Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Blade II

While I was in the middle of reading all those Marvel comics recently, I had the idea to go back and see all of the recent movies that I missed based on characters from that universe. Basically the last decade. Blade II was Marvel's first sequel film, and I ended up liking it more than I anticipated, mostly thanks to the strong visual sense of director Guillermo del Toro. I could take or leave most elements of David Goyer's plot and the new characters (except the vampire with the wrap-around mustache played by Ron Perlman, who's awesome regardless of how stupid his role is), but it was still an entertaining, gory action movie. Boiled down, there's a new strain of vampire that feeds on its own kin, and they decide to team up with Blade to find a way to stop them before they take over the world. But just in case you're wondering, things aren't what they seem.

The movie's success rides a bit on whether you like the new super vampires. The only reliable way to kill them is exposure to sunlight, which means not many scenes of Wesley stabbing dudes in the chest and them exploding after the plot begins. There's still some pretty damn competent fight scenes, they just tend to all end in the same way. The bad guys have this weird sideways opening jaw thing that's pretty grotesque, and the film definitely revels in scenes where they get chopped up and dissected. It's not really disturbing though, it's too far separated from human anatomy to cause revulsion and just results in some interesting practical effect stuff. The plot takes some predictable turns - he gets betrayed, he gets hooked up to a machine that drains his blood, he kills a lot of guys... and then it's over. There were a few issues here and there, like some truly dreadful CGI that was supposed to make certain shots especially impressive but eight years later just sucks out all the believability, and there's a pointless flourish at the end that thinks it's a lot more clever than it is. Blade leaves a vampire alive at the beginning, and then he shows up again in the final scene so Blade can remind the audience of the connection and then kill him. But what was the point of that? Did Blade know they were making a movie about him and wanted a callback at the end? What if that vampire drained and killed like three people since he let him go? Pretty dumb! But I enjoyed this movie about as much as the original.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

So Arcade Fire's second album turned out to not be as good as their first, but that's okay because few things are. It's not revolutionary, but it's a solid, very listenable album. It's also a bit unexpected in some of its sounds. I really wasn't expecting the most obvious influence on this band from Canada to be Bruce Springsteen. They make all the songs their own, but there's no doubt they were inspired by various American acts that were prone to political messages, as they're no strangers to that here. Perhaps the biggest fault with the album is that it can't quite keep up its energy from the first half to the second. There's still good songs to be found there, it's just not as endlessly listenable as the beginning of this or the entirety of Funeral. I wouldn't really call it a disappointment, because I do think it's pretty darn good. It would just be nice if The Suburbs, which comes out this August, is a little more consistent. At least Neon Bible's jacket is a flip book.

In case you were wondering, the Springsteen influence is definitely felt in "Keep the Car Running", and especially "(Antichrist Television Blues)", which might as well have been written by him. They're both pretty enjoyable songs though. "Intervention" was the lead single, and has a nice energy to it, plus some of the better interplay between Win and Regine. She only gets one lead part this time, and it's only part of a medley called "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations". But that's a good song so it's okay. The opener "Black Mirror" has an odd feel to it, but I think it's a good way to get set for the rest of what's coming. "Ocean of Noise" and "Windowsill" are two of the weaker tracks, although they both have a couple things going for them. "No Cars Go" is a recreation of a song from their first EP, and a pretty damn catchy tune. "My Body Is a Cage" ends things, and while it's not perfect, I like what it does. They were definitely trying to do something different with this album, and I respect that even if it didn't come out as great as their last effort. They're certainly one of the more likable bands playing right now.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Gardens of the Moon

So I was looking for a new fantasy series to tide me over a bit while I waited for George R. R. Martin's next book, and the one I've seen with the most direct comparisons is The Malazan Book of the Fallen, which Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont based on their roleplaying game campaign. Just as far as the first book goes, Gardens of the Moon is not really that close to being as brilliant as A Game of Thrones, but it was still an enjoyable introduction to a rich, interesting world.

The setting itself is definitely a lot more "fantasy" than Ice and Fire. Martin's series reads like a lost history of European kingdoms with some dragons and undead added for flavor, while the Malazan series is totally soaking in magic. Gods exist in droves and fraternize with mortals, half the characters have access to "warrens" which power their spells and let them quickly travel long distances, there's a floating moon/fortress/city run by a dude who's lived for thousands of years, and so on. The world building definitely seems like the focus was more on making it fun to explore than creating a cohesive vision for a big story, but enough sense is made of it to keep the story going.

The story itself seems a bit deliberately opaque at first, as the perspective jumps around quite a bit, introducing various players and factions in the relevant parts of the world, and sort of telling you what's going on but also sort of not. It took me a little while to really get into it, but eventually things really got going and I could see the purpose of all these different threads, and it did come together into an interesting, mostly original fantasy story. Like I said, the work isn't as strong as Martin's, but Erikson does a good job of balancing a bunch of different things competently and gives them all the right amount of focus without neglecting anything. One thing I really liked is that while there were definitely avenues for sequels left open, the main story arc of the book resolves itself within Moon's pages, rather than feeling like it was one giant volume chopped into ten eventual pieces. I saw enough to make me want to continue reading the series, though I might try out a few others first before I do.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Spoon - Transference

Critical reception for Transference wasn't quite as strong overall as for Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but in the end I might prefer it a little bit. It's a bit less structured and produced, and a little more sloppy and jammy. It's definitely a deliberate choice, and one that I thought tended to work out. Some of the flourishes are a bit weird, like some pointless echoing and abruptly ending tracks that I was quite in the middle of enjoying, but it also pays off big in songs like "Got Nuffin'", which is four minutes of sort of the same thing, but it's a thing I really like and it simply wouldn't have happened on a more focused record. I definitely find myself overall liking Spoon more than I did when I first listened to them, as they seem to me to be simply the perfect example of what a rock band should be these days. Britt has a great voice for it, and when you combine their talent for songwriting with their ability to play a damn song, there's not much they don't have covered.

