Sunday, March 26, 2006
Introverts and a Curious Guy
Time is short this week, so here's a few interesting links:
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Offbeat Movie Corner
Since mainstream fare has been a bit anemic lately, I've been trying to find some movies off the beaten path. The results have been reasonably rewarding when I can actually find and get to these types of movies:
Monday, March 13, 2006
Piecing Together Obscurity
A few days ago, Steven Den Beste posted an analysis of the Matrix films. He approached the films from an engineer's standpoint and attempted to provide a logical explanation (free of pseudo-philosophical meta-babble) for why the people (or AI programs) in the film acted the way they did. It's definitely an interesting read, and has gotten lots of attention lately.
In response, a screenwriter named John August posted a short rant on why the Matrix trilogy ultimately blows. At one point, he concisely describes something I've been thinking about with respect to a few other movies:
Lord knows, I’m not pining for simplicity or tidy answers. I’m happy with some ambiguity. But “incomprehensible” is not a synonym for “clever.”This is the perfect description for how I feel about Syriana. The film is many things, but simplistic is not one of them. In fact, the primary observation most reviews offer is that it is mindnumbingly dense. It's got an overabundance of plot, and in order to tell the story it wants to tell it assumes the audience is familiar with a large number of concepts. To say the film is convoluted and ambiguous is an understatement. Director and writer Stephen Gaghan has said of his film that there are no easy answers, that there are no good guys and no bad guys. There aren't traditional story arcs, and the cynical connections and stories don't resolve themselves by the end of the film. It's told on an incredibly broad canvas and it's difficult to approach.
Indeed, when I came out of the theater, I couldn't help but feel a sense of absolute despair. Syriana took a lot of heat for being a "message" film. A movie where the filmmakers do nothing but preach to you for 2 hours. And to some extent, there are some messages that do get through (i.e. an indigtment of the American blah blah blah). I'm not sure if despair is what they were shooting for, but I don't think you can avoid it while watching this movie. However, after a few days of letting the film stew in my head, I realized why the despair was unwarranted.
In the Cinecast review of Syriana, the hosts mention that Gaghan is so busy telling the story that you really have trouble keeping up. They make an observation about several pieces of dialogue, especially early in the film, in which someone will say something really provocative... and then the scene ends and you're immediately wisked away to some other part of the world. It leaves you feeling disoriented and it's difficult to keep up. But the feeling fades. Regardless of what Gaghan wants you to think when you see this movie or how the world really does work (and I suppose cynicysm is warranted when it comes to such issues), that sort of filmmaking ultimately leaves me suspicious. It's "Playing obscurity for depth."
Sometimes this works. Stories can sometimes get away with tricks like this because they force you to piece the story together by yourself (and in itself, that is entertaining and fun), but in a politically charged movie like Syriana it falls flat (on the other hand, I can't imagine anyone making a movie like this that wouldn't fall flat on that level). There's a lot to like about the movie, and it does an admirable job asking uncomfortable questions and raising provocative issues. Gaghan does a good job pacing the film and weaving the various storylines together, but I think he tries to do a bit too much on too broad of a canvas (by contrast, I think Traffic, also written by Gaghan, does a much better job). While I honestly don't believe that Gaghan gets too preachy in forcing some sort of agenda on the audience, I'm not sure I agree with where this film goes either. I can see reasons for cynicism, but I don't think that warrants the despair I see in the film.
This post got a bit out of hand, didn't it? Anyway, speaking of Gaghan, there's an excellent audio inteview up at Creative Screenwriting Magazine (warning: very large audio file) in which Gaghan describes his early career and his process for researching and writing Syriana. It's a great interview and Gaghan is very forthright about where he's coming from and what he's trying to do. Highly recommended if you're interested. Definitely an interesting fellow. (On an almost completely unrelated note, an inteview of Eli Roth, writer/director of Hostel, is also available on the Creative Screenwriting podcast)
Sunday, March 12, 2006
GalCiv II: Kaedrinian Victory
This is a continuation of a Galactic Civilizations II game example I started a few weeks ago. In the Rise of the Kaedrinians, I recounted the birth of the Kaedrinian empire as well as its first major conflict with the adorable but deadly Snathi. With the conquest of the high quality Snathi homeworld, my empire was doing reasonably well and had secured reasonable long term prospects for success.
