Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Moore's other pilot-turned-movie was advertised as such because FOX didn't pick it up as a series, and the only shot it had at that happening was doing a good job in the ratings, and being a new science fiction property without any big names and airing on Friday night, it failed to do so. What did FOX expect? There was supposed to be a decent ad campaign behind it but even I didn't know when it was airing, and for all intents and purposes they left it to die. I'm not too broken up about it, because as a prospect for a series I'm not sure how they could keep it interesting for more than a season or two, but as a simple introduction to a bunch of characters and possible conflicts I mostly enjoyed it.

The problem is it doesn't work as a stand-alone movie because it leaves too many plot threads dangling, and it probably wouldn't work as a series because there's only so much you can do with a realistic mission through space and no fanciful elements like extremely quick space travel or aliens or anything. The premise is fairly interesting; a space crew that's being filmed for a huge reality show is faced with a decision as they near Saturn - return to Earth which is rapidly experiencing a decline in living conditions or continue on with their ten year mission to a nearby star. Given that it was supposed to set up something long running, it's fairly obvious which will be picked, but there are decent reasons for both and some amount of tension and drama to the whole proceedings. Happening alongside all this is some mysterious figure who keeps popping up unexpectedly in the virtual reality simulations the crew uses to unwind and killing them repeatedly. I like seeing a sci-fi story that's mostly grounded in reality and most of the cast is pretty good, but in the end all Virtuality does is begin to tell a story that will most likely never continue, making it little more than an interesting failure.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Ronald D. Moore, a big name in the world of science fiction television, has recently had a couple of series pilots aired or released as movies. One's going to continue on as a show and the other probably isn't. Caprica is the former, and it's a prequel to Battlestar Galactica, although one far enough in the past that there are very few recognizable characters and we don't know what's going to happen beyond the broad strokes already established, while still feeling like part of the same universe. It has a different feel from Battlestar, setting itself up as more of a family drama with the familiar themes of artificial intelligence and using technology to bring back lost loved ones instead of an epic war in space.

I honestly was slightly bored the entire time I was watching this. No single element failed too bad or was responsible for my disinterest, it just didn't come together in an exciting way for me. There was some interesting scenes, and I was intrigued enough by some of the ideas and story threads they set up for the series to give it a shot when it starts airing next year. There's a lot of cool places they could go with it, I'm just worried the sources of conflict will be a little too pedestrian after the apocalpytic war that could wipe out humanity in Battlestar. I'm a little fuzzy on the exact timeline and when things really hit the fan, but if that's something Caprica could explore, that would be a lot of fun.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Angel - Season 5

Angel's fifth and abruptly final season didn't have the great long, continuous story of the fourth, but in the end it just may have been the most entertaining of them all. The only one that got Whedon's full attention due to other projects taking precedence in the previous four years, it has more of a sense of fun and some really good stand-alone episodes, especially possibly my favorite in the entire run of this show and its parent Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Smile Time". The dynamic between Angel and Spike is one of the most interesting and funniest of any character relationship in the franchise, and they only really had a chance to explore it in one season of Buffy which wasn't quite enough, so reuniting them again really worked out.

It's not all fun and games though, as while the shows have always had the threat of an apocalypse looming at the end, this season focuses on THE apocalypse they've been preparing for the entire time, and there is a feel of doom and dread surrounding them. It's also not a very good season to be a supporting character, with a pretty high mortality rate resulting in some really good episodes and powerful, sad moments. The series ends with some events unresolved, though really it wasn't a terrible note to end the show on, and just like with Buffy the story is being officially continued in the medium of comic books. I'm not going to rush head on into them, but they're definitely on my radar for eventual consumption.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Game Update 11: DLC Round-Up

It's becoming an increasing trend in gaming, especially since the launch of the Xbox 360, to extend the life of games via downloadable content, which is cheaper than traditional expansions but also less substantial. Sometimes the DLC is really lame profiteering crap like paying for cheat codes or content that's already on the disc and just needs to be unlocked, but some developers do really interesting stuff with it. Here's a few of the updates and content packs I've played that are interesting enough to discuss but don't warrant full reviews.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Knights of the Nine

A pretty satisfying and enjoyable new faction quest line for the game. It requires you to erase any infamy you have to get it going, which is annoying if you actually roleplay your character as a jerk, but once you get into the main quest there's a really nice story and progression going on. Some creative moments, decent fights with lots of allies, and the rewards are great - a full set of really good gear and an infinite supply of knights to fight by your side.

Mercenaries 2: Blow It Up Again

It's nice that this was available for free at first, because it's not really worth it otherwise. It comes with four new missions in new areas and two new skins based on Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, complete with goofy voice overs from crappy sound-alikes ( It was developed during the election frenzy). The problem is the skins don't lend themselves to the missions and the missions don't lend themselves to what makes Mercenaries 2 fun, since instead of having a chance to explore and mess around the new environments you're just plopped in a vehicle and told to do something, with not much chance to laugh at the fact that you look like a candidate for major national office. A few of the missions are pretty fun, but it just seems like a rushed job, and you can't even bring the presidential skins into the normal game.

