A pre-birthday media blow:
Mass Effect: I can’t get over the feeling that I’m playing this game wrong. Part of this feeling arises from the fact that Mass Effect has no tutorial to speak of, throwing you into the action with limited instruction but deep backstory. But most of this feeling arises from the hundred different variables the game asks you to worry about. Do I want to upgrade my armor to improve its “hardening,” its “physical protection” or its “damage reduction”? Do I need my weapons to do more “physical force” or to reduce “cooldown”? Is it better to bring a squad mate with four dots in Sabotage or five dots in Overload?
I played this game for five hours before abandoning my first build – reluctantly, after several attempts at driving across a frozen tundra in an ATV that handles like two drunk cows, only to arrive at a distant lab, be denied the opportunity to save, and then die at the hands of a giant robot four times. I considered those first five hours my tutorial, started a new game, and have since enjoyed it much more. As with all Bioware games, the setting oozes detail and history from every pore. Cultures and factions exist not just to provide obstacles but to add depth to a rich mural.
I could spend weeks reading a novel set here. I just wish I knew how to keep my team behind cover.
A Brief History of Time: I think I get it. Fortunately, Hawking has a unique gift for clear language in the deep sciences, and he repeats details as needed. For every two things I missed there was one thing I nailed dead-on.
Dead Man’s Shoes: Not as clever as it thinks it is, but still inventive and engaging. When a small town gang of North England drug dealers torture a mentally retarded boy, his brother (Paddy Considine, who also wrote) comes home from the army to enact his revenge. Were it not for a lot of long tracking shots over local soundtracks this movie would be 48 minutes – long enough for an hour of TV with commercials. As it is, it moves at an okay pace in ninety minutes. It’s all character study – little plot, little growth, little except some inventive cinematography and Considine, who’s very fun to watch.
Cosmos: John Scalzi pointed out that this entire series is now available on Hulu. To think that such a thing could exist – a slow but opulent procession of computer-generated imagery, teasing us with glimpses of distant galaxies and subatomic biology. Watching it in hi-def is a tonic: a means to restore your sense of wonder at a mundane universe. Take an hour, pour yourself a cooling drink, and watch an episode.
I also recommend this fan-produced video of an excerpt of Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot.” It instills in you a feeling of awe, humility and optimism. It’s the closest thing I have to the divine.