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Pandora: First Contact is out, by the way. Yes, it still has the worst name possible. But after three hours of gameplay, let’s take a look at my impressions!
It is very much Civilization in space (or Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri), but feels simpler and more straightforward. Which I like! As tremendous an accomplishment as I think Civ 5 is, golly there’s a lot of crap going on.
P:FC does away with most of the extra stuff, and presents you with some pretty base-line 4X action. The factions (races) are all pre-set. There is no race customization. There are five different planet sizes and three different types of planets, and that’s it. Setting up a game is fast because there’s just not that much to choose from.
Once you’re in-game, you’re comfortable right away assuming you’ve played any of these games in the last 20 years. Which I hope you have, because get this: There is NO DOCUMENTATION, other than in-game tooltips, hover boxes and popups! So that’s it, I guess. We’ve gone from 150 page printed manuals, to 50-page PDF files, to nothing.
Impressively (and because it IS so straightforward) this isn’t really a problem. You build stuff, you research stuff, you sign deals with the other guys, and you blow stuff up. That’s it. Just like always.
The graphics range from overly cartoonish to quite beautiful (some of the undersea aliens are especially striking to behold). Not on par with Civ 5, but golly, good enough. That’s probably a good way to sum up most of the game.
Extra bonus points for a clean, sleek UI that makes sense, pretty good writing, and a remarkable lack of typos and misspellings, which is becoming ever so rare.
Right now I would have to say that this is my favorite 4X game for the moment, because it’s fun, it’s fast, it doesn’t tire you or tie you down with minutiae, and it sticks to what made 4X great in the first place.
I give Pandora: First Contact an 8 out of 10! I guess? I dunno what the two points are knocked off for, as I really didn’t have any complaints. Other than the name.
Here’s what I think of the British situation comedy Red Dwarf. Just so we can all calibrate ourselves. So you know where I came from. Ahem.
I think it’s the best situation comedy ever, and one of the top-five shows in television history.
I think that the book version of Dave Lister is the most-fun character in fiction. I think the television version of Arnold J. Rimmer is one of the few genuinely fucked-up people on television who hasn’t kil– er. Well. I was gonna say, “Who hasn’t killed anyone,” sort of separating him from the murderers that television likes to depict, but there was that whole matter with the crew of the Red Dwarf itself.
I think even bad Red Dwarf is good Red Dwarf. If it were up to me, each episode would have a ten minute conversation of Lister and Rimmer bagging on each other. My expectations for this, the 10th season, was low. So far, I have been pleasantly surprised.
Season 10 Episode 01: Trojan
The exchange between Kryten and Rimmer towards the beginning was really nice. I like that hologram Rimmer still wants to be an officer, and honestly, it would be nice if some of these characters got what they wanted if this is to be the very last season. God, someone getting what they want in the world, even if they are just fictional characters, would be a change.
On paper, I think Lister being on hold for almost the entire episode was great, and it worked pretty well in the show. Season 10 is weird because the show itself started 25 years ago, and there has now been 25 years of technology updates in the real world, so being on hold for something isn’t quite as annoying now that we all have the Internet to order things from. But I don’t care — if Red Dwarf keeps with the technology of 1998 in 2012, but really 3,000,000 years in the future, then that’s unique.
(Mostly, it is unique because nobody is bringing back sci-fi situation comedies from two and a half decades ago.)
The Cat showing up for Rimmer’s exam question was a terrific character moment.
I’ve read comments that Craig Charles was a little “off” in this episode. And I can kind of see it, but I have the benefit of having seen the next two episodes. He’s fine. They all are, in fact — HDTV makes everyone look 1,000 years old, so really, they’re fine. They are regular people.
And I really enjoyed the last act of the episode. Watching this, I have ever reason to think that Red Dwarf is back. I can’t believe it’s really happening.
The Lift by Colin Capurso
More so than any other type of game, weapon pedantry is really annoying in CYOA (“OH NOES YOU CHOSE THE KNIFE WHEN YOU SHOULD HAVE CHOSEN THE CROWBAR!”). Starting off with that kind of situation was an instant fail in my book. The only nice thing I can say about this piece is that the premise recalled the Outer Limits episode “The Elevator” for me.
