Saturday, May 25, 2013

Movies: Star Trek Into Daftness

How do you know your shiny new J.J. Abrams "Star Trek" movie is in trouble?

1. The screenplay comes from the same guys who brought you "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," one of the most poorly written movies ever, and

2. There's a message onscreen dedicating the movie to "post-9/11 veterans with gratitude for their inspired service abroad and continued leadership at home."

A shame, it all looked so promising in trailers:

And that's not to blame the actors, who do a great job with the material they have. In particular, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto have fantastic chemistry here, and really capture the Kirk-Spock bromance that was at the core of the original series and movies. The special effects, editing, and directing are all pretty good, too. Heck, I've even warmed to Michael Giacchino's score, though it'll never compare to Jerry Goldsmith's work on "First Contact."

No, the real problem is the writing, which seems to ditch continuity and consistency whenever it's convenient to the plot. One moment the Enterprise can't raise anyone on comms, the next moment, Spock's having an intergalactic heart-to-heart with Spock Prime. Transporters can't lock onto anyone who is moving, unless it's the villain, in which case the transporter can instantly send him halfway across the galaxy (why bother with starships then?).

Even without talking about actual plotholes, the whole thing starts to get silly. There's no way of knowing whether the screenwriters will impose some arbitrary constraint on 23rd century technology for the sake of drama, and thus no fun in seeing the Enterprise crew figure out clever solutions to their problems (e.g., bringing down the Reliant's shields in Star Trek II, constructing a whale tank in Star Trek IV, creating a plasma-seeking photon torpedo in Star Trek VI, etc.). That's not a huge part of "Star Wars," which Abrams is also taking over, but it's central to Star Trek, and that's why STID gets a...

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Guns: From the discarded holster files...

My one bedrock requirement when it comes to holsters is safety. If a holster does not retain the gun, allows objects to get caught in the trigger guard, or cannot stay attached to my body, I will not carry with it - no exceptions. That being said, there are holsters that, while not unsafe, have design quirks that I personally do not care for.

Take this DeSantis Pro Stealth IWB holster, for instance. It's fairly inexpensive, it's ambidextrous (the steel spring clip can be moved to the left side), it holds its shape okay (for a nylon holster), and it includes an elastic mag pouch in the front that does a decent job of holding a GLOCK 26 10-rounder. Unfortunately, the spring clip is positioned so far up the holster that the grip of a G26 doesn't clear the beltline, leading to a very awkward draw. Since the whole point of an IWB holster like this is to bring your CCW gun to bear, the Pro Stealth got discarded.

Here's an old Galco Waistband IWB for a 2" J-frame snubby. Again, the holster in most respects is fine - it safely and securely holds the gun, the draw is fast, and the plastic spring clip allows you to take the holster on and off easily (great for short forays into places where you cannot carry a gun legally). The holster really only has one (major) flaw: once you draw your snub, the holster collapses and makes reholstering impossible without two hands, since the mouth is not reinforced like other holsters (including other rigs made by Galco). Not only does this make draw practice tedious, but it's also a disadvantage if you ever have to reholster your gun during or after a self-defense shooting:

Again, these holsters are not unsafe or dangerous in any way, and are certainly superior to carrying without a holster or carrying in an El Cheapo no-name flap that won't hold the gun. But their flaws meant that they went into the great gunshop holster bargain bin in the sky...

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Movies: The Place Beyond the Pines

A stunt driver (played by Ryan Gosling) leads a double life as a criminal, with the help of a seedy car mechanic. Gosling's character falls in love with a woman and her young son, whom he quickly bonds with. The stunt driver must pull off more and riskier jobs to help get the woman money.

No, it's not "Drive". It's "The Place Beyond the Pines":

In "The Place Beyond the Pines," Director Derek Cianfrance has made a quintessentially American cops-and-robbers story. Tonally, the movie's sort of a cross between his sophomore feature, "Blue Valentine," and classic gangster epics like "The Godfather" or "Goodfellas" (Ray Liotta gets a characteristically gritty role) with some decent riffs on sins, forgiveness, and father/son dynamics.

The movie drags, there aren't any exciting chases or action scenes to speak of, and the snakebitten lot of every character feels a bit heavyhanded. If you're willing to overlook these flaws, you'll find a capable evening of entertainment here.

Rating: 7/10

Tech: Max Payne 3 review

Remedy's "Max Payne" was a fairly big hit back in 2001, and the sequel released two years later, "Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne," was also well-received. Most people, including yours truly, loved the combination of Hong Kong-style slow-motion gunplay and hardboiled noir that the series offered. It's surprising that it took nine years (and a developer change) before the next installment in Max's story, "Max Payne 3":

The previous Max Payne games had some obvious nods to classic movies (John Woo, Peckinpah, and film noir in general) but Rockstar Vancouver has taken things to the next level here. For one thing, the entire plot is basically a retread of "Man on Fire": Max, like Creasey, is an alcoholic, burnt-out American bodyguard who tries to track down a kidnapped girl in a foreign country, meting out death wherever he goes. The main setting of the game - destitute favelas in São Paulo, Brazil - is straight out of "City of God." Heck, Max even goes for the John McClane look (white undershirt, shoulder holster, bald head) halfway through the game.

All the cinematic aspirations haven't changed the basic third-person shooter gameplay the series is known for. Max can still activate "Bullet Time" at will, slowing down the gameworld but leaving you free to aim at normal speed (which effectively gives you superhuman reflexes). Though there's a new cover system in Max Payne 3, Max is still just as fragile as he was in earlier games, and there's no automatic health regeneration. The upshot of all of this is you'll have to alternate quickly popping and shooting bad guys in cover with dramatic slow-motion leaps and dodges, especially when navigating the game's tougher stages.

Thankfully, the levels themselves have the amount of detail you'd expect in a Max Payne game, especially one developed by Rockstar. A shootout in an office will shatter glass, spin desk chairs, and scatter papers into the air, whereas a pitched "Black Hawk Down"-esque battle in a favela might leave bullet-ridden ruins out of wooden shanties and trash piles. It's all very entertaining, top-tier action gameplay.

The main problem with Max Payne 3 is that there's actually too much "action gameplay" - 10 to 12 hours' worth, to be precise. Going from gunfight to gunfight is common in shooters, but becomes ludicrous in a Max Payne game - it's hard to be world-weary and cynical when you're gunning people down by the literal thousands. The previous two titles were much better paced, both in terms of setpieces, length (only 5-7 hours each), and difficulty. Still, it's hard to complain about getting stuffed full of ultranoir violence, so I'll give Max's third outing a...

Rating: 85/100