Noby Noby Boy 1.1

Not so much DLC as a pretty substantial addition of content through patching. The new music and sound selection system is nice, multiplayer is wacky as hell, and the players have also managed to reach Mars thanks to some big multipliers randomly given as various lengths were reported. I don't know how far in the solar system or even galaxy this game intends to eventually go, but new areas to run around in with new creatures and objects to eat and crap out is always fun.

Prince of Persia: Epilogue

I mostly enjoyed it while I was playing, but in the end it wasn't worth the time and money. It's a couple more hours of the game, with the difficulty on the platforming stepped up thanks to longer sequences in between solid platforms you can be brought back to after falling. They also took out any semblance of the free-roaming aspect, making it a straight shot from beginning to end. The new boss and power are pretty much rehashes, and any story development ends up to be not worth it, as it ends on pretty much the same note as the main game with little of consequence really happening. Not necessary for anyone looking for some closure and not just more of the game. Not not not not.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

District B13

The first collaboration by the writer and director of Taken is a French-language action film that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's quite short at only 80 minutes and really has very little story to speak of, but the more violent aspects have a nice style to them that makes it a fun, quick watch. We've seen parkour get infused into various movies more and more like Casino Royale, but this is the only one I know that stars the founder of the discipline. David Belle is a rebellious figure inside a poor district of France that has been abandoned and walled off by the government and taken over by crime lords. After a cop is informed that a bomb has been stolen and accidentally activated inside the district, he and Belle team up to deactivate it and also rescue his sister.

What follows is a string of fight sequences and free running chases that are still fresh and entertaining five years after release, and do well enough to make the movie worth watching for action fans despite the meager plot and lack of big special effects. Everything, or most everything is done without wires or computer assistance, and it proves that you don't need explosions to be exciting. Luc Besson made a couple really good films before he apparently decided it was easy enough just to script a bunch of basic action flicks, but at least this one delivers on its promise of creative entertainment better than say, The Transporter. I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures: Muzzled!

Telltale keeps rolling along with the third part of the Wallace & Gromit series. Whatever you think of the games, you can't say they're not consistent in anything they do. This one didn't do as much for me as the first two for some reason, though I still mostly enjoyed its charm while it lasted. It just didn't seem as substantial, like something was cut out for some reason - previous games had you bouncing back and forth between playing Wallace and Gromit, while this time you only control Wallace for one relatively brief segment. It just isn't as well conceived as earlier installments. The puzzles are on the same level of being generally intuitive and usually clever. The climactic sequence involving one of their elaborate contraptions for something other than its intended use was still fun, although again, just not quite as good as they've already done it. I hope they do another run in a year or two, because only four episodes isn't enough time to spend in such an enjoyable word.

Monday, June 22, 2009

More Information Than You Require

Before John Hodgman became known as the resident expert on The Daily Show and the PC in Apple's commercials, I first saw him plugging The Areas of My Expertise in an interview with Jon Stewart, a compendium of fake facts. The book was a hilarious, fun read, taking things that were nearly true and giving them just the right absurd twist that would always come out of nowhere and bring a smile to the reader's face. More Information Than You Require is not just a sequel but a direct continuation, following from the previous book's page, diagram, and table numbering, although not quite exactly. It covers new material and also revisits ideas hinted at in the previous volume, also coming with a promise of a third edition to finally cover all the information in the world once and for all.

Some of the various topics explored include a rundown of every US President through the second Bush (It was published a month before the election), including factoids and handy reference to whether each one had a hook for a hand or not; advice on a variety subjects from how to buy a computer off the street to what games of chance are safe to gamble on; answers to months or even years old e-mail questions including queries about living with your parents and what's acceptable behavior in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and tons of information about the history, physiology, and society of subterranean-dwelling mole-men. The frequent switches of topic and constant diversions prevent the book from ever getting stale, and it's just plain fun to read whether for a few minutes or a couple hours. One of the best examples of what you can find in the humor section of the book store.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Liveblog 19: The Yankees Are a Baseball Team

The Yankees haven't been playing as well lately as they were when I last did this, and in fact if it wasn't for an embarrassing dropped pop up by Luis Castillo in a game against the Mets, they would have lost three series in a row and be looking at a possible fourth right now. They're still in a decent position, only three games back from Boston in the division despite losing all eight games they played against them, but they just aren't looking very good right now. The pitching still isn't consistent, and sometimes even when they do get a good performance like with A.J. Burnett last night, they aren't hitting enough to win games. The most disappointing of all was losing two out of three against the Nationals, on pace for a historically terrible season. Also, Robinson Cano can't seem to get enough of grounding into double plays to end games.

You're not going to win every game you should during a season though, and hopefully they're just scuffling a little right now and not showing anything truly alarming. Perhaps a couple days off will do A-Rod some good, and maybe CC Sabathia can get the team on another roll with a big win tonight. The team doesn't seem that far from getting everything together, and I'm still really confident in their playoff chances. Hell, they're leading the wild card and didn't really do that all last year. The game oddly starts at 5, and I'll be calling the shots then.

Top 1 - All right, Chris Volstad starts off the game by striking out Derek Jeter. Nick Swisher seems to have recovered from at least being completely terrible in May. He doubles off the wall in left center. Mark Teixeira's numbers are finally about where they should be. The count goes full before he flies out to left. Alex Rodriguez grounds out weakly to short to end the inning. Let's hope today's not a rerun of last night, threatening a lot but only scoring once.

