Introducing the Mazda5 Game Project

Last month, my trusty Mazda Protege was rear-ended by someone a half-block from my apartment. Seeing as it was an 11-year-old car, even the modest damage it suffered caused my insurance company to total out the Protege and pay me off. This forced us to move forward early on a plan to get a bigger car for the family. We settled on the Mazda5.

We like the car a lot; it drives well and seats 6 if needed. The one we bought came with a DVD system. We weren’t in the market for one, and frankly don’t need it, but it was the only Mazda5 at the dealership that otherwise fit our needs, so we took it.

A couple of weeks after getting the new car, Queta did some investigating and found that the DVD system also came with a wireless game controller, and 30 games pre-loaded onto it. Usually, a discovery like this would warrant joyous cheers. Then we tested a couple of the games.

What’s the opposite of joyous cheering?

Though I have only sampled a few, I have extrapolated that all the games are cheaply made, sub-NES piles of crap. The controls are terrible, the sound and graphics harsh and grating, and the amount of fun produced from them somehow in the negative range. So, I have decided to do what any sane, non-masochistic person would do in this situation: I’m gonna review them all.

My plan is simple: provide a review of two games each week on this very blog. These will not be in-depth reviews by any means, not only due to time constraints, but also due to the fact that I can’t see myself playing any of these games for any longer than a few minutes before I pull a “nanny from The Omen.”

Me after only four.

Following is the complete list of 30 games, so you have a rough idea of how bad this could get. I don’t plan on going in order; I’ll just pick two that stick out for me each week.

  1. Super Fight 1
  2. Exist
  3. Blob Man
  4. Hitting Mice
  5. Highway Racing
  6. Pop Monster
  7. Table Tennis
  8. Edacity Snakes
  9. Triple
  10. Shooting Balloons
  11. Robot
  12. M Day
  13. Danger Zone
  14. Hua Rong Dao
  15. Aether Fighter
  16. Helli Mission
  17. Final Man
  18. Twin Cards
  19. Archer
  20. Corridor
  21. Horrible Area
  22. Maze Puzzle
  23. Convection
  24. Close Quarters
  25. Pulverize
  26. Diamond
  27. Undersea
  28. Twin Copters
  29. Way Out
  30. Hot Speed

God help me.

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Lifetime Theater: Talhotblond

This week’s entry into Lifetime Theater, the Courteney Cox-helmed Talhotblond is truly something special. As the final film an all-Lifetime Yakmala program, it electrified the room in the way that only the most insane movies can. It was so weird, so twisty, so deliriously unexpected, it led to an entire room of the most cynical, jaded, film-savvy viewers fruitlessly trying to guess the plot. And we could not do it. That’s right, the movie — incidentally based on a true story, proving you cannot write this shit — stymied our normally infallible plot-sensors. So before we get there, I want to step outside the context of the review and beg both my readers: just walk away from the computer and watch the movie. I will spoil it, and this madness is best experienced firsthand.

Here is your spoiler buffer. You’re welcome.

Okay, I’m going to assume everyone who wants to be gone is.

Talhotblond. Hoo boy. Here we go. On the surface, it’s a simple story about the most modern of concerns: that people online aren’t necessarily who they appear to be. Though the movie was released in 2012, the idea was already ingrained enough by 1997 that an early episode of Buffy had Xander reminding Willow that her online boyfriend might actually be an elderly Dutch woman. Now we have a whole name for this kind of thing, catfishing, based on a possibly staged (okay, totally, obviously staged) documentary. As a side note, I could go on an extended rant about how the fact that Catfish is staged is the whole goddamn point, but this is a review of the sublime joys to be found on the Lifetime network.

Thomas Montgomery (Garret Dillahunt, yes, that one) is the kind of man whose life didn’t quite turn out like he wanted it to, otherwise known as everyone on the planet. An ex-marine, an accident on the training field pushed him out of the service and into a dead end job cutting steel pipes. He has a wife, Carol (Laura San Giacomo), two daughters, and a dog. The bulk of his life is spent either at work or at various extracurricular for them. His sex life is so bad, Carol uses the line, “Want to try again?” And there is literally no less sexy way to offer sex. Seriously. I’ve tried. Any less sexy and you go right to creepy, which works on a certain kind of woman.

