Monday, December 29, 2008

VOID's 2008 video game round-up

As you may have noted from previous posts, I am a gamer; which is to say one who plays games. I know some game players now shun the term due to the mainstream media's making it synonymous with “psychopathic murderer”, but I still like it.

This has been a great year for games, last year was good, but I daresay that this year beats it hand down. Game Season alone had about a year's worth of great games to play in it. For those of you still doing your Pixmas shopping, I would like to go over, in no particular order, my top ten games, some honorable mentions, and a few dishonorable mentions as well.

Remember, my top ten is not ranked.

10.Grand Theft Auto IV.

It was a long wait between San Andreas and GTAIV, but it was worth it. I probably had hours of fun just playing with the Euphoria engine, and pushing people down staircases, not to mention just crashing my car into things. I can't wait for the DLC.

9. Rock Band 2

This is how a sequel should be done. They addressed almost every complaint I had about the first Rock Band, let me port over almost all of the songs and all of my DLC, and didn't even make me buy another plastic drumset. I plan for Void Munashii's “Mallville Survivors” to be rocking for some time to come.

8. Shin Megami Tensei Persona 3 FES

I've been in love with the SMT games since I picked up Nocturne used years ago, and can easily say that P3 FES is probably the best JRPG I have ever played. Good story, fun turn-based combat, and even the day-to-day school stuff is fun. Now if they would just make SMT games for the 360.

7. Fallout 3

I've loved Fallout for a good decade now, and viewed this game with fear and delight. I loved Morrowind and Oblivion, but could they do Fallout justice? For the most part, yes. I miss a lot of the funny random encounters (The Tardis for example), but the gameplay more than makes up for it. VATS is awesome, and the amount of gore and dismemberment are almost enough for me. I cannot wait to see what people produce for it with G.E.C.K

6. The World Ends With You

The only handheld game on my list, TWEWY is probably the most original thing to come out of Square Enix in years. Interesting graphics, characters, music, and unique gameplay combine to make this one of the best RPGs on the DS. How many other games out there make the popularity of your outfit a factor in gameplay?

5. Penny Arcade Adventures: On The Rain Slicked Precipice of Darkness Episode 1

Aside from having the longest title on my list, PAA is also the only downloadable game on the list. Having been a reader of Penny Arcade for roughly a decade now this is another game that I had high hopes but reserved expectations for. The only real complaint I have about it was the price, but then the point card I used for it was bought on sale, so it wasn't really that high. The final boss was both clever and actually fun to battle. I need to buy episode 2 once I get through by backlog of games leftover from Game Season

4. Burnout Paradise

I do not like racing games, but I do love crashes, and this game excels in that. While DJ Atomika and the inability to re-start a race once you have lost it are almost enough to keep this out of the top ten, the superb online play and level of DLC support the game has received are enough to salvage it.

3. Super Smash Bros. Brawl

This game is total fanboy-bait. What could be better than Mario and Sonic finally getting to beat the ever-loving crap out of each other? Am improved (which is not to say it could not be improved more) story mode and expanded character set make this game a must-own for any Nintendo fanboy. It would be nice to see more characters released as DLC or something though; I want to kick the crap out of Tom Nook.

2. No More Heroes

Over the top energy sword swinging violence combines with a somewhat interesting story, and a very unique style to make this one of the most unique games this year. The free roaming portions could have been better, but when you cut people's heads off, money and blood spray out. Do you really need more than that?

1. Fable 2

I was one of the people who did not have any real issues with the original Fable, so I guess it stands to reason that I like this game, even if the collector's edition was totally gimped. This game has beautiful graphics, the ability to earn money by not playing, but slightly wonky controls at time. It's a nice mature action RPG that never takes itself too seriously.

Honorable Mentions:

These are games that fell just short of making the top ten. They are games that I loved, but were just missing that certain something that would have catapulted them to greatness. Alternately, they are games that I know I will love, but will not get a chance to actually play before the end of the year.

Animal Crossing City Folk

The original Animal Crossing is a large part of why I wanted Gamecube, and “Wild World” has certainly gotten a lot of play from Osaka and myself. City Folk is more of the same, which is both good and what keeps it out of the top ten. Voice chat (which Wii should have had from the start), and the city area are not enough to excuse the dated graphics and lack of new content. Still as much fun as the original, but nothing much new here.

Persona 4

I won't repeat my opinion of SMT games here, you can read that above. What I will say is that I have heard from many sources that this is even better than P3, but I want to finish P3 FES before I start it. I'm sure it would have knocked something out of the top ten had I been able to play it, but at least it gives me a reason to not retire my PS2 just yet. Can we please have P5 on 360 though, please?

Saints Row 2

The game that wants to be more GTA than GTA is back, and is more violent than ever. Where in GTA IV you can find Niko somewhat sympathetic, your first mission in SR2 is to kill your doctor for no really good reason. You play scum, plain and simple, but that's part of the fun, right?

There is tons to do in this game, and the character creation system puts most other games to shame, but there's just not enough room on the list for two GTA style games.

House of the Dead 2 and 3 Return

This is the third time I've purchased HotD2, and the third time for part 3, but they're just as fun as ever. There's nothing new here, but it's still all good.

Wii Fit

This was this year's Tickle Me Elmo, and I was lucky enough to get one. It looks like quite a bit of fun, Osaka and my nephew have both enjoyed it quite a bit. Unfortunately for me I am too much of a fat ass to get fit, it simply resets itself when I try to play. Still, it looks like fun.

Dishonorable Mentions

These are the games I really wanted to love, but they just seemed to go out of their way to make me angry with them. It's like they want me to hit them....

Mercenaries 2

I loved the original Mercenaries; stealing vehicles, blowing up building, and Mercs 2 promised to be more of the same, and at first I was really impressed. Then I found out to hijack any vehicle required me to do a quicktime event. I HATE quicktime events, and have ever since I first encountered them in “Die Hard Arcade”, so having to do one every time I wanted to hijack a tank, helicopter, etc sucked a lot of the fun out of this game, and what fun it did not suck out was removed by the eternally spawning enemies in some areas. This game could have been in my top ten, and if they put in an option to remove the quicktime events in a future patch, it may redeem itself yet, but for now it gets a dishonorable mention.

Lost Odyssey

If you saw the ads for this game you know how beautiful it looked, and indeed when you start playing there's that same beauty, and it lasts for all of about 30 minutes, and then things go bad. You start out as this badass who takes out whole groups of enemy soldiers in a single swing, and indeed even takes out a flame shooting tank with giant swords on it all on his own, but once the sky opens up and rains lava down on the battle he wakes up incapable of taking out a large hermit crab without massive injury, and that is with the help of two other people.

The rhythm based attack system (which is done much better in the Shadow Hearts and Penny Arcade Adventures series), shouldn't bother you too much though, as you will spend most of your time wandering around “towns” looking for items, solving puzzles (including stealth puzzles, argh!), and unlocking the secrets of your past. The unlocking the past could easily have saved this game for me, as the stories you unlock are pretty good stories, but they are not told through the glorious graphics of the opening cinematic, but through plain text. There are five DVDs of content in this game, but my past is all told through text, seriously?

