Old, old, old

While doing research for 50 Foot DVD, on the long-gone vistas of 1967, I started thinking about a few things that had some impact on the then ten-year-old me.  Of course, YouTube has it:

Yes, I owned a toy sniper rifle in its own case. There was a lot of incredibly un-fun crap going on in the late 60’s, but goddamn how I miss them sometimes.

Somehow made more poignant by last night, when my ten-year-old finally prevailed upon me to watch Alien vs Predator: Requiem, a viewing which was fraught with multiple pronouncements of “Awesome!” from him.

Here, let me spare you the incredibly spastic nature of the YouTube comments by embedding this here:

It wasn’t as awful as I’d been led to believe, but then few things are.  It was pretty much standard action movie mediocrity wrapped in a fairly large budget, and continued the first AvP movie’s pattern of a large cast of undeveloped characters about whom the viewer could not be bothered to care. The more I think about this movie, the more  I think this course of affairs deserves closer examination in that old, venerable project of mine, The Bad Movie Report… but that would also mean watching this, the first one, and Alien 3 and 4 again, and that could get ooky.

I have joked that since my son professes the original Alien vs Predator to be his favorite movie (it edged out The Empire Strikes Back), I may have to disinherit him… but then, he’s ten. And I have to ponder how my parents felt, forty years back, when yours truly watched that psychedelic Levis commercial raptly, over and over again… on a black and white set.

Was there a point?

That last post got very scattered, yes, I know. There was a point I had intended to make in there when I started writing, and it all got buried. That point was – while I was talking about the quality of the speakers in the Nintendo DS – I was struck by one instance in particular.

I’m still playing Etrian Odyssey II – Heroes of Lagaard. As you know, I’ve typified it as an old school dungeon crawl (which I lurvs), where the lower screen is used to map the dungeon as you travel through it. In this particular labyrinth, you start at the bottom and work your way up, and it has become so overgrown that it is a forest into and of itself – no stone walls or caverns. Seasons seem to change with every five levels or so, and when I got to the third stratum, where it is perpetual winter, there it was, captured with perfect fidelity, one of my favorite sounds in the world: the sound of boots crunching in snow.

Yeah, yeah, I know, you folks in the more Northern climes, like my pal Ken Begg in Chicago, are doubtless sick to freakin’ death of the sound, but as a lifelong Texan, it remains quite exotic to me. I seem to make it to Chicago every two years or so to visit snow (and Ken and B-Fest), and on the rare occasion that snow does not coat the ground… man, I miss that sound.

And since we are speaking of Etrian Odyssey II and my time-wasting activities: I finally got past the twin bosses that were giving me so much grief and continued to advance into the game. At this point, I am starting to mess with the makeup of my party, so here comes some gaming geek stuff. If you’re not interested, well, there’s some links over to the right. See ya later.

Lagaard allows a party of up to five characters, and by and large I’ve been pretty traditional in the makeup. There’s a jack-of-all trades warrior (called a “Landsknecht” here), a tank – high hit points, high defense, decent damage (called a Protector), a “War Magus”, so-so damage but some great healing and buffing magic, a dedicated healer called a Medic (fancy that) and a Gunner. Yes, a character with a gun in a fantasy game. It happens all the time. And once you start leveling a Gunner’s attacks, that character starts kicking ass without bothering to take names.

I’ve been using the War Magus as a backup healer, but that’s really only utilizing half his potential, as many of his special attacks do extra damage to targets that another character has placed a status effect upon – a monster that has been stunned, or had Sleep or Fear cast upon it.

What this means is I should be leveling up a Hexer… a character whose sole function is to cast Curses upon opponents. Yet, so far, I am not. (Though if the Hexers attacked with canes, and were called Curmudgeons, nothing would stop me from fielding a party of five of them)

Minor digression: Lagaard has some attacks, both on the player and opponent side, that “bind” various portions of the target’s body. A Bind on the head lessens accuracy and damage. A bind on the arms prevents the fancier, higher-damage-dealing attacks and magic. Bind the legs, there is no escaping (and that’s card I’ve had to play several times).

Minor digression 2: After a certain number of battles, each character is able to perform a Force Skill. If you’ve played Final Fantasy, you’ll recognize it as a Limit Break. A devastating attack that costs no points to perform. For the Gunner, it’s a Riot Gun, for the Landsknecht it’s All Out, which deals heavy damage to every target onscreen.

