, | Features

We’re a year and some change from the 20 year anniversary of Lucasarts’ Outlaws. It’s been over five years since Red Dead Redemption. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger was two years ago. Are videogame Westerns a thing of the past? Or are there any Western games we’ll look back at fondly in the years to come?

After the jump, saddle up! Continue reading →

, | Movie reviews

Experimenter is at first about the Milgram experiments, in which subjects were tested for their willingness to electrically shock another person at the behest of an authority figure. The finding was basically that people will totally be dicks if they’re absolved of responsibility for their actions. Psychologist Stanley Milgram implied a connection to the Holocaust. The movie exaggerates Milgram’s findings, implying that almost everyone (“the vast majority,” the character says at one point) was willing to escalate the shocks to a life-threatening voltage. In reality, a third of the subjects refused to continue, and Experimenter eventually admits as much. Furthermore, to ratchet up dramatic tension, the movie implies the authority figure was unrelenting as the test subjects protested. But in reaction to protests during the actual tests, the authority figure escalated through four scripted responses. If the subject protested a fifth time, the experiment was halted.

As you might guess from the title, Experimenter is more concerned with Stanley Milgram himself, coolly portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard (Sarsgaard is so often the king of cool, which is why it’s so much fun seeing him lose his cool in Black Mass). Director Michael Almereyda can’t resist gimmicks like breaking the fourth wall, shooting scenes against obvious backdrops, montages detailing Milgram’s other experiments, and one of the most ridiculous beards ever captured on film. There is even a literal elephant in the room when Milgram draws parallels to fascism. “Perhaps our awareness is the first step in liberation,” Almereyda’s movie concludes ponderously.

Experimenter also considers the ethical implications of the stress inflicted on the test subjects. They weren’t actually shocking anyone. It was a ruse to test their willingness. The “victim” was unseen in another room, faking cries of pain. The subjects felt guilt, remorse, duress, and anguish to varying degrees before they were told is was all a ruse. Psych! Psych, indeed. Should a research psychologist concern himself with the well-being of his test subjects? Or do the findings justify the means? If you want to test whether someone will totally be a dick, do you have to be a dick yourself? Fair questions, all of which the audience will probably wonder without Experimenter’s explicit dialogue to that effect. The most compelling parts of the movie are the scenes of the experiment itself, watching the subjects grow increasingly uneasy. Thanks to Anthony Edwards, John Leguizamo, Anton Yelchin, and Jim Gaffigan for the effectiveness of these scenes. They’re far better than the biopic in which they’re wrapped.

All of these things are expressed more viscerally and less intellectually in The Stanford Prison Experiment, so this is a review of that movie instead. It’s a more effective story about the same topics. As you might guess from the title, it’s about the experiment itself, another study of the willingness of people to be dicks. It similarly called into question the ethics of inflicting stress on test subjects. With confident direction from rookie director Kyle Patrick Alvarez and a pared down script by a former South Park writer named Tim Talbott, Stanford Prison Experiment takes a “just the facts, ma’am” approach. It presents what happened, how it happened, and even why it happened (Billy Cruddup plays research psychologist Philip Zimbardo as a hapless victim of his own hubris). It doesn’t need to preach. It doesn’t need to embellish. It doesn’t need to conjure up lurid thriller tropes like the 2010 movie based on the same experiments, called The Experiment, in which Adrian Brody and Forest Whitaker bring a knife to a psychology fight. This Stanford Prison Experiment is true to its roots, basking in the hardware, the costumes, and the hairstyles of its 1971 setting. It trusts the experiment itself to sustain the movie. It trusts the actors’ light-hearted laughs to convey the absurdity of the early set-up and their performances to see it through to its conclusion.

The cast is an it-list of young male actors. Tye Sheridan, Keir Gilchrist, Ki Hong Lee, Johnny Simmons, Thomas Mann, and Michael Angarano all demonstrate they’re not just pretty young faces. Put these kids in an ensemble, give them good material, and enjoy a tantalizing look at their careers to come. The real standout is Ezra Miller, previously seen as the eponymous Kevin who needs to be talked about in the wretched We Need To Talk About Kevin.

For two movies that use actual studies to make the same point — What did we learn from this and was it worth it? — The Stanford Prison Experiment is a far better movie than Experimenter. The only thing Experimenter has in its favor is the inspired casting of Kellan Lutz as William Shatner. Will someone please spin that into a full blown biopic?

Support Qt3 and watch The Stanford Prison Experiment on Amazon.com. You can also watch Experimenter if you feel like it.