This kind.

His version of “trying” amounts to him climbing on her like she’s a felled tree he plans to ride down the flooded river to safety. There’s no getting undressed, either. He angles up and plows in, and then just lies there, like he’s waiting for a million angels to do all the heavy lifting. Dude, I know you’re both fifty, but get her ready first. Put on some Foghat (always gets the ladies going) and play Pet the Man in the Boat. There’s a computer in the house! Google “clitoris” and let the world open up to you. Stan Marsh knows about the clitoris and he’s like eight. You have no excuse. Anyway, his only Me Time takes the form of a monthly poker game with his buddies from the plant. At one of these games, the guys mention they get together on a website to play poker, and Thomas reacts like, “What is this internet you speak of? Is it a form of sorcery?” The poor guy is totally flummoxed by the basic idea of computers, and they’re planning to throw him to a gambling website? Best case scenario, he’s going to get so much malware on that thing it’s turning into Skynet.

I AM HUMANITY’S DOOM. WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEXT?

So what should happen on the very first time he plays with the guys? Some person with the oh-so-subtle screen name of “talhotblond” starts chatting with him. And it gets racy pretty quick when “she” sends him a picture of “herself” in a bikini. I’m “sorry” about all the “scare quotes” but even summarizing this movie is “hard.” Long story short, Thomas starts a torrid online affair with this person, who, as we learned from Buffy, might be an elderly Dutch woman or an omnicidal demon. He pretends to be himself at twenty, and oh yeah, his screen name is “marinesniper.” If I saw that name and I was… anybody, anybody at all, I would not get into any sort of emotional weirdness with that person. And this is nothing against the marines — my grandfather was in the corps and retired a Lt. Colonel — this is something against snipers. And more to the point, people who advertise being snipers. Sniping is an important job in the real world, or online (and stop fucking camping, Chet, it’s cheap and you know it), but you don’t use that as your name for the same reason that Jimmy the plumber doesn’t use the screen name “Poopsmasher.”

Now here’s when the film becomes harder to predict. The affair progresses, and Talhotblond sends Marinesniper a care package, which includes pictures (the most racy of which are more bikini shots), a note, and a pair of panties. Later, there’s even a phone call in which he proposes to her. You know, despite the fact that he has a wife and kids and such. It’s not too long before Carol hacks the computer while he’s at his game (his password was “semperfi” — well done, dude, might as well have used “swordfish”), and discovers the affair. She comes clean to Talhotblond, and puts Thomas in the doghouse. At this point, I’m baffled. At first I assumed naturally Talhotblond was a dude, but the phone call says it’s not. Plus, all the photos are clearly of the same young woman. At this point in my first viewing, I was spitting out ideas that involved clones, alien abductions, and hitchhiking ghosts.

Talhotblond transfers her affections over to Thomas’s poker buddy Brian (screen name “beefcake”), a young man getting ready to go off to college. He’s a bit of a cad, and the only one of the guys at the plant with any kind of future. While he romances Talhotblond, Thomas grows more and more unhinged, even after Carol finally forgives him. One weekend, when Brian is supposedly going to go see her (no idea how that was going to work, but these people seem to have no conception of the future), Thomas murders Brian. He’s caught pretty much instantly due to the miles and miles of motive in the form of chatlogs, emails, and even a fistfight the two guys had at work. It’s really the worst attempt at getting away with murder. In my favorite part, Thomas throws his laptop into a lake, like “That’ll teach you to internet!”

When the cops come to Talhotblond’s house to tell her Brian’s been shot, the girl from the pictures comes to the door. And I’m baffled. All my hypotheses hinged on that girl being some kind of catalog model. Then I see Molly Hagan as well, who is a fairly recognizable character actor with a career going back to the ‘80s. I say, “Oh look, Molly Hagan.” And Erik, who had seen this, goes, “And why would Molly Hagan be playing such a bit part?”

