…in case I disappear again, it needs to be said: The Last of Us is the best goddamned video game of the year. One could argue the point, but one would be wrong. If you haven’t yet, buy it. Play it. Do it.
No apologies or explanations for the lull; the lapses in attention to my blog illustrate the way my mind gets pulled around the scope of my world. Not that I’ve suddenly stopped watching movies or playing games. I’ll be back to talk about them soon. Here’s a painting (that will end up being finished with ink precision) that I’m currently taking a break from. Working title “Fire Ants” for reasons that won’t be clear until much further along.
All is sunny skies and near-balmy temperatures today as we of the East Coast tunnel our way out of the impressive snow mass left behind by Nemo. I’m still having some issues with power/internet service flickering in and out; sorry this is the first update! Here are a few pictures from my neck of the woods in the metro-Boston locale:
Boston and its outlying lands have a strange reverence in the way large snowfall is dealt with; so as not to disrupt this heavenly mana, the city crews sneak their plows and shovels through to create one-lane walkways and roadways (regardless of the fact that many streets are four lanes across and the downtown area depends on pedestrian-style commutes.) Snow isn’t blown, or machine-melted, but instead carefully piled on the sides of walks, median strips, and breakdown lanes to make for an admittedly delightful Narnia-esque ridges taller than myself. (I’m 5’6″. Luckily–five years ago on the 21st of this month!–I fell in love with a handsome, long-legged beastie who canters around at 6’3″. He has been the one sent out on food scrounging missions, which have been fairly successful.)
We were very lucky to keep our heat through most of the ordeal. The wind was phenomenal and coated the windows on every side of the house with ice and snow, effectively cocooning our abode. It was a little tense with the unpredictable power, but as you’ll see in this final and shameless photo, our cat was none-too-bothered. She ousted me from the living room recliner, invited her stuffed bunny to join her (she spent her kitten year alongside our late rabbit, Bun Bun Cinna-bun, esq.) and spent the rest of the night not giving a fuck. Hope all you folks in the area fared as well as we! I’ll be back to the horror and the video games right quick.
Just wanted to hold out the lantern to my fellow Bostonians and other East Coast dwellers: be careful out there! If the power stays on, you can bet that games will be played and horror films watched. As the wind howls, I find myself nostalgic for my VHS double tape copy of Stephen King’s The Storm of the Century…
After playing Westerado, I was inspired to look around at other freeware available online. I got promptly sucked in and lost; that’s why I’ve been silent for a while. But I crawled back here and have some gems to share with you fine folks, because surely you have just as much free time to muck about playing games as I do. Surely.
First, I stopped by The Escapist Magazine to play some of the innovative Indie Speed Run submissions (developers have 48 hours to create a game.) Some games have to be downloaded, and an inordinate amount of the games seemed to revolve around frogs, hippos, or gnomes… Here were two that really stood out to me:
1.) You Can Take It With You (play it here) seemed simple and easy to dismiss at first, but I found myself playing again and again. It’s an Egyptian-themed sidescroller following your character from birth to death and then through the afterlife. It’s a game based on choices, given to you at intervals about your life’s path and also in which items you choose to pick up/fit in your inventory. Everything you do affects some aspect in both this life and next, and there are multiple ways to deal with obstacles. It was created by the group aBadIdea.
2.) Game Evolution In a Briefcase (play it here) is a lifelong gamer’s homage to games. The music is beautiful, the references are delightful, and the whole game has a stand-out style. Made up of several mini-games, each one a variation on a classic epoch video game, this submission by Pixels in Trouble is worth your time.
After an abyssal side quest into the world of horror point-and-click (I’m a sucker for those cheap scares, can’t be helped!) I ended up with a shiny free Newgrounds.com account and I’ve been medal hunting ever since. Frankly it’s a miracle that I peeled away long enough to make this compilation *Note-visit the game pages to find out more about the creators. It would be a pickle to link them all, as the site allows developers to individually credit all members of production.*! Here are a few of my absolute favorites:
3.) The Outsider (play it here) was a Newgrounds Game Jam submission, made in 3 days, and doesn’t suffer for it. Based on the H.P. Lovecraft story by the same name, this is a dark, melancholy point-and-click that manages to pack in an impressive amount of stylistic artwork and emotional impact. Despite the short playthrough, this one stuck with me after I finished the final frame.