So that's my best, near best, and most disappointing games of 2008. If you do not see the games you put on your own top ten, keep in mind that I am not a gaming journalist, and do not get review copies of games that allow me to play everything that comes out. Also, I do not have a PS3, so if you would like to donate one to me, I'll be glad to give “Resistance 2” a try.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Anti-Claus

From myself, Osaka, all the survivors in Mallville, and all of the other characters in my head, I would like to wish you all a Happy Christmachanakwanzyulespixtivus, or, if you do not partake in the holidays, a pleasant Thursday.

As much as I would like to, I am far too poor to buy every one of you out there presents, so instead I offer you this. There are many stories floating around the Internet involving all sorts of apocryphal nonsense about Antarctic viruses turning scientists into eco-warriors, or about Santa's evil twin, but that's all hogwash. On this cold winter's day, I present to you to the true story of The Anti-Claus.

Gather 'round people, I've a tale to tell

On this cold winter's night, so please sit a spell.

It's the tale of one whose heart Christmas never thaws

It's the tale of the villain who's called Anti-Claus.

There once was a man who was called Werner Frost

for whom the holiday spirit had all but been lost.

He was tall, and thin, and bald, and pale

and his heart was cold with good tidings gone stale.

He sat alone on a Christmas Eve night long ago

that this would be be no normal night, he could not know.

He sat 'fore his fireplace, and drank of his ale

When something occurred to make his skin even more pale.

A woman appeared in a black dress that glistened

with a night sky of stars. She said "Do not speak, just listen"

"I am the spirit balance and fairness

It is my duty to keep reality's squareness"

"I come with an offer for you to peruse,

I think you will find yourself unable to refuse."

"Begone, foul spirit, I've no use for thee,"

cried Werner, whose mind could not process the sight he did see.

"Silence, dear Werner, I think you'll want to know

Of the offer I bring, at least, before I go."

Werner silenced his mouth, though shaking with fear

What sort of ploy has brought this spirit here?

Sure he hates Christmas, but he is no stooge

To have his beliefs toyed with like some fictional Scrooge.

To make him love Christmas would not be a cinch,

He's a real three dimensional person, not a cartoon Grinch.

"All that I ask is that you to hear what I have to say," implored the spirit.

"You said you had an offer, so spit it out, let's hear it."

She understood him fully, though his words were in German

with an attitude like that, she had surely found her man.

"I offer you a job, a position of power,

where the dark cold in your soul may flourish and flower

If you accept, you'll begin with no time to waste

and if you say no, I'll depart post haste."

"Universal balance? What poppycock.

What nonsense comes out of your mouth as you talk"

Werner Frost rose from his chair as he raged.

"I have never experienced fairness in my life as I've aged."

"To the universe as a whole, not to you, it is fair

now sit back in your seat, and the truth I shall share.

For good there is evil, for dark there is light

For God there is Satan, for wrong there is right"

"For life there is death, for noise there is silence

For victory, defeat, for peace there is violence.

For laughter there are tears, and though the thought may give you pause;

For someone like Santa, there must be an Anti-Claus."

"Anti-Claus? What crap!" Werner yelled, quite mad

for if there's one thing he hated more than Christmas, it was being had.

"Get out! begone! Find some other fool to fleece!

If you do not leave now, I shall call the police."

"Oh Werner, your anger, it makes me quite sad,

but it's also what makes you perfect to be bad.

Agree to my offer, you need sign no contract.

Just tell me yes, and on your word alone I shall act."

Werner thought to himself, "You must think me a fool

you must think me a dullard with a chin coated in drool

Lets see what you do if I say yes;

leave me in peace is my hope and my guess."

"Okay, Spirit of Balance, I've heard you song, seen your dance;

I am willing to give your offer a chance."

"Oh thank you dear Werner, you shan't be forgotten,

though what you'll be known for is being mean and rotten."

With a sad look in her eyes, and a clap of her hands

the stars flew from her dress to envelope the man.

There was light, there was sound, and when it was through

Werner Frost was gone, replaced by someone new.

Still aged and still bald, but his bedclothes had gone

replaced by the regal yet sinister garments he had donned.

A cloak of pitch black trimmed with fur of blood red

covered his body, with a matching stocking hat for his head

On his feet, boots jet black, the toes ending in a sharp metal spike.

In his hand a thick wooden staff, it's tip sharpened like a pike

His skin was still pale, his frame was still thin

his body unchanged, save that his face wore a grin.

"The change is complete," said the spirit, "How do you feel?"

"I feel fantastic, invincible!" exclaimed Werner with much zeal.

"I can take down the fat man, and steal all the toys!

I can ruin Christmas for the girls and the boys!"

With sadness in her voice, the spirit proclaimed,

"The dark side of balance is restored, and I am to blame.

My job here is finished, but yours just begun.

You have the rest of the night until the rise of the sun."

"The rise of the sun? What after that?"

Asked Werner curiously while adjusting his hat.

"Tomorrow through October, you'll cease to exist,

only in November and December will your life persist."

"Two months a year?" remarked Frost, "What about the other ten?"

"You'll be somewhere, nowhere, you won't exist then.

But do not worry, you'll not feel this time pass,

from tomorrow morning, you'll find November first in a flash."

So it came to pass that balance was restored

To oppose the one who is cherished there is one to be abhorred

One to steal the presents, and break into your car.

One to knock down the Christmas tree, and steal from the charity jar.

The man who comes on Christmas Eve to make everyone merry

Again has an opposite to make your Yuletide scary

So if you find your Christmas ruined, at least now you now know the cause;

The man once known as Werner Frost is now the Anti-Claus.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Nothing Like the Holidays

When reading reviews, be they for movies, games, books, or music, I have always felt that it is important to know a reviewers biases. In the interest of full disclosure, I shall now tell you that I am no fan of the holidays, in fact my holiday spirit comes in a bottle. Lucky for me that “Nothing Like the Holidays” isn't really a holiday film.

The Rodriguez family seems to be the living the American dream. Edy (Alfred Molina; “The Da Vinci Code”, “Spider-Man 2”) and Anna (Elizabeth Peña) have been married for thirty-six years, and for the first time in ages this bodega owner and his wife are going to have all of their kids under one roof again for the holidays, and if they can just put aside the growing animosity between them the holidays will go great.

The children also all seem to be living great lives. Jesse (Freddy Rodrigues; “Six Feet Under”, “Planet Terror”), a soldier just home from Iraq who is all set to take over the bodega from his father. Mauricio (John Leguizamo; “The Happening”, “Super Mario Brothers”) and his wife Sarah (Debra Messing; “Will & Grace”, “The Starter Wife”) are the successful New York couple who are both going places in their careers. Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito; “CSI:NY”, “Deathproof”)is the daughter who has gone to Hollywood to be a star, and is up for a big part in a sitcom. Throw in lecherous stereotype Johnny (Luis Guzman; “Oz”, “John From Cincinnati”) whose number one concern is his hair, family friend and former gangbanger Ozzy (Jay Hernandez; “Quarantine”, “Hostel”), and Jesse's ex-girlfriend Marissa (Melonie Diaz; “Hamlet 2”, “Be Kind Rewind”) along with her new boyfriend and child and you have the makings for one big family gathering.