However, it would not be long before the Kaedrinian empire had another challenger. The Kaedrinians had neutral or close relationships with almost every other civilization. However, The Drengin Empire, perhaps jealous over our conquest of Snathi, were not too happy with the Kaedrinians. They had not declared war just yet, but I could see the writing on the wall... And to make matters worse, the Drengins discovered some precursor machines on the Drengin Homeworld that doubled their planetary quality. This would be problematic. Their military abilities were further developed and this added capacity (once fully utilized) would give them a higher industrial base (one that I probably could not match).
At war with the Drengin Empire
It did not take long for tensions to escalate into full-scale war. The Drengin ships seem to exclusively use missile-type weapons, which meant that my current generation battleship, the Space Lion, would be outmatched (it only featured a small shielding mechanism not meant to defend against missiles). Thus work began on a new prototype:
The Hunter Class Battle Cruiser
Offensively, this isn't much different than the Space Lion, but it has a drastically improved defensive system which should be able to stop anything the Drengins throw at me. Indeed, the Hunter class ships live up to their name, annihilating the entire Drengin fleet in two weeks of battle, taking only negligible damage. A few weeks later, and the ground invasions begin, making quick work of the Drengin empire. Two new planets are mine, including the Drengin homeworld, which rates a 20 in planet quality (this is the highest in the known galaxy, significantly higher than even the Snathi homeworld).
A fleet of Hunter class starships in orbit around the newly acquired Drengi
At this point, I control a significant portion of the galaxy, and my influence is on the rise. It looks like I could pull off an influence-based victory if I start building and upgrading starbases in key positions. As I make preparations, two events occur that would force another change in strategy. First, it appears that the United Planets (like the UN, but with galactic civilizations instead of countries) had built a prison facility on an Altarian planet. This gave the Altarians a boost in production capabilities, as they could use the prisoners as a cheap source of labor. However, as you might expect from a United Planets type organization, the plan has backfired and the prisoners have escaped, hijacking several ships. I'll need to keep an eye out for these new pirates, who are sure to be intercepting trade routes and generally causing mischief.
The prisoners have escaped!
On its own, this would not prompt much in the way of action from me, but a few weeks later, another unexpected event rocks the galaxy:
The Altarians declare war on the Kaedrinians!
The assassination of their leader has set off another war, one which I'm not especially prepared for. Unlike the Drengin, the Altarians have spread their research into a diverse set of weaponry. They have ships utilzing beam weapons, missiles, and mass drivers. What's more, they've also developed certain defenses and fortified their territory with military starbases, giving their ships a significant boost in capabilities. This war was going to get ugly. The Hunter class battle cruisers that had served me so well in the Drengin campaigns would crumble under the diverse weaponry of the Altarians. It was time to develop the next generation warship:
The Wildcat Class Battle Cruiser
Again, this ship's weaponry has not changed much (it's smaller, but of the same power and type), but it will still pack a solid punch against the Altarian ships. What's important about the Wildcat is that it can defend against any weapons thrown at it. It doesn't handle any attacks as well as the Hunter handled missiles, but it still has quality defenses. Also, since I had spent some time early on in the game developing a large economic base, I was able to purchase several Wildcats at once and deploy them against the Altarians. However, during the design and construction of the Wildcat fleet, several hunter class ships had fallen against the Altarian onslaught. The Altarians even attempted a ground invasion of Drengi, which, thankfully, was repelled decisively. Once the Wildcat arrived on the scene, things turned around in fairly short order. The Wildcats were first used to take out the Altarians' military starbases, thus removing their most important advantage. After that, things went much better:
Kaedrinian Task Force Alpha takes on some Altarians
Without their starbase bonuses, the Altarian ships are no match for the Wildcat. In their first engagement with Altarian forces, the Wildcat performed superbly, destroying two Altarian capital ships while taking only minimal losses.
