Saturday, September 29, 2007

Tomb Raider: Legend

I played a few demos in the past, but I never really sat down and played a Tomb Raider game before because I didn't have a PS1 and the first one on PS2 was terrible. But I got a demo disc a while ago with this on it, and found I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. It had some nice Prince of Persia-style platforming and puzzle solving (minus the ability to rewind and slow down time), with some decent shooting, and seemed pretty cool. I didn't end up getting the whole game until recently, but it was definitely worth the low price.

I'm not sure why this is, but the supernatural story of the game seems out of place to me. I know the series has always had weird stuff like dinosaurs, it just seems like the fiction they're trying to create doesn't jibe well with all the strange magical crap that happens. It's not a problem if you just decide to accept that there's an extremely ancient and powerful sword that everyone's after and enjoy it. Anyway, Lara's quest has her trekking around the globe looking for pieces to the puzzle. Some places are ancient shrines and caves, others are more modern places of business. The gameplay is largely the same regardless of setting, as you explore the environment, push some blocks, avoid traps, and shoot a lot of bad guys. There are some driving sequences and boss battles, although neither are especially compelling. There are also several button-timing sequences, which have become altogether too common in modern action games. They're really not very interesting any more, and I hope the fad dies down soon. The game's a bit short, although the fact that I didn't want it to end yet suggests the game itself was pretty fun just to play.

The game looks and sounds pretty nice, with good character models, impressive environments, and pretty solid voice acting. It makes the game a little better when the protagonist is good. In addition to being nice to look at (for a computer-generated image), Lara is intelligent and witty. The developers made a strong point of trying to make the mystery she's solving relevant to her past, and the end results are a bit amateurish but she's still a strong, sympathic character. The game shouldn't amaze anyone, but it's definitely quite an enjoyable eight hours.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Another Wahlberg movie? Just looking at his list of credits, I've seen a lot of his work (seven movies). Not that I mind. He's a solid actor and seems likable enough. His performance here is nothing special, you root for his character but he never really stretches out. It's a Disney sports movie, so maybe we shouldn't expect that many dramatics from it. Kinnear has a nice little career comeback going, and does a decent job as the coach who believes in underdogs. Banks seems to be good in everything she does, and this is the biggest part I've seen her in. Although again, there wasn't much there for her to do. The rest of the cast is rounded out by a bunch of bit actors playing believable Philadelphians, even if their dialogue is unrealistic. Am I supposed to believe sports fans from a city this famous for its vitriol can boo for over a minute without swearing once?

The movie itself is decent, for what it is. It's the true story of Vince Papale, who broke into the NFL at age 30. Details are changed to make it more inspirational and exciting, with plenty of little subplots mixed in to add a bit of a depth. It's generally filmed well, with some nice football scenes, although the cinematography is a bit odd at times. A little too yellow. It does seem a little hokey at times, like it's trying too hard to be uplifting. The story's good enough that they don't have to try to exaggerate it as much as they do. You know the kind of movie it is; it's really not very good, but it's difficult to hate. I'll admit I had a smile on my face in the climactic moments. I wouldn't really recommend you pay money to see it. But sometimes it's nice just to feel happy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

This is my one hundredth post on this blog, and I'm glad I get to do it talking about something so good (Thanks to some site tinkering this is no longer post #100, but whatever).

Neutral Milk Hotel is a bit of an unfortunate story. Aeroplane is only their second full length recording. It is also their last. Despite strong critical acclaim, singer and guitarist Jeff Magnum left and hasn't done much since. But before he departed, they made one of the best albums of the 90's. His vocals and strumming guitar are prevalent throughout. His voice is pushed forward to be more noticeable in the production, which can be annoying in quieter moments, but overall seems like a positive choice. His lone guitar is the backbone of a lot of the album, but there's plenty of other sounds to be heard, with lots of crunching noise and horns flaring everywhere to create an effectively haunting yet entertaining atmosphere. The lyrics also add to this feeling. He sings about Anne Frank a lot, and his words shift between tender sadness and some disturbing or just odd thoughts. Overall, Neutral Milk Hotel creates a wholly unique sound with their music. They can be both very mellow and rock very hard, and the sheer amount of quality there is in less than 40 minutes of music is amazing.

The album starts with "The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1". Jeff plays his guitar, singing a nice melody and introducing his bizarre brand of words. An instrument I can't really identify comes in and changes the tone of the song, really starting to create the album's identity. Then Pts. 2 & 3 (one track) begin eccentrically before giving you the first taste of their louder, more chaotic side, with a trumpet (probably) keeping it focused. The title track is another strummed one with weird noises in the background keeping it cohesive in its oddness. "Two-Headed Boy" doesn't have those things, and is really just Jeff singing and playing his instrument. After a very brass-heavy interlude is "Holland, 1945" a very catchy song despite its subject matter. "Ghost" is very up-tempo, with a driving drum line that keeps it going until the massive collision of noise at the end. I always thought I liked bagpipes, but I never knew they could be awesome until I heard the untitled 10th track. It's an instrumental, but a great one. The last song is another nice, softer one to wind down from the loudness of the previous tracks. The flow of the album seems very good, and it all adds up to a great album that's better than the sum of its parts.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik

Blood Sugar Sex Magik is the second Chili Peppers album to feature the band's current lineup, although guitarist John Frusciante left afterwards and didn't return until before the recording of Californication. It's their most popular record, and it's pretty apparent why. They rock pretty hard, with Flea's famous bass and Chad's drums laying down the backbone while John picks merrily over the top of it and Kiedis provides mostly nonsense lyrics with his trademark funky-rap-voice thing. They are mostly pretty loud, although we start to see some of the softer, mellower stuff that they go towards more and more often as they get older. Raucousness is the order of the day and it's pretty enjoyable here, but I'm thankful for the other songs that break it up a bit and make it seem a little more whole and mature as a piece of work. Mother's Milk has a heavier party atmosphere, with lots of shouted group vocals, while Blood Sugar is more restrained, while still making good use of backup singers that stick out more than they usually do.

"The Power of Equality" does a great job of announcing Flea's presence as his bass barges into the intro to get things really rolling. The first example of changing the pace is "Breaking the Girl", which has strumming acoustic guitar, very unusual for this band. "Funky Monks" is pretty much exactly why I like Chili Peppers, except for the other good things they do. "Suck My Kiss" has a killer riff and lives off it pretty well. The next few tracks are a solid mix of catchy, funky, and pleasant tunes, leading into "Give It Away", the band's quintessential song. It's kind of fun in a goofy way but actually one of the lesser tracks on the album. The title track's guitar work isn't Frusciante's most technically proficient but among his most simply enjoyable to listen to. "Under the Bridge" is another classic song, from the minimal beginning, to the well-sung vocals to a change, to the weirdly affecting choir at the end. "My Lovely Man" can only be described as groove-tastic. Sorry for writing that. "Sir Psycho Sexy" is a bizarre epic of misogyny and musicianship that pretty much ends the album besides a throwaway track. I'll never like this older stuff as much as what they did from 1999 to 2002, but it's still pretty darn good.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Playoffs and the Divison

This post would have been more relevant a couple days ago, but I'm writing it now. When Ian Kennedy won his first game, the Yankees were in decent shape. They were still five games back in the division but held a two game lead in the wild card race over Seattle. Since then, after stumbling for two games, they won 13 out of 16, virtually securing a playoff birth and actually getting within one and a half games of Boston for the division title. They're back to two and a half behind, but it's still not too much of a reach to say they could do it. They only have two more losses than Boston and would win the tiebreaker since they won the season series, so if Boston went, say, 4-3 in their last seven games, the Yankees could go 6-2 (not unreasonable with how bad Baltimore and Tampa have been) and squeak past them. I feel good about a potential battle with the Red Sox in the ALCS. The Yankees started terribly against them, losing five of their first six games this season, but won nine of the last twelve. They have been able to hit all of Boston's big pitchers and don't seem scared at all.

The question is if it's really worth it. All the division really means is pride. There's no real penalty for being the wild card, in fact, half of the World Series winners since 2000 were wild card teams. It shouldn't be a problem for the Yankees to line up their starting pitchers with the delayed start of the postseason, but it does make some sense to give regulars and potentially overworked relievers some extra rest while they prepare. Also, Cleveland and Los Angeles are still competing for the better record. The Yankees should want no part of the Angels, they are the only AL team with a record over .500 against them in the Joe Torre era and New York has played the Indians well this season. If they fight tooth and nail for the division and Los Angeles ends up with a worse record and goes on to bump them in the first round again, they're going to look rather silly.

Another topic is who makes the playoff roster. Jorge Posada has been unbelievable this year. He's fourth in the batting title race in the AL and has 20 homers and 41 doubles. He's had one of the best seasons ever for a catcher at an age where he should be declining rapidly. He's earned himself definite Hall of Fame consideration and a huge paycheck for next year. Alex Rodriguez will also be Mr. Moneybags, whether it's with New York or someone else. Hopefully Cashman does what he has to to keep him on the team, because that bat is irreplaceable. He hasn't homered in a while but he's just set a personal best for RBI in a season and hitting ridiculously. Jeter has come back on of late, starting to get out of his funk that seems to be stemming from leg issues he's had. Robinson Cano's found the power many thought he had in him. Jason Giambi isn't quite who he used to be, but he should still be playing in most games. In the outfield, Melky's regressed, but had some big hits yesterday and still has great defense. Abreu's been doing his thing and Matsui has also appeared to come out of his funk. Johnny Damon has been serviceable and has many uses even if he isn't starting. I like Jose Molina as the backup catcher. He's not amazing anyone, but he plays good defense and appears to actually know what a baseball bat is for. He could be a good backup until one of the couple of promising prospects the Yankees have gets higher up.

Let's see, that's ten position players. Doug Mientkiewicz has been good since coming off the DL with the glove and the bat. Normally, I'd put Giambi at 1B, Matsui at DH, Johnny in LF, and Melky in CF. But Doug should start at first with Wang on the mound or a starter who's bad against lefties opposing them, shifting Giambi to DH, Matsui to LF, and Damon to CF, sitting Cabrera. I like Wilson Betemit and Shelley Duncan as PH for IF and OF respectively. That's 13 positional guys, and you shouldn't really have 12 pitchers on your playoff roster, so we'll throw Alberto Gonzalez (the player, not the former Attorney General) in as a PR and defensive infield replacement.