The Test is Now READY by Jim Warrenfeltz
(I played the first version)
Starting your game off with someone shouting “run, you magnificent bastard!” is pretty funny.
That said, I hate games that explore morality (I saw another review call it ethics and maybe that is the better term). How I play games doesn’t have enough of a correlation to how I view the world to have any kind of meaning, so you’re really only signing up to hear what the author has to say about it. Even if the author’s point is about the ambiguity of it all, again, it’s a meaningless exercise that bugs me enough that I intentionally avoid it.
Oh, yeah, I had something to say about the intro, too. I think I would have preferred the fake-prompt method to keep the intensity up, where each keypress equals one letter in the prompt, although the full-command it does here will definitely be useful if somebody plays the game on something like the ifMUD’s Floyd bot. Also, the pedant in me doesn’t like the fact that the introduction uses a command that I can’t use (“LOOK BACK”).
Response-wise, the game could use some work:
Frank says, “God, Harry, I thought we were dead for sure – I mean… well, metaphorically dead, you know, not like… well, the walking dead.”
>talk to frank
That’s not a verb I recognise.
>ask frank about dead
There is no reply.
Frank says, “God, Harry, I thought we were dead for sure – I mean… well, metaphorically dead, you know, not like… well, the walking dead.”
>talk to frank
That’s not a verb I recognise.
>ask frank about dead
There is no reply.
Between the lack of implementation and discovering that it was a morality game, I closed the book on this one after finishing the first section.
howling dogs by Porpentine
All of the slow, looping prose felt like the CYOA-equivalent of unnecessary-IF-pauses. While being far from deducing What’s Going On, I enjoyed the ideas of martyrdom/saintdom and its relation to the persecution of women and how it is injected into a futuristic setting, but the pace was far too plodding for me and I eventually threw in the towel before completion.
Kicker by Pippin Barr
By the end of a playthrough of Kicker, it’s clear that it isn’t really much of a game (nor is it trying to be). In it, you play a football (or “American football”, for non-US people) kicker. The entire game seems to be based on random outcomes. Even when it is time to kick the ball, your success seems to have no correlation to how many times you’ve >PRACTICEd, >STRETCHed, or >EXERCISEd (I couldn’t think of any other commands to improve my chances).
While not a small amount of work to code, I imagine, I can’t say Kicker is really “IF comp material” nor is it really enjoyable. It seems to me like it’d have been better done as a Textfire game or something, where it would have had the good graces to end after one quarter. Oddly enough, the Textfire games were released in the 90s, which is also the last time I really laughed at a kicker joke.
Valkyrie by Emily Forand
According to the blurb on the IF comp site, this game is a collaborative effort among community college students. I don’t think this is a successful game as it is, but I don’t want to be harsh. Technically, there are misspellings and ill-constructed sentences. After reaching a dead-end (yes, it’s a CYOA), the ‘go back to the start’ link didn’t even work.
I don’t think the tone of the writing works well as text, but I found myself imagining that it could work in some sort of audio-based CYOA system (isn’t that a thing? I thought there was a thing) where they read the passages aloud. That might force some urgency.
STAY TUNED FOR PART THREE!
Endless, Nameless by NamelessAdventurer (Adam Cadre)
Official Web Page
This write-up doesn’t aim to be a proper review. The first bit is just some hints for people who have already begun the game but are a bit stuck. The second has some thoughts about the game but doesn’t try to cover it exhaustively. I’d only recommend the second block to someone who has played most- if not all- of the game.
Read the rest of this entry »
Each day when I come into work, I am greeted by a widescreen monitor that shows how many failed regression tests exist in the program we sell. Over the last two and a half years I created thousands of tests. I feel pride and ownership in them, which is unsettling to me, because this is supposed to be my job, and not my passion or anything, right?
We hired a guy six months ago who quit last week. He was – still is! – a brilliant automation engineer. He left the tests I made in better shape than when he started. He created dozens of new tests and I would work with him again in an instant. But there was a reptilian part of my brain that wouldn’t shut its goddamn mouth every time he made something new. It objected to the very concept of stuff I didn’t myself make. This stunned me. It bugged me. I couldn’t put my finger on any of it until I read Machine Man by Max Barry. That feeling, and many others that you experience in an engineering job, are deftly captured by Max Barry here.
