Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A War of Gifts

It's been some time since I had a new book in the Ender universe to read, and it was nice to get back to it, even if this story is pretty irrelevant to anything else in the overall plot. The book is comically tiny when you first see it, and I blasted through it in one sitting. Things return to battle school once more as a new student is introduced, one close to as brilliant as Ender and Bean but who refuses to participate in the Battle Room due to his strong religious beliefs. His convictions get him in a conflict with other students over the practice of their faith which is forbidden at the school, and his character arc is an interesting one considering its lack of importance to the main story of the series. I still find Orson Scott Card's prose to be wonderfully easy and enjoyable to read, and he still manages to get across complex ideas in a way that is simple to comprehend without dulling the meaning. It was a nice little snack to get me back into the groove for Ender in Exile, the newest real entry in the series that I somehow missed when it first came out late last year.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Scott Pilgrim, Volume 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together

It might be hard to keep the events of volume four in their own context after I immediately read the fifth upon finishing, but I'll try anyway. You could see the tone of the story shifting a bit the last time around, and that continues in earnest here as it's no longer a silly, carefree book with crazy fights and an absurd situation. It still retains those elements but it's really more about how Scott finally starts to grow up thanks to his time with Ramona. As they get closer, things become more worrisome as questions of their long-term compatibility and possible lingering affections for people from both their pasts arise. It ultimately ends on a happy and triumphant note, but overall I found myself worried most of the time, a feeling that only continues in part five. Despite the mood shift, if anything it makes the book stronger, and it's a sign of a really good story when I suddenly realize how much I actually care about these characters after just a few hundred pages. Every fan of comics should read Scott Pilgrim.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures: Fright of the Bumblebees

Fright of the Bumblebees continues to evolve Telltale Games' formula for small doses of funny adventure gaming, and is my favorite production by them yet. Part of it is my preexisting affection for the Wallace and Gromit characters themselves, which isn't quite as true for Strong Bad or Sam and Max (although I've come to be a big fan of the latter). The world is just so charming, from Wallace's innocent buffoonery despite his technical genius to the way Gromit silently puts up with everything. The other people who live in town aren't as immediately likable and probably talk a bit too much, but they did a good job of growing the setting a little bit. It's not as laugh out loud funny as other stuff but it's just pleasant to experience.

There are some small gameplay improvements, like finally the ability to walk around using the mouse keys, making getting around less of a monotonous click fest. The puzzles are mostly intuitive without being too easy, although there are a few moments where you're supposed to talk to a person you already have to activate something when there was no indication you should. You bounce back and forth between the two main characters, and the whole thing plays out feeling like one of the old animated shorts. The final sequence is the best one I've seen from the company, involving a high speed chase using one of their elaborate, gadget-filled vehicles. I thought it was the perfect length, giving me enough content that I felt satisfied without wearing out it's welcome. I await the second episode in May.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Look Around You

In the same fashion as Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, Look Around You is a shortlived, silly British comedy pretending to be a serious show from a couple decades earlier that found a new home late at night on Adult Swim. The first season (which actually predated Darkplace) is pretty different from the second, although I thought they were both pretty hilarious. The first is a bunch of 11 minute educational programs for science students, as the pleasant narrator tells all sorts of incorrect things about topics like maths, iron, and ghosts, and various scientists perform absurd experiments, often with way more steps than necessary, to prove their points. It's pretty absurd and a lot of fun.

I think I probably got more enjoyment out of the second season though, which took the format of a half hour news program focused on new inventions and innovations in science, as the four presenters found all sorts of interesting things like a robot that performs surgery, an orchestra of produce, and a high tech new restaurant for all the cool teenagers to get their casserole at. There's a thread running through the whole thing as it leads up to the "live" finale where all the best discoveries are brought back for an invention of the year contest, and the winner is presented an award by archive footage of Prince Charles. There's a bunch of cameos by faces of British comedy such as Simon Pegg and the other Spaced guys, which makes sense after recognizing co-creator and host Peter Serafinowicz from Shaun of the Dead. Robert Popper and he are supposedly working on a new series for Adult Swim, and I'm very interested in finding out what that is.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Eastbound & Down - Season 1

Eastbound & Down is the work of a whole lot of good comedic minds, and stars the suddenly pervasive and awesome Danny McBride as a former big league pitcher and current big league jerk who's forced to take a job teaching gym in his hometown as he struggles to mount a comeback. The first and possibly only season is short but sweet, with just six episodes to tell the story of Kenny Powers. Will Ferrell shows up a couple times as the owner of a car dealership along with a few other recognizable faces, but McBride is totally the main attraction, as he's created one of the better comedy protagonists in recent memory that I can think of. He never stops being an asshole, but you still totally root for him because his life is so freaking depressing as the world seems to be conspiring against him.