…and my world turned into the last scene of Usual Suspects. I’m not even kidding. If I had a coffee cup, I would have dropped it so it could artfully shatter on the floor. Every snippet of dialogue, every piece of evidence, all rattled through my head and I saw the whole thing. Even before they showed what happened, I saw it unfurl, and I was horrified. Thomas sees it a bit later when the arresting officers plunk a file down in front of him. “There’s your Talhotblond.” And it’s this picture of Molly Hagan, and she has this expression like, “C’mon. You had to know it wasn’t that cute blonde chick.”

So, yeah, Molly Hagan is a mom, and the pics she sent to these creeps she met on the internet are of her daughter. Gross, right? It gets worse. The panties actually belonged to her daughter too, stolen out of her underwear drawer! She couldn’t just buy a fresh pair? Nope, had to violate her kid just a tad more.

One of the funniest things about Talhotblond is that it’s actually pretty good. I mean, it’s silly, disposable trash, but it’s pretty good silly, disposable trash. Garret Dillahunt and Laura San Giacomo are both good to great actors, and they showed up to work. There’s no sleepwalking through this one. Courteney Cox (yep, that one) directed and produced — likely for some hands-on experience — and has a two scene cameo as Carol’s work pal. She actually makes the computer chatting scenes non-tedious, which is something that the big-budget Perfect Stranger couldn’t manage to do. The final twist did its job too, blowing everyone’s mind and instantly elevating Talhotblond to best-of Yakmala status.

What did we learn? Nothing, if you’re even slightly aware of the internet. But if you’re not, just assume whoever is talking to you is some kind of giant robot demon, that way if they’re not, you’re pleasantly surprised.

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Yay for Comics! September 2014 Edition

yaySo, a million years ago, Paul Pope drew an illustration of his THB protagonist, HR Watson, jumping for joy and exclaiming “Yay for Comics!” It is a reminder that the medium is filled with excitement. Yet, it can be difficult to enjoy comics with the sexist and violent tirades of certain fans, the thin margins under which the industry operates and the continuing racial and gender inequality in the creative sector of the business, but there are still things to love about it. Things that make me jump for joy, just like HR Watson.

This month sees me trying a number of new series, finally reading a few trades sitting in my pile and enjoying the medium. So, let’s get to it!

Pretty Deadly Vol 1: Kelly Sue DeConnick’s western tale is odd. I mean that in the best way possible. It has a similiar atmosphere to a Nick Cave song. It’s moody, filled with mist and Death has a starring role. The story is told in a rather elliptical way, which makes sense considering the narrator appears to be an animal carcass. The story concerns Death’s attempt to prevent his replacement from taking her rightful place and, perhaps, ending the cycle of life in the process. While it’s all more suggested than the typical comic, it’s wonderfully illustrated by Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Cowles, who give us wonderful looking characters like Fox, Sissy and Ginny. It appears Ginny will be the main character in subsequent stories and I look forward to it.

Pretty Deadly

Annihilator #1: Grant Morrison, freed from the shackles of the major publishers, takes on his most overt Philip K. Dick inspired tale. While Morrison has always been fond of time loops, fiction coming to life and inverting expectations, this is the first time he straight-up uses Hollywood and its excesses as the starting point. Though, we also get ten or so pages of one of the most nihilistic sci-fi stories printed in comics in a good long while. It remains to be seen just how that sci-fi world merges with the suicidal screenwriter who appears to be our protagonist, but I’m excited to see where it goes.

The Mercenary Sea: The spiritual successor to Corto Maltese and a welcome Johnny Quest-esque cousin (in fact, Dr. Quest and Race Bannon make a small cameo), The Mercenary Sea brings adventure back to comics — a genre the medium never does enough of for my tastes. Kel Symons’ story is set in the Pacific before the U.S. entry into World War II, the book centers on a rag-tag crew manning a stolen Chinese sub. While they mainly smuggle goods around the island, Captain Jack Harper looks for clues to a local Shang-ri La like island. There’s also some spies, an Japanese Army base and friendly natives thrown in for good measure. What sets this apart is the style provided by Mathew Reynolds. It almost looks like stills from an animated movie with great use of rack focus techniques from panel to panel. I’m sure a computer was used to achieve the style, but it’s one of the best uses I’ve seen in a good, long while.

