Sunday, March 30, 2008

Assassin's Creed and Shadow of the Colossus

So, I've been meaning to get around to writing this post for a long while. However, each time I think about it, this post gets longer. And, well, I've thought about it a fair amount by this time. So, we'll just have to see what happens.

Anyways, I've been playing Assassin's Creed (when I'm not watching Blu-ray movies or playing Rock Band...okay, so actually I'm only sorta playing it, but that's not the point). Since, I've been playing it, it's been reminding me of the classic PS2 game, Shadow of the Colossus. Now, off-hand, you might assume that this is because they both involve riding a gorgeously animated horse. And, you'd be right. But, that's just a single, superficial similarity. On the other hand, it's as good a starting point as any.

So Assassin's Creed has some of the best graphics available in this new generation of video games. It really looks awesome. Not only is there an amazing amount of detail, but they're able to capture it on a truly awesome scale. There are very few things as satisfying as climbing to the top of a building and taking in the view of the huge city. Also, just running around said city and through the crowds and everything is very cool too.

Shadow of the Colossus, on the other hand, dealt with graphics in a very different way. It does not have the most amazing graphics you'll see on the PS2 (I kind of assume that honor goes to the God of War games, but don't quote me on that). In fact, it's graphics are pretty unimpressive for a game so late in the PS2's life cycle. However, a lot of people see it and come out really impressed with how the graphics look. That's because Shadow of the Colossus gets the animations right. For example, when you're riding the horse. Riding the horse in SOTC actually looks better than riding your horse in AC (I'm going to be typing these games' titles a lot and I got tired of spelling it out). And, I can assure you that it's not because the horse looks especially nice in SOTC (because it doesn't). However, the way it moves is downright glorious, which gives SOTC the one-up over the more recent, more graphically impressive game. SOTC also gets bonus points for giving you much better camera controls while riding the horse, so you can be your own choreographer, staging the camera just right to provide the most dramatic view of the glorious horse-riding animation possible.

Another interesting challenge they both deal with in similar, and instructive, ways is the eternal battle of telling a story without losing player interactions. One of the common complaints with JRPGs (note that I don't have this complaint, but it's a common complaint) is the problem inherent to that story telling method. They regularly pull the player out of the fantasy they've created and force them to sit and watch what is effectively a movie for a little while (or a very long while, in some Xenosaga).

In the worst cases, the movie doesn't have voice actors, so the player is watching the characters move and scrolling through text. Even in the best case scenarios, the player is watching the characters do things that they themselves can't make the characters do, which kind of sucks (it's that whole situation when you watch a character make some bad-ass entrance where he takes out a room full of bad guys, and then find that you're going to have to level him up because he can't actually kill anything yet).

Now, there are a variety of solutions to this. Assassin's Creed strategy is simple: the player always has control of the character, Altair. Even when you're watching someone have a conversation with him, you can have him wondering around the room and jumping around or whatever. In fact, even during the loading scenes, you're given control of Altair (he's basically standing in an infinite white room and you can run around and stuff until it finishes loading...too bad there's nothing to actually do in this infinite white room). The idea behind this decision is very simple. So long as the player is in control of Altair, the fantasy can be maintained (the fantasy being the player imprinting himself on the main character).

However, it fails miserably. In fact, it fails for the exact reason that SOTC succeeds brilliantly. They don't give the player control of the camera; they only give him control of Altair. So, if someone is talking to you, you can make Altair leave the room, but the camera will still be pointed at the guy talking to you. This was a terrible decision. The moment that the camera is no longer focused on the player, it breaks the fantasy. In fact, it breaks the fantasy in a much bigger way than losing control of the character, because when the camera isn't centered on Altair, he stops being the main character. If I can't see him, then I can't control him. It's extra stupid because the system has this whole digital sound thing going, so having control of the camera while someone is talking to you could be a really great way to keep yourself oriented.

I mean, imagine you're sneaking up on someone giving a speech to a crowd. The way they do it right now, the camera becomes focused on the target and Altair is basically stuck in the crowd until the guy finishes his speech, because I can't see the crowd to navigate through them. It would be totally awesome if I could hear his speech while navigating through the crowd to climb up the nearby walls, with his speech coming in from behind me, and then walk around the walls, hearing his speech now coming from the side until I'm behind him, waiting to strike. They could even keep the timed events to switch the camera to focused on the speaker if it pleased them (only it would be dangerous because I couldn't be sure a guard wouldn't see me while I was completely focused on him).

