Friday, August 12, 2011

Weekend Plans of the Nerd Kind (August 12th -- 14th)

WRITING: The new job has well and truly kicked my ass, and writing has been the last thing on my mind this summer. The timing sucks, since both my collaborators currently have the time to get the layouts ready for each project. I don't know if it's the heat or the increased workload, but my creativity all but dries up each summer. The change of seasons into autumn always energizes me, and I need to be three issues ahead of these guys before the holidays rear their ugly head.

We're probably releasing the comedy script for free online, with a page a day for the first 22 days of each month. If this works, there probably won't be an issue every month, but we're going to make sure each story arc runs back to back.

More updates to come. I should be meeting with each artist in the next week or two, and we'll see where we're at with each project.

TV and MOVIES: Definitely back on an indie/foreign film kick. Watched Ulee's Gold and Spring Forward this week on Netflix's streaming service. Dug the hell out of both -- especially Spring Forward. I don't like talking about movies I discover on Netflix too much, because it's such a joy to discover movies -- good movies -- these days.

Anyway, give Spring Forward a chance. It's a beautiful movie, with two of the most realized characters I've ever seen in a movie. There are a few on the nose moments in the script, but it's a great story and Ned Beatty and Liev Schreiber deliver incredible performances.

Getting towards the end of the second season of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. The quality of the episodes is still surprisingly uneven, especially so late into the show's run (the final episodes have already aired in the UK), but when it all comes together, this show is pretty damn amazing. The writing and animation is well above average -- and the quality of the voice acting may even exceed that of Batman: The Animated Series.

Much to my surprise, The Brave and the Bold treats death as something, you know, permanent. That's a rarity in any superhero franchise, in any medium. And the fact that it's happening on this show and not in mainstream comics is simply bizarre. Several heroes have died this season, and the show often stresses that they're not coming back. I can't tell you how welcome and refreshing this is.

GAMES: Addicted to Fight Night Champion on my newly acquired iPhone (my first cell phone). The graphics are solid, about in line with a PSP title, and the touch controls are as solid as EA's last two boxing titles on the current consoles. It has the same depth and quality of a solid DS or PSP game, and it costs a fraction of price. I think that qualifies as "snazzy."

BOOKS: Not too much. I've got the main Marvel Civil War collection checked out form work. I'll probably knock that out this weekend.

* * * *

Have a good weekend, guys.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Thing (Teaser Poster for the Prequel)

So, the prequel for The Thing, one of the most awesome horror movies to ever awesome, is called...The Thing?


Well, I guess it beats The Thing 2: Thing Harder.

Dumbass move? Maybe. But it's hard to summon any nerd rage over this one. True, it’s silly that two movies that tell two separate stories in the same universe have the same title, but I can’t think of a title that would sell this movie any better than keeping it simple. Also, if they do this movie right, you shouldn't need to see John Carpenter’s film to enjoy this prequel, since it's about how everything goes south at the Norwegian installation right before the existing story.

Mixed feelings on this one. Will I see this on opening weekend? Probably. But this movie didn't need to be made, even if there is a story to tell here. If the movie works, there's potentially an entire generation who will go into this movie without any knowledge of Carpenter’s film, enjoy it, and then go home and watch a true classic in the horror genre. And that's pretty cool.

Instead of a straight prequel, though, I would prefer to see a more Santa Clause Conquers the Martians genre mash-up called That Thing You Do! The story pretty much follows the Tom Hanks movie for the first half, with The Wonders going from playing in their garage to being a national sensation. Then, one night before the band plays to a sold-out stadium, Tom Hanks enters their dressing room and starts to give one of his pep talks, when suddenly he starts convulsing, his head pops off like a champagne cork, tentacles and gore from his neck stump rain down upon The Wonders and Liv Tyler, and hilarity/carnage ensues.

Now for that, you would get me in a theater on opening night.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Dark Knight Rises (Teaser Poster)

Pretty cool. Pretty damn cool, indeed.

As with the teaser art for Christopher Nolan's previous Batman movies, this is a very poster, which can be interpreted in multiple ways, including that whatever rising said Dark Knight is going to get up to in this film will do more harm than good for Gotham City. For me, the most interesting element of Nolan's take on Batman is his marriage of a much more heroic, mentally sound Bruce Wayne than we've seen in twenty years with the now established idea that Batman is probably making things worse for Gotham in the long run, despite Bruce's good intentions. Nolan is an unpredictable filmmaker, and I could see him taking this film back to the rousing spirit of Batman Begins or keeping the oppressive bleakness of The Dark Knight.

Personally, I'm hoping for something closer to Batman Begins than The Dark Knight. Batman Begins had a Gotham City worthy of the name, tighter focus and stronger relationships, less subtext becoming the actual text, and took the subject matter seriously while still keeping in mind that it's a story about a guy who dresses up as a bat. And I still can't see how he's going to turn Catwoman and Bane into credible threats, especially since they're following Batman's two greatest villains, the Joker and Two-Face.

Can't wait to find out, though.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

L.A. Noire (Day Two)

* The wife and I knocked out cases six, seven, and eight last night. Things are going to get spoiler heavy from here, so let me just say that the game really gets cooking with case seven, and both it and the following case were truly satisfying. This game isn't for everyone, but stick with it through the traffic missions.

* Yesterday, I regaled you with a story of my wife's simulated driving. Trust me, if you want a white-knuckle experience with L.A. Noire, and if you're concerned about your case rating, hand the controller over to someone who doesn't play a lot video games for the driving segments.