It's really more nuanced than you might expect from what could appear at first glance to be a trashy sitcom with cursing and nudity. He yells and curses all the time and is completely full of himself, but at times he shows some genuine human understanding (shortly before he screws things up again) and you have to wonder if life always craps on him because he's a jerk or if he's a jerk because life craps on him. It's hard not to have sympathy for someone who lost a dream all too soon, even if what they did while living it was a bad use of time. Besides all that though, it's a really funny show. Kenny's overzealous speeches, his rivalry with Craig Robinson (and especially the conclusion of that), Stevie's scary devotion to him, there's a lot of laughs to be had. The finale left me wanting more, not because there was a lot left open which there was, but because I just I'm not done enjoying the unique views of Kenny Powers.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Scott Pilgrim, Volume 3: Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness

Part three of the story was just as funny and engrossing as the first two. More of the characters' backgrounds are revealed, and the tone is overall a little sadder (apt title!) as things don't go well for some people. The video game characteristics of the world are still present, and it's becoming more of a fact of life than a joke, as by this point it pretty much is one, just in graphic novel form. Scott's not quite the character I thought he was in the beginning. He totally kicked the first evil ex-boyfriend's ass, but since then he's struggled to really get the upper hand and in general is kind of a dope, if a lovable one. I like that the main characters aren't perfect at anything, although at this point I'm really wondering how he's going to handle the rest of his battles, and whatever is really the truth about Ramona and Gideon has me very curious. I've got the next two volumes right here, so I'm going to stop writing about this one and read them.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Flight of the Conchords - Season 2

The second and most likely final season of Flight of the Conchords, chronicling Bret and Jemaine's attempt to make it big in America, somehow felt different from the first, although I can't nail down quite why. In a lot of ways, it's ten more episodes of the same fusion of comedy and musical interludes. Just something about it changed, not for good or bad though. The songs aren't as strong, which makes sense since a lot of the great ones from the first season were from their live act that they performed for years before getting the show, and everything this time had to be made up with the normal writing process. In that way, you can maybe see why things felt different, as songs were written to fit the topic of the episode instead of the other way around. The level of quality isn't as high, but there are some gems, like the multiple versions of the song about hurt feelings.

The rest of the show doesn't really suffer though. Bret and Jemaine still have a great interplay that's pretty unique in the comedy of today, but the highlight of the season is probably the continually increasing craziness of their friends Mel and Dave, played by Kristen Schaal and Arj Barker. They were funny before, but as the depths of Mel's insane stalker obsession with the band and Dave's complete lack of connection with reality are revealed, it's truly a wonder to behold. Murray's still the wonderfully ignorant band manager, and his escalating distaste for his assisstant Greg is another good element. I can't tell if the increased focus on regular side characters over new people and wacky situations is part of what makes it feel off from the first season. I still enjoyed it quite a lot, but it's just not quite the same, and they didn't have anything like the Coco story arc. Still, the last episode is a wonderfully meta conclusion to the series, one that I respect its creators and stars for ending before it grew tiresome to them.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Season 1

The first twenty two episode chunk of Lucasarts' continuing struggle to milk the Star Wars name for all its worth is considerably better than the film that preceded it, which isn't saying very much at all. Still, as a weekly, quickly-digested dose of competent action, it's pretty decent. It's still peppered with annoyances, but their relative infrequency and the plot working better to push twenty minutes instead of a whole movie make it much more tolerable. The droids are still dorky and not funny, but they're not making asses of themselves at every available opportunity, and Ziro the Worst Idea Ever is limited to a couple minutes in an otherwise decent finale instead of being a major villain throughout, although that could be a problem for next season. They also managed a way to make Jar Jar Binks even worse, after I had nearly come to terms with his idiocy - make his character model ugly as sin, replace his actual voice actor partway through the season with an even worse imitator, and make his bumbling, unfunny antics the linchpin of several episodes' stories. Impressive.

