Best Video Games of 2013…

…at least according to Luke Winkie for

Of the nine games listed, I’ve played exactly…three of them.  One third.

Dead Rising 3 is a fun and seriously goofy game.  As mentioned in the review, the idea of riding a steamroller over a hoard of zombies is both outrageous and hilarious.  The game also feels like something between an old style video game and a full on story.  I haven’t reached the end of it yet, but I agree it is a pretty fun ride…at least so far.

BioShock Infinite is a gorgeous looking game that I found pretty fun to play with but which also got rather repetitious.  As for the ending, that was easily the best thing about it.  Having said that, as interesting as the ending revelations were, they didn’t blown me away quite as much as this reviewer.  In some respects the looping ending invalidated the game itself, creating an almost “it was all a dream” type resolution.  I certainly give the creative team points for going for such a bold story line but I can’t help but be stuck on the fact that the game itself got rather repetitious as it went along.  I liked it, but didn’t “love” it.

One might be tempted to compare The Last of Us with the far more goofy Dead Rising 3 to see the alpha and omega of zombie games.  Both deal with people trying to survive through a zombie type apocalypse, but while DR3 has its tongue in cheek, The Last of Us plays its story out very seriously.  At times, devastatingly so.  There are characters within the game you grow to like quite a bit.  There are some that are lost along the way and the emotional impact is certainly there.  The ending is also an interesting one and it made me wonder if the choices being made were appropriate…or a mistake by the lead character.  All in all, I would have to rank this game, at least among those I played (and bearing in mind I am hardly a game “freak” who has had the opportunity to sample everything released this year) among the best of the year.  Haunting, profoundly touching, and at times very exciting.  A downbeat game for sure, but an enjoyable experience.

Small Town Noir

I was looking at one of my favorite websites, Slate magazine, and found this article by Rebecca Onion regarding five of her favorite websites of 2013.  Check them out:

I point out the link because within it is a great websites called “Small Town Noir”, which features mug shots and history of people arrested in New Castle, Pennsylvania between “1930 and 1960” (this description isn’t entirely accurate as I’ve found some mugshots from the 1970’s).

The thing that makes this website so fascinating is that not only do you get a mugshot of various criminals and a description of their crime(s).  The website’s administrators have been able to get a decent history of many of the individuals both before, during, and after their crimes, in some cases all the way up to their passing.  I’ve always been fascinated with these sort of things, to see if someone who did something bad at one time long ago might have “cleaned” themselves up and led a better life.  And if not, what happened to them?

Check it out, it is really fascinating:

The 10 Most Interesting Things People Said About the Future…

…at least according to Patrick Tucker for

Some of the quotes presented really make you stop and think, like the very first one:

As much as 45 percent of the jobs that currently exist in the United States will be taken over by computers or artificial intelligence systems by 2045.

This quote, by Nick Bostrom director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford, is a quote that I think we’re beginning to see as reality today.  While there are those in political spheres quick to blame one party or the other for unemployment, I’ve felt that part of the reason -a big part- may well have to do with the complete change in how so many people buy things today.

As I’ve mentioned perhaps too many times, there are no longer music stores because you can now download just about any music you want legally and, unfortunately, illegally via the internet.  The same is happening to books and movies, which makes it not all that surprising that once very big stores like Blockbuster and Borders have gone under.  Once these stores are gone, so too are the jobs they provided to local economies.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

As much as I love, the reality is that you can order almost everything you want from that online store and that means, again, that local stores will suffer.  There was a news clip on CNN about the problems UPS has had with delivering gifts during this holiday season (amounting to delays of perhaps a day or two).  They interviewed one person “on the street” who noted most of the gifts arrived on time but one intended for him has yet to show up.  While he wasn’t too worried about the delay, he noted “I don’t go to stores to buy anything anymore.”

A chilling statement to local retailers, for sure.

Another interesting comment:

Big business decisions will be made not be experts or intuition but by big data and predictive analytics

Virginia Rometty, CEO and chairwoman of IBM made this statement and it reminds me of another interesting thing I read, this time about sports and how metadata on athletes are beginning to be used/available to everyone.

The impact is clear: We’ll get a better understanding of all things (not just in sports) by analyzing bulk data.  Will Product/Athlete X be a success?  We can chart Product/Athlete X to an astonishing degree nowadays and will gradually come to a better understanding of what might work…and what will not.  In sports, the effect on gambling should be quite interesting as we’ll have a far better chance of predicting winners and losers.

