Why I Keep Coming Back to EVE Online

This has been relocated to my PC Gaming blog here. Since I realize that few people here will actually care to read what I think about games, and since I want the entries to be more public and accessible than they would be on LiveJournal, I'm going to move them to this new account on Blogger.


I Hate Dumb Movies (Review of Splinter)

I write a lot of movie reviews that are very critical of the movies I watch. That gives the wrong impression, I think. I try not to hold movies to overly high standards, and I usually just enjoy a movie for what it is. This is why I like cheesy action and horror movies, because they're just good fun. However, there are certain things that I can't stand in a movie, such as bad writing or stupid characters. I just watched Splinter (2008), and I'm sorry to say that it is a great example of both of these problems.

Since the "suspense" in this movie is made of ridiculously drawn out scenes that only end up feeling contrived, I wouldn't worry about spoilers. But consider yourself warned in any case.

The movie has an original horror/sci-fi concept that is actually pretty cool: a "splinter parasite" infects animals and takes over their flesh for locomotion, and it then seeks out more life forms in order to propagate itself. +1 for a cool concept, but that's where the original thinking ends. It's supposed to be "like a mold or fungus" although I don't see any similarity whatsoever, so -1 for bad science. Last time I checked, fungus doesn't seek out heat or reanimate dead bodies. But that aside, I still think the idea could have been used much more effectively. It doesn't go into any detail about the origin of the parasite or even give any clear shots of what it looks like. That's too bad, but doesn't affect the movie too much. It could've just landed on Earth in a meteorite á la The Blob, but whatever.

After the initial concept, however, the writing just seems incredibly lazy to me. The acting is good, but the writing is so tedious that it's frustrating to watch. Yelling at the TV because the characters are too dumb to figure out the obvious thing to do is not fun, it's maddening. For example, Shea Whigham's character decides to induce hypothermia in order to fool the parasite. He brings his body temperature down to 90°F and staggers outside toward the abandoned cop car. However, for being mildly hypothermic, he moves ridiculous slowly, takes forever to get to the car and, when he finally gets there, realizes that the keys are gone and battery is dead. If he wasn't dumb as a sack of bricks, he might have noticed that the headlights on the car--which were blazing brightly earlier in the movie--are now dead. He also might have though ahead of time to grab the keys from the dead cop outside the door, but I guess he's not too bright.

The largest hole in this poor excuse for a plot is the baffling oversight on the part of the characters to simple distract the creature with fire. In fact, that was their original plan: set a fire, then run for the car. But even after they figure out that the creature is attracted to heat, they never bother to try it. Instead, they try to distract it with sparklers while someone lowers their body temperature and stumbles over to the car. Why not just light a fire? The creature would probably just run right into it and die. But I guess the writers wanted to try something more dramatic, which meant thinking up some convoluted and nonsensical plan that just creates more false suspense.

Horror movies come in two types: the viewer either empathizes with the characters in the movie, or roots for the killer. Since the killer in this case is a killer space fungus, Splinter is obviously trying to be the first type and fails miserably. The problem is that the characters are so dumb that you don't care if they die. The acting itself wasn't bad by any means, but the writing ruined it. If this were a horror movie of the second type it wouldn't be so bad, but unfortunately I found it impossible to root for the space fungus.

One final point to make: I hate shaky cam. I don't know who thought it was a good idea to zoom in so far that you can't see what's going on and then wave the camera around like you're having a fit, but it's a horrible trend in movies lately and it has to stop. Not only is it nauseating, but it's just plain lazy. This movie was all about disgusting monsters killing people: show us the creature, don't shake the camera around so much that you can't even get a clear view of what it looks like. And please, shaking the camera won't made a scene more dramatic unless it's actually taking place during an earthquake.

So starting with a base score of 5/10, that's +1 for an original concept and +1 for decent acting, but -1 for bad science, -1 for excessively dumb characters, -1 for lazy, convoluted writing, and a final -1 for atrocious use of shaky cam. Final score: 3/10. At least it's only 78 minutes.