Machine Man is written in the first-person and gives us an often painfully accurate voyage in the mind of a brilliant and successful autistic nerd that nobody would want to spend any time with outside of work. And even that is probably pushing it, Christ. Dr. Charles Neumann (our protagonist) loses his leg in an industrial accident and figures out pretty quickly that the prosthetic industry is a bit shit. He’s inspired to develop a kind of leg that will make him bigger, stronger, faster than before. What Barry does throughout the entire book is capture the inspiration that can consume a dork when all distractions have ceased, and you can truly focus. We (apparently I will selfishly align with Dr. Neumann when it serves my purposes) understand that being in the uncanny valley creeps everyone out. Mimicking human behavior is thrown out for all manner of robotic improvement.
It’s funny without picking on autistic people, which they pretty much deserve for ruining the Wikipedia, so credit Barry there. I can’t articulate why I am able to finish his novels in a night or two, but I got into the same vibe that I had with his books Jennifer Government and Company.
There is a kind of character that Barry does extremely well. (Dr. Neumann is characterized perfectly, and I don’t remember anything like him in one of Barry’s previous works.) The character of Cassandra Cautery is an intelligent, capable woman who gets in over her head, and I was reminded of a similar gal from his previous novel, Company. (I’m going to be honest: I can’t remember her name, but she was the woman who was obsessed with working out.) (OK, I got out my hardback of Company, and her name was Holly Vale.) Everything Cassandra said felt genuine, even though most of it was horrible, because I find myself listening to car insurance ads on the radio during my commute home, and somebody without a soul is churning those out.
What’s really stopping Machine Man from being brilliant instead of just really good is that there are many other characters that don’t feel as well-developed. I thought that the character of Lola Shanks felt less fleshed-out, because we were getting to know her exclusively through the tortured prism of Dr. Neumann, who is not all that great with women. I can’t decide if, therefore, it’s pretty cool that she was filtered that way or what. Regardless, I remembered that I became slightly attracted to the woman who did my rehab when I tore up my knee many years ago, even though I swore I wouldn’t let myself be, because I knew it was extremely cliched. C’mon son. So this is another thing that felt right about Machine Man to me. I can’t completely dismiss the nagging feeling that when Barry spends as much time with his characters as he does with his (quite fun) plots, he’s going to blow up the world.
With that in mind, the ending made my skin crawl. A couple pages that were just brilliantly written, where I was, like, scratching myself to remind my own brain that I’ve got my body and didn’t lose it or abandon it. I felt sick when reading it. In the good way. Kicking the covers so I could see my own legs, I felt ill while reading text on a page, which is some of the highest praise I can give a novel. I don’t want to give anything away, but I think the last two pages of Machine Man make an argument that its genre is horror instead of sci-fi. That’s a trick I don’t think I’ve ever seen before and wish I’d thought of myself.
I reviewed the very fun little rubber monster movie, by RedLetterMedia, over on Caltrops.
As of three nights ago, we’ve finally made it through all ten of last year’s Best Picture nominees, thanks to True Grit finally coming out on DVD. I will now rank them in order, with ratings and a small NIBLET of opinion about each of them.
Rankings are on the famous Pinback 0-5 Star scale, where the fifth star is reserved for extremely special films, not just great ones.
#1. The Social Network (****1/2): A masterwork. Two hours of people talking about websites, and the most riveting movie I’ve seen in years. It’s Fincher’s third best movie, which means that Fincher might be the best director on the planet. Far outclasses anything else in this list, and the fact that it didn’t win is still a monstrous injustice.
#2. 127 Hours (****): Another movie about something you wouldn’t think would be interesting (a guy stuck on a rock), and it’s fascinating, terrifying, funny, and at one particular point which you can guess, awfully difficult to watch. Another Danny Boyle winner.
#3. True Grit (***1/2): A solid Coen Bros. effort, but one which you feel like they could have done in their sleep. A raucous, hilarious first half gives way to more traditional narrative by the end, but it’s a joy throughout, and Jeff Bridges once again knocks it out of the house, even though I’m not sure I understood 1/4 of what he said.