"Before Destruction" definitely isn't the sort of song I expected them to open with, and it sort of sets that unusual tone for the whole thing. "The Mystery Zone" is one of the jammier pieces on the album, and a pleasant one to let wash over you for five minutes. "Who Makes Your Money" is enjoyable in a similar way, but before anyone gets too worried about them getting soft "Written in Reverse" plays, which sounds more like something from their last album and features a lot of shouting and cool interplay. "I Saw the Light" is the longest track, and is another nice jam before it switches gears midway through and becomes more piano driven. "Goodnight Laura" is definitely the ballad of the album, and is pleasant enough although it doesn't do anything as interesting as "The Ghost of You Lingers". "Out Go the Lights" is another good, more mellow song, maybe my favorite on the record. It ends pretty strong, and while never too brilliant, it's a completely solid and enjoyable rock album. I'm definitely going to check out their earlier stuff at some point when everyone totally adored them.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Liveblog 27: I Don't Really Like Joe Torre

I was surprised to learn that last night was the first time former Yankee manager Joe Torre had ever competed against the team in any capacity, whether as a player or coach. It made more sense though when I remembered that there was no interleague play back when he was on the field, and he was always a National League guy before joining the Yanks. Ah, interleague play, something we all love so much, right? Um. Anyway, the Yankees won the first game against Torre's Dodgers last night on the strength of a great start from CC Sabathia and a tie breaking home run by Alex Rodriguez, which had to feel good after some of the stuff that was said about him in Torre's book. Tonight A.J. Burnett, who's been pretty awful lately, changing his season from good to sub-average in nearly the blink of an eye, faces off against Hiroki Kuroda. I'm not actually sure if I'll be here when the game's happening though... huh. I'll try to talk about it if I can. I know how much you love my comments on sports! Go USA!

Top 1 - Darn that soccer game. I feel like the US should have won, but Ghana just played better in the first half and held them off well in extra time. Maybe in four years. Anyway, Derek Jeter leads off with a walk. Curtis Granderson swings through strike two, but Jeter steals second and reaches third after the ball skips away. The next pitch is ball four, and the Yankees are in a great position to score here. Mark Teixeira might finally be turning things around, and he continues that idea with a three run home run to right field on a high fastball. A-Rod lines a pitch to center, but right to Matt Kemp who makes the catch. Robinson Cano strikes out swinging. He's currently leading the league in hitting like many a broadcaster has predicted he one day might. Probably the best hitter on the team right now. Nick Swisher grounds out to first for the third out.

Bottom 1 - Did you see Edwin Jackson's no-hitter last night? Eight walks and a hit by pitch. The Diamondbacks actually got a force out at home at one point. That will go down as the least impressive career-defining feat of all time. Rafael Furcal leads off A.J. with a single to left. Tim McCarver's already pounding on Burnett for pitching like "they're tied", rather than with a lead. It's the second at bat, Tim. Calm down. Kemp strikes out on a couple breaking balls. They're talking about the game a couple days ago where the Dodgers lost partly because of mental mistakes, but also partly because the umpires totally jobbed them. I always enjoy seeing whenever a team (besides the Yankees) manages to lose in a crazy and depressing way. Andre Ethier singles, runners on the corners for Manny Ramirez. He belts a ground rule double, Yankees lead 3-1 with runners on second and third. I do think A.J. was good for the Yankees in the playoffs last year, but the five year deal really was probably a mistake. Javy Vazquez couldn't get an out to save his life in April and now their numbers look almost identical. Brett Gardner makes a nice effort to shag a James Loney fly ball, but a run scores on the sacrifice. Casey Blake watches strike one get called ball two. Francisco Cervelli throws on ball three and almost catches Manny off second. Full count to Blake. A third straight fastball gets him swinging, and A.J. keeps his ERA under 5 for the time being.

Top 2 - While I was eating, the Yankees failed to score.

Bottom 2 - So did the Dodgers.

Top 3 - Okay, I gotta go! Bye!

Wrap-Up - The Yankees lost, which makes me less happy than I was before they lost. They still have a two game lead in the AL East though, which is nice.

Friday, June 25, 2010

How to Destroy Angels

This is the self-titled debut EP by How to Destroy Angels, a group formed by Trent Reznor, his wife Mariqueen Maandig, and producer Atticus Ross. It sort of sounds like Nine Inch Nails release The Slip if a woman was singing. It will be released physically early next month, but you can still download it online for free if you want. So yeah, it's pretty enjoyable electronic/industrial stuff, and it's hard to go wrong when you don't have to pay. My two favorite tracks happen to be the opener and closer, "The Space in Between" and "A Drowning". The former has a perfect, ominous sound countered by Mariqueen's pleasant voice that nicely introduces you to their style, and the latter has a nice build up and release for the record's climax. The other tracks are totally fine too, with my third favorite probably being "The Believers". I'm not sure how dedicated any of them really are to the future of this project, but their first effort is fairly strong and might be worth some further development.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Shield - Season 1

I watched the first two episodes of The Shield some time ago, and then forgot about it for a while. I can't say why for sure. I know I didn't find it as compelling as I did when I picked it back up. I guess I just wasn't interested in what seemed like a normal cop show with a bit of a manufactured edge. That's not really fair though, and giving it a bit more time, it didn't take long before I was hooked and momentum carried me through the rest of the 13 episode season. The Shield definitely revels in being a cable show. It swears a little bit, there's some pretty sexual and violent stuff, and the plots episode to episode are nothing if not always attempting something you can't see on the networks. And while it's entertaining enough to run on its shock value and competent cast alone, what makes it so engrossing is what turned me off a bit when I first saw it - the dark side of star Michael Chiklis' character, Vick Mackey.

He's not morally ambiguous. That suggests some level of remorse over what he does. Vick and his strike team are downright bad men. He cheats on his wife. He makes deals with criminals. He steals evidence for his own profit. And in the first freaking episode, he kills someone he shouldn't just to keep the status quo. He's an anti-hero along the lines of Tony Soprano, except with the added despicableness of having the law on his side to protect him. And yet... when he's confronted with his corruption, I found myself justifying his actions to myself. When I first realized I was doing this, I couldn't believe it. But at least early on, the show's greatest strength is this. Despite his crimes, Mackey and his team do make the city a bit of a better place. They limit gang violence by brokering deals, they use unorthodox methods to take down criminals they might not have had a chance to stop otherwise, they're fiercely defensive of their fellow law officers. Is what he does okay when put next to all of the good he definitely does? Probably not, but that the show even makes you ask this question is a small miracle. It helps that the people trying to stop him are often not quite on the level either, but it's definitely an accomplishment. I don't know how they're going to keep it up, but I'm certainly interested in seeing.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour

This isn't so much a true album as an EP of songs from the movie combined with a few singles to fill out the track list. As such, it's a bit less cohesive than other works by The Beatles, but also features a higher than average amount of songs that I've actually heard before. It's mostly pretty catchy, and also has a bit of their creepier mood keeping it interesting. I haven't actually seen the Magical Mystery Tour film, and I think it would be interesting to see how all of the songs on the first half play into it. "Flying" is an instrumental, but the rest are otherwise pretty normal for The Beatles, mostly sung by Paul. Two standouts on that side are George's "Blue Jay Way" and John's "I Am the Walrus", which have a bit more of an edge to them.

