Monday, November 30, 2009

The Clone Wars: Season 2, Episodes 5, 6, and 7

Returning to Geonosis is a an odd choice, since it's shown as an all-out victory in Attack of the Clones, but I'm sure the creative team wanted something besides droids to shoot, hack, blow up, and set on fire for a change, and doing all that to giant bugs keeps the carnage kid-friendly.

It reminded me of the original Clone Wars TV series. Not in its tone, but in its skillful way of creating just enough story to make all the action scenes feel like more than just a bunch of action scenes.

Despite the show's problems, these guys can always compose exciting action. And this one delivers on a scale not seen since the movies.


It's an Ahsoka episode, and this season has already paid her and Anakin far too much attention, even if the writers have improved the character. She is now barely -- and I mean barely -- tolerable. That or my standards for Star Wars have lowered yet again.

Not a terrible episode, but its inconsequential and sandwiched between two far superior episodes.

This one was a helluva lot of fun.

This episode shifts its focus back to where it belongs: on Anakin and Obi-Wan. Their dialog -- especially Obi-Wan's -- is a solid improvement over previous episodes. The most enjoyable sequence in the whole episode is actually dialog-driven, when Obi-Wan is stalling for time in front of the Queen. That's a big change for this show.

It's a little late in the game for retconning zombies on Geonosis, but there's a wonderfully mad, silly brilliance to worms that slither up giant dead alien bugs' noses and turn them into zombies.

Legacy of Terror wears its influences on its sleeve -- especially Aliens -- a little too proudly, but it's one of the better Clone Wars stories to date.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Clone Wars: Season 2, Episodes 4 -- Senate Spy

There's an episode or two in every season of a show that's just there -- nothing bad, nothing great. Senate Spy is one of those episodes. The show is significant, though, for two reasons.

First, it's the creative team's first attempt at making an episode without a single action scene. I wonder how that played to kids -- especially since the episode focuses on Anakin and Padme's relationship, which I'm sure kids find "icky." Of course, that isn't surprising, since adults found their romance in the prequels to be icky as well.

That being said, the dialog for Anakin and Padme's scenes here is better -- much better -- than the movies, and the voice actors are actually an improvement over Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman. Their first scene together is surprisingly successful.

The second curious thing about Senate Spy is that it's a direct homage to Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious. I don't know whose idea that was, but they got moxie. Not just for attempting -- and mostly succeeding -- to adapt that story into a kids' show, but mostly for the fact that this episode skirts the line between "homage" and "blatant rip-off." While abridged and adapted for Star Wars, Spy's final act lifts whole lines and camera angles from Notorious. I'm unable to pass judgment on these guys, since a genuine affection for Notorious is obvious, but one could possibly make a case for copyright infringement here.

The real problem with this episode is that it lacks the central hook of Notorious: Ingrid Bergman's character actually seduces and marries the traitor, and she becomes the man's penis receptacle for an indeterminate amount of time, while Cary Grant is torn between his feelings and his duty. Without this hook, Senate Spy is an incredibly odd yet tame Star Wars story: we know Padme would never cheat on Anakin in this episode, that Anakin would do anything to protect her, and yet Anakin is fated to kill her a few years later.


Monday, November 23, 2009

The Clone Wars: Season 2, Episode 3 - Children of the Force

Completely forgot I was going to chronicle one adult Star Wars fan's take on where Lucas is taking the franchise these days. So let's get this done:

It's hard not to be blunt about this episode, the third and final episode of a story arc involving Palpatine's plan to kidnap and indoctrinate Force-sensitive children. Why? Because Filoni and company pretty much blow the dismount.

The writers crammed at least several episodes worth of material into one episode, making it one of the most frantic, underdeveloped Clone Wars episodes to date -- with a horribly easy and clean resolution, a complete tonal shift from the previous two episodes. None of this would be too disappointing if this was not the show's best story arc to date.

It was something for adult fans -- especially lovers of the early EU novels -- to enjoy with or without their kids. After all, where did the Emperor get all those Force-sensitive minions from? After all, it's not like the Emperor put an ad out in the galactic papers that said:

Single White Emperor looking for Spies/Assassins with like-minded goals. Humans preferred, Force-Sensitivity required. Travel, flexible hours, and a full benefits package (*). Be your own boss (**)!

* Our generous health plan does not cover Force-Choke related injuries.
** You are not -- and never will be -- your own boss. Emperor Palpatine is lord and master of all things.

