Friday, February 29, 2008

Weekend Plans of the Nerd Kind (Feb. 29th – March 2nd)

MOVIES: Some good finds this week: I’ve got Ratatouille, Eastern Promises, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance lined up for the weekend, none of which I’ve seen.

GAMES: Gamefly and Half-Price have been too good to me this month, with Forza 2, G.R.A.W. 2, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, and Beautiful Katamari sitting on the top of my TV console, all vying – pleading – for my affections...and I still haven’t completed my second pass through Bioshock. I need to quit slacking, because Vegas 2 isn’t far off and will dominate my gaming time until GTA IV's release.

BOOKS: It’s taking me a long time to get through Peter Viertel’s White Hunter, Black Heat, because the film adaptation (one of Clint Eastwood’s best films) was exceedingly faithful to the novel, so there’s very little new story to find in Viertel's excellent novel. I try to read fifty pages of print a day, because the more I read, the more I write. White Hunter is slowing me down. Richard Matheson’s Hell House is lined up next, and I’m trying to resist the temptation of picking it up before finishing White Hunter.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (The Film - Part II)

Later that same rant…

* Personally, I think that old cliché “show, don’t tell” is a bunch of bullshit. They both work, depending on what the scene demands – but an omniscient narrator interrupting the movie every two minutes to “tell” us what is already on the screen is ridiculous. Watch the scene where Robert Ford walks through James’s empty home with the sound off and see if you don’t agree with me. The narration probably takes up 15-20 minutes of screen time that should be dedicated to Jesse James and Robert Ford…

* …who feel woefully underdeveloped, which is weird, because screenwriter/director Andrew Dominik has almost three fucking hours to tell this story. The movie starts strong, but after the brilliantly staged train robbery, the movie loses sight of both James and Ford, spending too much time on supporting characters and subplots that either run too long or are completely unnecessary. And while Pitt’s character should be an enigma, since his character is growing ever more paranoid and psychotic (two bad tastes that don’t taste great together), Dominik’s take on Jesse James is too cryptic for the movie to work.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (The Film - Part I)

As the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford collected dust in the Warner Bros. archives for a year, completed but delayed, I wonder if the studio, who lately has seemed unable to grasp that people would want to see a genre film with artistic integrity, thought of bringing in someone like Renny Harlin or the Wachowski Brothers, as they did for The Exorcist prequel and The Invasion, to rewrite and re-shoot large portions of the film. You know, make it consumer friendly – throw in more action (no one wants to see people talk for too long), some comic relief (don’t want anyone to feel too glum, now), and some display of breasts (teenage boys are their biggest demographic).

Luckily, this didn’t happen. Jesse James was released in theaters as intended (Warner Bros. probably knew it was worth a few Oscar nominations). I’d like to say it’s a triumph of the artist over corporate Hollywood, a classic film that recalls the near-mythical films of the 70’s, but in its own noble way, Jesses James is as much a mess as the retooled versions of The Exorcist prequel and The Invasion.

Out of words. I’ll leave you hanging until tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Iron Dukes

Found this on Penny Arcade’s website, and, as usual, Mr. Holkins and Mr. Krahulik have not steered me wrong. I was thoroughly impressed with this browser game – and I’m not just saying that because it has a totally rad Tron reference. Iron Dukes shows how much potential there is in browser games now that the tech is powerful enough to create more than Tetris/Bejeweled clones, with charming 2D graphics, intuitive and addictive game design, and, to my surprise, some of the funniest writing I’ve ever seen in a game.

I loved it. And I think you will, too. Can't wait for the full game.

(Insert scurvy joke here.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Black Sheep (2006)

In this geek’s opinion, there’s no of genre of film harder to pull off than the horror/comedy.

Getting under your skin while leaving you just comfortable enough to laugh is damned hard work, and it’s a balancing act that few ever pull off. Offhand, I can think of only a few that truly work on both levels – Ghostbusters, Evil Dead II, Tremors, Shaun of the Dead, Slither (feel free to sound off if I’ve missed one). I was hoping to add Black Sheep, a film where mutated killer sheep terrorize the New Zealand countryside, to the list, but it doesn’t live up to those iconic films.