#4. The King’s Speech (***1/2): I wanted to hate this for beating Social Network, but it’s hard to hate. A well done telling of a "made-for-the-Academy" storyline. Colin what’shisname won all the acting awards, but Geoffrey Rush steals the show.
#5. Black Swan (***1/2): A bit of a return to form for Aronofsky, this mindfuck turns ballet into a literal horrorshow, and also features Natalie Portman masturbating vigorously. So, there ya go.
#6. Toy Story 3 (***1/2): I saw the original Toy Story about five hundred times, but only saw the second one about a week before this came out on DVD. This is much better than the second one. My only complaint was, Christ, there’s just SO MUCH going on in it, it’s actually quite exhausting. But for a movie like this, too much is better than not enough.
#7. Winter’s Bone (***): A Heart-of-Darkness-like trek through the Ozark Mountains, done up to look just as dangerous and foreboding as the Congo river, the land through which Jennifer Lawrence must navigate is the most impressive character in the film. Also holy crap is she gorgeous. Oh my god.
#8. The Kids Are Alright (**1/2): A difficult movie to like, because everyone in it is a horrible person. One character is presented to be perhaps not a horrible person, but by the end, everyone is horrible. However, good performances and at least a slightly interesting narrative make this reasonably watchable. Once, anyway.
#9. Inception (**1/2): It’s inexcusable that this is thought of so highly. It’s a reasonably well-executed caper movie, with one reasonably interesting idea, and a few reasonably entertaining special effects. Two and a half stars is a reasonably accurate rating.
#10. The Fighter (**): What the hell is this? This is a movie? Christian Bale’s performance aside, I cannot think of a blander story to put to film. Not to spoil it for anyone, but as far as I can tell, the story is: "Pretty talented boxer practices a lot and then wins a bunch of fights." Yeah, that’s… that’s great. Couldn’t you have just told me about it and saved me the two hours? David O. Russell was a better storyteller when he was punching his stars and calling Lily Tomlin a cunt.
This concludes this list which is now over.
In this part (3) of a possibly two-part part, we’ll examine what I like to call core concepts, because they are concepts, and also core. These are the some of the basic overlying, or possibly underlying concepts (or "things") that you will want to — nay, have to — keep in mind at all times whilst playing a game of StarCraft II.
To refresh, "playing a game" refers to playing a 1v1 multiplayer game against some other nerd on the internet. While these core concepts apply to other game styles as well, they are most vitally important in the core game, which is 1v1.
Alright, ready? I will try to list these concepts in descending order of importance, but realistically, to rise up to the level of being a bad StarCraft II player, which is our goal, they are all nearly equally important.
CORE CONCEPT #1: Always be building workers.
Start here, and if you must, play several games focusing on nothing but this. With very few exceptions, you are going to want to always be building workers. SC2 is a game of strategic and tactical skill second, and economy first, and it is vital that you grow your economy as quickly as possible. Some might disagree that economy is more important than strategy/tactics, but believe me, if economy is not your #1 concern, you’ll never get far enough into a game to try out any of your precious strategies. And the way you grow your economy is to make as many workers as possible, as quickly as possible.
It also helps to know how many workers are effective at each base. That’s fine, and we can learn that later. Short version: about 24 on mining, and 3 on each gas. But don’t worry as much about that. Just worry about always be building workers. It’s as easy as cake, too. You’ve got your base(s) on hotkeys, and you know that "q" is the grid hotkey for worker, so two quick keypresses will be enough to get the new worker in the queue.
The only time you ever want to not be building workers is if you are going to die if you don’t do something else immediately. If you’re about to be ZERGRUSHOMGed, then some more defenses or military units are probably more important than another worker if you can’t afford both. But once the emergency’s over? See: always be building workers.
CORE CONCEPT #2: Always be building supply buildings.
One of the two most embarrassing things you can do while you’re building your army is to be "supply blocked". Your military buildings are sitting there waiting to create units, you’ve got plenty of money, but instead, they might as well be SPACE HOTDOG STANDS, because you didn’t build enough supply buildings. The word "always" in this case isn’t as precise as in CORE CONCEPT #1, because you don’t really always need to be building supply. You do, however, always need to be watching your supply counter in the upper right hand corner, and when you see you’re getting close, you need to start building it, so that you are never prevented from building more units.
