Monday, March 31, 2008

Metalocalypse - Season 1

Comparing this show to Brendon Small's first one, Home Movies, you wonder how the same guy could have created such wildly different things. But get past the surface, and they have a little more in common. The subject matter is completely different and Metalocalypse is much more violent, but they have similar styles of humor focusing on conversational dialogue, and Home Movies did have a heavy metal band that appeared once in a while. Metalocalypse is an interesting show because it never tries too hard to be funny, which can't be said for most comedies. It's often content to just tell a weird story about this band filled with idiots that still manages to control the thoughts of most of the world. Not to say it isn't usually humorous, because it is, they're just not constantly throwing out jokes hoping some will stick.

The five members of the band really are morons, with over half of them unable to even speak English properly. I have to admit a lot of the appeal comes from just listening to them talk and interact. Music is a heavy element of the show, as might be assumed. It's mostly metal, and actually pretty entertaining most of the time. Enjoyable riffs and funny lyrics if you can make out Nathan's growl. But besides that, one thing you can always count on is over-the-top violence. It seems like every episode ends with a bunch of people having their faces melted or getting blown up or something. It's actually a comfort that you can usually expect something bad to happen. The violence culminates in the surprisingly dramatic season finale, when the world leaders who have been trying to sabotage the band really get serious about it. The second season started late last year and took a break, but should be returning some time soon.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Weeds - Season 1

I guess Showtime has a thing for good shows with one-word titles starring sympathetic criminals. Weeds is about a woman in the suburbs who has resorted to dealing pot to keep her family afloat after her husband unexpectedly died. It's usually pretty funny, although the primary appeal of it to me is the story and main character, named Nancy, played excellently by the extremely cute Mary-Louise Parker. It seems like the only actual difference in definition between "comedy" and "drama" in television is that the former is 30 minutes while the latter is an hour, because this feels pretty much the same as a lot of those shows, just shorter and funny more often.

While she's dealing, Nancy has to keep her children under control as well, with both situations causing problems. Her younger son, Shane, is good-natured but frequently gets in trouble for acting out. The older one, Silas, mostly gets involved with girls and drugs, and is kind of a dick. As far as the show goes, they both provide fine family conundrums for Nancy, but at least Shane is humorous once in a while. Helping out with the business and also giving the kids some usually specious advice, brother-in-law Andy is probably my favorite character. I wasn't sure about him at first, but he's consistently the most entertaining guy in the room even if he's not the greatest person. The drug side of the show is usually more interesting, as she deals with expanding her business, running into competitors, and keeping the whole thing a secret, which she's really not good at. The plot's definitely more gripping than I expected going in, and the season ends on a terrific cliffhanger.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Frisky Dingo - Season 2

The second season picks up pretty much right where the first ended, and continues the strange, winding storyline that it's become known for. My memory of the first half isn't great since they broke it into two halves, the first of which aired a while ago, but it featured a funny arc about Killface and Xander running for President. Xander fits the role of idiot conservative perfectly, and it culminated in a plane crash cliffhanger, leaving fans waiting for more. The first block also brought Wendell into the limelight, one of the funniest characters on the show. He starts off working for Killface but branches out and becomes very important to the outcome of the season.

There's a lot of running around and betrayal in the second half, but the central focus is on Xander's ex-girlfriend, who has since transformed into a monster and become pregnant with a mutant child. There's plenty of violence and laughs, and several characters get killed off. The finale includes lots of great moments and action movie clichés, culminating in yet another scene at the Annihilatrix site, with yet another cliffhanger twist. Sometimes the show seems like it's trying to be too clever instead of just silly fun like the rest of Adult Swim's programming, but it's always enjoyable.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Curb Your Enthusiasm - Season 6

Compared to the show's past, the sixth season isn't quite at the same level. It's still funny, it's just that there are some noticeable differences in character which bothered me a bit and they messed with the normal relationship dynamics. This is fine in a show that's purpose is telling a story, but in a sitcom, the familiarity of the setting is usually comforting, and most of the changes didn't improve anything. On the first point, Larry's always been a little rude when common courtesy didn't make sense to him, but he never really did anything that bad on purpose either. He seemed to get in trouble more often in season six, and the things he did were often deliberate and out of character. Would Larry really steal flowers from a roadside memorial to help apologize to someone? I'm supposed to like a protagonist who does things like that?

The two storylines in the sixth season are the Davids taking in a black family (who happened to be named the Blacks, leading to a few uncomfortable moments) that was left homeless by a hurricane and Larry's wife leaving him after the straw that breaks the camel's back. I liked the Black subplot because it brings in one of the show's best characters, Leon, who's always good for a hysterical exchange or two per episode, but I really didn't like the other one. It presented some interesting opportunities for comedy to show Larry back on the dating scene, but the whole second half of the season just seemed to continually pile crap on him (a contrast with the first half) for no reason and the resolution is not what I thought or hoped would happen. It's not that the show wasn't funny anymore, in fact I may have laughed out loud more than any previous season, I just didn't like what was happening so much. We'll see where he takes it if he comes back for another run.

You notice how my posts are always longer when I have something to complain about? Much easier to be wordy when I get bothered.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! - Season 2

The second season of the Awesome Show wasn't quite as classic as the first, with more gags that fell flat, but it was still enjoyable the vast majority of the time. Besides plenty of original, strange ideas, lots of favorites from the first season return, from the Married News Team with Dr. Steve Brule to Carol and Mr. Henderson's forbidden love to Casey and The Uncle Muscles Hour. There are plenty of guest stars, both recognizable comedians like David Cross and Zach Galifianakis and those odd looking people Tim and Eric just seem to find and star in some random musical number.

If anything, this season is more esoteric than it was before. Bizarre stuff will happen a lot, like Rainn Wilson with a squashed face describing his stump of a penis in a dating video. But there's also stuff anyone can enjoy like the Innernette, a spot-on parody of infomercials ("Guilty as charged.") and competing families that seem more like businesses. The first season ended on a cliffhanger, and this one ends in a very interesting way as well with a hilariously violent confrontation between the two stars. As far as Adult Swim goes, Tim and Eric is one of the easiest and most enjoyable to watch over and over, and it always leaves you wishing it was a little longer. Season three should be coming late this summer, and like Eric with Tim's birthday, I can't wait.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Roster for Opening Day

Spring training's coming to an end and the season is nearly upon us. The Red Sox and Athletics have already played the first two games, in fact. Most of the players who would make the team were already known in February, but there are still a few questions about the last couple spots. Here's how I think it should play out, and how it probably will.