Bottom 1 - Somebody leads off against CC. He hits a double. Yay! Chris Coghlan. Never heard of him. Wes Helms takes a couple balls before singling up the middle as Coghlan scores. Off to a great start here. Hanley Ramirez pops out to Cano behind first base. Former Ray Jorge Cantu flies out deep to left field. Dan Uggla of worst All-Star Game defensive performance ever fame draws a walk. Ronny Paulino watches three strikes go by to end the inning. Not great, but CC limited the damage.

Top 2 - Maybe I should have done this tomorrow so I could cover a Yankee pitcher I haven't already done this year and Tommy Hanson. Oh well. Cano returns the favor by popping out to Ramirez. Jorge Posada lines out to right. Melky Cabrera grounds out weakly to second, inning over.

Bottom 2 - Joe Girardi and the trainer came out to see Sabathia before the inning, I don't know what's going on with him. Cody Ross flies out to center field. Brett Carroll doubles down the line in left. I guess they see something, because they're talking to CC again and Alfredo Aceves is up in the bullpen. And now they're taking him out of the game. This is not what I signed up for.

Bottom 2, Take 2 - Aceves starts off Volstad with a ball. We didn't even get to see one at bat from CC! He can slug for a pitcher. Volstad hits an infield pop-up on a full count. Coghlan flies out to center to end the inning. Poop.

Top 3 - Brett Gardner chops out to Uggla. Aceves takes three swings and Ks quickly. Jeter bounces one over the pitchers head and makes it with an infield hit. Wild pitch inside allows Jeter to move into scoring position. Swisher draws a walk. A couple pitches later and Jeter steals third without a throw. Teixeira hits yet another chopper over the first baseman, and Jeter scores as Tex slides hard into second. If Swisher had taken second when Jeter went for third like he probably should have, the Yankees would have a lead instead of just being tied. It doesn't matter though, as A-Rod flops a single to left and both runners score, 3-1 Yankees. Cano ends the inning with a fly out to left, but that was a nice two out rally.

Bottom 3 - Browser crashed and I lost all the witty things I said here. Nothing really happened.

Top 4 - Posada makes the first out of the inning. Cabrera makes the second. It's kind of hard to pay full attention because the TV is behind me. Gardner beats out an infield single. Aceves makes the final out, letting the Yankees start the fifth at the top of the order.

Bottom 4 - Melky makes a nice running catch for the first out. Two more outs. I'm really not paying much attention here, am I?

Top 5 - This isn't really what I wanted. CC isn't pitching, I lost all those words, I can't see the game, other stuff is piss me off right now... three outs. One more half inning.

Bottom 5 - Brett Tomko in to pitch, and he strikes out Volstad. Coghlan lines a single up the middle. Another strikeout for Tomko. Ramirez hits a home run to tie the game. A fly out ends the inning. Back later with the final result.

Wrap-Up - Ugh. The Yankees' bullpen couldn't hold up giving up three more runs, and a late rally ended when Jeter made an out on the first pitch right after a walk. Yankees lose, 6-5. More annoying than if they just went out meekly in the ninth. Why do I even do these?

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Don't flip out, I've seen most of this movie before in bits and pieces, this is just the first time I've sat down and watched the whole thing through. It's pretty good!

Um... I'm not really sure what to say. It's about a few professors who are fired from their school and decide to start a new business using their recent research on paranormal activity to battle and contain ghostly disturbances. Little do they know that this massive increase in spiritual phenomena is the result of the imminent, apocalyptic return of an ancient Sumerian god involving a client one of them has the hots for and her twerp of an across-the-hall neighbor.

I think that was a pretty good summary. Ghostbusters is a combination of pretty funny comedy and pretty entertaining 80's special effects-laden action. The script by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd is loaded with tons of great lines, including ones that have leaked into popular culture and I didn't even know they deserved credit for, and along with Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson they all make for a fun, likable crew. Rick Moranis is funny as always, and Sigourney Weaver is just the girl the movie needed. All in all it's just a well constructed, well executed idea.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 7

Buffy's final season had a similar dark tone to the last couple, though thankfully it had a strong storyline to keep it afloat like the fifth as opposed to just being sort of aimlessly depressing like the sixth. I really liked it, though still not as much as or for quite the same reasons as the show's first few years. It's not that the show doesn't have a strong mix of humor in with the horror and action; it's still quite funny in places. It's just that earlier on there was a sense of fun to the whole proceedings, as Buffy and her friends could still be kids growing up in between apocalyptic fights to save the world. Once Buffy had to stop attending classes that feeling was replaced with another of dread and constant duty that weighed a little too heavily on everybody. It doesn't mean the show was inherently worse, just different.

There's really a shift in the paradigm that leads into what I know about the comics that continue the story, as the time of the Watchers comes to an end and the potential future slayers are introduced. Buffy has to take more of a leadership role, and you can see how things are affecting her life and the others more than they should be for someone in their early twenties. I'm not sure about the villains this time. Nathan Fillion was quite excellent and actually pretty scary in his big role near the end, but the main bad guy didn't have the presence they probably should have, literally and figuratively. It's kind of hard to effectively convey the destruction of the first evil entity when they don't have a form to be destroyed. Still, the conclusion was a suitably climactic and exciting finale for a long running show like this. One more season of Angel and then it's on to reading the comics.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Maltese Falcon

I didn't enjoy Falcon as much as The Big Sleep, but it was still a really good example of film noir in its prime. John Huston's another director I know at this point mostly be reputation, but this was a very good first effort and he's had some other stuff I definitely would like to see. Bogart's several years younger than in Sleep, although it's kind of hard to tell the difference. It's pretty much the same hard-nosed persona, maybe a little more prone to laughter in certain situations but still a detective who just wants to finish the job.

