Archive for September, 2009

30
Sep
09

Settling nerd debates once and for all!

Since I now see my sexy geeky girlfriend on Mondays and Thursdays, it’s getting hard to get a post out on schedule. I think I’m going to try moving to sundays and wednesdays. Adjust your calendars, folks… I know this matters to you.
Today, we’re going to address some easy answers to some tough nerd debates.
Is Deckard a replicant!? I think part of the reason why Blade Runner is so beloved in nerd circles is because of this little ambiguity that completely doesn’t matter. Yeah, if he was a replicant that would be an ironic turn for the story. Yeah, there’s definitely room for that interpretation, but the point is that there’s room for it, not that you are supposed to endlessly debate it one way or the other.
As a side note, one of my current English classes has a real problem with ambiguity. Some of the people absolutely can’t tolerate it and demand one specific reading. Others languish in it and just mentally stop after saying “it’s ambiguous”. I don’t want to accidentally praise Blade Runner here, but the strength of a good ambiguity is that it lets you see multiple (often contradictory) interpretations by themselves, and then realize the beauty of the ambiguity on the whole. If you’re arguing on a scene by scene basis whether or not Deckard is a replicant, you’re missing the point.
I know I’ve said several times that I will soon go after Blade Runner on this blog. I really should at some point, but I just can’t bring myself to sit through it and outline a post.
“They’re not zombies in 28 Days Later… They’re people that are infected with the rage virus.” Sure, technically you may be right here. Although the movie doesn’t go into huge detail about how the rage virus works other than saying it works really fucking fast, the people aren’t exactly the living dead. That being said, 28 Days Later is absolutely a “zombie movie”, even if it features a slight variation on zombie lore. I Am Legend, one of the founding pieces of the zombie subgenre, features vampires, not zombies. It’s a zombie flick, okay? Stop quibbling with this.
Okay so that’s two quick answers to end nerd debate. Here’s a call to start one.
Fahrenheit 451. This book is awesome. I’m sure you know that, though. What bugs me is when people cite this as a book about government censorship, when it’s not at all. It isn’t about some oppressive force wanting to squash all provocative ideas and keeping the people down. It’s about the people themselves no longer wanting those ideas as their minds rot away, since their culture has simplified everything. Fahrenheit 451 itself has been simplified and misunderstood and changed into “that book about the government burning books”.
Now THAT is more ironic than some replicant killing other replicants.
24
Sep
09

Gardens of the Moon – and other fantasy books

Today we’re going to talk about books again. Although I’m an English student, I’m not a smart enough English student to not start a 700 page fantasy novel in the last week of summer. I decided to give Steven Erikson’s series a stab with his first novel: Gardens of the Moon.

I’ve been on a quest for an epic fantasy series that I can actually invest in and stay invested in. Because of that, I’ve read the first book in several different fantasy and fantasy-ish series. In case you’re in even remotely the same boat, I will be offering little comparisons to the competition at the end of this review. Until then though, let’s get into this monster of a book.

Gardens of the Moon is the first book in the “Malazan Book of the Fallen”, which is supposed to be 10 books long, with only one book left to come out. Now, both the book title and the series title might be enough to put off some people, but they were unlikely to read it anyway.

This book is so big in scope, this review might need to be DOUBLE SIZE. Oh yes, that’s right… I made up for missing monday’s post. All of the things I’m about to say are both pros and cons. If they appeal to you, you’ll probably like this book, if they don’t… run away and save yourself the time.

So what’s it about? Well it’s about war and treachery. There is a big war between the Malazan Empire and the various cities and civilizations on the defending continent of Genabackis. The story begins with a huge ass siege, and then spends the rest of the novel building up to another huge confrontation in a city called Darujhistan, which is the biggest and most economically powerful city on the continent.

There are good guys and bad guys on either side. In fact, this book REALLY blurs that traditional fantasy line of heroes of light and minions of darkness. It doesn’t play up this aspect and push the murky morals of it into the open, it just has many characters that you can choose whether you like or not, and then wonder as to what their true motives are, since everyone has hidden motives.

