A Zero Can Save Us

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

Metal Gear Solid is one of those franchises where just when I think I’m out, I’m pulled right back in. At this point in my life I’ve played most of the MGS Games. I just started playing MGS4 despite the fact that it was released six years ago. Maybe I wanted to wait until the game’s 2014 setting was a reality. Still waiting on those robot walkers by the way. But it was my jealously of the PS4 and their upcoming releases that got me excited for MGS5. Excited because I can still play the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain on my lowly PS3. Until then, MGS fans are being treated to a preview of sorts in the new release: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. The game gives fans an early glimpse of Kiefer Sutherland as the voice of Big Boss, the game’s visual style, and some of the upcoming gameplay features. The hitch is you can beat the game in anywhere from two hours to ten minutes. May I remind you that this is being retailed for $30.00! Thirty Smackeroos for ten minutes of pleasure? It’s not even cybersex!

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The Bluest Skies You’ve Ever Seen

inFAMOUS: Second Son

It was the first inFAMOUS game that sold me on the PS3. Uncharted made it tempting, but the idea of an open world super hero game is one that I can’t resist – why else would I have spent so much time with the PS2-era Spider-Man games? So in retrospect, maybe it’s not a surprise that I became an early adopter of the PlayStation 4 basically so I could get the third inFAMOUS game. Especially since this entry was abandoning the franchise’s tradition of using stand in cities (“Empire City” in the first game was basically New York, “New Marais” was essentially Now Orleans) and was actually set in Seattle, a place I have considerable fondness for. It’s not the Nineties anymore, we don’t get a lot of stuff set over here!

Actually I ended up wishing they hadn’t actually called this city Seattle, because it’s not quite close enough for me. Some parts of the city feel really abridged – like how the Space Needle is basically in the Science Center – while others feel fairly alien, like the “Lantern District,” which didn’t really remind me of the International District at all. There are great touches here and there (I was particularly happy to find the Toe Truck and Elephant Car Wash) but it never felt exactly like Seattle. Especially since inFAMOUS: Second Son‘s set in the future and years after super powered conduits first appeared and starting wrecking places, I’m not sure this could have really been Seattle anyway. I did appreciate the 12th Man jersey I unlocked for my character though.

Delsin Rowe steps in as the series’ new protagonist, since it would be weird for Cole to come back given the way the second game ended. Since then, a government organization called the DUP was formed to capture and intern conduits. A trio of conduits escape from a DUP transport and accidentally reveal that Delsin is a conduit too – one with the unique ability to copy powers from others. With his first power in hand, Delsin and his cop brother head off to Seattle to find the conduits and stop the DUP from doing some nefarious shit.

inFAMOUS: Second Son takes the series already fairly black-and-white approach to moral dilemmas to even simpler heights. While a case could be made for the pivotal choices in the first two games, here I have no doubt that the “good” choice will be considered canon. Basically you chose between being a reasonable person and a terrible monster. Which is a shame, given the game’s early aspirations to deal with complex prejudices and the nanny state. You won’t find yourself torn between loyalties, humans vs. conduits, any of that stuff. Straight up it will be like “do you want to kill the bad guy or kill a bunch of innocent people for no reason?” But that’s OK since you the real incentive to choose bad karma is still there: sweet, sweet evil versions of your powers.

Between story missions, you can work at liberating districts of Seattle. You’ll want to do this, since it nets you blast shards, the currency you use for upgrading powers. Most powers in the game have upgrades, and some require you have a certain amount of good or evil karma. Generally, good karma powers make you better at disabling and detaining enemies, while evil karma increases your destructive potential. So a good karma player will upgrade one blast to be able to zoom in on enemies and shoot them in the feet to disable them, while an evil karma player will unlock the ability to make people dissolve when shot in the head. Karma even extends into combat, with good or evil actions giving you the power to do massive attacks that wipe out all the enemies in an area.

