Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Repo Man (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] Review

Outer cover
So it turns out the fringe cult film that helped define my 14+ onward youth is now getting the recognition it deserves. I can't help but think, too, of A Clockwork Orange, which I also discovered as a kid and worshipped as well. As I grew older and acquired some semblance of a brain, I realized that there was more going on in both films than just apathetic youth stumbling around causing truble.

Repo Man was, first and foremost, completely hilarious. Its irreverence for everything and everyone, particularly authority, was what drew me to it in the first place. When I watch the film I am reminded of going out skating in the parking lot of a dry cleaners after hours, as well as aimlessly roaming around with my friends. Aimlessly. That pretty much sums it up. I may not have been able to put my finger on what it was about the film back then that made it great, but complex, pseudo-intellectual explanations were not high on my list as a kid. It was just a "great film" or "funny as hell" and above all, extremely quotable. Quoting films has pretty much caught on as a sort of sub-language now within our culture. Back then, well, spouting off quotes from a film my parents had no idea existed was almost like speaking a secret code.

Many of the films from back when I was a teen faded. Crap like Commando and Die Hard, that I thought were "the best films ever made," kinda seem like dog shit now, and aside from the nostalgia factor, hold little substance. Not so with Repo Man. It's not even bad-good—like some of my youthful sinful pleasure films are. Films I still personally enjoy, like Time Rider (also produced by Michale Nesmith) and Vision Quest (dont judge me), dont stand out as particularly important in the history of cinema. I doubt they'll even garner a blurb in future film books. Not so with Repo Man. The film has stood the test of time, and exposes—kinda—sociological trends of the time in a not-so-obvious way. It's wacky, zany, science fiction sub-story seems utterly ridiculous, but it turns out we have become an extremely ultra, consumer-driven, paranoid society today. Looking back, Repo Man is clearly shedding a light from out of a Chevy Malibu trunk on this. Miller's rant about UFOs, time machines, Myans, plates of shrimp, and more, holds some possible truths about coincidences—perhaps being more than random—as well as the significance of contemporary paranoia, and wraps it all up in one well-acted, poetic verse. Turns out, after watching the commentary, Cox just wrote that monologue up to have something for auditioning actors to read. It seems even more important after hearing that. Yes, it's true! Everything brilliant is not always mulled over and rewritten 1,000 times. Sometimes, great stuff just pours out of people.

The Blu-ray Criterion has just released, is pretty much the finest work they have done to date. The phone pole neon green & ink flier art is exquisite, and nails the punk rock aesthetic from the film and the 80s. I only wish it came with a few posters of the art for me to hang on my bedroom wall just like when I was a kid.

Aside from a beautiful transfer of the film, there is also a crazy trove of information. A wacky commentary with Cox and others, as well as interviews with Iggy Pop, Micheal Nesmith, and even Sam Cohen, the actual inventor of the neutron bomb! Cox sits and shows him some deleted scenes from the film and asks him what he thinks. Classic! Also trailers and the complete version of the edited for-TV-cut of the film.
Inside cover
Spine Art

Even the sides of this Blu-ray are amazing. Every square inch. Grab this off Amazon now. Call your friends over and stop acting like you've got something better to do than watch T.V. and have a couple of brews.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Blade Runner Miniatures Part 2

Miniatures, minis, and more minis! Minis minis everywhere! Wow. OK. So I have spent so much time painting mini figures lately that I injured a tendon in my left hand. I'm right-handed, so all I can figure is that holding the minis in the same position in my left had for so long cramped, stretched, or somehow injured my left thumb. No joke, this kills. It hurts mostly at night. Enough bitching and moaning. I'm fine. Onward.

So I have been at the Blade Runner mini game for a while now. Arkham Horror minis are the best series so far for buying cheap minifigs that can be used right out of the box. Or you can just paint 'em a little and they are ready to go. In addition to the main film characters, I want to populate this homebrewed game with new Balde Runner universe-style players and bad guys.

Here are a few of the figures I've custom painted to create new playable characters for this game. Knox is another playable Blade Runner similar to Deckard. This was just an Arkham Horror figure ever so slightly repainted. The next new character I came up with was Rocket. I was trying to think of a friend Deckard might have, and when I spotted one of my son's Heroclix minis I came up with this teen or 20-something tech nicknamed Rocket. No one knows his real name. He lives on the street, has some friends who also exist on the streets, but he's close to Deckard. Maybe they have a pseudo father-son thing going. This is still a work in progress. I wanted some playable badass female characters and after searching online I found two Star Wars minis that fit what I had in mind perfectly. Xoe (pronounced Oh-E) and Vala are a two-person female Balde Runner unit. I came up with the characters as a pair but there's no reason a PC could not play one alone in an adventure. I snapped the Star Wars minis they came from to show how I altered them. They're all black with a red line indicating their BR status. I'm not sure I'll ever be running a home game with more then about five or six people playing, so beyond these four and Deckard I think for now I have enough playable characters. I might make a few more just to give players a choice.
Blade Runner RPG
Invented Blade Runner miniature RPG figures. 

