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Messages - Crudblud

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Arts & Entertainment / Re: Now Playing (the Video Game Version)
« on: March 31, 2024, 06:25:29 PM »
Cyberpunk 2077 is presentationally fantastic but kind of boring to actually play. For the first few hours I approached it as an FPS, but it became obvious when I decided to try using my PS5 controller that it's a console action game that just happens to be played primarily in first person perspective. I've been warming to it since then, although the generous aimbot assist only really serves to make the garbage gunplay tolerable rather than fun. One thing I will say is just moving around the city feels nice, especially with the adaptive triggers and finer steering control making the driving much smoother and more responsive, although the experience is kind of barren in terms of non-mission content, even compared to now-ancient games like San Andreas.

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Now Playing (the Video Game Version)
« on: March 18, 2024, 03:38:35 PM »
I've been playing Insomniac's Spider-Man game and it's mostly quite good, please enjoy some fragmented and poorly organised complaints. My excuse is I have a really bad cold and my head feels like it's stuck in a vice.

They really nailed the fluidity of the movement, though sometimes combat feels a bit unwieldy compared especially to the two major Arkham sequels, which have a more intuitive combat flow, especially with the quick gadgets button combos. Spidey will often target random other enemies during a combo without any directional input for no apparent reason, so instead of taking out the enemy I just knocked to the floor, he will suddenly turn around and target someone completely different with the rapid web shots. Being able to take some enemies out immediately by webbing them to a wall or floor is cool though, and not having a head-on fight with gun-wielding enemies be an automatic death sentence does give it something that the Arkham games always lacked.

Speaking of stealth, the MJ/Miles sections suck ass. Yeah I really want to have the character who can run up walls and cover all of Manhattan in a matter of minutes by swinging from skyscrapers taken away from me so that I can slowly fumble around as an ordinary person while armed guards with extremely selective cones of vision and radii of hearing fart about in silly obstacle courses like a bunch of potatoes with legs.

The movement is the best part of the game, and the size of the map complements it really well, although some of the collectathon stuff gets incredibly silly very quickly. You'll be on your way to a main objective and Spidey will just blurt out "hey look a pigeon lol" as if he doesn't have something more urgent to take care of. Some stuff can again be a little awkward, particularly interacting with walls in any way other than freerunning. Not jumping against a wall and immediately sticking to it is just weird, as is having to manually aim to shoot up to the ceiling. Ceiling and wall geometries can also be extremely fucky to negotiate; I don't care if it's more realistic, the environment should be built around accommodating Spider-Man as much as possible. The Tony Hawk games have always had ridiculous nonsense geometry because it's fun to have fun things even if they aren't faithful to the real world locations the levels are modelled on.

One final complaint is that for an open world game it feels super on-rails a lot of the time. Sometimes you finish an objective and then have nothing to do, but then literally one minute or less later someone will call you and tell you where to go next. I'm not sure what a good solution to this is, since there's nothing worse than having to complete minigames and sidequests to get the next piece of the main story, but it feels as though Insomniac didn't quite know which direction they wanted to go in with some of this stuff.

Again, overall I think the game is pretty good so far and it does a good job of living up to the fantasy of being your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, but a solid chunk of it is comprised of really fucking annoying shit put in seemingly at random.

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Now Playing (the Video Game Version)
« on: March 05, 2024, 01:24:35 PM »
Hot take since I finally got around to it. The only good thing about Dragon's Dogma is being able to pick up and throw people. That provided about ten minutes of solid entertainment.

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Superhero Movies & Comics General
« on: December 28, 2023, 10:53:10 AM »
I get that Nolan and Snyder are close friends and of course he's going to want to say something nice about his bro, but why would he say something so weirdly specific and so blatantly, obviously untrue?
Chris is a hack.

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Now Playing (the Video Game Version)
« on: September 25, 2023, 10:13:01 PM »
I still don't agree with Crudblud, and I think he's being a bit pedantic in his last response to me, but I'm willing to let it lie rather than seem like I'm swooping in just to get the last word or whatever.
I was secretly hoping you'd bait me by posting something to which I'd have to spend entirely too much time thinking about how to respond, thereby dashing my dreams of academic success. Alas, sadaam'd once again!

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Now Playing (the Video Game Version)
« on: September 21, 2023, 08:23:11 AM »
i watched the dunkey review for ac69 and realized i probably dont need to play this game and that sadaam is really and truly terrible at video games
dunkey is a retard who optimises the fun out of the game, if you liked Sekiro you'll like AC6

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Now Playing (the Video Game Version)
« on: September 20, 2023, 08:03:43 PM »
No, it doesn't. You can piece together the basics of what Coral is after a few missions, but that's not the same thing as having been told from the beginning. Your knowledge does not apply retroactively.
I'm failing to see what the difference is between "the beginning" and "after a few missions", given that the game has quite a lot of missions. Furthermore, how does one "piece together" information one has not received?

Characters regularly say things to you like "Intercept this corporation excavating the Coral in this region," "This place has been untouched since the Fires of Iblis," or "The PCA have shown up, get rid of them."
Two of those are telling you what the objective is, and the one that isn't is again coming from the character who most views 621 as a human and an equal, and who is forthcoming with information in many notable instances.

This whole total-immersion idea is simply wrong. Throughout the game, we see a number of conversations that Walter has with other characters (particularly Carla) that 621 clearly isn't present for
I never said "total-immersion", I said that it puts you in the position (or "shoes") of 621. This is not the same thing as being 621, but is a fairly simple device through which empathy with a non-speaking cipher character can be built.