I could keep going with mistakes and screw-ups, and probably will, I just want to make it clear that unlike the movie, I mostly enjoyed or at least tolerated the series. Star Wars is still an interesting setting to me, so even if what's actually happening is silly or doesn't really make sense, I can usually handle it. The show is more aimed at kids anyway, even though they're going to start airing these episodes on Adult Swim soon. Each episode tries to have a moral, which can be grating but fine enough, and there are some multi-episode story arcs that are often pretty decent. There's some inconsistency in the art and animation, with some characters and even entire episodes looking kinda bad, though they're getting the hang of doing a decent light saber duel at least. I'm really not a big fan of the art style, although by this point I've gotten used to it. Only children and big Star Wars fans need apply, but it's not terrible.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Battlestar Galactica - Season 4

After a season which some fans thought had too many one-off episodes, the fourth and final pretty much told a continuous story of the ship and its crew's last days as they searched for Earth and an end to the conflict with the Cylons. Thanks to that damned writers' strike there was over half a year of waiting in between the first and second halves, which makes my memory of what happened earlier pretty fuzzy, though I remember being entertained by it all at roughly the same slightly diminished level as season three. There's not a lot of action these days, with large dogfights in space kept to a minimum, though there's still plenty of tension and drama.

I guess the movie Razor was part of this production cycle? It was all right. The Face of the Enemy webisodes were pretty blah, though important for Gaeta's character.

The second half of the season proper was even talkier than the first, although it kept me interested with moments of tension, surprise, and the joy of finally seeing threads created long ago brought to their conclusion. A two part mutiny story was one of the most intense couple hours of television I've seen, and what they do with Starbuck through the whole thing is equal parts baffling and incredible. Most of the rest of it was not quite thrilling, but peppered with enough interesting nuggets to easily keep me going towards the finale, which seems to be dividing the fanbase but I found pretty enjoyable. After a nice setup and pretty exciting battle fought across multiple scenes and scales, there's a nice, long period of wrap-up as the strange quasi-religious imagery that has permeated the series finally sees some resolution and the characters all see their stories end in a mostly satisfying way. There's a couple "what the hell?"s along the way and the final scene was a strange way to make sure the viewer got the message that I thought was obvious, but in the end I was satisfied with it as the ending to a great part of science fiction history.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone Bye

The Walking Dead does a very good job in its first volume of setting itself up as a slightly different take on the standard "zombies destroy civilization" storyline. Most movies and stories focus on showing the outbreak as it happens, and end as the lonely group of survivors that they've been following buy it not too long after. The Walking Dead doesn't show the initial event at all, with the main character being comatose in the hospital as it happens, and portends to be a much longer term look at what could happen to survivors as constantly living in fear wears on them. I obviously can't see that too much in just the first six issues, but what's here is effective.

There's a lot of set up as the main character Rick comes to terms with how the world's changed as he tries to track down his wife and son and joins a camp of survivors living outside Atlanta. They do various things, some smart and others not so much to survive, and we learn some about the specifics of Kirkman's zombies - they differentiate between themselves and humans by smell, and mostly act like traditional Romero ones. There's some family drama that happens to go along with the normal threat from the undead, and it seems like he really has a plan already about what he wants to do with the story. The art by Tony Moore is really good, both stylized and detailed in a way that makes it simple fun to look at, although the slightly cartoony faces might not totally match the tone of the comic, and he does get replaced by the next volume. Well done, interesting book with potential.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People: Dangeresque 3: The Criminal Projective

Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People was the next series of episodic adventures from Telltale Games, the people who made the Sam and Max ones. Not being enough of a fan of Homestar Runner to plop down my hard-earned money for it when it came out, but enough of a Wallace and Gromit fan to preorder their first season of games, I got my hands on the fourth Strong Bad episode as a bonus. It didn't quite convince me to pony up for the rest of them necessarily, but it was a reasonably enjoyable and sometimes funny few hours. Also it's probably the largest ratio of words-in-title to minutes-of-entertainment that I've ever seen.