So, yeah, AC tried to make the right decision and it backfired on them. They wanted the player to always feel like they were in control of Altair, but they forgot to make sure that the player always had control of his eyes. That's too bad for them.

Now, SOTC very regularly takes away control of the main character. However, they never, ever take away control of the camera (so, like the opposite of what AC does). In fact, even during the title screen's little cinematic, I have control of the camera. They point the camera where it's supposed to be looking, but I can turn it about 45 degrees in every direction and I can zoom in and out. This means that anytime something catches my eyes, I can follow it and even look closely at it. This is simply brilliant. I have never been more involved in a cut scene than I was while playing SOTC. I remember that the next game I played was FFXII, and just feeling pained all the time because I didn't have control of the camera during those cut-scenes.

Now, this is especially interesting because it shows what's really important for a sense of immersion. The ability to look and examine what I want to see, during the game, that's immersion. I don't know for sure, but I think even some of the Blu-ray and HD-DVD movies have stuff like that, where viewers can control the camera during some cool scenes to get a better idea of the action. I haven't tried anything like that, but I think I heard about it somewhere. But, in any case, I preferred that strategy of taking control of the character away while allowing the player to still feel like he's present (because he can look at whatever he wants). I'm still waiting to find another game that uses that system. Maybe I'll just have to wait until that group makes a PS3 game (which I will buy without any hesitation).

Briefly, I just want to mention that I loved the gorgeous scenes present in the worlds of both games. AC provides breathtaking views of cities, hills, cliffs, even oceans. It is almost mind-boggling, especially when you realize that many of these places aren't reachable. They're just created to maintain the huge sense of scale throughout the game. Similarly, SOTC also has a huge overworld (and it doesn't have load screens). This overworld is nearly empty, compared to AC, but it's also filled with extra sights to create a sense of history and scale. I remember wandering a forest, lost, and suddenly finding a stunningly beautiful waterfall falling into an abyss. There were no monster in this area. In fact, there was no reason to be there at all (I had gotten lost). But the reward for stumbling upon it was more memorable than half the colossi I fought. To me, that's something really special.

The last key similarity is what my personal enjoyment arises from. In SOTC, my favorite part was the puzzle aspect of figuring out how I was going climb up the colossus to hit his weak spots. In many cases, I found out later that I wasn't even using the intended strategy, but my way worked for me, which was all that was really important. AC, on the other hand, was made by the people behind Prince of Persia. Those games had some of the most interesting architectural puzzles ever designed (note that this might change in a post-Portal and Echochrome world). However, the prince always had a limited number of abilities and the goal was to figure out the one single path that existed to get him from point A to point B, which always seemed to require a point C that wasn't immediately obvious at point A.

In AC, though, Altair's climbing skills are borderline superhuman. He can climb just about anything. However, these designers took that as a challenge to carefully design huge towers to climb that also had that same A to B via C mechanic. And it's ingenious. In the best cases, it's actually harder than Prince of Persia, since at point A you have so many different options, but only one is going to get you to just the right location where you can just barely make the jump to grab hold of the one specific ledge that'll give you the starting point you need to begin climbing the tower. These make for some really great puzzles.

So, yeah, for me, AC uses giants towers as substitutes for the climbing puzzles that SOTC provides. Ironically, I watched this movie a little while back called Reign Over Me, with Don Cheadle and Adam Sandler, that actually used the colossi from SOTC as a metaphor/substitute for the falling towers of 9/11. So, I guess things just come full circle, don't they? By the way, the movie was decent, but not that great. It wasn't as depressing as I was worried it might be. And, yes, I really only watched it to see how they used the video game in the movie (I thought they used it well, at least there was less of the random button mashing that movies typically try to pass off as playing video games).

Lastly, I just want to say that I don't know whose decision it was, but making Altair die whenever he falls into some water was a really, really poor decision. I mean, this guy can do anything, but the moment he touches some water, he sinks like a stone to his doom. I initially didn't mind since for a long while the only time I'd fall into water would be if I screwed up my climbing on a wall that was a couple hundred feet above the surface of the water. But, eventually, I started exploring docks that were three feet above the surface of the water. Dying in those instances, pretty much sucks. Much better would be that it alerts the guards or something. Just dying immediately is kind of frustrating, especially when they start filling the docks with psycho drunk dudes who all just want to push you into the water. Then it's just kind of silly...but not in a funny sort of way.

That is all.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bored At Work

So, I'm sitting bored at work on a Sunday afternoon, so I thought I'd write a blog entry. Besides, there's a couple random topics I wanted to post, so this is as good an opportunity as any to get them out there before I totally forget about them.

