Saturday, June 28, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive

…or how to do a vampire love story right. “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a little independent movie by Jim Jarmusch. If you blinked last year, you probably missed it - and that’s a shame. The movie was released on DVD in Germany yesterday and I took the chance to snatch a copy for myself.

Okay, so my main reason was this:

But, seriously, the movie stars more people than just Tom Hiddleston, who is standing there and looking delicious. The main cast also includes Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, and John Hurt. That’s also about all the main characters, four of which are vampires and one proves very mortal.

How do you make a vampire movie these days? With the vampire being one of the classic monsters of horror, it’s very much a case of ‘been there, done that’ for most things you could think of. ‘Good vampires’ have been done over and over again recently. That was fun once (Louis du Point du Lac), even twice (Nick Knight), or three times (Angel), but has become quite tiring by now. Vampire-human relationships are tricky, too. And a 150-year-old guy should not hang around high schools and date 16-year-old girls with no personality, if you ask me.
What can you do with vampires? What angles haven’t been done to death already? One angle I’d like to see more often is the whole ‘ennui’ thing. Another is relationships of any kind among vampires. And how do you cope with seeing the world change over and over again, as an almost-immortal being? “Only Lovers Left Alive” deals with all of that stuff to a certain degree. It knits ennui and world change into one thing, but that’s okay. Seeing how stupid humans stay over time can be tiring.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” is the story of Adam and Eve. Well, probably not those Adam and Eve, you know, the ones from the Garden Eden. However, both are pretty old as vampires, that much is obvious from several scenes of the movie (and a deleted scene, in which they talk about how Eve’s people transported the stones for Stonehenge). Adam is a musician with a solid interest in and knowledge of technology (good enough so he can build a little Tesla generator in his garden, so he has electricity at home). Eve is an avid reader, a good dancer, and overall the more pragmatic of the couple. They’ve been married for a long time already (their third wedding was in 1868) and are very much in love with each other. Yet they’ve chosen to live in separate places, he lives in Detroit, she lives in Tanger.
Adam is quite depressed, seeing how the humans (the zombies, as they both put it) treat their surrounding and themselves. How they have even contaminated their own blood - which makes living as a vampire not exactly easier. Eve, sensing his mood and worrying for him after a phone call, travels to Detroit to help him - and not a minute too soon, he already obtained a bullet capable of killing him. The lovers’ reunion, however, is disturbed by Eve’s sister Ava. (And can’t you just hear the dialogue between their parents when Ava was born? ‘It’s a girl again, darling.’ ‘Well, we named our first daughter Eve, how about naming this one Ava?’ ‘Great idea, darling, let’s do just that.’) Ava is, for all intents and purposes, a spoiled brat with the self-control and survival instinct of a wet hanky. How she survived so long (as she must be around 10,000 years old herself, being Eve’s sister), is a complete mystery. Ava just appears in Adam’s home, not even waiting for an invitation, just going in while Adam and Eve are going for a late-night drive. She disturbs her sister and brother-in-law (who is still pissed about that thing in Paris a little over 80 years ago), she diminishes their blood reserves (which Adam gets from a hospital), and in the end her actions force Adam to abandon his home and his beloved instruments and flee back to Tanger with Eve. I’m not going to spoil what happens in Detroit and what happens in Tanger afterwards, but I will say this: for all the love Adam and Eve have for each other, for all their knowledge and their close relationship with nature, they are predators and, unlike some other movies, “Only Lovers Left Alive” accepts that.