Dangeresque is apparently a recurring concept from the cartoons, a low-budget series of detective films Strong Bad makes to flatter himself, sort of like everything else he does. The fact that the game is a homemade film within the story is played up throughout the episode, and was a pretty constant source of humor. From what I've seen I've generally appreciated the sense of humor and some of the wacky characters, although it's rarely laugh-out-loud funny and Strong Bad's voice can get really tiring after hearing it for a while. The puzzles weren't too bad, although a bit too easy some of the time, which came to a head when the final confrontation was resolved in a single obvious mouse click. A lot of the design is pretty clever, I just felt like the Sam and Max episodes were a bit more involved in addition to liking the characters more. Still, anyone who really likes these cartoons and clicking on things probably can't go wrong here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 1

Dollhouse's thus far very mediocre run on FOX has left me wanting something a little more fun from Joss Whedon, and the first three seasons of his first show being available on Hulu seemed like a good way to get that. The key to enjoying Buffy is to not take it too seriously, because it's often goofy as hell. It's clearly intentionally humorous, although I'm not sure if the special effects are part of that. They're a bit rough at times, although it's hard to say if they were actually good for 1997. Some of Buffy's stunt work has to be intentionally silly though, because otherwise, yeesh.

The first season's pretty short, and has a pretty good balance between (often silly) one-off episodes and a more central story arc involving an ancient vampire and his attempts to return to the earth's surface and unleash the fury of hell and all that. It does a nice job of setting up the world of Buffy and Angel and introducing the characters, although I ended up liking some more than others. For example, Giles is a really likable mentor-type while Xander is tolerable but more annoying than funny and can easily be summed up with a single, non-flattering facial expression. Buffy herself is played well enough by Sarah Michelle Gellar, although I can't say I find her delivery of sarcastic witticisms during tense moments to come close to, I don't know, Nathan Fillion's in Firefly. In general, the first season was a solid enough mix of humor, action and horror (mostly humor) to justify my continued watching of further episodes.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Y: The Last Man, Book 10: Whys and Wherefores

Y's final volume doesn't end the story in a way that I expected or could really be totally happy with, but it did it in its own way, fitting with how the whole comic has gone, and well enough to make being disappointed hard. It really just doesn't compromise for the sake of typical story expectations. It ends a lot less violently and action packed than I would have thought, and in some ways the resolution of all the characters makes a lot of the story seem like a waste of time, at least initially. One result of everything that goes down in particular was just weird and unsettling. But it works. After the five issue final arc, there's a longer epilogue in the future that does a solid job of tying up all the loose ends, even if you're not a fan of how they get tied, although I'm not a fan when epilogues try to shove information about characters into dialogue instead of just showing what happened. I guess it saves time, but it's rarely natural. Either way, Y doesn't do it too poorly and the last few pages are a pretty perfect way to finally finish one of the best stories I've seen in this form.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - The Century of Self

The Century of Self is a pretty solid album, although I don't find myself enjoying it as much as Trail of Dead's last few efforts. I know I'm in the minority as far as liking what they've done in the last few years, but it's the unique touches they put on the songs that seem to be missing from their latest. It's pretty loud, competent rock music, it just doesn't grab me. It's a bit of a return to their former sound, as someone besides Conrad is allowed to sing for what seems like the first time in forever, and those songs sort of feel like a back to basics thing. This is most notable in "Far Pavilions", a pretty fast-paced song after the obligatory bombastic intro "The Giants Causeway", which is at least mostly cobbled from one of the tracks on the Festival Thyme EP, leaving the title track as the only unique part of that release.