Of course, before I get to them I have to give a little background on why I would be sitting at work bored on a Sunday afternoon (as opposed to sitting at home, bored on a Sunday afternoon). So, my group makes a whole bunch of different compounds, and while they all have highly similar properties, they're certainly not identical (the compounds, not my group). For example, some of them are cursed. Disappointingly, you can't recognize a cursed sequence from a normal sequence without actually synthesizing it first. But, once you try to synthesize it, oh you'll know it's cursed alright, yes you'll know right away.

Maybe the yield will inexplicably be like 30% less than normal. Maybe something will mysteriously break in the middle of a run. Maybe you'll get a ton of phantom water system failures, forcing you to stop working. Maybe there will be new, unexpected impurities that aren't removed in the default purification method. Maybe some other group will lose important documentation and force you to repeat the entire production run. Maybe all of these things will happen in the same three week period. Somewhere around this point, you'll start becoming suspicious that the sequence is cursed. And you'll remember it and be wary. Very wary. Of course, cursed sequences have this tendency to do well in clinical trials, which force us to make more of them, which just provides opportunities for more things to mysteriously go wrong (and they do, oh yes they do).

So, yeah, we're trying to deal with this cursed sequence, and well, let's be honest here. We're losing the battle (but time and numbers are on our side, sort of). So, I'm here on a Sunday trying to help us use that time advantage to get this thing out of our lives (until we're requested to make more, of course). Depressingly, I basically just have to press go, then wait two hours, then press go again. I also can't go anywhere during those two hours in case something mysteriously goes wrong. Which is why I'm writing a bored blog entry on a Sunday afternoon.

Now, if I wanted to do work, I would probably be contemplating this four hour process I was working on a few days ago called the stripping operation. If you've worked in a chemistry lab, it's kind of like roto-vapping our product solution, except we've got 150 liters, instead of 500 mLs. For anyone else, we basically just put our product under vacuum and boil it until we've reduced the mass by 30%. We do this because 30% of the mass at that point is ammonia, and it's not very much fun to work with ammonia (there's often complaints about burning of nostrils and lungs things like that).

So, I would be contemplating this process because the PID settings for the tank heating jacket are completely ridiculously inefficient. For readers who don't know what PID stands for, it is Proportional Integral Derivative. See, that explains everything. PID settings are the values that control the equation for controllers. So, somewhere there's probably some PID settings controlling things like your refrigerator and your stove and stuff like that. If the settings are good, then your system will quickly reach it's target setpoint and it will hold it without varying. If the settings are poor, well, it may never reach the setpoint.

Our settings are poor. As a chemical engineer, I'm not sure I can deal with that.

Now, the simple way to deal with this would be to go into the computer and change the settings so they don't suck. It would take, like 30 seconds, and I bet the stripping process would take like 15-45 minutes less time. Plus, nobody ever goes to that screen so no one would even notice it had been done, possibly for years, and there would be no way to trace it to me anyways (minus this blog entry, of course). However, the controller is a GMP system (no, I'm not going to bother telling you what that is, go google cGMP if you want to know), so I have to document and justify this change. Which means I have to provide data showing that the not-stupid settings will actually be effective.

So, I'll probably have to run a couple fake stripping operations with just ammonia and water and show that it works. What's really silly about this is that this wasn't done initially. The stupid settings were just the default and there weren't any chemical engineers around to complain that the settings were stupid so that became the standard.

In case you're curious, the current settings only use the P in PID, so it's just a proportional controller. The problem with that is that a proportional controller will never reach the set point (technically, this isn't actually a bad thing, since we picked the set point completely out of the blue, so who cares whether it reaches the set point, but that's an entirely different can of worms). For a tiny bit of explanation (and because I like to explain things), proportional controls take the difference between the set point and the current value and multiply it by some factor to determine the strength of the output (from 0-100%). So, when there is a large difference, the output is typically close to 100%. At the set point, however, the output is 0%. Clearly, if it's not trying at all, it won't be able to stay at the set point. Instead, it reaches equilibrium at some value less than the set point where the amount of heat the controller is allowing into the system (based upon the difference between the set point and this value) is equal to the amount of heat leaving the system.