Okay, so I just said many characters. There are MANY characters. I don’t think you understand. For a single 700 page novel, there are an insane amount of characters in this book. Many of them get their own point of view sections as well (not unlike the Song of Ice and Fire series, but we’ll get to that later). That being said, all the characters that are important do get equal attention, and the plots are woven together expertly. I never found myself wondering for 50 pages where someone was, since Erikson jumps around so much.¬†Of course, this means that some characters end up really well developed and others end up as “so-and-so, the badass assassin dude”.

Everyone is badass too. All of the assassins are just a few notches from the best assassin ever. There are wizards that are so powerful they give other wizards headaches if they stand in the same room. There are even “ascendants”, who are the God like forces in the novel. They’re kind of like Greek Gods, in that they have personalities and they secretly manipulate people from behind the scenes. They can be killed as well, which of course means there are characters so badass the Gods fear them. Divine intervention is completely probable in this book. Some people will think it’s a lazy way out of certain situations, but I’ve found that Erikson hasn’t used it just to get himself out of a tight spot yet.

This is a fantasy novel that involves tons of magic. The sorcery in this book is not only overtly explained, it’s absolutely devastating. One of the first memorable moments in the book involves a mage that has been split in half during the opening battle, desperately trying to mend his wounds with spells.

Oh yeah that leads me in to my next thing: it’s really bloody. The action sequences are excellent too. Erikson really knows how to write about a sword fight and make it seem interesting on both a visceral level and a tactical level.

All of these things you can kind of take either way, so let’s talk a bit more about what I personally thought of this book. I found myself really rooting for some of the characters, but finding them all interesting in their own way. I though the action was really well done throughout. The only thing about the writing I didn’t like was that some characters warranted way more physical description than others, and for no real reason. Some human characters get huge and repeated amounts of description, whereas stranger and non human characters do not. Maybe I’m just used to my pal China Mieville, who will launch into the most awesome creature descriptions whenever you give him the chance.

The other thing I found myself struggling with was the ending. I guess it’s just a symptom of having such a gigantic book, with this book as just the first in a series of ten, but there were many threads that were hinted at early in the book that didn’t tie up at the end. Obviously, they will be continued in the later ones, but they were ones that I expected to close. Some characters also got no concluding sections, with just their last moment being whatever they did in the last confrontation. Like… they lived, but I don’t know where they’re going from here or what they’re planning.

Also, some really strange magical shit happened at the end of the book that irked, unlike the magic in the rest of the story. At one point, a dragon is released into the city (and Erikson was doing such a good job of avoiding fantasy cliches up until then), and one character turns into a dragon to fight it. Then when they fight, they both turn into their humanoid forms and duke it out with swords… okay? Also a weird magical force that was never even mentioned until that point showed up and did some pretty important things. I assume it will be explained in future stories… but graaah.

Despite my quibbles, I will read the next book at some point. Not right away, since I have a pile of other books to read, but eventually. I’ll look forward to it as well I’m sure.

Now, for some cheap shots!

– The Song of Ice and Fire. Listen to me George R. R. Martin fans. This series will not end. The author has no interest in finishing it in a timely or professional manner. It was a pretty good series, but George has simply fallen out of love with it. Erikson, on the other hand, put out his books at a good clip, and has only one left (fingers crossed).

– The Black Company. Erikson’s books owe a little debt to Glen Cook’s Black Company books. I really wanted to like them, but I found the writing style and general pacing to be irritating. There was no sense of scope or feel for the overall flow of the story. It just felt like small skirmishes that were interchangeable.

– The Wheel of Time. I wanted to point and laugh… but that would be just cruel.

18
Sep
09

Dumb shit people say after trailers.