“Nothing Like the Holidays” is being advertised as a heartwarming Christmas comedy; this is very misleading. The reason I said before that this is not a holiday movie is that the holidays only serve as a backdrop for events. A similar story could have been built around Thanksgiving, New Years (like in the 1992 film “Peter's Friends” which is the first movie that this film made me think of while watching it), a family reunion, or a wedding and progressed in much the same way.

This film has a lot of comedic moments that come off really well (the entire chainsaw scene for example), but it is really more a drama that a comedy. In between those laugh out loud scenes is a lot of heavy drama as it becomes apparent that no one has their life as put together as it first seems. Anna and Edy are divorcing, Jesse's emotional wounds run far deeper than the physical scar on his eye, Roxanna is barely surviving in Hollywood, and Mauricio and Sarah are on the rocks over a job opportunity she has been offered. There are intense moments in this film that will have you on the edge of your seat, and even had some people in the theater crying a little.

The interaction of characters is truly this movie's strongest point. As the family fights amongst itself people switch sides while attacking each other in a smooth and very natural fashion; allegiances are made and broken in mere moments as different people become the focus of arguments. No matter how angry the characters get with each other, the fact that they love each other is never far from the surface. It is this firm grasp of the characters and well written dialog that makes the movie's intensely dramatic moments so effective.

The only real criticism I have to make about this film is that it feels a little rushed towards the end. It's as if the writers realized that they had spent so much time really exploring each characters problems and the solutions to those problems that they realized the the only way to keep the film under 100 minutes (it comes in at 99 minutes) was to jump right to the end. The way they handle this felt awkward to me, as they follow up the most intense moment of the film with a scene that should be comedy relief, but instead turns into yet another dramatic scene that catapults us to the conclusion of the movie.

“Nothing Like the Holidays” is rated PG-13, and does contain some swearing, innuendo, some very intense and mature scenes, and Alfred Molina in his underpants. If none of that will bother your younger viewers, then this could ultimately be a nice movie to watch as a family.

Just taking place at Christmas is not enough for me to call “Nothing Like the Holidays” a holiday movie (for the record; I do not consider “Die Hard” a holiday movie either), but that's okay; the film is not about Christmas, it's about family, and on that it fires on all cylinders.

If you want to laugh, gasp, balance on the edge of your seat, and maybe even get a little teary-eyed, there's nothing like “Nothing Like the Holidays” out there to do it. A superb cast, believable dialog, and overall good pacing makes it easy for even a Grinch like me to recommend you check it out. “Nothing Like the Holidays” is in theaters nationwide now.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Yes Man

Carl Allen is a bit of a loser; he's divorced, he's alone, he's going nowhere in his job, and he's afraid to try anything. His situation has gotten so bad that he's avoiding his best friend's phone calls, and putting their friendship at risk. He's well on the road to a lonely sad existence.

One day, while taking his lunch break at work, and old friend runs into him, and tells him about a seminar that turned his life around. “Yes Is The New No” proclaims the pamphlet that is thrust into Carl's pocket. After much deliberation and a bad dream, Carl decides to go to the seminar.

At the almost cult-like seminar, Carl meets speaker Terrance Bundley (Terrance Stamp), who of course singles Carl out in front of everyone. Terrance coerces Carl into making a covenant with himself and the universe to say yes to all new opportunities. Carl must no longer be a “no man”, but a “yes man”, because as Bundley puts it “You cannot audit life”.

Saying yes quickly leads Carl to find himself out of gas with a flat cell phone battery and no cash in a park in the middle of the night. It also leads him to meeting Allison (Zooey Deschanel), a scooter riding singer/artist/jogging photography teacher who gives him a ride back to his car.

Carl's new agreeable outlook causes him to make friends with his annoying supervisor Norman (Rhys Darby), gets him a promotion, causes him to learn new things, and make new friends. It even causes him to possibly find true love. The question though is, what happens if you say “yes” too much? What can it ultimately cost you?

Based on the book by the same name from Danny Wallace, “Yes Man” is a throwback to Jim Carrey's early films like “The Mask” or “Liar Liar”. Carrey plays Carl as a very normal person who ends up in an unusual situation that offers many chances for Carey to pull funny faces and generally act like a spaz. Given some of Carey's more serious role choices in recent years (“The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “The Number 23”), it is nice to see him return to his roots, and it's especially nice to see that he can do it so well.

Music plays a surprising role in this film; not only does that movie have a strong soundtrack, but both Carl and Allison do their own share of singing. Carl sings a couple of times in the film, and they're not quite musical numbers, but one comes kind of close. The musical highlight of the film has to be Allison's band “Münchhausen By Proxy” played by Deschanel and the all-girl trio Von Iva. MBP's songs featured in the film are so truly awful that they are cool, and have me strongly considering picking up the soundtrack.

The movie features a cast that works great together. Carey and Deschanel are pretty believable as a couple despite the fact that Carey is actually old enough to be Deschanel's father. Appearance's by Rhys Darby (“The Flight of the Conchords”), Sasha Alexander (“NCIS”), and Danny Masterson (“That 70's Show”) not only help to flesh out the world Carl lives in, but symbolize the different aspects of what being a “yes man” means; how this new outlook can do good and helpful things, but also how it can be taken advantage of.

As you might expect, there is nothing original here. The story progresses exactly the way you would expect it to, but that's okay. “Yes Man” manages to attach a lot of laughs to that old familiar boy-meets-girl plot progression. There's enough well performed dialog, physical humor, gross outs, and even a bit of Harry Potter cosplay to keep you entertained throughout the film.

“Yes Man” is rated PG-13, and may not be appropriate for younger audiences. The film contains a good amount of swearing, some strong sexual content, and a couple of scene with brief nudity, but if that doesn't bother you, and you are a fan of Jim Carrey's older work then this will be a nice little escape from the holiday season.

I give an unreserved “yes” to “Yes Man”, which hits theaters nationwide on December 17th.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Librarian 3: Curse of the Judas Chalice

Take some Indiana Jones, add a dash of Buffy, a sprinkle of Tomb Raider, a pinch of Ash Williams, and a dose of the absurd, and you should have a rough idea of what to expect from “The Librarian 3: Curse of the Judas Chalice”, which premieres on TNT on December 7th. While this movie is not going to change your life, it is certainly two hours of action packed escapism.

The third entry in the series once again finds Noah Wyle (“E.R.”, “Pirates of Silicon Valley”) fumbling his way to heroism as Flynn Carsen, The Librarian. The movie opens in London, England with Flynn in a bidding war for a valuable artifact, and in the final minutes of his latest failed relationship. He wins the artifact, but loses yet another woman to his job, and the secrecy and sword fights that it brings.