What our system needs, however, is an integral controller as well (nobody really cares about derivative control). An integral controller looks at the difference between the value and set point over time (by computing the area between the two curves on a time axis). This means that initially it is really weak, because there hasn't been very much time, but as time passes and the value doesn't get closer to the set point, then the integral controller becomes increasingly strong. The danger is that it can overshoot the value, since proportional control doesn't get weaker as the value approaches the set point, it just stops getting stronger (but, on the other hand, we picked the set point out of the blue, so do we really care if we go above the set point?).

An integral controller would be really useful in our case because there is a massive amount of heat leaving the system (evaporating stuff consumes a lot of heat). With just the proportional controller, our system is only getting about 80% of the way to the set point as is, because that's where the proportional controller's offset reaches equilibrium (note that equilibrium can't really be reached because we have mass leaving the system, but work with me here). At that point, there's only about a 10 degree difference between the tank and the jacket (and it is this differential, as well as the temperature of the tank, which controls the rate of evaporation). However, if we used an integral controller, we could theoretically get the tank up to the target temperature, which has a faster evaporation rate (and therefore will cause the differential between the jacket and the tank to be greater as well).

So, in three paragraphs, I've already explained why the not-stupid set points are better. Given two minutes, I could explain it to almost anyone. But, I'm going to have to spend like a week showing that these basic principles really are true, even in the special case of our tank. But, I guess it will mean that at least we won't be just randomly picking values for the controller, so I'll be able to try a couple different settings for the integral controller to see how strong it should be, rather than having to be tentative and use a small value to ensure that we don't exceed our set point (even if the set point is meaningless).

Hmm, I think this post is long enough, actually. Never mind about those other topics I wanted to talk about. I've already forgotten them anyways.

That is all.


PS - I remembered one of the other topics I wanted to talk about, actually. The actress Zooey Deschanel is really hot with brown hair. I had no idea, since I'd always seen her with blond hair, but I saw her in this movie Bridge to Terabithia and I finally understood why so many random people have crushes on her (like GQ, for example). Also, please don't ask why I went out of my way to see a children's movie, my only excuse is that it was in high def and I'm a fan of the director, who was one of the creators of Rugrats, and I just want to make it clear that I did not rent it out of any desire to check out the 13 year old girl in it whatsoever, seriously, none at all...also, I didn't even know that Zooey Deschanel was in it with brown hair, otherwise that would have been a pretty good excuse as well.

PPS - I remember one more thing I wanted to mention. Apparently, River (of Firefly and Terminator: The River is Really Freaking Hot Chronicles fame) has actually been in a couple made-for-TV movies, that Netflix has on dvd so I'm slowly checking them out. It's kind of odd to see her playing normal characters, though. I mean, in this one Sci-Fi channel movie where aliens possess a frozen woolly mammoth and use it to attack a town (and steal people's souls or something, I'm not actually sure what they were doing, it wasn't totally clear to me) she actually has a boyfriend and dances and makes out with him. It's kind of surreal, really. I'm extra excited about this other made-for-TV movie from ABC Family that she's in, just because it might be the first non-sci-fi thing I see her in, which could just totally blow my mind. Or, maybe there actually are aliens or robots or browncoats involved in that movie and I just couldn't tell from the description, I mean, you never know, right?

PPPS - Okay, this is really the last thing I'm going to remember (I blame the words "browncoats" for reminding me of this one). And for some reason, all of these are about hot actresses, I'm not sure why. Anyways, I saw the direct-to-video movie White Noise 2 last week. It was pretty awesome, actually, which surprised me. It wasn't all that good, of course, but definitely not that bad (although it wasn't really horror, maybe more like a thriller...minus a lot of that thrilling stuff). In case you didn't know Nathan Fillion (that would be Malcolm Reynolds) is the star. Also, the kind of off-the-wall semi-love interest is played by Katee Sackhoff (that would be Starbuck, from Battlestar Galactica). And, well, she was totally hot. Surprisingly hot, really, since I'd never particularly liked Starbuck (probably had something to do with the boyish haircut, since I'd started warming up to her a little bit with longer, straighter hair, and now I have a minor crush on her after seeing her hair in this movie). Besides, that though, there wasn't too much to remember about it. Aside from Nathan Fillion being his typical, awesome self. Man, what an awesome dude he is. And funny, too.

PPPPS- Sorry, talking about Nathan Fillion and thinking about how awesome he is and how he just needs an awesome role to suddenly become the coolest guy ever in everyone's eyes, instead of just mine made me think of Bruce Campbell (if you know who Bruce Campbell is, then you know what I'm talking about, otherwise, um, well, you wouldn't get it, maybe check out Army of Darkness some time with a group of friends...or just forget about it). Did you know he has a role in the little Disney super hero/high school comedy/drama Sky High? I had no idea. Man, if I'd known I totally would have seen it in theaters, like three years ago or whenever it came out. Sigh, what an awesome dude he is. And funny, too.