The Mercenary Sea

Teen Dog #1: He might look like Poochie, but Teen Dog’s chill demeanor makes him the best-liked kid in school. Even the self-styled enemy of Teen Dog, Thug Pug, can’t help but like him. The brain child of Jake Lawrence, Teen Dog is one of those books I pick up on a whim and I’m glad I did. It’s another all ages comic with fun one-page strips and a group of great characters, Thug Pug included. It’s currently an eight-issue miniseries, so I imagine a plot will appear in subsequent issues. For the meanwhile, I’m glad to have met Teen Dog and picked up his positive vibe.

I Kill Giants: This was given to me as a birthday gift several years ago and I’m sorry I didn’t read it sooner. Written by Joe Kelly with art from JM Ken Niimura, I Kill Giants is a story of loss, anger and dealing with the inevitable. It also has some magic if you choose to see it. The main character is a young girl obsessed with fantasy and role playing games and she’s using her fascinations to cope with … ah, but that would be telling. This is the big winner of the month for me. The story is amazing, the characters instantly relatable and the art so different and amazing. I might be the last person to see this book for what it is, and if so, read it again. It’s just so good.

I Kill Giants

The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #1: I’ve never read a Valiant title before. I’m not entirely sure why, but the cover to the first issue seemed intriguing. It introduces a woman who can talk to the dead, except for her own late husband, and consults on macabre cases. I have no idea if Doctor Mirage is a preexisting Valiant character and I don’t really care. I’m happy to learn about this corner of the Valiant world by way of Shan, the world-weary title character. As she digs deeper into the first case, I found myself curious about the spin on the dead that will eventually be revealed.

Well, that’ll do it for this week. I’m off to Long Beach Comic-Con this weekend and perhaps I’ll discover some new treasure to keep me positive about this whole comic thing. And even if not, we’ll be checking in with Fables next month and I’ll see if the new take on Batgirl gets me to shout yay for comics.

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Now Fear This: Changeling

It’s about a giant lady who eats children.

I can’t trace the roots of all my phobias. There are too many of them. I’d need to get more proficient with Excel for one thing. This week’s entry, 2008’s Changeling (not to be confused for previous entry The Changeling), tripped a lingering fear whose true source has been lost to the mists of memory. I have no reason to be worried about getting thrown into an old-timey mental institution and then forced to prove my own sanity, knowing full well the catch-22 involved there, yet there it is. Watching Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) getting thrown into the LA County Psych Ward for being able to correctly determine that a child was not hers, was one of the most disturbing things I have seen in a while. It was all the more frightening because the story was true.

In all great crime movies about Los Angeles, the filmmakers get a very important point: we never had a mafia around here. Oh, we’ve had a few gangs, some Nostras, both Cosa and Kosher, but not like the other great cities of this country. No, out here, organized crime has always been the purview of the cops. The Shield, L.A. Confidential, these works get it, and both are based at least partly on reality. Los Angeles has always been a city whose gangsters got pensions and carried badges. Changeling takes place primarily between 1928-30, when Police Chief Davis unleashed his infamous “gun squad” (it was a more honest time then — remember, the Secretary of Defense used to be called the Secretary of War), ostensibly to target rum smugglers, but actually more concerned with hobos and leftists. The department was staffed with thugs and incompetents, and it’s inevitable that things would slip through the cracks. The problems occur when they try to cover for their mistakes.

Christine Collins was a single mother raising her son Walter (this was back when Walters were still young) in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Lincoln Heights — a few miles from where I live today. One day while she’s at work, Walter vanishes. Several months later, the police claim to have located the boy in DeKalb, Illinois with a drifter, but when they return Walter to Christine, she notes some differences. This new boy is circumcised, he’s several inches shorter, and it’s obviously not fucking Walter, and Christine knows her own son. Bullied into accepting him “on a trial basis” by LAPD Captain JJ Jones (Jeffrey Donovan, doing a variation on the Irish accent he’d bust out on Burn Notice every now and then), brittle Christine soon regrets the decision. Jones is a brick wall, the LAPD is in dire straits with the public, they need a “win.” Jones begins by making sexist insinuations about Christine “dodging responsibility” and “missing her freedom” before escalating into the aforementioned institutionalizing. His slimy language calls to mind online harassment and slut-shaming, finally getting the attention it deserves and showing that while this is the past, some of the prejudices are all too present.