4.) dys4ia (play it here) is as pixel-y simplistic as games come, but resonated with me for a few reasons. It was a game created specifically to depict an interactive narrative about the experience of undergoing hormone therapy. It’s raw and honest, honorably personal, and though it is not my experience in life I do have several friends who are/have gone through the situations in the game. No one likes to face sensitive, emotionally hard times alone. This game is out there to remind people that they aren’t. (It makes me want to learn how to make games to share some portions of my narrative, if only to externally address pockets of my memories that are still hurt and confused about things.)
5.) The Rose is Blooming (play it here) is a maddeningly cool zombie-survival game. Rather than following the hoards of “defend your _____ ” shooters, this game is a turn-based, resource calculating exploration. You have to choose your next moves carefully, think ahead, and in the end depend on luck to survive as many days as you can. (I believe my longest run was around 550, but that took a lot of doing.) The longer you survive, the worse your luck gets. In its own way, this game does a great job structuring an environment of anxiety and excitement that is more natural to an end-of-the-world scenario than picking up a double barrel shotgun to blast away throngs of line-walking zombies.
6.) Memohuntress (play it here) is by far my favorite game so far. It won’t be for everyone, but you’ll have to decide for yourself. This is a point-and-click item-finder game that puts Where’s Waldo? to utter shame. The artwork is stunning to say the least, and the careful crafting that went into making the environment’s layered geography still impresses me after my third playthrough. The back story for the protagonist isn’t the main focus but still manages an emotional impact all the same. And, wow, the music! The only downside is that it can be a little laggy, but adjusting the game quality seems to do the trick. Just, really, try this one out. It’s a worthwhile way to lose yourself for 45 minutes or so to a richly beautiful world.
I didn’t intend to play it. I didn’t even know I COULD play it, or that it existed. I certainly didn’t anticipate losing an hour (or two) avidly engrossed and enjoying every minute of it. Damn, Westerado. I’m so glad you tumbleweed-ed into my life.
It all began during my daily devotional over at the Yogscast yesterday as I watched as smooth-croonin’ Sips (the best guy) introduce Westerado in a new edition of the endlessly entertaining series An Evening With Sips. Not endowed with an attention span for most free online games, or cognizance to remind myself to check out free game sites, I freely admit: I’m a lady who misses out on a fair few good things in life. But not this time, brothers and sisters! In the chilly New England witching hours, I found myself standing vigil as an animate girlfriend alarm clock (my manfriend sleeps deep with purpose and had to wake up at 2:30 AM for work; proof that not all aspects of IT jobs are glamorous.) Having exhausted my normal internet haunts, I futzed over to adultswim.com to give Westerado a go.
Westerado, delightfully designed, rendered and presented by Dutch team Ostrich Banditos, is just tops. Best described as an adventure RPG, the game is pretty prodigious for being both 1) a flash game and 2) free to play. The main story line is all beer and skittles for your protagonist who seeks retribution, (never not compelling!) complete with side-quests and clue finagling (often by pulling your six-shooter on folks mid-conversation.) You gather info about the ruthless cur who done you wrong (and the clues are different in every game; another great touch.) Haberdasheries are serious business in this western expanse as your health wholly relies on hats.
The map is riddled with unlockable locations and bandits a-plenty. Once you discover somewhere new, feel free to wander there screen-by-screen (though I found it easy to get lost and ambushed this way, just putting that out there) or fast-travel on an ever-nearby horse. *Be well warned from the get-go: the game will save any map and fast-travel information you unlocked during your play, but if for whatever reason you have to start over, the game does not save progress that you make.*
From the graphics and music to the slick controls and response/interaction, Westerado is plain, entertaining fun. The Ostrich Banditos bob friendly nods to the legends of the Wild West (try examining the statue to the right of the Clintville saloon. ) Interacting with all the NPC folks is genuinely engaging. Your protagonist is a man of precious few words, but choosing responses with appropriate tact or intimidation noticeably impacts the story. And who doesn’t like a good old-fashioned shootout in an abandoned mine town every once in a while, eh? Don’t even get me started on the poker. I don’t know exactly what is so intoxicating about virtual poker–or blackjack, or the rare euchre–in a seedy saloon setting, but honestly, it’s a wonder I was able to pry myself away from the round-table and beat Red Dead Redemption.
