Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Beatles - Let It Be

This is the final Beatles album to be released (although it was mostly recorded before Abbey Road), and also the least of the ones I've heard. That doesn't make it bad, in fact I like most of it. It just has less going for it, fewer all time great songs and just not as much of the pure inspiration they showed in the few years previous. The thing is, it's at least somewhat intentional, because it was recorded to sound more or less like a live performance, although they lost some of that when they brought on Phil Spector to produce new versions of the tracks. It's still there though, the songs are less meticulously crafted, relying more on pure folksy charm, which they just don't do quite as well. They still play a pretty good tune, especially accompanied by Billy Preston on keyboards to fill out what otherwise could have been a fairly sparse sound.

Now here's the part where I talk about some individual songs. "Across the Universe" might actually be the only one I'd heard before getting the album, and I don't think it was part of the same recording sessions. There's something haunting and alien about it, a nice break from the rest of the album. There's a pretty good chance I had heard the title track too, and it's a nice one, the kind of Paul McCartney song that doesn't light your hair on fire but you never mind hearing. There are quite a few songs that feature both Paul and John sharing the lead, which is a nice way to send the band off, my favorite being the opener "Two of Us". George's contributions are relatively slight this time, though there is something likable about the simplicity of "I Me Mine". It's too bad there wasn't a place for Ringo to sing, he being the only one to sound significantly different from the others usually. There's not really a lot to say, many of the songs featured are listenable and fun but not particularly memorable. That's a good way to sum up the album, I guess. Not the best possible way for the band to end, but not the worst either.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Paths of Glory

Anyone who thinks Stanley Kubrick's films are too cold and emotionless should see this one. It's a gritty and uncompromising war film, probably one of the first to actually depict war as the awful thing it really is. It's not very long, and really there's only one actual battle, because that's not really what the movie's about. It's about the French army during WWI, and after they fail to take a hill from Germany, the general in charge is out for blood and starts a witch hunt to root out the cowardice that he believes caused the mission to go wrong. It's quite stark how heartless he is, dismissing soldiers for not wanting to fight and claiming there is no such thing as shell shock. He treats his soldiers not as people but as tools to accomplish tasks, and is disappointed when he has to settle for only three troops in his trumped up court martial.

Kirk Douglas is the hero, the good-hearted colonel in command of the troops who failed, and who tries to protect them from the general's bloodlust. The movie is less about the fight on the front and more about the trial and its aftermath. As you can probably guess in this kind of movie, things don't go as pleasantly as we might like, and the climax is one of the most unflinching and brutal scenes I've ever seen in a movie, despite the lack of explicit violence. The juxtaposition between the harsh reality of the front line and the carefree way the general and his superior discuss it is pretty alarming, especially at the end after the trial's conclusion. The final scene featuring Kubrick's future wife singing in German while the French soldiers take what few minutes they can to not worry about being killed is powerful without needing words to explain itself, and while it's not my favorite of his films, it may be the most affecting. Impressive stuff.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Wrens - The Meadowlands

The Meadowlands is a somewhat mysterious album. At first blush it's a pretty standard seeming pop rock album, but with not much listening you can tell there's definitely more to it than that. The singer is a gigantic mumbler, with a pleasant voice that he likes to obscure behind indistinct vocals, but if you actually pay attention to the lyrics they can be pretty darn great. Apparently they had some issues with their previous label that heavily delayed the release of a new album, and this is partially the result of those problems. There's also a lot of stuff in there that seems to be about a more traditional kind of relationship that has fallen apart, and there's a pretty clear melancholy through the whole thing that keeps it dark and interesting, even when a few of the songs aren't as completely entertaining as the best ones.

But there are definitely a lot of good songs. The one I always heard before I got the album was "Everyone Choose Sides", which begins with a nice crunchy riff and unfolds into something more, constantly switching things up without relying on one idea at any time. "She Sends Kisses" and "Ex-Girl Collection" are also standouts, both musically and lyrically, with the former taking a full three minutes to get to something resembling a chorus, and the latter having some of its better turns of phrase obscured by a lot of half-shouted, half-sung sustained notes. "Faster Gun" is probably the hardest track here, and also the least comprehensible, but generally a good change from the rest of the album. "13 Months in 6 Minutes" is another favorite, maintaining a unique and interesting sound through its whole length. Heck, even the short opening and closing not-actual-songs are nice, the first with some added effects that bring a nostalgic feel, and the last with strained, shouting vocals that bring power to something otherwise quite simple. It's a very good album, with appeal beyond where I might otherwise limit the extent of its genre.

Monday, September 27, 2010


I gotta say, this movie is damn impressively made for 1931. It's also a lot darker than what you'd ever expect to see from the era. I guess maybe we can thank Germany for that. M is not without its flaws, but it's an interesting and important film that still manages to be enjoyable today. What's the most amazing thing about it though is how they portray what would normally be the pure incarnation of evil that terrorizes everyone else. Peter Lorre plays a serial killer of children, but in some ways he's actually the protagonist of the film. Like Dexter 75 years in advance. His crimes are treated like a compulsion he has no control over, and you unbelievably find yourself sympathizing him when he wants a real trial rather than having to face the actual people of the city he's been terrorizing. Good stuff.

He's not in enough of the movie to be a true main character, though. Lorre easily gives the best performance, but a lot of screen time is spent with other characters, both police and other criminals wary of a serial killer's effect on their business, who are trying to figure out how to find and stop him. Kind of a lot of the movie is built off of this, but unfortunately I thought these scenes tended to drag a lot as various supporting characters go on for a long time about all the things they know and don't know. Normally I prefer to see films as their director intended them, but in this case I think the pace could have benefited a lot from whatever soulless hacking a studio did when they originally released this in America. It does get better once Lorre's part expands after like half an hour or forty minutes, but it never stops being a bit long-winded. Still, a mostly intriguing story, and Fritz Lang's work behind the camera deserves recognition. There are several iconic moments and set ups, and some of the camera movies are almost criminally good for the era. Stuff that would still be impressive if pulled off correctly today. Despite a couple qualms, it's certainly something all real film fans should seek out.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Afghan Whigs - Gentlemen

My friend is a big Afghan Whigs fan, and has been trying to get me to get this album for a long time. He finally gave up and just got it for me for my birthday. It's not that I wasn't interested, it's just that it was never in stores when I looked for it and never came to mind when I was online. I've heard at least most of the songs at some point before already, so there weren't many surprises, but hearing the entire thing flow as an album was nice. I don't love it as much as he does, but it's still a solidly enjoyable collection of songs, and generally more interesting thematically than what I usually listen to, which is often a lot of nonsense lyrics.