After decimating the rest of their fleet with my Wildcats, the Altarians begin to have second thoughts...
Altarians offer peace...
My planetary invasion fleet was already on its way, so my answer here was pretty much irrelevant. However, my fleet was intercepted by pirates (remember those escaped prisoners?) and destroyed! It turns out that the pirate ships have very heavy missile defenses, which means my missile weaponry was ineffective. Therefore, even though I had a Wildcat escort, the entire fleet was destroyed (the Wildcats have diverse defenses, but not as extensive as the pirates' so the battle took quite a while, but eventually the Wildcat succumbed to the relentless pirates), including my invasion force of two billion troops! Ouch! And what's this? It seems that the Yor Collective have seized on the Altarians' temporary weakness and sent an invasion fleet of their own. Crap! The Yor have stolen two Altarian planets. The Altarians, sensing the writing on the wall, surrender their remaining planets to the Torians. Damn, all that work and I didn't even gain a single planet!
On the other hand, my civilization was finally at peace with all of the remaining civilizations, and my influence had spread far. Checking my stats, I saw that I was quite close to an influence victory. All I needed to do was build a few new influence starbases and enhance them with some cultural improvements. In relatively short order, the soft power of Kaedrinian culture had infected the rest of the galaxy, flooding the markets with Kaedrinian products like the ikorx:
Say hello to ikorx
Victory! The Kaedrinians have conquered the galaxy not with weapons, but with ideas. All praise tallman!
A very satisfying game! For those interested, loyal Kaedrin readers who've been persuaded to purchase the game (I wonder why?) have posted their experiences on the Kaedrin forum. Read all about the Samaelian empire (with their leader, Skeletor). Also, the game seems to be doing incredibly well:
The second manufacturing run of Galactic Civilizations II has sold out. We've now shipped more units of GalCiv II in the first 10 days than the total retail sales of the first GalCiv in its entire history.If my experiences so far are any indication, GalCiv II deserves every last penny.
Sunday, March 05, 2006
This has become something of a tradition here, so I figured I might as well continue the trend and blog the Oscars live tonight (if you're interested, I liveblogged the Oscars in 2004 and 2005). Check back for frequent updates, and feel free to hang around and leave comments to play along...
To start things off, here are my picks for the major awards:
Update 8:58 pm: Will Ferrell and Steve Carell are brilliant as usual with their makeup bit.
Update 9:03 pm: Morgan Freeman is drunk! (Yes, I know he probably isn't, but it's more fun to speculate)
Update 9:08 pm: Damn you Rachel Weisz! Now that she's one, it seems blindingly obvious that she would...
Update 9:12 pm: Lauren Bacall is also drunk! Noir films am good.
Update 9:17 pm: Political ads for best actress nominees are classic. "Hagging it up" hehe.
Update 9:23 pm: "Thank you in penguin?" You're a tool, in English.
