Friday, March 19, 2010

Movie Review: The Crazies

A Confession: I was maybe 20 minutes into The Crazies when I found myself asking...myself...the following question: "Why am I watching this?"

It's important to stress that this is a compliment. The Crazies scared me several times, and left me deeply unsettled throughout. At one point I actually considered closing my eyes, which is a horror movie tactic I haven't employed since I wasn't considered old enough to watch them. The Crazies can't take the entirety of the credit for this, granted, because part of what was happening was likely holdover from Shutter Island. That movie's score was phenomenally unsettling, and from the opening shots onward the music was twisting my stomach and keeping me on the literal edge of my seat- seriously, I remember becoming aware of my precarious perch part-way through that movie, feeling ridiculous, but not moving. The Crazies is not Shutter Island, but I saw it in a theater I'd last been in right before I saw Shutter Island, and I hadn't hit the theater in between.

Still, Secondary-Scorsese aside, The Crazies still freaked me out, and American horror movies almost never do that. I have to go to fabulous Nippon for that, or catch a flick crafted from the guts of a movie originally written with Japanese sensibilities. So I am impressed that I was so disturbed, that I flinched so often, that I jumped at points that should have been simple (and easily telegraphed) gotcha gags. I think the score is responsible for a lot of that fear, but the way they use the Crazies does the rest. Its not a film that went the zombie route, with infected townsfolk running through the streets while bloody spittle flies from their lips. If they had, it would have too greatly resembled 28 Days Later, which the infected already do to a certain extent. Instead, the Crazies spend a lot of time brooding, peering quizzically into the middle distance, and even talking. They seem to retain their capacity for reason even in the deepest throes of the disease, possibly even possessing an enhanced cunning and predatory sensibility. It's that latter point that helps to make them so disturbing; you get the sense that the Crazies could converse with their potential victims, but they're too busy setting up an elaborate ambush or methodically slaughtering people to bother. Their chilling silence did a lot to make the jump-scares more frightening; the Crazies don't appear in a shot with a roar or a hiss, usually. They're just there, and maybe they kill you. At the same time, though, they possess a level of emotion that a character like Mike Myers (at least Classic Mike) explicitly lacks.

A Second Confession: Okay, this is where things get a little weird. At the same time I was twisting, and jumping, and being unsettled by The Crazies , I kept expecting one of the ominous government vehicles, or perhaps the massive combine seen at the beginning of the movie, unfold into Optimus Prime. Throughout most of the movie I couldn't shake the expectation that the autobots would show up and really just break the situation down. And near as I can tell, this is also the score's fault, at least partially. Something in its bombast, even some of the specific notes it hits, sound exactly like the two recent Transformers films. And while that is absurd, parts of the film are absurd too. The saw chasing Sheriff Seth Bullock is absurd, for instance. And, waxing philosophical for a moment, the crux of the plot itself is also absurd.

Either I, or the folks behind this movie, don't fully understand viral pathology. Specifically, if you're exposed to a virus and you don't get sick, does that mean you're immune to the virus forever? I understand that the body eventually develops the capacity to fight off certain viral infections...but if I injected myself with AIDS-carrying blood today, and didn't get sick, I wasn't under the impression I could do it again tomorrow and be fine. This is relevant, and not just a staggering display of my lack of biology classes, because the virus in the film is waterborne at the begin of the film, but eventually is thought to have become airborne. I can understand that, maybe, the airborne version doesn't make people sick once they've been exposed and emerged unscathed; it's a mutation, its a new strain, maybe its weaker, etc.

But if the disease starts out waterborne...isn't it bloodborne as well? This becomes extremely relevant when you consider that one character just wanders around in a blood-stained smock for a good chunk of the movie, and before things have progressed too far they've all be slopped and splashed with twitchy crimson. Sheriff Bullock, at the very least, has quite a few open wounds as this is occurring.

Also, and equally relevant: we want these brave souls to survive, and escape, and get to safety. But aren't they covered in airborne virii? Isn't that soaked into their clothes, their hair, and even their skin? Again, I don't mean simply because they've been traipsing through town; I mean because they've been wrestling with Crazies throughout the film. So even if they're somehow immune, and they make it to Cedar Rapids, aren't they just going to get everyone around them sick? Zombie movies dodge this question by having the disease transmitted entirely by fluids (even though that's now how the original Night of the Living Dead sparked it off), but The Crazies makes a point of the disease being airborne.