But also, with big data we can predict if a business or a product will make it as well.  The old adage about Hollywood that “nobody knows anything” might eventually get turned on its head and movies may become better conceived and targeted for maximum profits.

However, where does this end?  Will products become better or more and more average (or worse!)?  After all, what everyone likes may well be something that is pleasing enough yet not all that great to begin with.

Anyway, enough of me.  Give the list a look.  There are plenty of fascinating quotes there to mull over.

We’re The Millers (2013) a (mildly) belated review

I love raunchy comedies that strip peoples’ carefully crafted masks of “goodness” to reveal that deep down inside, all of us share a streak of immorality, incompetence, and idocity.

One of my favorite recent shows to do this was Reno 911!, which took a cue from the far more serious show Cops! and portrayed a bizarro-world police force full of incompetent (pardon my language) assholes that you just knew lurked not only in the halls of justice but probably in every job in every corner of the planet.

With We’re the Millers, I didn’t really get all that excited with the film until I saw red band trailers:

A group of lowlifes forced to pose as a typical “whitebread” American family so they can smuggle drugs from Mexico into the U.S., all while bickering and cussing each other out?

Count me in!

I tried but failed to see the film when it was released in theaters.  I put it on my Netflix list and, soon enough, it showed up.  Would I find the film as amusing as the commercials?

In a word, unfortunately, no.

Mind you, the film isn’t a total bust, though the very best bits are in the commercial.  There are other bits here and there that are amusing but the film unfortunately takes a too predictable turn toward the maudlin and becomes waaay too “nice”.  When it does, it loses the sharp comedic edge that I hoped would continue throughout (one thing about Reno 911! that amused me is that these characters were losers from the get go and there was never –ever– a chance they would be anything but losers in the end).

So, yeah, the film plays out in a sadly typical and too-expected Hollywood-Committee-Writer way.  The “good guys” in the end do the right thing and the “bad guys” get their comeuppance and the dysfunctional Millers grow into something of a real family.

Ho hum.

How strange.  Here I am on Christmas Day bemoaning a film for being about family!

For those interested and as I pointed out before, We’re the Millers isn’t a total bust, just a film that eventually takes a too-safe story path and wimps out on its initial premise.  It is far, far from the worst comedy I’ve ever seen, but it is also one I hoped could have been sharper, more pointed, and, ultimately, better.

Nosferatu (1922) an (insanely) belated review

The above title is a bit of a misnomer.  My review isn’t so much about the groundbreaking, absolutely excellent 1922 film as much as about the just released 2013 Kino BluRay HD remaster of Nosferatu.

In a word: Wow.

I’ve listed my top three films of all time before (Metropolis, Orpheus, and 2001: A Space Odyssey).  If I were to expand the list to four, Nosferatu would get strong consideration to be the next entry.  I consider it THE best adaptation (illegal though it was) of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  For those who don’t know, Bram Stoker’s widow sued the studio that released Nosferatu, claiming copyright infringement on her husband’s work.  She won the lawsuit (not a big surprise as the film is essentially Dracula) and it was ordered that all prints of the film be destroyed.  Many were.  Luckily for us, not all.

While Dracula may be best known for its Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee characterization, you’ve never seen a vampire quite as sinister as Max Shreck’s Count Orlok.

When I heard Kino was working on a remastered version of the film, I knew I had to have it.  I’ve seen Nosferatu at least a dozen times with varying degrees of visual clarity, from muddy to pretty good.

The Kino BluRay is easily the best of the lot.

Images are incredibly clear.  Yes, there is grain and scratch marks here and there (we are talking about a film that is close to 100 years old!), but I can honestly say watching this version of the film is like seeing it for the proverbial first time.  Details that I hadn’t noticed before came to incredible life.  For example, the opening shot of the city and church, something that never impressed me in previous versions I had seen of the film, was simply eye-popping.

And that was the very opening scene!

If, like me, you’re already fan of the film and have one or more copies of it on disc and are on the fence about whether to buy the BluRay, don’t.  This is VERY MUCH worth getting.  You’ll likely throw away just about every other version of the film you have.  If you’ve never seen Nosferatu before and are curious to see it, this is the version you should get.  Hell, even if you’re not a big fan of silent films, I can’t see how anyone with even a little curiosity about this classic wouldn’t find something to enjoy within.

Nosferatu is a truly seminal work.  And now, as released in BluRay, you can enjoy it as if it were almost brand new.

Highly recommended.

Some interesting trivia about the film can be found at IMDB’s page devoted to the film.  Check it out:

Two of my favorites:

The character of Nosferatu is only seen on screen for a bit less than nine minutes in total throughout the whole film.

