Month: January 2016

A Thoughtful Review of The Dark Knight



Running Diary of Madness: Batman Returns

devito’s in the middle, obviously.

Running thoughts as I watch this movie again:

  • Paul Reubens played the Penguin’s dad.  No further comment.
  • Christopher Walken looks so out of place in this movie.  He just appears to be Christopher Lloyd on downers.
  • I know that it’s campy and since it’s Batman it’s OK, but who in the villain organization mandates the silly costumes?  Why did I see a guy with an Uzi riding a unicycle?  Googely-eyed skull helmets?  I can understand face paint to conceal identity, but isn’t there a more efficient way?  Yes, I should suspend disbelief, but it’s hard sometimes.
  • Tim Burton is a bit of a magician in these Batman movies; he pays homage to the camp of the old TV show, but it’s OK because it’s so well-executed.  Even the most ridiculous moments are tempered by the fact that it’s a perfect shot, with the perfect lighting, with the perfect everything.
  • The Penguin is just ridiculous.  It’s a terrible villain to do live-action.  Danny DeVito somehow makes it work.  Somehow.
  • To believe that a woman that looks like Michelle Pfeiffer is having troubles finding a significant other is preposterous.
  • Why does it say “Hello There” on Selina Kyle’s wall?  What is that supposed to mean?  No wonder she’s lonely.  I’d be freaked the fuck out by that.
  • Wow, Selina Kyle socially engineered Schreck’s password.  And this was in 1992!  This movie was ahead of its time!
  • This scene where all the cats come to Selina Kyle’s almost-corpse had to be either the cutest or most horrifying scene to film.
  • Yes, a woman who keeps stuffed animals in her mostly-pink apartment also has a black leather outfit just hanging out.
  • Now the sign says “Hell Here” after she broke some of the sign in a rage.  Oh.
  • Penguin, your dad is Paul Reubens.  He jerked off in a movie theater a year ago.  Happy therapy bills!
  • Do you suppose anyone told Danny DeVito “you’re the only one who can play this part”?  And if so, isn’t that the shittiest thing?
  • If you google “the penguin casting batman returns,” the sixth result is an Angelfire page here.  I love the internet.
  • I think everyone should already understand that anyone who wears a thick striped suit is either evil or Satan.
  • Wow, Walken could barely hold in his contempt with that “badder fish to fry” line.
  • With every passing outfit, Max Schreck time travels another 30 years in the past.
  • “Mayor Cobblepot” sounds like an Adventure Time character.
  • Jan Hooks sighting!
  • Why wouldn’t Schreck just snap Penguin’s neck and get someone to run for mayor who doesn’t heavy mouth-breathe?
  • I figured out why all the henchmen dress weird: they’re all meth addicts.  It’s the only way.
  • I’m pretty sure you could gross $100M with 1992 Michelle Pfeiffer doing cartwheels alone.