Sure, this game has some pillbugs. I encountered two with a habit for repeating themselves:
1) When I bit the dust saving buffalo on a side-scrolling ride, the screen dimmed but kept scrolling instead of bringing up the menu.
2) Every time I crossed over to the second screen of the mines, I either wandered onto a rock and got stuck (see screenshot below!) or simply got locked in a screen that wouldn’t load but from which I couldn’t escape.
As you can guess, these were a bit of a pisser since progress isn’t saved. The upshot is that, even when I had to start all over, my fast-travel locations were all available and with a “run like hell!” locomotion control, picking up all the quest prompts again is far from arduous. And hey, even if you die right away, you can now forever hence skip the tutorial and hop right back on your horse. The ‘Banditos don’t seem shy about reaching out on forums to eagerly gather data on any bugs/issues to fix them right away, and you can’t dream up a better developer attitude than that.
*Good-news for the hapless: If/when you foolishly get shot clean outta hats and die, up comes a menu screen tallying your score for a number of silly doings. This menu also offers options to “Submit” a score, “Restart” a new game, or “Continue”. Choosing “Continue” prompts a pop-up that says it’s A-OK to continue, but you can’t submit your score again. (My scores were laughably small beans so I chose to continue, and was right back at home base with all the dinero and quests that I had before wading in half-cocked like a banty rooster.) Just FYI: Two times I died and this screen did not appear; the page just refreshed. Don’t know if it was the host site or the game, just putting it out there. Totally worth it to continue this kickin’ game, but my chance to do so did go missing once or twice.
Overall, Westerado has a lot going for it and not only did I enjoy the hell out of it yesterday, I plan to play it again soon. This isn’t the first title from the Ostrich Banditos and I’m genuinely excited to see where they take their indie designs in the future. If you’ve got some free time on a PC with internet connection and literally nothing else, then you’ve got what it takes to enjoy this game, too. Happy trails!
- Browser Game Pick: Westerado (Ostrich Banditos) (indiegames.com)
Streaming choices seem bountiful this week; I finally sat down to watch Lovely Molly and didn’t find myself as disappointed as Rotten Tomatoes (an underwhelming 42%) or several other high-profile reviewers apparently were with the film. That said, this isn’t a title that is going to make it on my favorites list, either. Allow me to explain.
Initial Reactions (Mild Spoilers)
1. Why would anyone move into that old house?
2. She sure is nude an awful lot.
3. What’s with the horses? …HORSES ARE SCARY!
4. Wait, whatisthatinthegarden?!
It’s not usually a good sign when, asked about a film’s best attributes, a person replies “the soundtrack” before all else. In this case, though, I thought the soundtrack stood alongside as its own work of art. It’s still softly spinning in my head, lingering like the climactic garden scene.
As I understand it, a lot of feedback–push back, even–about the film was about the “ambivalence” in the plot devices: is Molly losing her mind as we watch, or is there something paranormal afoot: you be the judge, viewers! I didn’t get that, and feel pretty secure in saying that the film weighed much more heavily toward straight up paranormal. From the ghostly assault caught on camera to the sister doing the same thing with the closet at the end, it seemed structured in either haunting or possession. Sure, she did some drugs and had awful memories to live with, but in the second scene her husband Tim witnesses a disturbance in the house just as she did; in no way did that feel like a marked beginning to a “descent into madness” but one of “your house is probably haunted, dudes”.
Gretchen Lodge handled the Molly character well, getting better as the intensity grew. Everyone did a decent acting job, in fact, but the stand out for me was Alexandra Holden as her sister Hannah. (Which is weighing the two unfairly, as this was Lodge’s debut role.) I thought that employing them in a cleaning service was a good touch because it added not to the plot, but to the characters. The two were believable as onscreen sisters. Hannah’s own childhood memories and the care she has for her sister are relatable; raw. Tim is, well, Tim.