, | Movie reviews

It can be awfully unbecoming to watch a couple of adults play at being nervous teenagers. But that’s how Lake Bell and Simon Pegg spend the first third of Man Up. It’s not entirely unsuccessful. You can’t deny Pegg’s deft charm as a nattering dork. Those distinguished crinkles fan out around his eyes when he grins and you know he’s better than this. Lake Bell tempers her comedic confidence with a generous dollop of vulnerability. And who can resist the mega-wattage of that Julia Roberts smile?

The contrived conflict kicks in awfully early. Watch the forced sparks sputter! Then the convenient split before they finally realize The Thing That’s Really Important Is Each Other. To a sappy piano rendition of The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?”, no less. Finally the wacky and frenzied dash to reconnect and the climactic emotional confessions of love in front of a crowd of enthusiastic onlookers. “I think you might be the blue bits,” Pegg declares at last! It’s a callback to a metaphor about life being like a jigsaw puzzle. Man Up is nothing if not a clunky formulaic script.

Also notable is Rory Kinnear, who really puts himself out there as the comedic relief. To think this was the actor whose Bolingbroke was such a powerful presence in the BBC’s televised Richard II. I’m sorry, that’s an awfully snooty thing to say in a romcom review, isn’t it? Can you tell this isn’t my preferred genre? But even I know the key to a formulaic romcom is a couple of appealing leads willing to commit even if the script is awful. Man Up has that in spades.

Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.

, | Game reviews

Fallout 4 is a Fallout about restoring civilization. It is not just a Fallout about a wayward family member, a water purifier, a GECK, a dam, or your favorite faction. Sure, those things might be in here (Fallout 4 directly repeats some of Fallout 3’s plot points). But this Fallout is unique among Fallouts for how it’s about restoring civilization to the wasteland. About worldbuilding. World rebuilding, to be more precise.

You might think you’ve restored civilizations in previous Fallouts. And, yes, depending on choices you made at the end of the game, maybe you did. But it wasn’t gameplay. Restoring civilization was a coda. A postscript. An oh-by-the-way, like those “where are they now?” title cards at the end of movies based on true stories. The new civilization was a slideshow and a block of text immediately preceding the credits.

But Fallout 4 is a game where you’re going to rebuild society as you play. In fact, you don’t have a choice. You’re going to be a hero who make the ruined world a better place, like it or not. This isn’t the kind of choice-and-consequence Fallout that will let you play the villain. You won’t blow up Megaton. Your choices will be a) pet the puppy or b) cuddle the puppy. The worst you can do is pet the puppy sarcastically. Besides, everyone plays a good guy on their first playthrough, right? You’ll find a couple of evil choices at the end. If you want to groove on the rubble, as per reformed hippie Jerry Rubin’s description of what would happen in an aftermath, you’re not going to do it directly. It will be a coda, a postscript, an oh-by-the-way. Up until then, when it really matters, you will work for a better world. Fallout 4 is a game about gameplay about rebuilding.

After the jump, the four things that keep Fallout 4 from being the game it’s trying to be. Continue reading →

, | Movie reviews

Deep Dark takes a while to get underway. You might not be able to bear its glib low budget take on the angst of its struggling artist. He strings up trash like a mobile and calls it art and hopes to get a gallery showing. We’re in Portland where that kind of thing might happen. Hence this movie. Portland, the Austin of the Pacific Northwest, has it’s own film scene.

But if you give Deep Dark a half hour or so, you’ll find a story about talent, inspiration, and madness that plays out like a low rent Barton Fink, with clumsy gags instead of the Coen Brothers snap and bite. If you give it another half hour or so — if you wait until it really, uh, sinks in — it assumes an identity of its own. It certainly has a unique monster.

Writer/director Michael Medaglia shows admirable restraint and flashes of dark style. He might take too long to get underway, but he knows how to end. Lead actor Sean McGrath gives it his scruffy hangdog all. It’s probably no coincidence McGrath bears a slight resemblance to a young Anthony Hopkins. Say, an Anthony Hopkins about the age he was when he made a movie called Magic, also about talent, inspiration, and madness. Voice actress Denise Poirier brings the monster to life perfectly. And speaking of perfect, Keith Schreiner’s score has the mournful but mischievous quality of Carter Burwell’s best music.

Deep Dark is available for VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.