The album is pretty neatly divided into halves, with the first being loud and heavy, and "Inland Sea" begins to mark the transition before "Luna Park" goes into the full-on slow and piano-centric mode. "Ascending" doesn't quite fit but does have a slower section to it. "Isis Unveiled" is probably my favorite song, with a nice driving sound most of the time and a cool chanting breakdown in the middle. "Insatiable" parts one and two seem to be just two halves of the same song, and I'm not sure why they're broken up with a few tracks in between. Together they make a decent closing track with a nice piano part, you just hear the first couple minutes before it actually gets around to ending. All in all I liked it, just not as much as I hoped.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Trailer Park Boys: The Movie

I've never seen the highly improvised Canadian series, but I probably will now after seeing the movie, which seems to be pretty much the same thing. It's very crass, pretty strange and damned hilarious throughout. Part of the appeal is the Canadian accents, which are just different enough from what I usually hear to make listening to most characters a little more enjoyable, and combining it with the strange life views of the residents of Sunnyvale Trailer Park. It's just foreign enough from real experience to make the juxtaposition somehow funnier. Like the series I guess, it's somewhat of a mockumentary, with periodic interview segments with the characters, although the rest of the movie isn't really filmed like the crew is part of the scene, which shows like The Office always try to make seem legitimate. It's not really a distraction, though.

What makes the movie great is the characters. They're all unique and bizarrely comical in their own way. Ricky manages to be a likable protagonist despite being kind of a dick the entire time. Julian is a lot of fun too, kind of smarter than anyone else but still dumb enough to remain part of their backwards lifestyle. Bubbles is the most obviously weird, although he manages to avoid being a gimmick pretty well. Leahy and Randy are a solid villain and henchman combo, and a particular scene showing off Leahy's immense ability to drink made me laugh more than anything else in the movie. The plot's not really original or anything, but it's a perfect background for the absurdity that happens for an hour and a half as the good guys try to get one last big score before going back to growing dope and getting their lives back together without getting evicted from the park or sent back to jail. Totally worth checking out for fans of comedy.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Noby Noby Boy

That image? That's all you really need to know.

Noby Noby Boy is the next crazy vision from the director of Katamari Damacy, a PS2 game that I was surprised by the reaction to but was really pretty fun to play. Boy has a similar sort of feel but amps up the insanity quite a bit. Very basically, you control boy by moving the two control sticks to walk around with his head and butt. You eat things with the head and can poop them out with the butt. Eating lets you gain mass and stretch out farther, and you can fly around, wrap yourself around objects, give people and animals rides or even stretch yourself too far and rip in half, forcing yourself to eat your own rear to become whole again. The only goal in the game is to stretch Boy as much as possible and report your length to Girl.

The interaction with Girl is what makes the game really interesting, because it involves the online functionality and the meta-game behind everything. Girl's length is the combination of all the length reported by every player around the world, and together people were able to stretch to the moon a short time after the game came out, which unlocked a whole new area to play around in (Levels seem to be somewhat randomly generated, but the moon has a bunch of new stuff). The next goal is Mars, although it's still quite a distance away and there's some speculation that it's not actually there. The combined efforts to stretch as far as possible make it a mix of cooperation and competition, as we're all going for the same goal but can also compare who's done the most work. Along with some Youtube functionality to automatically create and upload levels, and it changes from a pretty interesting toy to a cool digital experiment. It's a lot of silly fun just to mess around with Boy for an hour or so, and along with the online stuff and the promise of multiplayer coming soon, it was well worth the five bucks.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Season 5

I wasn't sure exactly whether the "fifth season" was complete, so I waited a while before talking about these nine episodes. The sixth DVD set includes them plus four more which still haven't aired on TV, but those are the beginning of season six I guess, so here we are. Normal episodes of Aqua Teen took a year off in 2007 thanks to the movie, but returned last year in more or less standard form. The best of the series is probably behind it by this point, but there was still quite a few laughs in these episodes.

There's actually a surprising amount of continuity in the first few episodes, as Carl tries to sell the Aqua Teens' house for the vampire landlord while they're away on vacation, although he runs into some trouble with robots, sirens, John Kruk (former baseball player, terrible analyst), and a giant spider thing. Further craziness ensues as the plots continue to remain slightly more outlandish than they usually might be, like a strange recorder leading to an invasion by furries and all of meatwad's dead pets returning from the grave, including a sign-talking, horny gorilla. There's also some fun cameos by guys like David Cross and Kristen Schaal (the increasingly psychotic Mel from Flight of the Conchords) as well as a not-so-subtle jab at Comedy Central for buying Futurama away from Cartoon Network. New episodes are supposed to be coming by the end of the month, and I'm always ready for that.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Y: The Last Man, Book 9: Motherland