She's getting the hang of it now, and I'm both sad and surprised to say that it isn't anywhere as fun now that she isn't a loose cannon terrorizing the city streets.

* It really is a trip to recognize a lot of character actors from TV and movies -- especially when you realize you're seeing their body language and facial tics.

* And was that Elizabeth Moss and Michael Gladis playing the two witnesses at the diner in case six? I couldn't confirm it on IMDB, but they're often unreliable about video games.

* I enjoyed case six, but like the case before it, it tips its hand far too early with one clue that solves the whole mystery for the player, which leaves you feeling like Cole Phelps is playing catch-up to get to where you're at already. The next two cases are better at syncing your experience with Cole Phelps'.

* Finally turned off auto-aim last night, and I was finally able to enjoy the shoot-outs, especially the one at the end of case seven. That being said, Cole Phelps can take an absolutely ridiculous amount of punishment. Seriously, multiple bullet wounds without flinching. At this point, I think the whole war hero and ace detective pose is something Phelps does to pass the time until Sarah Connor is born.

* So maybe I'm nitpicking, but as enjoyable as the final shoot-out at the movie set is, it's quite out of character from the rest of the game, feeling like something out of an 80's action movie, instead of 40's noir thriller. I'm not going to complain too much -- shooting fake Tommy Guns at fake gangsters is the sort of thing I live for -- but I will say this:

Red barrels that explode? Really, Rockstar/Team Bondi? Really?

* Second Rockstar game in a row with full frontal nudity. Surprisingly, I don't remember hearing a peep out of the media for the scene in Red Dead Redemption, which felt a bit crass and exploitative. While the nudity did have a purpose in that scene, it still felt like Rockstar was saying, "Hey, look what we just did!" to cable news outlets.

The nudity in case eight was surprising -- even shocking -- but it felt honest. It'll be a shame if the media sinks its teeth into this one.

* We got four stars on case eight on our first try, but I don't feel like we deserved it. SPOILERS HERE: I went to the actual killer's house before interrogating Jacob, thinking I would get as much evidence as I could before interviewing him. But if you go to the killer's house, the case ends with a successful completion, without knowing if Jacob had any involvement in his wife's death. I replayed it to speak with Jacob a second time, but I didn't get much out of it.

I'm assuming we'll see the killer again and learn more about this case in a later mission. If not, we seriously missed something.

* During our final case last night, my wife turned to me and said, "Hey, don't we still have that bottle of Scotch?" After acknowledging her inherent allure and sexiness, I said yes and grabbed the bottle, two glasses, and some ice. At this point, we got firsthand data that backs up a hypothesis that L.A. Noire and so many other noir dramas have postulated again and again:

Booze + Detective Work = Fail.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

L.A. Noire (Day One)

* Something I forgot to mention yesterday: Most people I saw buying the game Monday night also bought the strategy guide. I'm assuming many of you out there did the same. I'm a live and let live kind of guy, but if you did buy a strategy guide without trying the game first, I'm sorely tempted to describe you using a phrase that involves the words "sand" and "vagina". Why the hell would you do this? With this game, that's like picking up a dozen mystery novels and reading all the last pages first.

Try things. Screw up. Have fun.

* Only had time to knock out one case yesterday, "The Driver's Seat." Overall, it was pretty enjoyable. The actual mystery, which I won't reveal here, was obvious -- but the steps needed to build a solid case was satisfying. I rated three stars on my first time through -- I botched the final interrogation and had a lot of property damage (more on that in a minute). Went through it a second time before going to bed and nailed the case with a perfect score. It's definitely worth it to go through the cases a second time, to try new things and correct mistakes, but like traditional adventure games, it's a very fixed experience.

* Does this game remind anyone else of all those FMV adventure games from the mid-90's -- like Phantasmagoria, Under a Killing Moon, and Return to Zork -- but with much, much better writing, acting, and gameplay?

* Went through the first four cases again with the wife, and was surprised by what I missed or could do differently. In case three, the one with the fist fight on the rooftop, I accidentally threw the suspect off a ledge and he fell to his death, which truly shocked me in a way video games usually don't... like I made a serious mistake and was, you know, responsible for it. Hopefully, the real cases also have multiple endings with very different -- and unpredictable -- results.

* Will probably go through this game at a slower pace than usual, because I want to play it with the wife. She's pretty much The Sims, Harvest Moon, and Professor Layton type of gamer, but she was a fan of adventure games growing up -- especially the Tex Murphy games -- and I'm always looking for a "gateway" game to get her to game more. 'Cause, you know, it's hot.

She's helping to solve all the cases, but the only time she takes the controller is for the driving segments. Like most people, I assume, she's having trouble with the notion that you can't drive like a maniac (at least not without getting punished for it), which is where all the property damage came from in our first run through case five. To be fair, I wouldn't have done much better -- but it did lead to one of my favorite wife quotes in a while.

While driving like a bat out of hell, she made a left turn at a four-way intersection. For once, she actually had the light, but she took the turn too tight and slammed head-on into one of the cars stopped at their red. I cringed, and then she turned to me and said, "How was I supposed to know he'd stay in his own lane? I mean, I don't."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

L.A. Noire (First Night);thumb;1

* Was going to wait and get a copy from Gamefly like a good little nerd. Then, the reviews got posted Monday afternoon, and a now seemingly inevitable midnight trip to Gamestop followed.

What can I say? I'm weak. Bored, easily excitable, but, most importantly, weak.