The movie definitely is no blockbuster, no movie made by a large studio for making money with it. It’s an independent production that relies more on visuals and the talents of the actors to bring the story to life. There’s few special effects (unfortunately the two scenes involving mirrors have been cut from the movies, but are on the DVD), there’s no glamour in the vampires. They are outsiders, looking a little suspicious (hair seems to be a real problem, once you’ve become a vampire), acting a little out of time (especially Adam, who has removed himself pretty much from the world).
Yet it is exactly this ‘we’re not a major movie’ thing which makes up the charm of the movie. Detroit, falling into ruins, full of neighbourhoods that are anything but filled with life. Tanger, an old city, full of people with shady trades (it seems), yet more alive than Detroit. And four vampires moving through time, remembering the past, watching the present, sometimes guessing the future. Four vampires, three of which seem to be creative in their own way (Christopher Marlowe, played by John Hurt, still writing, Adam composing music, Eve dancing), and one of which hanging on to life without a real destination (Ava, who is living in L.A.). When push comes to shove, though, vampires are the ultimate survivors - and that leaves us both happy for Adam and Eve, who will survive, and worried for our safety.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” is definitely a movie worth watching. Don’t expect too much action, rather expect a well-told story with eccentric characters. In the end, only the lovers will stay alive, as they have for such a long time already.

Waiting for ... Gaming

This is a post about something I find pretty annoying. About Free-to-Play games (Free-to-Pay games, as I call them) and their most annoying component: waiting.

You see, I really like to buy games and get the full game - to play, to keep. I hate several things about today’s DRMs, but that’s for another post. I like buying games and playing them as I see fit - when I want, where I want, as long as I want, as often as I want. There are games in my casual collection (like the second Dark Parables game, “The Exiled Prince”), which I have played completely four, five, or more times. What I like most about those games? They have a definite end.
I’ve never been one for stories of any kind that never really end. I’m not into soap operas for this reason. Therefore, I don’t really like all those online games, anyway. Not the MMORPGs (even though I like RPGs), not the online action games, and not the Free-to-Play games that have sprung up, either.

After I started playing on iPad, I also played several Free-to-Play games, since they were free and, well, it was new technology, what can I say? I stopped playing those games again soon, because they couldn’t hold my interest.
A little while ago, BFG started offering Free-to-Play games, too. The first ones were casino games and I never had any real interest in those. Gambling definitely isn’t my thing (I prefer spending money on games, books, and DVDs), so I just ignored them. Next were a couple of other games, mostly Hidden Object Games. One of them, “Midnight Castle,” became a favourite at the Challengers forum, though, and a few days ago, I downloaded it against my better judgement.

So, what is my problem with the game? Well, they’re playing the waiting game, very much like all Free-to-Play games do. Let me explain the basic idea behind Free-to-Play first, then I’ll also tell you about the waiting game.
Free-to-Play is the idea that you can play the basic version of a game for free. Yes, for free, for no money, without paying. Now, us grown-ups, we know there’s no such thing as a free lunch, much less a free game without a hook (at least a free game made by a professional developer and published by a professional portal). The hook with Free-to-Play is micro-transactions. Micro-transactions are small transactions within the game, done with real money. No in-game currency you can earn by doing stuff (that exists, too, in those games), but real money you pay for something to make the game easier or speed it up. You can play a Free-to-Play game completely for free - if you have a lot of patience. If you’re prepared to do a lot of grinding for your Free-to-Play RPGs. If you’re prepared to wait a lot. At first, those transactions seem to be pretty easy and not at all expensive. You pay a few dollars, sometimes only a couple of cents, and get something that will speed up building or make your character get more experience and so on.
However, let’s do a little calculation here. “Candy Crush” is a Facebook game where you can either bother your friends for more lives or buy a new life when you run out of them for 99 cents. The game belongs to the genre of the Match 3 games. Not a dying breed at all, there’s loads of them for all platforms, no matter whether it’s the computer or the mobile devices … I’m sure there’s even some around for consoles. If you’re not a member at BFG or Gamehouse, you can buy a full game there for $9.99 (for members, which get fined the price for one game every month for a coupon to use, it’s $6.99). A full game, one you can play without micro-transaction and as long and as often as you like. Those portals (and others I didn’t mention here) have loads of Match 3 games. Some include sweets, others let you match other stuff. And with buying 10 lives less, you’re almost there to buy one game without the micro-transaction hook. But people don’t do that, because they can a) bother their friends at FB until they get some stuff and b) always shell out a few cents for a new life, once all their friends unfriended them.
So, let’s get to the waiting game. If you play a Free-to-Play game for free, if you decide not to use micro-transactions, you have to wait a lot. Buildings in some games take hours of real time to be ready. Plants in some games take hours to grow. “Midnight Castle” has a cool-down time on the search scenes. You need to search each of those often, because they only yield one object on one go and you need a lot of those objects they give you. After playing a scene (knowing you will need more stuff from that one), you either have to wait for the scene to unlock again (can take 30 minutes or more) or you have to shell out on diamonds which unlock it again immediately. How you get diamonds? Well, either by luck in a search scene or for a quest - or for money, real money. Same goes for the in-game currency of gold coins. You earn some in the scenes, but you need a lot of them for crafting and unlocking new scenes and stuff like that. You either work hard for them or you shell out some real money. For me, who will not buy stuff for the game, that means a lot of waiting for the scenes to cool down, so I can get more stuff and earn more gold the hard way.