Johnny Damon, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Bobby Abreu, RF
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Jason Giambi, 1B
Jorge Posada, C
Hideki Matsui, DH
Robinson Cano, 2B
Melky Cabrera, CF

This will probably be the most common lineup. I would bat Cano higher since he's such a good pure hitter, but it's not going to matter much with all the runs they'll put up. All the hype is on the Tigers with their offseason acquisitions, but I still think this is the best offense in the majors. There will be some regression from Posada and Rodriguez, but I wouldn't be surprised by improvement from Damon, Jeter, Giambi, Abreu, and Cabrera.


Wilson Betemit, IF
Shelley Duncan, 1B/OF
Morgan Ensberg, IF
Jose Molina, C

I think Jose is the best Yankee backup catcher since Jorge was doing it for their new manager, Joe Girardi. They haven't really needed one with how good Posada has been, but he's getting older and could use more time off. Ensberg seems kind of redundant and really hasn't been great this spring, but he's made his way onto the 40-man roster. Brett Gardner has been impressive, plays good outfield defense, and would be capable of pinch running, but it would probably be better for his development to play every day at AAA instead of riding the big league bench. He should be on the team some time this year, though. Duncan gives the lineup some flexibility, having a decent power bat from the right side. He can play first to give Giambi a bit of a rest, and Matsui and Damon can both play in the outfield to give Melky some time off.


Chien-Ming Wang
Andy Pettitte
Mike Mussina
Phil Hughes
Ian Kennedy

That's not a rotation that will blow anyone away, but I think it will be pretty solid the whole year. Wang and Pettitte aren't really the dominant guys you want at the top, but they both record a lot of outs efficiently. Mussina was bad last year, but I think he'll return to something a little better. He's just too good at pitching not to have at least a league average ERA. There will probably be some growing pains for Hughes and Kennedy, but they have shown the makeup and ability to at least perform up to expectations for their given roles.


Mariano Rivera
Joba Chamberlain
Kyle Farnsworth
LaTroy Hawkins
Kei Igawa
Billy Traber
Brian Bruney

Mo is a lock to be a good closer in my mind. I expect Kyle is a little more comfortable with Girardi managing and will at least bounce back a bit from his bad 2007, and Hawkins has reinvented himself into a decent groundball guy. The team wants a long reliever because of the inning limits on the young pitchers, and believe it or not Igawa has a better ERA this Spring than the other two candidates, Jeff Karstens and Darrell Rasner. He's also getting paid more and the team wants to prove he wasn't a gigantic mistake. Personally, I would use Joba in this role, to stretch him out at the major league level and let him work on his secondary pitches without the pressure of small eighth-inning leads, but that's probably what he'll be dealing with. If they're going to move him to the rotation this year anyway, why further cement him as a dominant force in the 'pen? They want a lefty specialist, and Traber has done the best job with his opportunities, and earned a 40-man roster spot. Scott Patterson deserves the last spot, having been nearly perfect this spring, allowing only one base hit and none of his inherited runners to score. But they'll probably put him in AAA and let Bruney, recipient of a $750k arbitration check, continue to frustrate fans with 96 MPH fastballs five inches off the plate.

I think this is a good team, one that will only improve as more young prospects mature enough to come up and outperform the retreads that always seem to grab extra spots. With two championships in four years, the Red Sox are the favorites, but I see the Yankees challenging them in the divison more than some might expect.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Deus Ex: Invisible War

Judged next to the original Deus Ex, the sequel can be considered a disappointment. People loved the first game, and most of the similarities the games share are top-level concepts and not the execution of those concepts. If it was its own thing, I think it would have been better received, but as a sequel, it definitely feels simplified for a broader audience, alienating the fans the series already had. It's still about playing a person trained and cybernetically modified to be the perfect soldier, in a directed yet flexible storyline featuring corruption and conspiracy, with a level of freedom in how you go about your tasks. In some ways, you have even more freedom than the first game, with the (somewhat irrelevant) choice of gender and often multiple conflicting objectives to consider, rather that just the occasional side quest. As nice as that sounds though, the opposing forces don't actually offer that much potential for interesting ramifications. Leaders of a faction will warn you that you're angering them if you keep going against their wishes, but they never actually stop giving you the opportunity to help them. Near the end, enemies will or will not attack you based on what you've done recently, but like the first game, there are multiple endings and you can side with whoever you want regardless of what you actually did the rest of the time.

There are some game design choices I didn't much like either. The weapon system is dumbed down, with only two mods allowed per firearm and generic ammunition that takes some strategy out of resource management and screws you if you ever get too trigger happy. Biomod canisters are generic as well, and it's disappointing that you can only have access to five powers besides light at a time, especially when among these is the ability to hack computers, which you can always do in the first game and usually comes in quite handy. One thing the game unfortunately has in common with its predecessor is poor shooting gameplay, which is generally okay since it's more of an RPG most of the time but irritating when you do get in a big fracas. The story is pretty decent, although it seems to wish it was more interesting that it really is, and it seems a bit lazy when the same twist is used in both the main plot and a sidestory. They might have been trying to make a point with that, I just didn't like it. They did some nice things separating it from the first game while still tying them together in the end, though. While it did have some problems, I don't like it when people expect the sequel to march in lockstep with the original every time, and I found it to be a good experience most of the way through. I heard it was quite buggy when it launched, but now that it's on Steam a few years later that seems to be mostly ironed out. Usually you expect a video game sequel to be better, but just because it isn't doesn't mean it's bad.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Curb Your Enthusiasm - Season 5

The fifth season of Larry David's farcical look at how people interact is about as good as any other. You have to figure he'll run out of ideas eventually, but for the time being he still knows how to come up with ridiculously convoluted plots that almost always come together in the end, putting a nice bow on each encounter. Most of the first few episodes I actually ever saw were from this season, and they still hold up, doing even better when watched in order so you get the whole picture.

The two intertwining stories this time are the true nature of Larry's parentage and his friend Richard Lewis' need for a kidney. The former manifests with him hiring a private investigator to find out if he's adopted, which always seems to wiggle its way into other events. Larry takes a test and finds out he's a match to give Lewis his kidney, but still goes out of his way to find any other source so he doesn't have to do it himself. The extended finale resolves both of these issues well, featuring a great scene that I won't give away but will say includes great appearances by Dustin Hoffman and Sacha Baron Cohen. The sixth season is the most recent one, and I've already jumped into it. It's a quick, fun watch.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Frisky Dingo - Season 1

After it was canceled, the creators of Sealab 2021 eventually came back with a new show, Frisky Dingo. While, like many early Adult Swim shows, Sealab was based off recycled art from older programs, Dingo is all original, although the art kind of looks like it was traced from real images. The show is heavily plot based, with each episode directly continuing the previous one, focusing on a story about Killface, a villain who's created the Anihilatrix, a weapon capable of destroying the planet, and the people who try to stop them, including Xander Crews, an idiotic billionaire who runs around in a costume for fun.

