I went to the midnight showing of A Walk Among The Tombstones last night (henceforth #AWATT), the new movie starring Liam Neeson based on the book by Lawrence Block.

Total disclosure, this movie is based on one of my favorite books, in one of my favorite series.

I’m not going to be unbiased here. There are a handful of series that are close to my heart, series that I frequently re-read. The Matthew Scudder series of books by Lawrence Block is one of them, and #AWATT is, in my opinion, one of the best books in the series, closely followed by A Dance at the Slaughterhouse.

I’m saying that I probably read the book this movie is based on over thirty times before they announced a movie was in production. That makes this a weird movie for me to see on the screen.

So, how was it?

Short answer, I loved it, but I think this is going to tank on the big screen in this short-attention-span Expendables action flick era.

I hope I’m wrong. Maybe I’m selling audiences short, maybe there are a lot more people out there that will enjoy this movie than I think.

Everyone I’ve talked to at work today has taken everything I’ve said and wanted to watch it even more, so either I’m too damn cynical, or I should have more faith in people.

So, why should you see it? What does this movie bring that you haven’t already had before?

This is a damn good thriller, a powerful character study, an immersive period piece and a detective saga grounded in real people with real attitudes and motivations.

Why do I think it’s not going to do well in theaters?

One word; expectations.

When talking to friends that were looking forward to it, people who haven’t read the books, most of them seemed to assume this would be a Taken clone.

Okay, so what does that mean? Taken was a great film, I loved it, most people loved it, so why does that expectation hurt this film? Am I saying this isn’t as good as Taken?

No, I’m saying this is a completely different film from Taken and it’s not coming from the same place.

What was Taken? It was a film starring a flawed father superhero badass killing his way through a thousand cardboard villains on his way to an ultimate revenge-fantasy and princess-saving fulfillment.

Was it satisfying? Yes it was, and for me a large part of that was the character portrayal by Liam Neeson. I loved Taken. It’s a great film. Solid action, great suspense.

So, what is #AWATT that makes it so different?

Two things.

First, the characters are not cardboard cutouts, not a single one. All of them are based on Lawrence Block’s novel, and all of his characters are seemingly real people, with a lifetime of history, complex motivations and unfathomable backstory. There may be and probably is a lot to see on the surface, just like your initial impressions when meeting anyone.

Look a little closer, see how people act to others, what people do, the decisions they make and you’ll find a lot more is going on here. A lot of subtlety in the characters.

One of the strengths of this movie is that it isn’t about a superhero, flawed or not. Matthew Scudder is not a hero, he’s not an anti-hero, he’s not an unstoppable badass, and he’s not possessed of some indomitable will that is more than human. He is exactly human, and he’s fucked up a lot in his life and he knows it. He’s trying to be a man, and be himself, and not fuck up, and get through each day one day at a time because that’s how life throws them at you.

So a large portion of this movie is a subtle character study with a powerfully nuanced performance by Liam Neeson. I don’t know that modern audiences can handle a movie where more than 5 minutes goes by between gunfights in crowded alleys. Just saying.

The second thing is, this is a period piece. When they see this, the audiences are going to lose their shit.

This is a thriller and has a ton of action, but it doesn’t follow the modern formula of filming in foreign countries for the cheaper costs and tax breaks (I’m looking at you, A Good Day To Die Hard).

A Walk Among the Tombstones is a period piece set in New York City in 1999, and if you think a movie set only 15 years ago can’t be a period piece, you’ve got a rude awakening coming.

A lot has changed in the last fifteen years, and I know I haven’t noticed quite so much because I’ve been living with the changes taking them as they come.

This movie, this is a movie in love with New York, but the love isn’t blind. It’s all encompassing. It shows you New York City of 1999 exactly as it was, and watching it, the cinematography, the music, the images and graffiti and talk and hair and just… just everything sucks you in and you are in 1999 New York City.

I can’t even really grasp the effort this film must have taken to achieve this. These are not generic locations, every place is distinctive, every setting possesses a rich character that makes it truly unique. But it’s not glossy, it’s not slick. It is brutally honest with how crappy life can be in the city at the bottom level, making your living day to day, side by side with those in glamorous homes.