Update 9:25 pm: One of the big reasons people are favoring Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture is that people think that the academy, which is predominantly liberal, will want to stick it to those who are afraid of men loving men. But then I realized that a large number of films this year have similar stick-it-to-the-man qualities. Crash has racism, Munich has terrorism, Good Night, and Good Luck has Communists, Syriana and The Constant Gardener have evil multi-national corporations, the list goes on and on, and they're all directly applicable to our current day political situations (i.e. they're preachy). I wonder if this is related to why the 5 nominees for Best Picture have quite possibly the lowest average box-office gross ever. As John Scalzi put it:
At this moment, the three highest-grossing Best Picture nominees (Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Munich) have done less business in aggregate than the single Adam Sandler film The Longest Yard, and only barely edge out the terrible Superhero film Fantastic Four. All five combined made less than Madagascar -- or the 2000 Best Picture, Gladiator. The average domestic gross of the Best Picture films this year at the time of their nomination is $37.1 million; adjusted for inflation, I suspect strongly this is the lowest-grossing class of Best Picture nominees in the entire eight-decade history of the Academy Awards. Whichever film eventually wins is very likely to be the first Best Picture in a decade not to crack the $100 million mark -- the last Best Picture to fail that was The English Patient.As Scalzi notes, that doesn't mean the films are bad, but it does prompt some questions, especially in light of Hollywood's complaining about their declining business. Either they're using their most talented artists in films that no one wants to watch, or they're not promoting or backing their best films. It's probably a little of both, but it's still a strange situation to be in. Personally, the high-political content of the nominees this year turns me off. Even if they're excellent films (and the several that I've seen actually are), I'm so burnt out on politics that I really just don't want to put up with it. In fact, that makes the selection of Jon Stewart to host a very shrewd one. Stewart has made a career out of pulling in people who are sick of the political BS...
Update 9:36 pm: Samuel L. Jackson talks about what I was just talking about. This update is really just an excuse to mention Jackson's forthcoming masterpiece (which is sure to garner some Academy Awards next year): Snakes on a Plane (which is apparently about exactly what you'd expect it's about). Also, if it were commercially viable, I think the movie would and should have been called Snakes on a Motherfucking Plane. Alas, it appears they're having difficulty sticking to just Snakes on a Plane, but Samuel's sticking to his guns and refuses to do the project if they change the name. Way to go Sam!
Update 9:41 pm: Oh no, the president of the Academy! Run! Save yourself! He will devour us all in his black hole of a personality! Close your eyes, or your face will melt like that guy in Raiders when the open the Ark.
Update 9:44 pm: Mmmm, salsa. I mean Salma.
Update 9:57 pm: Jake Gyllenhaal's speech here would have been much more effective if there had been a creepy bunny named Frank standing behind him. Also, does it strike anyone else as odd that everyone keeps stressing how great seeing movies in the theater is? This is a whole big long discussion that is perhaps best saved for another post, but I still find it kinda strange... I guess a little subtlety is too much to ask. Hahah, "solute to montages" great line, Jon.
Update 10:01 pm: Jessica Alba looks really, really, really happy. Look at that smile! She must be drunk.
Update 10:03 pm: Is that Jack Nicholson's daughter, or his date?
Update 10:05 pm: Drunk! Streep and Tomlin. They're both drunk! Possibly high.
Update 10:06 pm: Definitely high.
Update 10:13 pm: Andrew Olmsted is also Oscarblogging. Check it out: start at Part 1 and move on from there. Presumably more on the way. He gives a much more readable recap than I. Also, no "drunk" comments. (Crap, Movable Type keeps spamming him with pings, so I'm going to remove the individual links and hope that helps...)
Update 10:28 pm: Jennifer Garner: drunk. Yes, I know, this joke has probably worn out its welcome, but I still think it's funny:P Sue me. Also, I like how even Stewart is wondering why the Triple Six Mafia are the most excited people at the event...
Update 10:33 pm: I thought Stewart's "We've run out of clips" line was clever... but there's been like 10 montages since then, including the current dead folks montage. I figure we're in for another 5-10 before the night is done.
Update 10:38 pm: Comedy is all in the timing. Will Smith's bit about saying hello would have worked so much better if he went on saying it in different languages for another minute or so. Anyway, I've wanted to see Tsotsi for a while, but it's not playing anywhere! But from what I understand, it's deserving. And I'm glad we don't have to deal with the controversy of Paradise Now. Of course, I guess it's also controversial that it didn't win. *sigh*
Update 10:41 pm: Stewart: "Martin Scorsese - 0 Oscars. Three 6 Mafia - 1" Poor Scorsese... one of these days, the Academy will come through with a sympathy award for him. In Cinecast's top 10 Oscar Blunders, they pointed out three blunders relating to Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas and I completely agree. There's always next year...