Don’t get supply blocked. It doesn’t look good.
So far, if you’re following these CORE CONCEPTS, you’re developing what pilots call a "scan". A normal checking of certain things that is done on a regular basis to make sure everything’s going well. So now your mental "scan" consists of: "Am I building workers? Am I keeping supply up?" This "scan" will take you far, but it needs to be happening constantly. Many people even put a little sticky note near the screen that says "workers, supply, …" to remind them what they need to be thinking about, all the time.
It’s hard work. That’s SC2.
Now let’s add even more things to your "scan", with:
CORE CONCEPT #3: Always spend all of your money.
"Money" is a general term which is applied to the resources available in the game: minerals and gas. The other most embarrassing thing you can do during your game is have any money. This is because your economy, which you’ve built up pretty well by following the first two CORE CONCEPTS is completely worthless if you’re not spending the money that it generated.
Watch any low-level play, look up at the little resource counters in the upper right, and you’re guaranteed to see some high numbers. Anything more than a couple hundred is "high". Anything more than 500 is "very high". And anything over 1000 is embarrassing.
It’s contradictory to how you might think. You’re sitting there with 1500 minerals and 1000 gas and thinkin’, hey, things are goin’ pretty good! Look at all that cash! Meanwhile, the enemy army comes in and roflstomps you because while you were hoarding wealth, he was spending it, and spending it immediately, to convert it to force on the battlefield as quickly as possible.
Now, there are two ways to spend all your money! One is the right way. One is the wrong way. Let’s say you’re playing Protoss, you’ve got a gateway up, and you’ve got 500 minerals in the bank. Let’s look at the two ways you can spend ‘em:
RIGHT WAY* (example): Select the gateway, build a zealot (100). Select the nexus, build a worker (50). Select a worker, build another gateway (150). Select a worker, build a supply building (100).
WRONG WAY: Select the gateway and queue up five zealots. (100, 100, 100, 100, 100).
Do you see the difference? Sure, in both scenarios, your bank account is now at zero. However, in the RIGHT WAY, every last mineral is actively going to use to bring more force to the battlefield, where in the WRONG WAY, only 100 is actively doing anything, and the other 400 are just sitting around in escrow.
Queuing stuff up is one of the most common errors new players make, in fact. So don’t do that. But spend all of your money. If you’ve got a unit-building structure sitting around idle, build a unit with it. If you don’t have enough structures to spend all your money on units, build a new structure.
If you can make money as fast as possible, and spend it as fast as possible (without queuing), you cannot help but become a bad StarCraft II player. And if, god forbid, you actually want to be better than that, then none of this is even a little bit optional.
Let’s review your scan: Am I building workers? Am I building enough supply? Am I spending all of my money?
The final core concept, I was considering saving for part 2, because it may seem more advanced than these basic concepts, but ultimately it still fits into the theme of growing your economy as fast as possible, so I’ll just launch right into:
CORE CONCEPT #4: Always use your macro ability.
One significant addition to SC2 from the original game is that each race now has what’s called a "macro ability". In layman’s terms, it’s a little gimmick that, if you remember to do it, allows you to build your economy faster than you would normally by just building workers. Here’s a quick description of each race’s ability:
TERRAN: May call down "MULEs", which harvest minerals extremely fast for a short period of time before breaking down.
PROTOSS: May "chronoboost" buildings, which has the effect of making that building build stuff faster than it would normally for a short period of time.
ZERG: May "inject larvae" into hatcheries every so often, which gives a one-time increase of the number of units that can be produced from the hatchery at the same time.
At first these may seem like fun little things to try out from time to time, but you will quickly learn that these abilities are not optional, and that you must be using them, every time, as soon as they become available, or your economy will fall behind, because the guy you’re playing is using them, every time, as soon as they become available.
I forget this one the most often, because Jesus Christ, don’t I have enough to worry about with the workers and the supply and the money, and by the way I’m also trying to build units and scout and deploy them to the battlefield and research upgrades and GOD DAMMIT I CAN’T BE THINKING ABOUT THE STUPID MACRO ABILITIES TOO!! It’s too hard!
