Poker Players

Poker PlayersBefore you take out the pitchforks and curse me to hell just let me explain myself. I love poker. I love playing poker with my buddies. I love going to casinos with my buddies and playing poker. One thing I do despise, however, are all the people sitting down next to me at the casino tables. I don’t dislike them because they are my competition and I don’t hold it against them that they are trying to take my money. My hatred for them is more visceral and can be boiled down to the simple fact that they are all gigantic pieces of shit.

dark sunglasses +5 POS factor
visor +5 POS factor
hoodie +20 POS factor
ear muffs +30 POS factor

What I’m getting at is this: the majority of people I sit down next to when I play cards would not be worth occupying my time in any other situation. These are the arrogant pricks who overflow with being full of themselves every time they make a comment. These are the experts who know the only correct way to play and “can only lose” if others get lucky. These are the motherfuckers who love the sound of their voice so much that they will speak out loud, to no one in particular, about anything and everything on their mind despite the fact that nobody is listening.

Poker Odds

Thus presents the great paradox of poker. It is a fun game of skill but I am forced to endure hours of annoyance doing it. It is true that the taking of money can make up for a lot of the pain but the flipside to winning is losing and the idea of supporting one of these people’s lifestyles makes me want to quit cold turkey.

But not really. I gotta play the cards.

GTA 4

GTA 4A bit of old news maybe but Grand Theft Auto 4 won some ‘game of the year’ awards so I felt some berating was necessary (plus I need something to start off the Games category). At this point in the series’ life how is this still happening? If somebody told me the game was fun I could get that. If somebody told me it was cool because the story was cinematic then I would totally agree. But don’t talk about innovative gameplay when it is the same tried and true formula yet again.

Take Two does a lot of things right in their Grand Theft Auto series. I like how the main characters are not typical video game heroes. They usually pick some minority and thrust you into common movie stereotypes and situations but it feels good because we all like watching movies that do this. Take Two does a great job ripping off cool scenes from pop culture and throwing them into their video games, and that’s a great thing. GTA 4 specifically put in an effort to make the cut scenes and story have the familiar feel of a drama. There’s some emotion and comedy in there and the action scenes are taken straight out of a Die Hard flick. There’s even some useless but fun things to do that make Liberty City seem like a real place, like listen to radio stations.

Looks like a movie!

But isn’t there more to the gameplay? Isn’t this a living, breathing city where you can do anything you want? Let me spoil the surprise. If ‘anything you want’ doesn’t involve driving or buying clothes then you are sorely lacking options. But what about all the people you can interact with? Sure, they say random things when you walk by them, but is that really interaction? This is the deal. I see a guy, I can punch him. Oh cool, there’s a hooker. I can punch her. Oh wait, the cops just showed up. Let’s punch them. Are you getting tired of my explanation yet? Because trust me, when you’re actually playing this over and over again spanning hours and days of your life, you will REALLY be tired of it.

Gameplay Flowchart

When it comes down to it, the problem with GTA is that it is a driving game. All these “open-ended” missions just boil down to driving from point A to point B. 50% of my game experience is driving fast following a yellow line on my radar. I look at that stupid radar more than the street when I’m driving. So that means the car chases are fun since I can ignore the map and just chase what’s ahead of me, right? Yes, I have to admit, but all excitement quickly goes out the window when you realize that you can’t actually catch the car you’re chasing until the developers want you to. If you get too close to that beat-up buick they will turn the hyperdrive on and ignore the laws of physics instead of rewarding you for driving well. What about downtime? To go on a date I need to drive to the girl’s house (follow radar), drive to a date location (check and follow radar), be treated to a cut scene if I’m lucky (because many times the game immediately skips to the end of the date), and then take the girl back home (follow the radar). Well that was a pain in the ass. What should I do now? Great, my fucking cousin is calling me again. I bet he wants me to drive somewhere to pick him up. Wasn’t I supposed to be taking on a mob boss or otherwise doing something exciting?