It also, if you’re paying attention, draws subtle attention to how a shithole in New York can be more expensive than living anywhere else. You see one apartment Scudder visits, and it looks like a shithole a college student would put up with at a flyover state school, and then you take a closer look at the furniture and decorations, and realize this is a shithole that is probably a million bucks a year and the guy is decorating it accordingly.

The setting nails the mood.

I think about the action and the story and how powerful but subtle everything is, and then I think of a modern audience watching a character study period piece with bursts of action, and I have to wonder how many are going to get it?

I don’t know. I haven’t looked at a single review, been too busy working, and writing this out to get my thoughts in order.

I really liked it. I have always thought the strengths of the Matthew Scudder books was that they feel like slices of real life, windows into a world of real people thrust into bad shit, and that the books linger lovingly over a New York City that lives in brilliant color in Lawrence Block’s mind, and he lets me come to visit once in a while.

Will you like it? I have no idea. I hope you will. If you’ve been reading my blog a while and like some of the same things I do, share some of the same attitudes I’ve shared over the years, then I think you will.

I hope you give it a chance.

For me, all of the heart and soul of the book was there. It was well worth a midnight showing on a work night.

For fans of the books, you should be excited to know that while Elaine wasn’t in this movie, they fully developed a different character relationship so they left it perfectly poised to introduce Elaine and her full story from A Ticket To The Boneyard if they do a sequel.

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Quick alert, remember that when patch 6.0 goes live, Justice Points and Valor Points are going away.

If you have Justice Points on you right now, please make sure you spend them quickly for the best benefit. If you WANT Justice Points and the things they can buy, it’s very easy to farm them fast by running normal Pandarian instances. Each boss kill gives you quite a lot (more if you have the guild bonus) and normal instances can pop fast. If you have solid LFR or Flex (or better) raid gear on your character, they fly by.

A few tips on spending Justice wisely;

Heirloom Items are currently bought with Justice Points. DO NOT spend them on Heirlooms right now, when patch 6.0 goes live you’ll be able to buy all Heirlooms and upgraded Heirlooms with gold. GOLD. So don’t spend Justice on these.

You can upgrade blue quality weapons with Justice, but honestly, why would you want to? If you need a weapon upgrade that bad, consider going to the Timeless isle and farming Timeless Coins to buy one of the epic weapons there, they are a better deal.

You can purchase Honor Points with your Justice Points. This can be a great deal for you, IF you don’t like to PvP.

More on Justice to Honor.

500 Justice Points will buy you 250 Honor Points at a vendor in your faction capital city.

You can buy PvP mounts with 2000 Honor Points each, so for every 4000 Justice Points you can buy a nice PvP mount. Looking for a few more mounts? Don’t pass these up!

There are many cool looking PvP armor sets that you can buy with minimal Honor Points. The old sets are discounted heavily. You can find a really nice list by looking at Transmog sets on Wowhead.

On some of those PvP sets, especially the Outlands ones, you can exchange normal PvE tier tokens for the PvP armor version. That means, for many Outlands PvP armor sets, you can run the old raids solo, get tier drops, trade those in for PvP versions of the armor, and only need Honor Points to buy Boots, Belt, etc. Doing this saves you quite a lot of Honor Points on building a set.

I just wanted to give you this heads up. Don’t forget to use ‘em before you lose ‘em.

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I had a dream last night, and I blame an overload of cooking challenge shows. We watch a lot of them. Top Chef, Masterchef, Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, etc.

The one thing my wife and I have always wondered is, just how honest are they? The judging is purely subjective. Sure, we can see how a dish looked, but we have no earthly idea how they tasted. The producers can influence the judges to pick based not solely on taste but also on who would generate the most drama to keep viewers butts in seats for the next round/episode. And who would know? Even when they have multiple tasters, most of the important eliminations rely on the judges alone to decide.

Who can say? I sure don’t know how they taste, and I don’t really care what someone else thought of most food. I think most people are idiots anyway, what do I care what they thought? I’ll be the judge of who should have won! Except in TV cooking shows, of course, I can’t be.

Okay, moving past my throwing down the gauntlet and accusing cooking competitions of being unethical, dishonest and biased, let’s get to the show I was in last night… in my dreams.

