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9.13.2012

The End?

Maybe.

The long and short of it is I've got my own website and blog now: mattgoldammer.com. Visit if you like.

I tried to explain some of the thought process behind leaving this blog behind and starting fresh in my introductory post. There are basically two reasons.

I felt like I'd written myself into a corner on this site. The focus of my post had become more and more narrow and I just got into the mindset that I was never going to post anything more personal or close to my heart on this blog which was far, far from the original intention.

I also felt like I needed a more strongly branded and somewhat professional web presence. This, being a team blog, clearly wasn't the place for that. And just creating a static site wasn't a good option either. The blog format keeps me motivated to write and produced new work in a variety of formats. At least it should help in that quest. We'll see.

I haven't entirely decided if this is the end for The Vanishing Blog or not. I always liked the name. Liked the idea of a team blog. Kinda wanted to keep it going. Doesn't seem like that's been happening though.

The reality is that my life is pulled in a lot of different directions. I don't think I could blog regularly at two different places when I have trouble just keeping up with one.

When we started out, I blogged about all sorts of stuff. Looking back, some of those posts are pretty embarrassing when I look back on them now. I've grown a lot since this blog started. I have a lifetime of growing left to do.

If you ever enjoyed reading this blog, please consider following me at my new site.

Thanks for reading.


- Matt

6.26.2012

Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut


"Let sleeping dogs lie" is a phrase which comes to mind at this time. It's been awhile since my nerdrage against the Mass Effect 3 ending subsided. And now I just don't care that much. Good game. Horrible ending. Surprisingly fun multiplayer. Kinda evens out. As I've said before, Mass Effect 1 is the best when it comes to story anyhow so I'll just think of it whenever Mass Effect's story is brought up.

But now we have the so-called "Extended Cut." How odd for a video game.

Let me just pose this question: has an "extended" or "director's" cut ever seriously improved a film that had a major flaw? Possibly, I suppose. But I don't know what they are. Mostly they just contain extra tidbits for salivating hardcore fans to lap up.

Lack of information, as has been said time and time again, is not the core problem of Mass Effect 3's ending.

But let me tell you what: in talky sci-fi it does help. What a difference a couple of additional lines can make!

The Extended Cut, in my mind, supports the theory that the ending was rushed. This is the ending that always should have been. No, it's not fundamentally different, but it is definitely a lot better.

The "Star Child" Catalyst is still there. You're still presented with the same choices, but there's a few extra bits here and there that help cut down on the unexplained and seemingly nonsensical nature of the ending. And the three endings are differentiated much, much better than before.

The thing that really won me over was the addition of a forth choice to the mix. That's right. You can tell that little A.I. snot to take his choices and shove 'em! Awesome. Yeah, that'll basically doom everyone, but - hey - freedom of choice and jazz, right? Plus the ending you get after that is pretty well done.

I got pretty excited when I saw this option. Finally!

As for the other choices, you can actually have the Catalyst explain what's up with them. Y'know, investigate. Find out more information. I mean they're kinda significant choices, right? It was a little odd before when you couldn't get much information even though most every side character in the game will spout off their life story at the slightest provocation.

Now perhaps I've just accepted the whole "Star Child" thing. Perhaps if I played it for the first time ever I'd still get angry even with the Extended Cut installed. Perhaps it still makes no sense at all and my standards have been lowered since the original ending was so disappointing. I don't know. It truly is impossible to know at this point and what's the point of speculating?

The Extended Cut fixes or at least attempts to address nearly all the major problems I had with the ending. It will not quell the rage of others who are just predisposed to hate or were fundamentally looking for something different in an ending. For me and for many other fans, we were simply looking for real choice, real closure, and real effort and now I feel like I've gotten that even though it's not perfect. It's pretty good.

This does a lot to repair my damaged relationship with BioWare. So objective accomplished there, guys. Next time don't rush. And when EA wants to get involved in your creative decisions tell them what I told the Catalyst: buzz off!

Prometheus Review

This review is spoiler-free... mostly. I mean, if you want a totally sanitized experience then don't read anything about any movie before you see it!

Review


Let's face it: people are biased. And by "people" in this instance I mean me.

Sci-fi is probably the genre that I have the most natural love for. Especially space movies. I go for space movies the way most of America (apparently) goes for team-up superhero films. That means I'm generally willing to cut them more slack and give more benefit of the doubt when they turn out a little less-than-amazing.

Generally. I mean things like Avatar are the exception that proves the rule.