Pitching-wise, your starters are Wang, Pettitte, Clemens, and Mussina. I'm not that confident in Moose's ability to shut down a good offense, but you can't really ask much from the rookies, and Torre's going with the experienced guy whether I agree with it or not. Wang is much better at home, so if the Yankees don't end up with homefield advantage I'd like to start him Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, but I don't know how likely that plan is to happen either. The Yankees have two other guys who can realistically start for them, Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes. Ian Kennedy has pitched better, with two of his three starts going for 7 innings, 2/3 of an inning longer than any of Hughes' starts. Phil definitely has the edge for long-term potential, but if you put a gun to my head and tell me to pick one to pitch right now, Ian's the guy. Four things though:

1) Phil probably has greater ability to get a strikeout when absolutely needed.
2) If either of them gets used, it won't be in a situation where they'll be required to go more than a few innings.
3) Phil lost a lot of time with his hamstring (and then ankle) injury, and needs all the innings he can get this season.
4) They really don't have that many good pitchers so I'd put both them both on the roster for mop-up/extra innings purposes anyway.

Anyway, 14 positional players, 4 starters, and the two kids leaves 5 spots, three of which go to Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, and Jose Vizcaino, after which, the last two get dicey. There are a lot of options and none are very enticing. Kyle Farnsworth was very good for a stretch, but has reverted back to terribleness. Brian Bruney gets strike outs but still gives up a lot of walks and lost an extra innings game with a home run to Greg freakin' Zaun. Chris Britton has given innings but doesn't show shutdown potential. Edwar Ramirez gets a ton of K's, but has an ERA over 7 that can no longer be justified by his sample size which is now up to 19 innings. Jose Veras also has good stuff but looked really ugly yesterday. Ross Ohlendorf has been pretty decent, but has only had a couple appearances. Ron Villone, who I was amazed to learn has thrown nearly 40 innings this season (No wonder, his Leverage Index is 0.32), really isn't that great but IS left handed and not named Sean Henn. Personally, I would use Ron to pitch against lefties assuming he doesn't stink up the join the last 8 games, and try to give Ross some more chances to prove he can utilize his good stuff well enough to help them in the playoffs. I'm not sure all of the guys I picked would be eligible based on the new rules for that stuff, and Farnsworth will probably end up sneaking on the team anyway because of his veteran status. As long as he doesn't get used, that's okay with me.

Update: I think my roster could work. You pick 25 players from those active or on the disabled list on August 31, and can replace those who are still disabled with anyone from your organization. I think Pavano, Sanchez, and Rasner were all on the DL then and still are now, so they should be replaceable, giving spots to Gonzalez, Kennedy, and Ohlendorf. I'm not sure though because the usually trustworthy Pete Abraham at LoHud did a post on the subject a while ago and didn't include Rasner on the list of DL guys for some reason.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Black Lagoon - Season 1

Black Lagoon will probably end up being a pretty popular anime. It definitely has a similar feel to Cowboy Bebop, if Spike was a girl and they used a boat instead of a space ship. It's an action show, and it pulls it off pretty well. It starts with the relatively interesting cast of characters. Revy (I'm sure that's a botched Japanese shortening of her real name, Rebecca) takes the place of the action hero who does everything and saves her weaker comrades, and is a bit typically hot-headed. She does have a somewhat interesting past, although it isn't gone into too deeply and we end up getting stuck with a few over-long monologues regarding her life philosophy. The protagonist is really the kidnapped businessman who they nickname Rock and co-opt into their group. He doesn't really know his way around weapons or combat, but he's helpful in other ways. Dutch doesn't have that much going on but is likable as the boss who keeps Revy in check, but can still get things done himself.

Black Lagoon's first season has some nice crazy action scenes and ridiculous scenarios (fighting Nazis underwater!), but I honestly wish it was a little crazier. It's entertaining, but it does spend time developing character, when I really don't care that much. The concept of Rock being a normal guy thrust into a new and dangerous world is fairly intriguing, but they don't do enough with that to actually justify the time they DO spend. This is a show about an entire city filled with cutthroats, mercenaries, and deadly maids with umbrellas that deflect bullets, not a normal guy trying to cope. He's fine as a character, but I could have done with more explosions and blood. It's plenty of fun as it is, but I think a lot of anime would benefit from taking their concepts a bit further.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz is the next genre comedy from the Shaun of the Dead guys that honors its subject matter as much as it satires it. Shaun was a great take on zombie movies. Not only was it very funny, it was actually more than competent as just an example of the style. Hot Fuzz purports to do the same with Hollywood action movies, except for the fact that more than half of it is a lot closer to a slasher/mystery movie. Simon Pegg is the hotshot, ultra-serious officer who was transferred to a small town for being too good, and Nick Frost essentially reprises his role as Pegg's dumb, yet sympathetic friend. The two bond over the course of the movie, and at times their togetherness seemed almost romantic. I later learned that there was originally a female love interest for the main character who was cut, and a lot of her lines were given to Frost without any changes, which is actually pretty funny.