Incidentally, I think your assessment of Walter is pretty harsh. Yes, he has his own agenda that he isn't telling 621 about, and yes, he would sacrifice 621 just like the other augmented humans he's worked with, but he doesn't  view them as a "hound" or a mindless tool to be kept ignorant at all. His secrets are very specific ones - namely, the true nature of the Coral and his ultimate plan for it. Otherwise, he's free with his information and quick to brief you about whom you're fighting with, whom you're fighting against, etc., and he lets you choose rather than give you orders whenever you have your choice of missions or face an important decision in the middle of a mission.
Walter's respect for 621 as a human being only begins to show near the end of the first playthrough. The options you refer to start turning up around the same time, maybe a little earlier. In any case most of them are not available until NG+/++ anyway, and the same goes for the mid-mission choices you can make (I'm pretty sure the stealth mission features the only one in NG, and Walter is not present for that one).

Somewhat related: It's possible to speculate regarding the extent to which the differences in the NG+/++ cycles' opening dialogues, the additional choices etc. are indicative of Walter and 621 having already built a solid professional relationship, and whether those subsequent cycles are alternate timelines or simply cheeky nods to being in a video game—of the sort we tended to see in games of a prior era, to which AC6 can be considered a kind of throwback.

Somewhat less related but cool: It seems that Walter is the son of the Institute researcher who first experimented with Coral and human augmentation, and at some point this research was directly responsible for the death of Walter's mother. Walter doesn't really understand the true nature of Coral, he has never made contact*, he sees Coral as a purely destructive force which will wipe out humanity if it is allowed to continue existing.

*in the final mission for the Liberator ending, Walter appears to have made contact of a sort through Coral augmentation (which he was subjected to while a prisoner of Arquebus, and which enables him to pilot the manned Ibis model) and is thus able to "see" the voices standing alongside 621

Okay, we'll just agree to disagree on the tutorial boss. I had never heard of anyone not using melee attacks to stagger the boss, but I probably just suck at the game.
You beat the game and got all the endings, I don't think anyone can claim you suck at the game. But I think we pretty much all sucked when we first faced that damned helicopter.

As for agreeing to disagree, the academic year technically hasn't even started yet and my reading is already piling up. So I'm afraid this will be my last contribution for the time being. It's been fun, and I look forward to butting heads once more when Shadow of the Erdtree comes out.

P.S.: Rejoice! There are (cosmetic) mods that turn Kusabimaru into the Moonlight Katana. I looked it up just for you!

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Now Playing (the Video Game Version)
« on: September 16, 2023, 11:22:32 PM »
But this is so broad and generic that it tells us nothing useful. You could use it to describe - or defend - any game's tutorial elements, no matter how dubious they are. Let's be more specific here. There's basically only one way to beat the tutorial boss, right? You have to close the distance and use your melee attacks to stun it, leaving it vulnerable for you to do some real damage to it. This is far from an ideal strategy, as the boss is fairly mobile, can "outrun" your assault boosts by flying away from you, and regularly travels out of bounds where you can't follow it, but nevertheless, that's really the only thing you can do. And this never happens again. You are never forced to fight a boss one specific way and with one specific build again in the game. In every other boss fight, and in fact in every other mission save for one (mercifully free of a boss fight), you're entirely free to modify your mech how you want with the equipment available to you. So this boss fight is a bizarre, entirely unique experience as far as boss fights go, not at all representative of the experience or in any way preparing players for what comes next.
I used the missiles and the gun to wear down the helicopter's ACS bar and then boosted in to do heavy melee damage once the helicopter was locked out of moving. Most bosses are highly mobile and capable of outrunning or outpacing you, the helicopter is hardly unique in that respect. Not being able to customise the AC you're given also makes sense in that you're literally crash landing on the planet, Walter seemingly having had just enough resources to get you there, where your first job is to steal a licence from a dead pilot. This is not a well-funded operation, and until you start earning credits what little you have is all you have. In this way, the game puts you in 621's shoes from the very beginning.

I'm not saying that either 621 or the player should right off the bat know all the arcane secrets of Coral or Rubicon, but they should know the basics. 621 should already know them - not have to be briefed on them by the other characters, but already know them (which the other characters seem to assume they do, anyway) - and the player should be told them via exposition. The game never tells you what Coral is, which is about as basic a detail about this setting as you can get. When I say "the game," I mean the game in its entirety, not simply the other characters in the game, and when I say "you," I mean you, the player, not simply 621, the player character. Can you piece it together after a few missions, sure, just like if you miss the first twenty minutes of a movie you'll probably still be able to figure out who the main character is and what the conflict of the movie is about. That's not the same thing as timely, effective exposition.
The game makes it pretty clear that Coral is a resource that exists on Rubicon, and that various factions make or want to make use of it for different things. Since the story is almost exclusively told through your interactions with those factions, you learn what Coral is to them, not what it is in itself, and really only the NG++ endgame delves into the true nature of Coral. Other characters don't assume you already know what it is, and again most of them either don't care if you know anything, don't want you to know anything, or hardly know anything about it themselves. Like I said, the game puts you in the place of 621, that's precisely why the character is just a number with an extremely vague history. Nonetheless you are given plenty of information as you progress through the game, just like most other games, though in this case the information and depth of understanding builds over two NG+ cycles. Maybe I'm misunderstanding exactly what it is you wanted the game to give you right off the bat, but I have a feeling we've just about hit a brick wall here.

I somehow messed up the name in my second post, despite getting it right in the first one. It's Planetary Closure Administration. Derp. Anyway, there's nothing unambiguous about them being Space NATO. That's just a guess on your part. A sensible one that I'd agree with, but still just a guess. It wouldn't have been difficult to include a quick explanation in the game of who they were to save us the trouble of having to guess. Incidentally, you know which faction isn't a complete mystery? RaD. Because with them, the game actually took the time to explain who they were. Instead of just saying, "Oh, look, here comes RaD, doing RaD things," they included a few lines of dialogue introducing us to them. That's all they needed to do. Ideally, I'd prefer a codex full of information that the player can peruse at their leisure, because I like lore lore lore, but they didn't really need to include that to do their job as far as exposition goes. They just needed one or two lines at the right moment to give us context for what's going on.
It's technically a guess in that the game doesn't say "hey look it's Space NATO lol" but it's essentially spelled out for you. As for RaD, first consider who briefs us on that mission, and then consider why that character might be forthcoming with kinds of information that others like Walter wouldn't. It all fits together with what I've been saying about how, when, why, and by whom information is given to the player.