The parade of radio hits on the second side is pretty impressive, with only one song ("Baby You're a Rich Man") that I wasn't familiar with. It's a pretty good one though, and along with the rest, especially "Hello Goodbye" and "Strawberry Fields Forever", it's a very fun, listenable set. I tend to prefer The Beatles songs that branch out a bit, but one of their strengths is definitely just well-constructed pop songs. It makes for a record that doesn't reach the brilliant heights of some of their other work, but is still perfectly fine for what it is.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule

I somehow missed that the fifth season of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! was its last, as the creators seem to be moving on and expanding their reach beyond Adult Swim. They've done music videos, commercials, and appeared on multiple other shows. I'm fine with this, because anything they do seems to be gold. They haven't abandoned Cartoon Network though, producing and writing this spin-off along with John C. Reilly. I don't know if a legitimate actor like Reilly intends to do more after this solid, six episode run, but I sure wouldn't mind if he did.

The Steve Brule character has always been a highlight of Awesome Show when he's shown up, and giving him his own investigative series is a brilliant idea. They really take the lo-fi channel 5 community television thing to the max, with the whole series filmed and edited on VHS with constant errors and glitches, like we're watching someone's taped copy of the series which airs at 4:30 AM before "Mass for Shut-Ins". The show features a range of topics and some good guest stars, as Steve talks about things that interest him, such as his own fear of puppets and the importance of family. The character is almost too cripplingly stupid at this point to believably have a presence on even local television, but it's funny enough, and often depressing enough when he explores his own inadequacies, that it's still a good watch. There's not a ton of content here, but what there is is pretty enjoyable.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Treme - Season 1

If you go in to Treme comparing it to David Simon's last series, The Wire, you're probably going to be disappointed. Not through any fault of the show's, but through impossible expectations. By the end of the season, I was fully prepared to call Treme a great drama, it's just not great on the easily-the-best-thing-on-TV-right-now level of The Wire. It's less centrally focused, feeling more like several narrow stories of living in post-Katrina New Orleans that happen to frequently connect and intertwine rather than a vast overview of the whole city. The many different main characters cover a lot of ground, depicting all sorts of situations and showing as many sides and points of view as they can. Sometimes I felt like the show was preaching at me a bit too much about the whole situation, but Simon has made it his business to expose the truth about things with his projects and it has resulted in shows worth watching for more than their entertainment value. Taking place in New Orleans, there's obviously a lot of music, and it's handled quite well, whether its classic stuff being played in the background or something original being played right on camera by the cast, which frequently features real-life musicians. Music is one of the show's strongest elements, with practically every song effectively conveying the mood and also tending to be genuinely enjoyably performed.

The show lives or dies on its characters, and most of them are good ones. John Goodman guest starred all season long, being the most directly political character and frequently entertaining in his rantings. He also played heavily into the moment where the show went from good political commentary to a legitimately brilliant TV show, so it's a character I'll remember for a while. Steve Zahn plays a DJ/aspiring musician/political revolutionary, and his story tended to be the series' comic relief while still having things to say, and it's another performance I quite enjoyed. Several of the main characters are played by veterans of Simons' other HBO shows, and they cement themselves into the roles well, amazingly avoiding the common fate of Wire actors where I can't see anyone from that show without thinking about it. Wendell Pierce plays a trombone player who lives day to day off any gigs he can get, and is another source of levity on a show that could have easily gotten overbearing. Khandi Alexander is his ex-wife, a bar owner looking for her missing brother and frequently featuring one of the best "Are you shitting me?" faces in history. Clarke Peters plays a Mardi Gras Indian chief who tries to keep his tribe together after the storm and also ends up having some run-ins with the law. He's basically the opposite of the kindly Freamon from The Wire, intimidating in his unerring dedication to his beliefs.

The season finale surprised me by featuring a glimpse of the past, showing a little bit of what the various characters were going through on the day of the storm. It was a powerful eight minutes or so, really putting you into what it's like to live somewhere where true disaster is never that far away. It left me truly wanting the next season to begin as soon as possible instead of just fondly anticipating it, and was a great way to help bring the show's first year to a close. HBO's been a bit on the weak side since some of its best series ended, but with Treme's success, True Blood continuing to evolve into something genuinely entertaining, and stuff like Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones on the horizon, it might not be long before it's unequivocally on top again.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Things They Carried

As far as novels about Vietnam go, The Things They Carried seems fairly unusual. It's actually more of a short story collection stitched into a longer tale by using the same cast of characters the whole way through, and it has an unusual presentation. O'Brien is a Vietnam veteran, and he's also written about his true experience there, but this book features a different sort of "truth", from his perspective. Not only is it written as if he's one of the characters, but there are frequent fourth-wall breaking asides where he writes as though he's explaining the process, and how he changed certain names at various points and tells about how certain parts actually happened in real life, even though that stuff is still all fake. The only part of the book that's true is when he explains the point of the whole thing - his belief that you can learn more about what war is truly like from an authentic war story that happens to be fictional than you might from a rote presentation of facts. I don't know if that's an idea I really agree with, but it's an interesting one and something to think about at least. The actual stories in the book are very good, which is the important part, expertly and poignantly written, and a lot more emotionally affecting than I expected when my mom handed me the book. It's not really about war at all so much as what war does to people, and philosophy aside, it's a solid, quick read. O'Brien definitely seems like a writer whose work is worth pursuing.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tales of Monkey Island: The Siege of Spinner Cay

