In Defense Of Iceman

People that know me and my obsession with “Top Gun” – my favorite movie of all time – ask me one question about it: why Iceman? See, Iceman…Tom Cruise’s character’s rival and the antagonist of most of the film, is my favorite character. He’s one of the biggest reasons I watch the movie and fell in love with it as a kid. But when Tom Cruise is the main character, so emotional, so *intuitive* (do I ever stop saying that word?) , so…Cool…Do I spend all that money to put together my Iceman costume and props?

I figured as I’m 33 years old with Top Gun 2 coming out next summer I figured it was high time to answer this question.

Firstly, I always wanted to be a fighter pilot as a kid. It was the first job I ever wanted to do. Poor eyesight robbed me of that by grade 5, but previously to that there was nothing I wanted more than, in Charlie’s (she’s the love interest in Top Gun…) words be “…Mach 2 with your hair on fire.” But even as a kid I understood that 1.) planes were expensive and 2.) they were paid for by the taxpayer. In fact, “Striker” – the commander of the aircraft carrier in the movie – tells Maverick near the beginning “you don’t own that plane, the taxpayers do!” That always stuck with me. And respect for the taxpayer is still a big deal for me given where I fall on the political spectrum.

Iceman is the definitive pilot, or at least what the definitive pilot should be. He’s calm, responsible, very skilled (people forget that he leads Maverick the entire Top Gun class), and he’s honestly a good guy. Is he a bad boy fighter jock hitting on his teacher? No…Does he ride a cool Kawasaki Ninja in a leather jacket at sunset? No…He’s in his cabin studying theory and figuring out how to be the best damn fighter pilot. So that when the chips are down he has his wingman’s back and will be best prepared to face the enemy and WIN.

Iceman gets a bad rap through most of the movie being portrayed as the “bad guy” simply because during training I guess Maverick needed a foil. But Iceman isn’t “bad” at all. In fact, he does his utmost to do everything right by Maverick. What I’m meaning here is there are at least two conversations in the movie where Iceman tries to mend fences with Maverick and get him to chill out and focus on the big picture:

“Maverick, it’s not your flying, it’s your attitude. The enemy’s dangerous, but right now you’re worse. Dangerous and foolish. You may not like who’s flying with you, but whose side are you on?”

Who’s side are you on? That’s honestly poignant and I say that without irony. Maverick is a member of the U.S. Navy, he is a naval aviator and a key cog on a TEAM. But he never flies or acts like a team player until the final battle. It’s Maverick’s recklessness that gets Goose, Maverick’s radio intercept operator (RIO), killed by being overly aggressive, forcing Iceman to bug out from a kill he was attempting in the training mission where Goose dies. One part of the movie that irks me is how Maverick is not held to account for this. Maverick implores Iceman over and over to prematurely bug out from his attempted kill just because Maverick is impatient to get the kill himself.

In the final battle it is Iceman who is chosen to lead the combat air patrol (CAP). When Hollywood is shot down early, what people forget is that Iceman holds off 7 MiGs (I believe) for about 10-15 minutes until Maverick gets there. One vs. seven in a dogfight for 10-15 minutes. That’s nuts level skill! Even unrealistic. As all it would take is one MiG to back off and get into a firing position. Sure enough, Maverick saves the day (Iceman does get one solid kill at least) and when they land they’re best of friends.

My hope is that in Top Gun 2, which Val Kilmer/Iceman is in, that Iceman finally gets the respect he deserves. How does that look? Quite simply the same relationship that Viper and Jester (the two trainers in Top Gun) had in the first movie. Even though Viper was Jester’s superior, in every scene Viper looks for Jester’s honest opinion and treats him as a partner, not a pawn.

Iceman is the real hero of Top Gun and that’s why he’s my favorite.

 

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Call of Pripyat

When asked “if you could vacation anywhere, where would you most like to go?” Probably very few people answer “the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone”. Well, I am one of those very few. I’ve been obsessed with the Chernobyl story since I first learned about it in grade school: a cataclysmic nuclear fire that caused an entire region to be evacuated, now reclaimed by feral beasts and mutated catfish feeding off the reactor cooling pool effluence (this part of the story is true). A 1980s era Soviet city, Pripyat, frozen in time. Train cars stuck on the tracks with no hope of passengers, huge dock cranes abandoned amidst their daily work, now posed like ancient extinct skeletal beasts stuck in time, over the horizon. Realistically, it’ll be a tough trip to do and with each year “the Zone” becomes more tightly controlled and hard to tour.