The show's humor comes mostly from the (improvised?) dialogue, which comes off as pretty natural and doesn't quite gel with the fantastic situations that the characters are actually in. There aren't many gags or real jokes, just funny conversations. As the season goes on, some goofier stuff starts happening, involving double-crosses and blindness and stuff like that, and it comes to a head in a finale that seems like it wouldn't support much continuation. Thankfully, the show fortunately resumed late last year, and the second season has its own finale happening tonight. I find the show's treatment by Adult Swim a little odd, seeing how the first season DVD has absolutely no special features, because it's one of the legitimately funniest things they have.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Family Guy - Season 5

Family Guy was off the air for about three years before it was brought back thanks to Adult Swim and DVD sales, and thanks to the time distortion field that occurs when you grow into adulthood, I was surprised to notice that it's now been back for the same amount of time, about three years. In that time, the show has moved away from what made it funny in the first place, and has driven many old fans away, although it's still always good for some silly laughs. The show now repeats old jokes and minor characters more often and breaks away from the story for some fourth wall-breaking meta-humor, which is often handled a little more clumsily than some better shows, and most of the main characters have changed to the point where they only resemble their original selves in passing.

It's a phenomenon you might have noticed before, called Flanderization (after the next door neighbor from The Simpsons), where some quirk of a character becomes more and more emphasized over time to the point where it pretty much takes over their personality. It's most noticeable in Meg, who went from the slightly boring daughter to someone who gets railed on at every single opportunity. They keep driving the peg into the hole to the point where the interactions become kind of stagnant. Although not quite Flanderization, Stewie has completely changed, from an infant obsessed with world domination to a flamboyant fratboy-type character and a vessel for anything the episode's lazy writer wanted to say about the world. The show's still enjoyable, it's just not as good as it was before the layoff.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! - Season 1

I haven't discussed much Adult Swim on this blog besides my first TV post about The Venture Bros. and there's really no good reason for that. I watch it more than any other channel, it's just a little difficult to know when to say anything because season start and ends dates are often hard to identify. It becomes easier when they release a DVD, which they're doing soon with the first run of Tim and Eric's bizarre, hilarious sketch program known as the Awesome Show. Their first show was Tom Goes to the Mayor, which was (unfairly in my opinion) hated by most viewers, and had minimal animation with a lot of live action inserts. After it was canceled, they got an opportunity to drop the cartoon millstone that was around their necks and do a fully live action show. There are lots of celebrity guests and musical numbers, and lots of ideas that don't care how weird they are, as they don't change their sense of humor for anybody.

A lot of people still can't stand the show, because it's too off the wall and not traditionally funny. But they're definitely missing out. If you have any taste at all for oddball humor, you'll probably find something to like in any episode you watch. Maybe some of it won't be to your taste, but if it isn't, you're not wasting that much time. Some of the stuff they do is a little childish, with lots of scatological and vomit jokes, and a fair amount of sketches feature decidedly unpleasant people to look at, but that's the show, and I like it warts and all.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Curb Your Enthusiasm - Season 4

Another year provided another ten episodes of one of the funnier shows on television. I don't think the fourth was quite as strong as the last couple perhaps were, but it was a lot of fun just the same. The fictionalized version of Larry David is a really interesting character because of the conflicted feelings he brings up. He's a good person at heart and usually just has terrible luck in social situations, but you often get annoyed by his refusal to play by society's rules and just accept what's happened. At the same time, the people who's deals with, despite usually being "right" in the social sense, are also usually jerks who make a bigger deal out of things than necessary. Almost everything that happens is a real misunderstanding that turns into an absurdly huge mess, and part of the humor is just the semi-believability of his predicaments.

The two main pieces of the fourth season's plot are Larry being selected by Mel Brooks to play the lead in The Producers on Broadway despite him not even being a real actor, and his wife Cheryl giving him a chance to sleep with another woman for his tenth anniversary gift. As can be expected, he gets very close to achieving the latter multiple times before blowing it at the last second (sometimes his fault, sometimes not). The former comes to a head in the excellent season finale which includes lots of tipping problems, a run-in with Stephen Colbert, and a plot twist filled with plenty of meta-humor. It's pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Smokin' Aces

I checked this out for roughly the same reasons as the last two movies, but it's not really that similar to them. Carnahan's script tries very desperately to be smart and stylish, although it only partially succeeds at times. There are a lot of different characters with similar amounts of screen time, and it was a little difficult to even say who the stars were, so I just went with the two "good" guy feds. I think Ryan Reynolds should probably stick with comedy. Part of me wants to say he's fine in a serous role, but I think that's really just thinking he can grow a pretty nice beard. Ray Liotta never did that much with his career after Goodfellas, although he always seems to do a good job when he appears. Plenty of other large and small names make appearances, from Ben Affleck to Jason Bateman to Jeremy Piven to Andy Garcia and a bunch of people you probably don't know by name but recognize when you see them. Common and Alicia Keys also make their acting debuts, and they're not bad enough that I'd want to make a lame comment about sticking to their music careers.

All of these characters lead to a lot of craziness that could turn into a jumbled mess, although it never does. Basically, Smokin' Aces is a movie about a couple of FBI guys going to pick up Piven's character (nicknamed "Aces"), a mob witness, before a plethora of hitmen descend on him to pick up the seven figure reward on his head. They all want to smoke Aces. Get it? Chaos ensues, with lots of shooting and stabbing happening everywhere all over a casino. It's over the top most of the time, with hookers running around, sniper rifles so powerful they can knock you over, and a trio called the Tremors adding plate armor and chainsaws to the mix. A bunch of fairly entertaining stuff happens with the requisite subterfuge and betrayal before the rug is pulled out with a plot twist after all the action's died down. A few plot points seem a little vague, but it's a decent enough story in the end. The movie's never as thoroughly entertaining as it obviously wants to be, but it wasn't too bad. If anything, it does well balancing all the pieces it throws in the air.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Shoot 'Em Up

This is a little closer to what I was expecting as far as "non-stop action" in Crank. Constant gunfights, tricks in combat that are both clever and hilarious, and a parade of goofy one-liners spewing from Clive Owen's mouth. Clive's something rare, he's distinctly English, but he still pulls of a badass persona, and not a quaint kind of badass with a cockney accent like in Snatch. He's just minding his own business one night, eating a carrot (those things will come up a lot), when he sees a pregnant woman get chased into a warehouse. Being who he is (although it's never actually fully explained who he is), he goes in to help her, getting involved in a large fight during which he ends up helping her give birth. The action really is constant, and a few different scenes will show you what I mean.

