Thursday, January 21, 2010


Sourcing off the same list that I got Let the Right One In, I added Thirst to my Netflix queue. This time the origin is Korean instead of Scandinavian, so it's another subtitled vampire movie. Turns out not all of the best vampire movies out there come from America, go figure.

Outside of the fact that I've had to read, there were no real other similarities between the movies. Let the Right One In was very down to earth, but Thirst is a bit more crazy. It's a textbook recommendation to do some more background work before you decide to turn your loved one into a vampire. The end result is one character who's overwhelmed with the guilt of their affliction, and another who's drunk with power. A recipe for disaster (with disaster having proven correlation to entertainment value).

And it's a love story, of course. Why is that all vampire stories are love stories? I'm not complaining, it's just odd that there's such a strong association. Maybe it's an exploration of our love-inspired promises to be together forever. When you have to deal with real forever then it gets more complicated. Or maybe its that we just find all this blood lust somehow erotic. I'm sure there's a long discussion to be had just on that, but I'm off-topic now.

So Thirst is the love story between a priest accidentally turned vampire and an oppressed but not-so-innocent girl. It's one of those stories that is at its core familiar to you, but at the same time unlike anything you've ever seen before. Just enough off axis to keep me guessing. The movie also has a nice escalation to it. There's a steady ramping up from the mundane to the supernatural that fits nicely with the progression of the characters. The end moments are particularly charming.

If I had to rank my recent forays into foreign vampire films I'd put Let the Right One In slightly higher. Maybe its just this Norwegian blood of mine, but I really connected to that movie's pacing. It's a simple story with a truly drab setting, but that all made it so much more real for me. But that's just a slight preference, because Thirst is also definitely worth a spin. Unfortunately I think I've run out of vampire movies on my list. Maybe it's time I bumped True Blood up in the queue?

Sunday, January 3, 2010


The internet is moving to a very democratic place where for all sorts of content there is the possibility for comments and ratings. This is generally a good thing, but transparency in the whole system is pretty critical because frankly most people don't have a clue how to participate in a rating system.

I was poking around on Netflix and came across a user review that started with this:
I gave it a 5 star review because I love it. I may have given it an 8 on a 10 star scale, but since I only get 5 stars thats what its getting.
And then later in the same comment:
I can see where people would rate this lower but I rate things based on if I loved it and could watch it again. So all in all, okay 3D effects, obvious plot, and some of the acting is sub-par but I still loved it.
Um, yeah. I'm glad that Netflix tells me that this person is only 21% similar to me. But I'm still kind of bitter that their rating gets averaged in with everyone else's and in the end result is something that I really can't trust.

It's extremely important to establish a consistent description of what different ratings mean. Netflix does indeed include a description in the tooltip:
1 - Hated It
2 - Didn't Like It
3 - Liked It
4 - Really Liked It
5 - Loved It
Unfortunately these definitions leave a bit too much to the imagination. I mean, I love my wife and I love ice cream, yet these are not the same kinds of love. But the problem is that both are totally valid uses of the word. There's the love that's about deep meaning, and there's the infatuation that is just wanting to experience something over and over again. When I rate my Netflix movies it's based on some combination of these two aspects: meaning and repetition.

1 - I feel like less of a person for experiencing this
2 - That was kind of a waste of my time
3 - Not life altering, but entertaining
4 - That made me feel something
5 - I am a better person for having experienced this

1 - Actively upset that I spent any time watching that
2 - Wish I would have watched something else
3 - A fine use of my time to view it once
4 - Want to see it again
5 - Could watch it over and over; will watch it anytime it's on

This is how movies like Back to the Future and Phoebe in Wonderland can both end up being five stars. It's unfortunate that the different meaning behind those two ratings get lost, but it's the best I can do with a one dimensional scale.

Tangent: It's interesting browsing someone's movie collection. Movie purchases operate primarily under the repetition scale, not the meaning scale. You can totally love a movie, yet not need feel the need to own it. You can also have total fluff that makes you feel good that you want to have around so you can watch whenever. As tempting as it can be to judge someone's tastes by their displayed collection, it's only part of the picture.

There's less of a distinction with games (either of the video or board form) where repetition is more integral to the experience. Compare to Board Game Geek's rating definitions:
10 - Outstanding. Always want to play and expect this will never change
9 - Excellent game. Always want to play it.
8 - Very good game. I like to play. Probably I'll suggest it and will never turn down a game.
7 - Good game, usually willing to play.
6 - Ok game, some fun or challenge at least, will play sporadically if in the right mood.
5 - Average game, slightly boring, take it or leave it.
4 - Not so good, it doesn't get me but could be talked into it on occasion.
3 - Likely won't play this again although could be convinced. Bad.
2 - Extremely annoying game, won't play this ever again.
1 - Defies description of a game. You won't catch me dead playing this. Clearly broken.
People wouldn't know what to do with a board game that changed their life but wasn't worth playing a second time. Although that concept doesn't exist in the board game world, it is something we regularly see in film. But I'd love to see the board game that delivered that experience.

I often see reviews that knock video games for being too short. Because video games are quite a bit more expensive than seeing a movie there's an expectation that the consumer should get their money's worth. My time is not as plentiful as it used to be, so a game that delivers a quality experience with no multiplayer or other replay value is just fine. I love the short and sweet game, and so their assumed negative criticism is actually a positive to me.

It's kind of because of this information loss that I don’t try to give numeric ratings on my blog. But I do put a good deal of thought into it whenever I give one elsewhere. But it's a problem that not everyone puts the same level of care into their ratings. I think my first exposure to this was a decade ago back in the days of Am I Hot or Not, which is probably the first real large scale use of internet driven ratings. One person might be sitting there agonizing over the fine difference between a seven and an eight; another person might be treating it as binary with "hot" being ten and "not" being one. And even if you have people putting real thought into it, they many not use the scale uniformly (for example I know that I underuse the one and two star ratings for Netflix).

It's weird, because I think this whole rating thing is hugely important to helping people sift through ever growing heap of content available to us. But I also think that we as humans pretty much suck at it. I think that identity is key to making the experience more accurate, like when Netflix tells me that the rating I'm looking at is from someone who is a bad match for me, or when you choose a particular editorial source whose opinions align with our own. But how much will we really grow and be challenged if we're only exposed to stuff that is like what we already like?

It's a hard problem space, and I hope there are smart people out there thinking really hard about it. In the meantime, I rate this post a "Q".

The Beatles: Rock Band (Xbox 360)

My love affair with rhythm video games has cooled a bit. I don't lust after the experience like I once did. I'll never turn down an opportunity to play, but it's not something I'm generally seeking out anymore.

But every once in awhile an event comes along that reminds me just how awesome this whole music gaming thing can be. This time that was Beatles Rock Band with the family on Christmas Eve. Take a selection of music that pretty much everyone knows, have a large enough group of people such that you can cycle players in and out, and then add in some snacks and booze. It's a Good Time.

Harmonix did a good job with the Beatles, giving a charming presentation of the timeline and a fitting visual style. But honestly it doesn't matter that much. It's about having the right songs with the right people. And that combination is all it really takes to make the band gaming experience awesome.

I think what's really changed is that I used to be willing to play these games alone. The drive to master the instruments and nail the songs was incentive enough. But that passed, and I really only became interested in the cooperative experience. I'd still like to get better at the drums (as that it gives me the illusion that I could play drums for realz), but I recognize that that would require some solo practicing that I just wasn't willing to be bothered with. Anyway, I had only been seeking the game out in group scenarios, and those opportunities had become less frequent, so I had started to forget that I cared. But it was nice to remember this holiday that it can be just as fun even after all this time.