It’s too silly to ever be scary, but not silly enough to be consistently funny. There’s a lot untapped potential here, but the premise alone is brilliant enough for the movie to get by, and I think first time writer/director Jonathan King will be a name to watch in the future. I’d watch it before buying it, but I’d definitely watch it, especially if you’re a fan of the genre.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Oscar Picks (Final Verdict)

Well, I did an especially sucktastic job this year with my Oscar picks, with just above a 50% average. Here’s a few of the big ones I got wrong and (possibly) why:

Best Actress and Best Makeup: You should never underestimate The Academy’s love of the bio-pic – especially one that requires some form of physical transformation on the actor's part – which I did.

Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress: I thought The Academy would honor two screen legends – Julie Christie and Ruby Dee.

Best Animated Feature Film: I should have gone with the rat, but I went with Persepolis, because of its unique subject matter, lack of cute talking animals, and classic 2D animation.

Best Director: I thought Paul Thomas Anderson would get this since all the other major awards would go to the Coens.

Best Visual Effects: The Golden Compass was the only film up for the award that I haven’t seen, so I don’t know if it deserved to win or not – but I do know that, even though ILM is the best effects house in the business, The Academy likes to spread the wealth between the different effects studios, whether they earned it or not.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Academy Awards

I don’t watch the Academy Awards. I can do without the lame jokes, the corny acceptance speeches, and the musical numbers – especially the musical numbers. But if I’m home, I still check Yahoo every half hour or so to see who won.

Above is a link to the nominees and my picks. I’m feeling pretty good about them, especially since I’ve only seen a few of the films. There’s only one I’d change: Best Supporting Actress. I picked Ruby Dee, a screen legend, because I’m certain Julie Christie, another screen legend, is going to win Best Actress – and I thought the Academy would take this year to honor two senior actresses (let's be honest: there's not the same quality of roles for aging women as there are for aging men – at least not in Hollywood – a fact that's simply ludicrous and just not cricket).

But then I thought about Cate Blanchett and her Oscar for playing Kathrine Hepburn in The Aviator, which, I think, required the successful use of a Ouija board. This year she’s up for playing Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Now that’s just showing off.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Black Book (Zwartboek)

Black Book turned out quite different than I expected. It’s certainly grim in places – the Nazis in this film, save one, are cold, remorseless, and terribly efficient at what they do (unless, of course, they’re shooting at a character essential to the plot) – but what Paul Verhoeven has crafted here is as much a crime thriller as a war drama, and he wants the majority of your attention focused on the twists and turns of the plot, not the horrors of war. The message underneath (take from it what you will) is a bitter pill.

Getting the hell out of Hollywood was a wise move on Verhoeven’s part, and I wondered while watching Black Book what the hell happened to him after Total Recall that drove him to make films like Showgirls and Hollow Man. Black Book isn’t perfect: It’s a little too trashy at times to take seriously, and Müntze -- the Nazi that Rachel, the main character, seduces -- is never properly developed. I was unable to measure what kind of man he truly was or see what Rachel saw in him. But it’s cool to see that Verhoeven can still make a film of Black Book’s quality.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Weekend Plans of the Nerd Kind (Feb 22nd – Feb 24th)

The D&D group was supposed to convene tonight, but that fell through. It’s a shame – everyone leveled last week and my cleric hit 17. Most of us are graduate students, so we can’t get together but a few times a year. We’ve been playing the same campaign since 2001, and we’re hoping to wrap things up before switching to the 4th Edition – if we switch, of course (more ranting about that to come).

On the 360, I’m going through Bioshock for the second time. The plan was to grab some missed achievements and try out the evil path. But I picked up my first Little Sister, hesitated, and decided that I couldn’t harvest her. I just couldn't. Also got Tomb Raider: Anniversary in the mail courtesy of Gamefly. Yes, I’m playing a Tomb Raider game. Would you kindly shut the hell up about it?

Got Knocked Up and Black Book (2006) checked out from work on DVD. I haven’t seen either, but I should watch Black Book first – it's been checked out for over a month. I haven’t psyched myself up for a depressing movie yet, even one rich with boobies.

