Europa Universalis III
Paradox Interactive, 2007
I finally got around to breaking this one out of the box and giving it a whirl. The graphics have been updated, and a few of the annoyances of its predecessor have been eliminated — for instance, your merchants now knock competing merchants directly out of their slots, eliminating the need to send one merchant to open up a marketplace slot and a second one to actually take it over. Also, the historical events are less hardwired. Otherwise, it's pretty much the same game as Europa Universalis II, for better or for worse. (Better: crazy-deep historical sim; worse: often aimless, leading to strategies whose chief aim is averting boredom.)

I am still totally going to get the Roman one due out this year, though.

Speaking of which...

John Milius, William MacDonald, and Bruno Heller, 2005-2007

Two Roman soldiers, the grim Lucius Vorenus and the cheerfully thuggish Titus Pullo, manage to find themselves intimately involved with virtually every major event in the Mediterranean world from Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon to Octavian's defeat of Antony and Cleopatra.

It's pretty good fun. What I like most about history is thinking about what it would be like to live in another place and time, so seeing a decent rendition of day-to-day life in Rome at the end of the Republic was neat. I also enjoyed seeing immortal historical figures brought to life; indeed, seeing how each one would be portrayed and how the key events of the period would be staged was one of my chief points of interest.

Most of the actors are British, though at first I didn't notice, having imbibed the convention that, while English-speaking characters can have whatever accents would be natural to them, all speakers of other languages whose lines have been translated into English for our benefit sound like newsreaders for the BBC. (When John Malkovich used an American accent in Dangerous Liaisons, it was considered very weird.) So when Julius Caesar opened his mouth and out came this haughty Queen's English, it didn't strike my ear as at all noteworthy: to an American audience, that's what Julius Caesar is supposed to sound like. But then a plebe would say something in one of the many lower-class British accents, and suddenly the illusion was broken. "And what part of Manchester do you hail from, citizen?"

Rome also avoids dividing up the characters into heroes and villains; everyone is essentially vile with a few redeeming facets. At least, that's how it is with the patricians. Vorenus and Pullo are another story: narratively, they're the heroes, and there are lots of scenes about the fraternal bond between them that are meant to be touching... but then one of them (usually Pullo) will go and, like, murder someone. Often a perfectly innocent someone. I do wonder how most viewers reacted to these characters. If I had to take a guess I would bet that, at least by the end, most of them were happy to let the murders slide!

The issue of heroes and villains also reminded me of a moment from college that still makes me angry. It was in my Shakespeare class, and we were reading Antony and Cleopatra. The professor, Stephen Booth, was a big proponent of the worst kind of reader response criticism — he'd read Stanley Fish in 1967 but apparently stopped reading him before 1976, when Fish realized that it was stupid to talk about the experiences of "the reader" when actual readers experience texts in very different ways. Booth was all about how "the reader" reacted to the play — ie, identifying with Antony — and how Shakespeare engineered this reaction. I pointed out that, empirically, this didn't always work, because I read the play and found myself backing Caesar. Booth's reply: "No you didn't. Caesar's the kind of guy you want running your Kansas City plant." The idea that someone might prefer a sober boy genius to a drunken sot who thought with his dick was inconceivable to him.

Tell Me You Love Me
Cynthia Mort, 2007

Three couples have problems and seek out therapy.

Since I liked Rome, I figured I'd check out what else HBO had been showing lately, so I watched this. It is about how people's sex lives are affected when they are unsuccessfully trying to conceive a baby, or when they've already had some babies and are now too busy being parents to be a couple, or when they are that psycho chick from The Onion. Is this what Thirtysomething was like? I was somethingteen when that show was on so I never watched it but I got the sense that it was something like this, only with fewer onscreen testicles.

I can't really recommend this — it's pretty blah storytelling about a bunch of unlikable characters — but it did keep my attention simply due to the fact that I am thirtysomething now and am in a relationship in which questions about marriage and parenting and reconfiguring our lives around children and so forth have come to the fore. But I found Rome much more interesting even though the topic of suicide by asp has arisen relatively infrequently.

The Good German
Paul Attanasio, Joseph Kanon, and Steven Soderbergh, 2006

While in post-war Berlin to cover the Potsdam Conference, an American military journalist is drawn into a murder investigation which involves his former mistress and his driver. (I copied that from IMDb since I could only bring myself to watch the first half hour or so.)

This is shot in the style of a 1940s movie, minus the Hays Code. 1940s lenses, 1940s film stock, 1940s mise-en-scene, etc. I hoped it would be good, but really I wanted to see whether my seeming inability to enjoy insufficiently modern films has to do with their actual age or whether the semblance of antiquity will do. Since I found this unbearable, apparently the answer is the latter. Sorry,!

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