Picking at the bloated carcass of geek culture...occasionally!!!

Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

Wednesday’s “That Guy:” Maury Chaykin

In Movies, That Guys on July 29, 2010 at 12:08 am

I haven’t done one of these in a while and I know it’s not Monday, but I was I had heard that Maury Chaykin had passed away and it made me wonder why I had never hit on him before in my “that guy” analysis. Who is Maury Chaykin? This is:

Where to start with this legend? Well for me, there is only one. “Mr. Potato Head, Mr. Potato Head! Backdoors are not secrets!” his amazing line reading from WarGames is maybe my #1 referenced line that no one ever gets. Playing Matthew Broderick’s tech savy pal, his rage-filled scolding of Eddie Deezen is legendary. It demonstrates one of his best and most effective talents: bringing the anger quickly and dangerously with little to no provocation. Maury Chaykin seemed just, plain pissed off all the time and when he brought the rage, he was one of the most intimidating performers around. Not because of the threat of danger the anger signaled, but the anger itself had this palpable power.

He brought a sense of no-nonsense menace to many roles. He was a common criminal after Danny Devito in Twins. He was the kinda sketchy, sweating army officer in Dances with Wolves. Hell, when he was defending his grits in My Cousin Vinny, I expecting him crush with Joe Pesci with his inherent hostility. He would appear all the time and just knock it out of the park everytime.

A few years ago, I remember having the role of some movie producer on the show Entourage and being glad to see him returning to form as the overweight yet screamingly hostile badass you would never, ever want to cross. It was an excellent return to form for him and I just wanted to acknowledge the passing of a great that might not have gotten a ton of attention.

P.S: You know what my favorite part of about Entourage? Adrien Grenier plays Vincent Chase, a somewhat spoiled movie star. So, Adrien and Vince basically have the same job, actors. And they share the same face and body, right? So how come one of them (Vince) is a movie star and one of them (Adrien) is a would-be movie star playing a movie star on a TV show. Adrien Grenier gets paid , and I’m sure paid very well, to be a more successful version of himself on TV. I think that is awesome.

Also, for your entertainment:

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No Prize

In Uncategorized on July 27, 2010 at 10:00 pm

I am suffering from some severe deja vu. I definitely feel like I wrote this post already but I can’t find any sign of it. So, if I wrote something like this before, forgive me.

I am writing about the concept of the “No Prize.” Back when I was younger, Marvel comics employed this idea. Basically, readers would attempt to find inconsistencies or continuity errors in the comics. Instead of just smugly pointing out these errors, however, they would be charged with coming up with an explanation to this mistake. The reader would find something wrong and use his or imagination to make it right. Then the reader would receive the appreciation of Marvel Comics but no actual reward; literally “No Prize.” I love this idea

I find I employ the “No Prize” idea in my enjoyment of the books I read and films I watch. I want to be entertained by the media I spend my time with, so even if something seems ridiculous or unlikely, I do my best to try to explain how it could actually work out. I want to give everything the largest benefit of the doubt that I can.

I know this seems weird for someone who has been reliably snarky since I started the blog, but I actually find myself working harder to make the story work more than the original writer, sometimes, seems to have.

I do try to be discerning in what I enjoy but sometimes I think we should try to make an effort to make something work even if we need to stretch our suspension of disbelief. If we’re going to hate what we use for entertainment, what’s the point, after all?

Warfare or snorefare?

In Science Fiction on July 21, 2010 at 10:40 pm

I am currently reading The Forever War by Joe Haldeman and very much enjoying it. It falls into one of my favorite genres; the science-fiction war story. Whether it’s Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers, I never tire of reading about the life of a soldier in the future. The really great thing, so far, about this gem from 1974 is how utterly boring and uncinematic the fighting is. I mean, I assume that is the point. Violence and those whom engage in it are often lionized in this, and many other societies. Yet I like how Haldeman describes how fighting in an age of great technology is simply instant, random unflinching death from an enemy you most likely will never see.