Top Tinker

In my dream, I was in a massive room filled with workbenches, similar to the openness and size of the arena of Masterchef. Gordon Ramsey was the judge walking around exhorting everyone, so you can see I am indeed insane.

I was one of the contestants, standing at my workbench, but instead of culinary ingredients, I had bins filled with electrical parts, wires, breadboards, small motors, gears, etc. Instead of chef’s knives and cuisinarts, I had soldering iron, o’scope, multimeter, etc.

I wasn’t a contestant on a cooking challenge. I was competing in a tinkering competition!

Ramsey was calling out, “You have thirty minutes to build a battery powered vehicle that can travel at least 15 feet, using only the materials in your bins. At the end of the thirty minutes, we’ll match all of your vehicles in a head to head race, and the fastest vehicle to cross the finish line wins! Tinkers, your time starts now!”

Oh shit.

I looked up at the main floor, where on Masterchef you’d see the example dish or whatever, and saw that a track was laid out, level and flat, with lanes marked out by slats of wood high enough to keep cars from going off track and bumping into each other. So, I could see I had to build something that used batteries for power that could fit in a channel about 12” wide, could go fast, and wouldn’t get slowed down by sidewall drag, so right off I knew I’d need to put some roller bumpers on the sides too.

But it’s gotta use batteries but be faster than everyone else and have enough power to keep up that speed to make it across the finish line! I started rummaging on my workstation. What do I have for parts?

All we had for batteries were 2 ‘C’ cell batteries, so I started scrambling to sort through the bin of small motors for a good match, thinking about making a thin frame of aluminum slats for lightness with rigidity, and then I woke up.

Um.

It was a good dream. Would have liked to have seen what I came up with.

Now I can’t get the idea of a Top Tinker show out of my head, so I’m dumping it all on you. Based on personal experience, fifteen minutes after this post goes live I’ll never think of it again.

I keep thinking about how much I like the concept. Instead of a cooking competition, have a tinkering competition!

One thing you can’t argue with, the viewers at home will certainly know exactly who won. You lose some of the suspense when you can see who won immediately without having to wait for ten minutes for the judges to reveal who they picked, but how satisfying would it be to spotlight what was built and how the builds performed in competition?

How especially awesome to hear the challenge and think of what you’d try, since so many things in tinkering can be done multiple ways.

Yes, I just now realized I’m describing a variation on a Junkyard Wars show, without the large scale builds or dependence on quality of scrap scavenging. Damnit. No, it took me until now to make the connection.

Still, I’ve been having a ton of fun the last half hour imagining the kinds of things benchtop tinkers could be challenged to make in head to head challenges.

“Your fastbuild challenge, using the parts on your bench, build a 1.5kHz tone signal generator. The first one to get the correct signal to register on their oscilloscope wins.”

I know, I know. I’m sure it sounds boring to those not of the Radio Shack set out there, but I also thought of a variation on the show, one that might be a bit more fun to watch, but it’s obviously not the one I was dreaming.

How about this for an actual show;

For a working title I’d call it “The MacGyver”, but there is no way you could name a competition after an actual adventure TV show, even if everyone knows what MacGyvering is but few still alive remember the original show the term came from. Maybe call it TechnoTrap.

It would still be a tinkering show, ideally sponsored by Radio Shack because come on, but it would have a theme; technology, gadgets, and super spies.

You would have a scenario related to the Hollywood idea of superspies, James Bond gadget wizardry stuff, and the challenge would be related to building a gadget out of parts for getting out of the scenario.

The skills needed would include electronics design and breadboarding on the fly, but I think challenges including a slightly more complex version of the Lego Mindstorm robot building, manipulating drones and remotes/servos, all remote controls, all those twists could add some variety.

Okay, like what kinds of challenges?

Well, as an example, you are a prisoner in a cell, with bins of stuff just like Tony Stark in his cave in the first Iron Man. You have a cell door you could burn through, except you don’t have a striker to ignite your hand torch.

There is a prisoner in the cell next to you, and he has a striker, but there is no way to get it.

There is a mousehole that connects the two cells through a stone wall. You can’t just make a long stick to poke through, because there are a couple of gentle bends.