So the goal is to root for these people, to want them to escape, even though the act of doing so is almost sure to result in the deaths of many hundreds, or thousands, more. For whatever reason (and without markedly detracting from my enjoyment of the film) this was at the forefront of my mind for the latter half of the film. Well, that and Transformers.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

MMO Adventures 2: The Shaggening

Once Perfect World was running on my system, I set out to make a charac…wait, no. Before I jump into character creation, I should acknowledge two pernicious bugs that impair playing PW on a Mac running Crossover. The first is that the game client itself, upon launching, occasionally opens in a windowed mode. Perhaps there are humans who play MMOs in a tiny window (the window that appears is not resizeable, and is about 40% of the screen; I check my e-mail in larger windows), but I am not one. I need that full-screen action to fully click and stab all the monsters on screen. Once I log in, select a character, and play for a few moments, I can usually quit the game and when I open it back up it’ll play in full screen mode.

The second bug is something I actually do worry about. Whenever I open the game, it checks my version. It then, every time without fail, mentions that a new version is available and gives me patch options. Now, the first time I opened the game this worked fine. I said patch, hells yes and patching occurred and everything was fine. However, when I try to patch it now it automatically dies. This hasn’t prevented me from playing the game, but my fear is it very well could one day in the future. I’m assuming I can use the manual patch download option and transfer the patch into my bottle, but I’d prefer to be able to patch in the prescribed fashion instead.

Anyway, I managed to slither my way into the game proper. Perfect World has apparently unleashed a “Rising Tide” expansion; think Burning Crusade for WoW, only it costs nothing. It’s similar to BC, however, in that it provides a new environment which, Lorewise at least, was not accessible before. It also (and here’s the BC comparison) grants access to a sexy new race of entirely too pretty individuals, the Tideborn. Tideborn are basically elves (or Blood Elves, which are basically elves) with fins coming out of their skulls where ears should be. The classes available to Tideborn are Assassin and Psychic, and either gender can be a member of either class (this is distinct from some races, as you’ll see). When I sat down to make my first character, I want to stress that I remained strong. I did not roll a Psychic, despite that being a ranged, element-using, caster-based class; which is to say, right up my alley. I did not roll a pet class, despite always rolling a pet class. Instead, and after examining all of the race and class options available, I rolled a male Tideborn Assassin.

The character customization in PW is impressive, and equally impressive is how Aeria managed to work a certain amount of cash shop into it. I could alter the dimensions of my character’s head, eyes, lips, nose, arms, torso, legs, and so forth. I could alter his hair, its color, its texture (ever feel your human paladin needed some highlights?). I could reposition facial features. And, most important to me personally as a mulatto gamer, I could alter his skin color across an incredible range. I settled on a swarthy, milk-chocolate Tideborn fellow of svelte build and powerful thighs.

I want to stress that this customization is incredible; the only MMO I’ve played with a comprable level of flexibility is City of Heroes/Villains. While that game gets the nod in terms of clothing optimization and weird additions to your character at the start, since you’re designing a supe and their costume as opposed to playing a character who’ll constantly be up-gearing and gaining status on the basis of that equipment, I’m quite favorably impressed by PW’s character creation for Tideborn, Humans, and Winged Elves.

Why the list? Well, I’ll make an admission here: after playing the Tideborn up to level two, some control frustrations had me quitting out to Google for a solution. When I popped back in, my altaholism kicked in and I made a new character. One of the critical elements of PW is that each individual race has exclusive (and sole) access to two classes. The Tideborn provide Assassins (high-DPS melee) and Psychics (high-DPS ranged). Humans provide Blademasters (DPS/Tank melee classes) and Wizards (Wizards are wizards, eh?). Winged Elves can fly from level one, which surprised me as Aion made a huge deal out of eventually providing wings to characters, whereas PW does so at level one if you roll in this race; they can be either Archers (ranged high-DPS) or Priests (the healing class, with the buffs and restoration powers you’d expect).

Sexy? Sure. But there’s one more race, a race who has, unlike all the others, a limit to its classes based on the gender you select. A race I knew, going into this game, I was going to roll sooner or later. The race which my choosing Tideborn first was, not a snub, but an acknowledgment of the sexy of. I am no furry, even a slight tiny bit, but how’s a brother supposed to ignore the prospect of playing a big, angry tiger man? That’s what male Untamed represent, unless you’d rather be a Lion man (which is what I rolled), or a wolf or panda man. All male Untamed are Barbarians, which is the core tank class for the game. All female Untamed are sexy lady (honestly, all the PW ladies are scantily clad and 0 body fat) creatures, which can shew fox, bat, demon, and so forth in human form. The All Untamed have a WoW-Druid-esque shifting ability, which turns the males into white tigers and the females into foxes. These secondary forms provide passive benefits, and further learn skills that explore whatever the core class fails to obtain. The Barbarian, for instance, has increased defense and speed in his tiger form at the cost of reduced DPS. The Beastmaster (the foxy lady class) is the pet class, focused on debuffs and ranged combat while their tamed pets battle. Their fox form, however, is a melee-oriented class along the lines of your typical rogue or assassin.