This movie is not filmed all as cinéma vérité nor is it overbearing with its usage of that device, but surprisingly, this is the best camerawork I’ve seen in any found footage. The story told through Molly’s camera is striking and added a tense freak out level that really boosted the film’s overall horror. Sánchez has made it quite the art form since the Blair Witch Project while many other directors just repeat what he did back in 1999. If found footage transcends its rapidly closing coffin, I’d keep an eye on Sánchez as the one coordinating the lift.
Sanchez’s choice of color palette and shadow was as beautiful as a bruise and a welcome backdrop. Some eliciting visuals like a dead deer and even some of the *many* scenes where Molly is nude are startling. (Not to mention the garden scene! My boyfriend confirms that, upon seeing this finale, I spoke the only words of the entire viewing: “Wait, what is THAAA-?”) The one big reveal that would be an unfortunate spoiler for those of you who haven’t viewed but plan on it is the only real questions I was left with after the credits. It has to deal with motive. I think most actions are explained outright or given a fleshy allusion, but one is tenuously lacking by my account. The very end part that focuses on Hannah was the only point in the film that felt a little trite, but was necessary I think.
Overall, Lovely Molly had a fair amount of scares, enough original story to be captivating, good female leads, and it gives the clop of a horse’s hoof a much darker tone than any movie before. I wouldn’t recommend it as the centerpiece of a movie night, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend skipping it, either. Let me know what you think!
I met Joe at a corporate meeting, where we were assigned to random pairs at small tables for the length of a droning 9 1/2 hour conference. Joe was fast asleep, held upright in his hoodie, and I just knew we were going to be pals. After he awoke from his great slumber, we quickly found out that we had a passion for the vidya games in common; that was about 5 years ago and I still count myself lucky to be friends with him and his amazingly talented artist wife. (Like absurdly talented; hopefully I will be able to share or link her art to you sometime soon.)
His blog (linked above to a post about the manliest male character Final Fantasy character of ever–who will it be?! I’d posit Wakka of FFX but I’ma let Joe do the talking) is PKBloggin’. Joe writes with an eye for the basics of games, consoles, and stories that in this age of Kotaku reviews has been woefully overlooked. He respects games for what they are. He and his wife both genuinely have fun playing them instead of over-analyzing at every step of a playthrough, and I really appreciate that kind of sentiment because that’s what games are all about.
So if you have a free moment, please go check out Joe’s stuff and let him know he’s on the right track. (If you go there and harass him, however, just remember: I didn’t name my blog The Anger Games for nothing.) Happy trails!
Sorry I’ve been away for a bit. A few posts back I think I mentioned that I have night terrors on occasion and am regularly plagued by nightmares; turns out this week was time for the cycle to come round again. If I can, one that is now apparently recurring has a horrible…thing…I want to sketch out and share with you fine folk. (But I don’t know, I’m kind of superstitious about bringing it into my waking life.)
Moving on! If you’re on the streaming ‘flix plan, then you may notice that last year’s V/H/S is now available to view at our leisure. It’s a title that I researched and was looking forward to running across. (If I haven’t said it before now, it bears mentioning that I am a broke-ass woman, so I really have to choose which titles to buy. That’s why I’m so dreadfully all over the map.)
This American horror anthology isn’t bad, I mean, it’s not terrible, but my overall reaction is underwhelmed. [Maybe my dreamlife lately is skewing perception, who knows?] With six cinema verite shorts by six different directors, it was risky business from the start. Several reviews agreed that the works as a whole were “unbalanced”, but I didn’t think so. They all obviously catered to different tropes of our beloved sub-genres and–weighed against each other–held ground equally.