As long a particular sci-fi gets me thinking, entertains me, and presents some cool visuals and ideas, I'm basically good. Prometheus did that for me and it didn't scrape by with just the minimum effort either. 

There's been a lot of talk about Prometheus being disappointing or full of plotholes (or unanswered questions) or not as intelligent or intelligent as it portrayed itself. Eh, I see where those people are coming from. But I disagree... mostly.


Yes. Prometheus is only half "smart" while the other half is merely entertaining. It's kinda weird. You can fairly clearly discern which bits are the Alien prequel and which bits are the other story they wanted to tell. But despite being easy to spot, the two ideas generally mesh alright without being too detrimental to one another.

The "thoughtful," exploratory half of the film poses giant questions. Why are we here? How did we get here? What happens after we die? Is there more to existence than can be measured by our senses and scientific methods? In the vein of classic sci-fi, these questions are posed, but not really answered. They're there because they're questions the characters and indeed all people wrestle with at some point in their lives.

It seems like this is the half of the movie that Ridley Scott really wanted to make. The 74-year-old director must be asking these sorts of questions himself as he approaches the end of his life.

Going in I knew this was going to be a film that posed more questions than it answered. And I'm cool with that especially since I don't personally have a bone to pick with Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof who also was one of the writers of this film. One of the purposes of sci-fi is to stir up speculative thinking in the audience. And Prometheus does deliver in that arena.

The Alien half of the movie is entertaining at worst and really, really gripping at best despite all the little questions that keep popping up and the occasional horror movie act of utter stupidity from whichever character is supposed to die next. I liked the rest of the film's elements enough to ignore these things (at least on my first viewing). Possibly they would ruin future viewings. I don't know. Like I said, I'm a sucker for space movies.

There are a million little nitpicks one could make. Things that aren't explained. Things that don't make sense. Stuff just happens and you don't know why. We're left to guess or dismiss some events entirely. It's unfortunate they weren't able to escape some of these frustrating details because they really do keep the film from being great.


For my money, the exploration half of the film is fantastic. It's what I love about sci-fi. Cool visuals. Cool concepts. Mind-expanding premises. I love that kind of stuff and it's stuff that sci-fi is uniquely good at.

It should be mentioned that the principle cast (a bunch of very excellent people) all do a fantastic job with Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace leading the way. The choice of Guy Pierce (who will always be a good actor in my book due to his turn in Memento) as the elderly Peter Weyland is frustrating. He does a fine job, but the makeup is noticeably... just wrong. The Weyland character was originally to appear younger in the film which makes this casting choice a lot more understandable (indeed he appeared younger in a fictional TEDTalk that was done as promotion for the film).

Anyhow, I recommend this one. It certainly moved my meter a lot more than The Avengers. But then again I was the only one who really seemed to feel that way so your mileage with Prometheus may very. I'd rather have a meaningful, watchable film with a few flaws about the edges than a perfectly polished, highly watchable film that's hollow inside and out.

Honestly my biggest disappointment with the film is that the awesome scream-punctuated song from the trailers doesn't actually play during the film (or even the credits). There are worse criticisms I've leveled at films.


After re-watching the original Alien, I have to say I like Prometheus better. Sure, Alien is classic and got the whole thing started, but it really is very basic and plodding. It's a bit too slow and empty of ideas for my tastes in sci-fi (if your sci-fi is slow it must be really stimulating, see 2001: A Space Odyssey).

Prometheus is Alien with a couple of interesting philosophical/theological/scientific questions kicking around. And I see that along with a little faster pace as an upgrade. While Alien has better individual scenes, Prometheus is more watchable overall and has more for my brain to chew on.

But Aliens is still the best of 'em. And believe me: I mean that. I am no fan of James Cameron.

5.25.2012

I Did Not Care for The Avengers


I often find myself a dissenter when it comes to popular things. Not, always, mind you. Many times I'm more into the popular thing than the majority. But often I'm a hater throwing stones from the outside. There are three possible ways this makes me feel:

1) A strange and terrible sense of satisfaction. This is due to the lie my mind is trying to sell me: that I'm a superior being to those in the majority. They're stupid sheep and I'm an independent thinker. This is occasionally true and that is problematic because it isn't always. Sometimes I'm the stupid sheep for dissenting just because I think it's cool to do so.

2) A sense of alienation like there's something wrong with me for not being "normal." For instance, I do not understand dancing and I don't dance. Just don't get it. It's a weird human mating ritual.

3) A sense of utter confusion. Why, oh, why is that thing so popular?