I can totally believe it!  Nosferatu, as depicted in this film, is a menace that lurks over all the film’s protagonists.  Though he doesn’t have that much screen time, per se, his presence is felt almost from the first minutes and certainly until the last.

Ruth Landshoff, the actress who played the hero’s sister once described a scene in which she fled the vampire, running along a beach. That scene is not in any version of the film.

Ms. Landshoff’s character is present for much of the film and, toward the end SPOILERS!!! we see that she, like many of the other townspeople, has succumbed to Nosferatu’s “plague”.  Yet we never really find out what became of her, suspecting she like so many others died but not knowing for sure.  Perhaps there was a further scene like what is described above that was filmed to show her actually falling to Nosferatu yet was ultimately not used.  Very interesting stuff.

David Byrne interview…

A few days back I linked to a fascinating interview with David Allen (read it here), one time bass player for the punk band Gang of Four and he presented some really interesting food for thought regarding music as a career (and, in turn, the arts in general) in this internet age.

Mr. Allen was interviewed in part as a reaction to comments by David Byrne, late of the very popular band The Talking Heads, who wrote an equally fascinating book about the music industry.  He is interviewed in the link below, and offers plenty of other interesting thoughts regarding the age of the internet and the place of music…and whether it can survive because of the internet.

The article/interview is subtitled “Do you really think people are going to put time and effort into this, if no one is making money?”  A great question.  Please, read on:

I think Mr. Byrne’s worry is certainly a valid one.  The Beatles, as good as they became, benefited from several years of working hard in low paying clubs to hone their craft.  Even with the release and popularity of their early albums, the fact that they made money allowed them to continue on the path they chose and were able to grow, musically, and create what I feel are the career defining albums that followed (to me, roughly from Help! on).

Today, I worry there are people out there -in music, in writing, in the arts, etc.- who may be making good but “rough” stuff at this stage and, given time, certainly have the possibility of shining in their fields.  In this day and age, however, and with the internet able to essentially give away these works for “free” (be it piracy, shared files, etc.), how long will it be before many of these struggling artists simply give up and find a job that pays?

One might argue on the other side that being an “artist” has always been a struggle and one never knows if what you do will ever be successful.  If one looks at the literary field, for every Stephen King who succeeds in becoming a famous author during his lifetime, you also have the likes of Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft, authors whose works didn’t become well known until after they passed away.

And so it goes.

Duck Dynasty…

My family really likes the show…they consider it quite hilarious.  Apparently, so do other members of my extended family.

Myself?  Never watched it…until -coincidentally enough- over the past weekend when I was “treated” to two Christmas themed episodes (I was a captive audience).

The fact that I put the word treated in quotes -and noted I was a captive audience- should clue you in to my ultimate feelings about what I saw.  I won’t deny there was some humor to be had in a couple of scenes, but for two hours of watching, I found the whole thing to be a chore.  Later, I was told these episodes were pretty mediocre compared to some of the better episodes of the show, but when -really if– I ever find the time to see them, I’ll judge for myself.  Just don’t count on it.

Anyway, a couple of days after seeing the show for the first (and very likely the last) time, came the controversial (to say the least) statements of the show’s patriarch, Phil Robertson regarding homosexuality and, we’re now learning, race.  His comments have earned him a suspension from his own show, and naturally his family have come to his defense as have, apparently, the show’s very many fans…

What struck me about the article was the following quote which was part of a statement released by the Robertson family on Phil’s behalf:

We are disappointed that Phil has been placed on hiatus for expressing his faith, which is his constitutionally protected right.

I’m a VERY big proponent of the First Amendment.  I very much believe in the Freedom of Speech.  But what many people who find themselves in trouble for the stupid things they say don’t realize is that Freedom of Speech goes both ways.  You certainly are free to state whatever opinions or ideas you have, even if these ideas are arguably hateful and/or downright stupid.

HOWEVER, others have the same Freedom of Speech to express their opinions regarding your speech: That they feel what you have said amounts to hateful or ignorant comments.

In this case A&E, the television company airing Duck Dynasty, has every right to be bothered (the kindest word I could think of) by Mr. Robertson’s statements, even if the family feels the statements he made are “his beliefs…grounded in the teachings of the Bible“.

I can’t help but wonder where this will go.  Despite my lack of enthusiasm for it, Duck Dynasty is a very popular show.  Will A&E drop it?  Will the Robertson family force it to do just that?  If so, will there be another network out there that will take it (Spoiler: I suspect so).

Stay tuned…