The penultimate volume of the last man on earth's attempt to reunite with his old girlfriend is the most exposition-heavy yet, as we learn a ton about what happened leading up the plague, although it still isn't really clear what exactly caused it. Although what is clear is that that's not the important part, what matters is how society manages to keep going after the fact. Besides the main storyline, there are a couple issues returning to secondary characters from earlier in the series, and those go into how the world is continuing to deal with the loss of half of its workforce, including most of the people with real power. The main story is why I'm reading the damn thing though, and it's a nice mix of bizarre science fiction-esque twists, solidly done action, and genuine human emotion. A couple moments made me roll my eyes, but a few lines also reminded me that the whole thing was written with the tongue at least a little inside the cheek. It's still a really entertaining book, and I couldn't help but tear through the last one before I sat down to write this.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Girl Talk - Feed the Animals

Much like the last one I reviewed, Girl Talk's latest album is one extremely dense and elaborate mashup, and what's even better, it can be downloaded in MP3 form on the label's website using the In Rainbows price model of whatever you feel like. Feed the Animals has fewer tracks than Night Ripper despite being about ten minutes longer, so the songs feel fuller, although it can still be easy to miss the transitions from one to another. I don't feel like it has quite as many stand out moments, but it's still a pretty thoroughly enjoyable listen, taking pieces from tons of songs across many genres and eras and turning them into a cohesive experience. There's just something irresistible about mixing UGK with The Spencer Davis Group to start off an album. A few other things that stood out were Kanye West's "Flashing Lights" transitioning straight into "15 Step" by Radiohead, "Gronlandic Edit" by Of Montreal appearing, and a bunch of random stuff you might not expect like "Superstar" by The Carpenters. I'm not sure what the creative process for mashing stuff together is like, but I imagine it's gotta be fun to experiment with.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Scott Pilgrim, Volume 2: Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

The second part of Bryan Lee O'Malley's funny and charming Scott Pilgrim series didn't grab me as immediately as the first, but it was just as consistently enjoyable throughout. It's a bit longer, and delves more into the back story of the various characters and shows that Scott isn't the only one capable of kicking some ass. One of the most interesting things about volume two to me was the evolution of Knives, the girl Scott was dating when he met Ramona, the girl whose ex-boyfriends he's battling for her. She's sympathetic as an unfortunate casualty of Scott's affections, but she becomes more and more clearly obsessed and basically goes nuts before too long, providing for some pretty entertaining scenes without removing what made her likable. The book's still really about Scott and Ramona though, and the continued development of their relationship was quite good.

It's really funny to see more and more how the world of Scott Pilgrim is basically taking place inside a video game. There's a bunch of idiosyncratic things going on, especially when someone gets defeated and explodes into loose change and sometimes a random item, which Scott may or may not have the right skill proficiency to use. It's clear how much of a dork O'Malley is, with games constantly getting name dropped, including the names of most of the characters' bands that get mentioned. This volume also shows a different side of Scott, as he's capable of tricking people into defeating themselves if he feels overmatched and not just winning by brute force. It's not that easy to explain what makes Scott Pilgrim work so well, it just sort of does. There's apparently some sort redesign happening that's making the third volume difficult to find in comic shops, but I'll still be trying to read it as soon as possible.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Clerks II

Clerks II is all right. Not the best thing Smith's done, but pretty funny. It's nice to see the old guys again, even though the presence of Rosario Dawson as an actual actor throws their badness into stark relief, plus brief appearances by Jason Lee and Ben Affleck add to the nostalgia. The movie runs on the fumes of past enjoyment a bit too much though, content to continually remind viewers of stuff that already happened before. There are a few new characters, although they're mostly used as the butt of Randal's jokes. I just had to look up what his character's name was. You decide if that means anything.