He just throws her into the psych ward. There’s absolutely zero oversight. While inside, Christine gets the stories of some others also victimized by the LAPD’s iron fist. Amy Ryan plays a prostitute who tried to complain about a violent john… who turned out to be a cop, so in she goes. Another woman was relentlessly abused by her cop husband, and as soon as she tried to escape, it was off to the psych ward. In the most heartbreaking (and, sadly still relevant) monologue, Ryan’s character, layering on the tragic sarcasm, points out that they’re women — they’re supposed to be weak and emotional, so when they break it’s expected.

The film then takes a fascinating and odd detour. While Christine is being tortured in a mental institution for the crime of wanting the cops to actually look for her kid, the narrative shifts. It’s not immediately obvious why, either, just that Detective Lester Ybarra (Michael Kelly), one of Jones’s men in the juvenile division, is investigating a Canadian kid staying here illegally. And yes, this is the first and last time anyone in LA has ever been concerned about Canadian illegals. Ybarra abruptly finds himself in a noir film when this boy, who was staying with uncle, admits to helping this uncle murder up to twenty boys. The kid also identifies Walter Collins as one of the boys that was killed.

Fortunately, Christine had already attracted the attention of oddly intimidating preacher and losing Scrabble hand Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), who is able to spring her from the clink. Briegleb’s mission in life was to expose the LAPD for its violence, incompetence, and corruption, and has glommed onto Christine’s story as an excellent way to do just that. As one of the radio preachers that used to be a thing (fun was not invented until 1942), he uses his electric pulpit to bring attention to the crimes of the LAPD. Christine and Briegleb, with the assistance of crusading lawyer SS Hahn, sue the cops for what they did.

It feels odd to be calling a movie directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Angelina Jolie, and John Malkovich underrated and deserving of attention, but since its release, Changeling has dropped out of the consciousness of the movie going public. That’s a shame, because it really is very good. Eastwood is a master at making good to great films from mediocre scripts, but here he has a legitimately great story written by J. Michael Straczynski (best known for Babylon 5), who did a truly insane amount of research to get it right. Straczynski’s great skill as a writer has always been in kissing his characters’ asses, and while this might sound like an insult, it’s really not. To do it right, the character has to have legitimately been awesome or the praise is unwarranted, and comes off as shilling. In this case, Christine has just spent a decent chunk of time in the psych ward, thinking that she’s doomed to stay in there forever, and Briegleb frees her, then introduces her to the lawyer. “We can’t afford him… so he’s doing this pro bono.” And the lawyer, with just the right gravitas, says, “It would be my honor. I have never seen anyone fight so long and hard in what is clearly the cause of justice.” It’s all the more warranted, because the film had just shown her refusing to back down in the face of shock treatment, even though she had no idea that her rescue was just around the corner. Straczynski shows us Christine’s steel, and it’s appropriate to praise her.

I’m not a Jolie fan as a rule, but she great here. Her look is perfect for the era, but she never relies on it. She’s forced to run the gamut, from great mom in the beginning, to wracked with fear, to desperation, to despair, to turning into an implacable wall of justice. She is continually faced with her status as a second-class citizen — what with being a woman and all — though by the end when her son’s probable killer attempts to use that against her, she slaps him with such blistering contempt it’s a wonder he didn’t die then and there. Kelly, as the other lead, is just as good but far less showy, and it’s a shame this wasn’t two movies, one about Christine, and one about him. Sort of a noir version of Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima.

Changeling is a fascinating horror film, effortlessly shifting between the different kinds of
fear. First it’s the adult fear of losing a child, then it moves into the existential dread of being sane but unable to prove it, before moving into a serial killer story of astonishing evil. It’s a top notch team of director, writer, and actors putting together an epic story of corruption with a vulnerable human face.