This is the best power fantasy this side of Saints Row IV. Each of the powers Delsin gets feels and looks different from the last, and none of them are exactly like Cole’s lightning powers. Gone are the days of skating on powerlines, now you can, for example, turn into a puff of smoke and get sucked through vents, blasting you to the tops of buildings. Despite whatever other reservations I had, this game just feels great to play. It helps that it’s one of the prettiest games around too, making it a great showcase for this sweet new console I’ve totally had for three months already.

It took me maybe a dozen hours to beat inFAMOUS: Second Son the first time, which isn’t a lot of an open world game. But this game does not match the last games’ enemy and side quest variety, so I’m OK with it. There are only a few side quest types, and most of them only take a minute or so to complete. Basically, I felt I was given enough time to really enjoy each power without overstaying its welcome. Plus, I kind of want to play it again with good karma, because what I’ve seen of that so far makes Delsin seem like a way better person.

After the disappointments of Knack and Killzone: Shadow Fall, as well as the delay of DriveClub, PS4 owners have been looking for a win. inFAMOUS: Second Son is the first game on the system I would say is good enough to motivate a console purchase – if you’re into the series or super hero games in general. It’s kind of shallow to say, but this game’s gorgeous and fun, and when you’re in the early days of a system, that’s about anyone’s looking for.

Girls Interrupted

Girls – Season 3

The sophomore slump.  Sometimes even the greats can’t escape it.  Case in point: after a debut season in which I was consistently forced to pick my jaw up off the floor by the mere fact that something like Girls was airing on American television, the second season fumbled a bit.  I think there were a few things that made that second season a bit of a head-scratcher: like the show’s inability to maintain itself as an ensemble show, it’s transformation from a relatable dramedy into some sort of urban tragedy, and the fact that it seemed to exist in some weird alternate universe where every man in Brooklyn wanted to fuck Lena Dunham’s Hannah.  So it’s been a pleasure watching this third season of Girls, in which the show seems to be on much more level ground, while still delivering the kinds of achingly real moments that first attracted me to this show in the first place.

This season, like any season of Girls, went off on a lot of different tangents, though I’d say the core of the season focused on Adam (Adam Driver) and Hannah’s now-stable relationship.  I was never really sure what to think of these two as a couple, since in the first two seasons I got the idea that we were supposed to perceive Adam as a creepy weirdo who only wanted to do creepy weirdo things to Hannah in his bedroom.  But I gotta say, I actually found these two to be pretty believable and compelling to watch as a couple.  A lot of this has to do with the writers making Adam seem a lot more human (it helps when he’s not naked in every scene), and also I just think Dunham and Driver as actors have a very easy rapport with each other at this point.

As for the other characters, it’s still a lot of fun to watch Alison Williams’ Marnie flail her way through life, though her relationship with newcomer Desi maybe gives us hope that things’ll finally work out for her (but probably not).  The motor-mouthed Shoshanna has continued to be a nice embodiment of pre-graduation expectations, though she’s unsurprisingly found herself struggling to recover from breaking up with Ray (still love that guy!).  And then there’s the drug-addled Jessa, who I’m not sure the writers have completely figured out how to turn in to a dynamic character, but I say there’s still potential since I’ve always liked Jemima Kirke in the role.

I guess the big theme of season 3 is that Girls appears to be turning in to a show about how friendships splinter apart.  The episode “Beach House” was a great microcosm of this, as the girls’ weekend alone turned into a verbal free-for-all that was witnessed by a bunch of hangers-on that these so-called friends seemed to find more interesting than each other.  This is a pretty refreshing approach to TV friendship, especially compared to every post-Friends sitcom in which we’re supposed to believe that a group of people are going to be spending every waking minute cracking jokes at each other, even as they get older and their lives change in innumerable ways.  Girls understands that these kinds of friendships are rarely built to last, and it’ll be interesting to see if the show continues on without these characters constantly interacting with each other.