Just saw Avatar, and yes, it is an amazing movie. The visuals were literally jawdropping--yes, my jaw dropped several times--and the creature design was absolutely exquisite. I also loved the story: it's classic, and has many similarities to David Lynch's Dune which is another of my favourites. It's the same kind of story but Avatar's is much more effective.

I have no problem with the "hippyness" because, after all, they're aliens and this is science fiction. The idea of a plant-based planetary sentience isn't new in sci-fi ("In the Company of Others" by Julie Czerneda comes to mind) and it was done pretty well in Avatar. The aliens were sufficiently alien while still being very relatable. I only regret the line where they claimed humans destroyed Earth and left it without a trace of green. The "dying Earth" motif is hackneyed and didn't need to be used here, and just tipped the portrayal of humans a little too close to being an unbelievable caricature; greed was a sufficient motive by itself. Otherwise, this is definitely a masterpiece and you really need to see it on the big screen.

Unfortunately I didn't see it in 3D (sold out) but I want to go again soon and make sure that I do.


Fire and Deepness and Hugo Award Winners

I'm just starting to read "A Deepness in the Sky" by Vernor Vinge. I bought it in August but haven't started it yet. I've read "A Fire Upon the Deep" by the same, which is the first in the series and had some truly novel alien life forms that were fascinating to consider. Although I don't know how closely the two stories are related, I expect Deepness to be even better. Both won Hugo awards, and Vinge has some great ideas about time, consciousness, and communication that I look forward to reading.

I think a good goal for 2010 would be to read all the Hugo best novels. A modest goal, I think, since I've already read most of them. Although I see Green Mars and Blue Mars on there... that might be a chore. I listened to the audiobook of Red Mars which, while technically very interesting, was pretty dry. Maybe I'll substitute a runner-up if I really don't like it.

Looking through the list, though... there are so many great books. Too bad Anathem didn't win the 2009 Hugo.

Eye in the Sky

Yesterday I started listening to the audiobook of Philip K. Dick's 1957 novel "Eye in the Sky." It starts with a sci-fi cliche of a particle accelerator malfunction which sends a group of people into another dimension. But instead of meeting aliens or going back in time, they land in a world where religion is true. Prayer actually works, miracles actually happen, and sins have immediate and sometimes deadly consequences.

The implications of this are fascinating and incredibly amusing. Because these phenomena happen with regularity, the protagonists from our godless world begin to exploit this using scientific principles that were never developed in this alternate dimension. For example, they begin to create mechanisms of mass production using miracles to create matter out of thin air, such that an endless stream of water could be generated simply by pouring a glass into the miraculous replicator. Because science operates on regularities in events, and these religious phenomena are easily replicable, they end up reducing religion to science.

That's not the whole of it, as they continue into further dimensions that are different caricatures of our society, but I found this one part to be an incredibly amusing story. It illustrates exactly why religious, spiritual, and mystical claims are bullshit by definition. The story shows that if religious claims were actually true, then they would cease to be religious and simply become another aspect of the natural universe. This is like other fictional praying machines like the Electric Monk from Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, or the computer from the short story by Isaac Asimov, "The Nine Billion Names of God," where a Tibetan monastery buys a computer to enumerate all nine billion names of God in order to bring about the end of creation.

For 1957, this is a particularly irreverent and clever piece of fiction and I'm enjoying it immensely.

Oct. 23rd, 2009



I listen to the following podcasts:

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe
The Amateur Scientist Podcast
Astronomy Cast
Buzz Out Loud
Dungeons & Dragons Podcast
Nonsense Podcast
The Skeptic Zone
Hunting Humbug 101
Dr Karl (ABC Science)

Most are about science and critical thinking, and a lot of them happen to be Australian for some reason.

I used to listen to the Geologic Podcast but I'm thoroughly sick of listening to George Hrab talk about himself for hours, although I do miss hearing about the religious moron of the week. I think the Amateur Scientist Podcast is my favourite right now, mostly because it's so tittilatingly irreverent and sarcastic. I always look forward to Skeptoid too, because it's short and sweet and so well produced. Also, the D&D Podcast stands out right now because of the Penny Arcade/PVP series (with special guest Wil Wheaton). Just listening to them play D&D is actually incredibly fun.