Upon returning to New York, Flynn has a mental breakdown in front of his co-workers Judson (Bob Newhart) and Charlene (Jane Curtin) over the state of his life; or rather the lack of his life. It is during an attempt to convince the dog-like sword Excalibur to cut his throat that it is suggested that he take a vacation.

After a night of wine tasting and speed dating, Charlene pays Flynn a visit at his apartment, and tells him off for wasting his vacation cooped up in his apartment. “Follow your dreams” she tells him, leaving a pile of vacation brochures as she drunkenly staggers out.

Flynn takes this suggestion literally, for after dreaming of a woman asking for him to come to New Orleans to help her, his destination is decided. Unfortunately for Flynn, there is little time to relax in The Big Easy, as he meets Simone Renoir, played by Stana Katic, who runs a jazz club in an old monastery and just happens to literally be the woman of his dreams.
Pursuing Simone leads Flynn into an adventure involving former a former KGB agent, vampires, a many-cousined cabbie named Andre, voodoo, and even a pirate ship all in the race to get the Judas Chalice. The Judas Chalice is the cup made from the pieces of silver Judas got for betraying Christ, and is the vampiric equivalent of the Holy Grail.

The movie is well paced, and the writing keeps things moving forward at a pretty good pace, rarely dragging as the story moves forward. You can expect a lot of scenes that are there basically for exposition, but these scenes are necessary to make sure the audience understands how things work in the Librarian universe (for example, only a stake of Aspen can kill a vampire, not just any old wooden stake). I can only think of a couple of scenes that could have been removed from the movie completely without losing anything, but both of these are very short.

The movie has a strong sense of visual style; the outfits worn by Flynn and Simone are distinctive and set them apart from the characters around them. The settings are all very well crafted even if they may not all be realistic; the scenes in the library itself are worthy of pausing on your Tivo just to to spot all of the artifacts (Jules Verne's time machine was my personal favourite).

The special effects may be the movie's weakest point. They're not actually bad, but they do sometimes scream made-for-tv movie. They're not Sci-Fi Channel Originals bad, mind you; vampires disappear and reappear in a fairly stylistic fashion, but some things, Excalibur in particular, are done in a way that may pull you out of the movie in a way if you let them.

The movie's dialog sparkles when it's at its best, and at least keeps the story movie forward at its worst. The actors play off each other really well, and there are definitely moments that made me laugh out loud (my personal favourite was a Russian thug telling the heroes “We're really not this good. You guys kind of suck at sneaking around.”)

One thing I have learned from watching this movie is that shaving cream is the enemy of continuity. One scene in the movie places Flynn in a barber shop, having a fairly expositional conversation with Judson while being lathered up for a shave. As the camera switches around so does the amount of shaving cream on his face. To finish the scene they move outside where the shaving cream on his face changes from the thin kind mixed in a cup and applied with a brush to the thick foamy stuff that comes out of a can. This does nothing to hurt the movie, but I noticed it, and it amused me.

This is a good movie to share with the kids; there's no cursing, no blood, and the violence is non-explicit. There is one short implied sex scene, but the participants never even take their shoes off on screen. There are also a few scenes of vampires being slain, but this is done in the “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” fashion with a poof of dust and sparks.

If you find yourself looking for something fun and a little exciting to watch come Sunday night, you could certainly do a lot worse than to watch “The Librarian 3: Curse of the Judas Chalice”. I heartily recommend checking it out on December 7th on TNT.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Victory is Mine!

So here we are, a mere twenty days into the month and I have already finished my NaNoWriMo novel(la) with ten days to go so that I can go back and maybe flesh out some scenes that are not as smooth as could be. The total word count comes out to 52,197 (this will likely change before the final verification), and around 115 pages, which is a bit short to really call a novel.

It was a fun experience, and it was nice to win so easily. It was also really nice to actually finish a Lance Maverick story. Lance has been bouncing around in my head for years now, developing from a sort of one-note joke into a more fleshed out character. “Lance Maverick Kills Bugs Dead!” (I'm not sure if that is staying the title, but it's better than “Lance Maverick and the Broken Hearted”, which was the first title) marks the fourth or fifth attempt to do a LM story, and chronologically it is probably the third or fourth story in that reality's timeline, but I plan to go back and write those stories later, maybe for next NaNoWriMo.

Other than the ego boost of actually finishing a story (it has literally been years since I finished a story, which would be the first Trashman story), finishing this means that I can now focus on Mallville again, which means:

1.Next week's entry should go up on time (sorry about that for anyone who waits for the new entries)
2.I can actually review the next entry before posting it to fix any of the little things that got through while writing. Mallville is only a rough draft, but I still like to catch typos and spelling errors.
3.The Who's Who page can be updated with the events of the last entry and the next one.
4.I can actually finish the part I was working on back on Halloween.

So what am I going to do with Lance Maverick now that it is completed? Once I finish Mallville (which will still be awhile, the tale is only in it's second act of a planned three), I plan to release Lance Maverick as another Blognovel under a creative commons license. I am also thinking of trying to do a podcast version of both, but my podcasting plans are still in the future a bit.

Not only was this a fun challenge, but also a learning experience. I plan to keep up the writing habits I have fostered during NaNoWriMo, although not to the daily extreme that I was for the first ten days. While I may not write two or three thousand words everyday, I will keep doing that on my days off before going off to play games or do other things.

I hope that you are reading and enjoying Mallville, and upon it's completion I hope you will read and enjoy Lance Maverick. If you are enjoying my work, please let me know. If you have constructive criticisms, please let me know as well. You can leave comments for me either here or on the Mallville blog. The best things you can do to keep me working at this point are to let me know you are there, and to let other people know that I am here.

Thank you,
vm rockwell no bg

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Random Thoughts: Devil Music

So here I sit at work; I'm listening to my Halloween playlist on my iPod when “Devil Went Down to Georgia” starts playing. The song made me think of Charlie Daniels, which made me think of the whole stink he made about his song being used in a boss battle against the devil in Guitar Hero 3.

Daniels' problem with his song being used in GH3 is that the devil can win. He also takes issue with the “monsters” that appear on stage. That “controversy” over that made me think of the term “Devil Music”. This is how my mind works.

It is true that some rock musicians do use symbols of the devil, demons, etc in their songs, videos, and stage shows, but why? People have been accusing rock music of being from the devil pretty much from the get-go, right? I mean Elvis never used severed goat heads on stage or anything, but he still got attacked by the sort of people who throw that accusation around.

Looking at more modern rockers, like Marilyn Manson, who do use that sort of imagery I have to ask, were the prudes right all along or are the Manson's of the world doing it because they are being accused of it anyway? After all, if someone is going to treat as if you are guilty of something, you might as well be. At the very least, you can get a rise out of them.

Did the people who feared “Devil Music” cause it to come into being, or were they right all along? Just a random thought.

Don't Vote...?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Game Season

Game Season is well and truly here, and my wallet is shuddering in fear.

For those who do not know, Game Season is the time of year right before the start of the holidays when the big games come out. Already huge titles like "Rock Band 2", "Fable II", and "Saints Row 2" are out (and in my home), and there are more coming.