Update 10:45 pm: Anticipating the win, let me tell my Capote story. I saw Capote this weekend, and I'll note that I like Philip Seymour Hoffman a lot and that I've heard so much about the performance that I really didn't expect what happened. I forgot that Philip Seymour Hoffman was playing a role, and just saw Truman Capote as a character in himself. I don't even know anything about Truman Capote, I just forgot it was Philip Seymour Hoffman, and that's saying a lot. Shockingly, it's not a showy performance, despite the voice and the mannerisms. It's a truly brilliant performance, and he is fully deserving of the award. Kudos Philip!
Update 10:53 pm: The Oscars is no Superbowl, but they do seem to roll out some special commercials during this time, most notably the M. Night Shyamalan commercial, which was great...
Update 10:57 pm: Interesting that no picture seems to be running away with all the awards. I am quite surprised to see Memoirs of a Geisha winning an award, but that seems to be the trend. Will all the films nominated win some sort of award? No snubbs (of films)?
Update 11:00 pm: Look at Keira's eyes! She's drunk! Oscar goes to Reese Witherspoon. I guess all those political ads Stewart showed earlier paid off.
Update 11:01 pm: Wait, wait, wait, WAIT! June Carter was a real woman? (I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought that was odd)
Update 11:09 pm: Best Adapted Screenplay goes to Brokeback Mountain. Shocking! Though I have to admit, the way the other awards were going, I thought this one might go to one of the other adapations... there were certainly... wait a sec, she is just way too pretentious with her speech. Jeeze, give it a rest. He's a little better.... anyway, there were certainly some other good choices in the category.
Update 11:13 pm: Best Original Screenplay goes to Crash. Another shocker. What's really shocking is that I'm 9 for 11 in my predictions so far.
Update 11:20 pm: Ang Lee gets the nod (apparently this is his third nomination, so there you go Ang, you've avoided the Scorsese trap). Oooo, did he just curse in another language? That would be hilarious, but it's probably something lame like "Thanks."
Update 11:23 pm: Yes, Jack Nicholson is indeed Drunk. Or high. Probably both. And the Best Picture Oscar goes to... Crash? Holy crap! Totally wasn't expecting that! I mean, yeah, a lot of critics love it, but I was expecting gay cowboys all the way...
Update 11:30 pm: I was 10 for 13 with my picks, which is around 77%. Not too shabby. Overall, it was a decent night, though I did miss the beginning, which is usually the funniest part. Stewart seemed like a great host throughout the night, but I really need to see the beginning to get a good feel. Perhaps it'll be up on Google video or YouTube or something... but for now, I'm beat. Have a great night...
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
GalCiv II: Rise of the Kaedrinians!
Galactic Civilizations II continues to occupy the majority of my free time, and I wanted to try showing a game example (similar to this one by one of the game's creators, though my example won't be as thorough). I'll be showing how I was able to secure good long term prospects at the beginning of my second game.
I played my first game as the Terran Alliance (humans), and one of the most enjoyable things I've noticed about the game is the ability to customize various aspects, such as planet names and ship designs. So this time, I decided to create a new race, the Kaedrinians (long time readers should get a kick out of that), and installed tallman as their emperor.
Update: Moved screenshots and commentary to the extended entry. Click below to see full entry...
(Click images for a larger version, usually with more information)
Welcome to planet Kaedrin!