* Really excited for this game. Not just for the period or the melding of Rockstar's sandbox game play with classic adventure games, but hopefully for its contribution to how stories are told in video games.

I'm certainly fascinated with the debate over whether games are art, but here's the thing: "are video games art?" has always been the wrong question. The debate should be focused on whether video games are a viable medium for telling stories -- something this generation of games has proven in the affirmative again and again.

More than anything, I'm curious to see what L.A. Noire and all its fancy performance capture tech has to add to the medium.

* Rockstar & Team Bondi got their Infocom on and included a little envelope with fake photo negatives inside. Quite cool. Personally, I would've also included a fake badge and a little notebook with a stubby pencil (without charging twenty extra bucks for some bullshit collector's edition).

But I come from an older, simpler generation of gamers. Back in my day, we didn't have tutorial missions. We had to mess around with the manuals and code wheels before we could play a game.

And by God, we loved it!

* Speaking of tutorial missions, I've mixed feelings about Noire's opening levels -- or "cases." The game speeds through these obvious tutorial missions, and much of the mood it tries to create is lost in the process.

Most Rockstar titles -- especially GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption -- have started slow, but of all their games, L.A. Noire truly deserved a slow burn of a beginning. Instead, it rushes through its tutorial missions faster than any of their previous games, with mixed results.

I finished the fourth case (love the old school movie title cards, by the way) around three last night, which I assume is the last of the tutorial missions. The first and fourth cases aren't too shabby, with a combination of investigation and action. Cases two and three, however, are solely designed around a specific game mechanic -- gun play and chasing a suspect, respectively. There's no build-up and neither sequence is particularly satisfying.

I get what the developers are going for by breaking these levels up -- that Cole Phelps builds a reputation for himself over time. But both the game and the story would've been better served by tying most -- if not all -- of these elements together into one case.

* The auto-aim in the gun fights is entirely too helpful. It seems like Rockstar and Team Bondi have designed the shooting segments with casual gamers in mind. Personally, I can't see that demographic buying this game. If the action segments are as easy as the reviewers claim, then Rockstar has done a disservice to regular gamers.

* One last thing before I shut up. Did anyone find the final interrogation in case four a little wonky? True, I was pretty tired by that point, but I got stuck there for a lot longer than necessary.

When interviewing a suspect, you have three possible responses to their claims -- truth, doubt, or lie. The murder suspect in this case is obviously lying, but I thought I'd start easy on him, and picked doubt instead of lie. Instead of this being a viable option, there was only one correct answer, which wasn't doubt, and the interrogation was reset.

On the second try, I picked the correct choice: lie. Then, I had to back up my accusation, which I did by choosing the right piece of evidence. For the suspect's second claim, I chose lie again. This was the wrong choice, but instead of telling you so immediately, the game allows you to pick something from your list of evidence. I repeated this segment several times, with no piece of evidence matching, and wondered what I was doing wrong.

The correct course was simply to choose doubt. In retrospect, this makes sense -- but it was not intuitive to me at first. Of course, it was almost three in the morning at that point. So that could be a shame on me situation. How was it for you?

Also, it appears that you can't skip past any of the dialog. A bit annoying, but while listening to the dialog got old, watching the characters interact -- a remarkably true representation of an actor's full performance -- did not.

There's a lot of interesting ideas and tech on display here, but we'll have to see what it amounts to once the game settles down a little and stops holding your hand.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Random Thought #13,312

You know, it's difficult to write an only slightly dirty joke involving tentacle porn.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Message to God #7,211

Dear God (or any potential Supreme Being[s] that I don't believe in):

Can you knock off all this shit with Japan? You're not going to win any popularity contests if you keep this up.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Give this album a few spins before making an opinion, R.E.M. fans. It will grow on you -- a lot.

Monday, February 28, 2011

83rd Annual Academy Awards

* Forgot to post my picks yesterday. Thought of it at the last minute, but I assumed the winners this year were obvious. Turns out that I was mostly right but was off on two big ones: Best Director and Best Picture. I figured The Social Network had both categories locked -- but failed to realize that one could easily describe The King's Speech in a single sentence using such words as "inspiring," "historical drama," and "who overcame." That shit's like catnip to the Academy.

Now, I'm not trying to sound snarky here. Well, maybe a little snarky. But I haven't seen either film yet (watching The Social Network tonight) -- but my gut tells me that the Academy pulled another Rocky this year. I'm sure The King's Speech is an excellent film, but I wonder how it will hold up over time next to The Social Network, Inception, and Toy Story 3.

* Speaking of Toy Story 3, Best Animated Feature Film needs to be split up into two categories: Best Animated Feature Film Made by Pixar and Best Animated Feature Film Not Made by Pixar.

Of course, they deserve it almost every year. And with Cars 2 coming out this year, someone else has good shot at the statue next year.

* Trent Reznor is now an Academy Award-winning composer. The Wolfman is now an Academy Award-winning film. Two things I never thought I'd hear in my lifetime.

* OK, out of words for the day. Let me wrap this with a few "what the hell?" questions:

Inception grabbed a bunch of technical awards, but wasn't even nominated for Film Editing? If there's one area that Inception terrorized every other film, kicking all the little boy films in the junk and pulling all the little girl films' pigtails, it would be Film Editing.

Shouldn't Christopher Nolan be up for Best Director instead of Best Original Screenplay? Inception is a strong yet fragile story -- top-heavy with exposition -- that worked because of Nolan's direction of his own screenplay. Also, if this guy can pull off The Dark Knight Rises, he will be five for five for absolutely jaw-dropping, kick-ass films. Few directors have ever had a streak this good.