For instance, there are spaceship battles in this book but not of the like you’ll see in Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica. How about instead, missiles fired from hundreds of millions of miles away that, due to relativity, may have been fired years in the past or “near-misses” when an enemy weapon detonates a near 100,000 miles away? Or how about the sharpshooting of a turret that can nearly instantly locate and fire on a target when the “shooter” releases the safety. This isn’t badass! This isn’t the cool, fast, tough professional with advanced training or amazing experience. This is the cruel, arbitrary nature of war as far as a rank amateur like myself can tell.

I'd like to believe that world governments are working on Gunstar technology. But I assume none of us will ever be witness to a real Death Blossum in our lives.

And silly post title aside, I really like it that way. It may not be anymore realistic than anything else (I don’t know enough about science, warfare, or the future to say for sure) but it sure feels truer than the aircraft carrier style of BSG or the updated galleon broadsiding in Star Trek. Don’t get me wrong, I love that stuff too, but when it comes to war, death by an ill-fitting acceleration dampening suit might not be cinematic, but it sure is dramatic.

When is great good enough?

In Movies on July 20, 2010 at 12:17 am

I saw Inception over the weekend. What did I think?

Eh…

No, I’m only kidding. I thought it was a great movie that delivered everything I could really even want in a movie. Smart, but never smug or pretentious. Challenging without being confusing. Action-packed but never gratuitous. And utterly geeky without being anything to even be the slight bit embarrassed about. Basically, everything I would ever in my wildest dreams want for a movie. Not just a popcorn, summer movie but a movie, period. Damn, I can’t be more excited about a movie.

But…then the suspicion sets in. Was it actually good or just well-made? Is my enthusiasm legit or am I just fooling myself because of a drought of A-Grade geekiness (sorry Iron Man 2, you were pretty good but something was missing). I was set to have Toy Story 3 be the movie of the summer (and it was great, no doubt) but then this movie came along and crushed me. Instead of rejoicing like a normal, well-adjusted movie fan, my vigilance kicks in. Like some kind of slighted lover who doesn’t want to get hurt again, I start asking myself: “Is this movie too good to be true? Can it simply be amazingly awesome and have that be that?”

Is this movie great? This scene just came to my house and curb stomped me for doubting it. I deserved it.

The answer is:”Yes, yes, and fuck yes!!!” Why would I question such a great movie experience? Why can’t I just enjoy it?

So I will. This movie kicks all kinds of ass and that’s that.

Gaming by Torchlight

In Video Games on July 15, 2010 at 12:12 am

It’s been over 24 hours since I shocked myself silly changing a light bulb. Since I haven’t shown even the slightest sign of even the mildest of superpowers, back to work.

Yesterday, I decide to take a chance on downloading an inexpensive game for my PC to satisfy my craving for video gaming. I decided to go for Torchlight. It’s sales pitch? It’s a pleasant-looking, smooth-running Diablo 2 clone. That’s about it. And, really, that’s all it took.

You see, for those of you who don’t know, Diablo 2 was the refinement of mouse-based action RPGs. You moved a character around from an isometric view and clicked on monsters to kill them. Then you collected their loot. Repeat. Yes, you have character classes and special abilities and so on, but the vast majority of the game is going to new dungeons, fighting mobs of monsters, collecting items to allow you to kill faster or more effectively, than killing some more.

And there have been other games, such as Titan Quest that allow you to continue doing that again and again. No real story to speak of. Not a ton of variety in strategy, level design, or monster AI. You just click and kill and collect and click and…you get the idea.

Just 5 for minutes. Just one more level. Just...who am I kidding? I'm doing this for the next 12 hours.

Yet, there is something so satisfying about this. I cannot put my finger on it. Maybe the feeling of constant accomplishment? Maybe the intangible feeling of hitting an enemy that the best games of this genre make feel just right? I don’t know. All I know is that Torchlight does it just right. With the use of many, easily accessible or easily created portals, boring backtracking is a thing of the past. With the use of a pet (dog or cat) that not only fights with you but carries gear back to the surface to sell while you continue dungeon-crawling, you never have a good time to stop going. It’s addictive and fun but I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why. I do know, however, that is is the cure for the summer doldrums. Back to it.