Now that you have that information, I can try to tell you about what is distracting me from that Hexer I seem to think I need. Cuz I’m leveling a Dark Hunter.

From the website:

“The Dark Hunters of High Lagaard are similar to those found in Etria; they can still work with either whip or sword to focus on bindings or status ailments, respectively. The key difference comes in their ability to set potentially deadly traps: in High Legaard, Dark Hunters can react to either physical or magical attacks, no matter what weapon they use.”

But wait, there’s more.

Force Skill: Bondage
Using every binding technique at its disposal, the Dark Hunter will bind an enemy’s head, arms and legs, rendering it completely incapable of acting in battle.”

Attacks that bind the opponents legs, arm and head, individually? They are called Shackles, Cuffs, and Gag. Higher attacks in the tier are named Climax and Ecstasy.

I’m leveling up a dominatrix.

The game supplies four possible portraits for each character, but I think this one says it all.

Did I mention this game is rated E – 10+ ?

I guess this may be the “Suggestive themes” alluded to in the ratings box….

God, I love Atlus Games!

EDIT: Now that I’ve gotten a chance to use it, the Dark Hunter’s Force Skill in-game is called “Dominate”, not “Bondage”, as it says on the site. I’m not sure if that’s more or less explicit…

Now playing: Haggard – Larghetto / Epilogo Adagio
via FoxyTunes

Bodies Electric

As everybody knows, I remain perpetually behind the curve. For instance, perhaps by this time next year, I will have finally seen The Dark Knight.

Which is why I am here to proclaim my love for the Nintendo DS.

Before I bought a used one a little over a month ago, I’d had very little time with one, but I distinctly recall reading the pre-release stuff and thinking, “Two screens. Huh.” And also recalling any number of NES peripherals that went unsupported and wound up on the Toys’R’Us clearance aisle. The Powerglove still looked cool, though. And dig that proto-Wii gameplay:

Time has, of course, proven me wrong, especially if the number of DS Lites I saw being pulled out while people were waiting in line at Disneyworld. Lots of kids, sure, but several adults, too.

The most remarkable thing to me – besides the actual utility of two screens – is the quality of the speakers on this dang thing. Little, tiny thin things, and they sound fabulous. At least one writer called them “surround sound”, and I scoffed… but the dimensionality of the sound coming from these things is awesome.

I picked up an affordable used copy of Final Fantasy III (the one that had gone untranslated for many years, for those keeping score). Uematsu’s music sounds very rich, even coming off a tiny chip. There are some things about modern times I wholeheartedly endorse.

Etrian Odyssey has gone by the wayside for the moment. There was sort of a story in there, but only released in small, puzzling droplets. SquarEnix excels at sort of thing, so I’ve been engrossed in FFIII’s story quite happily.

Also: when Etrian would eventually serve up a boss that ate my lunch, I would go out and grind levels until I was strong enough to take it on. In Etrian, I would think in terms of 10 levels or so. Final Fantasy, generally one is sufficient.

Viewing wise: Watched the first disc of The Wild, Wild West, Season One, and you can’t go home again. Love the steampunk spy gadgets, adore Michael Dunn as Dr. Loveless… but twice in two episodes we’ve seen Jim West turn women from the dark side by simply being Jim West and having smoldering good looks, thereby saving the day. I find I didn’t buy it with James Bond and Pussy Galore, either.

Hadn’t seen The Battle of the Bulge in many years, either, so thank you, Netflix. I liked it, but it still doesn’t beat Tora! Tora! Tora!, in my book. Though TTT seems equally crowded, it had a marvelous, semi-documentary feel. Bulge has a lot of extraneous material that could have been cut with no detriment to the story, and I really have my doubts about that final battle at the fuel depot. Still, good stuff, and it is wonderful to see the Cinerama moments, comparable to the roller coaster sequence in This is Cinerama, which did not translate at all during my first viewing on network TV, in pan-and scan. Blech.

Lastly, saw the first disc of the new version of The Andromeda Strain, which was one of my favorite movies because the science fiction is so darn hard. I had my doubts about this, as the travails of the scientists working inside the underground bunker of Project Wildfire has taken a back seat to thoroughly modern tropes like competing agendas of various government agencies (including the Office of Homeland Security, an unthinkable concept when Crichton first wrote Strain), a cocaine-addicted investigative reporter, and ground-level views of the unfolding effects of Andromeda. Taking the story largely out of the bunker has limited the pressure-cooker race against time feeling the original movie possessed, but darned if it ain’t still compelling viewing.