Anyway, Sandford is in the running for England's nicest village again, but a mysterious hooded figure has been killing townspeople and disguising his work as accidents. Pegg is sure it's murder, but no one believes him. He has to piece together what's really happening before the killer strikes again. It really is more like Scream than any action movie I've seen. Even if it wasn't what I expected, it was still plenty entertaining, with lots of great lines and jokes and hilariously over-the-top death scenes. A little closer to the end than I would have liked, they finally make the transition to the action part of the movie. There's a lot of entertainment to be had in the short time he and his allies are having gun fights with barkeepers, old men, and supermarket workers. They poke a lot of fun at the ridiculousness of modern movies while having a good go at it themselves. There's a dramatic climax with one more sickly humorous moment before a contrived ending finishes the movie a bit weakly. I think Shaun of the Dead was a bit better focused and stronger as a film, but Hot Fuzz was still good fun.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin

When I think of The Flaming Lips, I think of the somewhat-electronic, extremely happy sound of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. I honestly have no idea what they sounded like before. All I know is that after their guitarist left, they decided to change their sound and make a particularly crazy release (A quadruple album with the four discs intended to be listened to simultaneously) called Zaireeka. Afterwards they made The Soft Bulletin, which was extremely acclaimed critically and laid the framework for who they are now.

The Flaming Lips never completely gelled with me the way they seem to do with other people. I like them, but I don't quite find them amazing as bigger fans. They do a lot of nice things, and have made some really great, catchy songs. But they never blow me away, and some of their stuff doesn't seem to go anywhere. They have a very pleasant sound, and at their best some of their tunes might as well be the essence of joy, even if the subject matter of the often strange lyrics aren't. They can also still rock a bit too though, with some nice harder parts and solid bass, including a lot of synth. They never really do what other bands do when they want to make noise, but it's still fun to listen to.

"Race for the Prize" is a perfect encapsulation of what's good about the Flaming Lips, with the infectious melody and distorted vocals. "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton" starts off sounding pleasantly orchestral before breaking into the drum and bass part that can only be described as awesome. "The Spiderbite Song" is more of the reason I don't like the band so much. There's a bit of potential but there just isn't much there musically, and the vocals sound more like he's just talking in his singing voice than an actual tune. "Buggin'" is actually a bit traditional sounding for them, but is a nice, enjoyable song. "What Is the Light?" starts with a repeating bass drum that carries through the song and lasts into the next, which is a nice instrumental. It starts off very minimally but builds to a nice crescendo before coming back down. "Waiting for a Superman" is a good, drum and piano-heavy song. I love "The Gash". It starts off sounding like a truly epic song from a final confrontation in a movie or something before moving into a nice groove with somewhat disconcerting vocals. There are another couple nice songs before the album ends a bit strangely. There are repeats of "Race for the Prize" and "Waiting for a Superman", with some slight changes, but nothing enough that seems to really warrant it. I don't mind since they're both good songs, it just seemed weird. I liked The Soft Bulletin more than Yoshimi, but I still didn't love it. It is a good listen, though.

Friday, September 14, 2007


I'm not sure why they're selling it as "Season One", there are no other seasons. Berserk is a bit annoying since what it is is basically a long advertisement for the manga. They somewhat-faithfully adapted a good portion of the beginning, reach a huge turning point in the story, and then just stop. I knew this going in so it didn't really bother me, but it's still disappointing. I was really enjoying it, but I don't know if I care enough to go actually read the manga.

Berserk is a dark fantasy tale in a medieval setting, although the fantasy elements are only hinted at in the beginning and end of the show. The bulk of it is a flashback to before the really weird stuff starts happening, as it develops the characters and shows how they get to the point they're at when the real plot actually begins. It stars Guts as a promising young warrior who is recruited by Griffith to join his mercenary group that gains a lot of acceptance from the kingdom they fight for through constant success. There are of course plenty of nobles who don't like the idea of commoners being on the same level as them, and there is more than one attempt on Griffith's life. There's also the one girl fighter who's trying to prove how tough she is, and a couple love triangles develop. There's basically two halves to the show; the series of battles that lead to their rise in prominence, and the character/plot development that occurs in between.

Despite the non-ending, Berserk is a very entertaining show. The animation is pretty good for the late 90's. It's definitely violent enough to satisfy anyone looking for that, especially the really brutal last episode. The action can get a bit repetitive as Guts hacks the crap out of everyone who gets near him, but there's usually enough happening to keep it interesting. Some of the music seems a bit out of place, but most of it works. A couple cues get used too often and can get tiring, but that's really true of almost every anime. The show really does feel incomplete as it's just a small part of a bigger story that's still going, but just taking what it is, it's an interesting war epic.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Good, the Bad & the Queen

The Good, The Bad & The Queen is pretty close to what you might imagine you'd get if Gorillaz was a slightly depressing-sounding rock band instead of... whatever the hell they are. There's a lot of strummed acoustic guitars, heavy bass, nice production touches courtesy of Danger Mouse, vintage Damon Albarn crooning, and solid work from the rest of the crew. Apparently it's not a self-titled album, as it was originally an Albarn solo project that was turned into a group work with no name for the group yet. I'm not sure what it is with me and Danger Mouse, I have four albums by four different artists that he's produced. It's not that I intentionally seek him out, he just seems to work on things that interest me. It's a bit of a concept album in that it seems to keep referring back to life in England, although there's no real story or coherence to it. Some of the songs tend to blend together and feel a bit samey, but there are plenty of really catchy moments and it's pretty solid musically.