Can an actor be nominated for voice acting? Should a category be made for this? 'Cause seriously, Tom Hanks as Woody...

Tron 2 didn't receive a single nomination, when it should have easily been up for Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score, Best Art Direction, and Best Out of Nowhere Ziggy Stardust Impersonation by an Esteemed British Actor in a Feature Film.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Help Nathan Buy Firefly

Nerds, put down your inhalers and get out your wallets.

Honestly, I can't see it ever happening. But a few months ago, I went to the movies and watched a new (and mostly awesome) Tron movie. So, you never know. It'll be interesting to see how much -- if any -- momentum these guys can generate.

As always, here's hoping...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Random Thought #7982/Desperate Cry for Help #348

The wife is expecting me to watch My Fair Lady with her. I need an escape plan, people.


Doctor Who: Season 1, Episode 8 -- Father's Day

Reviews of Doctor Who -- the classic series, Big Finish audio dramas, and the latest episodes from the current show. Written and posted in their proper order: out of order.

I push my unabashed love for New Who onto as many people as possible (for the sake of good taste, I won't use the word "indoctrinate"). During their first or second Doctor Who episode, when an alien menace almost conquers the Earth or a clock ticks down the seconds to doomsday, my latest convert/victim will invariably turn to me and ask, "If he has a time machine, why can't he go back and stop this from ever happening?"

Usually, my reply is "Shut up and enjoy the story." Drama needs conflict, and there's no conflict in an all-powerful being saying, "So... I see you have a giant death-ray pointed at Brazil. I'm just going to nip off for a bit and make sure you were never born. Then as a topper, I'm going to go a little farther back in time and have sex with both your grandmothers. Maybe at the same time! Bye-bye!"

Sometimes, I raise my geek flag and explain the whole "timey wimey" thing: the Doctor rarely changes the course of history -- he's simply experiencing events in a different order than most. A perfect example: in one episode the Doctor realizes he is responsible -- or, more accurately, about to be responsible -- for the eruption of Pompeii and its resulting deaths.

Doctor Who plays fast and loose with its continuity, but it's been established again and again that actually changing the past can have terrible repercussions. That's why I choose to kick off my New Who reviews with Father's Day, with you potential converts/victims out there in mind, to save someone like me telling someone like you to "shut up and enjoy the story."

That's not only reason I picked it. When this show is really cooking, it can pack one hell of an emotional punch. Underneath all the monsters and jokes, most New Who -- especially under original show-runner Russell T Davies -- is about loss, grief, and the simple, sad fact that life goes on for the survivors. And on this front, Father's Day is absolutely devastating.

Writer Paul Cornell keeps the story tight and simple, giving the drama a chance to breath in one location for most of the episode. Rose, the Doctor's companion, wants to meet her father, who died in a hit-and-run accident when she was a baby. The Doctor takes Rose to the day of her father's death, giving her a chance to comfort him in his final moments. Instead, Rose impulsively (well, maybe impulsively -- that's a question raised but never answered) saves his life and changes the past, which, of course, almost leads to the end of existence as we know it.

Good stories make us reexamine those truths we already know, and Father's Day does just that. We never get enough time with the people we love, nor do we ever truly get over their absence. Given the chance, anyone of us would make Rose's decision to save her father, no matter the cost. And any father would make Pete's final decision. This is sci-fi at its best.

Paul Cornell wrings every tear he can from the script. It's poignant, funny, and bittersweet. He also nails Eccleston's Ninth Doctor, with all his rough edges and guarded nobility. Watching it again reminds me how much Eccleston gave to the role, and it's a shame audiences never saw his Doctor's emotional journey completed.

Father's Day also has one of the first series' best monsters of the week, which I won't reveal here, except to say they're a welcome change of pace. At some point every Doctor Who fan will throw up their arms in exasperation as Earth -- namely, London -- is invaded yet again by some alien menace. This episode gets around that hurdle with economy and style. The Doctor and Rose never left Earth during the first series, which makes this episode a very refreshing -- and emotional -- change of pace.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dawn of War II: Retribution Beta (Full Rant)

(Consolidated each day's update into one post. As always, if you can, enjoy...)

* Still my favorite RTS going. As much as I enjoyed Starcraft II, I still prefer Dawn of War II's pace, visceral punch, and emphasis on controlling the battlefield.

Also, swords that are also chainsaws. Enough said.

* Glad Relic got rid of the Games for Windows client. I'll miss the achievements -- but it was asinine to have both Steam and Windows Live running in the background, especially on such a graphically intensive game.

With the exception of having to write a "Dear John" letter to Microsoft, I'm sure this was an easy decision for Relic. Steam sells the game, keeps it up to date, provides a solid and unobtrusive form of DRM, and has most if not all of Live's social features. All Live brought to the table was a second way to tell the time, another Friends list to annoy easily distracted gamers with constant messages and pop-ups, and, of course, those damnable achievements.

* Ran through a few matches with the Imperial Guard, Retribution's new faction.

In short, I got my ass handed to me.

I played a couple of matches against the computer first, so I could get a handle on playing the Guard. After several brutal, humiliating defeats from the computer, I decided to play against my fellow nerd online...where I could learn the true meaning of defeat. 'Cause here's the thing: I suck against the computer, but I really suck against a human opponent.

Some of you might recall the first time your dad or girlfriend tried to play Call of Duty online, and that look of confusion, horror, and soul-crushing defeat that came over their face after their first match, when they led the leaderboard in deaths without getting a single kill. I have played Dawn of War II for over a hundred hours, and that look has never left my face.