Overall, I really can't say that the second chapter of this series was as strong as the first. It's possible that the first chapter was just extra beefy to introduce the whole plot, but Spinner Cay felt insubstantial in comparison. I don't mean just in length, because the first was actually a bit long in the tooth, but in having a fulfilling arc to the story and gameplay. It didn't have the real three act structure I've come to expect, and it's not like the puzzles that were there made up for it much. I had some trouble figuring a few out, and it's not like they were particularly clever, the solutions just didn't make logical sense, not even by wacky cartoon standards. Plus it's always an issue when an area that's vitally important to finishing the game is so easy to overlook with the way they made the interface. I also can't say I'm big on the subplot with Guybrush being jealous of Elaine spending time with the "good" LeChuck - come on, it's just a matter of time until it turns out he's REALLY EVIL AND OH I HAVE TO SAVE HER. It wasn't a bad game, though. Pretty funny in places, and it's pretty fun just to be in Monkey Island's world. Plus I figured out how to run with the game's awkward control scheme! So that's useful.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ex Machina, Book 2: Tag

I sort of forgot what I liked about the first book in this series when I decided to finally pick up the second, but it became pretty clear again as I was reading. It's well written, and the story does a lot of different, interesting things. It conveys politics in a unique way, not really focused on an ideology but just getting to the heart of the less cut-and-dry issues. It likes to flash back to Mitchell's super hero days and tie it into whatever messed up shit is going on currently, with the more action-focused stuff being a lot darker and more intriguing than I'd expect based on the general focus. Mitchell's a really good character, and definitely helps carry the book. His power is unique and makes for some really clever, fun situations, and he's just a likable, enigmatic person. I still don't like the overly posed nature of some of the art, but it's mostly a nice looking comic. I'm probably going to try to catch up on The Walking Dead before I read any more, but I am enjoying it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Starship Troopers

Paul Verhoeven did a few pretty enjoyable, over-the-top action movies in his day, and if all you care about is violence, there's quite a bit to like about Starship Troopers. There's a lot of alien bugs getting shot hundreds of times and peppered with explosives, and a lot of humans getting eviscerated to shreds. The visual effects hold up surprisingly well even 13 years later, and while I have to say the human's strategy for taking on their foe is amazingly stupid, I had a pretty good time watching it. The problem to me is the way the film seems to treat its source material with contempt. It only became an adaptation of Robert Heinlein's novel partway through development, and Verhoeven has said publicly he couldn't finish it because he hated it so much, and yet he's the guy who made the movie. People point to the movie's idiocy and call it satire, but what's the point of only parodying the book your film is based on, a then-38 year old novel that most of your audience isn't going to be familiar with? It's an exercise in pointlessness. From what I've heard about the book, a modern adaptation could have been really interesting, but instead they decided to misrepresent its politics and philosophy and dress the good guys up like Nazis.

So yeah, the movie is aggressively dumb throughout its running time. I shudder to think of a future where Denise Richards is smart enough to be considered an excellent candidate for a military pilot position. Casper Van Dien is the attractive main character you haven't heard a thing about in the last decade, and he's equally as irritating. Neil Patrick Harris is made unlikable on the rare occasion when he shows up, and the rest of the cast is just hard to believe as soldiers who are supposed to be trained enough to take on gigantic monsters. Michael Ironside is bad ass as always, but he's the only character I can say I liked. Oh, and Amy Smart is another pilot. God help us all. The movie drags whenever the humans aren't getting torn to pieces, and it definitely tries too hard to be funny. Paul Verhoeven thrives when he's shooting something ludicrously bloody and violent, but pretty much anything else and he's a bad choice. There were parts of this movie I definitely liked, but I really didn't enjoy its tone or a great deal of its content. I won't go so far as to call it unwatchable, but it's pretty regrettable.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Walking Dead, Volume 6: This Sorrowful Life

So. Yeah. This book is pretty messed up. Main characters have been disfigured. Many people have been killed, both by zombies and their fellow survivors. Just lots of bad things have happened. The worst part just might be the faint glimmer of hope, the straggling belief that things might change, the optimism that new life can be started while it's ending all around them. Lots of stories try to sell the idea that no character is safe, but I believe it with The Walking Dead more than almost anything else. It's impossible to feel good for the characters living in this world. You just keep reading to find out how it's going to go bad. Pure nihilism in comic book form. But despite some continued over-explanatory dialogue, it's mostly well written, and the art is very effective at showing you something you'd never want to see. It's an achievement to make something so joyless so easily readable. And hey, the TV show is really coming along too. They've showed images of the main character and the zombies, both look good. I don't know how far they're going to take it, but I have a lot of faith in AMC.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal

Tales of Monkey Island is another in a long string of successful adventure game series based on another license, although this one purports to have more of a focus on a continued storyline than a bunch of loosely connected episodes. So much so that at first you could only buy the whole thing as a package deal, although now individual episodes are for sale. The first chapter is one of the meatiest and most enjoyable the company has done, and I got a solid amount of enjoyment from it. The dialogue is funny (though like the original game, not really enhanced by full voice acting), the story nicely sets up a fairy robust story arc, and the puzzles are pretty dang good. Consistently fairly tricky but capably solved if you pay attention, and also suitably clever to go with the game's silly mood. I tend to judge a game's puzzles by how rarely I had to get help in-game or out, and I handled this one mostly on my own, which is a lot more satisfying. Not everything is perfect, but it's a cute, solid adventure game, and the beginning of something suitably grand and entertaining. Definitely started on the right foot.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Breaking Bad - Season 3

It doesn't seem likely that this show could keep getting better, but that's all it really seems to do. Season three was my favorite, and it's put to rest my qualms with calling it the best show on TV. This was one of the best single seasons of a show I've ever seen, and made it completely worthy of the "best" title. Season one was brilliant but a bit shaky at times, and even season two had me waiting for scenes to end on occasion. But there was hardly a single moment this year that wasn't masterful, as it seemed to do nothing but blow my mind every week and continue to excel at every aspect. When Breaking Bad tries to be funny, it's hilarious. When it goes for suspense, it's unbelievably heart-pounding. When it aims poignancy, it's deeply profound. It wasn't perfect, but it's about as close as you could ever ask a show to get.

There are a few complaints that could be made. I know a few people had qualms with logical gaps and story pieces that were either dropped or not fully developed. But airtight plotting has honestly never been the show's strength. While gritty and grounded for the most part, it's not exactly what I'd actually call realistic. In truth, its greatness comes from the fact that its outlandish dramatic moments contrast with the harshly believable backdrop of an Albuquerque that's losing the drug war. It's larger than life without being obvious about it, and it gets away with all of the insane stuff it pulls because the characters are so good, not because everything about police procedure and the criminal hierarchy is right on paper. You could make an argument that they lost the characters a bit this year, and I'd just have to disagree.