Other huge games expected before the end of the year? "Mirror's Edge", "Little BigPlanet", "Fallout 3", "Guitar Hero World Tour", etc are call coming out in the next month or so. It's ridiculous, because gamers feel compelled to buy all of the big titles as they come out, and they all come out at once!

"Ah!" you say, "But didn't 'Grand Theft Auto IV' and 'Super Smash Bros. Brawl' come out back in the spring, and not during 'Game Season'?"

You are correct sir/ma'am, but both of those huge games were intended to be out by last Gaming Season. Both GTA and SSBB were delayed for whatever reasons, and were only released in the off season as a result.

The reason for Game Season is obvious. People buy stuff during the holidays to give as gifts, and that should boost sales, right? Of course, but this glut of games can cause some games to maybe not get the attention they deserve, and this is bad for the gamer and the developer.

Off-season games like "GTA IV", "Smash Bros.", and 2007's "Bioshock" are able to get a lot of attention because they came out by themselves, only fighting with crappy shovelware games like "Petz" and "Imagine" titles to fight with on the new releases list. Sure, all of these titles would still have received attention if they had come out during Game Season, but would they have received as much?

I know I am nt going to be able to give all of the games coming out now the attention they deserve. "Mercenaries 2" was pushed aside for "Rock Band 2" was pushed aside for "Saints Row 2" has been pushed aside for "Fable II". When I get "Fallout 3" next week, I'll end up putting aside "Fable II" for that.

I'm not saying that I will not go back and finish these games (except maybe Mercs 2, which has been a little dissapointing in the actual gameplay). I will definitely be playing SR2 and FII to completion, and RB2 is probably going to be get regular use until they release an RB3, as it is a game that Osaka actually likes to play, but none of them will be getting the attention they deserve right now.

For me personally, the biggest drawback of Game Season is simply money. I am not rich, and have to choose what I buy carefully, as there are still holiday presents and gas for the car to buy (food = ramen, so no problems there). Due to the Game Season glut, I will be skipping "Mirror's Edge", the new "Red Alert" game, "Dead Space", the new "Spider-Man" game, and a lot of other stuff that may be really good, but just does not fit in my budget.

I have made a list of games that I will be getting this Game Season, and barring any really good sales (Black Friday for example), these are going to be it:

"Rock Band 2" (purchased). I already have the big plastic instruments, and for five bucks I was able to transfer almost all of the original RB songs over, giving me a huge playlist to choose from. RB2 is basically RB with almost all of the bugs worked out, which makes it a lot more fun to play.

"Saints Row 2" (purchased). Again trying to be more GTA than GTA, the ultra-violent sandbox titles returns for more gang violence. Forget the sympathy you may feel for someone like Niko Bellic, your character in SR2 is a peice of crap through and through (your first mission in the game is to kill your doctor). With tons of side activities to do, and a character creator that shames "The Sims 2", this game is a must-have for fans of the sandbox crime genre.

"Fable II" (purchased). Even with most of the promised features missing, the original "Fable" was still a great game. This time the features have made it into the game, but the Collector's Edition extras didn't. Ho-hum. I've only been able to play through the tutorial, but I am already in love with this game.

"Fallout 3". A Fallout game made by the people behind "Oblivion"? Sign me up! I still play Oblivion, and a Fallout game in that style is almost certain to be win. I'll find out next week.

"Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4". My love of the SMT games, and "Persona 3" specifically is no secret. P3 is pretty much the perfect JRPG, so I have high hopes for P4.

"Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories" True, it is a card battle game, but it is also a KH game. A re-imagining of the GBA title that bridge the first two KH games, this and P4 are the reasons I will still not be retiring the old PS2 this year. It's too bad Sony doesn't want to make the PS3 backwards compatible, as that it one of the main reasons I have not bought one.

That's it, that's my whole list. As you can see I'm planning to skip a lot of stuff that I may pick up on sale/clearance next year sometime. Maybe if "Mirror's Edge" was coming out in February, I would pick it, but when it's up against "Fallout 3", it just cannot compete.

Of course the reason suck of Game Season is that I will not be able to play any games really during November because of NaNoWriMo, but I have future plans for the book I plan to write for that which should allow me more game time in the future.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Most movies are easy to give a label to, but “Blindness” is not most movies. The movie seems unsure what to do with itself, sometimes it behaves like a tense thriller, sometimes it's an end-of-the-world tale, and sometimes it is a dark comedy. If I were to try and give it a simple descriptor, it would be “art”. This is not to say that there are not simple terms that one can use to describe the film; “long”, “slow”, and “vague” all come to mind.

Based on the novel of the same name by Jose Saramgo, “Blindness” meanders its way through a world brought to its knees by a sickness known as “White Blindness”. Vague is the order of the day in this film; the city it takes place in is undefined, seeming to be somewhere in Europe, but not anywhere in particular. The characters do not have names, how much time actually passes is never disclosed, and what exactly causes “White Blindness” is never explained.

The film opens with a busy intersection, and after a few minutes of watching a traffic light change from green to red and back again, we start the plot. A man (Yusuke Iseya) suddenly stops his car in the middle of the street, rubbing his eyes and complaining that all he cans see is white, explaining that it's like “looking through milk”

A man (Don McKellar; the film's screenwriter) eagerly offers to drive the man home so his wife can take care of him, and then promptly steals his car (“He should go blind,” comments the First Blind Man). The First Blind Man's Wife (Yoshino Kimura) takes him to the Doctor (Mark Ruffalo), who does not know what to make of the illness. From here the sickness spreads.

We see the virus quickly spread; the Thief goes blind, followed by the other people that the First Blind Man came in contact with, The Woman with the Dark Glasses (Alice Braga), the Boy (Mitchell Nye), and of course the Doctor himself.

The Minister of Health (Sandra Oh) acts fast, and orders those suffering from “White Blindness” quarantined in a disused asylum, where the movie spends the bulk of its time. Doctor is the first person put into quarantine, and his wife (Julianne Moore) goes with him, claiming to be suffering from “WB” herself so she can stay with her husband.

The asylum quickly fills with people seen early in the film, the cabbie who took First Blind Man to the doctor, First Blind Man's Wife, a Pharmacy Assistant (Mpho Koaho) who helped Dark Glasses, Man with the Black Eye Patch (Danny Glover), and other characters seen early on quickly populate the building.

Things go bad quickly, the group of blind people with, as far as they know, no sighted people to help them are unable to keep the already dingy asylum in any sort of sanitary manner. The floors quickly become littered with garbage and human waste, and while Doctor's Wife does what she can, there are limits to what she can do alone.