In my mind, Clive can do no wrong, and there's some decent talent around him too. Paul Giamatti is a solid character actor, and while I didn't quite buy him as a villain, it's more a fault of his lovable chubby cheeks than his skills at pulling the part off. Monica Bellucci is a hooker with a special talent, and she's fine enough at the damsel in distress role. The character relationships are completely clichéd and the plot, while having some unique bullet points like bone marrow and heavy metal music, is never really well constructed, just an adequate little mystery that completely serves its purpose of allowing for as much mayhem as possible. There's not many films I would recommend solely on its gratuitous action, but if you're in the mood for some, Shoot 'Em Up fits the bill perfectly.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Crank is a very silly movie, but that's what it's trying to be, and it does quite a good job of it. The idea is simple; Jason Statham has to keep his adrenaline pumping to slow down a poison that was injected into him before he eventually dies, unless he can find a way to stop it. He's also trying to get revenge on the people who did this, and the entire movie consists of him running around and doing anything to stay active, from chugging energy drinks to driving cars through malls to having sex in public. I kept hearing about how it's non-stop action, and while it's true he's always running somewhere, the actual amount of traditional movie "action" is actually pretty moderate, although it gets heavier at the end. The majority of the entertainment comes from humor.

Obviously, there's a lot of laughs from the absurdity of the situation and how he deals with it, but there's also several other quirky things it does to keep it interesting. There's a lot of playing with subtitles and perspective. Going with this is the insertion of cutaways into other shots, like his friend on the phone somewhere else appearing in the rear-view mirror. Despite the focus on insanity, there is a plot to be found, a twisting little mob tale, and it has some good points, although it's largely typical and not that interesting on its own. The movie's quite short, so there isn't much time for character development or subtlety. Statham is pretty used to the action star with an English accent role by now and fills it fine. Amy Smart plays his girlfriend, and while she's not unlikable, she's really not a good actress, although that really only bothered me in one scene. It doesn't really matter though, because despite the ending that seemed ludicrous even for what had already happened, I liked it a lot. Neveldine and Taylor are a new writing/directing duo and I'm interested in what other stuff they have up their sleeves.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Curb Your Enthusiasm - Season 3

The show continues to come into its own, with deeper, more connected plot lines and laughs enhanced by the attention to detail. Larry David is a comic genius, and he knows how to surround himself with other funny talent, either playing fictionalized versions of their real life personae or made up characters that fit the story. The dialogue's still mostly improvised and the whole cast deserves credit for how entertaining it is, but David's always at the center being the butt of all the jokes and driving the story.

The main plot thread this time is Larry and some other people investing in a restaurant, as they come across problems like uniforms for the waiters, the possibility of someone buried under the floor, and Larry's seeming inability to be satisfied with any of the chefs they find. This last point comes to a head in the finale, in one of the funniest ways to end a season I've ever seen. It's pretty vulgar, but supremely enjoyable nonetheless. There are a couple other intermingling plot points as well, like his manager's allergy to the dog, Larry having a part in a Martin Scorsese film, and getting one of his wife's pubic hairs stuck in his throat. You don't have to watch Enthusiasm from the beginning to enjoy it, although doing so, or at least starting at the beginning of a season, yields a lot more satisfaction.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


I've heard from almost everyone that Watchmen is superb, the pinnacle of comics as a medium, a work of art, except for one person whose opinion I respect, although he doesn't exactly appreciate the medium at all, so I took that with a grain of salt. My previous experience with Alan Moore was familiarity with V for Vendetta from seeing the movie (which he unjustly hated) and reading some of the book, with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen from seeing the movie (which he also hated, considerably more justly), and with the fact that he looks like a psychopath who lives in the woods. With all of these conceptions jammed into my brain, I jumped into Watchmen, and proceeded to thoroughly enjoy, although not completely love most of it.

It's certainly not a normal comic, concerned more with developing its unique characters than setting up elaborate fight scenes. Throughout the entire twelve issue run, I can think of only one instance where large amounts of space were used only to visually express a scene, and that was at a point of great impact in the story. It's very dense with dialogue and information, although they do a good job of revealing things without just spelling it out the whole time or getting too expository. Each issue (or "chapter") except for the last ends with four pages of almost entirely text that enhances the story, consisting of documents or something that were written by characters within the fiction. While sometimes enlightening, I found these portions to be a little boring and sometimes only skimmed them if I was anxious to get back to the narrative.

The story has its twists and turns, and to be honest, what turns out to be the actual truth behind it all is quite a bit stranger than I was expecting. It all works fine, it's just weird. The focus is a bit less on plot though than it is on the characters, with Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, and Silk Spectre II getting the most focus, although the Comedian is quite vital despite being dead at the very beginning. Rorschach is my personal favorite, which I think is true for most fans of the book. With Bioshock's success, objectivism has seen more attention in pop culture lately, but Rorschach was all about that years ago. He believes absolutely in his values and will do anything to uphold them. In addition to strong writing, the book is also quite interesting visually, not just because of the solid art, but the creative ways they transition between scenes and into flashbacks, that sort of thing. It's a good blueprint for a film adaptation, and they're filming one right now, with 300 director Zack Snyder at the helm. I'll be looking forward to how that comes out, although I'm sure Moore will hate that too.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Rock Band

Last year, when the Rock Band/Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock battle was warming up, I was in the Guitar Hero camp. Despite the original developer making Rock band, I already liked Guitar Hero, I liked some of the announced songs more, and I didn't like the idea of paying that huge amount for the whole instrument set. Issues like that tend to go away though when the new Guitar Hero developer makes some bad decisions, you have a ton of downloadable songs to improve the library, and someone else in the house is paying for all of it, as was the case with my roommate. Nailing a hard song in Guitar Hero is a great feeling, but it doesn't compare to a group of people working together to put a whole song together. Harmonix went after the group experience with Rock Band, and nailed it perfectly. I don't play it solo much at all, it's best played with four, although it's also fun with three (the computer taking over the singing, of course).