But yeah, if you watch to be entertained and surprised each week, it's hard to find something better than this. The show has to accomplish a lot in not very much time, and it does a great job of keeping a breakneck pace while maintaining the show's deliberate mood and not going too far with anybody. Everything feels earned, and it makes the bigger moments all the stronger. The cast expanded this year, and the guys seeing more screen time do a lot to expand the scope and stakes of the show. Bob Odenkirk's Saul Goodman is the perfect slimy lawyer who seems goofy but actually has a good criminal instinct and will to survive, Gus goes from a real enigma to an imposing underground tyrant, and Mike really gets to shine near the end as a guy who just gets things done. Bryan Cranston was great yet again, but the real standout performance this year was Aaron Paul's. He really impressed me all season long, and he's pretty much the linchpin to the entire story arc. He featured a lot into the best moments, and the very end of the season will prove to be very important for his character indeed. It's definitely going to be a torturous wait for season four.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Observe and Report

This was an unusual film. It had the slightly unfortunate position of coming out around the same time as Paul Blart: Mall Cop, and they share a similar premise on the surface, but from what I know about that film, there's really almost nothing in common. The movie is surprisingly dark, much more of a black comedy than they really advertised. It's less about Seth Rogen hitting on Anna Faris and pursuing a flasher, and more a story of a bipolar man with serious delusions of grandeur trying to make himself into something. I don't want to overplay this side of it, because first things first it is a comedy, but I was fairly impressed with Rogen's performance, and there were some fairly disturbing (if still funny) moments when you see more into the crazy things he actually thinks about himself and his abilities.

Both the funniest and most tragic thing about his aspirations of being a real cop if it weren't for his medical issues is that he would actually be pretty good at it. A lot of the movie is fairly mundane, but there are a few scenes that get violent and are actually pretty effective as action and show an unexpected degree of skill with weaponry in Rogen's character. I don't want to spoil what actually happens, but they're some of the most memorable scenes from last year. Jody Hill seems as much concerned with shocking the audience as making them laugh, but not in a gross-out way, and it's an approach that mostly works for me.

There's some pretty funny stuff with Rogen and his fellow mall security guys, and his antagonistic relationship with Aziz Ansari is terrific. Not every scene really meets its potential, though. His confrontation with Patton Oswalt's asshole food court restaurant manager could have gone farther, and the sidekick character is definitely a situation where he was probably funnier on paper. It's not an outstanding movie, but it does a lot to stick out from the crowd, especially the climax, which I'd rather not spoil but is one of the best scenes I've seen in ages. It really has to be seen to be believed. I actually thought the ending was a bit too upbeat for the story, but a lot about the film is going to stick with me for a while.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Far Cry

Far Cry was now released six years ago, and it's in a weird place in gaming history. It has some modern ideas, but it also sort of screams out that it's the last big shooter before Half-Life 2. Its mix of forward-thinking elements and artifacts of old school shooting seems strange now, and it ends up as a game worth checking out if maybe not playing through all the way.

Graphically, it's a mixed bag these days. The environments still look really nice if you pump up the effects, with long draw distances in the expansive play area and some nice jungle stuff, especially for the time. The characters and enemies look kind of primitive though, and not much better in the story scenes. The music is pretty effective orchestral stuff, and the sound effects are mostly fine, but the voice acting kind of sucks. Some of the conversations you can overhear from far away are neat, but the main character is pretty awful and he doesn't do much for what the game calls a story. It hits on a lot of the obvious action movie standbys, but there's nothing really interesting or unique about it and along with the game itself, it simply goes on too long.

The game isn't as terribly long as it could have been, but it definitely comes from that era a few years ago when gamers equated length with value, and a lot of areas come out feeling like filler. A lot of people still seem to complain when a game's single player mode can be beaten in only six hours, but it's a lot easier to maintain a high level of interesting content over that than a period twice as long. But a bigger issue with Far Cry is not its duration, but how it gets less compelling over the course of it. When you start the game, you're doing a lot of sneaking around a series of tropical islands, trying to accomplish various objectives among a strong mercenary presence. You can go in guns blazing or be a silent stalker, with both approaches valid and pretty fun. There's a mix of vehicles and weapons you can find and use, and one of the game's most interesting bits is the scope which lets you survey an area before going in, marking enemies on your radar. Once in a while you'll pass through some sort of indoor facility, which turns it into more of an old school corridor shooter, and while not as impressive it's a decent change of pace. The AI is still decent today, and it's hard to say it's not a fun formula.

But then the game's plot necessitates that they introduce mutated monsters into the fray, and the game sort of goes into a decline at that point. It's fine at first, with the smaller ones proving a frightening presence that can easily kill you if you let them up close, and another group with guns and an ability to turn invisible providing another unique challenge. But once the really big guys with rocket arms show up, it definitely starts to turn. The game becomes more interested in kicking your ass than showing you a good time, and it can become a slog at points. There's not much that's fun about killing these guys, just spray them with ammo and hope for the best. The bosses are weird too, feeling like perhaps the biggest relic in the game. In a world that presents itself in a mostly believable, if a bit larger than life way, guys who can take dozens of bullets and keep on walking are both out of place and a slog to get past. My will was pretty much crushed by the end, and I finished it more out of a duty to do so than an actual desire to see it through. Crytek makes some impressive technology, but especially if what I've heard about Crysis is true, they need to work on figuring out what people actually like in their games more.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

When I first heard this album with no prior knowledge, I was kind of shocked by how it sounded. It was nothing like the Flaming Lips I knew. But then again, I probably shouldn't have been. It's a band known for reinventing itself every decade or so, and this was just the next step. It also ended up being my favorite album by them, though I won't argue with anyone who still prefers The Soft Bulletin. Embryonic is extremely loud, experimental, and (in my opinion) awesome. It's a double album that goes by quicker than pretty much any that I've heard, and it's pretty much just a parade of unique, consistently entertaining songs. Some set a strange mood you don't usually get from music, and some explode with energy. It's not for everyone, but there's a lot of fun to have with it if you want. It also features appearances by MGMT and Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which might be construed as attention-grabbing but worked out interestingly for me.

