The horror. The horror.

I’ve been playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown for the last two days, and it has led me to question why on earth I spent my early teens playing almost nothing but football management sims. This game is amazing.

There’s a simple trick to it: as a strategy game, your success is highly dependent on the characters available to you, soldiers with randomly generated nationalities and names the latter of which you can customize. Characters upgrade independently, going up the ranks of your military unit. When they die, they die and they take all of their extremely useful bonuses with them. More than that, though… the missions in this game require a lot of patience and can be very challenging. You genuinely start to care about these characters you spend so much time looking at and willing to win. When they die… well, it can really suck.

This is the big appeal of the game for me. I’m not even playing in Classic Mode, where the death of characters is permanent and save games give you second chances. I just don’t want to reload and try and save my guys. That would ruin all the fun. The awful, awful fun.

I’m playing on normal and having a blast. For the first time in weeks (in the game) I had my A-Team good to go, all my best guys including my two longest-serving soldiers and all of my highly ranked specialists. It was a tough mission, but Montreal needed me, damn it. We were going in. I got the gang together.

Major Bartholomew Rollington – This guy is so cool I named him after a joke nickname for the family dog. He’s a heavy, which basically means he fires rockets at dudes and is generally a badass.

Major Emily Blunt – Along with Rollington, she’s been around from the start. She’s a run ‘n’ gun leader of men and women. Probably my best soldier in the game.

Captain Richard Nixon – I love this guy. He’s an enormous African-American with a silver handlebar moustache and he’s magnificent. He’s a great medic, he throws down smoke grenades. He’s all about the team. You can’t spell team without Richard Nixon, in my game.

Sergeant Alexis de Tocqueville – Funnily enough, I don’t really care for this guy all that much, but he’s becoming a really useful sniper. He’s a couple of missions away from being one of my go-to guys.

Sergeant Sheila McGurk –My first Australian, named Sheila because I thought it would be a goof, and McGurk because McGurk is one of my favourite sounding surnames. It just sounds aggressive.

Squaddie Jet Li – This guy is already a favourite despite his lack of experience. I basically started throwing him into ridiculously dangerous situations his first couple of missions and he held up really well. I like this guy.

They’re all given nicknames once they’ve had a bit of experience but I don’t bother editing those because they’re normally silly enough to be good or funny enough to keep in there. Emily Blunt is “Blitz” for example. I’m cool with Major Blunt, thank you very much.

So, we arrive in Montreal and there are spider aliens everywhere. I hate these things. They hit really hard, they’re difficult to kill, and they make zombies out of civilians. Which is a pain as this mission is about saving civilians. A few turns in, and I’ve given up on the idea of saving any more than half the civilians at risk. What a fool I was.

A couple of turns later I realized I was realistically only going to save two or three (out of sixteen or so).

Too late I realized the whole mission was a wash and I needed to get out of dodge.

First, they took out Rollington. My guy. My rock. I threw him out into the firing line to get a better line of sight on an enemy, not realizing that he’d be outflanked by a whole gang of aliens who had been hiding up to that point. To make it worse, they zombified him. My guy, Rollington, with his extremely powerful and expensive armour, started to make things very very bad for the rest of them.

Jet Li went down, sacrificing himself for a civilian that it would turn out couldn’t be saved anyway. It becomes apparent that I need to bail, and that I should have bailed about two turns previous.

The funny thing is, I had delayed because I really thought I could save two or three civilians and then hole up into a tight circle and just kill the remaining aliens. Apart from the fact that sacrificing the civilians gave the aliens a large number of zombies (who hit very, very hard as well), I completely underestimated how difficult the spider units are to take on when they’re in numbers.  I was doomed but I didn’t realize it, not least because cover just isn’t that important in this particular match-up.

Too late, I ordered the retreat. Alexis de Tocqueville shimmied down from his vantage point atop an abandoned truck and ran for the evac zone. Nixon followed, ready to establish cover fire for the last two troopers. Blunt and McGurk were just that little bit too far away. They ran to the edge of the evac zone. The message popped up offering the chance to abort the mission, saving Nixon and de Tocqueville but leaving McGurk and Blunt to their doom. They were mere steps away. They could hold on. They’d be bruised and battered, sure. But they would make it.

Uh-huh.

So, the alien and zombie hordes advanced and went ahead and murdered Major Blunt in front of me. She never stood a chance. McGurk freaked out and ran for cover, in the opposite direction from the evac zone. Then, Nixon, my beloved Nixon, my enormous silver-haired handlebar-mustachioed, inexplicably nicknamed “Pox”, leader of men, panicked and ran away OUT of the evac zone.