Thankfully, the PC game “S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Call of Pripyat” gives me the next best thing. “Stalker” is actually the third game in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R series, and was released in 2010. The game plays like a “budget Fallout 4” wherein it’s a first person shooter with RPG and survival horror elements. Call of Pripyat had a lot going for it, it just wasn’t very mainstream. It was developed by obscure Ukrainian developer CSG Game World and did not have much of a marketing budget to speak of. I only heard of it when I stumbled on it, Googling Chernobyl looking for an online tour or interactive experience

The game turned out to be an extremely pleasant surprise! To discuss STALKER, you really need a quick primer on the basics of the game. You play Major Alex Degtyarev, a former STALKER turned Ukrainian agent. STALKER, refers to groups of treasure seekers who prowl the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Why? Because in the story a second catastrophic accident leads to reality bending (and dangerous) “anomalies” scattered around the area. These anomalies spawn artifacts, which are essentially valuable new types of minerals which give you slight powers. You can keep many on hand to stack their effects, but mostly they’re to sell.

Major Degtyarev is dropped into Zaton, one of four real life districts in Chernobyl to try to understand where and why five Ukrainian helicopters crashed en route to the center of the Zone, the Chernoybl power plant itself. That’s the main goal of the story, but you’re welcome to explore and take the game at your own pace. The exploration is the part I loved, the games designers really tried hard to recreate Chernobyl as well as they could including many iconic places. For one district you go to is dominated by the Jupiter factory – a gigantic real life factory that was modeled inside and out as realistically as possible. I’ve looked up real Jupiter photos…And they did a good job in the game!

The game itself is cool because your character can’t actually “level up”. The only way he gets stronger is buying, scavenging, trading, or stealing better weapons and gear. Everything needs to be found: you start off with a military issue pistol and submachine gun, a little bit of ammo, and are simply dropped in a forest alone to orientate your way and complete your mission. The pacing is very good, with interesting and unique side missions. It starts off with a bang: Zaton is the best district in my opinion, I will never forget walking out of the forest to see two beached freighter ships on the bottom of a now-drained lake. Then above them, the shadows of the gigantic Zaton dock cranes, like silent goliaths peering over the whole region. I was hooked right then and there.

The game series itself is inspired by a famous Soviet era science fiction book called “Roadside Picnic” written by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky in 1971. It’s similar, involving STALKERS searching for artifacts in one of several “zones” after aliens make a brief pit stop on Earth causing major shifts in our reality. I own the book, but have some other stuff to read first. It will definitely be reviewed here later!

In the meantime, STALKER is available on Gog.com and I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes 1.) Cold War stuff and 2.) first person shooters with horror or RPG elements.

If you want to be amazed by the Chernobyl port cranes, like I am, the video below will show you why they’re so amazing. Skip to about 11:00 to see what it’s like to have them first loom out of the horizon…

 

The Fountainhead: A Preview

A confession to start: I don’t recall ever reviewing a book anywhere, anytime. Not sure why, I don’t read many books per year but I’m always working my way through something interesting. Currently, I’m working through one of the most unique books I’ve read. It’s called “The Fountainhead” and is by a pretty notorious author called Ayn Rand. Rand had some very controversial ideas, essentially she promoted selfishness as a virtue. She was an athiest and felt it was ridiculous for people to live their lives for anyone except themselves. She tempered that – slightly- by saying that your promotion of yourself shouldn’t come at the cost of another, but altruism or sticking yourself out for someone else or their happiness would be opposed by Rand.

The Fountainhead is about two dueling architects. One, Peter Keating, is a manipulative, effervescant, people-pleaser. He does what the world would say to bring success, he charms the boss, does what “he ought to” and completes that with some backdoor Machiavellian manipulations. His foil is Howard Roark, a monolithic, almost primal, force of “self”. Roark usually speaks in simple phrases or short phrases and is willing to compromise nothing of himself: no matter the cost. Roark would sooner kill himself then please a single other soul in a way that would be inauthentic to himself.