I just watched the new trailer for “Paranormal Activity”, which is getting some serious buzz as the next big thing in the horror genre. I’ll cross my fingers for that, but that isn’t the point of this post. The trailer used night vision cameras pointed at a test audience freaking out to kind of build hype for the next “scariest movie ever made”. [Rec] did this too, and I’m sure some other horror film did it before that. I almost thought “hmm, kinda like that one [Rec] Trailer”, just in terms of how the film is pitched… but then I caught myself about to say something stupid.

What other stupid things can people say based on trailers alone? Well let’s list a few.

“A comedy with zombies? Totally rips off Shaun of the Dead…”

Example : Zombieland.

Shaun of the Dead kicked a whole lot of ass and I’m glad it got a huge audience instead of just the usual zombie loving cult people, but it was by no means the first comedy with zombies. In fact, Shaun of the Dead owes plenty of its style and tone to the Return of the Living Dead series, as well as several others. Great film, but don’t call others like it a rip off just because it’s the only zombie comedy you’ve ever seen. While we’re at it… who’s psyched for Zombieland?

OMG it’s like a documentary or something! IS IT REAL OR JUST FAKE LOL!?

Example : The Poughkeepsie Tapes. Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The Blair Witch Project.

There’s a sub group for these people, the people that bash the movie because it’s “fake”. Selling a movie as “found footage” from a real event can sometimes lend it some real atmosphere, but the filmmakers are never expecting you to actually be fooled by this. Sometimes it’s done really well, sometimes it’s done really poorly, but it’s never bad because it pretends it really happened and it didn’t. Most movies pretend things happen.

This movie looks so scary can someone please give me a plot synopsis and spoil every scary part in great detail!?!?

Example : MANY.

This one seems to be mostly symptomatic of IMDB, and it seems to be relatively new. I don’t understand this at all. It seems to come from people that have a genuine interest in horror movies, but psyche themselves out to the point where they can’t bring themselves to actually sit through one. I don’t know how that can actually occur in someone’s head, since the curiosity in the story demonstrates a desire to see it, why would someone want it cheapened? If I told you I had a real interest in Tolstoy, but I don’t want to read Tolstoy, I just want to have it explained to me in great detail, wouldn’t you question that?

Maybe I’ll come up with more of these eventually, but those are the ones that jump to mind after spending a little too long browsing around online. Sorry this post was late, but I’ll keep on the normal schedule on Monday!

14
Sep
09

Area 51 – This conspiracy sucks.

So I’ve slowed down on my gaming in the last couple weeks. I think it’s because I’m sitting on a bunch of really involved games that I don’t have the time or concentration to sit down and learn, so I’ve been playing more brainless stuff in the meantime.

Lately I’ve been giving Area 51 a shot. It’s EVERYTHING that’s wrong with first person shooters today.¬†Please note I’m not referring to the old arcade shooter game. That one is a classic in many ways. I’m talking about the shooter from 2005…. it’s just awful.

Let’s start with the story. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting a really original or involved plot, but man is this one run of the mill. Ready? Something goes wrong at Area 51, and your dude is sent in with a bunch of other dudes to stop it. Oh noes! It’s a viral infection that’s turning everyone into bloodthirsty aliens! Oh noes! Your squad is slowly but surely killed off by scripted in game events!

David Duchovny voices the main character, who dumps huge amounts of already revealed exposition in voice overs between levels. Now, I love David Duchovny. I’m a big Californication fan. His voice acting is up there with Tobey Maguire’s for the worst ever in a video game. He sounds like he was woken up in the middle of the night and forced in front of a microphone. It’s awful.

Eventually, you’re the only dude left and you get exposed to the virus. For some reason, instead of turning you into one of the monsters you’ve been fighting, it gives you the ability to switch between mutant and human form… Neither one of these are interesting.

Human form gets the typical array of FPS guns as you take on about 3 or 4 different enemy types in really repetitive environments. Mutant form lets you shoot parasites (which behave quite a bit like bullets) or claw people, but you constantly need to replenish your mutagen. I found human form to be far more effective anyway… so that gameplay element gets immediately shot down.