I'm not even sure where to start with all the good songs. Well, my favorite song is definitely "Worm Mountain", which has a great, crunchy guitar line and is pretty much nonstop greatness for five minutes. I could also start at the beginning, with "Convinced of the Hex" and "The Sparrow Looks Up at the Machine" both immediately alerting you to the fact that this ain't the same band as before. "Powerless" and "The Ego's Last Stand" close and begin the first and second acts, and are perhaps the height of the band's grandiose experimentation on the album. There's a few instrumentals sprinkled around, which help maintain cohesion through the record's unique arc of continuity and are generally pretty entertaining in their own right. "Silver Trembling Hands" might be the most startling track of all, and also some of the straightest rock to be found. "Watching the Planets" is a great closer, somehow compelling and disheartening at once. There's plenty of songs I didn't mention that are worth hearing as well, because while I'm not trying to be too complimentary here, I'm not sure I've heard another album with so many songs with pretty much all of them actually being good. Again, it might not work for you at all, but I thought it was great.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thor: Latverian Prometheus

I actually know Kieron Gillen as a writer of video game journalism on the Internet, but apparently he writes comics as well. These few issues wrap up the most important plot points left behind by J. Michael Straczynski, mostly by having dudes fight each other a lot. Asgard takes on its fallen comrades twisted by Doom's experiments, and Thor takes on the Doctor himself. It's a pretty entertaining, well drawn book, if a bit lacking in the more interesting story parts of what came earlier. Loki manages to worm his way out of a real punishment for his scheme, but that's entirely to be expected in a comic book like this. This all leads into Siege, a big crossover story that ended last month and featured Thor heavily. I'm not really planning on digging much deeper into Thor, But it was a fun story while it lasted. This volume also includes a single issue story about Sif, but I didn't like it very much as it was about weird aliens. I mean... it's weird enough to deal with a universe where Norse gods live alongside visitors from another world, putting them together just isn't something I really want to see. Ah well. Comic books!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Glee - Season 1

Initially, I really wasn't interested in Glee at all. I tolerate musicals better than some people do, but the whole high school/super diverse cast thing really didn't appeal to me. It wasn't until I heard more about some of the stuff working under the surface that I gave it a shot, and turned out to be pleasantly surprised. It's sort of like a guilty pleasure that I don't feel too guilty about. It's kind of bubbly and cheesy a lot of the time, and when it actually gets series it's often overly dramatic. But the show definitely has an edge to it, one that starts with its villain, Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester, who I put on my characters of the decade list despite only having 13 episodes to work with. They do make strides to humanize her, especially near the end of the season, but she's still a great foil to Will and antagonist of the student body, and the glee kids in particular. The show just couldn't work without her, as her absence in a recent episode was eminently glaring as it leaned heavily on the melodrama.

So yeah, you're going to need some tolerance for sappiness and the convenience of musical numbers and that the cast is a bunch people in their early-to-mid twenties playing high school sophomores and that one of the male leads is clearly auto-tuned in nearly every song. The good still outweighs the bad in my opinion. It's often bitingly funny, even in scenes without Lynch. The chemistry of the whole cast is pretty strong. There are a lot of cases where the more dramatic stuff actually works. It tackles a variety of issues in a pretty respectful way. The song selection isn't always perfect, but usually pretty good, and the cast is extremely talented. Yeah, they're lip syncing their own performances, but that's how this stuff works. They get some good guests like Kristin Chenoweth and Neil Patrick Harris, and it's just enjoyable week in and week out. It definitely walks a fine line every time out, but I don't think they've really stumbled yet. I'm definitely interested in seeing more.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Raveonettes - Wishing You A Rave Christmas

The third and final of The Raveonettes' 2008 digital EPs with actual new songs has a Christmas theme, which sort of plays into the feel of the record without changing the band's identity. A bit surprisingly it might be my favorite of the the three, although they're generally pretty close and I don't distinguish them that much. "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" is a cover of an old Darlene Love song you might have heard, and it's quite a good one, with a heavy bass beat and eerie synth part giving it its own identity with the band. "Come On Santa" is one of their more upbeat numbers and shows a bit of a different side. "Christmas Ghosts and "Christmas In Cleveland" are back to the more mellow, haunting style, and are perfectly fine in their own right. I downloaded from Amazon so it came with an extra track, "Forever In Your Arms", which as far as I can tell was originally a bonus track on Lust Lust Lust exclusive to Australia, and has nothing to do with Christmas, but ain't half bad. So, will I actually get any full albums at this point? Eh, maybe some time.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption is sort of like the Bully of this console generation. It does the open world thing Grand Theft Auto does, and while the setting may be more niche than that series, there are some things it ends up doing better. It doesn't really have much to do with Red Dead Revolver, taking place decades later and sharing none of the characters. It's the story of John Marston, a former criminal-turned-farmer who's forced to track down his old gang members after the government takes his family hostage. It's possibly the best story I've seen in a Rockstar game, though it's not without its faults, mostly in how it sort of sags at a certain point when John's just letting a series of employers string him along in the hope that one of them will eventually help him find his targets. Really, the whole game is sort of about John being jerked around, but it works thanks to some really good characters, well produced cut scenes, and strong, memorable moments. The ending is one of the best I've seen in a game in a while, both emotionally resonant and interesting from a gameplay perspective. I like it whenever a developer manages to integrate an important event into the actual game somehow, providing a spin on the mechanics to provoke a reaction, and Redemption definitely does that.

The game's strongest suit is definitely its presentation. The voice acting is consistently good, with no real big names but plenty of competent people doing the work, and while not every drawn out conversation on the trail is a captivating one, they at least help sell the setting quite well. The music is excellent, both the sparse instrumental stuff that marks the normal flow of the game and the four real songs either written or rerecorded for the game specifically that mark integral points in the flow of the plot. And it's hard to oversell the way the game looks. For the most part, the people are only pretty good, not the best I've seen but distinct and not a problem. The animals are pretty impressive, especially the horses, which they clearly spent a lot of time working on the animation for and come out looking great. But really, it's the environments. Whether it's a swampy forest, a rocky desert, a windswept plain, or a mountain trail past a flowing river, the world you inhabit just looks fantastic. Any time of day too, and no matter the weather, with a perfect sunset looking just as impressive as a prairie thunderstorm.