Had a job interview yesterday, which would be super IF I WANTED TO SELL CARS FOR A LIVING.

Yes, I put on a tie and showed up prepared and professional. Curiosity was one part of it, but I also figured I needed the practice. Chances are, I would have been hired, since I – at the very least – have good communication skills. But – hideous hours, spent on my feet (hello, again, cane), commission-based pay, a three-day training session with an up-front fee (refunded by the dealership after 90 days, but still….) all add up to uh-uh.

Also got a call from an orthopedic clinic, for something much more similar to what I had been doing – but it was part-time and had a nice 50-mile commute.

But at least I know the resume is out there and getting some results.

This is (not) so exciting

Spent yesterday from about 8AM to Noon in traffic court. Life can get tedious when your last name is near the butt end of the alphabet. The constable was really really busy that Sunday morning in July – our docket spilled over into the next, there were so many there – and many more who did not show up.

Though I have to say, compared to other such episodes in my life, it wasn’t too bad. Though I had been warned this courthouse annex was in “a bad part of town”, it wasn’t, really, and the staff was genial. They helped make the old making-the-best-of-a-bad-thing easier, and for that, I thank them.

Phone tag with a case worker from the Texas Workforce Commission finally bore fruit today, ie., we actually talked to each other. She had a few questions about my termination. Considering that I just gave Harris County my last hundred bucks, I’m hoping this will finally result in my unemployment coming through.

I hate being desperate.

My job applications have gotten a lot more scattershot, in the hope that something will shake loose. I haven’t quite gotten to the point of applying where I’m obviously unqualified, but when you find yourself reflecting on the one month back in 1993 when you used Pagemaker, and wonder if that constitutes “experience”…

Is it any wonder I’m chewing my way through Banacek? He’s the smug, successful bastard I wanted to be when I grew up. Alas, I have only three episodes left, and then my collection will be complete, as it were. I’m finding the first season better viewing, if only because the solutions to the impossible crimes are more credible than the often rococo methods of the second season.

Also missing from season one is Carlie Kirkland, played by Christine Belford. Kirkland was another insurance investigator, and was apparently conceived as a love interest for the womanizing Banacek, but the writers could never really figure out what to do with her, at one point even marrying her off to another insurance investigator. Considering that a couple of times so far in Season One, Banacek has appeared to be pretty serious about his liaisons – the Margot Kidder character in particular – the episodic nature of the series does make the investigator seem pretty cavalier about his relationships, as none of the guest stars ever return. I can see Kirkland as a counter-balance to that – not that the womanizing and parade of hot 70s chicks ever stopped.

There. I feel better now. Holding forth on subjects absolutely nobody else cares about does that for me.

Greetings from Waterworld

Actually, if you don’t live in the Houston area, you probably missed it. Apparently the world ended today, and we were all wiped out by Eduardo.

At least, that what the media’s been trying to make us think for the last couple of days.

I saw a little rain. Nothing like the killer Allison was back a few years ago.

I’m relatively sure all this wolf-crying is going to bite us in the ass, someday. Hard.

In other schadenfreude news, you likely heard about the unencrypted laptop computer containing personal info on 33,000 customers of the “Clear” program going missing, but now it’s been found, and in the very office in which they left it. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Banacek lately, but that sure smells like a set-up to me. Just the sort of thing the wily Pole would pick up on. In between bouts of flirting with hot 70s chicks.

I’m old (as if you needed confirmation)

No classic of cinema last night. Banacek.

I discovered the budget-priced season sets for Banacek some months ago, each with the “TV Guide” logo. One for each season. I first stumbled on the second season, then later started looking for the first… so I’ve watched the seasons backward, too. I finally started the first season last night.

I remember watching most of the NBC Mystery Movies with variable interest. I don’t remember much about McCloud or McMillan and Wife, but I do remember Banacek and Hec Ramsey, which starred an exceptionally grizzled Richard Boone as an old west lawman who utilized then-newborn methods of criminology, including the Bertillion Method… identifying people by the shapes of their ears.

But Banacek… ah, he was my favorite. Not only was George Peppard playing the coolest man alive (had James Coburn played the role, it would have reached a level of coolness that would have caused atoms to split), but he investigated impossible crimes.

For instance: last night I watched “Let’s Hear It For A Living Legend”, in which a star NFL running back is tackled, buried under a pile-up of opposing team members, and when the players get up – the running back is gone, leaving only his helmet.