My AC is better than yours, though! I'll kick your ass in PvP! What weapons did you use? I used dual gatling guns (DF-GA-08 Hu-Ben) and dual stun needle launchers (VE-60SNA).
I've experimented quite a bit with builds of varying complexity. The most extreme one used a left hand weapon bay to alternate between two melee weapons (Pulse Blade and Pile Bunker iirc), while the right arm had a Zimmerman shotgun and a ten cell shoulder missile launcher. Right now I'm using a very simple set-up of two RF-025 Scudders and two four cell missile launchers with a fast lock-on FCS. I still haven't tried the PvP, mainly because From's PvP is usually absolute trash, but sure that might be fun.

That's not good enough! It should have been a proper usable sword for the player. Even Ninja Blade had that, and that's the game you'd get if you asked David Cage to make Devil May Cry. I have heard that Déraciné also doesn't have that sword, but as far as I can tell, nobody has ever actually played Déraciné, so there's really no way to confirm.
I guess that would give games journalists the easy mode they wanted, though I can't imagine From would just let players grab it in the Ashina Outskirts. As for Déraciné, yeah I've never really heard anything about it either. It was a very small project and I think VR was still more or less in its infancy at the time, so I don't doubt very few people played it. Apparently it debuted with around 3000 sales in Japan, which is very small for an exclusive from a well known studio on a popular console in an extremely console dominated market. Also it would appear that it has no combat, so your hopes are dashed once again.

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Now Playing (the Video Game Version)
« on: September 15, 2023, 01:56:07 PM »
I've now completed Armored Core VI with a few days left before intro week starts at uni. The unique/alt NG+ and NG++ missions are fantastic, and the final ending is beautiful. 10/10

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Now Playing (the Video Game Version)
« on: September 12, 2023, 02:35:19 PM »
That design philosophy is so vague as to be bordering on useless. Like, I could say the same thing about Super Mario 64. The abrupt transition from the wide-open Bob-omb's Battlefield to the largely vertical Whomp's Fortress, a level full of narrow spaces and moving platforms, provides a severe early lesson to the player: adapt or die! Seriously, though, the tutorial boss is nothing like the rest of the game. There's only one feasible way to beat it, and the player has no other option if they're having trouble than to git gud. That's objectively just not how the rest of the bosses play out. It's not until several levels after the tutorial that you're presented with another boss, and by then, you have plenty of options to switch out parts and weapons or even try a new strategy. I won't claim to know exactly what this game's design philosophy is, but it certainly isn't "just keep doing the exact same thing until you get it right."
I didn't say "just keep doing the exact same thing until you get it right" so I'm not sure why you brought that up. In any case, the boss isn't about "git gud", it's literally just "apply the techniques we have shown you already". It's like teaching a child about basic shapes and then, as a test, handing them a square peg and making sure they understand that it doesn't fit into a round hole. The "adapt or die" part is that Souls players have to learn that they can't i-frame dodge through attacks, the game doesn't work that way. I should have worded it better, so that's my fault. But essentially my point is that From is aware of its core player base, and that AC6 is something quite different from what that audience is used to, so they must indeed "adapt or die".

I should have been clearer about this in my previous post, but I think the story itself is fine. It's really just the lore and background details I take issue with. The biggest example of this is Coral. The game's plot revolves around Coral, literally every faction in the game is primarily motivated by Coral, and every character in this setting knows all about Coral and how important it is. And yet the game never actually explains any of this to the player. Sure, you'll eventually piece it together as the missions go by, but that doesn't retroactively mean that the game's exposition was effective all along. The same thing applies to the Fires of Iblis. And the Planetary Control Alliance is especially galling, because it's never made clear who exactly these guys are - before, during, or after the entirety of the game. There is no narrative benefit to this game being vague and uncommunicative on basic details regarding the setting that every character knows and the player should also know. They could have begun the game with a cutscene giving the relevant information, they could have given the player a codex to peruse, or they could have worked the details into the game's early dialogue. Again, this is a minor point overall, but it's still a misstep on From's part, and I'm convinced that it came about because they just figured that what worked well for the Souls series and its related games would also work well for this game - much like the tutorial boss.
It’s quite simple. Most characters and factions you encounter don’t know really anything about coral besides its capacity for weaponisation. The characters that do know about it have their reasons for concealing that knowledge, but more broadly you aren’t really told much of anything because of how the world sees you. You aren’t seen as a person, they call you a dog or a hound and they mean precisely that. You exist to follow orders as far as they’re concerned, and the less you know about what you’re doing or why, the better. As Walter says, “it’s just a job 621. All of it.” There is no conceivable in-universe reason for anyone—besides Ayre, who sees you as something more than just a tool, and who does actually tell you quite a lot about the nature of the coral—to give you information beyond what is strictly required for you to do the job.

Also, while it’s true that even less detail than usual is given regarding the PCA (Planetary Closure Authority), it’s pretty unambiguously Space NATO. They established a hold on Rubicon some time after the cataclysm to keep the coral-hungry corporations and other groups from gaining access to Institute City and the coral convergence.