That is all. For real.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Rocket Science

Man, I love Netflix. You see, my queue is, like 40 movies long. I screw with the order regularly, but I make a fair effort to allow the little random movies I add to eventually make it to the top. In the best of cases, I no longer have any clue why I added it to my queue, nor do I have any idea what it's about (this works especially well when Netflix has no idea what the movie's about either, so they just make something up on the little description on the cover of the DVD slip).

I don't recall why I added Rocket Science to my queue. I guess it won best director in a drama at Sundance 2007, so I might have added it for that reason. Or, maybe some reviewer I admire put it in their top movies of the year. Or, maybe Netflix recommended it to me and I just clicked yes without thinking about it. It could be any of these. But, it doesn't really matter, since when it arrived, I put it in the PS3 and pressed play (truth be told, I was planning to put the other movie that came in today into the player, but that arrived in two pieces, which I found slightly disappointing).

Anyways, this was an awesome example of what indie high school comedies are capable of. It totally trounces Juno. And Charlie Bartlett. Although, I might have laughed more during those, this one was still better.

I wish I could describe the plot, but that kind of gives a lot of the fun away. But, well, the basic plot is that there is this really hot girl, and I don't mean like the hot girl that all the jocks are chasing, but the hot girl that commands the attention of all the lesser boys, you know, the hot girl who is way smarter than nearly everyone else and who absolutely knows it and will probably one day grow up to be a really, really hot bitch, but right now is still learning how, and this is totally off track but anyways, so this hot girl is the head of the debate team and she recruits a small and uncertain freshman with a stutter. A major stutter.

Needless to say, he only joins because he can't help but fall in love with her and the movie is the story of the journey he takes to prove himself to her. Except, this journey doesn't go anywhere near where it is supposed to go. That's why it's an indie movie, clearly.

It's full of weird, and rather depressing, characters and relationships. Personally, I'm not one to find comedy inherent in that stuff, especially since I pretty much just assume that's what New Jersey's like and that these characters aren't meant to be jokes (I mean, I know everyone makes fun of the place, so it seems reasonable, right?). To me, they're just decorations for watching the main character try to live his life.

His name is Hal. And his stutter is almost debilitating. And it's just touching to watch him try to communicate. To at least think himself full of ideas, but to be incapable of expressing them. How many ideas he actually has, I'm not so certain, but if you can't at least believe that you're worth listening to, then why should anyone else listen? So, as far as I'm concerned, believing you're full of ideas is a good enough reason to try to communicate with others (it doesn't mean it's a good reason for others to listen to you, just for the record, and I'm sure this blog is an excellent case in point).

Especially, though, I like how he is watching all these broken/breaking relationships around him and he's desperately trying to believe that there is even a possibility that his love has a chance. Or if the pain that he's gone through is for nothing. There's a great moment when someone asks him why he's doing it and his first response is love. Then, after a second's thought, he adds, "Or revenge, I'm not actually sure which". Because, they're not that different to him. Revenge simply seems to be what follows love in his world.

I also liked the older, cool mentor character. Surprisingly, it's actually Claire's boy toy from season two of Heroes, but this time I don't hate him. I imagine that it helps that he can't fly. Also, I appreciate that he isn't playing this lame, judgmental outcast character. Instead, he's playing a dude who burned out and is just letting life pass him by now. I don't think he misses what he had, but he still welcomes the chance to get to play in the little world of high school debating one more time. I might have liked his character to get a little more resolution, but this is an indie movie, so resolution isn't supposed to be expected or required. Still, though, it would have been nice to at least see a hint that he was ready to start moving his life forward, but no, it looks like he'll continue his work at the dry cleaners.

I also really liked just how emotionally invested I got in the movie. When Hal stands up to make his arguments and starts singing them to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, I was standing up and cheering him on. Laughing and almost crying with pride for him. It was a truly great moment and the emotional climax of the movie. I loved it.

Lastly, this movie had one of the most awesome lines ever. So, after preparing arguments about public schools teaching abstinence, he tells the really hot girl's mom to tell her daughter "that he's done with masturbation and ready to show her his progress when she gets the chance". That won a lot of points with me too.

Anyways, the movie was really awesome. I had not expected it to be nearly this good. I admit that it starts off slow, but it built to something much greater than was reasonable to expect. Also, the kid was really good. I hope to see him in more stuff. Not to mention the girl, I wouldn't mind seeing her in more stuff too.