I’d say this season also saw Girls regaining the three “r” words that are usually thrown at it by the show’s supporters: that it’s “real”, “raw” and “relatable”.  For me, this season was particularly relatable in the way it handled Hannah’s time working at GQ magazine.  As someone who still considers himself an aspiring writer, it certainly hit home to see this character dealing with her own writerly aspirations weighed against the fact that we all need to eat.  And though this season was a lot better at doing over-arching stories, it still proved it’s ability to do great stand-alone episodes with my favorite episode of this season (and probably TV so far this year) — “Flo”.  This episode sees Hannah’s family dealing with the impending death of her grandmother (played by June Squibb), and the way it deals with a family’s internal quibbling combined with it’s matter-of-factness made death just one more universal subject that Girls has portrayed in a bracingly honest manner.

This is kind of a no-brainer, but another thing that’s been nice about this season of Girls is that it’s given people less reasons to bitch about it.  There haven’t been nearly as much of the gratuitous sex scenes, lack of minorities, or grating hipster-ism’s that make it easy fodder for internet trolls.  Also, you’ve got to assume that those people have moved on to hating other things at this point, since Girls isn’t quite the social lightning rod it was two years ago.  But for fans of the show, I think that’s a good thing.  Now Girls can freely continue to crank out more consistently mature versions of itself, while the characters continue to make somewhat more stilted steps toward that inevitable thing we call adulthood.

T3 75: Bottom 10 One-Hit Wonders of the 2000s

I had intended this to be our triumphant return to form, but some unforeseen technical difficulties and foreseen better things to do has led to this comeback being more a whimper than a bang. But don’t take that as any indicator of the quality of this episode to which you’re about to listen! Sure, it’s been a while, but now we’re back and doing something that’s right in our wheelhouse: hating on irrelevant pop culture. This week, we take aim at the biggest hits of the noughts that just rubbed us the wrong way. We’re got our eyes on you, Chad Kroeger.

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Hotel For Snobs

The Grand Budapest Hotel

I’m starting to think that The Fantastic Mr. Fox might be more of a key film in director Wes Anderson’s oeuvre than people give it credit for.  Not only because I suspect that that film would probably be even better on a second viewing than the one time I saw it, but also because that was the film were Anderson literally got to play with figurines in his own dollhouse of a movie, and thus allowed him to indulge his most meticulous tendencies.  Also, I think that film finally liberated Wes Anderson to tell a different kind of story than the upperclass mopefests that he kind of got into a rut of repeatedly making.  Which brings us to The Grand Budapest Hotel, whose story is pretty different from anything we’ve seen from the venerable director before, while also retaining that fastidious dollhouse feel.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is told in flashback by Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), a former lobbyboy and now owner of the titular hotel, who recounts the travails of his former boss, Gustav H (Ralph Fiennes).  Gustav is framed for the murder of one of the many elderly women he spends his time courting, and finds himself on the run with a younger Zero (Tony Revolori) after stealing one of the woman’s prized paintings.  This devolves into a series of chases, betrayals, and mad-cap sequences that only deepens the friendship between Zero and Gustav.

This is easily the most plot-driven movie of Wes Anderson’s career, as even the structure of the film is an initially dizzying flashback within a flashback within a flashback.  And then from there we’re drawn into a kind of murder mystery that keeps unwinding itself, although I’d say the film is less interested in treating this story as an edge-of-your-seat thriller than an all out farce.  I really appreciated this more complexly plotted approach from Anderson, since I’ve found some of his films to feel a bit meandering despite how precise they feel in every other department.

Of course the one thing you can always count on in an Anderson film is for it to look great, and The Grand Budapest is no exception.  This film truly feels like it was finely crafted by human hands, like every brightly colored set decoration or character’s distinct physical trait has been perfectly calibrated to fit the film’s effervescent tone.  The film also has a lot fun with it’s 1930’s European setting, as there’s no end to the amount of archaic nicknack’s that play a crucial part in the film.  Also, the film has such an intentionally artificial feel to it, that this might be the only time that the use of model miniatures in a modern live-action film didn’t feel even a little bit jarring.