Now, this wouldn't be so bad, except I play two on two matches online -- which means I'm constantly letting some stranger down. I've contributed to only a few victories out of God knows how many matches, and when I say contributed, I mean that my dwindling, shell-shocked Space Marines were focused on a comrade faking an injury like a professional soccer player while the other player successfully stormed not one but two enemy bases.

The end battle report is the worst, with all those stat blocks, point scores, and graphs to show me precisely how bad I sucked (this goes for any RTS). Still, it's hard to stay focused on that: my eyes invariably drift to the chat window at the bottom of the screen. During that minute before everyone logs off, I feel like a child bringing home his first "F", waiting for my latest ally to accost me with things like, "What the hell was that?" or "Have you ever played this game before?" or "Did seriously try to tell me that one of your Devastator Marines pulled a hamstring?"

When this happens, I can take the heat. I deserve it. It's the silences -- when the chat window remains empty -- that truly eat away at my soul. When this happens, it takes everything in my power to keep my fingers off the keyboard, to stop myself from vomiting out all manner of excuses or platitudes. Things like:

THE WICK: This has never happened to me before. I swear.

THE WICK: Sorry, I've got a lot on my mind. Work's been so stressful lately, and I...

THE WICK: Give me fifteen minutes and a White Dwarf, and I'll be ready to go again.

* I think that's more than enough 40K rambling for now. Don't you?

End of line.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Random Thought #4,212/Marital Safety Ttp #264

When your spouse asks you what you got her for Valentine's Day, "the privilege of my presence" is not an appropriate response.

Just a head's up.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Weekend Plans of the Nerd Kind (February 11th-13th)

WRITING: I'm back...again.

Let's get the excuse talk over with: work reared its ugly head, followed by an unusually strong blip on the EKG monitoring my comatose social life, with it all ending, as it always does, with getting sick for a week.

That being said, I've had the time and energy to write this past week and chosen not to. If I go even a day without writing, I quickly lose interest in the whole damn thing. This continues until I realize just how long it's been between posts and guilt myself back into working.

Lame. I know.

Anyway, Issue #1 of the comic is up to snuff and has been handed off to an illustrator. This will, I think, be his first stab at doing something more than sketches or doodles. It'd be nice if one of us knew what the hell we were doing, but that doesn't mean it won't come together. In fact, it might even be a bonus: no matter the medium -- music, movies, comics -- there's a certain energy that comes from a bunch of novices jumping into the deep end together. Here's hoping.

I did put some time this week into making a mix CD for Merrick to listen to as he begins work on issue #1 -- music that captures the energy or the vibe of the story and its characters. After listening to the playlist a few times, I realized that almost half the songs are the opening tracks of their respective albums, and have a wonderful declarative energy about them -- a perfect fit for our debut issue. I didn't do this on purpose, but it's a wonderful sign/coincidence that I can't help but find heartening. Here's the playlist, with an asterisk next to the opening songs.

Rush -- "Tom Sawyer" *
The Flaming Lips -- "Flight Test" *
R.E.M. -- "Discoverer" *
Paul Westerberg -- "Let's Not Belong Together"
Tom Waits -- "Lie to Me" *
Iggy Pop -- "Funtime"
Ben Folds & William Shatner -- "In Love"
They Might Be Giants -- "Ana Ng" *
Queen -- "Hammer to Fall"
Journey -- "Only Solutions"
Pearl Jam -- "The Fixer"
New Order -- "Regret" *
The Beatles -- "And Your Bird Can Sing"
Iggy Pop -- "The Passenger"
Sugar -- "The Act We Act" *
The Replacements -- "Can't Hardly Wait"
Paul Westerberg -- "It's a Wonderful Lie" *
R.E.M. -- "The Great Beyond"
John Williams -- "The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)"

On the last weekend update, I mentioned that I had no idea how to get issue #2 -- the pay off to issue #1's setup -- to work. The very next day, it all fell into place. It was one of those rare, special days where pages of material -- good material -- came out effortlessly. There's still a lot of work to go, to get all the pieces to fit together and to get it all to work in 21 or 22 pages. As much as I like this story arc -- the comic book equivalent to a TV pilot -- I have started this series off on what is quickly becoming familiar ground: nerds playing D&D. Want to move on to things that are more personal and/or bizarre with this concept.

TV and MOVIES: This post is already pretty damn wordy, so I'll keep things to a minimum.

On season 2 of Slings and Arrows, a real find on Netflix.

GAMES: Still catching up on the backlog of titles for the newly acquired PS3. I got both Uncharted games for Christmas, and I finally started the first one this week. Uncharted 1 is uneven and often frustrating, but I can see how the gameplay and characters could be turned into something brilliant. Have to see if Uncharted 2 lives up to all its praise. These two games, along with finishing Dragon Quest IX for the DS, should keep me sated until early March, when Dawn of War II: Retribution and Dragon Age II are released in quick succession.

BOOKS: Trashy sci-fi.

* * * *

Have a good weekend, people.

End of line.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Red State (First Reviews)

Not much today. Have two applications to write for potentional promotions with my current employer.

Take a gander at the link above. Curious to see what Kevin Smith can do with this. From the outside looking in, the last decade has been full of disappointments, resentment, and great ancedotes for his speaking dates (that being said, I dug Jersey Girl). Can't decide if this decision to go completely independent is a good thing, or if he simply needs to find someone to help shape and hone his material.