What starts as a simple tail job results in a couple murders and a rapidly growing conspiracy as several people search for the falcon, a supposedly priceless treasure from hundreds of years ago. Everyone wants to get their hands on it, except for Bogart, who just wants to solve the murders and get paid. The main plot might have been a bit stronger than Sleep but the dialogue wasn't nearly as consistently enjoyable on its own merits, and I really didn't like the leading lady. She was supposed to be really attractive and seductive, but she was merely average looking and constantly breaking down into fake crying to try to lie her way out of trouble instead of just being alluring. Even man-voiced Lauren Bacall was better than that. I really like the noir style whether in traditional usage or a more modern take on it, and I'd like to see more good examples soon.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Big Sleep

I always like it when a director has range, and can do a good movie regardless of genre. I knew Hawks could do comedy from Bringing Up Baby, and now I know he can do serious film noir, in probably the best example I've ever seen. The Big Sleep is a complex story with lots of twists and intricacies, and can be sort of hard to follow, especially after they apparently reshot and reedited it after it was delayed by the war to focus less on the plot and more on the relationship between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who were married off screen. I saw the original cut though, with helpful expository scenes intact. It's not that the movie is completely impenetrable without the scenes that help make all the obscure connections, it's just that having them makes for a more satisfying experience.

The movie completely thrives on its dialogue and acting, which is good because as with any film from the era its attempts at portraying violence are pathetic. If it were remade today, it would probably be half as witty and twice as bloody. Anyone who's seen Casablanca knows Bogart can deliver a line, and the words he's given here allow for some terribly clever banter with everyone he meets. He's definitely the star of the show, as he bounces around gathering information, getting beat up, and winning the heart of most girls he meets. I thought the movie took a little too long to get to the real meat of what was behind it all after the initial conflict is seemingly wrapped up, but otherwise it's exactly what I want out of a movie like this.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ouran High School Host Club

Looks pretty gay, right? Ouran High School Host Club is about a private school where this club of attractive young men hosts parties and stuff for the female students, who fawn over them for their various qualities, including some slightly disturbing ones like the senior who looks like a six year old and a pair of twins who are just a little too close. What's the twist? Their newest recruit is secretly a girl! WOAH!

Embarrassing-to-describe premise aside, Ouran is a pretty enjoyable romantic comedy. There's plenty of ridiculous slapstick situations arising all of the time, which tend to amuse more often than they don't, and also some scenes of genuine sentiment. The various main characters are fairly gimmicky but likable enough and fun when they interact, and the show is mostly harmless entertainment. Some dramatic stuff starts happening near the end that I don't really remember, and it all rounds out in the typical anime fashion of nearly satisfying all the unresolved issues, but not quite. Shows similar to this litter the wasteland of mediocre animation in droves, but this one was good enough to avoid that fate.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dredg - The Pariah, the Parrot, the Delusion

After four years of waiting, Dredg's fourth studio album can be yours for only a reasonable sum of money! This recording of music by one of Matt Jacobs' favorite bands is finally here, and well worth the price of entry! It's not as great as their last two albums, but this music is so good you'll be completely puzzled at how no major review outlet will give this band the time of day! Marvel at how despite the radical shift in the band's sound over the last decade, they've never failed to make something interesting. Tremble before the might of the rocking bass lines. Be slightly disappointed at the continued lack of lyrics in the accompanying booklet. Ignore the fact that the band members are probably really pretentious because you like their music anyway. It can be yours, today!

Included among this album's 18 tracks are:
- 3 catchy singles
- 7 more full songs
- 4 instrumental interludes of varying length
- 4 "Stamp of Origin" tracks, bite-sized musical nuggets to round out the experience
- And more!*

If you can't enjoy the thrills to be found in songs like "Pariah", "Ireland", "Information", "I Don't Know", "Quotes", and others, then I don't know what the hell's wrong with you and frankly I don't want to talk to you anymore! Act now!

*There is no more.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Clash of the Titans

For some reason I've been thinking about Greek mythology lately, probably because of a desire to play the God of War games again with the third coming out next year, and this was available on Netflix streaming, so why the hell not. It's a pretty fun fantasy action film that refers to the myth of Perseus even if it isn't quite accurate, changing details to get away with huge impressive monsters when they want to. It also plays fast and loose with the definition of titan, which I think are one of the more interesting aspects of the myths and don't actually appear at all in the film. From what I can tell the Kraken isn't even originally an aspect of Greek myth, being a western European thing, and the one here certainly doesn't look like any interpretation of the beast I've ever seen.

