Monday, December 27, 2010

Winter Break reviews

So, I have been reading and watching and thinking things, in a lovely relaxing way, so far over break. I have also been eating things, but probably won't give reviews of that form of consumption. (except to note that I don't care that Chevy's Mexican food is not authentic or healthy; it is exactly what I needed and I wish it were in Postdoc City, alas. But it's probably not good to eat all those piles of food every day, so I guess it all works out.)

I have watched more children's movies --- Brother Bear and How to Train Your Dragon while in the car, (BB was nice, forgettable; Dragon very cute and enjoyable --- and the klutzy, persistent, fuckup main character (with some strong ADD signs) is my loveable nephew to an absolute T, so I have a very soft spot in my heart for the film and may end up watching it with him again) Tangled in the theaters (ahhh! Watch out for films labelled 3D because they will charge you an extra 4 bucks per ticket and not allow matinee prices and it didn't really add much to my enjoyment of the film at all), and Despicable Me at home, which I absolutely loved and I can't wait to collect my own set of minions and create nefarious plans for taking over the world. I think I may have found my true calling if the whole professor thing doesn't work out. Tangled and Despicable Me share themes of critical, controlling mothers, funnily enough --- I mentioned to my sister that the mother in Despicable, with her shrug and "eh" comment to every achievement evil Grue made, reminded me of our mother, but she was too busy obsessing over her own daughter who she misses very much and how closely she resembles the "mother" in Tangled and how unfairly they have maligned her in the movie presentation. I countered that she was a pretty weak villain and the film could have used more of a climactic confrontation fight scene, perhaps one where the mother turns into a giant dragon like in Sleeping Beauty, but I was ignored. It was a week of psychological movie-identifications for our family, that's for sure.

I'm a bit worried about my sister, who has been going on and on about her daughter having moved out. She seems to be talking/obsessing about it more now than when it happened, which was March. And I should add that my niece lived at home with my sister through all of undergrad and her teaching credential year, so it's not like this is early or sudden or whatnot. And she has moved 2 miles away into a studio apartment with her boyfriend and is not at all disconnected from my sister's life. Something is weird here. I will continue to ponder.

I also, uh ... watched? Heavy Rain, or rather, watched my brother play the game Heavy Rain on his my nephew's PS3. I'm definitely not a gamer but I do have a soft spot for the puzzle/mystery/adventure games, because we used to play them all as a family back when I was young. Mainly thriller or murder mystery games. They were so old they had no sound (think Deadline or Witness), and a lot of what I loved was that we'd all be gathered around the computer narrating the story, each of us voicing a character, and that allowed for a lot of hamming it up and hilarious fun when someone misread or didn't understand some line. We'd all bring our powers of analysis on the puzzles (my brother is especially good at having the persistence to chart out mazes or write down and then try every combination to a puzzle) and it was more fun than simply watching a murder mystery movie, although my family loves to watch those too.

So Heavy Rain was ok. I was going to post this review and gush about how great and realistic the people looked (the detail on the skin of the PI, is amazing) but then after my bro made it to the end he watched the "making of" videos and I became entirely unimpressed. They aren't created faces and bodies, but video footage of each of the actors that has then been digitized, which doesn't seem nearly as impressive. After watching the casting readings the computer characters seem incredibly flat and wooden, like the life has been Botoxed out of them.

The game itself was decent --- a nice thread of atmospheric noir music ran though it --- although there was this incredibly long and involved prologue sequence where my brother was being tutored in how to work the controls, and it involved him maneuvering his character through rooms and showering and shaving and all sorts of picayune stuff. I like playing the Sims, but when you give me a game with the hook that there is a serial killer and then make me focus on how to hold a button just right to shave or eat breakfast or whatnot, I am annoyed. And looking for serial killers around every doorframe. And making uncharitable comments about which of the annoying family members needs to be hauled off and whacked first. My brother made a comment during one break that having his sisters around making sarcastic comments was what got him to play through the boring start. Of course at another break he took he mentioned that the time he kept turning in circles and banging the character into the doorway actually wasn't because he couldn't do it but because I was on the couch bouncing up and down screaming, "Nooo! Nooo, turn that way, THAT WAY! He's getting away from you! Ohmigod!" while alternately tearing my hair and clutching my fists to my mouth. He finds amusement in the strangest places.

Ah, family. Mine at least seems to involve amusing ourselves by bugging the hell out of each other and then needing to take family avoidance breaks. Also, I think you can have characters use the toilet in Heavy Rain, but me and my sister would not allow my bro to try it and went into absolute fits of disgust every time he walked a character near one. And then "can you pee on it?" became a refrain every time we found an object to interact with. In short, I would say that Heavy Rain was pretty good and had a lot of nice story elements, and the ability to interact with objects on such a detailed level was amazing (though not exciting), but you might need people in the room with you to make the experience truly interesting and enjoyable. My brother got through the whole game and saved the kid, but let all the other people get killed (well, failed to save them, let's say), and I don't think I will go over and watch him replay it to find all the alternate endings.

I also read Bharati Mukherjee's Desirable Daughters on the plane out to California and just finished Barbara Kingsolver's Pigs in Heaven (this break's theme is women writers with plucky and determined female characters), both of which I found enjoyable but, eh, uneven, I guess. Strong and interesting characters who veered off into unbelievability or stereotype at odd moments. And a weakness in plotting, though both books brought up a lot of different interesting ideas. I could say more about each if you ask but I am getting tired, so I will leave it at that. I will go off and read and consume more things and also laze about a bit more. Mmmm.

What have you been reading?

4 comments:

Bardiac said...

Sounds like a busy break! Have you read Kingsolver's Lacuna? I think it's her best so far, really good.

Take care and Happy New Year!

J. Otto Pohl said...

So far this break I have finished reading Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands, Norman Naimark's Stalin's Genocides and African History: A Short Introduction by John Parker and Richard Rathbone.

Sisyphus said...

The only other Kingsolver I read was The Poisonwood Bible, which I think was stronger than this one. And less cute.

@ J Otto Pohl, that's quite a depressing list you have there. I think I read a book called Bloodland about the Oklahoma Indian murders; is this the same one?

J. Otto Pohl said...

Bloodlands is about the region between Germany and Russia during the 1930s and 1940s. So basically it is a history of the Ukrainian Famine (Holodomor), Great Terror, various Soviet deportations, the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities in Ukraine, Belorus, Poland and the Baltic states. Yes, a bit or actually a lot depressing, but a good historical summary.