, | Movie reviews

This sounds like a children’s book. “And the gun goes bang and the knife goes snickt and the landmine goes click”. Since the premise is someone steps on a landmine and can’t step off, this also sounds like a rip-off of No Man’s Land, a bitterly funny political allegory about the Balkans. Only this movie is about American kids hiking in Georgia. The Georgia that Russia invaded, not the one where peaches and The Walking Dead come from. Maybe you wonder what else the director has done and you come across a movie called 247 Degrees. It’s about four people who get in a sauna, but then a stick falls over and wedges the door shut. Then a whole movie happens about four people sweltering to death because a stick fell over. No joke. I saw it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

So why would you bother with Georgia filmmaker Levan Bakhia’s Landmine Goes Click? Because all of the above fail to express what Landmine Goes Click actually is. Sure, it starts out as dopey as you feared. But just when you’ve resigned yourself to watching three whining American kids standing around in a field because one of them stepped on a landmine, something else happens entirely. Unfortunately, the press materials, any synopsis, or any other review would spoil it. And frankly, I’m not sure the movie is worth watching if you already know the something else. I’m not sure it works unless you’re blindsided.

As the ill-fated mine stepper, Sterling Knight could be described as Leonardo DiCaprio Lite. He has to carry much of the movie, and he’s almost up to the task. But the real star here is the movie’s willingness to get grimly uncomfortable. It almost recalls trashy exploitation movies from the 70s, but with a focus on the trashiness more than the exploitation. I’m also reminded of the Dutch horror movie The Vanishing for how it used a haunting two-act structure to tell the story of the unlikely evil done by a family man.

Director Bakhia sees his premise and twists through to their bitter ends, and without the typical American PG-13 soft-sell. If Bakhia deserves credit for anything, it’s his willingness to coldly commit to a story about people instead of hardware. The landmine was never the problem. The problem all along was the people capable of the same cruelty it takes to lay down landmines.

Landmine Goes Click is available for VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.

, | News

I hate to call out a developer making informal comments to his fans about a work in progress, but I’m going to call out a developer making informal comments to his fans about a work in progress anyway.

One of the boldest boardgame designs I’ve ever played is Quartermaster General, a sleek and grand presentation of World War II for six-players (review here). It uses simple rules — you can teach Quartermaster General in ten minutes and then finish a six-player game in well under two hours — and unique decks of cards for each nation to express broad but familiar historical guidelines. The pacing is snappy. The asymmetry is deeply gratifying and a minor miracle given the simplicity of the rules. Japan plays nothing like Germany which plays nothing like the United States which plays nothing like Russia. Designer Ian Brody has created a masterpiece of rich minimalist gameplay.

Brody posted on Boardgame Geek that he’s playtesting the next expansion, called Alternate Histories.

[Alternate Histories] adds 100 new cards and 8 substitute cards. There are pieces for France and China, and the 8 substitute cards are largely to reflect the new pieces. So cards that represented the French with UK pieces and the Chinese with Americans now bring in pieces from their own country.

The idea is that you shuffle the news cards into each nation’s decks, but then you have to discard from your hand more frequently, forcing difficult choices as you play. Brody also said he considered actual deck building for each nation, but it raises difficult balancing issues.

You can read more here, including a tantalizing description of a couple of new cards for Germany and Russia. There is currently no announced release date for Alternate Histories.

, | Game reviews

I think Chaos Reborn might be broken. It told me my elf had a 90% chance to kill the other guy’s rat. So I took the shot and didn’t kill his rat. You can see the problem here, right? What kind of game makes a promise like that and then breaks it? I had a 90% chance. I was sure to hit. But I didn’t? Seriously? What are the odds?

After the jump, math has no place in games. Continue reading →

, | Games

The only things I remember about Life, the Hasbro boardgame that’s nearly as awful as Monopoly, is 1) the spinner in the middle of the board means never having to roll dice, and 2) you put blue and pink pegs in your car to represent family members. Blue represented dudes, pink represented chicks. Based on my recollections, the recently released Game of Life: Spin to Win videogame is a faithful recreation of the boardgame. It’s got a big spinner in the middle of the board and you accumulate pegs as you play. You start out as one peg on a scooter, you graduate to two spouse pegs in a sedan, and then you end up in a minivan with child pegs in the back seat.

But what I didn’t realize is that when it comes time for your peg to take a spouse, you can pick whether your spouse is a blue peg or a pink peg, regardless of your own peg color. So there’s my gay wedding up there, which happened because when I was picking a spouse, I thought I was telling the game the color of my own peg. Oops. There’s no divorce in the Game of Life, and I’m a pretty progressive guy, so I just rolled with it. Later, my husband and I flipped a city penthouse for a $100,000 profit, then we lost the money in a pool of lava, and we adopted a son who was delivered by helicopter. Somewhere along the way, I switched careers from farmer to brain surgeon. C’est la Life!

What Game of Life: Spin to Win, which carries the “family friendly” tag on Steam, absolutely won’t tolerate is bachelors. Marriage is mandatory. Now that’s family friendly!