Beyond that completely unimportant stuff though, the movie is an entertaining adventure. It comes from that special time in the early 80's when special effects were nearly acceptable but not quite there yet and you could get away with some blood and nudity in a PG movie because PG-13 hadn't been invented yet. Harryhausen was best known for his stop motion effects his whole career, and some of the creations here don't look too bad. The problem is whenever they have to be integrated with live action footage, the composite effect ends up looking terrible as one thing is clearly being pasted on top of another. It's the sort of movie that could really use a modern cleaning-up along the lines of the Star Wars special editions, or a remake next year as the case may be. Anyway, Harry Hamlin plays with some neat magical gifts from Olympus, fights some hideous monsters, meets a wacky robotic friend, and gets the girl in the end. Not a bad use of a couple of hours.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Prisoner

I heard about this old series when its star and creator Patrick McGoohan died earlier this year. AMC has filmed a remake which will air this year, and on their website you can currently watch the original in its entirety. It's a unique mix of espionage, science fiction, and psychological absurdity. McGoohan is an agent of some sort who suddenly retires from his post, and is then drugged and brought to a strange village on a remote island, where everyone has a number instead of a name, and he doesn't know who to trust. He's number six, and a string of number twos along with their secret allies try a variety of methods to find out what secret led to his retirement, from psychotherapy to virtual reality and everything in between.

For the most part it's a battle of wits between six and his captors, as he constantly attempts escape and once in a while even makes it back to England, before eventually being returned to the island. There are occasional fisticuffs and scenes where a giant white balloon chases him, though mostly the conflict in the show is more cerebral. I mostly enjoyed the series, which had some mostly boring episodes but also some really good ones, especially one where he avenges an innocent woman's death by making number two paranoid enough to declare himself unfit for service. The show gets stranger as it goes on, culminating in the final episode, where court is held before an audience of men in white robes and masks, and bizarre musical interludes and imagery accompany a completely ambiguous ending. It can be frustrating when you've spent all that time wondering what was really going on, but in the end it's a pretty interesting and influential show.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic

I found out today that My Name Is Earl is definitely, officially, completely dead. That's too bad.

I remember when the original Rag Doll Kung Fu was released on Steam a few years ago, and it seemed like a neat physics experiment if not much of a game. The version put on the Playstation Network seems to use the same system with simplified controls, and it apparently has done so poorly that it ended up being more profitable to let users download it for free in a promotion sponsored by Sprint, which is how I got to play it. I screwed around with it for a couple hours, not cursing the time I wasted but not itching to go back either.

There's no real single player game, just a series of challenges to compete for scores in and some multiplayer modes. I tried them all, and some of them were kind of cool, but none prompted me to try again once I completed the requirements for the basic trophies. The combat has some cool gimmicks to it and beating up a group of guys can be all right, but in the end it just sort of feels like a poor man's Super Smash Bros. The motion controls add an interesting element with turning the controller over to meditate and restore health, but the other techniques are too wonky to use effectively. I wouldn't mind trying it with four people if I ever had that many people and controllers in the room, but I'll probably just forget I downloaded it before long.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Silmarillion

Tolkien's book on the history of the Elves was his longest lasting project, being started before The Lord of the Rings was ever written and not being published until after his death, and also his most obtuse, although there's quite a lot of interesting stuff there if you can get into it. It reads more like a bible or history than a normal story, beginning with the creation myth and being broken into several sections that cover various aspects like Sauron's rise to prominence. The largest section by far is the Quenta Silmarillion itself, broken further into chapters that cover many different parts of the long, storied history of the Elves, focusing on the conflict over the Silmarils, special jewels one of them forged near the beginning; and Melkor, one of the originally created beings who became the first great evil known as Morgoth.

To be honest, I had some trouble reading this book. Tolkien's work has always been a bit dense and difficult, and the text here is as dry as anything. It's nearly impossible to keep the names of all the many Elves and their families straight without the tons of supplementary information in the back of the book, and sometimes I just had to power through the wall of words, sacrificing full comprehension of what I was reading so I wouldn't be stuck staring at it for hours. I didn't get as much out of it as I really would have liked, but there was still some very interesting stuff in there and some really nice stand alone stories, like the tale of Beren and Luthien, the first marriage of an Elf and a Man. There's enough material here to keep the movie machine going after they finish filming The Hobbit if they wanted, especially considering the recent release of a full novel version of The Children of Húrin. Only fans of Tolkien should try reading this, and if you are one you likely already have, but it's an interesting part of fantasy pop culture.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Barton Fink

Barton Fink is perhaps the Coen brothers' oddest film, and that's saying something. It's not the silliest, but there's a strange, symbolic thing going on through the whole movie, and by the end it takes over the actual story. It's about a playwright from New York played by John Turturro who is brought to Hollywood to write for motion pictures, and who struggles when brought out of his comfort zone and forced to write in a genre he doesn't understand. The movie is very slow to get started, and doesn't really get entertaining until about half an hour in. The fun comes from the people Turturro meets in the new city, who provide the sort of dialogue we've grown used to from the Coens - crisp, clever, and unique. The acting is quite strong all around, as everyone besides Turturro gets two or three good scenes to show off their chops, and they're all up the task.