So, um, yeah, this could have been a big step forward for The Clone Wars, a truly awesome story arc, one that could have lasted them the whole season. As it is, this episode casts a shadow on the previous two, though they're still pretty damn fun -- especially that zero-G shootout.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fear the Coming of SkyCat!

It has come to my attention, through Facebook of all places, that researchers from IBM are reporting that they've simulated a cat's cerebral cortex, the thinking part of the brain, using a massive supercomputer. The computer has 147,456 processors and 144 terabytes of main memory. For those not up to speed with computers, that's enough junk in the trunk to put the super in supercomputer.

I must ask IBM this: how much computer do you need to simulate the natural instinct to eat, sleep, poop, find nearest sunbeam, bat/kill all interlopers of equal or lesser size, and go bat-shit crazy 'round midnight?

A more cheeky response -- as just supplied by my wife, who is reading over my shoulder as I type this -- would be a supercomputer with 147,456 processors and 144 terabytes of memory. And I just said to her the same thing that I now say to you:
that can't be right. Seriously, an old Apple II should be up for the job, right?

(*) Did an alt-c, alt-v to Seth's post on
Facebook, and tweaked it to my liking ("junk in the trunk enough", etc.). Thanks and/or sorry, Seth. I was in a hurry this morning.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Star Trek (DVD Release)

Watched it for a third time this week. It's been years since a movie simply made me so...happy. Why? Because it's Star Trek. I know there's a sizable chunk of the Trek fanbase that would disagree, and I would tell them to have a wonderful time being bored to tears by Next Gen (*) or Voyager.

It's not deep, which is why I still think Khan and Undiscovered Country are superior films, but J.J. Abrams had one goal for this movie: to remind people why they fell in love with Trek. And underneath the colossal budget and fancy camerawork, it's a classic Trek story -- full of excitement, wonder, good humor, and hope.

Most importantly, Abrams and the screenwriters keep Trek's core appeal alive and active throughout the movie: Trek stories are about people discovering the best parts (or the worst parts, if you're a villain) of their nature.

This DVD is going to get a lot of play in my house in the years to come.

* Don't get me wrong, I like Next Gen -- but there's no denying that some of the blandest, slowest, preachiest Trek stories come from this show.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Random Thoughts - Part VII: The Revenge);title;2

* All right, let's play this broken record: Infinity Ward had two years to make this game and all they could deliver was a five-hour single-player campaign?

Don't get me wrong, thanks to the multiplayer, this game is worth every penny -- but the single-player sometimes feels like an afterthought. Not to say it isn't good. It is very, very good indeed. When these guys hit their mark, they can produce the feeling that you're in a big summer movie like few others. And there's a lot of these moments in MW2, but they always remain moments, instead of forming a cohesive whole. The story is all over the place, muddled, and often difficult to follow, especially to those who didn't replay the first Modern Warfare in the weeks leading up to this game's release.

If you're like me, you're going to have fun, but you're going to say "That's it?" as the credits roll.

* After playing MW2 and Halo: ODST so close together, I've decided that Infinity Ward and Bungie need to collaborate on a game. Each developer is strong where the other is weak. If Infinity Ward produced the excitement (the gameplay, the engine) and Bungie the emotion (the story, the music), you would have a game good enough to make grown men weep.

* Please don't milk this franchise to death, Activision. With a third studio added to the making of Call of Duty games (see link above), the risk of franchise overkill is becoming a real possibility. Thanks to the staggered releases from the two different CoD developers, Modern Warfare 2 is the third game in two years to follow the same basic template, even if World at War and MW2 featured numerous tweaks and improvements.

This series could become the next Tomb Raider or Tony Hawk, and I'd hate for that to happen.

* It seems I've bagged on this game more than praised it, so let me say this: I have played the ever-loving shit out of this game. I devoured the single-player campaign and counted the minutes at work until I could go home and log in a few rounds of multiplayer. That means that the men and women at Infinity Ward are doing something right.

End of line.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Random Thoughts - Part VI)

* Let's close this bastard out. I'm ready to talk about something else.

* Seriously, I know this is as easy as getting pee out of a pool, but can you guys -- and you know who you are -- please drop the obnoxious dick pose while playing this game? How does that, in any way, increase your enjoyment?

Look, I get it if you're twelve. I don't like it, but I get it. But I'm not talking about kids, which I have not encountered with the same regularity as the last two CoD games (this will, said to say, probably change after Christmas). I'm talking about adults.