"History Song" is a good first track with nice guitar in the verse and deep bass and what I guess is an organ in the chorus. "80's Life" starts with a piano and a bit of an older vibe. "Northern Life" is basically a Gorillaz song. "Kingdom of Heaven" is another old-timey song with a nice chorus. The next few tracks are a bit of a lull, not bad but nothing really stands out. "Three Changes" brings it back with the organ-intro leading into a pretty great beat and uniquely infectious song. The title track closes out the album interestingly. It's seven minutes long but vocals are scarce. It starts with an extended piano intro and ends with several minutes of jamming before it breaks down. Pretty solid release.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Corpse Bride

I don't know. There's nothing really wrong with Corpse Bride, but as a spiritual successor to The Nightmare Before Christmas, it falls a bit flat. It's the same idea; puppets star in a musical with horror elements layered over a family-friendly story. It makes it kind of a mystery who the movie's really for. The tone and sense of humor definitely seems geared towards kids, but I don't know how many parents would approve of all the macabre imagery. It kind of seems mostly to just be for Tim Burton fans. It turned a tidy little profit, but didn't gross nearly as much as a lot of family movies do.

Visually, it's really stunning. The huge puppets have special clockwork heads that are are adjusted with small keys, and the quality and subtlety of their facial expressions are amazing. Excluding scenes that feature liquid of some sort, if you didn't know about the movie you'd probably think it was animated with computers. It's the film part that isn't quite as good as Nightmare. The supporting characters are well done, but the main talent is wasted a bit. Yeah, Depp's doing the voice of the main character, but that doesn't make his performance intrinsically special. He says his lines, not particularly enthusiastically, and collects his paycheck. Carter is a bit better, although there's really no reason she had to be playing the part. Danny Elfman's songs are a definite step down from Nightmare's. That movie's songs were memorable, a quality Corpse Bride's lack. Competently composed, maybe, but I didn't love any of them.

The story itself is also oddly constructed. It's hard to tell where they're going with it for a while. There's some mildly funny humor, and the main characters are likable. The central conflict is a little more nuanced and intelligent that the typical kid movie, with both sides being sympathetic. It's a very short movie, probably because of the ungodly amount of time required to film everything, though it does finish with a suitably climactic, feel-good ending. Corpse Bride is a decent, likable movie. But it does seem a bit irrelevant.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Porcupine Tree - Fear of a Blank Planet

Fear of a Blank Planet is shorter than the last couple Porcupine Tree albums, and a bit more proggy in its leanings. It has only six tracks, although one is over seventeen minutes long. They've always been a progressive band, but generally a little catchier, with some more accessible songs. There are a couple moments like this on Blank Planet, but it generally doesn't stray far from its standard sound. The album's a bit heavy-handed with the message. It's about how today's youth are basically brainwashed by the media and prescription drugs, which is maybe topical but not really that edgy a thing to say, so it comes off a bit lame. There's also a bit of dullness to some of the lyrics that try to relate to the message. It's not bad, it just doesn't take the band to new places and is a bit of a disappointment.

"Fear of a Blank Planet" sticks closely to the theme as you might expect of a title track, and is a reasonably good song. It flows right into "My Ashes" which has a shift in perspective and a softer tone. It's pleasant, but not terribly interesting musically. "Anesthetize" is the long focal point of the album, with several different movements, varying between louder and quieter parts. "Sentimental" is another quiet song. Porcupine Tree just doesn't rock as hard as they have previously. The chorus of "Way Out of Here" goes a long way to make up for some of the record's other shortcomings. By itself, it's really not too amazing, it just grabs your attention and makes it seem like the album isn't quite so boring. "Sleep Together" has a string section and other such elements that add to the attempted grandiosity that comes with this sort of music, but it's too little too late. If you're a fan of the band you'll find some stuff to like, but I would recommend In Absentia or Deadwing to a new listener first.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


I haven't seen either of Iñárritu's other films, but apparently they are similar in structure to this; several different stories of human drama interconnected by a single event. In this case it's the accidental shooting of an American tourist by a Moroccan child with a Japanese former hunter's rifle. The narrative jumps between Morocco, Japan, and the California/Mexico border area, where the tourist' children are being watched by their immigrant babysitter. The different stories take place at different times, where we see glimpses of the future in one place and a callback to the past elsewhere. It's an interesting structure that rewards close watching. Although the plot is intricate, the movie is really more about people coping with tragedy and their own problems while others ignore their need for help. It's a true human drama. The acting is really good, even the child actors do their jobs competently. Pitt and Blanchett are easily the most famous people in the movie, and their presence could have been very distracting, but they do their jobs and handle their roles very well. Despite their star power, their segments don't jive improperly with the rest of the scenes. The entire film is very technically proficient, with good editing, beautifully shot vistas, and lots of subtle film-making touches that add to the effectiveness without being overbearing. The original score is also wonderful and deservedly won an Oscar.