I set up the galaxy so it was relatively small and had relatively few habitable planets. This may turn out to be my undoing. My typical strategy in these types of games is to expand quickly and get a foothold in several starsystems to start. The Kaedrin system was blessed to have two habitable planets, Kaedrin (which is my homeworld) and Vizzard II, a very low quality planet. After a cursory examination of the surrounding starsystems, I had not found any other habitable planets. As I expanded my search, I saw that most of my opponents were luckier in terms of colonization. Nevertheless, I was able to secure one planet that was relatively far away from my homeworld. However, that planet was also of a relatively low quality. Low quality planets don't support nearly as many enhancements or production capacity. These would serve me well at the beginning of the game, but would become less and less important as time went on.
Despite their cuteness factor, I could not let such nefarious beings continue to exist. Plus, their planet was of an obscenely high quality. It was a real gem. The highest quality planet I'd seen in the galaxy, and thus ideally suited for my purposes of galactic expansion. The Snathi appeared to be farther along in cultivating their planet than I, and were churning out constructors and freighters at a relatively high rate. Lucky for me, neither of those ship classes had any military capacity (no weapons or shields). However, this fortuitous state would not hold forever. I had to act fast if I was to take the planet (I also had to worry about one of the other major civilizations making a run for this ripe planet. Luckily, because they only had one planet, I didn't have to worry about the annoying surrender factor.)
In order to invade, I would need to research a few technologies and build an invasion fleet. The fleet would include a troop transport and a combat escort. The transport ship is one of the core ships and once I had researched the planetary invasion technology, building that ship would be simple. The combat escort, however, presented me with an opportunity to utilize my favorite feature of GalCiv II, the customized ship builder. After researching a number of technologies, I was finally ready to design my first warship, the Space Lion:
The Space Lion Class Battle Cruiser
Armed with Stinger II missiles and basic Shields, the Space Lion wasn't unstoppable, but she packed an impressive punch despite being constructed so early in the game. After constructing my fleet and making the long journey to the Snathi homeworld, I was ready to invade. There was just one problem. My technology is still relatively unsophisticated, so I could only transport around 1 billion troops for the invasion. And the Snathi homeworld had a population of 16 billion people! I was drastically outnumbered, so I decided to pay a little extra and use one of the specialized invasion tactics. Many of the invasion tactics result in a large advantage for the invader, but also lower planetary quality and improvements, which is antithetical to my purpose for the invasion. Thus I decided to go for Information warfare. This would cause a significant portion of the enemy troops to join my ranks, thus mitigating their numerical superiority (though I would still be outnumbered), but more importantly, it would leave the planet quality and improvements unharmed. The invasion begins:
The Snathi Invasion
Victory! The Information Warfare tactic paid off in spades, giving me an extra 2.5 billion troops. I was still outnumbered, but my advantage factor was so much higher that it did not matter. I was able dispatch the adorable but monstrous Snathi with relative ease. The planet was mine!
My New Planet
And what a planet it was. Look at all those manufacturing and technology centers. In terms of industry and research, it was significantly better than my own homeworld of Kaedrin, and I suspect it will quickly become the jewel of the Kaedrinian empire, researching, building and producing more than any other planet. Will I succeed in galactic conquest? Nothing is definite, but now that I have secured this planet, I am primed and ready to go. I'll end my account here, as time does not permit recapping the entire game, but I though this was a natural place to stop.
Update: Read more on this campaign: The continuing adventures of the Kaedrinians
Where am I?
This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in March 2006.
Kaedrin Beer Blog
12 Days of Christmas
2006 Movie Awards
2007 Movie Awards
2008 Movie Awards
2009 Movie Awards
2010 Movie Awards
2011 Fantastic Fest
2011 Movie Awards
2012 Movie Awards
2013 Movie Awards
6 Weeks of Halloween
Arts & Letters
Computers & Internet
Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections
Philadelphia Film Festival 2006
Philadelphia Film Festival 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival 2009
Philadelphia Film Festival 2010
Science & Technology
Security & Intelligence
The Dark Tower
Weird Book of the Week
Weird Movie of the Week
Copyright © 1999 - 2012 by Mark Ciocco.