The challenge is to build something that will negotiate the mouse tunnel to the other cell, through at least two gentle turns, so that the other prisoner can put the striker on it/tie the striker to it and then send it back to you.

Or another example, you are in a hotel room, and on the other side of the wall a group is having an ultra secret meeting talking about their drug cartel money laundering. They are discussing how they get their money out of the bank, but you can’t make out what they’re saying.

The challenge? Use the parts in your tech kit to build a microphone with amplifier and speaker so that you can amplify the sounds from the other room through the wall loud enough to make out what they’re saying. Listen in until you hear them state the password they use to access their account. Then YOU enter that password into your laptop right there. Fastest one to enter the code wins the challenge.

Another idea for a challenge, take a drone with camera, modify it with remote triggers, servos and stuff so that you can add a small dart launcher to it, and shoot a stuffed target simulating you shooting a dart filled with sleeping toxin into a sentry from around the corner.

I’m sorry, I know it’s a goofy idea for a show, but I keep having fun with it. There are so many different fun challenges you could come up with to test someone’s innovation with parts, skill at design and building, knowledge of electronics and tinkering, and imagination at coming up with a way to get the job done.

And when you watch the show, damnit you’d know if someone succeeded or not!

On further consideration, maybe I shouldn’t describe my dreams anymore. This can’t be coming off as the thoughts of a sane person.

Top Tinker, damnit!

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Okay, so that was a lot faster than I expected.

Honestly, it’s been so quiet and the Firelands group has been so small for so long, I assumed there wouldn’t be that much interest.

My gmail says otherwise.

Thank you to everyone that emailed me or tweeted or commented that you’d like to do Glory achieves.

I can only focus on one group at a time, but if you are still interested on being a sometimes member if someone can’t make it, I’d be delighted to add your battle tag.

If we finish this faster than I expected, we can always start trying to do 10 person raid achieves up to and including Mogushan Palace. Why not, right?

Again, thank you, and the Glory group is full. If I haven’t talked directly with you via gmail already, then I’ll be talking with you about being an alternate very soon!

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We have about two months left to go before Warlords of Draenor is scheduled for launch, and our world of opportunities changes again.

I don’t know about you, but if you’re anything like me as soon as that expansion comes out all old farming hits a wall of “I don’t care about old shit anymore”, replaced with new expansion “Oh look new shiny, must have new shiny.”

For example, currently each week I am trying to run Eye of Eternity and The Eye three times for chances at the Azure Drake, Blue Drake and Ashes of A’lar, and I’m also doing Argent Tournament dailies to work towards the eleven(!) mounts I am still missing from there.

Yeah, I expect that to stop when WoD goes live.

For me, realistically these next two months are the last time for a year or more at least for me to do those last few things I always meant to get around to.

Two months and ticking.

What I’d really like to get cleaned up are two meta achievements in game;

Glory of the Pandaria Hero (with a Crimson Cloud Serpent mount reward)

Glory of the Cataclysm Hero (with a Volcanic Stone Drake mount reward)

These are both 5 person team achievements, don’t need too many friends to do, but somehow I’ve just never gotten around to doing it.

I’d like to at least complete those two 5 person instance metas before WoD. So here is my proposal.

I’m looking for four people who will commit to joining me for doing these, start to finish. It doesn’t matter if you have none of the achieves yet, or some of them. We get a team of five of us together, we compare notes on what achieves we’re missing, we bloody well go get it done.

I’ll coordinate.

I know that at the time I talked about this on twitter, @Rivenhomewood said she would join me, but I hadn’t talked times or schedules or what have you. This is the tricky part…

I would really only be able to do this in the evenings, Thursday, maybe also Friday. And by evenings, I mean around 7 PM Central Standard Time for a few hours. So I’m looking for some folks who will be slow and steady with me for one or two nights a week, a few hours each time.

Doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up when you’re talking old 5 person instance achievements.

So what do you say? If you’re interested, send me an email at thebigbearbutt@gmail.com and tell me.

And act fast, I’d like to do the very first achievement run tomorrow night shooting for that Glory of the Cataclysm Hero first.

I hope to hear from you!

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