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.