Before the Coen brothers were winning Oscars, this movie took home a hat trick at Cannes, including the Palme d'Or. It's definitely the sort of thing voters at film festivals would go for, the most of any of their work. There's an unusual structure to the film, and as it goes on the viewer's comprehension can only drop as strange things being happening without a ton of resolution, culminating in the climax which brings a metaphor completely to the forefront and a final scene which recalls a repeated image throughout the story, without actually saying anything obviously meaningful. There's a strange mystery to the whole thing, and I'm not sure how much of what happened was supposed to be real. The movie's definitely enjoyable whenever people are speaking, from Buscemi's chipper bellhop, to Goodman's ambiguous salesman, to the fast talking detectives investigating something, and everyone else. Still, I might not recommend the movie to anyone who doesn't already like their work or appreciate more unusual films, because it would be easy to be left unsatisfied by how it all ends. Definitely an odd film.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Angel - Season 4

At this point in the series, the writers have basically abandoned stand-alone episodes in favor of long-form, serialized storytelling. The second half of season three was dominated by one plot line, and except for maybe one or two brief tangents here, the entire thing is one big, slowly unfolding story. It's probably as strong a single tale as I've seen a Whedon show tell, filled with human elements, deception, and crazy looking monsters. I think it's the longest lasting storyline in any of his shows, and while I think Buffy the Vampire Slayer gradually grew weaker as it went on, Angel really seemed to improve as it went along. His shows don't tend to start off very strong, and Angel has seen the most steady improvement over its years.

A lot of the focus is on Vincent Kartheiser's character, whose fate is central to the vast conspiracy behind many of the events in the show. I like Kartheiser's smug sliminess on Mad Men for some reason, though I can't say I like him too much on Angel. His motivations as a character always seem weak, like he's not bothering to think about what he's doing, and his entire relationship with the rest of the cast is just an unusual one. It's actually interesting, this was my favorite season despite my thinking the series really picked up once the main crew finally came together, and they sort of fall apart this time. They're still together as a group, but the a lot of the individual relationships are broken past the point of repairing. I'll be interested in seeing what else can go wrong in the final season.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Call of Duty: World at War

It's interesting to play World at War right after Far Cry 2, because they represent very different approaches to the same basic idea. The latter is all about providing you with an environment in which any number of things can happen based on what you do inside it, while the former is a series of planned events hand crafted to give every player the same experience. This is Treyarch's third stab at the Call of Duty franchise, and if the first two are like this, then they've proven themselves very capable of aping what Infinity Ward does with slightly diminished results. You can see how they took a lot of cues from the fourth game in terms of creating a more cinematic and dramatic feel, treating it a bit more like being in an epic war movie than being in a war. This works fine with a fictional, modern storyline, but doing it with a real historical event in which millions of people died seems a bit crass.

There's nothing wrong with showing a more brutal side of the war, because it's not like the real thing was completely clean and gentlemanly. It's just the tone of it that seems off, like it's trying to make the player think it's way cool instead of seriously considering the dark truth of the period in history. In any case, the attitude of the game doesn't negatively affect the design, which is pretty solid until near the end. The two campaigns that interweave despite being at different points in time focus on an American in the Pacific and a Russian on the Eastern Front, and there are some interesting missions here and there, such as a mimic of the flashback sniper missions in the last game with the Russians and a pretty intense and desperate naval battle with the Americans. It sort of falls apart near the end though, as the developers failed to realize that it's entirely possible to have a huge and dramatic final battle without it being stupidly, unfairly difficult and seemingly not even well debugged. As with S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl last year, a frustrating final act really soured my opinion on a game that for the first 80% of its existence I was enjoying quite a bit more. It's really not that hard to keep that ending bit balanced, but it keeps happening like this.

This game is really what told me I need to upgrade my machine, as even on quite low settings it often chugged in more open areas and for some reason ran way too fast indoors to compensate. That's partly shoddy programming, as other developers released games around the same time that my computer can handle fine, but it's really time I improved what I'm playing with. Still, the game was pretty nice looking despite the issues, although I can't say the same about the sound. The series is known for its quality sound design, but a lot of the guns and explosions sounded weak to me for some reason, and while some of the orchestral music was quite nice, the inclusion of crunching metal guitars really wasn't. I liked the voice acting though, as throughout the game I was being commanded by Kiefer Sutherland and Gary Oldman, which automatically makes anything I'm told to do more awesome. The dramatic story moments didn't hit me nearly as hard as the last game's, but they were still pretty fun for the most part. There are some nice things to be found here, but in the end, World at War is a pretty flawed game.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Game Update 10: E309 Game Impressions

The Electronic Entertainment Expo has come and gone and once again, I spent way too much time watching video of unreleased games being played. Here are my shallow opinions in blurb-form.

Alan Wake - Much more of a shooter than I expected to see, but it's nice that the game actually exists and I'm sure there will still be some interesting story elements during the daytime.

Assassin's Creed 2 - They seem to have addressed all of the complaints with the original, leaving behind only an awesome open world historical assassination game. Expanded combat looks nice.

Batman: Arkham Asylum - This looked really interesting at first until he kept fighting a gigantic mob over and over. Something about the combat just drained my enthusiasm completely.

Battlefield 1943 - I'm a fan of the series, and some online play for my PS3 for cheap sounds like a nice proposition.

Brutal Legend - Hooray for Activision living up to the mantle of gigantic douche bag publisher in every way possible by suing to prevent this game's release. Assuming it comes out, it looks like a fun mix of metal, hack and slash, adventure stuff, Jack Black - well, a fun mix of everything.