It's pretty hard alternative rock, mostly. Greg Dulli plays his guitar and sings angrily. The rest of the band backs him up. Towards the end they mix it up a bit, with female vocals on the powerful "My Curse" and an instrumental final track. There's a lot of repetition if ideas in the lyrics, including a cool reprisal of the opening song's chorus with a new twist on it in "Debonair". It seems like the kind of album you keep getting more out of the more you listen to it. It's pretty much what I've come to expect from well regarded rock bands of the 90s, a lot of good hard songs but not a lot that I find particularly gripping while listening casually. I definitely think Dulli is an interesting guy, so I'll probably check out some more of his work.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Seven Samurai

I saw a handful of Akira Kurosawa movies in high school, although I somehow missed his most famous until now. Seven Samurai is a classic adventure tale of a group of villagers hiring seven unemployed samurai to protect them from some bandits after their crops. It's quite long and can be pretty easily broken into three hour long acts - the finding and recruitment of the seven men, the training of the villagers and preparation for battle, and then the actual assault by the bandits. It's a pretty classic story and establishes some classic action/adventure tropes, without itself feeling tired over fifty years later.

The seven samurai are all pretty distinct, not an easy accomplishment for an old movie in a foreign language. The two biggest ones are the oldest one who takes the role of leader, played by Takashi Shimura, and the brash one with a low background played by Toshiro Mifune, both of which are Kurosawa mainstays and the latter of which might have the most charismatic on-screen presence of any foreign actor I've seen. The rest of the group is less recognizable, but no less distinct, as they all have at least a couple memorable traits, and a reason to make you sad if they happen to be killed.

So yeah, the plot is fairly typical, with a few less than mesmerizing subplot sprinkled around to mix it up, but the real strength is just in the filmmaking. There's some impressive touches and editing for a movie this old, and even the acting is pretty good for the standards I would hold it to. Some of the action, especially by the end, is pretty messy. Instead of well staged, choreographed battles, it just seems like chaos as a bunch of guys and horses run around on screen wildly swinging at each other. The conflict itself is interesting because of the immense preparation and strategy to it, but actually watching it unfold is less so. Lots of really good imagery in the film though, especially at the end. It's a bit too long and old fashioned for me to really love it, but it's obviously an extremely significant movie, and an obviously good one as well.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Shield - Season 4

This was definitely the best season since the first. It's clear the show's status jumped a bit somewhere between the third and this one, as it stocks up on some pretty famous talent to fill out the cast, notably Glenn Close as the new captain of the station, and Anthony Anderson as a drug kingpin recently released from prison and right back in the game. Vick's strike team broke up at the end of the last season, so the beginning of this one has him trying to fix his image and get in good with the captain, while Shane and his partner end up getting in way too deep with the bad guys. He thinks he's in control of the situation, but before long the rug is pulled out from under him and he needs the old team's help to set things right.

What follows is some of the most tense TV I've seen since... well, the last season of Breaking Bad, I guess. It's not just about keeping their dirty little secrets out of the spotlight anymore, as there's some real danger that they or people they love might not survive to see the end of it. I only really remember Anderson from comedic roles previously, but he's a great menacing presence as the main villain of the season, and he has some really intense scenes that you can't predict the outcome of. Of course I knew that things would generally be okay by the end because there's three more seasons, but it's still really good stuff.

Close is also pretty fantastic as the new captain. Her storyline is about how it doesn't matter how much sense a policy makes or how well it prevents crime, some people aren't going to like it. She has to battle public perception, higher ups in the department, and the government, and ultimately things don't go as planned. Dutch and Claudette have their typical back and forth while investigating a few fairly interesting criminals, and the fallout of Aceveda's ordeal continues. Unfortunately, I felt even more tired of Danny and Julien's storylines. Not a whole lot of actual consequence really happens to them, and to be honest they just work better facilitating the police work of the other, more significant characters. Also, it's kind of funny how they shoehorned Vick's wife into more screen time by having her seem to be the nurse on call every single time they have to show up at the hospital. Three seasons left, two of which are shorter than usual, so we're cooking with gas now.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men is the best movie I've seen since I've started this "best movies I haven't seen yet" thing, and one of the best ever. It's exciting and dramatic and mysterious and powerful, and it's all of these things within the confines of a single room, excepting a brief scene at the beginning, end, and in the middle. You'd think such a limited space would work against a movie, but it's actually one of the film's greatest strengths. By limiting the action to a single set, it requires it to be carried well by the director and cast, led by Henry Fonda. Well Sidney Lumet is one of the great living directors, and pretty much every actor does a great job with what they're given.

Obviously it's a remnant from the original play script by whoever wrote it, but it's just amazing to me how well defined the characters are. They don't have names, and only most of them are even identified by occupation. They have a number, and a seat around the table. But they're all memorable. Their personalities aren't defined by them talking about themselves, or being seen doing anything in particular - it's just the way they go about arguing their side of the case that gives you everything you need to know. There is literally only one character in the room that I didn't think was drawn as well as the others. They're all distinct, have beliefs and convictions, and play against each other like real people. Just a triumph of writing and acting.

And Sidney Lumet's filming of it all really draws you in. The thing about the movie originally being a play is that it doesn't feel like it, even though it's in one room. I can't imagine it being as interesting just watching twelve guys sitting around a table up on a stage. The camera starts up high as you get a feel for the situation, and as tensions rise and squabbles emerge, it draws in closer and closer, making you feel trapped in the room like they are bringing the suspense to near-unbearable levels. And there's just so many moments in this thing, of genius twists and reveals that make the deliberations of a jury many times more fascinating than you'd ever think they would be. I don't want to go on about it too much, but it's a brilliant movie, probably one of the last great ones in black and white, and should be seen by anyone.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Full Metal Jacket

Stanley Kubrick's final film exploring war (he made quite a few) is really two movies in one. They're connected by characters, but they really couldn't be more different. Well... they could. But you know what I mean. In the first part, real-life military man R. Lee Ermey establishes the hard-ass drill instructor persona that would carry his career for the rest of his life. He's training a group of recruits at Parris Island for entry into Vietnam, and suffice it to say he's not a very nice man. Long, elegant tracking shots follow him around the barracks as he berates the crap out of his men in endless, creative diatribes that are so infamous that practically every single line is a recognizable quote all these years later. It's pretty entertaining, although the story takes a dark turn when Vincent D'Onofrio's character's continued failures and screw-ups cause Ermey to turn the other soldiers against him, which eventually results in an untenable situation.

The movie then jumps a couple years to show a couple of the soldiers now stationed in Vietnam. The narrative is a lot more jumpy and disconnected at this point, although there's still a lot of harrowing, memorable stuff going on. Adam Baldwin shows up, looking surprisingly close to how he does now, playing an unusually minded machine gunner who ends up being key to many of the events down the road. There's a hodgepodge of war scenes and more contemplative stuff, the former always amazingly well shot and the latter sometimes funny and often poignant. Eventually things go real bad, as they are wont to do in war movies, and Kubrick really gets to the heart of the darkness involved in battle. It's not a very long movie and it gets fairly scattershot in the second half, but it has many powerful ideas sprinkled throughout, as well as some very nice performances. The use of music is again memorable, from the funny marching songs in the beginning to the soundtrack selections in the end. Not Kubrick's best work, but still distinctly his.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange is captivating from the moment it begins to the moment it ends. It's disturbing, thought provoking, and often actually quite funny. Stanley Kubrick's keen eye for visuals gets a complete workout, and Malcolm McDowell's performance as Alex is amazing, incredibly dark yet still likable. In case you can't tell, I liked the movie a lot.

The movie begins with several scenes depicting Alex as the leader of a street gang, consisting of him and his "Droogs". They beat up homeless men, fight with rival gangs, and assault women. The latter is depicted in particularly stark style, with Alex bursting into a rendition of "Singin' in the Rain" while his friends hold down a man and Alex cuts off his wife's clothes. Eventually though, he is betrayed and arrested for murder, sending him to jail. That's where the plot really gets going, as he is made subject of a radical and experimental treatment that makes him physically repulsed by thoughts of violence or lust. It seems to do the job, but it raises a lot of questions about free will, and what the actual purpose of the justice system is, and what makes a man good. As I said, it's really interesting stuff, and made all the more entertaining by the performances and Kubrick's direction.

The use of music is perhaps the most memorable element of the film. There's the aforementioned "Singin' in the Rain", but most of the soundtrack is a mix of classical stuff, particularly Alex's favorite "Ludwig van", and some more electronic/synthesizer type-stuff. Also, with Kubrick at his height here, there's just an endless supply of unforgettable imagery. The use of slow motion or fast motion, some well chosen long takes, it's all perfectly appropriate for the scene. Just the opening shot with a slow pullout of Alex's face as he sits in a bar is great. There's not much about the film that isn't enjoyable or at least interesting to watch, unless you find the sexual violence particularly repugnant I guess (it's never very explicit). Dr. Strangelove is still my favorite Kubrick film, but A Clockwork Orange is a nice runner-up.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dead Space

I've been living off cheap, slightly older games on Steam for a while now. Dead Space is another one with a sequel coming out soon, and while the original didn't sell like gangbusters, it built up a lot of cachet with regular gamers because of the things it did right. As a horror third person shooter set in space, there isn't much about the game that's original. The setting is a hodgepodge of various science fiction horror films, and to say that the gameplay was merely inspired by Resident Evil 4 would be quite generous. But it takes all of its borrowed elements and puts them into a mostly interesting whole, one that mostly nails its intended atmosphere and sense of place, and has a design formula that manages to sustain itself for most of the game's length.

You play as Isaac Clarke, an engineer of space-type objects and the loudest silent protagonist of all time (he never met a thing he wouldn't grunt at), and arrive with a small crew at a mining ship that has been sending a distress signal, and happens to have your girlfriend on its crew. You quickly realize that the cause of the distress is alien in nature, as a couple redshirts get dispatched by grotesque, flailing monsters and Isaac finds himself alone with only a (surprisingly effective) piece of mining equipment to protect himself. What follows is a long journey to basically fix every system on the ship while the surviving crew members from your ship bark orders at you, and you encounter the aftermath of what turned the vessel into a derelict mess while fighting off hordes of ravenous beasts.

The gameplay will feel familiar to anyone who's played a survival horror game before. You have to watch your resources, manage your equipment, fight off or avoid dangerous enemies, and solve rudimentary puzzles. Few things in this game even qualify for that word, as it's mostly just tracking down the right object to pick up or panel to activate, and the game even gives you a line to follow that leads you right to your destination. Occasionally things are mixed up by various environmental hazards, like an airless vacuum, or a room without gravity, or an invincible alien tracking you down. The combat is solid, with a nice feel to the shooting, a decent variety of weapons (even if a few seem pretty useless, at least without heavy upgrades), and a unique feel to defeating the enemies, as the key is to cut off their limbs rather than fill their torsos and heads with lead. There's also a couple boss fights and a minigame that involves controlling a turret, although neither are very fun and the latter in particular caused headaches for everyone who encountered it.

It's a decent enough formula, but a very easily identifiable one, and I couldn't quite sustain my excitement in continuing to go through it starting somewhere around halfway through. It's another game that seems like it doesn't like you, as it continues to shove more and more difficult and frantic enemy encounters at you and never relents with some of the more chore-like objectives. By the end of the game you're literally just dragging a giant object around for an hour while being constantly hounded by enemies. The story is decent, especially the way it's told with a combination of found audio, video, and text, as well as in-game encounters with the few surviving people you run across. And it looks and sounds nice, but all of the atmosphere they effectively build doesn't result in a lot of actual scary moments and doesn't totally make up for what I felt was quite a bit of repetition. It's a good game, well polished and mostly a fun time, but I don't think it's a great one, and I'm not exactly dying to learn more about the vast multi-media universe they created around it or dive into the soon-to-be-released sequel. I'll probably give it a shot some time, I just guess the magic wore off for me a bit earlier than most people.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

This was the second movie I saw in a row to win those five major Oscars I mentioned, and the second time one of those was a bit fishy. Louise Fletcher does a very good job playing the movie's strict authority figure Nurse Ratched, but it's hardly a lead role. Jack Nicholson's a much better fit for that kind of award, and gives probably the best performance of his that I've seen as McMurphy, a criminal who gets transferred to a mental institution, even though there might not be anything really wrong with him. I still don't quite get why he's one of his generations most beloved actors, because I feel like his whole manic persona is interesting but not particularly difficult for most good actors to pull off. But it's a good performance in the center of a movie filled with them.

Really, if nothing else, the film has a king's ransom of good actors plying their craft in one of the most easily respected ways: as an insane person. There's a variety of mental issues on display, and no one out of the group, famous or not, doesn't pull it off well. Some guys do a good job in their wheelhouse, like a very recognizable Christopher Lloyd, but a couple completely disappear into their parts and I was shocked to learn that they were in the movie after the fact. Brad Dourif is practically a teenager, also getting an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a troubled and suicidal young man, and Danny DeVito is also surprisingly invisible as Martini. Of course, Jack is the center of attention, as the movie is about how he shakes things up inside the ward after he gets admitted, and what impact if any he has on the men inside after he leaves. Another very good movie, and one that's nice to finally check off my list of shame.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Silence of the Lambs

One of three films to ever win Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress. If you can't tell, I'm starting a thing where I'm trying to watch all the best movies I haven't seen yet. Although it's impressive the film won all those awards, and it happened to be an extremely well-done and interesting movie, I'd say Anthony Hopkins qualifying for the Best Actor nomination in the first place is quite a stretch. His portrayal of Hannibal Lecter is brilliant and terrifying, but he has less than twenty minutes of screen time. Not exactly a lead role. Otherwise, I'd say it's the best movie from 1991 I've seen. Jodie Foster is great, both vulnerable and stoic as required, and despite knowing a lot of the most famous scenes from pop culture osmosis, it was still an effectively creepy and disturbing film, so well made that its impact was not robbed by imitation and parody.

The movie has sort of an unusual story structure that warrants mentioning. Lecter is one of the best villains of the 90s at least, but he's not the principle antagonist of the story - he even helps Foster and the FBI in their attempt to stop another serial killer, even if he's less than totally forthcoming. That doesn't prevent him from being a bad guy though, as he has some evil things to do of his own. I wouldn't exactly call it a horror film, but it's certainly the most horrific one I've seen to receive so much acclaim, and it's well deserved to. It's not just people getting brutally murdered; there's an interesting mystery at work, and some examination of deep psychological issues. The fact that Lecter used to be a psychiatrist makes him that much scarier, as he always knows exactly how to twist the knife. And while Buffalo Bill is a bit less sophisticated, Ted Levine still puts on a clinic of being a messed up son of a bitch. Excellent movie.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Jimmy Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock are a pretty potent combination. Vertigo is considered by some to be the great Hitchcock's best film, and of the three I've seen, it's definitely one of the best two. I didn't find it to be as pulse-pounding and inventive as Rear Window, but it has a wider scope than that movie and a more complex and interesting plot, and stands up to its reputation better than I thought Psycho did. Stewart as always brings a lot of humanity and sympathy to a character that at times could otherwise seem unlikable, as it's definitely the darkest role I've seen him take. The rest of the small cast was pretty good too, although I didn't know who any of them were.

Unfortunately, like Psycho, some of the more famous and harrowing imagery was spoiled for me before I saw the film properly, but I think it probably damaged my opinion less this time. What really works about the movie isn't the shocking moments, but the mystery about what's really happening and the surprise of some of the later revelations. It has one of the earliest huge twists that change the whole movie I can think of, and stays unexpected and exciting right to the finale. I'm coming to appreciate what Hitchcock did for the whole medium of film more, and I'm definitely interesting in seeing some more of his work.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Pillars of the Earth

Pillars is a miniseries based on a British historical fiction novel, and plays like a half decent representation of what the Game of Thrones series will probably be like. It's about the creation of the fictional Kingsbridge Cathedral, set against the actual reign of King Stephen during the 1100s. A Cathedral already being an incredible undertaking back then, construction is beset by complications arising from the dispute over the throne and the ambition of a noble family and a bishop played by Ian McShane, who is more or less the story's main villain. There are a couple other notable recognizable faces, including Donald Sutherland, who gets credited in every episode despite only appearing in a couple, and Hayley Atwell who stood out in the remake of The Prisoner that aired last year and does again here as the daughter of a fallen Earl.

So the show is a mix of a very human story mostly focusing on the family that guides the building of the Cathedral, endless political maneuverings and backstabbing, and some decently filmed (for television) battles. The latter two tended to interest me more, although it's hard to ignore what is really the emotional core of the story. The good guys are mostly likable and the bad guys are pretty easy to hate, although I will say it's harder than it should be to really be against Ian McShane whatever he's doing, so good is he at every role he seems to take.

There are a few plot bits that are pretty annoying, but overall it's a solid tale, and pretty damn well paced for about eight hours of content. One thing that always kind of bothered me was the passage of time though. The timeline lurches forward in fits and starts, sometimes months or years at a time, and by the end I was unsure about how much time things took. And it never seemed like the right amount of effort was put into portraying the ages of the characters. Young characters aren't recast often as they get older so they stay looking too young, or just disappear from the plot. And most of the other characters don't age much as the years pass by, until something gets triggered and suddenly the next time you see them they're in full-on old person makeup. It's a bit clumsy, and maybe something of a budget concern, but it doesn't hurt the story too much. Anyone interested in some medieval history portrayed in perhaps a less than historical way should probably give it a shot.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Entourage - Season 7

I'll just say I'm glad that next year will be the final season, and that it will be shorter than usual. Entourage was fun for the first few years, but it's slowly lost appeal with time as more people have fallen off the bandwagon and it fails to grow creatively. It's just reached the point where nothing interesting is happening to the characters. Turtle has another girlfriend who's way too hot for him, and gets involved in a business that results in the show's most absurd string of pointless celebrity cameos yet. Drama's still having trouble getting a job. E still has a job... and he's still getting married to Sloan... and that's it.

The other two main threads are a bit more interesting, but not handled with much originality or panache. Ari's anger finally starts to get him in trouble, both publicly and with his wife. It could be an interesting story, if watching Ari explode at people wasn't one of the only things still entertaining about this show. And we come to the big one, Vince's fall from grace. It starts when he becomes an adrenaline junkie after an accident on set. Then he starts dating a porn star (actual porn star Sasha Grey playing herself), then he gets into way heavier drugs, and then he becomes a total jerk and alienates everyone who likes him. It's a typical Hollywood tale, told with no real grace and hard to care about with Vince unable to either sympathize himself or at least make the downfall look compelling. Didn't this show used to be fun? I can hardly remember anymore. I'll watch it limp to the finish line, but I'm not too excited to do so.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hung - Season 2

I didn't really genuinely start liking this show until the second half of the first season, and it doesn't do very much to keep that momentum this time around. Despite not knowing anyone who really enjoys the show or even watches it, it's getting a third season. I'll keep watching because the show still has its good bits and I've grown quite fond of Thomas Jane's depiction of a down-on-his-luck Detroit dad. There's less focus on his business as a prostitute this season, and more general worrying about the economy, dealing with the likely loss of his job, and trying to rekindle something with his ex-wife.

Even when he is seeing a client, there isn't much going on with it. Jemma last year was a unique and interesting situation for him to deal with, and the only one who isn't a one-note joke this season is Francis, who ends up sequestered in her own subplot with his friend Mike. It's really shifted away from the show it was supposedly supposed to be, as the creators try to say something about everything and it just becomes less tightly plotted than it should be, which is an issue when you only have five hours to do everything you want to in the season.

I was disappointed with Tanya this season, too. She's very likable when she's put upon, but they tried to make her act much more aggressively this time, and just didn't do the work to make her still sympathetic in that situation. Lenore's the one who's supposed to be a horrible woman, and Tanya just doesn't wear it well. His kids are just sort of there again, and Ronnie just ends up as an unlikable shit when he really should be a pitiable character. I don't know. It's stuck between being a comedy and a drama, and does neither particularly well. Still, it's watchable enough that I don't want to give up on it. I guess that's something?

Monday, September 13, 2010

True Blood - Season 3

Another year, and True Blood continues to be the most up and down show on television. I really can't think of one that's more inconsistent in quality from moment to moment. It can be hilarious, enjoyably cheesy, effectively creepy, and horribly violent all in one scene. And then it can waste your time for five minutes with another bunch of half-baked southern stereotypes or some moping from one of the more annoying characters. There's just no telling at any moment if the next subplot is gonna be a fun time or another complete chore to sit through. I like the show a lot, because when it's good it's really a ton of fun, but it will never be great with its current success rate when it comes to characters and story ideas. I'd say something about the success of the main storyline in relation to the other seasons, but it's again so anticlimactic that it hardly even registers as rising action within the context of the ton of other things going on.

The scope of the show grows again this year. After dealing with a Maenad last year, we're back to vampires for this season's big villain. But it doesn't feel limited because this one employs werewolves to do his dirty work, adding another dimension to the series (even if it isn't one I was dying to see), and he and his husband also happen to be two of the best characters on the show. We learn more about the actual power structure of vampire society, which is sort of interesting, but the focus is still mostly on the ones we already know. Sookie's again caught up in the troubles of the undead. Jason wants to be a cop but is torn from his duty by a wretched storyline involving advanced super-hicks who also happen to be supernaturally inclined. And who isn't? Lafayette finds himself caught up in that too. By the end of the series, there won't be a single normal human left. Tara can't get over Eggs even though she knew him for like two weeks (this show takes place over an absurdly short period of time), and Sam finds his real family, who happen to be trash incarnate. And supernatural. If you can't tell, there's a ton of crap going on all the time, and I haven't even mentioned some of the more obscure characters. I'm looking forward to seeing more next summer, and hoping against hope they finally learn how to write an entire episode that doesn't make me roll my eyes.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Liveblog 30: Oh God Make It Stop

It's kind of funny how in years past I would cover Phil Hughes maybe too often, and this season I've blogged a game by pretty much everybody who's started for the Yankees except for him. Today was actually supposed to be his start, but he's getting close to his inning limit and has gotten steadily worse as the season's worn on, so journeyman Dustin Moseley gets the nod in his stead. What's less funny is the team's play of late. Last time I blogged they were just starting what would be an eight game winning streak. I'm thinking the team's finally back on track, right? But they follow that up with abysmal play against the Orioles and the Rangers, including two late blown leads in the last two games, and are back down to a half game lead over the Rays. If it weren't for Nick Swisher stealing a win with a walk off home run against the O's, they'd have immediately followed the eight game streak with a six game losing one. And today doesn't look too hot since they're facing Cliff Lee, who in recent years has owned them, although he hasn't pitched well since joining the Rangers and the Yanks ended up coming back to win last time he faced them. I just hope the last liveblog of the season isn't too painful.

Top 1 - Yanks lead off against Lee. They're missing three of their regular starters, not counting Nick Johnson who's been out all year. Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner are a bit banged up, whereas Alex Rodriguez... I don't know. I guess Joe Girardi is okay with getting swept by a likely playoff opponent. Derek Jeter is easily having the worst season of his career, but works a tough walk against Lee to start the game. For some reason the lefty Curtis Granderson is batting second against one of the toughest lefties in the league, and promptly rewards Girardi's optimism with a double play. Mark Teixeira strikes out looking for the third out.

Bottom 1 - Dustin Moseley on the mound to shout at the devil. I have no idea why I made that reference. He starts Elvis Andrus with a strike. The next pitch is an easy ground ball to Jeter. The veteran Michael Young works a full count before flying out deep to Greg Golson. David Murphy grounds out to first, pretty nice inning for Moseley.

Top 2 - Leading off is clean-up hitter Ale- no wait, it's Marcus Thames, who grounds out. Robinson Cano does the same. Lee starts Jorge Posada with a strike. Then another. Why not a third? Oh, there's a ball! Posada hits a bouncer that might end up in an infield hit if he wasn't himself, but he is, and he is slow, so it's an out.

Bottom 2 - Moseley begins with a ball to Vlad Guerrero. Two quick strikes though and the count's in his favor. Vlad still manages to club a double just past Austin Kearns' reach because that's how Vlad do. Nelson Cruz, a hero in the first game of the series, moves Vlad to third with a grounder. Ian Kinsler grounds one right to third, which prevents Vlad from scoring, two outs. Some guy called Mitch Moreland lines out to left, where Kearns has to leap to make the catch because he misjudged the ball. Sure glad it's him out there and not Gardner! Ah well, no real damage done.

Top 3 - Kearns manages to foul off a few pitches but eventually goes down on strikes. Eduardo Nunez also quickly makes an out. Golson lines out to third, and another quick one for Lee.

Bottom 3 - Catcher Matt Treanor hits first for the Rangers. He pops out to Cano in shallow right. Julio Borbon works a full count, but pops out to Moseley himself. Back to the top of the lineup with two outs. Andrus strikes out and is none too pleased with the call.

Top 4 - If nothing else, this game is going at a furious pace compared to the first two. Three full innings in 40 minutes. Another full count for Jeter. I feel like he's at least been working the count better lately, but it certainly hasn't helped his numbers. He grounds out to short. Granderson can't hold up on a high strike and goes down. Teixeira grounds out and the game continues to breeze by.

Bottom 4 - Young flies out to Granderson on the first pitch. Another full count, this time to Murphy. These counts have been the most exciting part of the game so far. Fly out to Golson. Another hit by Vlad, this time a single up the middle. Another hit, this one by Cruz. Runners on first and second for Kinsler. A few hitters seem less than in love with the umpire's strike zone today. Three ball count. Swinging strike on a change up. Ground ball to Jeter for the third out, Moseley escapes trouble. Four innings in less than an hour!

Top 5 - Hey a full count to Thames. He is rewarded for his effort with a strikeout. Adam Lind just hit a two run walk off home run for the Blue Jays to avoid a sweep by the Rays. They've actually been a worse spoiler in this last month than the Orioles, it seems. Cano made an out while I was typing that. Posada goes down too, five good innings for Lee. He's no hitting them, by the way.

Bottom 5 - Moreland leads off. Line drive right to Teixeira for the out. Treanor flies out to left. Another pop out to Moseley by Borbon. I'm quite confident I've never seen a pitcher handle two fly balls in one game, let alone by the same hitter.

Top 6 - Kearns up again. He takes a couple balls, you know what I mean? Grounds out to third anyway. Nunez of all people breaks up the no hitter with a single up the middle. Stat just showed the Yankees have left 32 runners on base so far this series. Pretty astonishing. But it shows that they've beaten themselves more than the Rangers have. Kinsler makes a nice play to throw out Golson at first, Nunez moves to second. Jeter hits a double down the right field line, Yankees lead 1-0. Nice. He's now just a hundred hits away from 3000, which he'll get next year. The question is how much the Yanks will be overpaying him to do it. Nice hitter's count for Curtis, but he fouls one off to make it full. He walks. That's two in the game for Lee, which doesn't sound like much but is actually out of character for Lee, who last time I checked was having one of the all time great seasons in terms of strikeout to walk ratio. Teixeira wastes the opportunity with an easy pop fly to right. Still, a lead is a lead until you lose it.

Bottom 6 - Andrus walks to lead off. He steals second with no throw by Posada. Fly out by young deep enough to move Elvis to third with just one out. Important play here, infield pulled in close. Grounder to Teixeira who tries to make the play at home, but the run scores anyway and there's still just one out. Well, they didn't have that lead for long. Vlad hits one pretty deep to left, but it's another fly out. Wind might have held it back a bit. Cruz flies out to center.

Top 7 - Thames pops one into that dangerous triangle between a middle infielder, a corner outfielder, and the guy in center, but it's high enough for Kinsler to get under it. Cliff Lee doesn't seem too happy with the strike zone either. Cano grounds out to second. Jorge Posada watches a couple debatable called strikes go by for the third out.

Bottom 7 - Judging by what's on Gameday, the umpire has a very bizarre strike zone definition indeed. Kinsler walks. Game's slowing down a bit as it goes on, as it always does. Moreland smokes a fly ball deep enough to move the runner to second, which is fairly uncommon. Treanor hits another deep one, and Kinsler's at third with two outs. Borbon hits a bunt towards first in the perfect place and slides into the base for no reason with the infield hit, scoring the go ahead run. He makes some gestures towards his dugout in triumph. Nice one, asshole. You bunted and slid into first. I wonder if there was no play at home for Teixeira. Borbon steals second. Andrus lines a single past Cano, another run scores. God I hate that stupid gesture they make whenever they score. "Myxomatosis" is only fueling my rage. Jonathan Albaladejo comes on to face Michael Young. Hey, another hit. A fourth run scores for Texas. Haha, Young looks like such a chump doing the gesture. If you don't know, it's sort of like they're in the middle of a big balloon party and they're pushing some balloons away from their face so they can see a clown. That's what the gesture looks like. Single by Murphy. Vlad grounds out, but the damage is done. I'm done until the game's over. Sour note to end the year of baseball blogging on.

Wrap-Up - Jeter drew another walk to keep Lee from throwing a complete game, but the Rangers' electric young closer Neftali Feliz struck out the side to secure the victory. The Yankees maintain a half game lead over the Rays with seven games against them in the next couple weeks. It's gonna be interesting.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Die Hard 2

Die harder, yo. That's the tagline and occasional subtitle, but I don't think this movie is really die hardier than the first. It's pretty die hardy, but if die hardness is measured by what made the original unique, then the sequel drifted away from that somewhat. Any action movie can have gun fights and explosions, so what made Die Hard cool was that John McClane didn't win by blowing the bad guys away, but by acting intelligently and being a tough son of a bitch. It was a deadly game of cat and mouse, and him matching wits with Gruber was a lot of fun. Die Hard 2 mostly sacrifices that for a bunch of traditional action movie stuff, and while it hits those notes pretty well, and is a pretty decent movie overall, it's definitely a significant step down.

In some ways, the set up is very similar (close enough that the characters repeatedly remark on how unlikely it is for McClane to be in the middle of this kind of thing twice), with bad guys taking several planes full of passengers hostage at an airport rather than the guests of a party in a building, again on Christmas Eve. There's still some subterfuge as the good guys try a few ways to regain control of the wayward planes, but McClane's role is mostly limited to shooting guys and making generally terrible wisecracks. He has a few chances to be clever, but really the treatment of the character is one of the most disappointing aspects of the sequel. I still generally like Bruce Willis, but this just isn't one of the best scripts he's gotten. My favorite actor in the movie was actually Dennis Franz playing a typical angry police captain to the hilt, and clearly enjoying the work. There's a couple other likable performances, but really the movie's all about the action. The plot doesn't make sense and the brutality of the violence seems a little over the top, but that's pretty much what you have to expect from big action movies. At the very least it's mostly enjoyable trash the whole way through, which would generally be fine, except it just hurts a bit more after the original.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Shield - Season 3

In two subsequent seasons, The Shield has failed to captivate me as much as in its first year, yet it's still more intriguing than the shock value police show I thought it was, and the continuing downward spiral of Vick Mackey's life as his family and career as a dirty cop begin to circle the drain. Everything that can go wrong seems to, as he has trouble keeping his team operating on the same level while worrying about the aftermath of their hit on the Armenians in season two and trying to keep new member Tavon in the dark without losing his talents. Really, what happens after they rip off a dangerous gang gets just as much attention as the planning of said hit, and it's interesting to see a show focus so heavily on the consequences on every single thing that can happen in these situations. There's no time for rest, something's always springing a leak that needs plugging before anyone else gets too close.

And Mackey's not the only one with problems. Dutch again becomes obsessed with a serial suspect, and goes to some dark places trying to understand him. Claudette continues to butt heads with Aceveda, who was supposed to give his job up by now, over what's right for the department and what's the right thing to do. Aceveda himself faces a pretty huge personal crisis after something that happens in the field. The two uniforms the show likes to give attention to still feel like side attractions, rarely bringing much that's truly interesting to the show. They did some things with Julian's homosexuality before that was pretty tough material, but I feel like they only have as much screen time as they do at this point because they have to. Likewise, as the troubles at home for Vick increase, they've become more of a real concern, although I think it's just a way to pile more worries on him while everything goes sideways. It's well done, and I felt like the season as a whole was a bit closer to the first's quality than the third. Supposedly the show only gets better from here, which I'm looking forward to, because now it's sort of sitting in the realm of "really good" and not quite what I'd call a great series.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Godfather: Part II

The Godfather might be the best made film I've ever seen, and the sequel does plenty to live up to that standard of cinematography, editing, and acting. I don't think it's an insult to say it doesn't quite live up the the original's standard of storytelling, because it's still an outstanding film and that's a hell of a thing to live up to. I had no issue with any individual element of the movie, I just don't think the overall character arc is quite as fascinating as in the first. In Part I, Michael Corleone is a war hero who slowly gets sucked into his family's criminal business due to loyalty to his father and a decade of desensitization to the wrongs he's committing. He eventually finds himself as don of the whole family. It's a transformation that's fascinating to watch. in Part II, Michael's the godfather. And he's the godfather for the whole movie. Lots of interesting stuff happens to his character, including some pretty brutal personal things in the second half. But while he descends deeper into the role of ruthless crime lord, the arc is just less distinct. It felt more like watching a few episodes of a brilliant crime show than a self contained, fulfilling story.

Again, I don't want to undersell how good this film is. It's one of the best of the decade. It just didn't quite match the first, to me. There's a lot going on, and it's definitely a movie that gets better the closer attention you pay to it. Bit characters from the first film show up to play important parts, there's a dense web of deception and backstabbing that's quite a bit of work to keep up with, and it's as interesting a straight gangster tale as I've ever seen. The flashback segments featuring Robert De Niro as a young Vito Corleone, depicting his rise to power in 1920s New York, are pretty brilliant, and I might have gotten more out of the film as a whole if they got a bigger share of the 200 minutes rather than feeling like a distinct B story to the main one of Michael's struggles. The mostly returning cast is brilliant, Al Pacino further proved himself to me as a master of the craft in his younger days, Robert Duvall continues to make Hagen one of the most sympathetic characters despite his somewhat thankless role, and Diane Keaton has a lot more to do this time, showing she deserved to be in several of the 70's best films. I don't really know many other actors here by name, but no one would have made it into the movie if they didn't know what they were doing. There's not much else to say about it without going into the specifics of the story, which I feel would be a disservice. I don't have to tell anyone this, but the Godfather movies deserve to be seen by anyone who likes the medium for more than just a few laughs and explosions.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Louie - Season 1

Louis C.K. is one of my favorite stand-up comedians, so hearing that he had complete creative control over a new show on FX was pretty exciting news (although I still haven't seen his version of a sitcom for HBO), and it turned out to be about as good as expected. It's partly snippets of his vulgar and hilarious stand-up, and partly a collection of vignettes about a somewhat realistic, somewhat fanciful look at his every day life. He tries to be a good parent to his two daughters. He tries to meet someone, or at least get laid in the wake of his divorce. He unknowingly gets molested by a dentist while having a sedative-induced dream about meeting Osama Bin Laden and telling him 9/11 was a bullshit move. Sometimes it's really funny, others it's more honest and poignant, and once in a while it's just brutal, not even qualifying as comedy. It doesn't have to be humorous to be interesting, and that's one of the show's biggest strengths.

I'll be honest, I usually laugh the most during the brief bits of stand-up sprinkled through episodes. The other stuff is usually good too though, and there's enough different stuff going on in these thirteen episodes that you're never sure what's going to happen next, and feel confident that no topic is off limits. Parenthood, religion, sex, drugs, and more are all tackled in new ways, and you can be confident Louie has something funny or smart to say about it, or usually both. There's also a nice collection of guest actors who show up, usually other comedians that Louie knows in real life, and they often play roles you wouldn't expect. It's the kind of personal and often extremely uncomfortable show that you really wouldn't think you'd see on real television, let alone get a second season, which luckily it did. I'm looking forward to what else Louis has to share with the world.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bottle Rocket

I always figured I'd like Wes Anderson's movies, though I haven't seen any until now. Might as well start at the beginning. Bottle Rocket was originally a short film, and then it got remade into a full feature a couple years later. Anderson and Owen Wilson wrote the script, and Wilson and his brother Luke star in their first feature. It's a quirky comedy about a couple friends that seem like they'd rather be in a heist movie. The film begins with Anthony (played by Luke) "escaping" from a voluntary mental hospital and going along with his friend Dignan (Owen) in his plan to rob a bookstore. They recruit their rich friend Bob to be the driver, and then after the job, go on the lam in a motel a few towns over. Anthony meets someone at the motel, and events conspire to put a strain on his friendship with Dignan. Things continue from there, never getting too dramatic or exciting, but eventually coming to a head pretty naturally.

Bottle Rocket sort of feels like the definition of a good low budget comedy. There's not a ton of style or flash to the proceedings, but it's all well filmed and acted by the unknown cast. James Caan was probably the only one with an established career at the time to appear in the movie, playing a landscaper/criminal with some unique interests. The Wilson brothers do a good job, particularly Owen, who really sells every scene he's in and can make you feel sorry for him or hate him at the drop of a hat. The plotting is fairly slow, but the movie is never boring. It's not always laugh out loud funny, but there's a simple pleasure to watching it, and the characters carry it through it's quick running time. I often find the indie movie aesthetic to be trying, but that wasn't the case here, and it seemed like a pretty good way to start a career for all involved. Anderson's body of work is definitely something I'm interested in continued pursuit of.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Modern Family - Season 1

I thought I'd check out the show that finally usurped 30 Rock's title as standing Emmy winner for best comedy series. It's not the funniest show on TV in my opinion, but it's pretty darn good, and certainly more deserving of the award than Rock was last year. It's about three interconnected families living in Los Angeles, and the wacky sitcom hijinks they get into. Ed O'Neill of Married... with Children fame plays Jay, patriarch of the Pritchett clan. He's recently remarried Gloria and taken in her son. He has two children from his first marriage; Mitchell, who adopts a Vietnamese baby with his partner Cameron in the pilot; and Claire, who has three children with her husband Phil.

The fact that I bothered to name all of the main characters, and I wasn't bothered by the fact that all of them except O'Neill were nominated for acting awards, tells you how great the cast is. Cam (played by Eric Stonestreet, the only one to actually win an Emmy) and Phil are definitely the funniest ones to me, but they all bring a surprising amount to the table, when they could have easily been sitcom clichés. Like, amazingly easily. The grumpy old guy! The fussy housewife! The feisty latina! The dorky dad! The gay guys! But the combination of smart writing and solid performances keep it grounded, and funny rather than painful most of the time. Even the child actors on the show are generally pretty good, at least able to deliver a punchline and not be too annoying.

Really, it's a miracle the show isn't depressingly tired, with all of the classic sitcom tropes it runs through during its first season. Comic misunderstandings, white lies that balloon into mass deception, an inordinate number of people discovering someone in a compromising position, even a twist on "He's right behind me, isn't he?" But that's sort of part of the fun, I guess. They do a great job of developing the characters, so you actually care about their relationships and hope it works out instead of just getting some cheap laughs out of impossible situations. Yeah, they'll do a story you've seen many times before, but the results will usually be illuminating in some way, if maybe trying a bit too hard to be touching. If I had to compare Family to one sitcom in the last ten years, it would be Arrested Development because of its large interrelated cast (and generally being good) with the only surface difference being Family has more and younger kids, but they're actually fairly different in tone. Development was always kind of cynical about how Michael can never really count on anyone in his family, and how sometimes even he wasn't a very good person. Family is a lot more sentimental and generally nicer, which is a fine approach, it just leads to the last two minutes of episodes tending to be pretty cheesy. Luckily that's diffused often enough with some humor that it never gets too oppressive. I'm looking forward to seeing the second season on regular TV with my other shows.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Escaflowne: The Movie

Escaflowne is sort of an interesting experiment in trying to convert a longer story (like from a TV series) into a shorter one (like in a film). Certain things have to be changed, compressed, and so on to try to make it fit into a hundred minutes. Plus more alterations are made to perhaps make it appeal to a slightly different audience. It's certainly a bit more guy friendly than the series, beginning with a scene where Van slaughters a room full of anonymous bad guys with a sword (which was actually one of the better animated fights I've seen in a while). So it does a few things to try to make itself work as a movie rather than a show, though in the end I don't think it succeeded that much. It wasn't bad, and I found myself enjoying parts as much as anything from the series. But there was just something that didn't sit quite right about it, and I don't think that it's just that it was changed from the original story.

The series definitely tried to appeal to both boys and girls, with romantic subplots just as prominent in the story as the main adventure. A lot of that's been stripped out, and it just sort of feels like a generic action movie with a weird mix of past and future in the setting. There's a whole lot of ideas that it doesn't have much time to get across, and the loss of fidelity is damaging not just because it's different, but because it's just less developed. In the series, you had time to learn about the villain and what he was doing and why it was bad. In the movie, you basically have to accept that he's a bad guy because the good guys tell you, and not really because you see a whole lot of the damage he's supposedly causing. The main thrust of a normal high school girl being transported to a mysterious place and forced into a momentous period in its history is still there, but the rest of it just seems like it's going through the motions of hitting all the biggest moments from the show without them really having much impact, because I don't know why I should care. Again, it's a reasonably enjoyable film a lot of the time, there's just something missing. I'd still recommend the show first.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sam and Max: The City that Dares not Sleep

The final part of the third Sam and Max season was suitably large-scaled and dramatic (notice how I sidestepped using "epic" there?), and also more effectively emotional than I really expected. It was hard to be too broken up by the proceedings because the show must always go on with these two, but it still worked. Plus the ending, while perhaps a bit convenient, is perfectly fitting for the convoluted logic these characters operate on and also amusingly wraps up about three seasons' worth of loose ends. In the end, The Devil's Playhouse (that title was finally explained this time around) was to me the strongest release yet by Telltale, with more creative energy in each episode than some of their earlier stuff had in the whole season, and some of the time shenanigans make me wonder what could possibly be in store with their upcoming Back to the Future game. But I guess I should talk about the episode itself at this point.

Because of Max's transformation, it necessitates a slight shift in the formula from the other episodes. You don't get to mess around much with the toys of power (although they aren't completely gone), but there's still a gameplay dichotomy where you have to shift between two different characters to get things done. The puzzles were pretty good for the most part, although there were a couple situations where you were forced to do something convoluted when a simpler solution would be pretty obvious, or misleading situations where you're prevented from getting something, leading you to look for a way around it, but that thing itself is actually unimportant. The story pulls out all the stops, bringing back characters from all three seasons in interesting ways, and also telling a pretty good straight up monster movie plot. The scale is impressive, leading to it being the best looking entry in the series. They did a great job with the final part, and Telltale should really be commended for being the masters of serialized gaming.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Futurama - Season 6

The hardest part of writing this was determining what number season to call it. Any number from 5 to 7 might have applied. Do I count the show's original run as four or five seasons, basing it on the production order or the televised order? Do the televised versions of the movies count as a season? Ultimately I went with this as the sixth, because I couldn't even be writing this at all right now if I went with production seasons since this current one is only half over, and counted the movies as a precursor rather than an official season.

Boy what a waste of words. Anyway, I was kind of worried about the show for a while. Like the movies, it was still entertaining, but had failed to yet reach any of the heights from the series' best episodes in its original run. Was I doomed to watch one of my favorite series ever gradually decline into unwatchable crap? But luckily, things started really picking up somewhere around halfway through this run. "Lethal Inspection" attempted sentiment but only ended up bothering me with some inconsistencies about Bender's origin (yes, I'm a giant dork, why do you ask?), but the next episode more or less got it right with Fry and Leela, and featured one of the series' best sequences ever. And then after a merely decent cat episode, it ran off several in a row that were as funny and inventive as the show has ever been, minus a couple of the true greats. It looks like they more or less righted the ship, and they're not even half done with the current production order.

So while I'm happy to see the show back and doing pretty well, part of me wishes it had stayed canceled. Now, I would never say I don't want there to be more of a show I love that's course hasn't fully run out. But when something has a perfect ending already, there's at least a nagging thought that it should stay ended. Futurama's first series finale was heartbreaking, but it also managed to send off the series brilliantly, with some of the best comedy in the whole show and a truly sweet ending. And it's getting to the point where that sort of emotionally perfect conclusion will get harder and harder to reach. There's only so many times the show can put Fry and Leela together and then split them apart again before I stop caring about the characters. The handling of their relationship was the most consistent issue I had with this season. They declared their love at the end of the fourth movie, but in half the episodes it seems like they're dating or at least considering it, and in the other half it's like nothing ever happened. It's inconsistent and lazy and annoying. It shouldn't be this hard to figure out what the situation is, right? Amy and Kif have been together for years with only a couple hiccups, and it's worked out fine. But whatever, it's a cartoon and I should worry that much, right? There's a new anthology episode in November and then thirteen more episodes next year, and that's all that really matters.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Game Update 16: PSN Demos 6

This might be the last one of these I do for this blog. Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of summarizing a few months of game demos is gone.

Army of Two: The 40th Day - You see why these are pointless? I try to wait long enough for a bunch of demos to build up so the post seems substantial, and I end up talking about stuff people have already long forgotten. This demo was all about the online co-op, and it was kind of fun for a while, but my random teammate was bad enough that I knew I wouldn't play it anonymously, and it wasn't interesting enough to play alone, and I knew I'd have no friends playing it, so it was an easy game to ignore.

Bayonetta - I didn't see any of the game's supposed terrible technical issues on the platform, but the purpose of the demo is generally not to reveal a game's biggest flaws, so that's understandable. Seems like the logical evolution of Devil May Cry, and was totally crazy.

Dante's Inferno - It's been a long time since I've seen a game so obviously derivative of another. It really is Dante's God of War. Not that it isn't fun to chop guys up, I'd just rather do it with Kratos. Also, didn't know you could just put so many boobs in a demo.

Dark Void - One of those games that looks really interesting on the surface but then a few people play it and say how it's disappointing, and then no one else buys it, and then no sequel comes to fix the issues and make a really great game. Kind of fun to play around, but the shooting really didn't even last through the end of the demo.

Just Cause 2 - I was sure I was going to play this game after the demo... and I probably will... I just haven't yet. Not a very big area, but you get a sense for the game's scale and a lot of silly fun out of the grappling hook and parachute.

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days - I played this before the original game, and looking back the cover and shooting are definitely improved. It also has a unique and interesting visual style, so I was interested in getting it until I found out the story literally only lasts four hours. That sounds like a discount purchase in a year to me.

Lego Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues - This one shows off some levels based on the last movie, and weren't terribly exciting since they took place in a warehouse and I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do in the boss fight. I don't think I'll ever get on the Lego game bandwagon. Not again.

Mafia II - 1940s open world game, weird driving thanks to the authentic vehicles, pretty good shooting, not really sure why it's open world. Mildly interested in checking it out.

Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time (Clank) - See? I reviewed this game last year. But I never told you about the demo, eh? The Clank levels in this game were awesome, so this demo was good.

Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time (Ratchet) - Whereas with the Ratchet demo... I was having fun, but I couldn't shake the feeling that it was just another Ratchet game. Which is how I ended up feeling playing the real thing. Ratchet games are fun! But I know what they are.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World: The Game - An old school brawler with a bit of a sense of humor, some cool RPG progression stuff, and really nice sprite animation. Seeing the movie's a bigger priority, though.

Skate 3 - Only a couple years after really shaking up the extreme sports genre of games, Skate already feels a bit old. The most fun I had with the demo was getting off the board and just jumping into people so they'd fall over.

Trine - I think the controls were more precise on PC, but it's still fun and looks really nice on console. Nice appetizer for the main game.

Vanquish - This game is kind of crazy, a third person shooter with a lot of Japanese hyperactivity added in. But I had a couple issues with the demo - it looks and plays great, but I couldn't really tell what was causing me to die when it happened. Poor feedback.

Yakuza 3 - I was disappointed by this demo. I still want to play the game because Yakuza is interesting, but the graphics are the only thing improved at all from the now ancient seeming PS2 games. The combat feels exactly the same, and it still awkwardly transitions between full cutscenes and text boxes for no reason. Plus, they cut a ton of content from the US version of the final game.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


So this film was based on a story by the legendary manga creator Osamu Tezuka. It also takes elements from the classic German silent film of the same title, an image from which inspired Tezuka's story in the first place. So it takes from both, but I'm not entirely clear what bits came from each because I haven't seen the movie or read the manga. But anyway, it's about a gigantic, futuristic city that purports to be an amazing place to live but of course is filled with tons of seedy elements eating away at its core. There's a lot of strife between the classes, robots are treated like inferior beings, and there's something going on with the powers that be. It's really not a very original set-up, but they execute on it well enough to get away with it for the most part.

I'll admit to having an issue with the art style for a lot of the film. It's simple and cartoony, and it just doesn't really fit the tone or subject matter of the film very well. It's well animated, sometimes gorgeously so, but I think the character designs could have stood to be a bit more natural. There's even a thing where people's legs thicken as they get closer to their ankles. What the hell is that? Who's ever looked like that? I was mostly used to it before the movie ended, but it's the rare case where an animation's look got in its own way. But I still enjoyed it. The main characters are an interesting group, the mysterious suddenly-appearing girl is well-handled, and the villain is a real son of a bitch. It also features a really great particular scene near the end, with an unexpected musical accompaniment. There's not a whole lot new here, but it's done well enough to keep it pretty watchable for a hundred minutes.