We'll find out when the movie comes out on DVD next October.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Dark Knight Rises (Casting Announcement )

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. Good actress and an unusual pick for Catwoman. I can dig it.

But Bane? Really? Really?

The only thing that could surprise me more would be to hear that Christopher Nolan was casting Justin Beiber for his gritty, realistic take on Bat-Mite -- possibly the only character in the Batman universe lamer than Bane.

That's not to say Nolan can't pull it off. He turned Ra's al Ghul, another Batman villain I dislike, into a compelling antagonist. And like Liam Neeson, Tom Hardy has something to bring to the role. But Nolan certainly has his work cut out for him with this one.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Weekend Plans of the Nerd Kind (January 21st -- 23rd)

WRITING: Spent most of the week doing rewrites. Finally admitted to myself that there were some things still not working with issue #1 of my current project. They were mostly fiddly bits: bad jokes or good jokes not set up properly. It never fails to amaze just how long this last stage of rewrites takes, or how frustrating this process can be. Need to do one more pass this weekend to fix typos and clean up the scene descriptions. Overall, satisfied with results. Of course, I'll have to wait until the penciled pages start coming in to see if I've done my job right.

That means issue #2 begins in earnest next week.

Damn it.

TV and MOVIES: A frightening turn of events here at Stately Wickett Manor, people. The wife has figured how to update our Netflix queue.

Well, that's selling her a bit short. I never thought her to be incapable of completing such a simple task -- she has a doctorate in physics, you know -- but there's been a sort of peaceful Cold War about our DVD queue. The account is under my e-mail, and I do all the actual updating and ordering. Often, when we seal the envelope on a watched disc, she will ask me to add a particular movie or TV show, and I will of course do my own good time. With three discs out at a time, I try to pick one DVD for me, one for her, and one for us to watch together.

Well, actually, that's the party line I give her -- or, I should say, gave her. I wanted her to think that we were living in a Netflix democracy, when we were, in fact, living in a Netflix dictatorship, ruled by yours truly. Like all wise dictators before me, I knew that presenting the people with the illusion of freedom and choice was essential, in order to eliminate dissonance before it could begin. This meant checking out and possibly watching her drivel now and again. If the actual ratio of DVDs for me and DVDs for her were closely scrutinized, it would become obvious that I was severely favoring myself.

I thought I was getting away with this, playing it cool while living high on the DVD hog, as it were. Instead, it was her that was truly playing it cool -- biding her time, sating herself with Netflix's "watch instantly" selections, and waiting for the right time to strike.

And strike she did...

Imagine my surprise this week when I checked my e-mail and received two messages from Netflix, informing me that That Touch of Mink and Love in the Afternoon would arrive shortly to my home. Confused, panicked, I quickly went to my Netflix account and checked my DVD queue. My top ten choices -- all my action movies, my sci-fi movies, my anime, my European softcore porn -- were gone, replaced by romantic comedies and musicals from the 50's and 60's.

It was, quite simply, an act of betrayal. And such betrayal must be dealt with swiftly, brutally.


First off, I'm going to change our Netflix password. If she cracks this password, a new, secret credit card will have to be ordered. Lastly, the queue will be fixed back to my obvious high standards. At that point, I will punish her with an onslaught of cheesy action movies.

Personally, I think she's ready for some Van Dammege? Don't you?

GAMES: Been taking it easy on games, so I concentrate on the writing. Put a few hours into Infamous this week, though. Still might be a post about it coming, since it's been a long time since I've played such a solid game with such atrocious writing and dialog.

BOOKS: Still need to finish Wanted. Reading a 40K novel at the moment, and I'm not ashamed to say that I'm enjoying it.

* * * *

Have a good weekend, people.

End of line.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Team Fortress 2 Pictures (1/20/11)

Busy day. I've got nothing. Have a Team Fortress 2 pic:

"In Russia, fire burns you!"

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nintendo 3DS (Release Date Announced)

* $249.99, huh? Sounds like you'll get your money's worth, but it's hard to imagine casual gamers dropping that much on a device that can't make a phone call.

* March 27th isn't far away, and there are still no demo models in stores for people to see the 3D. An odd choice, to me. Of course, I doubt this will need much help selling -- but word of mouth never hurts.

* No second analog nub for shooters. Really? I guess the stylus and touch screen make up for that, but it's a poor substitute.

* The safety announcements are a bit disconcerting -- especially since this would mean that Nintendo is recommending users to not watch a whole movie in 3D, one of the system's big selling points, in one go.

* There will be a virtual shop with 3DS, DSi, and Game Boy and Game Boy Color titles, according to IGN. Surprised that Advance titles won't be featured -- but I'm shocked to see that NES, Super Nintendo, and 64 games will not be included. Seems like Nintendo would want to sell you Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda for the sixth or seventh time, 'cause they know people would pick it up just have a portable version of these classics. You may laugh, but I know you people...for I know the deep dark recesses of my impulse-buying heart.

* Will I get one? Probably -- but not right away. I've got a huge backlog of DS and GBA games still to play, thanks to Gamefly. I don't worry about quality control with Nintendo like I do with Sony or Microsoft, but I'll still wait for Nintendo to get the bugs out , and to avoid the long lull period between the first wave of games and the second, which usually ends around Christmas time.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Zork Anthology on Good Old Games

Debating about picking this up from Good Old Games. The wife would no doubt give me shit for buying something I already own -- but as silly as this might sound, I'd like to make a contribution towards getting all of Infocom's games back in circulation.