I’m only 1/3rd done because I am taking so many notes. The book will need to be distilled into a long-form essay, then a short-form essay, and finally a blog posting here. There’s simply no other way to address this book except to “distill” it like a fine spirit. Distill really is an accurate verb for what I’m doing, but I wanted to get you excited because frankly, the book is a rush and I can’t wait to put my thoughts into a coherant form and share it with you here!

-Matt

 

Infinity War: A Satire

This is going to go into huge spoilers for the film “Avengers: Infinity War” if you haven’t seen it and don’t want spoilers. Go away for now.

 

Seriously, you’ll want to get lost.

 

Scram.

 

Still here?

 

‘Kay.

So, Infinity War was a pleasant surprise. Not the least of which it was rated 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, which for a superhero film by Marvel, is fairly low. I expected a popcorn action blockbuster with little heart. Just a temporary sweetness that quickly subsides like my low-carb shortbread. One of my worries about the film was that it would play it safe, like Marvel tends to. That means that they would kill as few characters as possible, lower the violence to killing or random robots or mutants (well, they did kinda stock to that here), and generally keep it a PG rated film where you go home happy in knowing your characters are safe and secure.

This did not happen lol.

Indeed, Infinity War occurred as it does in the comics, comics I do not read, and so I was shocked and appalled when the main villain, Thanos, won. Thanos, having come from a planet that got destroyed through overpopulation, seems to think that the Universe could benefit from his desire to decimate half the universe. In order to do so, he has to collect all the cosmic gems that go into his “Infinity Gauntlet”, which lets him wield the power of the stones to do anything he wants. Now again I stress, Thanos won. What ended up happening was a horrific set of scenes without any music where people just started disappearing into dust. Civilians, superheroes, everyone alike. In most cases the people simply didn’t know what was going on; however, in Spider-Man’s case his death for some reason takes several seconds longer than the other characters. This lets him express a boyish fear to Tony Stark as he slowly passes to dust. The film ends with Thanos retiring to a hut looking sad for doing what he figured he had to do. Credits roll.

This places the film, taken alone, in the rare literary genre of “satire”. Satires really interest me as stories. Compared to the four great stories of literary history “comedy, romance, tragedy, and satire” – satire is the odd man out. The Ghost of Christmas Past, the creepy uncle no one talks about, take your pick. Satire is depressing and frankly, not that enjoyable! What defines the difference of satire to the other stories is that the characters go down a destructive path leading to disaster – but unlike a tragedy – there is no hope for the future. Now, Marvel probably will have another big Avengers film where somehow Thanos’ process is reversed, everyone comes back alive, yay. However, we can’t assume that despite the large contracts given out to many of the ‘dead’ superheroes, that they’ll all make it back.

It’s a bold move. Satires are not what the blockbuster audience is used to and it doesn’t provide the rewarding dopamine burst of “happy” to your brain cells like a more uplifting film would. I, myself, feel the same way with films that have dark and near-hopeless endings. A few come to mind, “Logan” which came out last year was absolutely fantastic but it ends as a tragedy. I bought Logan…It’s still shrink-wrapped, and it will be for quite some time, because I know how sad I’ll feel at the end of it. The feel is sadness, and when you have some moments to kick back with a movie – I don’t know about you – but a movie that will make me sad usually doesn’t come first to mind!

So, if we define Infinity War as a satire then what is the point of it all? I actually think it teaches a pretty good lesson that isn’t taught in life much anymore: failure. Failure happens, we’re not always going to win. Look, I personally have no shortage of self-confidence, in fact admittedly I struggle with having too much confidence and fight daily against it becoming arrogance. When you win or are lucky all the time you get complacent, feel entitled, and become stubborn and set in your ways. Failure, like a forest fire, burns but with that “burn” comes the opportunity for learning and regrowth. I’ve come to accept some failure in my life as a good thing, it humbles me and helps me think and ground myself back in reality.

The elephant in the room is that we know this satire won’t last. Soon enough the superheroes will be super and find a way to partially restore the damage Thanos has done. However, until that happens – which is likely in a few years – we can enjoy the bold move Marvel took with this film.

BATTLETECH – First Impressions Review

BATTLETECH, a turn-based tactics strategy game released this week, was a game I had pre-ordered and been waiting for with a lot of excitement. The game was developed by the original creator of Battletech/MechWarrior Jordan Weisman. Weisman, still spry in his late 50s, wanted to create a computer game that mimicked the original board game he created in 1980.