Weekend Movie Reviews

I watched a number of movies this weekend. Possible spoilers, though I keep any references vague enough that they shouldn't ruin anything.

Doomsday - 5/10
This started off as an interesting character-driven apocalyptic disaster movie that ended up turning into a Bentley commercial. The ending felt rushed and incomplete, with annoying jump cuts every half-second which made it feel like I was watching a commercial. The story was kind of silly to start with, but it ended up becoming just plain ridiculous. It becomes impossible to take seriously while not really being funny. It did have a few decent action scenes, and I really liked Malcolm McDowell's classic villainy, but it doesn't save the rest of the movie.

Terminator Salvation - 6/10
This was not bad, had some undeniably nice visuals and breaks the mold of the previous 3 Terminator movies in that it doesn't involve time travel. The setting was perfect and really elicited the feeling of a post-nuclear wasteland, and reminded me of Fallout 3 in many ways. However the plot was predictable and was so similar to Battlestar Galactica (with its sympathizer and confused sleeper agents) that I was sick of it quickly. I wish they had avoided glorifying John Connor, since I'm sure I'm not the only one sick of his name and his boring character. But what can you expect from this one-trick pony of a franchise? It remains a good action flick, but don't expect much substance.

Knowing - 8/10
Now this was a good movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. It has a great original story that starts out with a spooky, paranormal tone but ends up being a science fiction disaster flick with a pretty good scientific basis. It also has some truly epic scenes--one of which I had to pause and watch twice because it was so well done--and a pretty decent soundtrack (I really liked the Peter and the Wolf march). I don't want to say too much more because I'll spoil the plot, but I highly recommend it.

The Pink Panther 2 - 3/10
Steve Martin as Clouseau really flubs the part, whose awful French accent and mediocre performance made for a very unconvincing accidental detective. The part of Cato being replaced by a couple of obnoxious kids really didn't help either. I don't think the plot was bad, but the delivery really failed to capture the humour of the original Sellers movies. Don't bother.

Hostel (Unrated Edition) - 7/10
I can't help but think of this as a comedy, and thought it was pretty funny overall. A group of loudmouthed sex tourists are sent to a creepy Slovakian city, and are abducted one-by-one by a sadistic club to be tortured and killed by the highest bidder... until one victim escapes and exacts revenge. It ends up becoming almost a slapstick comedic affair, but with excessive violence, gore and nudity. I enjoyed it and thought it was an effective and light-hearted take on the Slasher genre.

Jun. 29th, 2009

Tonight I watched Ratatouille, Spiral, and The Descent.

Spiral was pretty strange. It was about this crazy recluse painter who works as a telemarketer. He meets a girl at work and he paints her, but little does she realize the consequences of her seemingly innocent gesture. I like that it doesn't give you the whole story until the end, and it was a pretty great ending. Not really sure what else to say about it. Oh, it had Cylon #6 in it. 7/10

The Descent was not bad, but the stupidity of some of the characters really detracted from my sympathy with the characters. The "pyjama party" at the beginning was also pretty obnoxious. The effects were pretty cheesy at times, especially the shots of the obviously fake skulls and bones through an "infrared camera"--which wouldn't show shit when you're looking at cold bones in a pitch-black cave. Still, it was enjoyable, and the cave atmosphere is great for a horror movie. Had a few startling moments. 7/10

And Ratatouille was good. I don't need to say more. 9/10


Google Books

I've started adding my books to my library on Google Books. You can take a look here: http://books.google.com/books?uid=655440628149996981

I like how I can usually add the exact edition that I have with the correct cover art. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to have many of the UK printings that I have of books by Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, for example, which have the best cover art. However, most others are there.

Later I plan to go through them all and tag them, rate the ones that I remember, and re-read the ones that I don't.



Ψαμαθος Ψαμαθιδες

Latest Month

January 2010


RSS Atom
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Tiffany Chow