People don't often volunteer to sing around here, it can make you feel pretty self-conscious, especially when you screw up. But it doesn't matter too much if everyone's having fun, and nobody cares if you suck, as long as it doesn't cause your group to lose fans. Drums are also a lot of fun. It's easy to accidentally hit the rim instead of a pad and miss a note you feel you should have gotten, and I still haven't tried hard because it's a scary proposition, but keeping a beat is a hell of a lot of fun. Guitar and bass play like they do in Guitar Hero, although I feel like I miss repeated notes more often like I should sometimes and I'm not a huge fan of the silent strum bar. But the nice part about that is you can use the Guitar Hero guitar in Rock Band if you want, although Activision won't allow the opposite. Career mode has a lot of seemingly pointless quirks, like requiring your band leader to be there and not allowing created characters to switch instruments, but it's still fun touring around, gaining fame and fortune. Sets can get repetitive when you keep playing the same songs, but usually there's enough freedom that you can basically play what you want. I don't intend to put much of my own money into the rhythm game market in the future, but if I had to pick a game to play, at least for a while, it'd be Rock Band.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock

As the developer and publisher of the first two games (and the 80's expansion) were split and gobbled up by different companies, a new team gained control of creating the enjoyable rhythm series, and the results aren't quite what you'd hope for. There's nothing about the third installment changed so much as to hurt the core gameplay, it just seems every single new decision Neversoft made was a bad one. The graphics received an overhaul, with new, shinier character models and notes on the fretboard. The changes don't improve anything, they just completely remove any charm the characters originally had (Judy Nails did not need huge breasts) and I'm not sure if it's the new notes or just a slight programming difference, but playing the songs never feels quite as natural as it used to. Not only are the characters uglier, but Pandora, my personal favorite, is completely missing. They took out co-op freeplay for no reason, and the boss battles are contrary to what's actually fun about the series, playing along to songs you know, not twiddling on meaningless solos while being interrupted by annoying power-ups.

In the end, what's important is the songs, and Guitar Hero III does have quite a few good ones, like "Paint it Black" and "Knights of Cydonia". The difficulty is ramped up if you compare it to earlier entries, and it's to the point where the note charts are needlessly complex for the sake of it, just to increase the challenge. This is especially evident if you compare the difficulty of the few songs that are in this and Rock Band back to back; the Rock Band versions are easier because they match closer to what it actually sounds like you should be playing. Guitar Hero is supposed to be fun with a group of people, but as it moves towards esoteric, excessively difficult songs, they risk alienating that crowd and giving the party scene to Rock Band, which I think is already happening. It's not a direction I'm too interested in.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Curb Your Enthusiasm - Season 2

The second season of Larry David's highly self-referential, mostly-improvised, foul-mouthed, comedic television program is as consistently funny as the first. Most episodes end with something bad that's been set up by earlier events happening without much real closure, and a couple of them in this block of episodes aren't that funny or well-executed. But in general, I'd say it's overall a little higher quality than the first run, thanks to the increased elaborateness of the trouble Larry gets in. The first time around it was mostly a funny but often disjointed sequence of unfortunate events, while everything seems better tied together here.

A big part of it is the introduction of an actual story arc that runs through the whole season. While the ideas in the first year could be seen in almost any order, they established a bigger focus on continuity this time that runs up through the most recent episode. The story in this season is Larry's quest to pitch a new show, first with Jason Alexander and then with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and how he manages to screw up every opportunity he gets. The real cleverness comes from how the idea for the show completely mirrors what's actually happening in the show, in a similar way to Jerry and George's idea for a show in Seinfeld. There's a lot of little stabs at HBO and things like that, and I really enjoyed the meta-humor along with the crazy situations and plentiful shouting that carried over from the first season.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - Season 3

The third and longest season yet is more of the same, that being an edgy, humorous half hour of television. There are a couple of off episodes, which usually occur when the show shifts from being slightly out there to over-the-top silly. This can usually be connected with the McPoyle family. I don't find them funny at all, and season three featured them more than any other. The show is good when the main characters are just taking advantage of people around them and shouting at each other about inane things.

There were a lot of really good episodes along those lines though. The inside jokes and returning characters are becoming more ingrained into the fabric of the show, but they still are able to come up with new ideas and new topics to tackle. Abandoned babies, sexual predators, mental handicaps, nothing is off limits and it's usually funny. There's a running joke during the season where Dennis seems to always find a new reason each episode to take his shirt off, and lots of little things like that that make it entertaining on more than one level. I don't know how long they can keep it up, but I'm hoping it's a while longer.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Wire - Season 5

And so what is probably the best dramatic television series I've ever seen and likely will see for a long time comes to an end, with all the frankness and honesty I've come to expect of it. A lot was said about The Sopranos' strange finale, which cut to black without a real resolution and was probably designed to be talked about more than the story. The Wire completely avoids all stereotypical tricks and flair we're used to seeing in our entertainment. There are no cliffhangers. There are no plot twists that only surprise you at first while making most of what happened previously meaningless. Plenty of characters die, especially in this last season, but part of the impact comes from the fact that they don't play it up at all. There's no dramatic music or slow motion shots, the scene just ends and we move on. The fragility of life and how it can end so quickly while the rest of the world continues without batting an eye is part of the show's realism that makes it so effective. The resolution might not have been as satisfying as I had hoped, but that's just how life is. Things don't always go your way.

Enough with the praise though, as far as actual quality television goes, this season was one of the weaker out of the bunch. That's not to say it's bad, because it's still better than almost everything else. It's just not quite as compelling as it was before, and felt a bit more like the rest of television this time. Every season adds something new, and this time they went with the press, but didn't handle it as well as they probably could have. They could have done some interesting things showing how well or poorly they cover the real issues facing the city they work in, but instead they got wrapped up in these serial killer and Pulitzer side plots and the drug problem on the streets, the crux of the show, was put on the back burner. Stuff was still happening, but it just wasn't tied in well with the new topic du Jour. The second season was in a similar situation, but they managed to link the docks to the main issue by showing how the drugs actually get into the city. The fifth season didn't really do that. It was still interesting, and the huge impact of what actually did occur on the streets helped keep them relevant, it was just a bit disappointing. Still, they did a fine job of gracefully ending a truly spectacular show.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Team Fortress 2

I never really talked about Team Fortress before, besides a brief mention when I named The Orange Box my game of the year. But it definitely warrants a discussion. Compared to some other shooters, it's a bit simple at first glance, with only a handful of maps and modes of play. The nine different classes have a few weapons, which seems like it might not give them that much to do. But the depth of design you discover once you actually start playing is impressive. The wildly different character designs make it easy to know exactly what you're dealing with, which gives the game a more strategic feel than it might otherwise have with such a fast pace. You're going to react differently when you see a soldier coming at you than you will when you see a sniper or a pyro. There's a lot of interesting dynamics, like the common heavy/medic relationship and always being on the watch for a spy in disguise. It's a very addicting, fun game that I'd probably play a lot more if something about spending a lot of time on multiplayer didn't rub me the wrong way.

The game deserves credit for its graphics too. It was a big leap to go for a cartoony style instead of the typical realistic graphics in an M-rated shooter, but it paid off and made the game even more enjoyable. It's really easy to tell who is who, which affects the gameplay greatly, and it's also just cool to look at. There's something much funnier about the content/graphic clash than you see in most games. The amount of personality they injected into the characters of a team-based shooter is noteworthy. I don't know about the community on the consoles, but it's still really popular on PC, so if you don't have The Orange Box, just get it already.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

My Crusade is on Fire

A few months ago I did a free trial of World of Warcraft. It was fun, although I didn't really get the appeal that much. I did end up picking up a boxed copy for ten bucks for the activation code, and proceeded to not play that much during the free month they gave me. Still, that gave me the right to a similar trial for the expansion, and I decided to test it during my break.