That is all.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

3:10 To Yuma

So, I'm finally getting around to watching this movie. I can't actually remember why I didn't bother to see it while it was in theaters. I mean, obviously, it's something I should have taken the time to see. But, for some odd reason or another, I didn't. Clearly, I don't always make the right decisions. But what else is new?

So, it's out on Blu-ray now. And, I have to say that I think Blu-ray was created specifically for westerns. I mean, wow. This movie looked so good. All I could do was bask in the glory that was this movie in high definition. I mean, Jessica Alba was really crazy hot in high def, but there's just something about the dirtiness and wildness of the frontier that just wins. I mean, everyone in this movie was covered in grime, all the time (with some of the most yellow teeth you'll ever lay eyes on). But, it was beautiful grime. Gorgeous, lovingly earned grime.

Also, it was a pretty good movie. With quite the cast, I might add. I had no idea that Alan Tudyk (that would be Wash from Firefly, or Steve the Pirate, if you prefer, I'll accept both names) was in it, as a veterinarian turned doctor. Or, for that matter, that Luke Wilson would be randomly screwing Chinese railroad workers. But, well, sometimes those small roles happen to go to cool people. And I appreciate it.

Anyways, it was a good movie. Clearly, it's pretty much the Christian Bale and Russell Crowe show. But, they put on quite a show. On a side note, Christian Bale is pretty much amazing. I seriously love his work. Every character he plays is so much more interesting than just about everybody else. Whether it's his take on Bruce Wayne confronting change and the responsibilities of the successful in Gotham, or a magician who's willing to dedicate his entire life towards his ultimate trick, or a guilt-ridden man incapable of sleeping, or even a failing rancher, too stubborn to admit defeat and who just wants to prove that he's worth something, Christian Bale blows me away.

I was pretty much ambivalent on Mr. Crowe's character. I kind of felt like all he had going for him was charisma (okay, obviously that's hardly nothing, but it didn't really excite me). Also, I couldn't relate to him that much and I'm not sure I appreciated the decisions he made at the end.

Music was good of course, but it was really the visuals that I fell in love with. Westerns have always been as much about the land as the people, and this movie got the balance just right. Some westerns (Dances With Wolves, I'm looking at you right now) care too much about the land and just put me to sleep. But, this movie doesn't celebrate the beauty of the land so much as it simply intoxicates the viewer with it. At the start of the movie, it's been a drought and everything is brown and dying. By the end, though, they're in the mountains, and it's starting to snow, in that way that it can only snow high up in the desert. With the big flakes that come down ever so slowly. In the distance, they can see the rain clouds over home, letting them know that there is already hope back that way, even if there is none in the direction they're going.

Sigh, it's hard not to dream of being a hero in such a land. Especially a lone hero. Against impossible odds. With just one statement to make. That, when nobody else was brave enough to walk Ben Wade to the 3:10 to Yuma, your Pa was willing to. That's the integrity of the wild west. Sacrificing yourself to make a statement for your young and impressionable son. Finally being someone in the eyes of your loved ones.

Man, I love westerns. Especially lonely westerns. Maybe I should go watch Unforgiven again to remind myself how ugly the west really was, that the dirty, grimy people weren't beautiful, and there were no statements to make. There was only being the lucky son of a bitch who got to walk away that time.

But, whatever, I'll keep enjoying the romantic view of the west, for now.

That is all.


PS- I almost forgot to be like everyone else in the entire world and comment on the fact that Ben Foster was pretty much awesome as Russell Crowe's right-hand man. He plays a really great evil minion character, apparently, considering his awesomeness in this as well as 30 Days of Night.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

New Amsterdam

So, now that Terminator is done, I thought I'd check out this show, New Amsterdam. Yeah, I'm not really sure why, considering I basically never like police-investigation-type-drama-thingies. I assume it has something to do with the main character being immortal. So, anyways, I checked it out. And, well, it's alright. I guess. Nothing special. I'll give it another week or two.

In any case, watching this show got me thinking. Having watched House, it's really hard to appreciate an asshole character who isn't actually an asshole. I mean, obviously House set the bar for being a likable asshole pretty high, but that doesn't mean that characters shouldn't make the attempt (Dr. Cox made a good attempt, but that heart of gold of his keeps working against him). I mean, seriously, we've got a main character who has been alive for centuries. By this time, he should basically be insufferable. He should just know everything and everyone and rub it in everyone else's faces. But, no, this immortal is too cool to make other people feel bad. And, well, as the viewer, that makes him kind of boring.