Looking back on my post now, I was definitely generalizing. It was because of Balteus that I joined Team Tank and never looked back. I lost to that boss at least twenty times with a light build because I couldn't avoid enough of its constant barrages of attacks to stay alive for very long. I then switched to a heavy tank build and took the boss down on my second or third try. It was like flipping on a light switch. It may be my lack of skill with a light build that led to me dying so much at first, but it certainly wasn't my incredible skill with a heavy build that led to me then beating the boss with relative ease - it was the fact that using a heavy build was simply a far easier and more effective way of handling that fight. So I will maintain that boss incentivizes a heavy build, but I never really took the time to try experimenting with other builds for the rest of the game, with the one exception being the Ibis battle. You cannot tank its attacks no matter how much of a beast you've created, so I had to slim my build down and use the wheelchair treads to give me the speed to evade its attacks.
I think one of the great strengths of the game is that the amount of gear available lets you tailor your mech almost perfectly to a design that suits how you feel comfortable playing. If a tank with heavy weapons is what suits you, go for it. I personally found the tank leg parts difficult to control, so I went with reverse-jointed legs for high evasive capability.

Sekiro doesn't even have a version of the Moonlight Sword! How hard could it have been to work that in to a game about a swordsman?
It isn't named in-game but the Divine Dragon uses it, complete with projectile attacks.

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Now Playing (the Video Game Version)
« on: September 11, 2023, 02:15:11 PM »
I'm wondering if there will be a balance patch around the end of the month
As it turns out there is a balance patch today! Some of the lighter weapons have had their attack power increased, and three bosses have been nerfed.

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Now Playing (the Video Game Version)
« on: September 09, 2023, 07:30:19 PM »
I apologise in advance because this is not a very well organised post. I am extremely tired because the humidity has been oppressive this week and the lack of sleep has finally caught up with me. I am more scatterbrained than usual and I don’t know if this is actually coherent, but I have to respond autistically to Saddam because it’s what we do. Also, Saddam beat the game fair and square as far as I’m aware, so I’m not going to be rude. Well, maybe a little.

I actually disagree with him quite strongly. I think Armored Core VI is easily From Soft's best game since Sekiro (which is their best game btw).

Missions vary in difficulty, and yes bosses are considerably harder across the board, which they should be, but I think a key element you're missing is the power fantasy. No one wants to pilot a giant mech that can't do shit. The opening hours of the game up to Balteus are a careful balancing act of showing the harsh, amoral nature of the central conflict and your role within it, while also allowing you to revel in the haha big gun go brrrrrrrr that you want when you're piloting a giant battle robot. Nonetheless, the build up to Balteus is very well handled and gives you a good grounding in combat and build variety while ultimately leaving you to develop your skills for yourself in order to progress. It is probably the most user-friendly game From Soft has made in that respect, while still being upfront about the level of challenge. The tutorial boss is a crash course in the game’s design philosophy, which is basically: adapt or die.

From the start you are in the dirt, a nameless dog scavenging the wrecks of other mechs for a licence to operate on Rubicon. The boss at the end of the first mission shows how precarious your situation is, you aren't special and you can be wiped out at any moment by any of several powerful forces for whom you aren't even yet a means to an end. That is the nature of the setting, and the game constantly reminds you of that. Friendships and alliances are fleeting, you follow the money, and your next job might be to kill the people who gave you your previous job. The impersonal nature of the job is partly why the story is told the way it's told. Most of your contact with the rest of the world is mediated by Walter, you never see anyone face to face, you only hear their voice. Everything is at a slight remove, even "close" acquaintances can never reach out and touch you, emphasising the dehumanisation of the setting. It is only after encountering Ayre that you begin to gain another perspective, but even so you don't have your freedom, you aren’t a person, which is what Walter ultimately wants for you, the freedom to choose for yourself, even if it means that you have to kill him to do it. I found the story very engaging as the central mystery began to deepen, and I was moved by the ending I chose, which I felt had a well earned sense of pathos.

I don't think the game demands you to run a heavy build at all, but sure you can tank your way through encounters if that's your preference. I played through the game with a light, highly mobile build mostly using various types of shoulder missiles and shotguns, and usually a melee weapon. I found that it was better to try to evade (and I do mean evade, there's no i-frame dodge rolling here) incoming damage than tank it because the repair packs are extremely limited per try. Unlike the Souls games you can't add extra charges to your healing, adding to the sense of danger in each encounter. The level of customisation incentivises experimentation in a way that no previous From Soft game has, especially given that you can change your entire build mid-mission if you die after hitting a checkpoint. I think the devs did an excellent job making sure that each part has its trade-offs, though shotguns are a little bit overpowered. I'm wondering if there will be a balance patch around the end of the month, although From Soft already said that the PvP is a simple extra feature, not a core focus of development, so maybe they’ll just leave it as is.

In conclusion, 9/10 game, git gud, and Saddam is being Reddit.

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Now Playing (the Video Game Version)
« on: August 25, 2023, 01:51:04 PM »
I would just like to say that Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is a good game and I am enjoying it very much.

Technology & Information / Re: Why does that child have my computer?
« on: August 13, 2023, 08:33:14 AM »
If your kid has Discord they need police intervention? Christ almighty the police in this country are beyond a joke.

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Superhero Movies & Comics General
« on: August 12, 2023, 11:21:32 AM »
And I don't understand the positive reviews it's getting. Maybe if you don't mind the godawful CGI, or the climactic moment of the movie literally being a random montage of former DC actors rather than something that's actually relevant to the film itself, or the bleak, cynical ending that renders the entire movie a shaggy dog story, the movie ends up seeming pretty good? To me, these are all major flaws in the movie, although I'll admit that my aversion to bulletproof all-CGI Batman is more personal than anything else. But, you know, I guess everyone's taste is different. I still think that WW84 is a decent, if flawed, movie, and yet the general consensus on the Internet seems to be that it's one of the worst movies ever made simply because of nitpicks about "plot holes" and an odd body-switch plot point that could arguably be viewed as rape if viewed from a certain (very uncharitable) perspective. Perhaps The Flash is me simply experiencing this phenomenon from the opposite side.
I mean, I said pretty good. I certainly don't think it lives up to the hype of being the most amazing superhero movie of all time or whatever James Gunn was saying in the build up to its release. I agree that the CGI was bad, I actually think if they'd leaned into how uncanny valley it gets they could have made a pretty convincing depiction of the Speed Force as existential horror. It's not a shaggy dog story by any means. The whole point is that Barry learns to let go of the past and start living in his own time. It's a pretty simple story with a clear conclusion revolving around a character's arc. A shaggy dog story is something like The Big Sleep, which introduces a lot of mystery plot threads and answers none of them, including the central whodunnit. But in this case Barry actually learns from his mistakes and realises that all his selfish meddling will do is cause untold suffering for other people. Plus it does actually have consequences for the world in which he lives, as he encounters yet another version of Bruce Wayne at the end. It seemed to me like a good way of signalling that the old DC is over, including all their pre-Snyder live action productions. It may help that I was already familiar with the Flashpoint comic, which is more or less what this is based on, though it ends up taking it in a different direction to reflect its own continuity. As far as making something good out of the diarrhoea Snyder came up with goes, it's probably about as good as it could have been.