Spoiled Rotten

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2010 at 9:40 pm

I’m bored. I got home today and had time to do whatever I wanted. I’m in the middle of a pretty entertaining novel (Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, Thanks Jon), I have tons of video games on multiple platforms, I have RPG characters to work on, countless movies or TV shows to stream instantly, and a zillion fun, fulfilling personal projects I should pursue. I have more wildly entertaining means to engage myself than I ever would have thought possible as a child. There are a ridiculous bounty of ways to get my fix, whatever that fix may be. As I write this, even more forms of entertainment keep coming to mind. How about those comics I haven’t read? How about the DVD collection I haven’t touched in weeks?

Yet, none of this feels like it will hit the spot. I’m in a bored and restless mood, not wanting to do anything ranging from thought-provoking to mindless; exciting to relaxing. How pathetic and whiny is that? What a ridiculous, First World problem. My mood creates such a sense of self-loathing. Why should someone with so much going on find such little fun from any of it. I wonder if any of you ever feel like this.

Alternate Costumes

In Comics on July 7, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Nina brought this up in the comments of yesterday’s post and, instead of allowing this hijack to occur without resistance, I have decided to make it today’s post. For those whom have not seen it, Wonder Woman has a brand new, Jim Lee designed look.

And some people are for it, thinking it is a nice update for a modern woman who should not be wearing an American Flag bathing suit all the time. Others think it is an unnecessary alteration on the costume of the most famous female superhero ever. What do I think?

Well, I like my Wonder Woman all tied up with the Amazonian history continuity. If they wanted to move WW away from the skimpy spandexy costume, I would prefer a more Greek or more armor-like look. I think her magical, foreign background makes her a more interesting character and her appearance should reflect that. That’s kind of how I feel, I guess. Really, however, I’m feeling more like…whatever.

This is the kind of shit that slowly made me decide to stop reading weekly comics. How many times does this:

Or this:

Or this:

have to happen before we think: “Oh wait, no big event will ever really affect these characters.” I feel like I already know everything I need to know about the beloved comic icons of the past 60+ years. Oh, maybe someone will die or someone will come back or someone’s costume will change or someone’s power will mutate but…does it ever really matter. It always seems to return to the status quo at some point. And the costumes reflect this dogmatic attachment to the “classic” state of our heroes.

Is Batman really dead? Was Superman? Captain America? Fucking Jason Todd or Bucky? I don’t know. I feel like if I’m going to clutter my home with even more funny books, I’m going to need some higher stakes than: “Will Wonder Woman’s new look last an entire year?”

Do Over

In Comics, Movies on July 6, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Pretty recently I wrote a post about my odd tendency to re-start roleplaying games before I had finished them because I wanted to get my game as perfect as I could. I think we can all agree that I an somewhere between ape-shit crazy and rock-dumb stupid for this behavior but it made me think about a growing tendency in comic book movies, especially a few of the Marvel properties. That is, the reboot of franchise that is either just recently finished or still actually alive and kicking.

Example? Off the top of my head, let’s talk X-Men. Now, granted…I agree that this franchise is hardly super-healthy. I think that X-Men: The Last Stand was pretty terrible until I saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine and learned what terrible really was. Yet, I think both movies did pretty well at the box office. Also, the films had tons of little clues and set-ups at the end to make you think that there were more stories to be told in this universe. So, what does Marvel decide to do? Re-boot the franchise by going way younger. Who would be a good Professor X? How about James “Wanted” McAvoy? Magneto? Michael “300” Fassbender. Yes, I know these guys have both been in Academy Award nominated films. I’m just a dick. Anyway, they have started throwing dirt on the body of Hugh “Australia” Jackman while he’s not just breathing, but actually doing alright.