I do think it had some problems though, mostly having to do with lack of resolution. A couple threads are wrapped up satisfyingly, if also a bit second-handedly. However, a lot, and I mean a LOT, is just left unfinished. Characters run away and are never heard from again. Fates of families are left in the balance. Soul-searching letters are written and not revealed to the audience. What's the point of a movie like this? Is it really saying all that much with just the bits of story it tells us? It wasn't nearly as sad as I expected it to be, and it kind of feels like a couple of hours of worrying without finding out what I was really waiting for. There are plenty of little plot giblets that go nowhere, and just ask more questions without answering any. The film itself is brilliantly crafted, and I did like it a lot while I was watching it. But it just comes off as a bit pretentious and meaningless in the end, like they just got bored and decided to stop making it, saying "It's good enough, the critics will love it." It got solid reviews, a bunch of award nominations, and is one of his most successful movies. But I think it could have been better.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Ween - Chocolate and Cheese

I had never heard of Ween until this summer when a couple friends started listening to them. It's a unique band. They aren't afraid to be goofy or experiment with different sounds and styles of music. If you only listen to a couple of their weirder songs, you might think they're just talentless hacks messing around, but they really do have genuine songwriting and musical talent. I'm not sure what exactly constitutes "traditional" Ween, but Chocolate and Cheese is probably pretty close. Dean, Gene and friends use guitars, a drum machine, and various other instruments to create a bunch of catchy, enjoyable tunes. A lot of the songs have a 70's vibe, and it's the kind of album you can really chill out too. I imagine it's the kind of thing I'd enjoy more if I got high.

"Take Me Away" opens with some nice little pop-rock as Gene sings in a fake voice, thanking his fake audience. "Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)" has more vocal manipulation and distorted guitar. "A Tear For Eddie" is a very nice instrumental, basically being a really good five minute guitar solo. "Roses Are Free" is a bit of a psychedelic song with some female backup vocals. "Drifter In the Dark" is a perfect encapsulation of that slow, older western song you sometimes hear in Coen brothers movies, and is maybe, along with "Buenas Tardes Amigo", a forerunner to Ween's country album. The later is funny if you listen to it, and has a pretty great guitar riff near the end. "Voodoo Lady" is another entertaining genre piece and a fun single. I'm not as big of a fan of seemingly pointless, musically uninteresting songs like "Candi", even if they provide the album's namesake. "The HIV Song" is in the same mold, although a bit easier to listen to. There are a few clunkers, but most of the tracks work well together to create an entertaining album.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Darkness

The Darkness is based on a comic by Top Cow Productions, although it seems significantly different in visual style. Starbreeze Studios reworked the concept to work better in a first person shooter, and spent more time with the mafia aspect and World War I setting than the more supernatural stuff. The Darkness comes off of Starbreeze's previous hit, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, a prequel to the Vin Diesel movies.

The Darkness is a fun game, although the shooting action itself isn't all that good. Apparently that's a quirk of Starbreeze, they make good first person shooters without good shooting. From what I've gathered, Butcher Bay succeeded because of atmosphere, graphics, and hand-to-hand combat, while The Darkness succeeds because of atmosphere, graphics, and the darkness powers. They just make you feel like a badass and add immensely to the experience. Which scenario sounds cooler?

1) A door opens, and a man walks through and shoots the other men inside the room.
2) A door opens and a sharp black spike darts in, smashing out all the lights in the room, covering it in shadow. An ominous figure walks in with the appearance of a man, but he has several demonic appendages protruding from him, including two ravenous-looking snake-like creatures. The man dispatches the others in the room with his guns and lashing, impaling tentacles. When it is over, the two creatures greedily consume the hearts of the fallen.

Other cool touches include Jackie, the protagonist, merely dropping his pistols and pulling out new ones when they're out of ammo, and the brutal "execution" moves he performs when right next to the enemy. The game's not all just violence though. If you want, you can spend time helping out the normal citizens you see around you, and there are plenty of calmer, even tender moments, like going to see Jackie's girlfriend at her new apartment and watching To Kill A Mockingbird together (The PS3 version includes this and other movies, plus some cartoons and music videos, in their entirety on various televisions in the game world). They really try to immerse you in this world, which can help gloss over some of the other flaws and adds to the success of the story.

The plot has two main threads, as Jackie deals with his traitorous uncle Paulie and the Darkness inside him that is trying to control him. The two are mixed well, and it moves along with generally good voice acting and presentation. The conclusion is a bit... inconclusive, though not totally unsatisfying. The sound design is pretty good, with nice music and effective sound effects. Some of the textures look bad up close and the people can look a bit weird, but generally the graphics, lighting and overall visual quality are quite good. The game can be a bit glitchy, and the core gameplay isn't quite as solid as you might like, but thanks to the peripheral touches it's a good experience. It's also a very funny game, the main story is very serious (and well, dark), but there are lots of humorous phone messages, posters, and NPC conversations sprinkled throughout. The story might be a bit short, but you should at least try the game if you're interested.

Monday, September 3, 2007


Shooter was a bit of an erratic movie. It had some cool ideas and interesting situations, but a lot of its overall structure and pacing as a film just seemed off. If you're interested in snipers, then it's a pretty enjoyable and apparently accurate idea of how a lot of it works. It stays technically truer than a lot of dumber action moves do, although sometimes it gets hard to follow since Wahlberg tends to mumble through a lot of his lines. I don't know if it was part of his character or just lazy acting, but I know he can do better than this. He does a competent job of looking jacked and messing up fools, though.