So um, yeah. Smith uses his characters as a mouthpiece for his opinions (Randal's rant about The Lord of the Rings having a boring plot and homosexual undertones was pretty hilarious while watching a movie where two guys talk about nothing for an hour before confessing their undying man-love for each other), has some WACKY sexual hijinks happen, Jay and Silent Bob do the Jay and Silent Bob thing, everyone learns a valuable lesson in the end, and it's all probably what you expect it to be. Not bad, but nothing new for him. Should I see his last movie about porn? I don't know. I probably will in the next few years.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Much like 300, Watchmen is Zack Snyder's faithful take on one of a comic book icon's original stories; in this case, the most celebrated and influential graphic novel of the last 25 years. Obvious comparisons aside though, despite sharing some similar flaws, it's a more involved and interesting story, and he does a pretty solid job telling it. The movie is far from a perfect adaptation, although it's pretty legitimate to say that a lot of the reasons for that stem from the very nature of the comic itself. It's simply not structured like a film. It was originally released as a series of twelve issues, and several of them focus on a single character's background instead of really advancing the central plot forward. A truer translation would have been a miniseries instead of a theatrical release. But there's probably no way you get them to do that with a large enough budget to really pull off the story, and a compromise like this is the best we can really hope for. The script probably could have used a bit of tweaking to account for the different way a movie would flow, but except for a few segments to explain character that almost completely halt momentum, it worked out.

There are a few things that can be blamed on less than amazing filmmaking, though. It's clear from his comic work and Dawn of the Dead that Snyder does not have an ounce of subtlety in his being. The comic certainly didn't shy away from violence, being fairly grisly in places, but there's a difference between a panel showing something and a film lingering on it for several seconds. The fights are far crazier, and while I thought the choreography was actually pretty good and don't mind the speed ramping effect nearly as much as a lot of people, it was a big feeling of cognitive dissonance to see the heroes kicking people across rooms when the whole point of the story seemed to be about the fact that (except for Dr. Manhattan) these were just normal people who fought crime in costume for a living. I didn't mind a slight increase in vulgarity, but one of the sex scenes was really over the top too, not aided by the absurd choice in music. It wasn't the only occurrence of this either, with a lot of the choices either being too obvious or just seeming out of place with what was happening. I would have preferred an original score most of the time.

Not that the movie was all bad. I thought the entire relationship between the second Nite Owl and Silk Spectre was pretty laughable, and Veidt was pretty horribly miscast, but other than that the main cast did solid work despite there not being a big name among them, and in places excellent. Jackie Earle Haley's performance as Rorschach was 100% spot on, and just like in the comic, he easily stood out as the best character. It was very interesting to see the audience react more and more favorably to him as his actions become more and more psychotic. The Comedian also worked very well, and Carla Gugino was nice to see again even though most of the time she was covered in crappy "old person" makeup. There were a few other issues with makeup actually, especially the film's version of Richard Nixon, which was too comically out of place to take any of his scenes seriously. The changed ending actually seemed to work better within the existing plot and definitely would go over with a normal audience better, so I didn't mind that change terribly. All the little changes, missteps, and successes added up to a very long and divisive film, one that in general I liked but wasn't completely satisfied with. Still, an interesting experiment.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Girl Talk - Night Ripper

Girl Talk is a mashup DJ, but instead of throwing two songs together like anyone else, he creates epic, album-length operas using dozens of artists and songs. It's generally pretty entertaining, and at times comes together into something pretty amazing. There's only a few different things being sampled at any one time, but things get switched up often enough to keep it from getting stale while the good transitions keep it as a cohesive experience. Night Ripper really can be listened to as one long piece of music, with some of the breaks between songs completely unnoticeable. Most of the vocals are from rap which is to be expected, but the instrumentals come from everywhere, and it's always a treat when you recognize something from a song you really like.

Some samples that jumped out at me or were used really well were The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony", "Where Is My Mind?" by Pixies, "Holland, 1945" by Neutral Milk Hotel, and Smashing Pumpkins' "1979". Girl Talk plays a lot with pitch both in the music and the vocal bits. It's cool how he can take a well known melody and use it in a completely different way, even making a voice into percussion or something. There are also a couple instrumental bits used here and there he made himself, mostly crunchy electronic stuff that enhances the mood effectively. Throwing other people's music into a blender isn't the height of the creative arts, but Girl Talk sure does a hell of a lot with it.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Scott Pilgrim, Volume 1: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life

On the same forum where people constantly discussed Persona 3, Scott Pilgrim was frequently brought up as an example of how comics can be awesome. So a few days ago I bought the first book (It's released in thick little volumes like manga) from the nearby comic shop and managed to read about half on the bus ride back from work, quickly finishing after I got home. Damn, that board's got good taste.