Adults who should know better -- especially rednecks, which this game has a unusually high proportion of for an online game, since an Xbox requires both electricity and opposable thumbs. In the interest of not fighting fire with fire, I have resisted the urge to ask some of the more offensive rednecks this: "You make out with your sister with that mouth?"

After a week of playing this game, my hope that karma truly exists has steadily grown, and that karmic justice applies even to assholes who believe that the word "motherfucker" can be used as a noun, a verb, and an adjective in the same sentence. The only way I have not heard it used in the last week is as an adverb (example: Man, I motherfuckingly shot that motherfucker in his motherfuckin' junk!"). I don't know what sort of karmic punishment these people deserve, but if reincarnation is involved, I hope it involves super-strict nuns at Catholic Schools who wield those bigass wooden rulers with an iron fist.

On the other hand, I do have a particular karmic punishment for people who gay bash: Ass-rape...lots and lots of ass-rape.

* Dammit, still a little more to say on MW2. Back tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Random Thoughts Part V)

* This borders on being an ungrateful shit, because Infinity Ward took the time to add co-op, but why was Spec Ops designed for only two players? These days, I can only justify two-player co-op if it's the actual story mode. But since Spec Ops was designed specifically for co-op, this is a very odd decision. Between Gears of War 2, Halo: ODST, and both Left 4 Deads, I don't see Spec Ops having much staying power.

* Love the new heartbeat sensor, which acts exactly like the motion tracker in Aliens. In other words, you know that someone is close by, but no idea if they are above or below you. For me, this device is a perfect fit, because it has greatly decreased the times I've been shot in the back and, more importantly, it's provided me with countless opportunities to legitimately quote Bill Paxton's character in Aliens.

Best instance: inside a two-story office in multiplayer one night. A red blip showed up on the heartbeat sensor mounted to my gun, which appeared to be only a few feet away from me. With the thought that I'm terribly clever in my head, I said to my very unimpressed wife in my best/worst Bill Paxton voice: "But that's in the room, man!" Seconds later, I turned around to spot the red blip in person, on a balcony above me, who had spotted me at almost the same time...but since he had a few seconds advantage, he got the drop on me. In real life, I let out a yelp of surprise. My avatar died quite painfully.

The wife, it must be said, remained both unimpressed and uninterested through this serious of events.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Random Thoughts - Part IV)

...the story reverts back to the standard "shoot people, save world, maybe have a sandwich afterward" story typical of the first person shooter genre...

...well, except maybe the sandwich bit.

So, yeah, the mission doesn't make sense. And since it was Lance Henriksen's character, General Shepard, that gave you the orders, and since I had already deduced that Shepard was not, in fact, an android created and owned by Weyland-Yutani Corporation, which meant he could not be trusted, I knew going in that this was a setup, in order to set off a global incident (a war with Russia).

Why would Makarov, a public figure, risk being caught as the leader of this incident? Also, would a country go to war over this? And why choose Russia for this story? Did a Middle Eastern country or China hit a little too close to home? Did Infinity Ward just really want a bunch of Red Dawn references in one of their games? Am I thinking about this too much?

The answer to the final question is probably "yes." For the others, I'm not sure.

Lastly, let's dwell again on the fact that the mission does not require you to shoot innocent civilians. If you were like me, you merely walked through this section, and didn't fire a single bullet until shot at. I'm glad it was designed that way, but to remove all personal feelings from the argument, it does strip much of the emotional power from the story, since you don't actually have to do it. It's like Infinity Ward wanted to have their controversy cake and eat it in public in the least controversial manner possible too.

In short, with all the references to sandwiches and cake, I deduce that I am hungry. To sum up a few days of ranting on the "No Russian" mission, I will say this: I don't know if it should be in the game or not, but I'll tell you this...

...I wouldn't have done it.

One or two more rants to come on Modern Warfare 2.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Random Thoughts - Part III),35376/

...that just means you're a rational, well-adjusted person who is not completely desensitised to violence.

That's a good thing. Run with that.

So, yeah, you're not supposed to enjoy it. You're supposed to be shocked by it and ponder its ramifications. That's a pretty bold choice for a company that could've played it safe and still raked in the dough (or even hired some lackey to do the actual raking -- because they're just that bloody rich). The problem with this sequence is not necessarily that it exists, but that Infinity Ward doesn't have the storytelling chops to justify its existence. Don't get me wrong, these guys kick ass in the gameplay department, but Bioware or Irrational Games they are not.