And the game's plenty of fun too, for the most part. It takes a while for things to really get going in the story, as you spend a fair amount of time just getting used to the controls by doing things like hunting rabbits and herding cattle. But before you get too bored, it will be time to get to what the game definitely focuses on; riding your horse around and shooting lots of guys. And there sure is a lot of that going on. It's probably the best shooting Rockstar's had, with solid aiming controls and a generous auto-aim that's most helpful when you have to fend off bandits while riding at breakneck speed. There's a surprising variety of firearms, though my standbys definitely tended to be whatever the best revolver and repeater I had were. There's also shotguns and rifles and pistols and explosives, plus the lasso, which you can use to break horses, tie up lawbreakers, or just be a dick to people. At a certain point I pined for a bit more variety in the missions, because as you go on the focus becomes more and more on just killing a lot of guys, and while that was fun, I still like a break once in a while. They do a decent job of mixing it up at certain points, just not quite enough.

Of course, you can do things besides the main story if you really want variety. There's a ton of optional stuff in the game, most of which is worth checking out. The Stranger quests have you meeting random people in the world who give you things to do for them, and they're basically self-contained short stories that generally see you doing things a bit less violently. There's also challenges you unlock by simply doing things like going hunting or finding an herb, and are a decent distraction from the amount of time it takes to get around. I spent a lot of time actually working on unlocking various outfits (despite being mostly in love with the duster coat), which has you doing all sorts of things. And the various parlor games are totally functional and actually pretty fun, especially liar's dice and Texas hold 'em. I haven't really tried the multiplayer, though I'm not sure if it's really that interesting because I'm not sure the gunplay would hold up in a match against other players and I don't much see the point in tackling the gang hideouts without a story giving me a reason. In any case, Redemption is a nice meaty experience that should last you over twenty hours, and another contender for the best game released this year.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Raveonettes - Sometimes They Drop By

Another bit of MP3 credit from Amazon, another Raveonettes digital-only EP. I didn't like this quite as much as Beauty Dies, but it's another enjoyable four song set from the Danish rock band. The style here is closer to shoegaze, with lots of buzzing and droning as opposed to distinct melodies. The only problem I really have is that I just don't like the song "Blood Red Leis" much. The title track is a pretty engrossing, soothing number, the opener has a lot of energy, and the final song "Vintage Future" is the most like a traditional song, with a nice, old fashioned guitar line carrying it through to the end. This was actually released before the first EP I got, and it's probably just as good an introduction to the duo's style.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Twin Peaks - Season 2

The flurry of season finales that occurs every May always throws this blog out of whack a bit. Especially now that I prioritize posts about new things over old things. I finished watching this show weeks ago, but it's only now that I can talk about it. Season two of Twin Peaks is definitely a mixed bag. At the start, it's just as thrilling as the first, with the mystery of Laura's killer continuing to escalate and the citizens of the town continuing to get into bigger misses. It's the same mix of thrills and bizarre laughs that made the show awesome. But then the show does something it probably shouldn't have, at least so soon... they solve the mystery. David Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost argued about whether they should ever give an answer, but I'm sure they at least agreed that halfway through the second season was a bit quick. Flagging ratings meant ABC pushed them into it, and while that whole reveal is well done, it's clear that they hadn't planned on what to do afterward. The whole show is sort of left in a lurch, and while it's not terrible, it's simply not nearly at good from that point forward.

The problem is that there's not as much really driving the show to do anything. They come up with a new conflict for Dale Cooper, and a new villain, but the whole thing isn't developed all that well and there's a lot of time where not much stuff really happens. Goofy, aimless subplots take over the show, and there's really not much reason to watch it. Yeah, it's weird, but weirdness without purpose can get tiring quickly, especially on a series that was previously so engrossing. Things pick up a bit once Heather Graham shows up, in the sense that Dale seems to have a purpose and it's more clear that there is an actual plot, but it's still never as good as it once was. The finale is pretty good, though. It ends with about a twenty minute dream sequence filled with more bizarre imagery and hidden meaning, culminating in a cliffhanger that makes the show's cancellation a bit disappointing despite the lackluster tail end. There is a movie that may or may not answer some questions, and I do intend to see it some time. As it is now, Twin Peaks is something of an oddity, but one worth tracking down if you're into that sort of unusual drama.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Well, that was a big waste of time. FlashForward was a show that lived off building a mystery that span years, and now it's been canceled. So all that really happened was a bunch of people saw their futures, worried about the implications of their visions for a few months, and then their futures (mostly) came true. In really irritating ways, too. They push the idea that no matter how hard people fight it, they can't avoid their fate. Except when they do. Demetri was supposed to be killed, but he wasn't. Some FBI guy managed to kill himself to prevent a woman from dying, but she gets hit by a car... and the show doesn't bother to say whether she actually dies or not. A guy who saw himself uniting Somalia gets killed.

In terms of people's visions coming true, Mark was drinking in his flash despite being sober... and a few hours before a random guy on the street hands him a flask, which he promptly starts drinking. Good job, dude. It's a miracle how you managed to Die Hard a room full of bad guys while sauced. Olivia and Simon seemed to get closer together for no other reason than their visions said they should. No real romantic chemistry, no real reason for her to cheat on her husband... it was just sort of like, "Well, okay, let's do this. It's our future, right?" If Keiko does end up finding Bryce after all, why doesn't her mom remember being detained in an American airport? Ugh. If all that complaining seemed like a mess, welcome to the experience of watching the show.

Despite a premise that can't actually decide what it's really about and a muddled collection of undirected subplots rather than a direct story arc most of time, the show's biggest problem is that the characters are all terrible. They're not likable, their problems aren't interesting, they do stupid stuff for no reason... it's hard to enjoy a show when you don't have fun watching the people on it. And I'm seriously not exaggerating. Every single character is bad! How does a show get this far with a boring, angsty protagonist surrounded by boring, angsty supporting cast?