It's hard to describe what's so great about the book, at least in this early going. Five of the six planned volumes have been released, so I feel like I came on at a good point. Basically, Scott is very likable guy, kinda nerdy (X-Men patch on his jacket) but also not (in a crappy band, doesn't understand the Internet). Also, he's pretty good at fighting. That becomes important pretty quickly. Anyway, he's living his life when a strange girl starts appearing both in real life and in his dreams, and eventually he convinces her to go out with him. But before long the main thrust of the plot is revealed - in order to stay with her, he has to defeat all her evil ex-boyfriends.

A lot of strange elements of the story like that are never really explained in detail, at least early on, and are just taken as read, which I enjoy quite a bit. It doesn't have to make complete sense, it's just fun to read. O'Malley does some creative things with the medium, sticking little jokes in the narration bits to go along with the great dialogue between the impressive cast of memorable characters. It's sort of a conundrum, because it's so clever and quick to read that you just devour it and are left wanting more. The art style is a bit odd at first, but you quickly get used to it and it totally works for the setting. I'm pretty sure I'll be blazing through the rest of the books before too long.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Burn Notice - Season 2

After the end of season one, I wasn't even sure where the second would take place, although it wasn't long before Michael Westen was back to pulling odd jobs in Miami, only this time being ordered around by a mysterious woman with a lot of influence in the town behind her, being played by Tricia Helfer moonlighting away from her regular gig on Battlestar Galactica which is about to end soon and oh my God did you see last night's episode this mess is going to get epic. Anyway, for the most part Mike continues to help various people with their problems that only he can fix with the help of Bruce Campbell and his sorta girlfriend Fiona, taking care of business in generally creative ways while he works on his own problem off and on. Some episodes are better than others, and my memory of the first half is a little fuzzy, but there are a few standouts, like one with Lucy Lawless as someone who's not what she seems (she's on Battlestar Galactica) and a really cool bank robbery episode featuring the lawyer from Battlestar Galactica.

Anyway, they clearly made a stronger attempt with this season to build a story across the whole thing, and for the most part it worked. There are a few times where you wish they'd just let an episode exist without a stand-alone part so they could move things forward better and repetition of ideas like Mike constantly moving his mom around to keep her safe from the bad guys, but at least they're trying. The hot spy tips continue to be an entertaining aspect, although I have to wonder how many of them they really have left in the tank. One thing they did well this season was introduce antagonists to Michael who eventually become sympathetic and help his cause. The finale was climactic enough I suppose, and I again wonder exactly what they're going to do next. They could just go back to the formula pretty easily, although if they really want it to grow they have to do something else.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Thank You for Smoking

Thank You for Smoking is a unique, very funny movie with an outstanding cast. Smoking is a very touchy subject, but the film covers a lot of the nonsense that goes on with the anti-smoking movement without being insensitive to its dangers. Little tangent here, but every single campaign I've seen against cigarettes has been annoying and ineffective. If you've ever seen a commercial from New York's fairly recent series of commercials, you'll know what I mean. They try and shock you into quitting with grotesque imagery and fear mongering in a way that I find more offensive than if a smoker came up to me and blew smoke right into my face. Anyway, Eckhart plays a spokesman for a tobacco lobby who goes on TV and pokes holes in the poor arguments against the product he represents and generally wins at life, at least until the plot gets more serious near the middle. There's a bunch of different characters and subplots he jumps between, and the movie is pretty consistently and enjoyably paced.

After watching Juno, it's nice to see Reitman has some flexibility with the kind of comedy he can handle. Smoking is more mature and explicit, but never gets too base in the content and has a similar sense of intelligent humor. It's not quite the heartwarming film that Juno was, but it was put together just as well. I'm not sure how much of the script came from the book it was based on, but it's really just fun to watch how Eckhart faces each obstacle. I'm finding myself with not much to say here, other than almost every single speaking part was played by someone I know the name of or at least recognize, and that seemed almost odd but was also kind of cool. Really good film.