I know, corny. Also, I doubt a single Infocom employee will see a dime from this re-release, since Activision now owns these games. Most likely, the modest revenue this generates will go to covering a few take-out lunches for Activision's ever-growing army of lawyers, and I'm not inclined to support that.

Even if I am personally on the fence, I'm all for people getting these games legally, especially if this anthology includes high quality scans of the maps, original prose, and ephemera that came with each Infocom release, one of their most endearing trademarks. It's important to get the complete package with these games, in order to get the full experience.

Of course, I'm a complete Infocom fanboy, and have been since the late 80's, when I found the Commodore 64 version of Moonmist in the bargain bin of my local Babbage's. I still remember the surprise and delight I had with that game, my first text adventure. And I hope people can still get lost in Infocom's games today.

Again, corny. I know.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Drood is finally done. The case containing the 24 discs of the unabridged audiobook has been thrown on the ground and thoroughly flipped off, with me standing over it and yelling things like "Didn't think I could finish you, huh? Didn't think I had it in me, huh? Who's the one that's got ADD now, huh?!"

Happy and sad to have it done. It's been part of my daily commute for over two months.

More on it tomorrow...maybe. I gotta go help cook dinner.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Save Vs. Deities

I am an agnostic. Friends of mine have called this particular philosophical notion "atheism for pussies" -- but I say screw 'em. My almost complete lack of belief in anything is unshakable.

Here's the way I see it: I don't have the answers to anything cosmological or divine. None of us do. So don't worry about it and don't be a dick. Enough said.

Still, yesterday's events have left me shaken and confused, leading me to doubt my doubts. Myself and several others were quite possibly touched last night by the unseen hand of some otherworldly power. Of course, I expect you to be skeptical -- you weren't there to witness last night's earth-shattering events unfold. But belief has finally come to me in the most terrible of ways.

If you were there last night, sitting at our game table, you too would believe that the Dice Gods are real. And if they do exist, they are cruel, unsympathetic beings who maliciously play their own twisted games with our games for their amusement. As the game group discovered last night, ware you cross them.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Green Hornet (2011 Film)

Well, it wasn't excruciating. In fact, compared to other hip cinematic updates of classic TV shows, it's pretty damn good. That's not to say it's actually, you know, good good. It's as formulaic and manufactured as every other movie in this peculiar subgenre.

But it is, for the most part, well manufactured, thanks to Michel Gondry -- just about the last person you'd expect to make a movie like this. He directs action better than most -- exciting, original, and coherent -- and adds enough fun, quirky delights to make up for an excess of Seth Rogen being Seth Rogen.

Rogen's a sharp comedy writer, but not when writing for himself. The movie's best jokes either don't involve him or don't give him the chance to fall back on his usual shtick. It's a brave choice to have his character start the movie as a rich, self-entitled douchebag and end it as a rich, self-entitled douchebag to everyone but Kato -- but it doesn't work because the movie always wants the audience to like him.

Luckily, he spends most of the movie with Kato, who kicks all kinds of ass. Jay Chou, with a tenuous grasp on the English language and charisma to spare, saves the movie. Also, Christoph Waltz does the weirdest riff on the thankless action-comedy villain that I can remember. I'm pretty sure Gondry's only direction to Waltz was, "Do what you did in Inglorious Basterds, but add some ham on top."

There's enough solid jokes and car crashes to make it worth watching -- and the 3D conversion is better than most -- but that's about it. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Weekend Plans of the Nerd Kind (January 14th - 16th)

WRITING: I've taken far too much time off from this. The second half of 2010 was a wash-out in the writing department. My plans to start this year right are just kicking in, since most of my friends are graduate students or teachers, who are returning to work this week (and to say nothing of family). From the middle of December to the middle of January, my social life is resuscitated back into existence, its condition upgraded from "Complete Shut-in" to "Nice to see you, Jeremy -- you look pale."

I've had an explosion of ideas these past two years, but all these stories are half-written and incomplete. I've decided to stick with one project and ride it out to the bitter, bloody end. The chosen project is alternately easier (no tight plotting or world-building) and much more difficult (it's a comedy, so it should, you know, be funny) than my others. The goal is to finish the first story arc of this comic book project. It should run two issues, and issue #1 is complete. I'm actually satisfied with that script (a rare occurrence), but I have no idea how to make issue #2 work.

I'll tell you where I am with that next week. Also, if you don't see posts here every day, and if you know me and have my contact info, please write me and give me shit for being a lazy bastard. Thanks.

TV and MOVIES: Dentist this morning, The Green Hornet tonight. I'll tell you which was more excruciating tomorrow.

On the home front, I'm breaking in the new Playstation 3, my first Blu-Ray player, with two westerns. Have Rio Bravo checked out from Netflix. I'm still learning how to appreciate John Wayne. So far, I've only enjoyed his work with John Ford, especially The Man who Shot Liberty Valance.

Picked up the new Blu-Ray release of Dances With Wolves today. Watched the first hour or so today with lunch, and I've got mixed feelings on the extended cut. Like most extended cuts, some of the new stuff works and some of it doesn't. With the exception of new scenes with the Sioux, everything else belonged on the cutting room floor: it messes with the pace and structure of the story.

This wouldn't be a big deal (actually, it isn't a big deal at all -- but indulge me), except the original theatrical cut is nowhere to be found between two Blu-Ray discs. And since Blu-Ray discs contain roughly somewhere between a zillion and a bajillion megabytes of data, this is simply inexcusable.