    framing, at its finest.
  • Batman just blew up a dude.  Like, he’s chunks now.  Wowsers.
  • There ain’t no way that an umbrella helicopter could hold up the Penguin.  This isn’t a fat joke, it’s a physics observation.  Fine, I’ll suspend my disbelief.
  • “You’re just the pussy I’ve been looking for.”  This is a PG-13 movie with exploded dude and a line from a porno.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer licking her arms would gross another $100M.
  • So this is technically a Christmas movie, right?  Not that it would make any lists.
  • OK, I think the camp is too much.  I said Burton was a wizard earlier, but this is…a bit much.
  • And he just punches through the bottom of his bulletproof tank-car.  Yes.
  • “Schreck, and Cobblepot, a visionary alliance.”  Um.
  • He put a Batman logo on his CD-ROM loader.  Bruce Wayne has no life whatsoever.
  • Oh, and the CD-ROM is also a turntable that Bruce Wayne can riff on.  Brilliant.
  • Who brings lettuce and tomatoes to a speech?  Oh, the movie acknowledges this.  Does this make it OK?
  • He dove into a tiny creek!  Fucking follow him!  Oh whatever.
  • Pfeiffer is really making lemonade out of this lemon script.  Probably the most remarkable thing about this movie.  Aside from the Bat-CD-ROM-Turntable.
  • I wonder where you get a person-sized bird cage.  They sell those at Home Depot?
  • He’s talking to penguins.  He’s talking to penguins about children’s erogenous zones.  This is happening in a movie.  A Batman movie!  Is this real?
  • I have learned that there are some things that not even Danny Elfman music can fix.
  • “The penguins are moving above ground.”  Oh my.
  • This is the cutest, most adorable terrorist attack I’ve ever seen.
  • And of course, Batman’s radar has penguin-shaped icons.
  • He didn’t murder the penguins.  Though he did make that one dude explode.  So he’s still a monster.
  • Batman’s penguin radar even makes a penguin noise on each pulse.  Amazing.
  • Batman’s radar also has duck-shaped icons, along with duck-sounding pulse.
  • Batman movies prove the adage, “there is an app for that.”
  • “A die for a die.”  Just.  Uh.
  • Then the Penguin gets up, says some dumb words, then dies.  Does that mean penguins only get two lives?
  • The penguins are marching the Penguin’s corpse into the water, if you didn’t realize what was happening.  I still don’t realize it.

It’s still OK.  It’s flat-out ridiculous, and it’s ultra-campy, but Burton’s direction really does make it tolerable to sometimes great, most of the time.

Final Fantasy 12: Initial Thoughts

Yeah, so I’m giving initial thoughts on a game that’s 10 years old.  I spend my time very wisely.

Anyways, I’ve put a few hours in, and while there’s a whole lot more game to get to, I have some words.

  • I love the political intrigue.  Some might find all the exposition tiring, but it’s well-presented and makes sense.  Not all Final Fantasy plots achieve that, so I’ll take a barrage of words if it’s effective.
  • The license system feels like the Sphere Grid from FF10, except a big more digestable.  This is a good thing.
  • Combat is actually pretty solid so far.  It was a brave decision to move away from the tried and true “noise, flash, battle screen” format, but the seamless action is welcome and well-executed.  We’ll see if it holds up as things get more complicated (more characters/abilities/etc).
  • Vaan is pretty much anime Aladdin, though a bit less interesting on first blush.  I think I may find him irritating.  Though he can’t be worse than Tidus, right?  Right?
  • The game is very pretty, even at 10 years old.  This should come as no surprise considering Square Enix’s regular commitment to graphics, but it’s worth mentioning that 12 is specifically gorgeous, more so than any other FF.  That is high praise.
  • I adore the sountrack, which makes sense.  It is not done by series stalwart Nobuo Uematsu, but it was done by Final Fantasy Tactics composer Hitoshi Sakimoto.  His style is evident, and is wonderful.
  • One major gripe: the right analog stick is used to look around, and it uses a “flipped” scheme for both directions.  It’s not awkward holding up to look down or down to look up, but holding right to look left and vice versa is awkward.  And you can’t change it.  Normally this is the kind of bullshit that I will simply stop playing a game over, but I’m going to push through because otherwise I’m having a pretty good time.

I probably won’t have any more thoughts until I either finish or stop playing the game.  So far I would bet on me finishing it though, but I wouldn’t underestimate the possibility for bullshit midway through a FF game.  We’ll see.

American TV is Fucking Awful

I recently became enamored with Kitchen Nightmares, because Gordon Ramsay is legitimately hilarious, and working in IT I can identify with the feeling of “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING” that Ramsay so pleasingly exhibits as he discovers the kitchens and the nightmares.

So, eventually that led me to the British version of Kitchen Nightmares, which just happens to be exponentially better than the American version.

How?  Same guy, same premise.  How could it be so different?  Bullet points!