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Just Watched
« on: August 08, 2023, 01:52:09 PM »
Just seen The Flash. It was a bit wonky in a lot of places but I have to say overall it was pretty good. I don't understand the hate it's getting, certainly the most entertaining DC movie I've seen in a while.

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Cazazza Dan
« on: August 08, 2023, 07:16:16 AM »
Forgot to post this. As the title suggests it's my arrangement of three movements from Mahler's unfinished Tenth Symphony. Specifically, these are the inner movements, comprising two scherzi connected by an interlude titled 'Purgatorio'.

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Just Watched
« on: July 15, 2023, 11:31:30 AM »
A new dawn for Batman is upon us, but as they say, the night is darkest before the dawn, and boy oh boy what a pre-dawn we've got to get through first. That's right, it's time for...

Man of Steel (dir. Zack Snyder)

Ten years ago, Warner Bros. execs looked over at the MCU and saw the quality and brilliance of how much money it was making, and they thought to themselves: you know, the Dark Knight trilogy sure did make us a lot of money, but what if, get this, what if also Superman??? Ka-ching! the members of the board exclaimed in unison. All was rosy and bright, but then came the problem: who will be the creative director of this project? After all, such an undertaking requires careful planning and forethought. Perhaps what they needed, they thought, was an auteur, someone who could bring a singular vision to bear on a franchise that would span many titles, characters, and settings, all connected but different, all unique but unified. On the other hand, you want an industry titan, someone with a proven track record at the box office who also has the grounding of experience working on a host of big budget productions that might suggest they would be capable of managing something of such magnitude as this. Enter Zack Snyder, a guy whose previous cinematic accomplishments include having made some stuff. Of course I am being just a mite unfair. Snyder enjoyed huge commercial success with his first two films, especially the second, 2007’s much memed 300, which made back its budget ten times over. Watchmen, his adaptation of the much beloved Alan Moore comic, is where things started to go south, with a box office return less than 1.5 times its budget. And, prior to Man of Steel, his last feature Sucker Punch just barely made even. Given all of this, his appointment to the position of creative overseer of the DCEU, and director of all its mainline features, comes across as just a tiny bit baffling. It reminds me of the political cartoon depicting the big-talking but somewhat incompetent Michael Gove pleading with then Prime Minister David Cameron to let him fly a fighter jet as part of efforts to repel an alien invasion on the basis that he a) ‘wrote two articles about planes’ for the Times, and b) has ‘strong opinions about aliens’. In any case, Snyder was what Warner Bros. chose and Snyder is very much what they got. Unfortunately, we got it too.

Man of Steel is the first mainstream Superman film which neither stars Christopher Reeve nor is intended as a continuation of Reeve’s character. The DCEU is entirely its own continuity and it begins with first principles, which is appropriate given that Superman himself will become a Christ of sorts within it. So we immediately go back to basics with a complete origin story, detailing the fall of the planet Krypton and the exodus of, among others, Kal El, who would be found in a field by farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent, from whom he would receive the name Clark Kent. So far I’m giving away nothing you can’t find out—with, as it turns out, eerily similar phrasing—in ten seconds on Wikipedia. This entire Krypton sequence is often singled out for praise even from the people who are otherwise dismissive of the film, and indeed the DCEU generally. I will readily admit that it is a visually striking sequence in terms of its art design, even if it, like the rest of the film, is practically devoid of colour, but almost all of its other elements seem to fall short. As I watched the mostly CGI zoom zoom kaboom antics of the first twenty minutes unfold, I was beginning to wonder why exactly I felt unmoved by what was essentially a simple (i.e.: hard to fuck up) story about two parents who, knowing they were about to die, moved heaven and earth to save their child. When the film picked up with Clark Kent as a grown adult on Earth, I began to realise that the problem was exactly this: Zack Snyder has the aesthetic sensibility of an early 2000s nu-metal music video. The opening sequence has more problems than its shot choices and colour grading, however. For one thing, it introduces a number of characters one after the other, giving us just enough information to piece together their causes and intentions but not their reasons for supporting and holding them. In other words, the backstory needs a backstory, which is always a sure sign of a brilliant narrative mind at work.