Dark Void - A long time coming, but looks potentially very nice. Jetpacking around and jacking UFOs is pretty sweet.

Fat Princess - This is a really fun looking RTS/deathmatch/hack and slash multiplayer game. I want to play it just to screw around with the different classes.

God of War III - Really looking forward to some more evisceration of classical monsters and gigantic puzzle-filled temples. They keep upping the ante with the gore, and it seems almost too crazy this time, but I kind of like that.

Halo 3: ODST - A slightly different take on the standard Halo shooting gameplay, different enough to look worth checking out. Also, Nathan Fillion as your commander is cool.

Heavy Rain - It seems to expand upon the interesting aspects of its spiritual predecessor, which people forget was really good for the first two thirds, and the dynamic story stuff sounds great.

Left 4 Dead 2 - Surprising move by Valve coming out with a sequel so soon, but it looks pretty different and it sounds like they're including enough new content to make it worth a separate release.

Lost Planet 2 - I'm playing the first right now, and I haven't seen anything as remotely cool as the boss fight they showed off with four players against a giant monster. As long as they focus on that and not fighting snow pirates, it could be good.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 - Based on the insipid Civil War storyline, it basically looks like what you'd expect from a sequel. I'd play it with a group again.

Mass Effect 2 - I still haven't played the original, but this looks to continue what it did while improving a lot of aspects. I need to make a computer I can trust to play this series.

Modern Warfare 2 - Really nice looking sequel. The original was great, and this looks to have more of the unique and interesting missions that make the irritating slogs against giant respawning hordes tolerable.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii - Four player fun for the whole family!

PixelJunk Shooter - I haven't played any previous games in the series, but this one looks really interesting. I like the lava/water interaction.

Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time - It's another Ratchet game. That's all I really need to know.

Red Steel 2 - Lots of 2's this year. The new style is neat, but either the guy playing the demo was really bad or the controls still aren't near where they need to be to make a good game.

The Saboteur - The black and white/color stuff is neat, and it could be a fun take on the open world action thing.

Singularity - Possibly a unique shooter with a fun time mechanic, possibly another one for the pile that had a gimmick that just didn't try hard enough.

Splinter Cell: Conviction - I haven't played much of the series, but this looked surprisingly awesome. The increased speed and brutality of Sam's actions make it look like a Bourne game, if licensed stuff wasn't crap.

Tales of Monkey Island - Yet another interesting project from Telltale Games, in their quest to take all of my money. I want to play some earlier games in the series before jumping on these ones, though.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves - Possibly the game of the show. They really stepped up the cinematic quality of the larger gun fights, and it's supposed to keep the more exploratory elements that really rounded out the experience in the first for me.

Wet - The red bonus levels or whatever hurt my eyes.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Whitest Kids U' Know - Season 3

The Kids returned this year with twenty new half-length episodes, working out to provide as much content as either of the first two seasons. The show's not quite as fresh as it was at first, but it's still a lot of fun to watch. One of the things I respect is how they end the skits. If you ever watch sketch comedy, you know the hardest part about writing a skit is ending it. Saturday Night Live is infamous for not knowing how to do it, and almost no one gets it right. The Whitest Kids find a good punchline often enough, and when they don't they're not afraid to just let a bit end or completely turn it on its head to finish it. Watching it alongside Monty Python's Flying Circus made a lot of it sort of pale in comparison, but there were still some really funny sketches like the player in an online shooter who doesn't turn off his headset when he's talking to his mom, the introduction of water balloons in the wild west, and Shoshon: The Elegant: The White Tiger King. I'm not sure about the show's future especially since they're already branching into movies with the apparently not very good Miss March, but I'd be up for some more episodes if they make them.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Monty Python's Flying Circus

Netflix' unlimited free online streaming is really quite nice.

I've seen a couple of the movies and some of the more famous sketches before, but this is the first time I've sat down and really watched the series that is loved by so many and inspired so many others. These 45 episodes are filled with both brilliance and nonsense, a lot of which doesn't hold up too well but most of which does. Everyone knows some bits like the dead parrot and the Spanish inquisition, but there's plenty of less famous stuff that's just as clever. The wordplay, absurd situations, and prototypical mockumentary make for a pretty consistently enjoyable program. They like playing around with expectations, breaking the fourth wall a lot and having the credits play halfway through the episode and stuff like that. They also tend to tie all the sketches together loosely with little bits in between to create a slipshod, strange narrative through an episode, something which I wish more sketch shows did.

Not everything is great though. I believe when people say that Terry Gilliam is a good director even though I haven't seen his movies, but most of his wacky animations in the series are more just odd than really funny. I guess it doesn't take much of a real gag to make the English laugh. Sketch comedy is a bit of a hit-or-miss proposition, and it wasn't terribly rare to be more bored by something than I should have been. The Monty Python films are pretty darn consistent, but that's easy when you don't have to put out half an hour every week. John Cleese easily had the most post-Python success of any member, as an actor at least, and he left the show after the third season, leaving the shortened fourth as a shell of the show's former self. It's not that he's so much funnier than the other members, but his inclusion is essential to the group's success as much as anyone else's, and while there are some decent laughs in the end, it's just not the same show. Sort of a disappointing end for a groundbreaking series, but at least they made those movies to redeem the name.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Season 6