  • The music and sound effects that are used in American reality television are ridiculous and practically offensive.  All the dramatic posturing, stereotypical “whooshes” and ominous cues; it’s insulting.  The UK version has actual songs by actual bands, without dramatic wankery.
  • The American version also has these terrible, trite visual cues, such as a plate being smashed when transitioning to commercial after a fight, or someone crushing a muffin under their feet, or something else equally silly and unnecessary.
  • The show is narrated by Gordon himself, instead of some stupid typical guy going “you’ll NEVER guess what Gordon uncovers, after the break!”  Gordon is actually intelligent and well-spoken; why would you supersede that with a guy who should be on bad morning radio?

This isn’t the only example, however.  Shows in Britain are often much like this when compared to their American counterparts.  For a lack of better words, they act as if the audience has a functioning brain.

Oh, wait.  I get it now.

Marc Maron S3E12/13: Holy Fuck

Marc Maron’s show “Maron” on IFC recently got season 3 posted on Netflix, and I have promptly rolled through all of it.  It’s brilliant, though that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Episodes 12 and 13 deal specifically with drug addicition, where Marc (in character and real life a recovering drug addict) relapses with painkillers and ruins his opportunity with an online talk show.  It’s a sad tumble for the character, which is all the more impactful since Marc plays a character you’re not really supposed to like in the first place.

The addictive behavior displayed by Marc in the episode hit very, very close to home.  Its accuracy is practically haunting to me; I have witnessed an extremely similar situation in my life.  The end outcome wasn’t quite as dramatic as the show (what is as dramatic as a TV show, really), but everything leading up to it was accurate.

I’m sure Marc has lived through it or witnessed it as well, and that much is obvious.  I know what a long-term recovering drug addict looks like when they’re regressing, and what’s on display in this episode is it.  I watched the episode, cried, then watched it again.  I never, ever thought I would ever see such an accurate, honest portrayal of addiction on a TV show.  The interactions, the rationalizing, the bargaining, the lies, the sneakiness, the patronizing.  All hit very close to home.  All accurate.

It’s far more than watching him high.  It’s what he does before he gets high.  It’s what he does when talking himself and rationalizing behavior that he knows is wrong.  The conversation he has with himself before the show recording is a perfect representation of the inner war an addict has.

They don’t even realize, in the moment, that there’s a chemical reacton, a chemical addiction in play.  They think they’re in control, they bargain with themselves so that they feel that the decision they’re making is the right one, even though they know what they’re about to put in their body has ruined them before.

It’s a highlight about how destructive it can be, but also how much of a mental component it all is.  The biggest fault on the War on Drugs is the fact that the drugs don’t kill people; it’s the people that kill themselves.  There’s a multitude of reasons and excuses for why they do it, but they all align under a single banner: they have control over this, and they are good enough to keep it that way.  And truth be told, some people can.  Millions of people habitually smoke marijuana and lead functional, healthy lives.  There are many people who recreationally use harder drugs and still have their shit together.  While the drug is the literal substance that’s hurting their body, it’s only hurting the addict’s life because they’re letting it.

Now obviously no one, except maybe the suicidal, uses drugs with the intent on ruining their life or those around them.  They’re using them to escape something, or to give them an edge they think it may give them (and in some cases it may!).  They’re using them because it’s what they know will work to make them feel better, whatever “feeling better” is to them in the moment.

And that’s what the sickness of addiction is.  It’s having the ability to lie to yourself, to rationalize obviously destructive behavior, in the name of circumstance or fleeting happiness.

What Maron displayed in this episode is a classic, real look at what an addict thinks.  He took painkillers because he was in pain, but being an addict, he didn’t know when to stop.  He became chemically reliant on the drug, instead of seeking healthier (or more moderate) ways to deal with the pain he had.