I didn't really like The Avengers and it's giving me feeling number three.

"WHAT?!" Collectively shouts everyone in the universe - Marvel or otherwise.

You heard me. Did not care for Avengers. I wanted to. It had potential. It had Joss Whedon. It had good actors. I was excited to see it. But at the end of the day I think it turned out to be a big, hulking (no pun intended), empty action movie.

Honestly I'm not as confused about why it's popular as much as I'm confused about why people think it's so good. 'cause I just don't see it.

I'm sorry, but it's hard to fear such dorky-looking armor
Before I go any further I just want to say a couple of things. I've been in a lot of debates recently and I'm honestly a little tired of all the fighting. I am not posting this to start a fight. I am posting this to voice my dissenting opinion - to present an alternate viewpoint. That's all. Most will disagree and that's fine.

If you loved the movie - great. Awesome. I'm happy for you. I did not. I've seen people say it's the best movie they've seen in the last 5 years. One person said 10.

I think that's what really gets me. Really? 10 years? Didja not go to the movies for a decade? 'cause there've been way better movies. A lot of them. Heck, there've been better Marvel movies. Iron Man, the Spider-man trilogy, X-Men, Thor. Those were all better than Avengers. And that's to say nothing of Nolan's Batman trilogy or any non-superhero movies. Really? 10 years!?

Okay. Okay. I'll calm down.

Obviously this is all debate over opinion. Debating opinion is rarely productive. If someone honestly means that The Avengers is the best movie they've seen in 10 years (and not the only) then they are looking to get something far different out of films than I am. But I do think I've a few serious points to be made so I will go ahead and enumerate the reasons I didn't like Avengers. Fair enough?

First of all, there are a lot of things I liked. To be fair, it's funny, occasionally fun, Mark Ruffalo does an amazing job as Bruce Banner, and the Hulk is really quite amazing as well. And Samuel L. Jackson's in it... although he wasn't as much fun as I was expecting. He does have one pretty great line toward the end though.

Hulk was the only thing that actually scared me in the movie
Now with that obligatory praise is out of the way...

My criticism is very, very short. There is no soul in Avengers. Nothing happens. It's a story we've seen thirteenhundrenmillionbazillion times.

I want to make this clear: just because we've seen this story before doesn't mean it's bad. Formula becomes bad when it's either poorly executed or fails to alter the recipe in an effective and interesting way.

Avengers felt very, very "paint-by-numbers" to me. It was also, I feel, a waste of a movie. Instead of telling a real story with character development, I was presented with a video game that I didn't get to play.

Some argue, "hey, they developed the characters in the movies leading up to Avengers." Yes they did! That's no excuse for a two-hour sequence of strung together, weightless action sequences. Just because they established the characters in the previous films does not mean they get to stop developing them because this is a big, giant crossover.

Stories are about characters changing (or sometimes about how they should change and don't) and making choices. It's not just about a bunch of stuff than happens. That's called melodrama. In a good, really affecting story we can see ourselves and sympathize with the characters as they make difficult choices.

There are no difficult choices in The Avengers. No surprises. No sacrifice.

Massive white guy and doughy white guy. Contrast.
Okay, there's one tiny sacrifice. One middle-aged white guy that we've supposedly grown attached to bites the dust. I'm sorry, but Mr. Agent there wasn't the Marvel Universe equivalent of Wash. I was surprised but I did not care. Aside from that, there's no real sense of loss or sacrifice. There's almost a major sacrifice made by one of the main characters but then it gets undermined right at the last second. Bummer.

Like I said, there are no real choices made by the characters. They don't really overcome their differences, different powers, and different backgrounds to all work together for a common good. Nope. That would be too talky. Too deep. We have to have them fight instead.

Mostly their bickering is verbal, but there's actually a physical altercation between Thor and Iron Man at one point. Hey nerds! Who would win in a fight? Thor or Iron Man? We get to see that played out and guess what? It's completely pointless. They aren't even fighting for a good reason! It's just one thickheaded idiot with superpowers fighting another thickheaded idiot with superpowers. Thanks for wasting my time, guys.

So our "heroes" are basically fighting with each other right up until the bad guy escapes from their clutches because they were all acting stupid. I know it's implied that Loki influences everyone to fight or something like that, but if that's really the case then why didn't Thor warn them about Loki's ability to do that? Idiot.

Anyhow, after fighting with each other and foolishly allowing Loki to escape, they're forced to work together to save Earth. Yep. This is yet another summer blockbuster about saving the world. Naturally.