Forgive me while I get my broken record on, but I'm all for "extended cuts" and "director's cuts" and, my personal favorite, "no-longer-PG13-and-now-featuring-boobies cut." But people fall in love with movies, and for most of us, that courtship happens in a movie theater. Very few re-edits improve a movie -- offhand, I can only think of three or four -- but like most nerds, I'm happy to have more of something I enjoy, warts and all. But if you're going to dick around with your movie, you should always feature the original version -- the version people fell in love with -- in the same package.

I am, of course, a film snob. I'll give you that. Still, it annoys the crap out of me.

What do you think?

GAMES: Making a dedicated effort to play games with the wife, and games that she will enjoy. We just finished Batman: The Brave and the Bold for the Wii (pick it up after a price cut) and we've started Kirby's Epic Yarn. It's a bit too cute for me, but I have to admire the imagination and artistry that went into it. I'm not a huge fan of Nintendo's games -- but no other developer has employed so many people that can tap into their inner child, and let these people run with it as far as they can go. It's a story where fluffy, round characters turn into yarn versions of themselves, thanks to a guy with an evil magical knitted sock. And in its own special way, it works.

Also breaking in the new PS3 with Infamous. This post is getting long, so I'll save my thoughts on it for later this week.

BOOKS: Giving Mark Millar's Wanted a second try. Didn't like it the first time, didn't finish it. I can't decide if I'm offended by it or not, since Millar wants to hit more than just your initial reaction to such senseless violence, and its glorification. That being said, I think he misses the mark when it comes to any deeper meaning. Of course, I'll hold judgment until I finish it.

Haven't picked up a novel that's interested me in awhile. Still searching for one.

* * * *

Have a good weekend, people. End of line.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hunter Prey (Part III) wander alone around the desert for an hour. Centauri 7 finds and loses the alien several times before the end, and both characters encounter far too few obstacles between their confrontations. Only one new character is introduced before the endgame, but is barely worth mentioning, since he/she/it contributes so little to the story.

There are some good bits along the way, though. Once the alien acquires a headset from his victims, there are some nice dialog exchanges between it and Centauri 7. As the characters' histories are revealed, it becomes obvious that Collora and co-writer Nick Damon are painting their story in shades of gray. Without giving anything away, Collora wisely never tells the audience who to root for...or if they should root for either being at all. The final confrontation, a battle of wills (neither characters' strong suit), is more than a little silly, with each character alternating back and forth between being ridiculously clever and ridiculously gullible, but it's still a refreshing climax.

But even the good parts don't work like they should, because the story's big one-two twist (done in the wrong order) is revealed fifteen minutes into the movie. It's a good one, but Collora can't top it, even when the movie works. How much of this is due to the film's shoestring budget and tight schedule, I don't know -- but someone needs to give Collora a proper budget and shooting schedule, because he could make a movie equal to Hunter Prey's potential.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hunter Prey (Part II)

...the film looks pretty damn good. Collora expertly captures the stark beauty of his locations, and the Red Camera system creates crisp, clear images without seeming flat or too perfect. The digital effects are adequate at best, but there aren't many of them, even compared to the average amount of effects shots from sci-fi films of the early 80's. More importantly, they're never needed to carry the story. So who cares? The costumes and prosthetics are the most noteworthy, and both hold up against the fidelity of the Red camera.

The film's meager budget is, I'm assuming, to blame for why there are so few actors in the film, which is the film's true weakness, since it creates numerous story problems. First off, there needed to be more than four surviving soldiers, to make the alien fugitive a legitimate threat as it whittled down their numbers until only Centauri 7 was left. In the finished film, neither the alien or the soldiers feel terribly imposing. It might just be me, but there was a distinct "Pick us off from a distance with a sniper rifle once, shame on you. Pick us off from a distance with a sniper rifle twice, shame on us" vibe to the deaths of Centauri 7's compatriots.

The other soldiers are written off too quickly, with only Centauri 7 left by the end of the first act, leaving far too much time for Centauri 7 and the alien to...

Hunter Prey (Part I)

Despite not giving a toss for Batman: Dead End, the short film that made Sandy Collora a household name (at least in houses with thirty year-old virgins still living in their parents' basement), I've been waiting over a year to see Hunter Prey. The plot seemed generic, but I admired Collora's back-to-basics approach to sci-fi filmmaking, inspired by his love of late 70's/early 80's sci-fi films: minimal visual effects, a steady camera filming real locations, and tight plotting with interesting characters and ideas. The end result is frustratingly uneven, with enough entertaining twists on old-school sci-fi tropes to make it worth recommending.

The plot is pretty simple: the military ship Prometheus crashes on a barren alien planet that in no way resembles Tatooine (except in every single possible way, right down to the giant alien skeleton hanging out in the middle of the desert). A handful of soldiers survive the crash, who look so much like Boba Fett that you could reasonably believe that the movie is actually about three space nerds rocking some awesome Star Wars cosplay outfits who have crashed on a barren planet while on their way to a space comic-con. The soldiers soon learn that the only other survivor is the alien prisoner they were guarding. The prisoner kills all the soldiers except the cynical, insubordinate Centauri 7. Centauri 7 chases after the prisoner, and, of course, who is the hunter and who is the prey remains up for debate for the rest of the film.

Collora handles it all admirably, both as a co-writer and director. He brings enough twists and fun ideas to the table for ninety minutes of good, old-fashioned space opera, but the film's ridiculously small budget (right around a half-million dollars) keeps getting in the way. Too many compromises were made for this story to live up to its potential. Oddly enough, these compromises have nothing to do with technical aspects of the film.