So after making a few PC minis I'm going to need some decent bad guys. I'm thinking thugs, a replicant who hunts Blade Runners for sport, a neutral bounty hunter, bad police, etc. Over at Hasslefree Miniatures I found a few good figures that might be painted nicely to help populate this game.

In my search I came across a great Rick Deckard figure. By this time I'd already made two custom ones, but this one was such a dead-on copy I had to get it. The figure is from Aberrant Games Rezolution series. The figures come listed as two CSO Rangers. One is a dead-on Rick Deckard. The other is a not so dead-on, rather R. Crumb-looking Rachel. They come together, so if you want one you get 'em both. I ordered two sets in case I screwed up one. I did fine, but I'll probably paint the extra eventually. I need to go through the site more to see if I can find any more possible Blade Runner copies or ones I might use as add-ons to the game.

The next great miniatures site I found was Hasslefree Minis. Here you will find quite a few "unofficial official" minifigures. The Scooby Doo crew, Snake Plissken, Terminator, a stubby looking Mad Max, John McClane from Die Hard, and more are all there. None of them are listed with their actual name because they're "unofficial." You just need to search and discover what they have.

Here are a few of the minis I found on the web and in stores. The first image is of the two Rezolution figures, Deckard and Rachel. The second image shows the unpainted metal Deckard figure. The third figure is Deckard after I painted him. The next row shows a stylish-looking woman in a dress. I ordered her from Hasslefree Minis because I felt she was another perfect female figure in the style of Rachel. She could be a playable or non-playable character. The next mini is a tough guy with his hands in his pockets. He also was from Hasslefree Minis. He will likely be a bad guy. The next mini also from Hasslefree Minis is some kid with a funny hat and a gun. I wanted some thugs, and a group of future kid punks is perfect. I ordered all these and another kid with a gas mask on. Perfect for the smoggy future of Blade Runner.
Blade Runner RPG
Found, unpainted, and altered Blade Runner RPG miniatures.

The last row are a few Heroclix I bought and altered and painted. The first is Gordon from Batman. He became a Deckard. Getting off the glasses and face hair did not go perfectly. To the naked eye, the minis look better then in the photos. The flaws are not as easily seen in-hand as in a blown-up photo. The next cowboy from Jonah Hex became Roy with a trench coat. After cutting off quite a bit on him it came out decent. See picture below for the finals on some of these. The last one is going to be Zorah. I still need to paint her and add her to a base.

Once all the mini creation is over, I'll get back to making prefab character cards for the playable characters. Then I'll be making stat cards for all the non-playable characters and bad guys. After that I'll need to write up an adventure to run friends through. This project has been very fun and as I search I find others who have searched as I am for Blade Runner minis and/or games. There are a few BR-style games out there, but I'm just going to use basic D20 rules and make my own. It's not going to be a super-complex game, but getting there is half the fun.
Blade Runner RPG Minis
Blade Runner Miniatures of main characters from the film. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Guest Review Bioshock Infinite by Ben