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New Satellite Show Episode 17: Wonka’s Pimphand

Tim and Chelsea join the Panel of Experts as Justin confronts Firefly at long last and jabs at Doctor Who. A discussion of GamerGate leads to Erik revealing his next gen console choice. The group considers whether or not Willy Wonka was a slave owner and Justin sees a movie in first-run theatrical release. This month’s Yakmala film is Samurai Cop. Host: Erik. Panel of Experts: Dante, Justin, Clint, Tim, Chelsea, Dawn.

Click here or subscribe on iTunes.

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Yakmala: Perfect Stranger

I feel like she just walked in on Willis in the bathroom.

What is it about the internet that drove mid-‘90s filmmakers insane with terror? Back then, Hollywood was positive these newfangled computer machines would result in a generation of hairy-palmed morlocks, baffled by social mores and existing entirely on greasy chain pizza and novelty soft drinks. By the aughts, the computer and its attendant series of tubes had become such a part of everyday life that the fear is gone and… wait, Perfect Stranger came out in 2007? Forget it, I have no fucking clue what these idiots were thinking.

Tagline: How Far Would You Go To Keep a Secret?

More Accurate Tagline: How Long Can You Stay Awake Watching People Chat Online?

Guilty Party: This is a tough one, since Perfect Stranger is exactly the kind of star-studded crap that gets greenlit regardless of how tired the concept or even if the screenplay is indifferently scrawled on a men’s room wall in feces. The fact of the matter is, Bruce Willis and Halle Berry agreed to be in this movie for a paycheck, so I should probably blame their desire for a swimming pool.

Synopsis: The opening credit sequence is so bizarre, I couldn’t even figure out what they were trying to show. It looked like Azathoth attempting to have sex with the atmosphere processing station on LV-426. Eventually, the director comes out of whatever psychotic break he was wrestling to actually make the movie, and I instantly wish he was back in it. No, instead we have the adventures of intrepid reporter Rowena Price (Halle Berry), writing under the name David Shane (subtle commentary on sexism, or homage to Fletch? Who knows? Who cares?). She initially goes after a homophobic and closeted gay senator, only to find her hatchet job blocked at the eleventh hour.

Ro (as she’s known, and yes, I added “Ensign” to her name every time) quits in a huff, only to be stalked to the subway by a blonde woman. This turns out to be childhood friend Grace (Nicki Aycox, most famous to me as evil pixie Meg on Supernatural) who has another story for Ro. Grace was having an affair with an advertising executive Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), when Hill suddenly broke it off and now Grace wants payback. The relationship between Ro and Grace is strained, and later we find out that Grace banged Ro’s last boyfriend. Anyway, Ro’s interested in the story, but not too interested.

Until Grace turns up dead! And like, super, duper dead. Poisoned then dumped in the river. Now convinced that Hill killed Grace, Ro decides she’s going to bring him down. With the assistance of her computer-savvy pal Miles (a supremely twitchy Giovanni Ribisi), she gets a job at Hill’s agency to investigate. Meanwhile, she catfishes Hill (while he uses his alias ADEX), trying to get him to drop some valuable hints during sexy chat time. And yes, this leads to multiple scenes of characters in front of computers typing words and whispering along. Its riveting. By which I mean you would need to rivet my eyes open like the fucking Ludovico Technique to get me to watch this again.

Ro hooks up with her ex that Grace banged, and while they’re playing Hide the Bishop (that’s a thing, right?), Miles lurks in the apartment listening. So… yeah. The autopsy brings two pertinent pieces of information to light: 1) Grace was pregnant and 2) the poison used was belladonna. Unfortunately, all this snooping gets Hill to believe Ro is a corporate spy, so he fires her. Then he goes out with her, because his dick is stupid. Then at the date, Miles sends an incriminating text which Hill intercepts, and it’s back to the corporate espionage angle. Yes, the big, exciting scene involved characters reading texts.

“The call is not coming from inside the house! It’s from far away! You’re totally safe is what I’m trying to tell you.”

Oh yeah… there have been two flashbacks, one in the beginning, and one here near the end. Basically, they’re of a guy telling her it’s bathtime, and not in a friendly, fatherly sort of way. It’s gross and it’s only barely important.

Miles invites Ro over for dinner, then for no good reason goes to Hill’s office to get at his computer. He couldn’t have done this earlier? He does make one big discovery, which is that Mrs. Hill has a series of photographs of dilated eyes, and belladonna in small doses is used to dilate eyes. So Hill had access to the poison! Wow.