First off -- and it's possible that I missed something in the lead-in cutscene -- but what outcome could be worth the complicity in such a horrible act? The character you play, an American soldier who has infiltrated a terrorist network, has the opportunity to both capture/kill one of the most wanted men in the world and stop the death of hundreds of innocents. There is, for the lack of a better term, no Sophie's Choice -- no ticking bomb, no trade off to be rationalized. All I could think while playing this segment -- besides the obvious "What the hell is Infinity Ward thinking?" -- was, "Since I was the last terrorist out of the elevator, why not just shot these murdering bastards in the back and have this done with?"

After this...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Random Thoughts - Part II)

* "No Russian." My feelings are so mixed on the subject that it's hard to whittle them down into one coherent argument. One thing I won't do is tell you how you should feel about it.

It will be interesting to see if the media makes a stink about this in the coming weeks, but since there's no poorly textured boobs (GTA: San Andreas) or a sex scene between two consenting adults tame enough to be in a PG-13 movie (Mass Effect), it's hard to imagine them sinking their teeth into this.

First off, I gotta give props to Infinity Ward for giving one the option to skip this mission, without it affecting one's completion score or achievements. Usually, I'd file this in the "way to cover your ass, pussies" drawer, but games don't have a fast-forward button, and I would respect a person's wish to not spend ten or fifteen minutes of their leisure time playing a videogame involving the mass murder of innocent people in an airport.

It's important to stop here and note that you are never required to harm a single unarmed civilian. You don't have to fire a single bullet until the army shows up. Admittedly, this does not make everything honky dory.

But it's not supposed to make things honky dory. Because here's the thing: it's not supposed to be fun. If you were shocked, horrified, or just a little unnerved...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Random Thoughts -- Part 1)

* Loved Gamestop's "we can be douchebags because someone else was a douchebag first" rational for breaking Modern Warfare 2's street date. Way to turd that one up, guys. Reminded me why I don't like to give you my business.

* I've waited to post about MW2 for a few days, to give people time to complete the still far too short single-player campaign. Thanks to the nifty stat tracker, I know my first time through on normal clocked in at five hours and twelve minutes.

And, trust me, I died. A lot.

Anyway, complaint number one: casting Lance Henriksen as General Shepard. Don't get me wrong, I like the guy -- great actor -- but you simply can't trust the guy -- unless he's android, and even then that trust is hard earned. Also, the name Shepard was a bit of a tip off, since he's proves to be anything but.

I ignored all press about this game, so I didn't know he was in it (or Keith David for that matter, which is awesome). But the second I heard his voice in the first cutscene, I said to myself, "Bad guy."

* Shit, already at 200 words. Back tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Wolfman (Second Trailer)

The best way to describe to you how much I love the original Wolfman movies -- and all the old Universal Monster movies -- is that the wife can easily get a rise out of me by making fun of them.

The Wolfman is my favorite. Somehow, the wife knew this even before we watched it together for the first time. She picked up the VHS sleeve, skimmed the summary, raised an eyebrow, and said, "So...this is about a Wolfman, is it?"

"He's not a Wolfman, he's The Wolfman!" I said to her, trying to make my incredulity sound like mock incredulity, in the hopes of keeping the prospect of sex with me sound like a fun, exciting venture.

So, yeah, I'm a fan. But I'm still not terribly excited about this new Wolfman movie, even after watching the second trailer, which makes the film look like it'll be a solid remake -- good cast, good director, the right setting and period, a nice balance of practical and digital effects. I was able to figure out why I'm not that excited about this movie with this trailer: it's the need to turn Anthony Hopkins's character, Lionel Talbot's (The Wolfman) father, into a villain.

One of the most compelling elements of the original Wolfman, which makes it so distinct, is that there is no real villain in the story. Those afflicted with the werewolf curse have no control over it, and Lionel's father and the villagers believe they're merely hunting an animal for the entire run of the film. The film's resolution is haunting, tragic.

I'll keep the ranting down to a minimum till the movie comes out, in case I'm wrong, but I really do hate it when a big studio makes a film -- especially a retelling of a classic story -- about a troubled, possibly unsympathetic protagonist and feels the need to unnecessarily create an even more troubled, even more unsympathetic character so the protagonist doesn't look so bad in comparison and has someone to have a big action scene with in the film's climax. This never works, and it takes the teeth out of any story.

Here's hoping this one doesn't suck.