It is Paul Verhoeven, after all.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

It’s Superman! (Final Thoughts)

Continued from yesterday:

The freedom DC allowed De Haven is astonishing, especially since Superman is one of their most lucrative, kid-friendly characters. Not that this is a dark revisionist take in the vein of Frank Miller or Alan Moore. It’s simply an honest tale. De Haven doesn’t shy away from what violence can do to the human body, a lynching in the middle act shows Clark that not every person is worth saving, and his characters -- even Clark -- drink, smoke, and shag.

Supposedly, there’s a “director’s cut” of the novel, running right around 1,000 pages, which the author trimmed in half for publication. While I agree that this novel should be a fast read, his truncation isn’t perfect. The middle section feels alternately too long or too short, depending on which character De Haven is following. Lex Luthor’s henchmen get too much attention, and Clark’s girlfriend in Hollywood, who is far more endearing than Lois Lane, gets a quick, unsatisfactory write-off.

Anyway, out of words. Find It’s Superman!, read it, and enjoy the hell out of it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It’s Superman!

Tom De Haven has accomplished an incredible feat with this novel: he’s made Superman – who's almost always too decent and noble and perfect to be interesting – into an emotionally engaging character. Well, that’s not exactly right – because this isn’t Superman’s story, it’s Clark Kent’s. And what a story it is: moving and bittersweet, full of action and wit, there’s never been a comic tie-in novel of this quality.

By setting the story in 1930’s, the time period where Superman belongs (like The Green Hornet or The Shadow, Superman doesn’t work to me if you set the story past the early 1960’s), De Haven has brought a sense of freedom and wonder back to the character. Here, Clark Kent isn’t an act put on by Superman. He’s simply a young farm boy, shy and awkward, both blessed and cursed with extraordinary powers (and even a little afraid of them – and rightfully so). A B-student whose intelligence doesn’t match his super-strength, he’d much rather live out his life as a mild-mannered reporter and never be Superman, and De Haven creates excellent reasons why Clark would want this.

Crap. Running out of words. I’ll pick this up again tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Team Fortress 2 (Badlands – First Thoughts)

I’m not tired of the six maps originally released with Team Fortress 2 – but the mysterious power the game held over me, that beguiled me into believing that there wasn't anything else to possibly do with my free time, has slowly ebbed away. For the last month, I haven’t played it much – and only on the PC – until the release of Badlands, which has got me back to playing TF 2 more than Call of Duty 4.

It’s another large Capture Point level with five points, like Well and Granary. Unlike those two levels, it’s not laid out as a (mostly) flat rectangle. It’s quite a balanced map, with lots of flanking opportunities and nice corners for spies, engineers, and pyros to be complete bastards with.

It’s a shame that it’ll be awhile until Badlands is released on the Xbox 360. There’ve been eighteen updates on the PC since TF 2’s release, and only a single update on the 360 – which is still almost unplayable. Valve’s lack of support for this version is odd and surprising.

I’m starting to think Valve told Microsoft one night that they were going out for some ice cream and then never came back…

Monday, February 18, 2008

Supernatural Superserious

I’m digging the song, though it took some time to grow on me, mostly because I’m a few years past my “teenage station.” I lost track of time yesterday playing around with the website, listening to the various acoustic versions of the song (the take in the sex shop is the best).

It sounds like R.E.M. has finally resolved the problem of how to make an album without a permanent drummer, which has plagued the band since Bill Berry left. They used it to their advantage on Up – which, like New Adventures in Hi-Fi, is sorely underrated – but Reveal and Around the Sun suffered because of it.

Superserious sounds like a real rock song on what could be a kickass album. With Bob Mould also releasing a new album this year, now all I need are new albums from They Might Be Giants and Paul Westerberg. Then all my early 80’s nerd rock dreams will be complete for 2008.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Teaser Trailer)

The first trailer’s up and it kicks ass.

It’s hard to judge too much from the teaser -- it’s mostly a collection of stunts and one-liners -- but it’s put to rest any doubts that this would be another half-hearted, “back in the saddle for one last paycheck” sequel like Terminator 3 or Die Hard 4.

There’s a little more CGI and wire work on display than I expected, but that unquantifiable “it” Harrison Ford has when he dons that fedora is clearly back, and it looks like Spielberg is finally letting himself have fun again, making the kind of movie he does best. And that’s all that matters to this geek.

Oh, and Cate Blanchett with that haircut and outfit...

That’s the best damn looking commie I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few in my time.