Ro heads into Miles’s place, and he should have been there. He has a super gross Hollywood bachelor pad, including an analog porn stash on his toilet tank, and sorry, no. The whole point of this guy is that he’s comfortable with computers, and if there’s one thing computers are good at, it’s providing free pictures of naked people. Anyway, Ro keeps snooping, and finds a terrifying mannequin thing with her face on it, an animated gif on his computer of her in a bikini (the Swordfish one, delighting fans of shitty Halle Berry films) that just repeats in her voice “Miles is sexy,” and on that same computer a ton of shots of Miles and Grace re-enacting over half of Fifty Shades of Grey. Also, Miles is both ADEX, and Trublu, another chat pal that’s been pestering Ro. He comes home, they have a fight, but he does manage to tell her about the poison.

With all the evidence, the cops arrest Hill and he’s convicted. Halle Berry delivers this long babbling voiceover about the evils of computers, and I’m hoping she’ll be done soon so I can experience joy once again. But oh no, there’s one more twist. A pair of hands retrieve belladonna from a hiding place and it’s Ro. Yep, she killed Grace. And then just suddenly Miles is there, being like, Grace was blackmailing you! Uh… okay. Remember the molesting dad? Well, Ro’s mom beat him to death and they buried him in the yard. Grace saw it, so she had that over Ro’s head, which is why she had to be killed. Miles then figures out that Ro knew about the dilated eyes, because of the virtual tour — her computer auto-completed the URL. Yes, it’s as boring as it sounds. So she stabs him to death when he attempts to blackmail her for sex. And guess what? Her neighbor saw the whole thing.

Life-Changing Subtext: Computers will inevitably turn you into a sociopath. That’s not really subtext, though. She says it straight out in the final narration.

Defining Quote: This is on the IMDB quotes page and it’s too funny not to share.
Harrison Hill: Do you have any idea what loyalty is?
Ro: I bet your wife is wondering the same thing!
Harrison Hill: BAAAAAAAAAAAH!
The great thing is you can imagine that “BAAAAAAAAAAAH!” as angry, happy, or that fake laugh people use when they want to acknowledge a joke but not actually get any pleasure out of it.

Standout Performance: One of my favorite character actors, Richard Portnow, plays the improbably named Narron, Ro’s editor. He also played the coroner in Se7en, who delivered that incredible line with just the right amount of weariness and contempt: “He’s experienced about as much pain and suffering as anyone I’ve encountered, give or take, and he still has Hell to look forward to.” He doesn’t have much to do here, but I could listen to his raspy radio baritone read a description of a blocked colon.

What’s Wrong: It’s a cyber-panic flick made in 2007. It’s an erotic thriller without a single sex scene. It’s nearly two hours of people staring at email.

Flash of Competence: The final reveal is pretty good, even if the voiceover is dumb. Apparently, they three different endings with three different characters as the killer. That’s got to contribute to the directionless feeling of the middle hour and twenty minutes or so.

Best Scenes: What is up with Bruce Willis and terrible erotic thrillers? It’s possible he learned his lesson last time and refused to show his dick, but come on. The whole point of these movies are the sex scenes. A-list starts stripping down and doing a little grinding. Bruce Willis looks like he’s going to get busy in one scene, but he falls behind a curtain and that’s it. Maybe I should be grateful that I wasn’t traumatized this time?

A lot of hay was made of the pervasive product placement in Man of Steel, but this was worse. For one thing, Ro can’t sit down without fetching a frosty Heineken from her fridge. And in another scene, a line of Heinekens are just sitting on a conference table. Mmm… warm beer. Everyone’s favorite! There’s even a commercial for Victoria’s Secret in the middle, but in true Perfect Stranger form, none of the models are actually in lingerie.

Transcendent Moment: Just before the final reveal, Ro goes on a long voiceover rant about the evils of computers. She sounds like an Amish person haranguing a door-to-door salesman they have trussed up in a barn.