The framing short (indeed NOT a wrap-around; it essentially ends before the last short and is remixed for the credits) is “Tape 56” directed by Adam Wingard. He plays “Brad” in this short, by the by. Of all the stories, this one really unsettled me. So much so that thinking back on many reviews that glossed it over, dismissing it as a brief device of some “hooligans” kind of pisses me off. Alone, or as a feature length, it would have leaned toward the disgusting nihilism of films like The Snowtown Murders. But without the possibility of any likable protagonists. Within the first minute and a half, this group of four degenerate fucks (uh, yup!) are sexually assaulting (again, word choice accurate) a young woman by accosting her and her boyfriend and forcibly exposing her breasts so that they can film it.
[Listen real quick: the types of people who comment on videos made by women on literally any subject but the sexiness of said woman by leaving a comment hollering “tits or gtfo” or “show me your tits” are one virtually verbal step away from this kind of humiliating action. Cut that shit out. It’s not a compliment (and you damn well know it), it’s not on topic, it’s not even a smidgen respectful, and other people are disgusted by it too. Yeah, I know Cracked did a video on it. This is my tie in. Good day to you.]
Anyway, our destructive gang of scumbums wants to make mo’ money by being even more deplorable, so they take a “job” to get a specific tape from some guy’s house. When they show up, sorpresa! Here there be many video tapes and a dead guy. Unaware that karma is a bitch, they split up to root around the house, leaving one alone in the t.v. room to launch into the other shorts.
“Amateur Night” (David Bruckner) was pretty cool, in the way that I think all girls-as-monsters are pretty cool. The set-up was stale and the three main fellows came off wa-a-ay too archetypal as the drunken party doodz with one shy, virginal pal. But props to character Patrick, who drunkenly manages to deter his coked up buddy Shane not to bang a girl who has passed out. Because that’s a gross thing to do. Patrick also proves to be hella resourceful even in the nude. The effects were decent and the acting by Hannah Fierman (Lily the lady monster) was A-Okay.
We are then briefly back to the Awful Boyz Club to find out that Brad kind of disappeared, that there are many tapes in the basement, and also what seems to be a Quarantine-esque creepy old man. Inevitably, another idiot is left alone with the body and the tapes, so on we get.
“Second Honeymoon” (Ti West) started off well but didn’t end to my expectations. The couple–Sam and Stephanie–were very realistic in dialogue and this was the most convincing contrivance for “found footage”. The twist was genuinely surprising, but wasn’t very good. The up-close shot of the “switchblade popping open” in the dark was silly, and I just kept thinking how the hell did that girl even get in the room?! I saw the door get locked. I SAW IT. And I streamed back to see it again. So plot hole there, unless it was so subtle I missed it twice. All in all, I’d like to see more of these two actors.
Sigh, and we’re back to the Fool Squad. And the second guy is now gone. And the body seems to be gone. But don’t worry, it’s back being dead next time we see this room. Oh, another tape, for me?
“Tuesday the 17th” (Glenn McQuaid) I’m not even a big fan of slasher films, but this was a tie for favorite out of the six shorts. It was witty (being freaked out on drugs = now forever known as “The Fear”), cut to the chase with no fuss, was self-referential (“Why can’t I FILM YOU?!”) but was also dedicated to the storyline. Essentially, this is a short about the most balls-out PTSD anyone can imagine, and I dug it.
Hey, dead guy’s back! So’s the guy who tried to trick his girlfriend into having sex on tape! Was wondering when he’d get his chance to disappear.
“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” (Joe Swanberg) The title is long and sort of sums up this short, I suppose. Many reviewers counted this as their favorite in story, film device, and scares so I was looking forward to it; unfortunately, this was my least favorite of the group. I didn’t buy the acting from Daniel Kaufman as James, either before or after I knew the reveal. Helen Rogers as Emily, however, was a delight. If the haunting angle had been played out as firmly as it framed the first few frights, this would have been a good one, but the twist only showed me the budget of the makeup department, an expository “dialogue” of the truth(?), and honestly cheapened the short as a whole. However, I think if this was a feature-length that had more time for nuance and character development, it would be much more promising.
Alright, mustache “hooligan” Gary, you feel up to getting killed? …yes. Okay, good. Onto the final film, which had an extended ending in the home release that sounds as thought it would tie the whole bundle up really nicely but is NOT part of the Netflix version.