Speaking of narrative brilliance, let’s skip to the end of the film. The common thread running through the vast majority of superhero comics is the question of whether it is ever right to kill. The morality on display is simple: not killing is what separates Superman, Batman, and many others, from the villains they fight. It doesn’t matter how many times the Joker escapes from Arkham Asylum or how many people he hurts or kills, Batman’s belief in redemption is absolute and incorruptible. Batman is often cited as the more relatable hero, delivering that ideal of incorruptibility to the common man in a way that Superman cannot. Superman is, as I mentioned above, a Christ-like figure, and he can perhaps only be as good as he is precisely because he is not really human. In this film, Superman is ‘forced’—and I use scare quotes with good reason—to kill Zod. At the climax of the film, Zod has lost everything he was fighting for, his hopes of building a new Krypton on Earth are all but lost forever, but instead of giving up he decides to just kill people and force Superman to watch. The concept of forcing something on someone in this context is a weird one. Supes has Zod in a hold, and the only weapons Zod can use are his laser eyes. For some reason Supes can’t just, you know, fly up into the sky and let Zod laser eyes into the void until he tires himself out, so Supes breaks his neck. Comic storylines in which superheroes resort to killing are generally treated with a great deal of care, with great attention to detail to make sure that killing doesn’t just seem like the lazy way out of the situation. Rather, the reader should be able to accept that, in this one instance, killing becomes a necessary evil which will prevent mass death or something of similar magnitude. Here there is absolutely no reason for Superman to kill Zod, he could have done an extremely wide variety of things to deal with Zod slowly turning his head towards the dastardly deed of singeing a guy’s shirtsleeve. Snap. Yell. Shake it off. Become a journalist in the city you helped raze to the ground with all zero of your qualifications for any line of work whatsoever.

Snyder’s fatalism throughout the film likewise leads to other needless deaths. Jonathan Kent decides he wants out about a third of the way into the film, and just makes a sort of ‘nah’ gesture towards his son—who is entirely capable of saving him and everyone else from the danger—as a tornado sucks him on up to heaven. Later, when Clark explains to Lois Lane why he let his father die, the stupidity of reasoning is laid bare in a way that is neither redundant nor complementary to the actual death scene. Snyder loves the Dramatic Moment and he doesn’t really seem to care what he has to sacrifice to get it. For him, characters, reason, and indeed braincells are all valid offerings to the god of theatre, and he will present them as loudly as he can. Metropolis itself, while initially its skyscrapers fall victim to Zod’s forces, is eventually battered through and through by none other than the Man of Steel himself. It’s okay though, just show a close-up of a Daily Planet journalist saying—as if the audience hasn’t yet realised that Superman is, in fact, the hero—‘he saved us’ while wearing the most gormless facial expression possible, and everything’s gonna be alright! Yes, again, given how much of the city he destroys because smashing people into buildings looks cool, you could be forgiven for thinking that, while he isn’t a villain as such, he is kind of a feckless idiot. There is of course an argument to be made that Superman never had to face a threat like this before, and that he therefore should not be judged as one might a mature and well established superhero.  While he himself is technically a first contact for humanity, he knew nothing of his origins until his teens, and he didn’t discover the truth about his homeworld and his people until he was an adult. All this, however, is so much yada yada yada at the side of: I think anyone would know that smashing up your kitchen to catch a mouse, in the manner of Tom & Jerry, is ultimately just going to reflect poorly on you.

And speaking of smashing things up, let’s talk about the action scenes. I cannot think of a single action sequence in this film that isn’t chopped or diced or julienne fried as badly as or worse than those in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, which is saying a lot. It’s sort of like DragonBall Z, except instead of two fighters being so fast that they disappear into a tangle of wiggling and coincidentally easy to animate lines, the camera angle changes so quickly that, while you know a fight is occurring, half the time you can’t tell who’s punching whom, nor whether someone’s getting in good hits. The entire time, the film is yelling at you THIS IS A COOL FIGHT LOOK AT HOW COOL THIS FIGHT IS GUYS IT’S FUCKING COOOOOOOOOOOOL, but you would have to be hard pressed for entertainment to take it at its word. Granted, you are watching Man of Steel, so maybe you do actually have to concede on that point. Part of the problem with the scale of the action is that there isn’t really a point where anyone is shown having a normal fight with anyone else. The crashy bangy punchy zoomy zoom is just there at some point, there is no build up to it, it springs into existence spontaneously. The formula goes like this: frame one is a guy in a plaid shirt, frame two is space punch zap zaboom, frame three is a woman gawking teary-eyed at Superman because literally every woman in this movie is a damsel in distress. With, however, the notable exception of Fighty Philosophy Lady, who explains that morality is an evolutionary weakness. Everybody in the audience furiously claps while maintaining an awe-struck look on their face. This level of profundity is a by-product of what uncritically reading Ayn Rand does to your brain.

So that’s Man of Steel. It is an unbelievably dull and lifeless movie wrapped up in and warped by its own sense of self-importance. It makes overtures to philosophical ideas but largely fails to make them cohere between theory and practice; arguably Zod is the only character who actually stands by his own principles when push comes to shove, and he’s a genocidal maniac. The weird thing is that this is the good Zack Snyder, the Zack Snyder who has people around him who are willing to say ‘no’ every once in a while. Recently I’ve seen people saying that, in the wake of the four hour long Zack Snyder’s Justice League, there should be ‘Snyder cuts’ of his other DCEU films. I would like to caution people who are on board with this idea: it is a terrible idea. It would be a better idea to start drumming up grassroots support for Snyder’s dream project of adapting Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. That’s how bad this idea is. And I should point out, Snyder is currently citing concerns about political polarisation in society as a reason to keep the project on the back burner for the time being. But you can show him, you Snyderians, you can make his dreams come true! Don’t make him come back to this, please, whatever you do. It’s bad enough as it is. Let’s all respectfully move on now. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s me getting the fuck out of here! Peace.

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Just Watched
« on: July 12, 2023, 09:44:46 PM »
The Batshit Odyssey at last reaches a new milestone with the finale of the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale trilogy!