The side characters aren't terribly interesting or likable. Glover doesn't really work as a bad guy. I'm so used to him being the good guy that he'd really have to work hard to make me hate him, and he just ends up annoyingly smug. He and the other villains are a little heavy-handed representing the corruption in our current government, and a movie called Shooter probably just isn't the right vehicle for social commentary. Kate Mara looks pretty without adding much substance, and Michael Peña is the vaguely sympathetic sidekick who avoided the plot cliché I expected to see with him.

The plot is interesting if a bit typical of the genre, although it tends to wander and I felt myself losing interest. I was very tired at the time, so I'm not laying all the blame at the movie's feet. All of the scenes are directed well by Fuqua who seems to know what he's doing, and pretty much each individual scene is fine, it just doesn't fit together quite well, with climaxes in the wrong place and a bit of a strange ending that's a bloodbath without being satisfying to the resolution of the characters. There's a lot to like happening, it just seems like the script could have used a lot more tightening. It could have been better, and it could have been a lot worse.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Liveblog 7: Ian's Debut

Since the last post, the Yankees haven't gotten any less streaky. They won the final game against Los Angeles, lost three of four to the Tigers to finish a terrible road trip, swept Boston, and then lost a game to Tampa in a blowout. They hold Boston to 6 runs in a 3 game series and then give The Devil Rays 8 in one game. It just goes to demonstrate the sport's crazy nature. The top 3 pitchers have been good, but Phil Hughes has continued to struggle with his command and Mussina has been getting destroyed. His failures have led to the promotion of Ian Kennedy, another highly regarded Yankee prospect, who, like Joba, has gone from single-A ball to the majors in one season. Hopefully he can keep his team in the game.

Top 1 - Ian retired the Devil Rays with just 6 pitches, getting two fly outs and a grounder to second. There wasn't much to see, but he located the fastball well.

Bottom 1 - After two quick groundouts, Bobby Abreu works a walk off Edwin Jackson. Alex Rodriguez hits his 45th home run to take a two run lead. He leads the AL in that category by 12. Really not much power this year. Matsui flies out to left center to end the inning.

Top 2 - Upton flies out to roughly the same area. People say Kennedy's ceiling isn't that high because his raw stuff isn't that good. But he's not throwing junk up there. His fastball sits around 91 and he commands it well. Delmon Young lines a single up the middle. A-Rod drops a foul pop-up by Harris. I've always heard he had problems with them, I just never saw him actually just totally miss a catch like that. Harris then takes the next pitch up the middle as well. It would be easier to be mad at Rodriguez if he didn't just hit a two run homer. Jonny Gomes, who I haven't seen in a while, works the count a bit before taking a called third strike, painted perfectly low and outside. There's Kennedy's first K. Kennedy's the 8th rookie to start for the Yankees this year, and the 6th to make his first MLB start this season. It's been a weird year, but it was necessitated by Pavano's unsurprising injury and Igawa's suckiness. Josh Wilson hits a double to left that splits the outfielders, tying the game. Neither of those runs were earned. Josh Paul, owner of the most redneck mustache I have ever seen, has received two generous low ball calls from the umpire, and has worked a full count. He walks. Seriously, thanks A-Rod. This inning is sweet. Something's happening. Joe Torre talked to the umpire, they conferenced, and now they're talking to the Rays' manager. The announcers think it's related to Iwamura's padding. They're checking his bat now. He has a different bat, and uses it immediately to strike out. Inning finally over.

Bottom 2 - I was in the bathroom so I didn't see it, but apparently Giambi was robbed of another hit by the shift. He had some power at first, but he hasn't done a whole lot since returning from the DL. September has historically been Cano's best month in his short career, but he grounds out in his first at bat this year. Andy Phillips hits a single the other way. Molina strikes out to end the inning.

Top 3 - Kennedy threw exactly six times as many pitches in the second as he did in the first. Let's hope this inning is closer to the latter. Crawford hits a single past awkwardly lunging no-range-Jeter. If you believe in zone rating, he single handedly brings our starting lineup's defense from well-above average to about the same total below. Crawford steals second. I don't know how many times I've seen successful steals off of Yankee catchers throwing to the left of the base in recent days, but I'm getting sick of it. Pena lines out to Cano. Upton walks. You know, if they really wanted to prepare talented pitching prospects for breaking into the majors, they should allow them to add extra baserunners when they wanted, just to get used to it. These guys breeze through weaker hitters, but when they actually get men on base in the bigs, they aren't used to it and don't seem as prepared for that situation. Young grounds into a double play to end the inning.

Bottom 3 - Melky leads off. He's had a good year overall, but he still does annoying things like brutally misplaying the odd flyball, bunting inappropriately (is that redundant?), and sliding into first. He singles. Jeter singles on a grounder to the left. Abreu hits a potential double play ball, but the return throw is bad and a run scores, one out and a runner on second. And now Maddon, the Rays' manager, has something to say to the umpires, and they're checking A-Rod's bat. Yeah, we really need this waste of time in a game like baseball that lasts 3 hours anyway. He hits a single, runners on the corners. A pitch in the dirt and Alex moves to second. Matsui walks. Pena makes a nice play at first to get an out, but a run scores anyway. Cano strikes out.