I'm pretty sure they're done with this production cycle, but there's gonna be hell to pay if they're not. Ten episodes this time, and most of them are pretty bizarre. I hate to say the show's not as funny anymore, but it's not even really what they're going for - they seem as concerned with doing something completely insane as making the audience laugh. There's some good moments, and the premiere "Gene E." is as funny as the series has been in a while. There's also some genuinely disturbing things like a Spider-Man story except if instead of a spider it's a black man, a werewolf that's not really a werewolf, and Frylock's horrifying attempts to get together with a computer technician. The time travel episode was pretty good even if the odd plot twists didn't make any damn sense, and the live action finale featuring Jon Benjamin and T-Pain was enjoyable. I'm not sure what's planned for the series' future besides a second movie, but I feel like it's running on fumes at this point besides the occasional moment of brilliance.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Breaking Bad - Season 2

Season one ended up just being a preview of the amazing places the series would end up going. Season two is all about Cranston's Walter White's transformation from a chemistry teacher making some bad mistakes as he deals with his own mortality into a grizzled husk where a man used to be. You can see his humanity drain away as he piles lies on top of lies to hide the drug money from his family and he starts stepping out of his comfort zone trying to expand the business. It gets to the point where you wonder if he's trying to make the money he needs as quickly as possible so he can get out fast, or actually turning into one of the drug lords who disturb him. I think at least two more seasons are planned, and whereas before I was curious where they could really go with a dying protagonist, I'm now stuck waiting to see what fascinating turn it takes next.

The show is a unique mix of incredibly shocking plot turns with a pace and tone that are very deliberate and realistic. You could probably edit each episode down to the standard length for an hour broadcast without cutting anything important, but to me the way it lingers helps enhance and punctuate the unbelievable moments that make watching the show great. When you have a chance to watch the characters squirm, it makes it all the more uncomfortable and gripping when stuff's happening. One of the things I like most about the series is the unique chemistry between Cranston and Jesse, the deadbeat former student who connects him to the world of crime, and he really comes into his own this year, by the end being in a completely different place from when he started as just a punk. The final scene of the season is hinted at repeatedly throughout the previous episodes, and while at first it was pretty baffling, it really perfectly captured the series' mix of realism and there being something strange behind it all, as it really drives home what the consequences of Walter's decisions are. I don't really hesitate to call Breaking Bad the best drama currently on television, and I'm already waiting for it to come back.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Milk is only the second Best Picture nomination of 2008 that I've seen, but I already disagree with the Academy's decision. Slumdog Millionaire was a good movie, but I think this was better. It was also quite relevant, as the current battle over Proposition 8 in California is very reminiscent of the Proposition 6 in the film. We still aren't where we should be with gay rights, but thanks to the work of people like Harvey Milk, it's only a matter of time.

Milk is the story of Milk, the first openly gay man elected to "major public office". This isn't a biopic about his whole life so much as just the important part, the decade in which he began to make a difference in his community. The film mixes scenes with the actors and real footage from the time effectively, grounding it in the period. It took me some time to get into it, but I ended up being riveted by the performances and the story. I think Mickey Rourke's performance in The Wrestler was probably better, but Sean Penn is pretty brilliant as the titular character, and I don't think it was a robbery so much as a different pick. Plus, the rest of the film around Penn was more successful. Franco and Hirsch were both good, and Josh Brolin seemed perfect in the role. I'm not sure where he came from but he's got a nice career going.

I can't give this post the full attention I would normally because we're in the middle of E3mania right now. I will say though that the climactic scene is completely brilliant. The film makes no secret of the fact that Harvey and the Mayor are both assassinated, but the way it all comes together is about as well as you can do it in cinema. Every single shot has a purpose, and the sense of dread as you realize what is happening is palpable. The whole movie makes really good use of reflections at times of importance, and you can tell when something's going down just from how it's filmed. As both a film and political message, Gus Van Sant created a real triumph.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 6

Buffy's penultimate season was also its weakest so far. The series took a darker turn the previous year, and this one continued the trend, although without the sense of direction that kept season five from seeming worse than it did. The show grabbed me originally because it had a great sense of fun despite the morbid things that often happened, and it was always funny and enjoyable even if not every single joke landed. Season five was forgivable for being more serious because the main plot was pretty darn strong, whereas season six is less so because the main plot isn't. The primary villains were mostly entertaining as they were pretty much the only thing that wasn't constantly depressing, although by the end one was just pissing me off more than should be necessary and they were just a diversion from the actual final conflict, which really turned out pretty strong.

There were some good traditional Buffy episodes scattered around, but in general there was just sort of a directionless, sour malaise about the whole thing that made it a lot less fun to watch. None of the characters were unjustified in their lashing out and depression, it just didn't make for exciting viewing. I've heard that Whedon's attentions were focused more on developing Firefly while this season was being schemed up and his absence led to the drop in quality, which is as good a reason as any. I didn't hate watching it, I was just a little bummed by the experience. The musical episode was a little blunt in how it just spelled out all the crap that's weighing the different characters down, but it was still a really cool thing to do once in a long running series, and an episode where Buffy's not sure which world she's seeing is real was one of the more chilling and interesting in the whole series, but these highlights were just a bit too few and far between. I really hope the final season can recover and deliver a nice ending, even though thanks to the comic, it's not really an ending at all.