Well, it is. But you still have to do it. Nobody said that becoming a truly bad SC2 player was going to be easy.
Let’s do one final review of the "scan", which contains all the things that you have to be thinking about at all times, oh my god:
Workers, supply, money, macro ability.
Burn these CORE CONCEPTS into your mind, and into your game, and I guarantee that you will definitely not suck quite as much as you do now.
(*) I realized after the fact that these only add up to 400. You get the idea, though.
The Social Network keeps the streak alive.
What streak is that? The Fincher streak. Many have heard me talk about this, so if this is a repeat, forgive:
David Fincher, one of my favorite directors, has an amazing streak going, where his movies alternate, unblinkingly, between greatness and mediocrity. It’s amazing! Let’s go back through history and relive the STREAK:
Alien 3 (**) – The worst of the Alien movies, and an inauspicious beginning for the young Fincher. He has even gone so far as to disown it himself, so it feels like it might possibly not have been all his fault.
Se7en (****) – KaBAM! Fincher blows the world away with a movie that has had every film fan asking this question for over fifteen years now: What’s in the booooox?
The Game (**1/2) – I haven’t seen this in a while, but I remember it being a fun little piece of fluff, while not terribly noteworthy. Some, however, felt it was the worst movie of all time!
Fight Club (*****) – In my top five movies of all time, and one of the greatest works of 20th century American art. As fresh and mindblowing as it was in 1999.
Panic Room (***) – Certainly not bad, and I enjoy movies that try to keep things in a very limited space, but would anyone dare call this movie a great movie? Except for when Jodie Foster yells “FUCK!”?
Zodiac (****1/2) – ALSO one of the greatest movies of all time, and the first time Fincher was able to make greatness without constantly dicking with camera tricks and stuff. A long, long movie, that goes by in a blink.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (**1/2) – Interestingly, his first movie to gain widespread critical acclaim, even getting a Academy Best Picture nomination, is his most boring, least-rewatchable effort to date. This ALSO is a long movie, but unlike Zodiac, it feels every bit of its length. That’s what she said.
Which brings us to:
The Social Network (****) – I sighed with everyone else back in 2008 when we learned his next movie would be “about Facebook”. THINGS I DO NOT CARE ABOUT: 1) Facebook, 2) movies about Facebook.
But as Zodiac showed that Fincher can make a movie about what sounds like a dull topic (hunting the same killer for 20 years with no resolution) positively spellbinding, here he shows it was no fluke, as we have yet another spellbinding movie about a bunch of nerds sitting in rooms either programming, talking about programming, or talking to lawyers. The entire movie is comprised of people sitting in rooms and talking. The dialogue-heavy aspect is no surprise, given writer Aaron Sorkin’s profuse writing style. And it’s about a website.
And somehow, even with his most visually restrained (I counted only one real noticeable camera trick, though it is a cute one) movie to date, Fincher has made this the most entertaining, exhilirating movie I’ve seen in quite a while.
And if Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Facebook founder and sperging dickhole Mark Zuckerberg, doesn’t win Best Actor, I will punch Finsternis in the face. His portrayal, along with the snap-tastic writing, slick direction, and epic soundtrack by Trent Reznor, make this two hours of hardcore, high quality, adult-style entertainment.
Facebook still sucks.
But the STREAK IS ALIVE!
I am posting this like an entire year late. I loved Bull. I want you to love it, too. But I have to confess that I have spent every night for the last ten years using Kent Tessman’s game development system (“Hugo”) to make text games. So if Kent wasn’t so good at the one thing, I’d have written earlier about how much I enjoyed the other thing.
I am also troubled by the fact that my refrigerator has been broken for three weeks and I’m really running out of ways to combine the only things I have left: dry cereal and scotch. The refrigerator in Kent’s text adventure “Future Boy!” is the closest thing I have to one in my real life. (Kent not only wrote and directed Bull, he created a text adventure programming language called Hugo and made two of my favorite games with it.) I’m not capable of writing about the movie he made without this (waves hands) ALL of this becoming an egregious conflict of interest. But who cares. Journalism is dead, anyway. Bull is an engaging, gripping ride that gets better with every viewing. …And the fact that I code about text people saying horrible things to each other in the development environment he gave the world doesn’t affect that.