Since the beginning, the Bioshock games have risen above the typical Halo/Call of Duty first-person shooter game to be something special, something extraordinary. In addition, the original Bioshock had an insane twist. “Would you Kindly” was the most surprising twist in any game I’d ever played. This game has a twist that rivals that to the extreme. Infinite takes you out of the underwater, claustrophobic city of Rapture, to the boundless, skyward, floating Colombia. Bioshock’s are known for having incredible stories, addictive gameplay, and great graphics. Bioshock Infinite rises above all expectations to become one of the most beautiful, fun, and breathtaking games of this generation—with an ending that will leave you thinking for hours, maybe days afterward.
Bioshock Infinite’s graphics are, technically, nothing special. Textures get blurry, things far away are cloudy (although that could be because of the clouds), and characters other than Elizabeth don’t move all too fluidly. This barely matters though. The game is beautiful, has the most amazing architecture, and the enemies are extremely creative looking (especially the Boys of Silence.) The graphics, while not the most technically superior, are some of the best I’ve seen in a long time.
The gameplay in Infinite is the same as in Bioshock and Bioshock 2, but Plasmids, Eve and Adam, etc., have been replaced. You’ll understand why when you finish the game. Plasmids are now called Vigors. Eve is now Salts. Money pretty much doubles as Adam now. Return to Sender and Murder of Crows are new Vigors that are insanely awesome, but boring Vigors such as Undertow and Charge make me think of omissions such as Insect Swarm and Winter Blast that should have been included. Big Daddies have physically been replaced with Handymen, but spiritually live on in the Songbird. All of this reasoning will be explained soon. Elizabeth’s powers open tears, which at first glance, I thought were stupidly used in combat, but after playing through several battles utilizing them, I realized that they are actually genius. There are static items littered all over battlefields, ranging from everything from cover to health packs to freight hooks for your skyhook. The catch, though, is that no two things can exist at once. While you may see a shadow of a weapon, you cannot access it without signaling to Elizabeth first, who will open up a tear, making the things accessible, but simultaneously taking away whatever is available at the time. Weapons though, will not leave your hands, and health will not be re-lost, but things like freight hooks and cover will disappear. Elizabeth will also toss you health, salts, or ammo in the middle of battle, and will also toss you coins at random times. For points in the game when Elizabeth leaves you (she is kidnapped by Songbird multiple times, and also runs away often), the game felt like it lost depth, and you don’t have her help, or her company. The skyhook is a great melee weapon, and has more uses than the wrench or drill did. The skyline is very fluid, and not clunky at all. The gameplay is overall similar to Bioshock 1 and 2, if you take away Elizabeth, but that is NO problem. I’d rather have a game that plays like Bioshock than Call of Duty.
The story, at first, is very straightforward. Find the girl, bring her to New York, repay your debt, game over. It gets much more complicated. You’re just about to leave for New York, when Elizabeth realizes where you’re taking her, and she knocks you out with a wrench. You wake up and the Vox Populi (a cult that is quickly established against the main villain, Comstock), have taken your airship. They agree to give it back when you bring them guns. When you go to get the guns, the man who will give them to you is gone, and you go to get him, but he’s dead, and this is when it gets confusing. Robert and Rosalind, the same people who said, “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt,” arrive. They say that he is only dead from one perspective, and this is when you go through portals to different Colombias. This includes a Colombia where one family worships Comstock instead of Buddha, a Colombia where Booker died for the Vox Populi—all different worlds. OK, fast forward to the end now. Booker and Elizabeth meet up with Comstock. Comstock tells Booker to tell Elizabeth about what happened to her finger. Booker doesn’t know, and is fed up with this man who lies, locks up his daughter for 20 years, and everyone else is too blind to see it. Booker doesn’t understand how this man can be considered a god and be such a villain at the same time, so he bashes Comstock’s head into a fountain, and holds his head under the water, drowning him. They continue on, to find the Vox Populi destroying the generator that keeps the airship afloat. On top of all that, Songbird arrives, ready to take Elizabeth back. She convinces him to help them just this once, and he agrees. The Vox are killed, and Elizabeth realizes that the only way to understand her true powers is to destroy the machine holding her back. Songbird does it, then tries to attack Booker. At the last second, Elizabeth transports the three of them to Rapture’s Welcome Center. Except, the Songbird is outside in the ocean. He is killed because of the pressure. It is then revealed that Elizabeth can see every reality that ever was, or could be. For every choice made, one more reality is created. For example; if you decided to stay home, the reality would keep going as it was, but a new reality would ALSO be created where you did go to work, and those two realities would exist at the same time, eventually creating billions of realities for every person, all of which are accessed via lighthouses. There is always a man (Booker/Jack), a lighthouse (the one with the rocket and the one that leads to the Welcome Center), and a city (Rapture/Columbia).
The ending and the multiple realities confused the heck out of me, so forgive me if this isn’t too clear. Also, Elizabeth was born as Anna, Booker’s child. Lutece took the child, in exchange for Booker’s debt, because Comstock wanted a child, but was infertile. Booker has a change of heart at the last moment, when Anna is being taken through the closing portal, and tries to take her back, resulting in Anna’s finger being chopped off by the closing portal. And, get ready for this, Booker is Comstock in a different reality where he accepted a baptism that was given after the battle of Wounded Knee. Comstock builds Columbia, and wants a child. Anna has never been born, as this is an alternate reality, so he sends Lutece to get her. Booker realizes that the only way to kill Comstock completely, so he’d be dead in all realities, is to kill him before he’s born, at which point, he accepts the baptism, and is drowned, by Elizabeths from all realities. Booker dies, killing Comstock, meaning Anna was never kidnapped from the other reality, meaning she never became Elizabeth. So basically, Booker, Elizabeth, Songbird, and Comstock all die in the end.
This story, is genius. It is the greatest story to ever exist in any video game. Everything ties in together at the end, still leaving, INFINITE, (yes I did) questions left unanswered. In every world, there is an equal to every character, as the Big Daddies are replaced by Songbird and Little Sisters are replaced by Elizabeth. I could go on forever, but I have to wrap this up. My only complaint is that the Vox riots have a lot of missed potential. They don’t just feel as epic as the tower escape with Elizabeth, and they just didn’t have as much tension as the scene where you are fired up to Columbia in a rocket in the beginning. But, well, too bad. I don’t care, and that is a small price to pay for one of the best games ever made. The soundtrack, also is phenomenal.
Bioshock Infinite is, hands down, the greatest game ever made. Period. 5/5. 10/10. 100000/100000.  ∞/ ∞. Stop reading this and go play this game. Buy the soundtrack too. This game is well worth it.