So yes, by the time I’d logged into PW a second time I was already rolling a giant roaring beast man who remains my highest-level character to date. He stepped onto the scene with a big two-handed weapon, and he cut some plants to their roots because a strange lady told him to.

And it was good

Saturday, March 13, 2010

MMO Adventures 1: The Not-Playing

I spent the last week in an MMO frenzy. I was ravenous to play something online, with rpg elements and a persistent story. The fact that I read daily, and haven’t played WoW since 2008, probably has something to do with this. The fact that I read on the daily as well does much to explain how this urge could come upon a man.

So I spent literally the entirety of last week engaged in a project to download and patch WoW. Spring Break was coming up, and as my college provides two whole weeks for that celebration, it seemed like a good time to jump back into the game and see how my Warlocks (I have three, one for each spec) were doing.

I managed to get WoW onto my computer, though it took approximately 30 hours to do so. I was using a free trial, just to be sure that I still enjoyed the gameplay, but after an evening I was confident that I’d like to spend my time grinding, skinning, mining, and engaging in all the other joyous repetitions WoW provides. My defunct account is licensed for the Burning Crusade already, which meant I could try a free trial of Wrath of the Lich King. I clicked yes to that…and thus broke everything.

Despite a night of searching, I’ve yet to find any way to just upgrade to Wrath from Burning Crusade; I have to re-download the entire client. Which, again, takes ages. My ten-day trial is already a third over, and I’d say I could just wait it out and then go back to playing BC; except I deleted the game in order to try downloading the new client. I have the DVDs for the original game and BC, but it doesn’t seem that they’re usable; I can’t install that much of the game first and then just pick up the Wrath expansion. That puts me in a position where I need to spend 40 dollars to get the expansion plus also pay the monthly subscription fee, as it doesn’t appear there’s a free month’s service included in the Wrath price.

I’m not complaining, really. WoW is awesome, it’s doing very well for itself, and I’m glad of it. I’m simply in a situation where 15 dollars is very different from 40, and already feels like a wild expenditure. Luckily, partway through my WoW travails Fallen Earth came to the Mac. I’d followed the recent columns about one player’s journey through the wastes of that post-apoc game, and it struck my fancy…mostly as a substitute for Borderlands, which my poor laboring Macbook could apparently run if not for the DRM on the game, which prevents my running it through Steam/Crossover Games. I live in a world where my great interest in games is unfortunately combined with a near-total inability to play any of them.

The Fallen Earth client was, unfortunately, a 4.9 gig download that died halfway through the process (this, too, took a day). I fell into a deep despair.

And then

Then I remembered I had installed a few free-to-play MMOs through Crossover. I played Last Chaos for a time, but it failed to grab me, largely do the catastrophic slowdown I suffered any time I went into town. I had also attempted to get Perfect World working, with no success…at the time. Well, whatever problem PW had, it’s functional now. That means I actually have the capacity to play an MMO, get my grind on, fill them bars, and otherwise experience the joys of playing an rpg on the internet.

Great Story, eh?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

LJ Classic: The Nice Guy Trap (Originally 10/10/06)

As much for my edification as the enjoyment of my avid audience, I've been going through my auld Livejournal and re-reading the musings of a younger, fro-ier me. When I come upon something I particularly enjoy, I'm porting it over here.

Don't fall into the trap. I'm constantly skirting the edge of the trap, but a desperate part of me still recognizes that the trap offers no succor.

I had a great conversation with a buddy the other night, it was high quality stuff. It mostly had to do with the nice guy/asshole dichotomy and how it seems that women only want the latter, and when you treat them shitty (or shittier) they're suddenly all interested.

I argue for mitigating variables. I say that the reason "nice guys" don't get girls is because we half-ass it. We really want a relationship but "Oh gee, she's so keen...I'll just...hang around. I don't wanna push anything, and the friendship is really important. Plus, if I stick around for two or three years she'll magically realize I'm worth it, and get with me!" Lies.

What reason does the woman have to pursue a nice guy, if he's been there through every other great and shitty relationship she's ever had? Odds are, he'll still be there. If he starts to move away, that's scary and gets her attention because he's a cushion, but he's a cushion with no demands, so there's no reason to shake up the status quo by risking a relationship.

The nice guy approach does have its benefits, though, if you don't half-ass it. Some, actually most, of my best friends are girls with whom I've never had a relationship. Another sliver are girls I've maybe made out with once, but never pursued anything further. But with all of them, I went ahead and settled into the friendship and embraced it. Sure, in some cases it took a little longer to accept than in others, but the end result has been great. I have loyal friends, I have a different perspective on my problems, I have girls who can threaten to beat up exes who done me wrong (and there's something crazy comforting to that)...and most importantly, I have a critical link keeping me sane.