And the city itself, oh God. If the driving is the core problem with the gameplay, then the buildings are the core problem with, well, the buildings. Sorry if that analogy didn’t work out. It’s just that this entire ‘world’ that was created is very empty. All the food joints will just heal you. All the bars are devoid of any reason to be there. They tried to stick minigames in places but they don’t have enough purpose- for us to play them or for the dev team to justify spending time making them fun. The theater shows are the only locations that really have anything unique in them although they are not interactive at all.

Liberty City Map

Point is, we really need to set a higher bar for open world gameplay. It should be obvious for sequel number FOUR but the improvements from game to game have been minor. I’m not calling for Take Two to change what they’re doing if they are selling games but isn’t it time for the public perception to admit that this isn’t breaking new ground any more?

PETA

PETA Raise your hand if you aren’t sick of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. On the surface this organization has noble goals but damn if they don’t find a way to piss absolutely everybody off. You know you’re doing something wrong when a slew of animal lovers hate you and you’re fucking PETA.

So the latest marketing campaign wants to rebrand ‘fish’ as ‘sea kittens’ in an effort to get people to stop eating them. If little kids associate fish with their cute pets then maybe they won’t have the stomach for them anymore.

Sea Kittens

There are many problems with this ad campaign. First off, people actually keep fish as pets and that hasn’t tugged the necessary sentimental strings. Second, how screwed is the animal you are trying to defend when the only way you could improve its cute image is to associate it with another animal? Is it just me or is that proof alone that fish don’t deserve to be saved? I’ll make you a deal, PETA: If my fish is wearing a cute little kitty costume then I won’t eat it.

My last issue with the whole ‘sea kitten’ logic is that people don’t choose what to eat or not depending on an animal’s nickname. Plenty of people eat catfish. I like to eat beef but you don’t see me chowing down on manatees because they are called ‘sea cows’. Wait a minute- maybe I’m on to something here….

Sea Cows

I could make millions.

24

24Jack Bauer, how I love thee. Non-stop action and plotting wrapped up into a single day of real-time moments. Sure, I’ll suspend my disbelief a bit and pretend it only takes a commercial break to get anywhere in LA traffic. Sure, Jack is always involved and the terrorists always base their attacks in the same city. But in a full 24 hours doesn’t anyone eat anything? Seriously, just once I would like to see a character take a dump.

It may surprise 24 enthusiasts that once upon a time this show was actually innovative. The first season enforced the real-time framework and the pacing, scene changes, and characters/ locations all were carefully organized to comply. The result was a damn good show that was very different from what tv viewers were used to and a hit was born.

Jack Bauer

It didn’t take very long for things to break down. When you start the second season and Jack is good friends with the president it doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for him to believably fight the system. Wait, there’s ANOTHER terrorist who knows him? His daughter is in trouble AGAIN? Different became formulaic. The need for a cliffhanger before commercials every 6 minutes of real-time became melodramatic. I still vividly remember when 24 jumped the shark- Jack’s daughter was wandering outside somewhere and got caught in a bear trap while being stalked by a mountain lion. That’s not a joke.

I don’t know why, but I think the writers just gave up. Around ‘Day 5′ I remember seeing a hype “news” story about how the new season of 24 was going to be different because Jack’s misdeeds were catching up with his conscience and he wasn’t just a cold-blooded soldier anymore. The lasting effect this “subplot” had throughout the season was a few added scenes where Jack was shaking as if about to cry. That’s that, folks, good job!

The truth is, every single season of 24 after the first is the same exact story with some new characters and terrorist threats.

List of 24 Cliches

1 – plot inside the white house
2 – Jack punks a fellow agent
3 – Jack goes ‘dark’
4 – someone from Jack’s past makes it personal
5 – someone in CTU is suspected of or is a mole
6 – CTU management change-up (“I’m taking over!”)
7 – bad guy escapes from a building surrounded by police
8 – CTU gets attacked
9 – someone “will only talk to Jack Bauer”

I’m quite pleased to see that, just a few episodes into the current season, over half of these commandments are already fulfilled. And a new drinking game is born.