And there are others. They have started casting a new Spider-man franchise that, that’s right, goes younger. Do we really need a new telling of Peter Parker’s trial and tribulations as a high school student. Marvel sure thinks so. How about the Incredible Hulk, following the unloved Ang Lee Hulk only five years later? How about talk of a new Fantastic Four movie when the one from 2005 not only made a chunk of money, but spawned a sequel only two years later.

Some movies, on the other hand, are so perfect the first time around, you don't dare try to re-make them.

Do I have a problem with this? Actually, not really. Maybe Marvel wants to get it right and do it their way now that they are an independent studio. They want their version of their properties, not some movie studio’s idea of what will pop with the key demographics. Even cooler, maybe they don’t mind having different versions of the same characters and stories co-existing. Is there anything more comic bookish than totally different continuities of the same characters sitting on the comic stand at the same time. This could be the evolution of this idea into the movies. I mean, it’s nothing new, really? Aren’t we all better off with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, The Dark Knight, and Adam West’s Batman all existing? I’d say yes, completely.

The Arcade Experience

In Video Games on July 5, 2010 at 11:02 pm

This 4th of July, my wife and I headed to Nathan’s for some hotdogs. Now, you might think I meant the home of the annual Hotdog Eating Contest and that would make sense, but no. I was on Central Ave. in Yonkers in a completely unplanned crawl through southern Westchester when we decided to get some dogs. And what would a trip to Nathan’s be without a trip to the arcade in the back? So Nina and I hit it up with a couple of pocketfuls of quarters.

When I was a kid, arcades were these magical places I could only visit a few times a year. A birthday party here or there with a very limited number of quarters made up my arcade experience yet they changed my life. The games that you could find at arcades were miles more advanced, more exciting than anything on my Atari 2600 or, later, NES. It wasn’t until the Super Nintendo or Genesis that home consoles started catching up, at all, with the magic machines found in the numerous arcades around my home.

But that divide quickly disappeared, with arcades being equal, or even inferior, to the home versions. Saved and persistant games replaced the quarter guzzling mentality of game design and video games matured into a new, more advanced, and more personal form. Arcades quickly disappeared in many places and that dreamlike feeling disappeared with them,

So, back to the weekend. The arcade experience was very different in 2010. Even the best games seem antiquated and silly. However, as my wife and I sat on our plastic motorcycles and she passed me in the final lap to crush any chance of winning, a glimmer of that old feeling remained. While video games have moved on, in complexity, affordability, and maturity, sometimes there is nothing like wasting coins in a dingy, hot room filled with flashing, screaming arcade games. I recommend it to anyone and everyone.

Massively Ineffectual

In Roleplaying Games, Video Games on July 1, 2010 at 1:09 am

I’m still playing Mass Effect and really enjoying it. Crappy inventory and slow elevator rides aside, this has to be one of my favorite modern video game RPGs around. Yet, it has a characteristic that appears in a great deal of RPGs, whether they be single-player computer, MMORPGs, or pen-and-paper. Namely, the slowdown of advancement as you reach higher levels. As I’m approaching the level max in ME, 60, the game decides to slow down the rate in which you gain levels to a crawl. Not a “I’m scrambling like a contestant on Double Dare looking for the flag” crawl, but more of a “I’m a recent quadruple amputee who just finished a bottle of cough syrup” crawl. And you know what I get at every level for my efforts? One single skill point. Not some game-breaking, godlike ability. A single teeny skill point that will have negligible effect on the game at this point. Why?

Well, I guess in Mass Effect, they want to reward the hard work of the loyal die-hards versus the people who are not me and have lives. Wait a second. I was about to go all self-deprecating about what a loser I am but I did other stuff tonight. I watched Top Chef: Washington and I…um…shit.

Let’s get back to my silly point. Leveling up or improving your character/party is one of the coolest part of RPGS. I mean, there are plenty of great things about the genre, including the gameplay, mastering the mechanics, and experiencing the narrative. Yet improvement is a constant carrot for RPGS. So what do many developers in response to the work you’ve done? Decrease the amount that you experience this extremely fun part of the game, that’s what.

Will it stop me from doing every side mission, no matter how tedious or painful for a mere dusting of experience points? Absolutely not.