He's basically likable. He uses his vast database of human experience to find a way to connect with anyone he wants to connect with and uses them. I mean, the using them part is cool, but he doesn't make them feel stupid for it afterwards. The worst part is that he narrates his life with this whole cynical attitude and stuff, but he's not actually cynical. He likes people. The people who interact with him like him too. The people who have to follow him around all day start to get tired of him, but that counts for nothing.

So, yeah, I was kind of disappointed about that. I was kind of hoping for a main character who's more depressed and reckless than the one I got. I kind of get the sense that his character was that way like 50 years ago, but that he's started down the path to enlightenment already. And what's worse, the show seems to want us to know that. They've already told us that he's gone over 30 years without alcohol and we've met some ex-flame who could remember when he was incapable of being in a stable relationship.

But, it was just the first episode. He's still got plenty of time to get depressed and rediscover alcohol as a way to escape the burden of centuries of living. He's even got plenty of time to continue losing faith in humanity and himself, and to take that out on the people around him. So, I still have hope.

There was one other vaguely interesting philosophical thought brought up in the show. So, the whole idea is that he'll be immortal until he meets his one true love and their souls become united or something like that (I'm not making this up). So, I'm not going to make fun of that, because well, I don't care. Obviously, it's completely stupid, but so long as only a small part of the plot is dedicated to him looking for his one true love, I don't really mind. Although, it's kind of depressing that already many of the characters in the show have made fun of the search for his one true love, since it's so ridiculous.

Anyways, the vaguely interesting philosophical thought is the idea that there is only one true love for all time for each person. Now, I imagine the show's writers haven't thought about this too hard, but we'll just assume that they're paired up (ie- you are your one true love's one true love). If that wasn't the case, things would pretty much suck. On the other hand, I imagine it would work well with the whole "find someone who thinks you're amazing strategy" from Juno, since it would make sense to kick out all the people who aren't inherently impressed by you. But anyways, the interesting idea is that this person could be anywhere, either spatially or temporally (well, most likely spatially somewhere on planet Earth, but you know what I mean).

I don't know, but I feel like that would pretty much screw up just about everyone's hopes of meeting their one true love. I mean, the main character's already gone centuries without crossing paths with her. How should he know if she hasn't already lived, married, and died?

It's weird, though, because it's kind of hard to imagine there only existing a single person whose truly right for you for all time. I mean, it basically means, settle for whatever you can get. However, maybe it makes more sense to never settle to always allow the opportunity for the perfect person to arrive.

If you're the main character of this show, then that makes sense of course. The next question, though, is whether him having a heart attack was at all related to the women around him, or whether maybe that Native American spell is starting to lose it's strength. If it is related, that would be pretty convenient, initially, but I imagine it would get old after a little while. Can you imagine having a heart attack every time you hang out with the person whose perfect for you, that would totally suck. I mean, it's one thing to always be nervous and stammer or sweat or puke or whatever, but I think it would be better to die of embarrassment from the interaction as opposed to die of a heart attack from the interaction, but that's just me. And I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that dying of embarrassment isn't fatal.

So, yeah, that's the show. It didn't wow me, but I watched the whole thing. I mean, that's gotta be worth something. Plus, it feels like his police work is just kind of a backdrop for his life, rather than the focus of the show. I have to wonder, though, why he doesn't seem to make any attempt to keep the fact that he's really old secret. It feels more like he's just tired of telling everyone the long and boring story of his life, instead of him wanting people not to know. But, well, what can you do? When you live forever, I guess if you wait long enough then everybody forgets that you live forever, so why bother keeping it a secret? Admittedly, I can think of a couple reasons, but we'll just ignore those for now...

That is all.


Monday, March 3, 2008

Terminator Season Finale

Well, this evening was the season finale for Terminator: The River is Crazy Freaking Hot Chronicles. I'm kind of surprised that Fox hasn't officially renewed it for another season yet. I don't know what it's numbers were, but I know they started out very high. Of course, I doubt they finished nearly that high, but I'm sure they were still quite strong. On the other hand, I bet it's a fair bit more expensive than that Moment of Truth show they have, which I think did significantly better numbers, so it's hard to judge. In any case, I would feel better if they would renew it. I think.

So, what are my thoughts on the series so far? I'm really enjoying it. I think it's starting to really find its stride. The addition of Derek "Asshat" Reese has been a lot better for the show than I had initially thought. I like that Sarah has another character to distrust and I also like Derek's flashbacks.