My thoughts on Battletech so far as I write this are complicated. Do I enjoy the game? Absolutely, I’m having a blast so far and it’s definitely worth the money. The reviews are glowing so I’m not the only person feeling this way. Across the board the opinion is that Weisman has delivered a magnum opus, a carefully crafted, and definitive, MechWarrior experience.

However, there are a few glaring issues when it comes to reviewing the game – even a first impressions review such as this. It comes down to the word “accessibility“. BATTLETECH is a very complicated, deep game, and it has a gigantic if not outright cruel, learning curve for those unitiated to the Battletech universe. The game’s tutorial section, a small 5 minute interlude to the campaign, teaches you only the basic mechanics of how to play the game: move, shoot, jump. It doesn’t teach you anything else and for the unitiated, given the difficulty of the first mission, I could see people getting frustrated and giving up on the game immediately!

Accessibility...See, the game assumes you know, what Matt knows. Matt has been playing MechWarrior games since he was 14 years old. I know when my mech has a “LRM 15, AC 2, SRM 5” exactly what those mean. They represent different weapons to be used in very specific situations (and not used in many others). I as a long time player, know when and how to use those weapons and it’s very comforting, like slipping my hands into an old glove, as I play. But the game teaches the new person absolutely nothing about those weapons. In this game wasting ammo is a big deal and you will not only waste ammo but overheat your Mech by shooting all your weapons at once. I think many new players will get caught doing that: and they’ll pay for it dearly. The game is TOUGH, I knew what I was doing and I still failed the first mission the first time I did it.

Additionally, the Battletech universe has long-established the Mechs that exist in it. Part of the fun for established players is using, and fighting, Mechs developed way back in the early 1980s and through the 1990s, dozens of popular chassis exist. The problem with this is when Matt encounters a Catapult Mech, I’ll know to bum rush it right away, knock it to the ground, then target its critically-weak cockpit and fry the pilot alive with my lasers or autocannons. If I encounter a Clint, which I did, I will immediately target his left arm because it holds a very dangerous PPC cannon. I will defang it, then destroy the rest of it at will.

But see what happened there? It was my knowledge of those Mech types gained over 20 years with this franchise that allowed me to beat them. If you think this game is going to tell you that Clint has a PPC on his arm or that the Catapult is only good at long ranges and has a weak cockpit, you’d be wrong. As I alluded to earlier, this is a very difficult game and I think it would border on unforgiving for new players. This carries on in the game once you get to the point where you have to outfit your Mechs with equipment and weapons. This is a tough process because the game doesn’t hold your hand. You need to balance the amount of heat sinks with the various weapons but you’re not going to know what heat those weapons generate unless you know the universe of MechWarrior well like I do. You’re not going to know why you need to stack weapons in your chest and shoulders, not your arms. New players won’t know why they need to keep ammunition dispersed in the vitals of their Mech.

Lastly, and unrelated to stuff above. The game seems to have poor performance. My gaming PC runs red hot playing the game only on the medium setting and to be honest the graphics aren’t that great. I am surprised and disappointed the game so stresses my system for mediocre results whereas other games I’ve played with way better graphics (World of Warships, Resident Evil 7) do not tax my system nearly as much.

So my verdict at first glance? BATTLETECH is a hard-core experience that rewards long time fans with what they want. We have our old Mechs and tech/weapons we grew up with, it’s familiar, just in a new type of game with a new story. However, the game is punishing to newcomers and may dissuade new gamers from the Battletech universe entirely, which would be a tragedy for how good these games are with their original designer still proudly helming the ship 38 years since its creation. I’d give Battletech a “B+” grade on first glance.

 

Imminent Memories Is In Print!

My first book, my passion project, is completed! I am so happy to have finished this journey, it was amazingly fluid at times and also really trying at certain points. I had to stretch my mind over five genres including some subject matter that disturbed me to write about. It’s one thing watching it – it’s another putting the “pen to paper” yourself. How Stephen King remains sane after all these years I do not know.