I will say, I liked the pilot. Its portrayal of the destruction caused by the whole world blacking out for two minutes was impressive and exciting, and the beginning of the mystery was intriguing. But it was only downhill from there. Without the bad guys having a clear reason for anything they do makes it hard to be interesting in their schemes, and simply too much time is spent on characters whose problems they forgot to make interesting in the context of a world that knows its future. You have a pretty high concept here, do something with it. Instead, it was pretty traditional, uninteresting melodrama. There were a couple episodes and bits I liked, but they were few and far between. There were some particularly bad bits I could pick on, but I don't really feel like it. The show is dead, no reason to keep poking the body.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

24 - Season 8

Unfortunately, 24's 8th season couldn't reverse the trend of the last couple, bringing the series to a disappointing end. The plot was a string of nonsense and tricks the show has already played before, and when you've killed almost every interesting character and fail to create any new ones, you're flirting with disaster. Seriously, without Jack Bauer, this would have been a total train wreck. And with him, it's merely pretty bad.

I wonder for how long the writers knew this was the end of the show. If you guess that they knew before we did, then you might think that the last third of the season was actually going somewhere interesting, because it shows Jack spiraling out of control in a pit of despair and revenge, which could easily culminate with him and a dozen hours lying dead in a pool of blood. Go out with a bang, you know? But they chicken out, and it ends the same way every other season seemed to end. Nothing new to see, nothing they can't write themselves out of despite how crazy he seemed to go near the end there.

The show pretends to have balls but it really doesn't. They pull the same tricks repeatedly and expect us to still care and be surprised. Wait, you're saying that you picked a good guy out of a hat to secretly have been a mole the whole time? Hold on, the bad guys for the first 15 hours were actually being assisted by someone higher up, who doesn't want people to know about it? I mean... okay, spoilers but no one cares, Katee Sackhoff from Battlestar Galactica is a mole. A hardened double agent looking for a paycheck, doesn't care who gets hurt. So... why does she let herself get pushed around and intimidated by a small time crook ex-boyfriend for the first half of the season? Because the writers just make shit up and don't care if it makes no sense in retrospect.

I don't even care how everyone seems to be able to drive across a major city in the span of a commercial break. You have to make a couple concessions for the show's admittedly interesting real time conceit to work. But when you can pick apart pretty much everything that happens it gets sad. So, this sniper is supposed to kill Jack and his lady friend. Why does he wait until they're done having sex and Jack leaves the room to shoot at them? Sure makes the job a lot harder. Would have been a piece of cake when they were still in the bed. Bad move dude. Now Jack's going to torture you to death in a few hours. How did a car manage to get out of a parking garage with a bad guy in the trunk when both exits were being watched by armed agents? What, as soon as that car went off the roof you just cleared the perimeter? Seems like bad procedure.

And why is Russia so significant? The main plot in the season is about a peace treaty between a fictional Islamic country and the Western world, and for some reason, the Russians are absolutely essential to the process. Without them at the table, the deal won't work. Uh... what? Did the fall of the USSR not happen in this universe and no one told me? Russia's what, the fourth biggest power on the planet now? And they don't want this treaty anyway, for some reason never explained. They orchestrated the terror attacks to prevent it from happening, and the President finds out about this, and STILL WANTS TO GO THROUGH WITH THE TREATY AT ANY COST KNOWING THAT IT'S MEANINGLESS BECAUSE THE RUSSIANS ARE BEING BLACKMAILED INTO SIGNING. How in the hell will this accomplish anything? I... I just... it's sad. We deserve better than this. If they do end up making a movie, I might see it, but I sure won't pay money.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Chuck - Season 3

Chuck is sort of like the little engine that could. It's not quite a great show, and its ratings are never better than decent for NBC. But its strengths tend to overcome its faults enough to keep it fun for fans, who exist in just large enough numbers to keep it going despite the odds. As hard as it might have been to believe a couple years ago, it will get a fourth season, and I'll still be watching.

If I had to break down the show's formula (and I have), it's roughly made of one third pretty good comedy, one third pretty good spy stuff, and one third bad soap opera. You can play with the portions a bit, but that's about how it hashes out. Not all of the jokes land, and in fact I'm kind of sick and tired of the Buy More (which made the season finale especially fun), but on occasion it will have a truly brilliant comedic moment, such as when Awesome has to lie to Ellie and ends up talking about a bear getting decapitated. And while the international intrigue stuff sometimes seems a bit rote and the bad guys a bit uncoordinated and stupid, it's hard to say it's not usually fun to watch Chuck and his crew pull off a job. Casey in particular continues to be a great character, if a bit of the typical tough guy. My favorite moment of the season might have been when he convinced Chuck to yank his tooth out to maintain a cover.

But yeah, that soapy stuff... it's bad. You ever notice how many problems on TV would be solved a lot easier if everybody stopped acting like idiots and just spoke honestly? That's definitely a recurring problem with this show. The writers can argue that you need tension for an exciting show, and I'd counter by saying they should write drama that doesn't count on its characters being morons to work. They finally go somewhere with Chuck/Sarah thing this season, although it continues to be hindered by silly problems and things like Chuck lying to everyone for no real reason. By the end of the season I was more pissed at Chuck than anyone else on the show, because for some reason he seems to have translated "deception is vital to being a spy" into "pointlessly lie to your loved ones all the time". The season ends well enough, although I could have done without yet another promise to quit the job when you know he's going to be back by the end of the next season premiere. Should be fun.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How I Met Your Mother - Season 5

So can Ted meet his kids' mother now? I can't say I'm not a little tired of them dancing around the topic. Are they deathly afraid to actually introduce her or something? It's been five years. I think people like the characters enough that they'll stick around to see how things continue to develop. This year they even went so far as to have Ted be in the same classroom as her and even be standing in her apartment. Come on. Your kids don't need this much background information.

Oh well. I still enjoy the show despite the increasing feeling that they're just messing with me. The Barney/Robin throwdown turned out to be a waste of time, but otherwise it was pretty fun. Lots of good callbacks, like the continuation of the slap bet, revealing Barney's actual playbook, and another of the gang's doppelgangers showing up. They finished up the umbrella storyline, though without actually doing much with it. I realize none of this makes sense to people who don't watch the show, but HIMYM is that rare thing, a traditional sitcom that actually rewards frequent viewing and develops its characters rather than just throwing bad relationship jokes at the wall for twenty minutes before everyone learns a lesson. I can't honestly say it's as funny as it's ever been, but there's still lots of great bits like Barney's musical ode to suits and showing people's emotional problems as actual baggage. I still really like watching it, I just hope they actually go somewhere with the supposed premise soon.