If there's a thing I cannot stand, it's women going "I hate guys! Guys suck!" especially if we happen to be hanging out. Last time I checked, I wasn't smuggling bananas in my trousers-I'm a guy. I can understand wanting to rail against a particular group because of the wrongs of a subset therein, but just because one understands the impulse doesn't make the action right. By having good female friends, I never reach that far, hairy horizon of utter misogyny. When I've made a typical Seth relationship mistake, it's not that all women's not even necessarily that I pick women who suck. It's probably more specific than that...I just end up in relationships that are unhealthy, and probably contribute to making them that way. Depending on the relationship, more or less of that contribution may fall at my feet, but it's yet to be a vast cosmic conspiracy where the universe is out to get me by breaking my heart. Female friends are a critical linchpin keeping that concept rooted in my head.

So the nice-guy gig is fundementally rotten, almost sick. It's this attempt to keep yourself safe from any personal risk of rejection, while emitting this thin, feeble whining that is supposed to somehow render you irresistable to the target of your affection. I am a nice guy, a lot of the time...I get it, I understand why it has an appeal. But it's still fundementally rotten.

Now then, the trap. The trap is in deciding that, since being nice and respectful and honest and loyal and all of these things doesn't work, it's time to switch it up. It's time to go in Zach Morris style, over-the-top asshole style. If being respectful didn't work, fuck 'em. Don't give them any attention, don't call them back, give them no end of shit.

I'm not gonna deny it, I've seen this whole style work. I've seen it work, and I've heard stories, and I've even had it work for me. I had a frat brother who accomplished amazing things, mind-boggling things. I once knew him to have sex with three different women in the same night, all of whom were friends, and all of whom came to the house together; yet they left, again together, in complete ignorance of what had transpired. When I was a searching youth, a lost freshman marooned in a very strange place geographically, socially, and emotionally, I apprenticed myself to this man. I wanted to learn his secrets.

His method was beautifully simple. You started the night, chose your target, and spent most of the evening insulting her. Everything she said. She opened her mouth, you talked over her. Or you ignored her. You walked away in mid conversation, and pursued other women. You went so over the top that she finally confronts you, or storms off all mad. That is when you approached her and said "Hey, I was just kidding with you! Gosh, I can't believe you thought I was serious!"

That was it. That was the entire method. Now, obviously the method presupposes some sort of charisma or physical appeal on the part of the actor, and a certain willingness to be had on the part of the target. Presuming those qualities were in effect, though, the results were frighteningly consistent.

Yet I still say unto the congregation, forsake the path of the asshole. Why? If it works, if one could daresay that the conduct of the female population encourages, if not demands, such behavior, why would I shy away from it? Have I abandoned my long-trumpeted quest to get more nerds and nice guys laid (actually, yes, but that was a long-ago entry)? Of course not.

I disdain the assholery because, in part, of my earlier comments about nice guys. Let's say that things in a particular woman's life break down into two camps. Camp one is filled with the devoted male friends who've been around forever and aren't going anywhere, but will never make a move, or make a single halfassed move, or took steps to scuttle things in other ways (such as complaining to the girl about some other girl they have an equally ineffectual and unrequited crush on). Camp two is constructed of basically every other male on the planet. These guys maybe don't know the woman, or maybe they do. They could be in it for sex, or a relationship...none of that matters, though, because whatever play they make is at least novel in comparison to the nice guy friends. Basically, the nice guyage creates an environment which is singularly receptive to taking the early stages, the woman doesn't have a lot to lose, and has a support group in place if things don't work out.

Make no mistake, women still turn guys down. Lots of guys. They don't snap for every asshole that comes into view, either. For the nice guy on the outside, it seems that way; but it's sort of like centripetal/centrifugal forces, where illusory effects are created based on the position of the observer. There is also the central, and very confusing, fact that many women seem capable of just deciding not to like someone. I don't know a lot of guys equipped with this particular feature, and fewer still who can't be convinced to rethink things with the proper combination of garments, alchohol, and interest.

But there's still a vast gulf between the guy who tells his female friend "Look, I really like you. We get along great, and I think you're gorgeous. Rather than sit idly by and comfort you when someone else treats you like shit, I want to show you the appreciation you deserve." and gets shot down....and the guy who sighs longingly while staring at his lovely friend, stays up till 3am listening to her sobbing about this or that, and figures this will one day blossom into her tearing his clothes off in a sympathy-induced sexual frenzy.