walking in lockstep and all digging the same things. There’s a running joke of a song called “Everything is Awesome” which seems to want to be a parody of fluffy, “uplifting” party pop (it’s everyone’s jam). In the context of the movie, it seems pretty clear it’s supposed to be mindless pap. (The other song presented is Batman’s, which is just “DARKNESS! NO PARENTS! REALLY DARK!” and such.) However, not only is it being embraced completely straight-faced by fans, it’s a hard sell for the movie itself, considering its big lesson is, literally, that Everyone’s Special. So the movie’s arc goes from mocking the song as conformist junk to embracing it as a creative anthem.
I had a great time at the Lego movie. It’s a lot of fun, and you’ll probably enjoy it. But I can’t deny that there were some things that bugged me. And it wasn’t like I went home and let it all stew in my head to come up with the troubling bits, they were occurring to me as I was watching.
I was, however, very glad when Benny got to build a spaceship.