Things get worse as the government sends insufficient supplies and an ever increasing number of the afflicted to the asylum. The worst of humanity starts to show itself as trigger happy soldiers open fire on incoming victims at one point, leaving the bodies to be the problem of the other blind victims, and some of the new blind patients are not nice people. One of the new people declares himself King of Ward Three (Gael Garcia Bernal), and this is where the film focuses much of its attention

At two hours in length, “Blindness” may test your butt’s stamina; it's not that the film is boring, but it feels like it's not going anywhere. It's not until about forty-five minutes in that we even get a slightly bigger picture of what is going on in the outside world. The movie just slowly takes what ends up feeling a lot like a natural pace for itself to do what it wants, and while I respect the filmmaker’s final product, I think the movie could have been trimmed by about thirty minutes without anything of real value being lost.

What the film lacks in forward motion, it makes up for in style. Many scenes, especially some of the graphic scenes are shown in either nearly all white, or blacked out to create the sensation of blindness for the audience, and this works well in a theater, but I think when it comes out on DVD some of this effect will be lost. The film handles extreme violence, sex, and even rape without ever seeming gratuitous or overly graphic.

Going back to the amount of vagueness in the story; this works well for a lot of the film by not giving you much to fixate on in the environment (although I did fixate on it, trying to figure out where it was, going so far as to remember a web address in the background of one scene that turns out to have been fake), but it does not work so well for the characters. Maybe it’s the fact that no one has a name that keeps the characters from feeling fleshed out to me, but they didn’t. I rooted for the characters throughout the film, but never felt that connection that I feel to a really well written character.

Dark humour is used to great effect in this film, and really saves some of the duller bits of the film. Whether it’s the Doctor’s Wife walking away in the middle of an argument leaving him talking to a wall, the fact that the Ministry of Health has a video running periodically in the asylum full of people who cannot see it, or the King of the Third Ward’s rendition of “I Just Called to Say I Love You”, the dark humour sometimes seems inappropriate to the story, but often creates a sharp relief to the heavier aspects of the film.

If I had seen this movie on IFC, or Sundance I probably would have really enjoyed it, but in the theater I have to admit that I spent most of the last half hour wondering if the film was ever going to end. The climax had already happened, but there was no indication that the film was going to end. The ending itself redeemed the movie a lot for me, and left me thinking much better of the film than I would have had I left ten minutes early. Like the rest of the film, the ending is kind of vague, and it comes completely out of nowhere, nothing led up to it, but it was a decent ending.

Unless you are really into long arty films, I would give this one a pass in theaters, and instead give it a rent when it hits DVD. I would not go to see it again, but if when it hits the movie channels my TiVo happens to pick it up, I will probably give it another look. A good cast and tons of style are just not enough to make this two hour odyssey something I can recommend to the average moviegoer.

As an aside, I’ve read stories about the National Federation of the Blind protesting the film because, as their president Marc Maurer puts it, the film “portrays blind people as monsters”. It could not be more obvious that Mr. Maurer has not seen the film (you know what I mean, shut up), because if he had experienced the movie, he would know that it portrays bad people as monsters, that they happen to be blind is incidental. My other opinions on the film aside, I did not leave the theater thinking about all those crafty evil blind people out there just waiting to victimize me. What some people will say for a little attention….

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

If I Had 700 Billion Dollars

Let me start this by saying that I am no economist (which I’m sure would have been very clear shortly anyway), I’m just an average person who is observing the financial goings on in my nation. Luckily, in America at least, you don’t have to know what you are talking about to have an opinion on it (see Kevin McCullough or Cooper Lawrence).

The topic of the day, and indeed month, seems to be whether or not we should bail out all the financial institutions that, through their own immoral, at best, behaviour has found themselves in a bit of a pickle that threatens to bring down the nation’s economy.

What I have found amusing during all of this is the people who were all for the “free market” and “de-regulation” that allowed these companies to get into this mess in the first place are now the ones screaming loudest for government intervention. Suddenly all of these fiscal conservatives have become downright socialist. What happened to the free market taking care of itself? I thought that the idea was that if a company couldn’t hack it, they should fail.

All of that aside, I’ve been doing a little (very little) looking at these bailout ideas. The most popular one seems to be the government spending $700 billion that it does not really have to buy the bad debt off of the people who so willingly incurred it in the first place. It seems to me that we are talking about rewarding people for stupidity at best, fraud at worst. I think I have a better idea.

My idea is, instead of giving the money directly to the banks, we funnel it through the homeowners who were given loans they never should have qualified for in the first place. Homeowners should be able to apply for a piece of the bailout money to be put towards paying off part of their current loan and then refinancing the lower amount at a new fixed rate that they actually could afford.

I know this is still rewarding people for doing something stupid, but in the cases of many of these debtors they really did not know any better. They were told that they should take out all that they could; after all home values are just going up, up, up! I know this happened because it happened to me; I’m just far too stingy to have fallen for it.

The last time I refinanced my home, the loan broker told me that I qualified for a much larger loan, which is horse-crap as over half of my monthly income (maybe a third of household) goes just to the mortgage payment. I would like to buy nice things, but not if I’m going to lose my home in the long run.

Keeping people in their homes is good for American, so I do not think that any bailout plan should not involve keeping Americans in their homes. Look around your neighborhood, there are the houses with ‘For Sale, Bank Owned’ signs in front of them, and they look like crap. They’ve been vacant for months and they look it; brown lawns, leaf covered ground, and just a general look of abandonment to them. They are eyesores, and the current plans look like they would all lead to more of that.

In the end, the banks will still get their money, and would still be saved whether they should be or not, but it could help more Americans get to keep their homes. The current plans don’t look to me like they are going to benefit the 99% of American home owners who are at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure, so why bother?

I’m sure my plan has flaws to it, but none of the plans suggested up to now can really be said to be perfect either. There are people who are much smarter than I am who could make this idea work, who could fill the holes, and work on the specifics.

If the government does not want to institute something that will help a large number of Americans, then screw it. Let the banks fail, the government can just take them over. The money in most people’s accounts is backed by the government anyway, so there is little risk to the average American if this happens. Alternately, a financial institution that was not stupid/greedy enough to get themselves into this mess in the first place will buy them up.

Remember, it’s supposed to be all about the free market, the market will regulate itself. If the market cannot keep itself in check, then maybe there should be some regulation again. It worked before.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Life Imitates Art

I got the chance to go to a preview showing of the new movie “Sex Drive” so I could write a review about it. Going to promotional screenings of films is a lot of fun, and it is usually free, these are two things that attract me to them greatly, but sometimes something can get in the way of that good time.

“Sex Drive” was being screened at a theater I have driven past a thousand time, but have never actually seen a movie at, so I was pleased at the new experience. The ticket said on it that recording devices, including cell phones capable of capturing video, were not allowed in the screening. This makes sense since I’m sure they would like to dissuade people from making bootlegs of the film available of bittorrent before the movie is even released, so my wife left her phone in the car, and I do not usually carry one anyway.

So there we are, standing in line outside a theater that reads “CLOSED” on its sign because they do not want to advertise the special screening (although you would think the huge line of people might give it away a bit, but then probably 98% of the people in the theater were in that line) when it happened. A character from my story “Mallville – A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse” (working title) enters my life ever so briefly.