In the end it came together fast. On Sunday April 15th I blew out my ankle on the best run of my life and it will be a long time to recover. To address that frustration or quasi-depression in being robbed of my chance of running glory (I was on a 24 minute pace that morning…A pace that would have won me the 5KM outright that I was training for) I pushed through in getting this blog up and running and also to finish Imminent Memories. The book is a collection of 5 short stories and probably most reflects the Netflix series “Black Mirror”. Though, I did not see Black Mirror until the book was complete, the tone and styles are somewhat similar. Themes I address are artificial intelligence, politics, warfare, digital immortality, and more.

The book is for sale online here: http://www.blurb.com/b/8689353-imminent-memories

A short preview can be found below.

Thanks for your support!

P.S. I’m totally geeking out over getting my own ISBN number.

 

Johnny Cash – “Hurt”

“What have I become, my sweetest friend?” – Johnny Cash, “Hurt”.

I said I’d be reviewing “whatever” here on this blog. That could be any media but a reoccurring theme for non-films (ok, most of them too) is that it needs to be something that makes me think and become reflective. Johnny Cash’s song “Hurt” recorded in 2002 slowly before his death is one such song. It makes me think, it has every time I’ve heard it since it came out, and I had to talk about it.

The song itself is a cover of Trent Reznor’s song, which you can find on YouTube. Passionate and disturbing in a very different way, I would actually not recommend looking it up so the Cash version is the one that sticks in your mind. The trick to the emotive power of this song is that you have to understand where Johnny Cash was in his life. This is a man who enjoyed huge fame, wealth, accolades, and women. Yet, in so many ways he messed up his private life.

He was at various points a womanizing cheater, a drug addict, he attempted suicide, he dealt with a messy divorce, he even started a forest fire that almost killed him while in a drug induced malaise. He was charged with several misdemeanors (though he never did any hard time).

At the point when “Hurt” was released Johnny Cash was only a year away from his death. His wife June was to pass only four months before he did in 2003. This was a man who knew that the Reaper was not far away. He could see the vultures start circling overhead and with so little to look forward to – it was time to look back.

The voice we hear is subtle yet emotional. Cash does not ‘over sing’ the lyrics but there is a tremble in his voice that carries through the entire song and is more noticeable during the chorus. I would like to say his voice aged like “fine wine” but that would be a clich√©. While I think his voice is great for the song, there’s a sense of weakness. It’s as if it saps the energy (and positivity) of the listener. We’re sharing an experience with this man though and I believe that empathy, if we feel it, shows our humanity.

Let’s break down some lyrics I think are especially important:

“And you could have it all, my empire of dirt, I will let you down, I will make you hurt.” Going off nothing solid here I think Johnny Cash is thinking back to the “empire” he built as a star but that it meant nothing for the time he spent away from his children and the destroyed relationships his career left in his wake.

“I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel, I focused on the pain, the only thing that’s real. The needle tears a hole, the old familiar sting.” Here I think the connections are more concrete. I can’t believe Cash would have thought of anything but his drug use and suicide during this time. Honestly, I think that type of reflection would take a lot of courage for him to do. This period for him must have been dark and shameful in retrospect. Like a blot on his soul he cannot purge and is making an attempt to resolve.

“I wear this crown of thorns, upon my liar’s chair, full of broken thoughts, I cannot repair.” The “crown of thorns” takes a little understanding of Christian terminology as it refers to a literal crown of thorns given to Jesus to mock his “kingship”. In this case, through the lyrics Cash may have realized that his “kingdom” of wealth and fame was a mockery as well – what good are those things when he hurt the people around him?

The saddest part of this line; however, is the phrase “I cannot repair.” That’s the truth, that’s why we try to live life with so few regrets. Fact of the matter is, when we screw up, that becomes history. It happened, it can’t be undone. Forgiveness exists sometimes but lets not lie to ourselves that somehow undoes the damage. The scar is still there and its’ ugliness will remain.

This wasn’t a “happy” review, you might feel a little depressed and wondering why you should give this a song a listen if you haven’t heard it before? Because it’s real.

Look, I love to take pleasure in the beautiful parts of life – but life doesn’t always come up ‘roses and daffodils’. We make mistakes, we hurt ourselves, we hurt those that we love. We make choices that dig holes for ourselves – then we keep digging.

We need to learn to appreciate each season of life even if it is a bitter tonic.  There is satisfaction though, in having the courage to look to our past, own it, confront it, and try to make peace with it as best we can.

Now try listening to the song with that perspective: