Archive for March, 2009

30
Mar
09

“Honest” Ed Mirvish was not a funny man

I live in Toronto’s Annex… the setting for the awesome show Annex’d. One particular landmark that I’m not far from is Honest Ed’s. It’s a labyrinth of a store that sells shitty things for sometimes cheaper prices than other stores that sell shitty things. I hear it’s also used for settling the occasional duel between a hipster and an evil ex-boyfriend … but maybe I’m wrong about that.

What I’m going to write about is the HORRENDOUS gags that are all over Honest Ed’s obnoxious walls. Search out some Honest Ed’s pictures… it’s one of the most distinct stores you’ll ever see. Three out of the four walls are covered with terrible “signage” (I hate that word so much I had to use it). What’s really distinct is the new level of pathetically bad humor he’s able to create with his god awful puns.

For example:

 

Eeew...

Eeew...

 

Okay… so that’s kind of lame. It’s kind of a bad pun… the quotation marks are really irritating. You might think that one is fine though… so let’s continue.

 

Argh..

Argh..

 

Okay even if you liked that first one… there’s no way you’re on board with this one. You can tell this was one of the last ones that either Ed or some joke writing idiot thought up. It’s also abundantly clear that they started at the ending and worked their way back. It also has those damn quotation marks again. 

 

WHAT!?

WHAT!?

THIS ONE MAKES NO GODDAMN SENSE. This is fucking DEVOID of humor and it runs completely contrary to the wacky “hoho his prices are low” theme of all the other signs. It doesn’t work as a pun. It doesn’t work as a clever inversion of a normal sentence. There’s no solid connection between the punchline and the setup. This one is punctuated badly too, but in a whole new way! Here, the quotation marks actually make sense, but the whole thing is just one weak run on.

 

I wish it said "blood" instead of "bargains"...

I wish it said "blood" instead of "bargains"...

While taking these pictures I realized that at one point they just ran out of gags and had to make up some nonsense to fill the space between the bright lights. There’s not even a pun here. It’s just a dumb sentence with an exclamation point.

 

... what does this even MEAN?

... what does this even MEAN?

Now THIS one is really enraging. The punchline must be something from the 30s, because it’s a saying that almost doesn’t exist today. The setup also doesn’t make any sense. Why would Honest Ed be wet? Why are Honest Ed himself and his bargains always being compared literally? STOP!

 

Jesus... no...

Jesus... no...

Of all the signs I saw, there were THREE that had some kind “nut” reference on them. I’m surprised he didn’t also use “bananas”, “screwy”, “loony”, and “cuckoo”. I guess good ol’ Honest Ed never expected people to actually look at more than one of these awful signs. I figure most people look at one and move on, but they drive me NUTTIER THAN A BOX OF NUTS “THAT COME OUT OF MY EARS BECAUSE I’M NUTTY!”

26
Mar
09

Fumble!

I’ve read a whole bunch of top 5 and top 10 lists for movies, but the other day I think my roommate and I came up with a new one. So here we go:

Movies that were almost (but not quite) ruined in their last moments by bad acting, bad writing, or bad something else.

The Dark Knight. This is what mostly inspired this list. That fucking kid at the end of the movie comes reaaally close to ruining everything that The Dark Knight was trying to build up to. I don’t think I need to say much more about this one, but it was hard to shake off as I left the theater.

Revenge of the Sith. I like Natalie Portman… and I don’t at all blame her here, but when I thought about this, the “you’re breaking my heart” line immediately jumped to mind. This movie did a LOT to make you hate it in the last 20 minutes or so. I still think it’s the best of the new Star Wars movies by far… but it’s obviously up to your level of fandom to determine if that means anything.

Se7en. I mostly like Brad Pitt. The ending of Se7en is one of my favorites ever. Every time I watch it, it’s like I’m watching it for the first time. It’s so well paced and so well scored. It may be an editing thing, but there’s one shot of Brad towards the end where he goes back and forth between “sad face” and “angry face” two or three times. I’m SURE you know what I’m referring to if you’ve seen the movie. It’s still a really powerful ending, but I kinda pretend that one shot didn’t happen every time I watch it.

Dawn of the Dead. This might be the ONLY time you see me take a shot at Dawn of the Dead, so mark this moment. The original Dawn of the Dead was one of those movies that was written with a downer ending, but at the last second it was changed to a heroic one. This is reflected really obviously in the movie itself, where it builds up to a big dramatic conclusion, only to have one character completely change their mind and easily save the day. The thing that really bugs people about this scene isn’t so much that the tone changes, but that there’s this obnoxious “hero music” that plays during it. I’ve seen this part of the movie make people laugh on more than one occasion.

I was going to add one more movie to this list to round it out and make it a top five… but it’s a movie that needs much more discussion. So, next week… I’m going to take on one of the most landmark science fiction movies ever. BLADE RUNNER.

 

The Robotron Diaries : I’ve gotten as far as Wave 14 after many many attempts. My current best score is 316500. I find the strategy is to collect as many humans as possible in a desperate attempt to offset the huge amount of lives I’m losing. It doesn’t work most of the time.

23
Mar
09

The Robotron Diaries

I don’t like to brag… but I’m pretty good at video games. I can hold my own in pretty much anything you throw at me, to the point where it bothers some of my friends. If there was any type of real professional gaming circuit, it would be all I did.

Even though there isn’t … I still like to hone my skills with some of the hardest stuff ever. I beat the ever famous “I wanna be the guy”. I did the kaizo mario world games and a few other mario romhacks. It’s a worthless skill, but dammit I have it in spades!

I’m a fan of the two major video game documentaries : “King of Kong” and “Chasing Ghosts”. I might do a post one them at some point later on. After watching them, I went to relive a bunch of my old arcade faves. I’m good enough at most of them, nowhere near any type of high score level, but good enough.

Except with one game. Robotron 2084 kicks my ASS. It kicks my ass so hard that the next Kevin wannabe is gonna feel it. I remember being pretty good at Robotron 64, getting to some stupidly high level and just stopping out of a need for sleep or food. The original Robotron arcade game is viciously difficult.

I played probably five games.. and the best I did was wave 13. This is one of the beloved classics in all of video game programming, and I can only get to wave 13! I did a little research… you can get to wave 255 before you start all over again on wave 1. 

It’s a pretty busy season for students right now, so that’s why you haven’t gotten an update on the newish earthbound translation, or on any major RPG or time consuming game. I do like having short little games that I can quickly play for 15 or 20 minutes between studying and eating and so on. 

So…. as a complete Robotron noob, I will play the game here and there and keep you posted as to my score. Maybe I’ll even have a strategy tip or two. Maybe I’ll intrigue you and you’ll want to play along. Either way, I’m filling in a MAJOR hole in my vacuous skill set. 

Don’t worry, this won’t replace the normal posting. I will just include a brief paragraph and update at the bottom of my new mineshaft posts each monday and thursday. There may not be a new development (or score) each time, but I will try to keep up with it for a while at least. 

In the meantime, there will be less video game related content … since there will be less time to play. Maybe I’ll get a chance to do another book review or two ? We’ll see!

Until then… back to work.

Edit : (March 24th) Okay I said wave 13 in the post… that was for memory. After about 5 plays this afternoon I realize there is NO WAY I made it to wave 13. The best I did was wave 10… so the bar is even lower than before. It’s really bad that wave 13 out of 255 is the new goal I’m trying to hit.

19
Mar
09

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead.

These mineshaft posts don’t get indie often enough… certainly not with movies anyway. Whenever I mention any type of “indie” game it gets no attention whatsoever, so maybe I should try to mention an indie film? 

I saw Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead last weekend at the National Film Board of Canada building. When I first heard about it, I was thinking it would be zombie related, but I watched the trailer to see that it was filled with vampires. Shakespearean vampires. 

I’m going to give a little more plot summary than usual, since I imagine most people haven’t heard of this movie. It’s about a young loser type guy who discovers the opportunity to direct an odd adaptation of Hamlet. He meets a very creepy theatre owner, who has written a version of the play that has a vampire twist to it. Of course, it becomes apparent almost immediately that the theatre owner himself is a vampire as well, and that the play is a little more than just an offbeat adaptation. The story gets pretty wacky towards the end, as we learn that if someone drinks from the Holy Grail they can reverse the vampire curse. Yeah that’s right, the Holy Grail is in it too. There’s also a secret society that’s trying to get the Grail. The plot is a little scatterbrained at points, but it manages to pull through quite well by the end.

It’s pretty great. It has relatively high production values for an indie flick, with some pretty well known actors as well. Ralph Macchio is in it a fair bit, and he has a fantastic character. Seriously, this guy should become a Bruce Campbell or a Sid Haig type star. Jeremy Sisto also puts in a fun performance as a police officer who is slowly getting wise to what’s going on. 

Unlike Hamlet 2, the movie manages to balance the Shakespeare jokes with the story jokes. It doesn’t require a thorough knowledge of Hamlet, or of Tom Stoppard, but if you do know either or both, there are a few jokes in there just for you. The vampires are of the more classical variety, somewhere in between the hillbilly hotness of True Blood and the demonic monsters of Buffy. 

So, why should you try to see this over any other indie film that’s coming out soon? Well, it doesn’t force the “indie charm” of the story. The previews might look a little cutesy in places, but the film manages to have clever lines and witty puns without seeming full of itself. It isn’t a complete horror goof with as much horror cliche as possible to get you to laugh either. It plays some of the horror moments straight, and gives you some other ones to chuckle at. In the end, the story is concerned with the characters, not with getting you from joke to joke.

I was pretty pleasantly surprised by it. I don’t know what kind of release it will get, but if you get a chance, go see it if you can. This is the type of thing that might actually make NOW magazine worth reading.

16
Mar
09

Bombs that I liked.

So apparently Watchmen is a total flop financially. This is a little sad for Zack Snyder and so on… but the film is made now, and there’s no possibility of a sequel, so it doesn’t really bother me much. Maybe I’m just selfish. Either way, today’s mineshaft post is going to be about box office bombs that I liked. I pulled the list of bombs from wikipedia… yeah yeah their list doesn’t take into account DVD sales and the international market, but let’s not get technical.

Dark City was pretty great. Seriously. Watch this movie and The Matrix back to back… and you might like the Matrix a little bit less. It’s kinda plagued with the same problem that was in the original cut of Blade Runner : the voiceover that explains everything way too extensively. It’s not perfect at all, but it should be seen just for how great some parts are. I particularly like the idea of Shell Beach, the paradise like location that everyone seems to vaguely know how to get to, but forgets the exact directions when asked. 

eXistenZ. Ooh… David Cronenberg. This is going to be a list full of science fiction films for sure. This movie probably didn’t do well because of its weird name and weirder plot. It’s kind of an updated version of Videodrome. It’s about a video game that you play by porting a weird alien pod thing into your central nervous system. It also features a gun that’s made of bone that fires teeth. Yeah. It’s awesome. I enjoy this movie because it’s one hell of a ride, with philosophical questions flying all over the damn place. Cronenberg comes down hard on video games and the gaming population in this one, but we still love him anyway.

The Iron Giant. How the HELL was this movie not hugely successful. It’s by Brad Bird, who went on to do The Incredibles. This is the only real “family movie” that’s on this list, but I think that’s saying something. It’s rare that a great family film performs so badly. This one makes all kinds of animation top 10 lists, you should definitely check it out .

Mars Attacks! You’ve gotta love this movie just for the sheer amount of celebrity that the Martians kill off. It’s really not the best movie ever, but it has plenty of funny moments and the special effects were great for the time. This one was directed by Tim Burton, but it’s overlooked by those gothy teenaged Tim Burton fans that prefer their films dark and fantasy filled. These are the same people that turn a blind eye to his Planet of the Apes remake too… hmm, I wonder why? 

So I realized while writing this that these are all science fiction movies. I thought about including Grindhouse, but there should be a whole post for that. These are all recommended to fans of Sci Fi, except The Iron Giant, which is recommended to everyone.

Now go see Watchmen! Then see it again!

12
Mar
09

Eternal Sunshine of the Kickass Spies

Like the title ? I think it’s the best I can do… whatever I’m tired.

Today we’ll be talking about Dollhouse, the new show from Joss Whedon. I planned to write a review here after watching three episodes, but I watched the first four instead. This fourth episode really changes the tilt of this review…

I had low expectations for this show. Quite low. I hammered it for ripping off Street Fighter. I goofed on Joss for going back to Fox after all the abuse they have given him… The premise is that there’s a secret enclave full of “dolls”, which are people that can have their memories and personalities wiped and swapped. These dolls are used for all kind of cloak and dagger and secret agenty type stuff. Of course, each episode can have the dolls specialize in a different thing, since they can have knowledge of certain skills implanted in their heads with the personalities.

Pretty typical science fiction fare… it looks like it’s going to end with the dolls slowly becoming aware and escaping. Whatever though, Joss isn’t known for his originality so much. I’ll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by this show… at least for the first two episodes. It has some pretty good characters so far. It felt like it was starting to grow on me.

Episode three was a little shaky for me. It wasn’t outright bad, but it was a little weaker than the previous two. Episode four set up a really cool situation. Echo (played by Eliza Dushku) has been given the personality of a master thief of sorts in order to break into a vault and steal an artifact. After answering her phone, something goes wrong and her memory is wiped while she is on the job, causing her to revert back to her “blank” child like state. One of the crew betrays them and locks them in the vault. So now they’re trapped and she has lost her super thief skills. This is shaping up to be pretty cool…

She and the other robbers prepare to make a last stand in the vault. The guards are approaching… it shows them all loading their guns. There are a few other operatives from the Dollhouse working to try and get them out before they are discovered in the vault… 

… it ends with Echo just kinda leaving through the hole in the wall that she used to enter the damn vault to begin with…. encountering no resistance on her way out. Meaning they never were really trapped… meaning she and the other robbers had SOME kind of escape route the whole time… meaning the last stand was completely unnecessary. There were many diversions and dangling parts of the episode that didn’t shape up to anything too… The whole episode felt like it was artificially stretched to hit that Fox “remote free tv” format.

The show still shows promise, but the last two episodes have left me a little disappointed. I’ll keep an eye on it for a few more episodes and see how it shapes up. So far, it really deserves the mixed reviews it’s been getting.

09
Mar
09

The essence of good post design…

Movies… games… movies… games… I think sometimes we need to break things up here. Today let’s talk about the awful jargon and buzzwords that we fall into using when talking about movies, games, and a few other things. Sometimes these are words we use incorrectly, but often they are ones we stumble into.

 

First… “design”. People tend to throw this one around when they aren’t sure about using a more detailed term. You also encounter this from people who have seen way too many TED talks. Somehow, “design” has morphed to mean any aspect of anything, whether it was actually designed or not.
Example:
“This is not good website design!”
“Well, how would you improve on it?”
“It should be more animated… and it should display on my weird resolution”
“Oh, and how would you do that?”
“Through better design!”

 

Next up… “mechanic”. This one applies more directly to gaming. I see it in board gaming more than anywhere else. “Mechanic” refers to the underlying concepts that make a game work. It does NOT refer to a nifty little feature that you can find in a game. It’s kind of hard to avoid this one in discussion sometimes. I don’t know why this one bugs me, because there really isn’t a better word for it… it just seems to come up more often than it should.
Example:
“This ‘stuff leaves blood on the screen when it blows up’ gameplay mechanic rules!”

 

“Elegant” is another one that pops up in game reviews. It isn’t so much used incorrectly as it is overused. We should save that word and use it to refer to something really special. It should also be used to refer to when every aspect of the game comes together in an elegant way, not to one piece that works particularly smoothly.
Example:
“The menus are elegantly configured, but the battle system is muddy and the control is sub-elegant at best.”

 

Let’s talk about “gritty”. This word sneaks its way into almost every piece of media that I see reviewed. It’s shown up in plenty of recent superhero film reviews, with Watchmen and The Dark Knight. I see it in video game reviews as well, particularly in first person shooters that have an emphasis on grime. The worst is when you see it in the promos for magic tricks. “Gritty” has become a sort of catchphrase to rope in street magicians.
Example: “The dark and gritty underworld of New York city”

 

“Purple prose” is a term that really bothers me. I’m an English student, so maybe I encounter this one a little more than most people, but it’s an awful cliche. Without getting into the various discussions about writing styles and hue angles… just don’t use the term unless you really know what you’re trying to say. I also don’t know how “purple” became the negative word of choice and “flowery” became the positive one.
Example : “His prose was more purple than a Chrysanthemum in the moonlight on All Hallow’s Eve. It lacks the rich floweriness that mine so skillfully exhibits.”

 

Okay… I might finally get around to seeing and commenting on the first three episodes of Dollhouse next post. We’ll see!