The Dark Knight Rises (dir. Christopher Nolan)

With Christopher Nolan’s third Batman feature, the twice-failed attempt at a Batman trilogy was finally complete. Previously, Tim Burton stepped away, or was rather forced out, after his first two films were essentially considered to be too dark to merchandise to children (domestic terrorism and a guy with half his face burnt off r totes kool 4 kidz tho, sez WB execz). Joel Schumacher’s tenuously connected neon-drenched apotheoses of confusion and stupidity likewise failed to produce a much vaunted third entry before the executive branch, well, executed it. The trilogy is a strange, arbitrary standard for franchise legitimacy, but one which is predominant, especially in modern blockbuster cinema. Regardless, some credit must be given to Nolan for telling a ‘complete’ Batman story with a beginning, middle, and end. However, the connections between the three, and especially between the first two and the third, often leave me wondering why they needed to form a ‘complete’ story at all. Each one can more or less be read episodically, the only things connecting them (Batman excluded) really being the plot equivalent of Blu Tack, yet there is a third Batman movie and I’m committed to reviewing it for some reason.

It’s surprisingly difficult to talk about the third entry in a series the parts of which display impressive levels of homogeneity. It has the same platitudinous dialogue, the same mediocre action, the same everywhere-and-nowhere present day metropolitan setting of its predecessors, perhaps differing from them only in that the level of embarrassment it displays in its approach to adapting its sources far outstrips theirs. This is compounded by the sense that none of it is bad as such, but that it is remarkably unremarkable in its every detail. For a movie about a wackily voiced roidboi playing football with a nuke, very little of what occurs in its 160 minutes is even slightly arresting or engaging. Here Nolan may have produced the most soporific blockbuster hit imaginable. I specify hit because of course there have been many megabudget snorefests that didn’t really go anywhere numbers-wise. The Dark Knight Rises is not only spectacularly boring, it made over $1bn globally at the box office as well. There’s no accounting for taste, of course, and naturally the sequel to the massively popular The Dark Knight was bound to do good business.

The attempt at a byzantine plot is largely successful insofar as its constituent parts are woven together in a way that more or less flows, but in the main it is incredibly hard to care about anything that happens this time around. The caped crusader is more or less shorn of his connections to anyone and anything, and while the film outwardly states that this is the aftermath of the eight years following the death of Harvey Dent, for which Batman took the rap, the truth is that as soon as Rachel Dawes was killed there was a sudden loss of connection between Batman and the world around him. In this film nothing much seems to matter, and even when Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter Talia is revealed as the true villain near the end, the response is not one of shock, but ‘so what?’ And perhaps, if one is in a charitable mood, ‘why?’ Are we surprised to learn that Ra’s had a child? It’s quite rare for warlords to have no children, many throughout history have had dozens with sometimes as many different mothers, or perhaps even hundreds through a kind of forced adoption by which they owned the children of their conquered foes. The question ‘why?’ is actually appropriate to ask in the following sense: why in the world would Talia, given all that she tells us about her father abandoning her and her mother to rot in what is supposedly the most hellish prison on Earth, want to take up her father’s cause and avenge his death? I guess Hell Prison changes you.

The attempt to tie the series together and come full circle with Talia’s reveal only really serves to lay bare the film’s heaviest issue. While Talia provides the promised twist, that is essentially all she does. She is barely even a character, which is a shame given the long-standing and complicated relationship she shares with Batman in the comics. But she is one quasi-character in a band of several, and her uncompelling nature is hardly out of place. Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s long-suffering butler, is perhaps the closest the film comes to writing a character that doesn’t merely serve as a plot device, but even he is ultimately a doll to be moved about at will for the sake of complicating what little we actually see of Bruce’s emotional life. When he leaves because he can no longer stand to see Bruce destroy himself, what we essentially lose is but one mouthpiece for the Nolan brothers’ hamfisted dialogue. I cannot think of a character in this film who actually speaks to another character rather than to the audience, every line laden as it is with exposition that we need to know to fill in the eight year in-universe gap between the events of The Dark Knight and Batman’s less than triumphant return.

Batman in this film is a worn out husk of a man, in fact he is more or less just Bruce Wayne at this point. His injuries are too severe for him to really do much of anything except hobble about his gigantic house, or the wing of it in which he has sequestered himself. Some parallels can be made to Frank Miller’s grotesque and abysmal The Dark Knight Strikes Again, in which an ageing Batman spends a decent chunk of time recuperating from injuries that would have killed or permanently paralysed anyone else. Previously, the series featured other aspects of this comic, like the Bat-a-like vigilantes from The Dark Knight, who more or less mirror the Sons of Batman militia. The nods are there, but one is left wondering: why doesn’t Bats Bats Baby have a teenage girl sidekick who cosplays as a malformed leopard? This cherry picking will not stand! But Nolan is a man of taste after all, you can’t simply include everything from this one terrible comic he seems to be a wee bit fixated on. Chris, if you’re as embarrassed by comic books as this film would suggest, I highly recommend reading better ones for inspiration next time you decide to do a superhero movie. (Like today’s sponsor, Speedball. He bounces with balls! Smash that like button and hit the bell icon for more!)

Well, there might not be a Catgirl Carrie Kelley but there is a Catwoman Selina Kyle. And boy what a basically kinda sorta character-ish person she is! As was the case in Batman Returns, she is the taunting temptress that seduces both Batman and Bruce Wayne, but here she isn’t a dark mirror of the Bat duality, instead playing the femme fatale master thief role pretty straight. Her plot arc resembles that of Catwoman in Batman: Arkham City, released the previous year, with her plan to leave the crumbling Gotham thwarted at the last moment by her affection for Batman. In this film she is more a mirror of Talia, shadow-bound and mysterious, deadly but with a taste for vengeance that is fundamentally tempered by some sense of self-preservation. Like the eponymous man-eater of Zola’s Nana, her use, abuse, and devaluation of others is a manifestation of a combination of self-interest and class struggle, informed by a background of poverty and with the rich as its primary target. The thematics around Catwoman and her relationship with Bane’s quasi-French revolution form what is very probably the most subtle and interesting part of the film, but it is ultimately a background concern.