It has all the things that games this recent should not be able to get away with, which I shall list in sentence fragments: Labeling objectives that are five feet away. Inane fetch quests where you get a key in one room and use it in the next room over. Repetitive level design that gives no sense of tension, progression, or exploration. Ridiculous amounts of health and ammo so that you’re always maxed out, even at higher difficulties.

There’s talk about making a film about the game. Hoo boy. It’ll be REALLY dull unless they punch it up and depart from the story big time. Wikipedia says they’ve hired Grant Morrison (a huge comic legend that I think is pretty okay) to write it. He’s known for really original stuff though, so maybe he’ll do something cool with it, like maybe portraying the aliens as sympathetic and the humans as the bad guys! Maybe they just want to leave Area 51 and we’re keeping them here against their will and experimenting on them! Oooh maybe the evil scientists are trying to capture boring protagonist guy because he is the only one that can mutate at will to use their abilities!

Nah that’d be stupid.

10
Sep
09

Della-what? It’s Cemetery Man…

I’ll start this post with a question for comic book fans. In the entire history of X-men, has Magneto ever used his power to wipe a computer hard drive? I mean that seriously by the way, someone let me know… because if they haven’t addressed that, they should.

Anyway, I’ve been running this blog since October of last year, and I haven’t talked about zombie movies nearly enough… so I’m going to quickly highlight one of my favorites. It’s actually not created by George Romero (SHOCKING!).

Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery man here in North America) is a zombie film from the 90s that is not only one of the best zombie films ever made, but one of the best horror/comedies as well.

The basic plot outline is as follows: Rupert Everett plays a cemetery worker who buries bodies in a strange cemetery where the dead are returning to life after seven days in the earth. He says at one point in the film that he tried to alert the local authorities to the zombie problem, but he refuses to fill out the required forms, he’s afraid of them closing his cemetery, and they don’t seem to believe him anyway, so he just shoots the zombies and reburies them.

As you may expect here, the zombies are more of a nuisance than anything else. Though they’re seen throughout the movie, they are not what drives the plot. Most of the movie follows Everett as he slowly loses his mind after becoming enamored with a widow known only as “She”.

The characters are excellent and the writing is the perfect kind of darkly funny. I can’t write this little post without mentioning Gnaghi, Everett’s assistant who speaks only by saying “Gna!”. He’s a hilarious supporting character who could have been gimmicky in any other movie, but here he is developed well. He even has a love affair with a severed zombie head…. yeah.

I find most “wacky comedies about death” to be kind of cutesy for the sake of it, but Dellamorte Dellamore manages to be genuinely funny when it wants to be. The “when it wants to be” part definitely strikes some people as strange. The movie has this strange tone about it where it can shift between serious and philosophical stuff into goofy stuff with no real problem. I chalk this up to it being a foreign film with a very different sense of humor. It’s not your typical horror comedy formula of “lots of blood = HILARIOUS”.

By the end of the movie, the zombies are almost completely forgotten and it is only about Everett’s character. It has a rather cryptic ending, which is neither uplifting nor really depressing. It leaves me wanting a little bit more, or feeling like maybe I should watch the movie again. That’s not a bad thing though…

Seriously, if you have any interest in zombie movies or horror comedies, you must check out Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery Man). It balances some real drama with some good laughs. It has some great lines and some great zombie slaying. It even has a few hilarious “WTF” moments.

It’s odd. Definitely a unique horror film… it makes me want to hunt down the comic series that inspired it…

07
Sep
09

Tales of Monkey Island

What do you mean, you haven’t seen Annex’d episode 4 yet? It’s got some pretty talented people behind it… in fact, do yourself a favor and go back and watch ’em all. I celebrate their entire catalog.

Today, we’re going to talk about the Tales of Monkey Island. Yahtzee recently did a video about it where he gave it the usual slamming, but I’m going to stick up for it just a bit.

Tales of Monkey Island has currently released two out of five new monkey island “episodes” that will tell one complete story over the course of the series. I’ve played through the first one and about two thirds (I think) through the second, and I have to say I find them quite enjoyable.