There are two problems with most independent movies. They are shot terribly and the actors suck. So I want to stress how nice, how professional Bull looks. The CG is just outstanding. (Kent not only wrote and directed Bull, created the programming language Hugo and wrote two of my favorite games, but did the computer graphics for Bull.) It’s well-lit. It’s filled to bursting with hot chicks. I would be happy if I never saw another movie set in Los Angeles or New York, so this one being set in Toronto is a pleasing change of pace. And the actors really aren’t aware that we expect them to seem like they are reading their lines off cue cards written in Comic Sans. The delivery is so good! Benjamin “Pinback” Parrish once said that all independently-made movies ought to have two small information boxes on the back of the DVD slipcase: The “running time” box and the “feels like” box. Most indie movies would go something like “Running Time: 88 Minutes, Feels Like: 244.” But Bull, Christ — it changes everything I’ve ever thought about an indie film. Everything. It’s clear before the conclusion of the first scene, where a desk falls out of a building, that Bull is a real movie that demands to be judged by the same criteria that all movies with budgets in the millions are regularly judged on. (Oh, Kent not only wrote, directed and did the CG for Bull, he created Hugo, the games Future Boy! and Guilty Bastards and wrote a video processing program called Alien Ray for his movie, for post-production VFX work.)
There wasn’t a single line of dialog that was awkwardly delivered. No scene had a distracting component that broke the “magic” of viewing. There was no part where the viewer suspects that something crucial was cut from the film, or that a scene was re-worked due to budgetary limitations. The most sincere compliment I can give it is that I “forgot” Kent wrote and directed it about fifteen minutes into it. This is the standard that all indie movies ought to strive for. That all movies ought to strive for.
I have spent a lot of time talking about the movie in relation to its peers. I’d like to stress that it stands on its own. The script is charming. For instance, I absolutely loved the following line, delivered by a guy on his deathbed:
“… I made so much goddamn money”
(Part of it is the dude’s delivery.) If I find myself in a stock scene in a movie, all I ask is that I’m given something new. People have been dying in hospitals in movies for a hundred years. Don’t look this up, but I’m pretty sure that there’s a bit in Birth of a Nation where a guy dies when the abacus keeping him alive locks up. But at no point while watching Bull did I think, “psh, I’ve seen this before.” Take Jay Valentine’s early speech about luck – I am easily led and agreeable, so I wasn’t expecting Valentine to come out against luck. I would have expected just the opposite. Even though that’s been my experience in life – all the advantages I’ve ever received have been due to luck and, geez, little else. So this scene was really sort of speaking to me. If I feel a movie is operating on the same wavelength that I am, even for just a bit, then I really buy in to the whole experience.
Craig Lauzon, playing Charlie (our protagonist) did the best job of any actor that I’ve ever seen in a production of this scale. I really hope that Craig and Kent get the chance to make movies together for a long time. His character has enough going on where he captures our attention throughout the entire piece. I really enjoyed the set design when Charlie meets Maury Chaykin. The way the camera was pulled back and the way the light streamed in reminded me of when the robot Sean Young gets the Voight-Kampf test in Blade Runner, but it may have been the video game that had the similar set, I can’t exactly recall. At any rate, I liked the set and I think the featurette showed that there was a lot of CG there, which blew me away. It was a fun scene, and reinforced that our dearly departed Mr. Chaykin could have been equally successful as an action screen star, with the beat-down he delivers in that bit.
Kent consistently nails scenes that draw from the shared consciousness of our culture. I happen to think that there isn’t much worse than going to an office party by yourself. It’s usually depressing and awkward. The experience that Charlie and Penny (Lindsey Deluce) have at their office party is depressing and they both show that they are quite susceptible to feeling awkward. And Charlie’s nearly-constant feeling of being in over his head at his job (and recognizing that fact) come across really well. We have every reason to feel bad for the guy and root for him no matter what happens.
One of the reasons this has taken forever to write is because Bull is a difficult movie to avoid spoiling. I really can’t talk in depth about what’s going on without ruining everything, and I desperately want you to see it. You can get it here through Amazon.
And I have to say that I loved the logo on the unturned cards in the Solitaire game.