I’m not saying you should never play a Free-to-Play game, I just want you to remember there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Think about it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sherlock Season 3

Now that I’ve finally found the time to watch all three movies of season 3 in English, I can say it’s definitely my favourite season so far. I can’t say any of the three movies is the ‘weak one’ for one thing. While both season 1 (“The Blind Banker”) and season 2 (“A Scandal in Belgravia”) had a weak movie, season 3 doesn’t seem to have one.

“The Empty Hearse” is a great beginning of the season and a very nice modern version of “The Empty House,” the story in which Doyle brought Holmes back. The whole setup with various explanations for how Holmes could have survived the jump from the building in “The Reichenbach Falls” (the end of season 2), Watson’s anger at having been left in the dark, the introduction of Watson’s soon-to-be wife Mary, and the actual case is very nice and allows the viewer to ‘ease back’ into the series after a break of two years. We also get a glance at the guy that will dominate the last movie, just as “A Study in Pink” gave the first introduction to Moriarty.
“The Sign of Three” is a most hilarious movie, despite the attempted murders. While Doyle only suggested Holmes must have been at Watson’s wedding (and quite likely as the Best Man), the modern version actually puts the wedding in the centre of the episode. John and Mary are getting married and Sherlock has to prepare a speech as the Best Man - something he would never have expected, as he admits himself, because he never expected to have a best friend who could ask him to fill in there. The episode gives a rather deep insight into Holmes’ character and shows that, despite mostly being a creature of intellect, he can actually feel something for someone (just as there are rare glimpses in Doyle’s own stories showing how much Holmes cares for his friend Watson). It also allows us to see how emotional Sherlock can actually be when he’s drunk.
“His Last Vow” finally is a final episode and, as a such, carries the chance to actually end the series for good. One can’t shake off the impression that the actual end was only added, after it was clear there would be a season 4. There is someone in Britain who has complete control over everyone - including Sherlock, Watson, Mary, and Mycroft. Charles Augustus Magnusson, media mogul, keeps dirty secrets in his private vault, secrets that will allow him to expose everyone. He’s feared even by Mycroft, but Sherlock does set out to end his power. The Dragon Slayer (as Mycroft calls him once in the movie) is even prepared to sacrifice his own life and freedom for it. While John and Mary are expecting their first child (as hinted at the end of “The Sign of Three”), John and Sherlock have to face a danger unlike the ones they faced before. Magnusson is not physically imposing or outright mad, but he has power and influence far greater than Mycroft, so there is nobody who can protect them from his wrath. Therefore, Sherlock’s ‘solution’ to the problem is the only possible one, in the end. Which is why he pulls through with it, knowing what it will mean for his future.

Season 4 is far in the future now, but it will come, one day. Until then, I have a season I will watch over and over again, without skipping an episode, because they’re all good in their own way.