As a freelance insurance investigator, it was always Banacek’s job to figure how incredible things like that were accomplished, and half the fun was trying to figure it out before he did – though admittedly, the first time I did back in the early 70s, it really killed the rest of the episode for me. In fact, I never saw the whole episode until I watched the Season Two set.

My first viewing of these is far enough in the past that I am occasionally surprised, though I note with a bit of satisfaction that in those instances, there’s usually one part of the solution that stretches reality.

The other part of the fun is watching the writers try to deal with the early 70s. Banacek is definitely a lady’s man – suave, secure, and as I mentioned before, sooooo cool. Women repeatedly throw themselves at him, and I can imagine the scribes at their manual typewriters, thanking God for Women’s Lib, so they didn’t have to be subtle with it – they’re liberated, they can be brazen about it. Or at least as brazen as TV would allow the hussies to be!

And my word, the B-movie greats that have made guest appearances. Scott Brady, Martin Koslek, Anne Francis, Candy Clark, Don Stroud, Eric Braedon, Cesar Romero, Don Gordon, Andrew Prine, Sterling Hayden, John Saxon…. and that was just season two. Apparently I have Margot Kidder, Ted Cassidy and Broderick Crawford ahead of me.

Man, seek and YouTube shall find:

On the other hand, I can’t get into Matlock, so maybe I’m not that old.

Filmnerd Attack, Film at 11

After Return of the King, I found myself unable to face another 3 1/2 hour plus movie; apparently I’m getting old. Luckily, Seven Samurai comes with a pre-planned, even necessary intermission, which provides a good place to break for the night and return for the second half.

As I said earlier, I think it’s been five years or more since I’ve watched Seven Samurai, extraordinary enough as it’s a movie I’ve singled out for most of my life as not only my favorite, but also my choice for Greatest Movie Ever Made. Some will agree, some won’t, but most film freaks will at least place it in the top ten.

When my family moved to Bryan, Texas in the early 70s and I started discovering the marvels of PBS, Seven Samurai was one of the first subtitled foreign films I’d ever seen. As I recall, the year previous I had been captivated by a series showing classics of the silent screen, which showed Orphans of the Storm, The Thief of Baghdad and Hunchback of Notre Dame. The next year was World Cinema, and I was exposed to Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, M, and Grand Illusion. Educational channel, indeed.

Back in the 80s, Houston’s River Oaks Theater was still a single-screen repertory house, given to themed double features; it broke with its usual two-and-three day runs to give over two weeks to Seven Samurai, and I was there four or five times, each time dragging a new person with me.

I was one of those guys with a laserdic player. I still have the laserdiscs, in fact. First one I bought? You guessed it. Criterion Collection, too, though I didn’t go for the ultra-deluxe CAV version with the $99.99 price tag.

My Criterion DVD went for a third of that. Ah, these times, these times.

This latest viewing brought home to me just how spoiled I have become. Criterion tracks down the best elements it can for its discs, but this print could really use some clean-up. Even more churlishly, I miss the old subtitles of the Janus print I saw in the 70s and the 80s, even though they had at least one subtitle in a disastrously wrong place. The translation was more formal, but…

Okay, best example. The Samurai and the villagers are preparing for the final battle with the bandits. In the town square, Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune), the false samurai who has finally been accepted by the others, is sticking all the swords taken from dead bandits into the central mound. The day before, his recklessness led to the death of several villagers and one of the samurai. When asked what he is doing, Kikuchiyo replies – in the 70s – “Today I must kill many.”

Today, he replies, “Can’t kill a lot with just one sword!”

Both work. The more modern version actually sounds like the Kikuchiyo we’ve seen all through the movie – bluff, sarcastic, trying too hard. The old version, though spoke reams about an essential change in the character, finally taking responsibility and a desire for atonement.

What a minor, minor cavil, though. There is a reason this movie is considered a classic, and why it keeps getting ripped off. I hear there is a remake in the works. The Magnificent Seven, Battle Beyond the Stars and A Bug’s Life (and, yes, Message from Space) at least had the decency to place the conceit in different venues, thus proving its viability and durability. A remake… well, insert all the Internet cliches you usually see at these junctures, ’cause I ain’t gonna be watching it, and I’m not going to waste any time coming up with a semi-clever version of “this is going to suck”.

Then, it would almost certainly have to be better than:

Now playing: Siouxsie & The Banshees – Slowdive
via FoxyTunes