The painkiller wasn’t the problem.  For a person who understands the dangers of drugs and their own potential weaknesses, taking a painkiller when you’re in pain is fine.  If you follow the prescription, it’s fine.  The problem is when you lie to yourself, when you lie to those around you, when you convince yourself that you need this painkiller, and you have it under control.  And Maron’s character obviously did not.  And being an addict in the past only exacerbated the problem, because he quickly fell into old habits he made before: hiding the drugs from the intervention he knew was coming, searching for drugs in his neighbor’s bathroom, making sure he had the time to take more before the show, no matter how embarrassing it seemed (he insinuated that he was going to have a pre-show jerk-off just to get in a room alone).

These are all things I have witnessed.  It hit really close to home.  It really underscores a major problem in society.  This wasn’t cocaine, this wasn’t crack.  It was painkillers, something many people take legitimately every day.

This was a person.  A broken person, one who believed his own lies, and was on a path to do anything to continue those lies.

Holy fuck.

Magic the Gathering: A wistful remembrance

mtgI played Magic: The Gathering (M:TG) for years.  I started at Revised/Fallen Empires era, played until Urza’s Saga, then joined back up around Ravnica and stopped again at Shard of Alara/M12.  It has been a huge influence on my gaming interests, and I’ve had a whole lot of fun with it over the years.

I haven’t played in years, and I’ll probably never play again.

The biggest reason is the amount of investment, and I’m not just talking about money (though that’s a big part too).  If you’re an avid Magic player, it’s mostly taken up your life.  Constant research into new decks, new cards, cards leaving rotation, spoilers for upcoming sets, playtesting, etc.  It’s a job in and of itself, except you probably won’t get paid.

I’ve still dabbled here and there playing limited formats, but I simply don’t have the will or desire to play constructed formats where I have to do all that research and maintain a collection.

However, it did yield some of the most fun times of my life.  The social interaction, the deep complexity of strategy, the excitement when card synergies connect into an awesome combo or deck…it was grand.  I think I’ve chased a similar experience since then.

Part of me wants to dive back in.  Even though I’ve missed years of cards, new mechanics, and design evolution (and all the catchup I would have to do), some of me wants to sling cardboard again.  I would consider myself a reasonably decent player, and maybe above-average in limited formats.  Maybe I could just make a Commander/EDH deck, or dive into Modern or Legacy (which are formats that change far less, so they have less upkeep).  Maybe I could feel the joy I used to have when debating how many Juggernauts are the right amount in my aggro deck, or what sweet sideboard tech I could use to give me the edge at the card shop.

I feel the internet ruined Magic, though.  Deckbuilding is a far less satisfying venture now, since all competent decklists are spread instantly to the playerbase that’s paying attention.  Trying to build a competitive deck is impossible unless you’re one of the best in the world at it, simply because there are only so many concepts, and they’re all cornered days after an expansion.

serra angel
ah, memories.  take 4.

Maybe the internet didn’t ruin Magic, but it ruined my favorite part of it: deckbuilding.  I feel I was a pretty competent deckbuilder back in the day, or at least I was able to wring the most out of intrinsically flawed deck concepts (which is probably what makes me good at limited).

The power creep is weird too.  Way back in the day, it didn’t get much better than Serra Angel, creature-wise.  Nowadays ol’ reliable is laughed at if seen in-game.  This will obviously occur in any game that evolves, but it still feels strange to me.

Maybe I don’t love Magic, just the idea of it as it exists in my brain, in remembrance of old fun times.  Nostalgia can be a motherfucker.

I remember the first time I won a tournament.  Was back in 1998 I think, I was playing mono-green Stompy, or a deck filled with small creatures that tried to overwhelm an opponent quickly.  It was good in its time, since the deck du jour was mono-black Necropotence, and Stompy had a few elements that gave it lots of trouble.  I got a lot of mileage out of that old Stompy deck; I last-chance-qualified for a Junior Super Series with it, after noting that most of the field was mono-black, so I added Whirling Dervish to my main deck (a card that has protection from black).

this guy.  ugh.

I remember hemming and hawwing over my own Necropotence deck along with a friend, trying to tweak it just so so it would have an edge over other Necro decks, as well as some of the other decks we knew we would see at the store on the weekend.