In case you haven't noticed: Earth gets threatened pretty regularly in this sort of action movie. It's not especially threatening anymore. Major cities can get destroyed onscreen and I won't bat an eye unless it's been set up properly.

"Okay, we're assembled! Now whadda we do?"
It's even less threatening when you have several invincible superheros running around. And when those unkillable superheros are the main cast of your film... well wave goodbye to dramatic tension, people. I mean they flat-out tell you the Hulk can't be killed. Thor and Loki can pretty much survive whatever the script needs them to. Almost nothing can stop Tony Stark in the Iron Man suit (and if it gets damaged, don't worry, he has a closet full of newer, better ones.) Captain America? Nothing onscreen tells us he's much more durable than a regular human, but we know he's got to survive so he can be in Captain America 2. I don't even care about Hawkeye or Black Widow.

So the movie proceeds exactly like every other movie like this. There's a giant looming threat we don't get to see for most of the movie. It finally shows up and blows up a few things. Good guys try to hold back the tide. Eventually they figure out a secret weakness to the threat and they knock it over in the last 20 minutes thereby proving that it wasn't much of a threat to begin with.

*yawn*

But it's even worse than that. At least in Independence Day, let's say, we've really seriously felt threatened by the aliens. And we understand that any of our heroes are mortal and could die. They could lose loved ones. They could lose the whole war.

I never felt like any of those things were even remotely possible in Avengers. Recall the threats presented to other superheroes in their respective movies. We're pretty sure they aren't going to die. But what about their friends and loved ones? The Green Goblin figures out another threat: "First, we attack his heart!" Similarly crime boss Carmine Falcone tells a desperate Bruce Wayne, "You haven't thought about your lady friend in the DA's office. You haven't thought about your old butler... People from your world have so much to lose."

Marvel could have done something similar here but they didn't. Perhaps this was to avoid the cliche of a threatened girlfriend. Well points for that, but they've still got to make me feel afraid somehow and I didn't. The only question was how much collateral damage would the aliens do before the Avengers stopped them?

Quite a lot, as it turns out. Half of New York is pretty much destroyed by the end, but hey! At least Stark Tower and the Empire State Building's still standing so I guess it's all okay.

Captain America... what a useless character next to Iron Man
In the end, everything's back to status quo like a sitcom. The only thing that's really changed is the precedent for superheros teaming up. Now that they've done it, we'll all scratch our heads during the next Iron Man or Captain America when they don't call for help.

All our heroes are alive to go make some more sequels. Nick Fury can go back to making superweapons in secret (which is completely and totally wrong in case you wondered where the filmmakers stand on that issue). Black Widow and Hawkeye are free to make their solo film debuts. And eventually we'll see all of you and more back here for Avengers 2.

I think that actually highlights the problem I now have with the Marvel film universe. It's so obviously a product - a franchise - a money-making web. They're thinking so much about how to make the next movie and how to introduce more characters that the essential thing for me - that is, telling a good story - is being lost to spin-offs, continuity, and sequel setups.

A recent article over at ScreenRant examined each movie leading up to Avengers and asked the question "was it worth it?" Not monetarily, of course. The thing's already made a several solid gold cruise ships of money. The question is was it worth sacrificing screen time in each film to help set up The Avengers.

Another thing that bothers me is how many people have cited the five-movie setup for The Avengers as being a really impressive feat. Sure, I guess so. That's never really been done before and it was a gamble. But it has no bearing on my actual enjoyment of the film and should not factor into people's opinions of it. Toy Story was a good film besides being the first feature-length computer animated movie. People remember it for being a good movie, not for its technical accomplishment however impressive it might have been. Avengers must (and will in time) be judged solely by its merit as a film.

I can't say that Avengers isn't a well-made film or even a good film by some standards of measure. But it's the kind of film I'm not terribly interested in watching anymore. I guess I'm just becoming a snob.

4.08.2012

Fallout: New Vegas Review

Fallout: New Vegas? Didn't that come out like over a year ago? Why yes it did. Why did I wait until now to review it?

Well, much like I waited to review Crysis 2 until the DX11 patch was out, I waited to review New Vegas until the last of the planned DLC were out. Then I left this review unfinished for six months. Yeah... I do that sort of thing all too often. I have half-finished reviews of Arkham City and Skyrim I need to finish off too.

Anyhow, since all four DLC are out for New Vegas I feel like I can review the game in full. So, I guess this is effectively a "game of the year" edition review.