“10/31/98” (Radio Silence) is the other half of the tie for favorite here. It had the only group of men (Sam doesn’t count) who were, like, just regular dudes with balanced silliness and ethical behavior. It also had the coolest effects (though somewhat spoiled for me because I saw this video on the YouTubes before catching this anthology.) I feel a little dense that I didn’t realize the situation in the attic was an exorcism (methinks it was a sacrifice) and if I hadn’t had the subtitles on, the volume would have been way too cranked, but overall I think this short was a great end.
That’s it, basically. The credits, as I mentioned, are a remix of the Original Douches exploits, and I had to turn them off. I wish this could have been more, BUT you guys, I’m happy that this kind of collaboration could happen and realistically work where it has fallen apart with egos and tropes before (here’s looking at you, ABC’s of Death.)
This is an example of how interactions used to play out when someone asked me “Where are you from?”:
“Oh, I’m from Holmes County, Ohio.”
*received blank stare with tentative nodding*
“It’s, um, mid-Ohio, in the foothills? Really rural? Like, 30 minutes south of Wooster? Uh, almost exactly two hours drive between Cleveland and Columbus?”
*more nodding, but hope is fading*
“Okay, it has the largest population of Amish like, anywhere. In the whole world.”
“But isn’t that in Pennsylvania?” they ask. I shake my head and break a little inside.
“Nope, Holmes County has more than anyone.” Gears turn and I know what’s next:
“O-H-H-H…so are you Amish??”
“No. No, I am not.”
But now television, that wit of modern-day exploitation media, has forced a new act to this whence-I-came drama:
*I politely endure the previous script*
“O-H-H-H…so are you Amish??”
“Not now, nor never, my good chap.” I prepare to move on like usual, except:
“BUT SURELY YOU AT LEAST KNOW SOMEONE IN THE AMISH MAFIA AMIRIGHT?!”
*My mouth drops open; my eyes widen; I reach out to the nearest passerby to borrow another hand because I don’t have enough for the facepalms this deserves.*
Listen, there is no such thing as an Amish Mafia. It surprises me to encounter people who know damn well how network reality shows work, (that they are mostly if not entirely scripted entertainment save for a select few) biting the hook on the new Amish shows like “Breaking Amish” and the Discovery Channel’s “Amish Mafia”.
I get it that an overwhelming majority of Americans don’t know much of anything about the Amish, and that they are a culture categorically misrepresented and lampooned. From [a movie I can’t live without] KingPin to “Law and Order” spinoffs to even the more accurate but still largely narrow-sighted 2002 documentary Devil’s Playground, Amish are portrayed as a world further outside American society than [I would argue] any other sub-culture living here today.
But, come on. An Amish mafia? Rumspringa gone wild? Entertaining, no doubt, but to believe it’s a real thing? COME ON.
Here’s the reality, then it’s back to games and scary movies and all that junk: The Amish are the best neighbors you can have. They are normal, reasonable, vastly hard-working, good humored, and intelligent. They may have a quietly removed lifestyle but they–at least in Holmes County, OH–inspire a unique sense of overall community “pitching in for your neighbor in need.” They always wave back if you pass them driving their buggies or on foot. They bake absurdly delicious pies. They come in many variations of relaxed to orthodox. They shop at WalMart. They are keen businessmen and women who know how to capitalize on their life’s phenomena to sell their woodworking and other crafts. They are as susceptible to alcoholism as anyone. They are deeply, staunchly religious but are to my experience the most graceful with their faith. They are expert huntsmen and better environmentalists than anyone else has a right to claim.
Best of all, they push a drive through the rolling hills of mid-Ohio from pretty to stunning: be it a snapshot of the male family members coaxing Clydesdales through a harvest, or a vista of golden fields and forest without one telephone or electrical line anywhere to be seen on the horizon.
So enjoy the shows, enjoy how society has given thumbs up for the entertainment industry’s growing perversion of geographic, economic, and cultural strata instead of helping to bring us together by celebrating reality. But for the love of the one ring, keep in mind that there is no such thing as an Amish Mafia.