“Mallville” features a character named Hashmir Kaur, a man of Indian descent who is the head of Mallville’s security force, and he is a right horse’s ass. He’s officious, rude, possibly evil, a Vogon if ever there was one, and here he was in real life. It is a weird sensation to meet a character that you created in real life.

Sure, this guy is white and balding and looks nothing like Hashmir physically, but he is Hashmir all the same. He is wearing his suit that is the same colour scheme as all of the other employees, and matches the other security team members. The one thing that sets him apart is that his tie is decorated with little handcuffs.

Hashmir comes striding out to the line warning people that they could not bring their cell phone, “Game Gear” (yes, he said Game Gear specifically at least three times), camera, etc into the theater. Okay, I think, I guess that makes sense, no recording devices like the ticket says, although the gaming system reference puzzled me, and not just for the fact that he specified a nearly twenty year old system. I didn’t give it too much thought though.

Finally, about thirty minutes before the film is scheduled to start, they start letting people into the theater, and goddamn if Hashmir hasn’t got a security crew searching people’s bags and wanding people with handheld metal detectors like we were going on an airplane (or at least the fair) instead of going to see some raunchy sex comedy.

Now I do have my iPod in my pocket, as I pretty much always do, but as this neither makes noise nor records, and Hashmir did not mention MP3 players (that I heard anyway) I figure I’ll try it and see what happens.

Of course my pockets set off the wand, and I pull everything out, kinda trying to make the iPod blend in with the book I had in my pocket, but the guy with the wand sees it anyway.

“No cell phones” the young Asian gentleman says.

“It’s not a cell phone,” I explain, “It’s just an iPod, it cannot record anything.”

The keeper of the wand looks to Hashmir, who in his best you-kids-stay-off-my-lawn voice barks “No electronics! You need to take it out to your car.”

“It’s just an iPod, it’s not a recording device of any sort.”

Hashmir is having none of it, he repeats his ruling of no electronics, and that’s that. Off I go.

Now people who know me will wonder why I didn’t just fire off a large dose of sarcasm at this wanker. The answer is simple, I wanted to see the movie, and this man is clearly the sort of person who will have someone who defies him removed from the premises. Hell, he’d probably have the insubordinate shot if he could.

So I go out to the car to hide my iPod, and hide is really the proper word here; we already have our backpacks hidden under a camouflage of crap that I always keep in the car for just such reasons. This theater is not in the best area, the mall about two blocks away from there offers a security escort out to your car as a courtesy; it’s just that kind of area.

Plus the incident made me feel young again. I am in my thirties, and it’s been a long time since someone gave me the you-whippersnappers-have-no-respect-for-your-elders act. It was refreshing, kind of like getting carded at BevMo despite the fact many people think I’m a good ten years older than I am on first meeting me.

Heading back inside, I now have to wait at the back of the line which is snaking all the way through the theater and almost to the front entrance. If it were not bad enough that the line is super long, it's also moving super slowly as the security team is encountering people with phones, PDAs, and the like, and sending them back out of line.

It takes over half an hour to get back to the front of the line, and now a woman from the movie company is going through the remains of the line (which is a good 100 people long behind me, mostly people who, like me, had to go hide their personal electronics in their cars) trying to warn people, incorrectly I might add, as she is just warning about phones, about Hashmir's anti-electronics stance.

Luckily the movie did not start on time, as there were still a large number of people trying to get in. If they were going to do such a thorough search of everyone, they probably should have started letting people into the theater at least 30 minutes before they did.

Finally everyone is in the theater, the lights go down, and the movie starts. Things start off shaky; no, not because of the quality of the movie, but because it seems that so much time was spent ,making sure no one smuggled in a PSP that no one bothered to test the projector to make sure it was set up properly. For the first five minutes the screen alternately shakes like there's an earthquake in the booth, ends up with the top of the picture under the bottom, or just projects half onto the floor. After these five minutes, the screen goes dark.

During the projection issues, many people were jeering, but when the screen goes black, the theater fills with a mix of boos, hisses, and applause at the incompetence of Hashmir's crew, not in the least because there are still people in the theater with cell phones.

My wife points out to me that Hashmir and his crew of about 5 security members are off to the side of the theater, and that Hashmir has a nightvision scope. He is looking for bursts of light coming from electronic devices. He takes advantage of the stoppage of the film to stand up by the screen.

The first thing he does is single out some teenager with a cell phone, and bellow to his staff, “Escort this man out of the theater!”. The boy goes willingly enough, but is soon flanked by a pair of security guards/ushers and is escorted out of the theater,

“I have already spotted four cellphones and a Palm Pilot (yes, he said Palm Pilot, not PDA or Blackberry), and if I see any of them again I will have you escorted out. There will be no cell phones in this building!” he bellows at the audience.

It was kind of fun at this point to watch people who I knew had managed to get their phones in try and shelter them from view. Frankly at that point I didn’t feel a lot of pity for those people. You managed to smuggle the device past the metal detector and the bag check, and then you are stupid enough to whip it out and start using it again? Seriously, you don’t deserve to see the movie then.

The rest of the movie was enjoyable enough, as per my review of it that has already been posted, but on the way out we saw Hashmir again standing with some of his crew outside the theater. Alas, he had no name tag, or I would be using his real name here, but he did have a cell phone in his hands.

I couldn’t resist, as it’s not like he could really kick me out at this point, so as we walked past I loudly said to my wife, “I thought there were no cell phones in this building?”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sex Drive

At first glance you might think that the new movie “Sex Drive” is just another teenage sex comedy, but if you look closer you’ll discover that, yeah, you pretty much had it right the first time. Don’t take this as a criticism though; if you are going to see a film like “Sex Drive” chances are that you know what to expect, and this movie will not disappoint, in fact you might even be pleasantly surprised as the film rises just a bit above the standard for the genre.

“Sex Drive” is a standard tale of self-discovery featuring some of the characters you have come to expect in these kinds of films. There’s Ian, played by Josh Zuckerman (“Austin Powers in Goldmember”, “Survivng Christmas”), as the awkward teenaged virgin who has made it his goal to lose his virginity by film’s end. We have Felicia, played by Amanda Crew (“Final Destination 3”, “Whistler”), as the girl who’s right in front of Ian the whole time, although in a twist on the character type it’s Felicia who doesn’t realize that they are right for each other. The final third of the main trio is Lance, played by Clark Duke (“Greek”), as the super-confident guy who gets the ladies with little effort and has confidence to spare; in another character twist though, Lance is super nerdy in his appearance, looking like Rainn Wilson’s little brother, and succeeding on his confidence alone.

The story revolves around Ian trying to meet a girls in Knoxville, Tennesee whose online name is Ms_Tasty. After prompting from Lance, Ian steals the 1969 GTO belonging to his abusive older brother Rex, played by James Marsden (“Enchanted”, “X-Men”) who plays the character perfectly, and hits the road. Felicia joins the ride because she was planning to spend the weekend at Ian’s house to get away from her own family, and is traveling under the belief that they are going to visit Ian’s grandmother.