I remember the “worst format ever” in Urza’s Sage block, where everyone played only four decks, and the games were very boring and predictable.  It was just a rock-paper-scissors with four decks, and all four were interminably awful to play against.

I remember playing a ridiculous green/blue “Simic” deck in Ravnica that was terrible, but I still squeezed some wins out of it.  Gosh, that deck was terrible.

One last thought: I think the complexity of the game has turned me off a bit as well.  Not that I can’t handle the complexity, but I simply choose not to.  It’s yet another barrier for entry that I don’t want to overcome.  I’d have to learn years of new rules and mechanics, and then deal with the fact that so many cards are just walls of text.  If I wanted to read that much, I’m at an age now where I’d rather just write or read a book.


The money thing can’t be ignored.  I quit right around when the “mythic” rarity started, and it made new cards cost amounts of money I’m still embarrassed to acknowledge.  Normally new cards, even the best ones, would start out around $20 at the most.  Then Tarmogoyf happened, which shot up to around $40 if I remember correctly.  Then, once “mythic” rarity started, there were some cards that were $80 or more upon release.  Normally cards had to go out of print to get that high, but there they were, a brand new in-print card costing more than a good steak dinner.

Maybe I’ll get back into just limited.  Maybe I’ll try to craft standard-era decks out of commons and be that weird guy.  But I probably won’t.

I won’t say goodbye to Magic, but I’m probably not giving it a call either.

MJ vs. LBJ: A statistical comparison after 12 seasons

I was going to begin this as a MJ vs. Kobe vs. LBJ comparison, but Kobe’s numbers just weren’t terribly interesting.  MJ vs. LBJ, however, is very interesting.  This analysis includes the first 12 years of both careers.  I won’t be including playoff stats in this analysis, though I will touch on them when appropriate.

Note on my background: I’ve been a rabid NBA fan since the late ’80s, however, I was 9 years old in 1990.  I have gone back and watched a lot of the 90’s Bulls in recent years, so I am remembering this with better eyes than my teenage brain.

I’m going to go stat by stat (or group by group) and will be considering the context of the era and their teams.  Obviously I could have a bias, being a Bulls fan, but I’d like to think I’m going to be objective.

Here’s the comparison page, courtesy of MJ vs. LBJ comparison.

Time Played
MJ (age 21-33): 848 games (984 possible), 837 starts, 32,706 minutes
LBJ (age 18-30): 911 games (968 possible*), 910 starts, 35,769 minutes
* – due to 2011 lockout

LBJ’s health throughout his career is remarkable, and it shows here.  If you include playoff games, LeBron started 20 more of those than Jordan as well.  All told, Lebron played more than an entire season, 83 games, than Jordan has.  However, Jordan did play three years of college as well, but we’re looking at NBA stats here.  All told, it’s important to remember that LBJ has 63 more regular season games than Jordan after 12 years.  Not a monumental difference, but notable.

MJ: .509 FG%, .340 3P% (1544 attempted), .524 2P%, .523 eFG%, .584 TS%, .843 FT% (7394 attempted)
LBJ: .496 FG%, .342 3P% (3671 attempted), .535 2P%, .531 eFG%, .581 TS%, .745 FT% (7730 attempted)

These are overall similar numbers, though there are two notable differences: LBJ’s much higher 3P attempts, and MJ’s higher FT%.  The 3P difference can probably be chalked up to era, as the three-point shot was less emphasized back then.  Jordan was just simply a better free-throw shooter as well, so no groundbreaking findings here.

The surprise is that LBJ’s numbers stand up as well as they do.  We often consider MJ the best scorer ever without much more thought, though LBJ’s numbers do really stand up.  Much of this is due to the extra emphasis on the three-pointer, but LeBron is also one of the few athletes in NBA history who was as effective (if not a tiny bit more) than Jordan was at driving in the lane.