I guess what I forgot to mention in the synopsis is that there are a lot of characters, and pretty much all of them are played by familiar faces.  Basically everyone gives really adept and fun performances, which isn’t surprising considering most of these actors have been in Wes Anderson movies before and more-or-less know the score.  Unsurprisingly, the stand-out performance comes from the one guy who’s never appeared in an Anderson movie before, Ralph Feinnes — who embodies the word “rapscallion” with his equally charming and sleazy turn as Gustav.

I suppose you could say that this might be the least emotionally satisfying of Wes Anderson’s films, especially coming after the deftly heartfelt Moonrise Kingdom.  But for me, there’s often a detached quality to Anderson’s treatment of his characters that can sometimes keep me from getting truly invested in them.  The Grand Budapest Hotel however, left me with a big stupid grin on my face throughout.  And since I’m gonna guess this is the effect the movie was going for, I have a really hard time faulting it.

They Truly are the Detectives of Detectives

True Detective Season 1

For a couple months there, everybody was talking about HBO’s hot new show, True Detective. Then it ended a little more than a week ago and the conversations have basically stopped. Which is a shame, since this is definitely one of the those shows that benefitted from rampant speculation and debate; one that I’m not sure will be quite as fun as a rerun. But Colin has expressed interest in reviving the TV review on the blog this year, and if we’re going to do that, then we should probably start with the year’s first must-see TV event.

True Detective is the brainchild of author Nic Pizzolatto, who created the show and wrote every episode, and Cary Fukunaga, who directed the whole thing. The idea is that the show will be an anthology that delves into pulpy crime drama – think American Horror Story but with detectives. The first season follows Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson), two Louisiana detectives on their 17-year quest to capture a serial killer. Over the course of the season’s eight episodes they find, of course, that there is an evil at the center of this mystery much greater than a lone man.

Like many mysteries, I found True Detective most engaging when it was asking questions, rather than giving answers. For me, the first two thirds of the show were significantly stronger than its conclusion, especially because, for a time, it seemed the show was going in a much more unbelievable direction than it actually did. One of the early joys of True Detective is listening to Rust philosophize about the world and life, and the show lends some credence to his hypotheses. That meant that, after the second or third episode, people saying the show, so clearly inspired by Lovecraft, could end with the likes of Cthulhu didn’t sound totally insane. And that made the show pretty damn engaging.

True Detective‘s bread and butter is the juxtapositions of Rust and Marty; not just the differences between each other, but the differences between who they were, who they are, and who they think they are. The first half of the story is told in two different timelines: In 1997, when Rust and Marty first start working the case, and in 2012, when they are called in by two new detectives who reveal the killer might still be out there. When things in 1997 start going differently from the way they tell it in 2012, it throws even more confusion into this already convoluted mystery.

There are many actors who you’ll recognize doing great work on True Detective, but this Matthew McConaughey’s show. His is the juiciest part in the whole series, and the man absolutely guzzles it down. Much of Rust’s dialogue could have sounded disastrously pretentious or nonsensical coming from a lesser actor, but McConaughey lends enough weariness and gravitas to the role that it works. It’s weird to think how far this guy has come in just the last year or two, one of the most incredible career turnarounds in the history of the industry.

Woody Harrelson has come a long way himself, although I’d contend he’s been a respectable actor for a while now. The part of Marty is less glamorous and the character is intentionally harder to root for, but Woody is no slouch. He does terrific work elevating some of the more traditional aspects of the story, and does bring a fair amount of heart to Hart. There are just a few moments later on in the show that I think were either written weird or Woody played strangely, which had me thinking things that I don’t believe I was supposed to think.

And that’s what I took away from True Detective – it was a smart show that gave me a lot to think about. The ending was really different from what I was expecting, but any reservations I had were alleviated by that spectacular last scene. Where does it go from here, I wonder? Will the creators focus on this same conspiracy? Will we even still be in Louisiana next season? The potential, like the darkness, is infinite.