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog MillionaireI liked this movie. I really did. It was the right combination of entertaining, eye-opening, funny, romantic – all the ingredients to a great stew. And that’s where things should have ended. But Golden Globes and other awards?

Let’s not kid ourselves. Slumdog is a fairy tale movie woven around a ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire?’ theme. It’s not high art. You can’t be pretentious about it if you tried. Let’s not get carried away just because the movie industry wants India to be cool. If I was a conspiracy nut I would say that this is a gateway-Bollywood movie- just a primer to open your mind to the idea because if you went straight to an authentic one your head would spin (I recommend ‘Singh is Kinng’).

But honestly, Slumdog isn’t even as important as that. It’s just a nice feel-good movie with a happy ending. Isn’t that enough these days?

Iron Man

Iron ManWhere can I begin? How about with, “Why this movie?” There are plenty of other superhero movies that I can pick on and most of them are far worse. But Iron Man had potential. The spot-on casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and the opening scene with a nice sense of comedy and believability layed all the foundation for a great movie. Unfortunately, the perfect storm of horrible writing sunk Iron Man to the depths of a Fantastic-Four-grade superhero flick.

Superhero Movie Chart

It’s a hard fact to swallow that good writing isn’t associated with making money in the movie industry. Slowly, surely, I have come to accept this. Iron Man’s opening weekend blew away that of Batman Begins. And I’m ok with not requiring every story to be so calculated and congruent. I try hard not to be a writing snob. But I will demand that a plot be a bit more thought out than that of the average GI Joe cartoon.

I can litter you with examples of ridiculous or contrived scenes. Tony Stark’s numerous near death experiences testing his suit out ‘to the max.’ His building a micro energy heart and having robot helpers but calling Pepper Potts down to the basement to plug it in for him because she has “little hands.” Sure, these scenes suck, but they are harmless Hollywood drivel meant for cheap laughs or romance to keep the girlfriend from making fun of your not-so-charming-anymore infatuation with comic book characters. This kind of suck I can tolerate.

But the plot sequencing in Iron Man is so utterly tragic that it’s a wonder why viewers don’t walk out of this movie offended. Here’s a spoiler: Pepper Potts finds out who the real bad guy is and that he orchestrated an assassination attempt on Tony Stark’s life. She hurriedly walks out of the bad man’s office. The next scene shows Tony lounging on his sofa casually as he gets a call from Pepper, undoubtedly to warn him of his would-be killer. But oops! Just as he goes to pick up the phone, the bad guy pops up behind him and gets him!

Now, I may be a complete moron, but how did this situation come about exactly? Did Pepper rush out of the bad guy’s office but make a stop at Starbucks for a venti latte before deciding to, you know, CALL HER BOSS TONY STARK AND TELL HIM THAT HE IS IN DANGER? What was going on in the two hours between these scenes? I tried to make a timeline of the movie but it just made my head hurt. Apparently it only takes a few days to build a state-of-the-art robotic suit.

Movie Timeline

Speaking of flying body armor, if the best enemy we could come up with is ANOTHER guy in flying body armor then we may as well all just give up. It just smacks of Knight Rider complex. Hey, Michael Knight was a bad dude and we all loved Kitt, but how many 80’s bad guys did we need to see build their own super cars before it jumped the shark?

Here you have these two robotic suits trying to squish each other but they are impenetrable. I’m not going to get mad that all Hollywood movies require masked characters take off their masks to remind the dumbasses watching who they’re looking at. Targeting computers not working is only a bit more contrived than Peter Parker’s Spiderman mask ripping perfectly halfway after all. But I let out an audible chuckle when bad Iron Man crushed good Iron Man’s helmet effortlessly in his hands after Tony Stark removed it. If it was that easy to crush the titanium-whatever Iron Man suit then why didn’t you do that BEFORE WHEN YOU WERE GRABBING HIM? And targeting computer or no, if you have a mini-rpg and your target is 10 feet away, you need to actually try to miss him that far off and that many times.

But I digress. With such a good start, about the only thing the movie did consistently was get more and more ridiculous until I absolutely hated it at the end.

And quit putting Samuel L. Jackson in movies.