The film’s main villain Bane is largely without character, making this the second time he has appeared in a movie that doesn’t seem to care about who he is in the source material. In the comics he is a larger-than-life luchador hopped up on super-roids, while in this film he is a fairly normally proportioned dude with a mask and a silly voice. Much of course has already been said about the voice Tom Hardy employs in this film, a fine addition to his ever-growing portfolio of baffling accent choices, so I will simply repeat that it is silly. His ordinariness is perhaps intended to make a point, that this isn’t a world of superheroes and villains, but one of men, limited by their physicality and bound by not just their own history but the history of the world. There is value and dignity, potentially, in this approach, but Bane, like his predecessors in this and previous Batman series, has a taste for needless theatricality that yet makes him something other than just a man. He is a sort of mythological figure, one known only by name and who seems to shift from shadow to shadow across the world, unseen but for the carnage he leaves in his wake. The film would have him, or he would have himself, before the public, a sort of symbol of opposition to system and order, yet his first act within a ‘liberated’ Gotham is to impose a tyrannical order. A comment on the hypocrisy of revolution? Bane as Robespierre? Perhaps, but this is beside the point. Bane as he exists in this film has no more need of being Bane than Talia has of being Talia, indeed the entire thing is a Batman film in name only.

Batman or no, the greatest insult to the audience’s intelligence and patience is save for the grand finale. Batman flies a nuclear device that is primed to go off in mere seconds far out over the water where it can do no harm to anyone. Anyone, that is, but him! We are led to believe that he has sacrificed himself in order to save the city, and this truly would have been a satisfying conclusion, a final myth-making act of heroism that proved nothing more or less than his belief in his duty as a protector of Gotham, that he was after all a man, but that a man can effect lasting change in the world. Within a couple of minutes the film undoes this in its entirety by showing us that, not only is Bruce Wayne alive and well, he more or less planned everything. Oh Bruce! [audience laughter] Early in the film, Alfred tells Bruce that, once a year during the time that Bruce was gone (see Batman Begins), he went holidaying in Florence, and he would sit outside a certain café and look across the way hoping to see Bruce sat with a woman. With minimal acknowledgement they would briefly glance at each other, and in so doing Alfred would know that Bruce had moved on from the life of torment he had lived from childhood in Gotham, never to return—Alfred’s happy ending to an unhappy story. Cut back to the end, and a close-up of Alfred in tears before Bruce’s grave, blaming himself for Bruce’s death. Two minutes later, here’s Alfred at a certain café in Florence and gee boy howdy, whaddya know, shucks and/or perhaps maybe even possibly a little bit pshaw, who should be sitting across the way but Bruce and his girlfriend Selina Kyle? Oh Bruce! [audience laughter intensifies] And it was then that Alfred knew that everything would be alright.

Fuck. Off.

That about wraps up this pile of horse shit with a neat little bow. There is a great deal that I haven’t touched upon, but so many of The Dark Knight Returns’ issues are mere repetitions of old mistakes, lessons unlearned from prior endeavour, that it seems unnecessary to add however many more thousands of words to detail every single objection. My concluding thoughts rather appropriately return to an old objection. I really do find Christopher Nolan’s constant embarrassment at his source material so very very irritating. Why even bother making it a Batman movie if all you’re really going for is an implausible modern day revolution story, narrowly thwarted by a do-gooder vigilante and the only two intelligent cops who exist? Just imagine, the 2012 Les Misérables movie could have been un film de Christopher Nolan! Just replace Hugh Jackman with Christian Bale and you’re basically there! It’s even got Anne Hathaway! I am approximately two thirds joking. But really, what difference does it make which work of fiction you adapt for the screen if the particulars of character and relationship and time and place and story are totally arbitrary? You might as well have just made up something completely original instead of needlessly fulfilling some duty to finish out the trilogy, as if the word and concept Trilogy came down to this world in the form of divine mandate, never to be gainsaid by mere mortals. For all that I complain and throw shade, as the kids say, hindsight teaches us the valuable lesson that things can always get worse. I would take, Star Wars style, another two trilogies of Nolan’s Batman over the Snyderian tidal wave of shit that is the DCEU. So you know, swings and roundabouts. Normally I end these things with a joke, but not this time. That’s it. Go away.

Arts & Entertainment / Re: Just Watched
« on: July 11, 2023, 11:26:20 PM »
why did you post the spoderverse 2 review twice?
Because It is! For one thing, it's more of what made the first one so good - really fun and inventive action, beautiful animation, and terrific voice acting. But something else that I think really speaks to the quality of this movie, especially when comparing it to other fairly recent movies/TV shows with similar premises, is that you don't really need to be all that familiar with the various spoderman properties being included, referenced, or parodied to still be invested in it. It's a nice bonus if you are, of course, but the story and characters are compelling enough to carry you through the movie even if none of the other miscellaneous spoderman stuff registers. Similarly, there's a dense layer of hidden jokes, background details, and Easter eggs that observant viewers can catch, but unlike that stupid fucking Mario movie, you don't have to spot them to enjoy the movie. Even with only a surface level  of engagement, you'll still be seeing a movie that's funny, frantic, and looks great.

I really have just one problem with the movie that I feel is worth mentioning. The first act of this movie leans heavily into a capeshit trope that I think we as a society need to permanently retire - the hero whose duties make them late for or entirely miss important social obligations, inevitably leading to an uncomfortable scene where they get angrily lectured about how selfish and lazy they are. Oh, of course they aren't really selfish and lazy, but the hero can't explain that without revealing their secret identity! The dramatic tension is palpable! Stop it with this shit. It's been done a million times by now, and has never been anything other than unpleasant and deeply frustrating to watch play out. There are so many other ways that maintaining a secret identity could create tension with loved ones without having to fall back on "they're late for and/or miss appointments a lot" every single time. Like what this same movie does with Gwen and her father, you know? That was a good idea. And what makes the whole thing worse is that I actually really like this portrayal of Miles's parents, both of whom are funny, quirky characters with distinctive personalities. They deserve better than to be wasted on this Baby's First Capeshit melodrama.

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