Top 4 - Hoepfully, Kennedy can pitch a couple more good innings and earn a win. Another groundout on a nice play by A-Rod. According to Pete, Iwamura's bat is flat at the top instead of rounded or cupped, which could be against regulations. It was already approved earlier, but they challenged anyway, and Maddon probably countered just to get back at Torre. So stupid. Anyway, while I was checking this, Kennedy got a quick strikeout and a liner to Jeter, so maybe he could go six.

Bottom 4 - Phillips walks. Molina reaches on a second error by the shorstop. He drove in the two runs for the Rays, so both guys who have hit for their team have also let them down on defense. Crawford catches a lined shot from Melky. Jeter draws another walk, loading the bases. Jackson walks in a run, pitching himself out of the game. This game is loooooooooong. Rodriguez hits a ground rule double, 7-2. Matsui hits a hard grounder to first, two outs. Giambi strikes out on a full count, and we move to the fifth.

Top 5 - The Mustache works the count full before popping out to Cano. Iwamura strikes out again, and Crawford grounds out on a nice play by Cano, another good inning for Ian. If he stays this efficient, he could go 7, though my bet is he doesn't.

Bottom 5 - Cano grounds out again. His average has dipped below .300 again after he fought so hard to get it above. Andy Phillips smacks another single. His power is nonexistent, but he's been a decent replacement player at first. After a long at bat, Molina strikes out, and Phillips is safe at second after a delayed dropped ball call on the attempted steal. Wilson's third error. Melky lines out to end the inning.

Top 6 - Kennedy strikes out Pena on three pitches. Upton hits a home run, Kennedy's first major league earned run. Young lifts a fly out to center on the first pitch. Harris hits another fly out, and Kennedy has 90 pitches through six. I'd put him out there for the seventh.

Bottom 6 -Someone's throwing in the bullpen for the Yankees, which is not surprising. Assuming Kennedy's done, it was a good debut - 6 innings, 5 Ks to 2 BBs, 3 runs, 1 earned, in line for the win. Reliever Salas hits Jeter with a pitch in the back. Weak. Abreu pops out to center. A-Rod follows suit. Matsui gets in on the popping out fun, this time to third, and on we go.

Top 7 - So Seattle just lost their eighth straight, leaving the Yankees in position to go up 2 games in the wildcard race if they finish off this win. Kennedy's given the opportunity to pitch another inning. Gomes is the third straight hitter to fly out off Kennedy on the first pitch. It seems like they want him to go deep. All five of his strikeouts were swinging, which is weird, since all the minor league K's they showed before the game were looking at painted third strikes. Two pitches later, and another lazy fly to Abreu. Three straight called strikes on The Mustache, and there's the looking strikeout I was looking for. His day is done, and he finished with a strike to ball ratio over 2. See, Hughes? You get outs by throwing strikes. Great debut for Ian.

Bottom 7 - Giambi doubles to the gap in left-center. Cano flies out to right, moving Giambi to third. Andy draws a walk. Molina smacks a single the other way to drive in a run. He's worked some good counts today and finally produces. Melky hits another single, Yanks lead 9-3. Here's another pitching change. Looking at the highlight clip, the first strikeout by Kennedy was looking too, so... whatever. 7 5 3 1 2 6 is pretty darn good. Jeter grounds out, advancing the runners. Abreu flies out to end the frame.

Top 8 - Vizcaino in to pitch, Betemit and called-up Gonzalez taking over defensively. Assuming this lead stays where it is, I'd like to see Veras pitch the ninth and get reacquainted with the major leagues. He was also activated with the expansion of rosters in September, and showed some talent last year before injuries kept him down this season. Iwamura walks. Crawford doubles over the head of Melky, driving in Akinori. Pena flies to left, scoring Crawford who went to third on Melky's misplay of the ball he hit. Rivera is now warming up, something I didn't want to see. Upton doubles to left. This is just not what you want to see with a 6 run lead, which is down to 4. How in the hell did Vizcaino rack up 8 wins this season? Very odd. That's at least as many as all but two of the Yankees' starters. Gonzalez bobbles a grounder, allowing the runner to reach. If you're here to be a defensive whiz, you should make plays like this, regardless of any odd hops a ball takes. They gave the Devil Rays a base hit on that play. Harris drives in yet another run on a sac fly. This game is now a save situation. Mariano Rivera is being brought into the game. Horseshit. You don't use your closer, who you swore you wouldn't use for more than one inning before the season started, for more than one inning in a three run game. This is just dumb. A groundout to Cano, and we move on.

Bottom 8 - Betemit's struggled at the plate lately. He strikes out. Matsui grounds out. Just finish up so I can stop typing. Shelley Duncan, pinch hitting for Giambi, flies out to left.

Top 9 - Mo attempts to close it out before this bitch gets to the four hour mark. Called strikeout. Another K, this time on a foul tip. Mariano finishes it off with another looking strikeout, game over.

Wrap-up - Ian and Mariano pitched very well, Luis did not. The offense recovered nicely from their sad state of affairs yesterday, and besides a terrible two third of an inning, it was a very good day. They're 2 games ahead of Seattle in the wildcard. Kennedy showed promise for a hopefully very successful career as one of the Yankees' good young starters.