MJ: 4729, 5.6/game
LBJ: 6301, 6.9/game

LBJ’s vision and passing acumen are often lauded, and the stats bear it out.  MJ was certainly no slouch, but LBJ clearly gets the edge here.  MJ was a very good passer, LBJ is easily the best passing non-point guard in history, and on par with other hall-of-fame point guards.

Miami Heat's James passes against the Detroit Pistons in a preseason NBA basketball game in Miami
he was good at this.

MJ: 5361 rebounds (6.3/game), 3944 DRB, 1417 ORB
LBJ: 6502 rebounds (7.1/game), 5421 DRB, 1081 ORB

It’s not surprising that LBJ has the rebounding edge, but it’s very interesting that MJ had 50% more offensive rebounds.  ORBs are largely recognized as more difficult and valuable.  This is likely a product of the triangle offense, but also that MJ relished tip-ins and rebounding his own shot a bit more than most.

MJ: 2165 steals (2.6/game), 783 blocks (0.9/game)
LBJ: 1553 steals (1.7/game), 724 blocks (0.8/game)

The steals are the obvious difference.  However, I do think there are three things at play here: MJ wasn’t always guarding the best opposing wing (that was usually Pippen’s duty), MJ played in an era where steals were a bit easier to get due to NBA rules, and MJ gambled a bit more for steals than LBJ does.  Regardless of that, ~600 more steals is a huge deal (especially when you consider the large intrinsic value of a steal, which often becomes a 4-point swing), and is a testament to Jordan’s fast hands and tenacity.  The fact that he outpaces LBJ’s blocks is also impressive and a bit surprising.


MJ: 2404 (2.8/game)
LBJ: 3067 (3.4/game)

This discrepancy could be easily explained by the fact that LBJ had the ball in his hands more (since he effectively played point guard a lot), but MJ’s usage rate is higher as well (33.5 vs. 31.7), so this is actually a pretty meaningful difference.  Add that to the fact that Jordan played in an era that was harder for ball handlers (just like when we mentioned MJ’s steal numbers), and this is pretty impressive and meaningful.


I won’t bother analyzing other stats, as the above are the most meaningful differences.

The other important things to consider when comparing these two are their team situations, other era-specific differences, and the simple fact that they are very different players.

Jordan and LeBron both played on mediocre teams in their early years, but through 12 years Jordan had played with elite teammates for a couple more years than LeBron had.  Pippen is arguably better than any teammate LeBron has ever had (Wade is the only debatable one), and LeBron didn’t really have even good teammates until he went to the Heat.

We’ve already covered differences in their respective eras concerning three-point attempts and defense, but it’s also important to note that defenses are different now in more ways than the ability to defense ball handlers.  Zone defenses and theories are commonplace now, and that has made things harder for iso-type play.  The league’s best offenses back in Jordan’s day were simply the teams with the best offensive stars (and their amount of them), while now the league’s best offenses are the ones with the best scheme and players that fit it.  Players like Danny Green and Mike Miller would have been afterthoughts in the 90s, while they are much-revered as essential cogs in their respective offenses nowadays.  This is due more to the way offense is played, rather than heightened media attention.

Finally, these are just two different players.  Jordan’s game was predicated on finesse and tough shot-making on offense, while LBJ looked to pass more and used his size to bully his way in the post and in the lane.  Both were tenacious defenders, both among the best wing defenders of all time.  However, Jordan was one of NBA history’s greatest pickpockets, while LeBron could defend almost every position.


I think what it comes back to is that it’s still pretty difficult to compare these two, based on position, era, and expectation.  Gun-to-head, I still take MJ, but the margin is smaller than many would care to admit.  MJ’s playoff numbers are a sight to behold, but a second look shows that his efficiency is actually a tad worse than during the regular season (which is the typical effect when raising usage rate).

I think the biggest thing I took out of this was that LBJ probably doesn’t get enough credit for being as good a scorer as he is, and that Jordan probably doesn’t get enough credit for being as good a defender as he was.