I'm not really much of an authority on the game, as my strongest character is level 13. A lot of what The Burning Crusade added was higher level stuff, and I'm not even close to that. I have to imagine that's where a lot of the appeal is, because I don't find repetitive quests revolving around killing something a bunch of times compelling, but that's what you have to do to get to the good stuff. I did play as a Dranei, so it was content new to the expansion. It's hard to get too far playing an hour or two at a time for 10 days, but I enjoyed it while it lasted and I'm actually a little disappointed the trial's already over. It might have been time though, as I was already getting a little tired of the quests.

The problem with World of Warcraft to me is that the setting and lore are much more interesting that the game itself. They put a lot of effort into developing the world and history, but I think I liked discovering new areas more than the combat. There is some strategy to fighting, and I'm sure there's a lot more at higher levels, but it's mostly just right-clicking, using a few spells or buffs, and waiting until the other guy is dead. The same universe with more action-oriented, direct gameplay would be great. Having other people around is cool, but if someone made an MMO with gameplay more like Oblivion, that could be really cool.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Curb Your Enthusiasm - Season 1

Larry David made millions as the executive producer of Seinfeld and comic mastermind behind many of the best episodes, and now he has the spotlight with his own show on HBO. Enthusiasm has a similar feel and premise to Seinfeld with the whole thing basically revolving around nothing happening. At least in the first season, Larry never has much to do besides a few meetings about writing stuff for various people, and all of the conflict comes from everything that can possibly go wrong during the day. Missed appointments, bad directions, pretty much anything that can be messed up will be to great comedic effect.

I think the Seinfeld comparison is valid in terms of the general construction of most episodes, although the way it's actually done is notably different, with much more improvised dialogue, more freedom to be vulgar being on HBO, and filmed with one camera instead of on a set with an audience. George Costanza was more or less based on David's personality, and he's a unique, entertaining leading man. He's likable even when he screws up and his frequent shouting matches with people he angers or who anger him are always a treat. There's already been six seasons, but it's the kind of show that can keep on going for a long time.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - Season 2

The second season keeps right in pace with the first, providing the same brand of cynical comedy. The big change is the addition of Danny DeVito as the father of Dennis and Dee. I was worried that he wouldn't quite fit in with the rest of the cast, but those fears were unfounded. He's way more recognizable than everyone else, but he handles the show's unique style just as well. He perfectly captures the crappy father who's now liberated by his divorce and trying to be one of the guys again. Part of the show's success is just the chemistry between the main characters, how they can quickly jump between teaming up and stabbing each other in the back, and DeVito keeps that going.

The second season again covers a wide variety of topics in very crass ways, like welfare, drugs, religion, and politics. There's actually a greater sense of continuity, as what happens in certain episodes can carry over later, which doesn't usually happen in sitcoms. Early on, the gang gets in trouble for something, and later episodes deal with them doing their community service and stuff like that. A whole story arc with the true nature of the gang's parentage comes to a head in the finale, and it's enjoyable stuff. The seasons aren't very long but they're damn funny.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Liveblog 9: Spring Training

I haven't talked about baseball here since the Yankees were eliminated last October, and a lot has changed since then. George Steinbrenner's sons have taken a more active role running the team, especially Hank, who has been all over the news with his unnecessary but often humorous comments about every topic imaginable. Joe Torre is out west now managing the Dodgers, and my personal choice for his replacement, Joe Girardi, has taken the role. A lot of players have come into camp in much better shape than last year, and the whole team is being worked harder. It gives me some confidence that it will be a good season, with the players maybe having the drive they haven't recently to go out and win.

Doug Mientkiewicz, Andy Phillips, Luis Vizcaino, Matt DeSalvo, Colter Bean, and Tyler Clippard are all gone. LaTroy Hawkins, Morgan Ensberg, and various minor league players are in, most of them fighting for the extra spots on the roster. Roger Clemens is too busy lying to Congress to play baseball, and Andy Pettitte has come clean, already having been embraced again by the fans. After opting out of his contract, Alex Rodriguez had a change of heart and resigned with the team, but not before again breaking the record for biggest contract in the sport's history. Derek Jeter is seeing something uncommon for him: criticism, especially of his defense, thanks to a new study. While I'm not sure I agree with the assessment that he's one of the worst, he definitely could be better and anything that motivates him to improve is all right with me. The front office broke from their usual ways and signed Robinson Cano to a long term deal instead of dealing with arbitration, and I think it's a great move. I'd like to see more improvement in his patience, but I think he's one of the top 3 second basemen in the majors already and can only get better.

A lot of experts and analysts favor the Red Sox in the divison after their World Series victory, which is fair (although PECOTA likes New York), and puts the Yankees in a position they haven't seen recently: playoff underdogs. It seems like they're being dismissed pretty quickly, but I'm confident that what is basically the same offense that led the league in runs last season will do it again thanks to improved conditioning, and the pitching staff will be better thanks to the emergence of all the young talent they've been drafting the last few years. You can't expect a rotation that will potentially have three pitchers with less than a full year of big league experience in it by June to be consistent winners, but I have a lot of faith in their ability and apparent work ethic they've shown so far. Ian Kennedy will start and Joba Chamberlain will relieve for a couple innings today on YES and ESPN, and I'll be here recapping their work and probably trying to make some funny comments.

Top 1 - Ian Kennedy's on the mound, warming up. ESPN's guys are asking the normal questions about their rotation. If you're wondering why I'm not watching YES, it's not because ESPN's any less terrible, I just don't hear their brand of terrible as often so I'm taking the opportunity to avoid YES' terrible. Carloz Gomez, who the Twins got as part of the awful Johan Santana trade, bunts out to Betemit at third on the second pitch. Brendan Harris, who they got as part of the much more interesting Matt Garza trade, singles through the hole on the left side. Comparing Ian Kennedy to Greg Maddux kind of makes sense as long as you're not referring to a young Maddux, because Ian's stuff is already pretty pedestrian while Maddux used to have a much more impressive repetoire. But that groundball double play off Joe Mauer's bat shows why Kennedy could be pretty successful anyway.

Bottom 1 - The Yankee lineup is pretty close to what it will probably be for most of the season, with Wilson Betemit instead of Hideki Matsui. Johnny Damon flies out quickly. He's another guy who came into camp much healthier than last year, but for some reason I'm pessimistic about how he'll fare this season. Jeter singles the other way as he is wont to do. Bobby Abreu grounds into a force, and it might have been a double play with smarter defense. Kevin Slowey walks A-Rod. Slowey has pretty decent stuff, and is one of the young guys expected to fill multiple holes in the Twins' rotation. There's an easy sex joke in there but I don't care. He strikes out Jason Giambi looking with a nice pitch on the outside corner.