I hear some people weren’t comfortable with the idea of moving Guybrush around with the mouse and then using that same mouse to click on things. … ‘kay? I don’t know what the problem is with this one. Sure, occasionally you’ll get hung up on a doorway or whatever, but it’s not like Resident Evil where there’s a zombie chewing on your face if you don’t move quickly enough. It’s an adventure game! It doesn’t need absolutely perfect controls. I found them completely functional. The camera also did a much better job of showing which areas are accessible than Escape From Monkey Island, the last 3D game in the series.

While we’re talking about controls, they got rid of the verbs and completely streamlined everything. Guybrush can click on objects to interact with them. He’ll do whatever the appropriate action is, you don’t need to decide whether he needs to “push”, “open”, or “use” a door, he just does it. The inventory is also made much simpler, and this might be the only time I’ll say this, but here simple isn’t a bad thing. Previous games had you lugging around around thirty different thingamajigs, some of which you would use once and then just hang onto indefinitely, and others where you’d need to keep them for multiple uses.

The graphics and environments are decent but not great. They get the job done. Again, nobody expects Monkey Island to be completely cutting edge. It’s true that the minor character models are pretty boring, but Guybrush and the other main characters are surprisingly expressive.

How’s the writing? Better than Monkey Island 4. Like all the games, it’s filled with witty references to all the other games, and often to other unrelated LucasArts games. The story is pretty good so far too. It feels like the game is trying to walk that line between honoring the past games and still telling a new story.

I look forward to the next three games. In fact, this game makes me somewhat interested in some of the other games released by Telltale, such as the Sam and Max games. Perhaps I’ll give those a shot some day.

Oh and because every article written about Monkey Island needs to include at least one dorky reference… that’s the second biggest monkey head I’ve ever seen.

03
Sep
09

Reviewspeak

The whole world can (and does) write reviews now… me included obviously. I don’t take a whole lot of style points into consideration when I write these posts. For the most part, I just try to organize my nonsense into the most readable format I can. There are certain cliches, common mistakes, and crutches that drive me absolutely crazy in reviews and articles though.

List them? I shall.

“Addicting”. Okay. I understand that there is a huge debate in the grammar world (the grammar world!?) about this one. As far as I’m concerned, when you’re using it as an adjective, you should use “addictive”… and somehow in the last 10 years “addicting” has snuck into its place. “Addicting” can be used as a transitive verb if someone is addicting someone to something, but that something (noun) cannot BE addicting. There has been discussion on this, but if addicting can be used this way, then what is the point of addictive as a word? Use “addictive”, or else I’ll be addicting you to those ever so addictive cigarettes.

“Dripping with theme”. This is one primarily from the board game world…. and I hate it. Is this the only way we have to say that something has pretty pictures and a sense of atmosphere and story? Why is it always dripping? Why doesn’t it drip with OTHER things… and why don’t other things drip with theme? It’s a phrase that has been absolutely worn out.

“The acting was bad/good” (with no reference to specific actors or scenes). People seem to just throw this one in to bolster their positive or negative statements about a movie. Of course, a review should mention acting if possible, but it should mention what is good/bad about it and why. For some reason people have no problem doing this with other aspects of a movie, but people writing about acting rarely back it up with examples … or even real judgements.

“For fans only.” I may be guilty of this one… but off the top of my head I’m not completely sure. The reason this one bugs me is it is completely condescending towards both specific fans and fans in general. It has that “Oh people with taste don’t enjoy this, but you’re a fan of the previous ones so your stupid mind will love it” feel to it. This one can work in a well explained review, but most of the time people just tack it on the end for some reason, perhaps to save themselves from fan responses.

ANY reference to The Emperor’s New Clothes. This one always pops up when a reviewer wants to go against the stream and point out that everyone is foolish and wrong. I’m really tired of this one. The story is a classic, sure… but you don’t need to invoke it every time there’s hype that you disagree with.

Hmm… looking back at these I realize that some of them are way more common than others. I also realized that I probably read way too many reviews… what can I say, it’s addictIVE.