That was it. I’m left with a mentally scarred French sniper and all my favourite soldiers are dead. I could restore the game but what would be the point?

This is fantastic.

Looper is really kind of wonderful.

I saw Looper over the weekend.

So yeah. Looper is amazing.

I keep thinking about sitting down and writing a review of the film but a) there are already great reviews out there and b) the very idea of reviewing the film gets my mind running in a bunch of different directions and the writing part never happens.

Instead, I want to start off by listing things I liked about the film, or rather my initial reaction to things that I liked.

 

 

LIKED

This film is set in a future where Romney won the 2012 election and things got weirder from there.

This film reminds me of 1970s films in that way; it’s got something to say about our current society (think of all the weird paranoiac stuff throughout the first Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake). This is great.

Mao Zedong on the paper money… har har. Love that.

Jeff Daniels!

Wow, Joe’s betrayal of his friend is handled so well.

As the film goes on, they’re handling “the future is China” much better than most. China seems relatively prosperous and open while America has gone down an insane path of juiced up capitalism.

I like that Old Joe can’t stand younger Joe. I can’t stand younger me either.

Emily Blunt!!!

The child is not annoying! This is a big deal. The child is not annoying. Who knew?

Fade to black*

*This isn’t me being a prude, I just have no idea what a sex scene could have done to improve the storytelling there. Obviously a thousand teenage boys screamed out at once and were suddenly silenced. I’m not sure what effect the prosthetics had on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s attractiveness, nor do I really understand his apparently very high level of attractiveness in any case. So I assume a thousand teenage girls also did the Star Wars reference thing. They wanted to see him in his jockey shorts, is what I’m saying. This note has gotten off topic.

Garret Dillahunt!

The ending.

 

DID NOT LIKE SO MUCH, AT ALL REALLY

Um, nothing. Well, I don’t like Paul Dano. That’s not really Paul Dano’s fault. I just don’t like his voice or his face or his schtick. So let’s go with nothing.

Well…. The “blunderbuss” thing felt on the nose. That was like, one thing, and highly personal.

So yeah. I’ll say nothing.

 

Nothing. NOTHING!!! What a film. I think my favourite thing about the film is how it almost never feels on the nose or contrived despite the fact that it’s a film about time travel featuring young assassin characters who dress in twentieth century fusion clothing, which should be annoying (like it is in real life) but isn’t. I like that the references to other great sci-fi films are so completely in the open and brazen and obvious but don’t break the experience of this unique film. I love that the ending made sense. I love that the little boy is not annoying but is in fact a great little character. I love that Joe doesn’t just become his “dad” although they unquestionably have a bit of a bond brewing over the shared circumstances of their past.

I love that the scariest and most suspenseful moment of the whole film is when Cid and Joe are chatting in the kitchen while Cid’s mother is asleep and the fire engine toy goes off.  I love that this film makes sense, and is honest about cheating where it has to, particularly regarding the time travel. I love that a character actually has a line where he says they’re not going to talk about time travel, makes fun of movies where they do, and then moves us along. I love that Bruce Willis nails that performance. I love that the whole thing doesn’t even come close to breaking my suspension of disbelief even though for just a second Bruce Willis is doing the equivalent of looking at the camera and winking at me.

Though of course, he doesn’t. This is the big thrill for me watching Looper. I’ve seen it said online that the film is in many ways an anti-Prometheus and I agree completely. Prometheus, in many ways, took less risks despite its supposed commitment to leading the audience to ask questions and think about the film. The problem with inviting the audience to think about Prometheus is that the more one thinks about Prometheus the more one realises it could have been a really cool film but is a mess and doesn’t make much sense. Looper is different however, because it’s telling what is in many ways a very simple story wrapped up in a narrative that is far from simple. Rian Johnson is effectively telling us “This is going to be tough, but it’s going to be fun, and you can handle it.”

And we can handle it. Why wouldn’t we be able to? I love this film and I need to see it again, not least because I like being reminded that I’m not an idiot when so much of our cultural output now seems convinced that the majority of human society have barely enough intelligence to follow a basic semblance of a plot. Hence, you know, Transformers. So thank you Rian Johnson and everyone involved for making a great film. Including Paul Dano. I’m sorry Paul, I’m sure you’re a lovely fella, and I don’t find your face offensive in any real aesthetic way. I still felt bad when your character met his sticky, sticky end.

Yeah. That part was amazing as well.