“It’s a world where you think actions have no consequence, where guilt is cloaked by anonymity, where there are no fingerprints. An invisible universe filled with strangers, interconnected online and disconnected in life. It will steal your secrets, corrupt your dreams, and co-opt your identity. Because in this world, where you can be anything you want, anyone you want, you just might lose sight of who you are.”

I’ve found that it’s a good idea just to agree with Josiah or he’ll churn your ass to butter. And for those keeping track at home, yes, Ro is blaming her murder of two people on her computer.

“Shh… just tell my penis all about it.”

Perfect Stranger’s biggest sin, ultimately, is being boring. It promises cheap titillation and fails even in that modest goal, so all we’re left with is 109 minutes of nothing. If you need to see Bruce Willis awkwardly groping on someone, watch Color of Night instead.

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In Which We Choose a Next Gen Console

So, after much consideration, I’ve chosen a next gen console from which to play assorted future installments of Assassins Creed and Batman Arkham video games. The winner is:

one

Yeah, I’m pretty much surprised, too. Last summer, the Xbox One was on my shit list. Let’s recall all the absurd features touted when the console was revealed:

  • A mandatory Kinect add-on that was always on. Watching you when you sleep.
  • A mandatory always-on internet connection so the machine could phone home once a day. Without this, the console would lock up.
  • A new game sharing scheme that made your disc a useless hunk of plastic.
  • A $500 price tag.

Oh, what a difference a year makes. As pre-order data rolled in, it became clear people were siding with Sony’s simpler and less expensive Playstation 4. I was nearly one of those people until the launch title I was interested in, Watch Dogs, was delayed six months. Without that game, the PS4 would’ve been useless for a year until the next Assassins Creed game rolled in. I cancelled my pre-order and waited.

As the console war settled, it seemed the two were pretty much equal for the most part. Once Microsoft stripped away the more draconian “features” and made the unit available without the Kinect for $399, it became a more viable option. Then, something changed over this past weekend as I traded in some old games and took the store credit for use on my eventual console purchase: Microsoft was offering a free game with any new XBox One bought this week, including the new game Destiny. I considered my options and decided it was finally time to give Microsoft the preferred spot in gaming again. Besides the free game, there were a few other things that swung me toward the XBox:

1. The Controller. I’m not fond of the Playstation controller. It’s sort of  flimsy and lacks the solid feel of the XBox triggers. Skipping a couple of cycles from the 64 bit era to 2006, I didn’t really get back into console games until the final XBox controller was released and made available to me as part of the Scarface: The World is Your testing team at the now defunct Vivendi Games. I liked the feel of it and it led to my eventual interest in an XBox 360.

Legitimately good design from Microsoft.

Legitimately good design from Microsoft.

2 XBox Live. To be quite honest, Live is a pretty good network and worth the yearly fee, though I always collect up some spare change to bring the price down a little. I missed the years of serious instability, so downtime is fairly rare in my experience and unlike Sony’s Playstation Plus network, it’s fairly secure.

3. The era of exclusives is at an end. Sony has maybe one or two exclusive titles I really don’t have much interest in. Microsoft has Sunset Overdrive, but I haven’t really looked into it and don’t know if I want to play it. With game exclusivity amounting to little more than special sections or downloadable weapons, the distinctions became little more than a slight hardware edge on Sony’s side and I doubt I’d be able to notice the difference.

4. I already have a Live Gold subscription. This last one is specific to Destiny. The game was unappealing as a PS4 title because I didn’t want to double dip subscriptions to play it. I’m already in Microsoft’s ecosystem, so the game became all the more appealing.

And really, I think that really tipped it over the edge toward XBox One. Offering Destiny for free with the purchase of the console meant no additional outlay of funds to get a game. it also helps that this is the first game released so far that I had any really interest in playing.

Well, at least until Assassins Creed: Unity gets here.

This is where I'll be come November.

This is where I’ll be come November.

So, despite thinking I would end up a Playstation user for this generation, I found myself back with XBox and that’s okay. Once they removed all the onerous “advancements,” it’s a pretty solid system — physically and technologically — and Microsoft deserves a pat on the back for walking away from ideas its customer-base loudly (and monetarily) protested.

So here’s to happy gaming in the future on the platform I tend to enjoy!

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