Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Hal 9000 By Xbox

Dance Central 2 image from
My family has invested in an Xbox Kinect.  If that looks like Klingon to you, the basic description is that it's a video game platform (the Xbox) and another little gadget with a couple of cameras that does a rather impressive job of seeing the players.  The idea is that you get off the couch and engage in these games with your whole body.  It came with a game called Kinect Adventures.  They're straightforward, designed, basically, to help you learn to use the Kinect.  Most of them are pretty fun.  The avatar on the screen does whatever you do--waves when you wave, dances when you dance, etc.--except, whenever you're actually trying to accomplish something like kicking a ball or grabbing a handle, it's a bit like having some neurological disorder where your limbs just don't respond as precisely as you'd like them too.  It's only a little less disturbing than it sounds.

One of the Adventures games is called "20,000 Leaks," and the premise is that you're standing in a large glass tank under the ocean when all of a sudden blowfish, crabs, sharks, and other adorable but malicious aquatic lifeforms start breaking the glass.  Your job is to cover the leaks before the time runs out.  It must be hi-tech future glass, though, because once I place my hand over a crack, the glass heals and I don't have to worry about that spot anymore.  I'm not sure why I'm on the ocean floor in the first place;  I never receive any kind of mission to find lost treasure or obtain samples of the adorable but malicious aquatic lifeforms.  Perhaps I need to evaluate my career choices.

Another game involves standing in a raft and steering it around, over, under, and through various goals and obstacles.  If you launch yourself high enough, you can actually raft across the clouds before crashing back down to the rapids below.  So I guess my question is, If they've figured out how to make a raft that floats on clouds, why haven't they gotten the leaky glass tank fixed?

The game with which I'm having the most fun embarrassing myself, however, is Dance Central 2.  In this one, I'm a crew dancer with an attitude, and a snappy dresser at that.  I usually play as "Miss Aubrey" (pictured).  She's a good dancer, but she lets her boyfriend do the trash talking while she stands behind him and blows kisses.  Not nice kisses, you know.  Sassy, mocking kisses.  Kisses of death.  Anyway, the way I see it, in a few weeks I'm going to be the best dancer the world has ever laid eyes on.

The downside to this little toy is that it takes your picture.  And it can see you, so I've developed a theory that it waits until you look completely ridiculous before snapping the photo.  Contributing to this theory is that after you've completed a level, it shows you the photos it's taken, complete with snarky captions.  My sister has begun to combat this by watching for the onscreen camera, and abandoning any gameplay to strike a pose.  So her scores suffer, but she's probably the only one who cannot be blackmailed with the countless photos the Kinect (which I think we should affectionately name Hal 9000) has stored in its evil memory.

The bottom line is, it's a fantastic little toy (and it makes the Wii look like the prehistoric ancestor to modern gaming), but if I get wind of a robot apocalypse, that sucker is getting a sledgehammer to the processor.  It is smart and it knows where I live.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Spider-Man: New and Improved

Image from IMDb
Up until about a week ago, I hadn't seen any of the Spider-Man movies.  So to prepare for the pending blockbuster, my friends and I had a couple of movie nights and watched the first two, which were directed by Sam Raimi.  Then we went to the midnight premiere of The Amazing Spider-Man (directed, believe it or not, by a guy named "Webb").  Even if you ignore the obvious leg up this movie had, special-effects-wise, what with it being ten years since the first, there were a number of things I thought were done better in this film than in those of the last trilogy.  I hope you're comfy; this is gonna be a long one.  (And it's full of spoilers.  You have been warned.)

Let's get this one out of the way first:  Andrew Garfield.  In addition to being a talented, versatile actor who breathes life into science geek extraordinaire Peter Parker, he's also ridiculously good-looking.  And while I appreciated that Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst did not look like supermodels (sorry guys), I definitely enjoyed staring at Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone for two and a half hours.

I found the spider bite (and subsequent discovery of powers) far more believable in this movie than in the original.  And before you start scoffing at my calling a superhero movie "believable," bear with me.  In the first movie, a rogue spider happens to land on Parker and bite him.  He hadn't done anything to provoke the spider, and there were a lot of people in that building.  Why weren't four or five people bitten?  Who was supposed to be watching the genetically engineered spider and should be fired for letting it escape?  And the one that bothered me the most:  Why didn't Parker say anything?  A simple "Hey [anyone], a spider landed on me back there and bit me and it's swelling something awful.  Think maybe I should get it looked at?" would have been fine.  But no, he decides to keep quiet, even when he magically grows muscles the next morning.  I cannot thank the writers of this year's version enough for not having Peter Parker magically grow muscles the next morning.

By contrast, when Webb's Parker winds up in a tour group he was never supposed to be a part of, gets through a locked door (which is where one might expect to find really dangerous arachnids, as opposed to running loose), and then walks into the spider habitat (or whatever that was), it makes sense that he would keep quiet about being bitten, because it would have required that he confess to snooping in a restricted area.  And then Parker (and kudos to Garfield for this) looked understandably freaked when he gets home after unintentionally assaulting nearly everyone on a subway car, as any normal person would, had he just learned he could stick to ceilings.

I could definitely buy both versions of the young hero as the vigilante out to avenge the uncle.  But in the original, Parker’s transition from infected freak to superhero felt disjointed.  The biggest reason was probably that his iconic suit seems to spontaneously appear.  We see him draw it, but his first attempt at a cool outfit was such a miserable failure that I had a hard time believing that he made the second one.  At least in the new one we see him decide (albeit grudgingly) on spandex; there’s even a brief clip where he’s holding a needle and thread.  I’ve seen enough episodes of Project Runway to know that it’s not quite that easy to make a skintight spandex suit, but it was far better an explanation than was offered by the original.

Superhero aside, I found it much easier to invest in Garfield’s Parker than in Maguire’s.  They’re both nerdy, but Garfield brings charm and personality to the character.  Even before he gets bitten, we see him stand up to the school bully.  And after he discovers his powers, he is less reluctant to experiment with them in everyday situations.  In an interview with Matt Patches, Garfield says Parker “finds a confidence when he finds his power… a kind of rebelliousness that he hadn’t been able to access before.”  Maguire’s Parker never accesses such rebelliousness, and it makes his mild-mannered alter ego irritatingly frail.

Parker volunteers the “I’m Spider-Man” factoid awfully fast to a girl he hardly knows, which I found a little concerning.  It took Raimi two movies to tell Mary Jane the truth, although she claims she knew all along, so I was surprised when Gwen found out.  However, I will admit that her knowing paved the way for a couple of laugh-out-loud moments, and provided Parker with a much-needed ally.

I think the feel of superhero movies as a genre is changing.  A decade old, Raimi’s film is more true to the comic book style, complete with witty banter, a damsel in distress, and plenty of cheese.  Webb’s hero never once says the words “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man,” for which I was very grateful, and while there was no shortage of comedic content, I found it easier to worry for the characters when the overall tone was more serious.

Whew!  I think that’s everything.  Kudos if you made it all the way to the end.  What did you think?  Did The Amazing Spider-Man fail to impress you?  Or did you think it was better than the original?  Anybody else crushing Andrew Garfield or Emma Stone?  Or is Tobey Maguire the only Spidey for you?