I don't like the color scheme in his flashbacks, though. I mean, seriously, James Cameron pretty clearly established that, in the future, everything is blue. So, why is it that in this version of the future, everything is brown? I mean, Derek was kept in a wood prison. Can you believe that? It's controlled by Skynet and it's made of wood! Why wasn't it cement and metal? I don't know. It doesn't make sense and it doesn't fit with the vision of James Cameron, either. In fact, the only part of the future that gets the blue filter is deep within John Connor's compound. In all fairness, this could be some sort of weird statement about the humans becoming more machine-like (what with reprogramming terminators for their service and all) while Skynet gets the browns to emphasize their focus on creating increasingly human-like terminators.

So, I guess, if I were really generous, I could assume that someone made the clear decision that they wanted to drop James Cameron's vision of the future in exchange for trying to make some stupid statement that already gets made so often it makes you want to puke in Battlestar Galactica. Or I could just conclude that some of the people involved in this show are purposely going out of their way to piss on James Cameron's vision.

I'm sorry, by the way. The above complaint was totally stupid and irrelevent to anyone who has even the barest semblance of self-respect, I'm sure. Obviously, I have no such thing, so this type of evil decision saddens me greatly, when I'm sure most people don't notice or care. But, it sure would be nice if the people who are getting paid to do this shit would care about the little things as much as I do. Anyways, moving on...That's right, I was talking about how I like the show.

I have to admit, though, the two episodes before this finale had me really worried. It really felt like the show was moving away from trying to get River and John to, um, experiment together. River was doing all these vaguely questionable things and totally not spending time making John feel uncomfortable, yet curious at the same time. Plus, there was this whole side plot with Agent Ellison finally starting to realize that maybe there really are dangerous robots out to get Sarah Connor, which was totally taking time away from River and John, not to mention that whole thing with developing Asshat Reese's character as fast as possible (I would hate him if he didn't provide Sarah with a distraction from River).

But, thankfully, the writer's knew that they had a carrot and they needed to put it back in front of me if they wanted me to tune in next season. And, oh man, did they ever put that carrot back. That first hour of the finale was just awesome. Here's the most important thing we learned: Terminators can totally do it. I mean, that terminator they killed was married! And, while we don't actually see him getting any, we do get to see him seducing her (his wife, while they're married, in case this is unclear). As a bonus, River is basically taking notes during this sequence. That's right: taking notes, filing the strategy in her dirty little mind for future reference. Oh, and chatting with John about it (if that doesn't make him uncomfortable, yet curious at the same time, I don't know what would). I like that John even called her on it (John, why does she say those things, indeed? I think you know).

Then, just to help John get more curious, he gets to cut her open and deactivate her. Now, personally, at this point I would have totally connected her to the computer and found all her old memories with future John Connor, just for kicks, but John didn't do that. I imagine the producers weren't ready to try to pick a thirty-year-old version of John Connor (it would be totally crazy if it was Edward Furlong, though...okay, obviously that would be totally stupid, but Nick Stahl would be cool). I also imagine that this wouldn't work very well because I bet future John Connor is smart enough to protect most of that stuff before sending her back anyways. But, it's still worth trying. You know, just in case?

Anyways, with River deactivated, John totally notices that she's rather cute (or outrageously hot, take your pick) when she's sleeping (so much for terminators never sleep). This made me happy, by the way. Especially when she woke up while he was still hunched over her, checking her out.

So, yeah, things are going well as far as I'm concerned. I'm a little nervous about that whole car exploding thing, but if the producers know what's good for them, they'll have River looking like the third hottest girl on the planet by at least midway through the second episode of next season. Also, John just had to be nice and have River agree to go to the prom with his friend (but, let's be honest here, it's not like John could take his "sister", so it's just as well).

In summary, the show finished very strong. I'm happy for that. This is probably because Sarah didn't have to play much of a role (John got to be the main character and man is the show better when it's focused on him). Of course, we could have done without Sarah lecturing us on Lord of the Flies, but, well, what can you do?

That is all.


PS - Did I mention that it was totally awesome to listen to Johnny Cash while the terminator took out, like, a dozen FBI agents? Yeah, that was pretty awesome.
PPS - I guess I'm going to have to start watching this New Amsterdam show that starts tomorrow, in the hopes that the main character is like House, only he lives forever (which I would consider to be a good reason to be an ass and hate humanity). It could have potential...maybe? Yeah, I doubt it, but you never know.