Top 2 - Girardi's having a nice conversation with the guys in the booth. Turns out the first big league game he caught was started by one of the commentators. Small world. Justin Morneau fouls off a few pitches before lazily flying out to center. Delmon Young hit a 3-1 pitch over the wall in straight away center. He was the centerpiece of that Garza trade. Could work on his plate discipline but he can smack the ball. Joe says it's not even set in stone that Joba begins the year in the bullpen, which is good to hear. Anyone who thinks he should be a closer instead of a starter without even seeing him start is just being closed minded. Giambi leaps and snares a line drive that was screaming over his head. If he can consistently play first base this year, that's huge. Someone I've never heard of grounds out to Jeter, and Giambi stays with the offline throw to end the inning. They just said the biopsy on Bobby Murcer showed it was just scar tissue, which is good news. Guy's a fighter. Man, that Dick's commercial with David Ortiz is terrible.

Bottom 2 - Jorge Posada, old catcher extraordinare, flies out to Young, who almost loses the ball in the sun. Cano's up. I think one of the guys just said he's known to bunt, which does not compute. Instead, he doubles over the centerfielder's head. Betemit does the exact same thing, and the game is tied. Melky Cabrera strikes out on three pitches. I like the guy, but I don't see him as an everyday player in the future right now. Betemit gets to third on a wild pitch. Damon squeezes a single past Harris and the Yankees take a 2-1 lead. Damon steals second easily as the ball's in the dirt. No matter, as Jeter draws a walk. Abreu singles to drive in Johnny, and the throw from Gomez is awful, letting the runners advance. Rodriguez swings through a fastball to end a rough inning for Slowey.

Top 3 - Heath Phillips induces a grounder and records the out himself, in relief of Kennedy. He strikes out the next guy and gets a broken bat grounder on the next. Quick inning. The booth guys were talking to the Twins' manager and I don't think they even said his name. I had to check who it was online.

Bottom 3 - Now they give him credit. He's fighting to be the requisite lefty in the bullpen this year. Julio DePaula in for the Twins. Giambi loops a single the other way, which he's hoping to do more of this year. I don't have much of a problem with straight-pull home runs to the upper deck, myself. DePaula balks while the cameras are looking at big Hank. How that little motion is a balk and Andy Pettitte's ridiculous pickoff move isn't is still a mystery to me. Jorge works the count full before popping out to right. They just showed the Yankees' splits for the first and second half of the season last year, and I'm surprised to see they actually pitched a little worse in the second half. They won way more often, but that's thanks to scoring two more runs per game. Cano singles up the middle and Giambi is surprisingly sent home, scoring thanks to another bad Gomez throw, but it's cut off and Cano is tagged out trying to reach second. Betemit strikes out to end the inning. He does that a lot.

Top 4 - Joba's in, and he's going to pitch two or three innings. Fastball's 92-93 right now. I wonder how much of the 98-99 he was throwing last year was adrenaline and how much was knowing he wasn't going to throw many pitches. He gets to 3-0 on Harris on three heaters but throws two more in the zone and gets a ground out. Mauer grounds out on a nice little changeup. Two curves for balls. Someone who faced him in the eighth inning last September would be very confused right now. He walks Morneau. He works Young with mostly offspeed stuff before getting a groundout to Betemit. Not a great inning, but he did his job.

Bottom 4 - New Twins pitcher is Randy Keisler. Melky K's again. Damon grounds to second. Jeter dinks a single past Harris, and he's reached base all three times. Another wild pitch moves him to second. Abreu pops out to center, on to the fifth.

Top 5 - Joba's control was off before, let's see if he's better now. Brian Buscher clubs a single to right field. Right now the announcers are piling on Giambi's defense. It's one thing to say he can't throw, which is true, but they're saying he's not going to be saving the other infielders many errors. Hey, the guy's a statue, but he can scoop a ball pretty good. Joba throws his best pitch of the day, striking out the batter looking with a 95 mph heater on the inside corner. Garrett Jones clobbers a two run home run, 4-3 game. The next pitch is an errant fastball, hitting the batter. Joba's allowed as many baserunners as outs. They're saying he might have hit him on purpose. Really? In spring training? I think Joba's already getting a headhunter reputation he might not deserve. Gomez pops out to short center. Harris grounds into a force out, inning over. The announcers think Joba might begin the season as a starter, and say they were surprised Girardi didn't mention Mussina as a lock for the rotation. I don't know, I'm not surprised a 39 year old with an ERA over 5 last year has to prove himself.

Bottom 5 - Rodriguez pops out. Giambi almost got an infield single, but was thrown out. Posada grounds out on a 3-1 pitch, another good inning for Keisler.

Top 6 - Jon Albaladejo, acquired from the Nationals for Tyler Clippard, starts the inning, and allows a double to Mauer. Morneau flies to center, and Melky picks off Mauer's pinch runner trying to reach third. Albaladejo has an interesting delivery, he just rears back and slings the ball towards the plate. Young singles to right. New batter strikes out and that's the inning.

Bottom 6 - Cano singles up the middle off new pitcher Dennys Reyes. He's a good hitter. Betemit hits what could be a double play ball but the throw is bad and everyone's safe. After failing to lay down a bunt, Melky grounds into a double play. Two outs, runner on third. New hitter Shelley Duncan strikes out to end the frame.

Top 7 - The first pitch is lined out. Albaladejo's still pitching. He gives up a single. It looked to me like Posada threw out the runner on a botched hit-and-run, but he was somehow called safe despite not even sliding. Infield single off Nick Green's glove allows the runner to score, tie game. Another stolen base. Apparently Posada still has to get his arm in shape. Strikeout on a check swing with a full count. New pitcher's coming in, it's Edwar Ramirez, who gets another punch out, end of the inning.

Bottom 7 - Famed blogging sidearmer Pat Neshek in to pitch for the Twins. He induces a checkswing groundout. Non-roster hanger-on Jason Lane pops out. Pinch hitter Greg Porter whiffs and the inning's over.

Top 8 - Changeup wizard Edwar's still pitching. He walks the first batter. The next grounds into a potential double play, but Green botches the throw and they only get one. Edwar drills the third batter. I wouldn't be surprised to see some retaliation now. They comment on how Joba has great command and just gave up a homer so it was probably on purpose, but Ramirez just has some nerves. Where is this mystical tale of Joba having pinpoint command coming from? He has very good control for such a power pitcher, but a few are gonna get away now and then. Morgan Ensberg eats up a grounder at third but can't make an out, the bases are juiced with one gone. A double down the right field line scores two for the Twins, 6-4. Rough inning, but he's been a bit unlucky. He's somewhat of an enigma, with eye-popping numbers in the minors but so far he's failed to consistently get outs in the majors. Colin Curtis makes a nice diving catch in left, runner tags up and scores. Edwar's being relieved by Chris Britton, who apparently didn't jump on the lose-weight bandwagon. Runner steals third off new catcher Francisco Cervelli. Guy in the booth mentions he'd take Jake Peavy if he had to win one game. Odd, since Peavy's a bit notorious for failing in important spots. Grounder to Green for the third out.

Bottom 8 - Curtis grounds to first, Cervelli to the other corner. Green does it up the middle, very quick and symmetrical inning.

Top 9 - Britton's still in, induces a fly to center. He's not flashy, but seems to get outs, and it's a crime he was stuck in the minors all last year while crappy veterans gave up runs. That's it for him, Ross Ohlendorf will try to finish it. Strikes out the hitter looking on a good breaking ball. Next one grounds a single through the left side. Another strikeout, this time swinging, and Ross looked pretty good.

Bottom 9 - Last chance for the Yankees to preserve their spotless spring training loss record. Oswaldo Sosa trying for the save. Ensberg pops to shallow center. Brett Gardner is batting. He grounds to second. Duncan up again. He cranks that Soulja Boy for a home run, deficit's down to two. Chris Woodward smacks a single, the Yankees are still alive. Lane up. Strikes out looking, game over.

Wrap-Up - The loss makes the Yankees 3-1 this Spring, with one tie. Obviously the results don't matter, but it's a little encouraging that they're doing pretty good. The young pitchers couldn't hold the lead today, but it's early, and I'm sure that by the home opener against Toronto they'll be confident in the pitching staff they end up with.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

There Will Be Blood

When No Country for Old Men won the Oscar for Best Picture, I was happy for the Coen brothers, who have long been my favorite directors in Hollywood. Now that I've seen Paul Thomas Anderson's turn-of-the-century tale of oil and money however, I'm not sure the Academy made the right choice. The movie starts and ends with Daniel Day-Lewis' performance as Daniel Plainview. I hadn't seen any of his work before, and since he can't cross the street without tripping over an Oscar nomination, I was interested to see just how good he could be in his second winning turn. The movie begins pretty slowly, with no dialogue at all for more than ten minutes, just showing the beginnings of Daniel's drilling business. But the instant he started talking, I was immediately drawn in. It's really incredible how completely transformed he is, from his face to his voice to his mannerisms. If you've seen Day-Lewis in this and in real life, you'll know what I mean. He definitely deserved the awards.

His isn't the only good performance in the movie though. Paul Dano, recognizable as the big brother from Little Miss Sunshine, is also quite good as Eli Sunday, a preacher in the little town where most of the movie takes place. There are some really tremendous scenes between the two, including some sermons in the church and the pretty remarkable ending. I haven't seen any of Anderson's other movies, but his approach is quite interesting. There are lots of fairly long tracking shots, and there are a couple of instances where they allow some mud or oil to get on the lense without getting rid of it. The movie is quite long, and you get the sense he's just letting everything happen instead of making it into a tidy little production. Despite the length, there's not much I can say I would want to have cut. It's pretty enjoyable all the way through, if for nothing else than the great acting on display. It might be a little out there for some people, but I really liked it.

Monday, March 3, 2008


I wrote this for a class, which explains why it's a bit more analytical/spoiler-filled. This will be the last post to have that warning.

The first episode of Mushi-Shi is a good beginning to the series, and introduces a lot of the show's important ideas. The concept of Mushi, usually invisible organisms that are close to the root of all life, is similar to the shintoist idea of spirits inhabiting everything. They're an interesting addition to the circle of life and give a message that one should be more in tune with nature for their good health.

The show features very beautiful animation and scenery, and has a very slow pace, giving it a very art-house feel. Some of the character designs tend to look similar, but the lack of continuity makes this not an issue. I'd say it's in the nostalgic mode, with the clothes and buildings from times past and the mushi being evocative of the things we'd imagine when we were younger.

Ginko is the only real character, and he's very out of place is his environment. Not only does he look strange and wear anachronistic clothing, he can't stay anywhere for too long without attracting dangerous Mushi. Despite his strangeness, he is liked by all who meet him, and it's a bit of a tragedy how he can never become attached.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Blade Runner

I probably shouldn't have waited this long to see it, although at least it's basically the definitive version. Blade Runner's been regarded as a classic of the science fiction genre for a long time, and it's nice to see the roots of a lot of work that borrowed from it. It's also fun to watch Han Solo, Admiral Adama, Cardinal Rourk, and Elle Driver run around a dark, dystopian city when they were younger (or in Solo's case, basically the same age). Having now seen four different adaptations of Phillip K. Dick's work, it's really interesting how different they can turn out in style, although I guess it can be expected when your leading men include Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Blade Runner has a couple action scenes, although that's not really the film's focus. It's about the story, as the movie raises questions about the true nature of life and the morality of killing off "Replicants", which are basically exactly the same as Cylons and even also nicknamed "skin jobs". The movie's very darkly lit and a bit of a slow burn, which doesn't make it very conducive to watching at night, but I wouldn't call it boring, as it's pretty well put together as a film and never lost my attention. Harrison Ford gives an interesting performance as Deckard, a man who isn't sure about what he has to do anymore. When it gets near the end and Deckard goes after the last couple Replicants, the movie gets genuinely disturbing, as Rutger Hauer plays the psychopath villain quite well, as he is known to do. The resolution is a bit weird, but everything about the movie is a little different, which I kind of like. Ridley Scott used to really know what was up with the genre. Apparently previous version of the movie had some terrible narration by Ford, and I'm curious about that, because it definitely didn't need it.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - Season 1

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is an enjoyable show with funny dialogue that often feels somewhat improvised, although I'm not sure how true that actually is. Sometimes comedies foolishly get credit for "realistic" dialogue which is actually much cleverer than any human really is, but this show nails down the balance between humor and stuff that people might actually say. Funny people, sure, but real people.

The show's about four friends who run a bar in Philly and often deal with complex social issues such as racism and abortion in very crass ways. Where the show really succeeds is making a bunch of dirtbags completely likable. I mean, it can't be easy to make you root for guys going to a "right to life" rally to pick up chicks, right? It seems a bit like they're just grabbing for any edgy topic they can and making an episode about it, but as long as they keep it funny I'll probably be watching. The different characters all have their own personalities but share a sense of humor and real camaraderie that make it entertaining regardless of the topic, and very few moments fall flat. The first season's only seven episodes long, which probably speaks to how cheaply and efficiently it was made. I definitely want more.