The movie quickly becomes a road trip move with the trio running into a number of interesting characters, including a sexually adventurous gas station employee and her violent boyfriend, a possibly murderous hitchhiker, a mysterious tuner car, a man who wants to share a bathroom stall with Ian, and a group of unconventional Amish personified by Ezekiel, played by Seth Green (“Family Guy”, “Robot Chicken”).

As the film progresses, you are taken through the predictable stages of this sort of film; friendships are tested, jealousy rears its head, temptation presents itself, and everyone learns something about themselves. Nothing unique or particularly original, but it’s all very well done.

All the things you expect to find in a movie of this type are here; boobs, dick jokes, poop jokes, and lots and lots of sexual innuendo. It’s all very low brow and predictable, but it somehow comes across as something more than its modern sex comedy brethren.

While my first instinct is to compare this film to the likes of “American Pie” or “Road Trip”, that is not totally fair. “Sex Drive” certainly does share a lot with those two movies, but it is more than that, and it is certainly better than the direct-to-DVD garbage that has been shoveled out under the “American Pie” and National Lampoon” banners over the last few years. In fact it is somewhat reminiscent of the original “National Lampoon’s Vacation”, as it shares some of that film’s wit and features many colourful characters that give the story more flavour than it’s slightly off cookie cutter protagonists would alone.

Despite being predictable, crude, and sometimes gross, “Sex Drive” is fast paced, witty, well written, well cast, and features the best Mexican donut mascot you are ever likely to see. This is a movie I recommend strongly for mature (chronologically anyway) audiences that want to just turn their brains off and laugh for an hour and a half.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a Pirate's Life For Me!

Avast mateys! It be International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and you'll be complyin' or you'll be walkin' the plank. Have yerself a good one! Arrrrrrr.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

And Another Thing...

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” has played an important role in my life. As a child I first saw the television series on PBS alongside other childhood favourites like “Doctor Who” and “Good Neighbours”, and this helped to set me onto a lifelong love of comedic science fiction, and British comedy in general.

It was not actually until high school, when I saw the series once again being played alongside other favourites like “Red Dwarf” and “Fawlty Towers” on that very same PBS station during a fundraising night (which was the only time they ever really played those shows by that point) that I decided I actually needed to read the books.

I, of course, fell in love with them. The “Trilogy” as a whole is probably my favourite book of all time, it’s certainly the stories I hav re-read and listened to the most times. I got the audiobooks (good to listen to while playing marathon sessions of “SimCity 2000” and “Doom”), the radio play, the script to the radio play, the series on VHS, the graphic novel, and the classic text adventure game. I am not being flip when I say this is my favourite story, as I would rate it even higher than other much-loved series like “The Dark Tower”.

As the years went by, the series never left me. I’ve listened to the audiobooks over and over again, and still to this day react to seeing the number “42”. When the movie came and went, I accumulated some of the toys, the movie itself on DVD, and even though I was not 100% happy with the film as Adams’ lack of presence was strongly felt, I still enjoyed it for what it was. I think it would have been better if Adams had still been around to work on it, but it also seemed different enough from every other version of the story (just as every version is at least a little different from every other version) that he still would have overall approved.

Suffice to say that I really like HHGttG, and it has played a role in shaping my tastes, sense of humour, and even the way I think. Knowing this, you can imagine the mixed emotions when I see this in my Twitterfeed this morning “Oh, christ.” from someone who I won’t name, since I do not know that they would want to be named here (I doubt they would care, but in any case….). The link led to a BBC News story about a sixth HHGttG book being written.

“How can that be?” you ask, “Didn’t Douglas Adams die like seven years ago?”

Yes, yes he did, and no, this is not some lost manuscript found in the back of his desk drawer. This is going to be a new novel supposedly titled “And Another Thing…”, and will be penned by author Eoin Colfer, author of the Artemis Fowl series of books. I’ve never read any Artemis Fowl books, so I have no idea of the skill of this author to reproduce something I’ve been in love with my whole life.

According to the article, Mr. Colfer was “terrified” about doing a new HHG book, and well he should be. This is like tampering with Star Wars, and even George Lucas himself couldn’t pick up Star Wars twenty years later without pissing off just about every fanboy out there. How can someone other than Adams himself expect to pull this off?

I am not going to attack Mr. Colfer though. While I may not have read any of his work, I know that it is popular which means there must be something to it. I will reserve judgment until there is something to judge.

Continuing the series will be no easy trick for Colfer, as Adams ended “Mostly Harmless” by neatly wrapping up all of the main characters save for Marvin and Zaphod, and Marvin was sorted at the end of “So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish”. It will be interesting to see how he writes his way out of the corner Adams painted him into.

“And Another Thing…” is due out next October, and I shall be waiting with both hope that Colfer is up to the job, and fear that he is not. I really want it to be good, as Arthur, Ford, Trillian, and Zaphod are like good friends, and it will nice to see them again.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ghost Town

“Ghost Town” is the new romantic comedy starring Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, and Tea Leoni about a man who can speak to the dead. Don’t let the horrendously uncreative, and somewhat misleading, title fool you; this is a really funny movie. There’s nothing here that you really have not seen before, but it’s done so well that even having Tea Leoni in it does not ruin things.

“Ghost Town” casts Ricky Gervais as David Brent Andy Millman Bertram Pincus, a dentist who on the surface seems exactly like Gervais’ other famous roles in “The Office” and “Extras” with one big difference, instead off wanting fame or recognition, Bertram just wants to be left alone. If it sounds like I am criticizing the fact that Gervais plays the same character over and over, I’m really not. Some actors are just really well suited to one type of role, and Gervais is one of those actors; he has playing a completely socially inept prick down to an art, and I wouldn’t want him any other way.

Pincus is being relatively successful in his attempts to avoid human contact until, during a routine medical procedure, he dies. He doesn’t stay dead, but when he is released from the hospital he starts being able to see ghosts, and in a city like New York ghosts are everywhere. Once ghosts start to realize that Pincus can see them, they flock to him for help in tying up the loose ends of their life.

One ghost is particularly insistent on Pincus helping him, Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear) wants Bertram to break up his widow, Gwen (Tea Leoni), and her new love. At first Pincus just wants Frank to go away, but then he starts to fall for Gwen and decides to help break them up by making her fall from him using personal information fed to him by Frank.

Acting is not a big issue in this movie. Just as Gervais plays his standard character, Kinnear plays Frank as the same character he’s been playing since his “Talk Soup” days, but just as I would not expect (or necessarily even want) to see Gervais play a different character type, this is what Kinnear is good at. Even Leone manages to pull off a few convincing scenes as she completely geeks out over a mummy in front of Pincus at the museum where she is preparing an exhibit.

This movie far exceeds the sum of its parts. While it follows a standard romantic comedy formula, and is mostly predictable, the interaction between Gervais and those around is quick, funny, and comes across as fairly natural. If you enjoyed the style of cringe-humour in “The Office”, then this movie will have you howling with laughter.

You should also be on the look out for small appearances by Aasif Mandvi (The Daily Show, Jericho) as the dentist who shares an office with Pincus, Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live, The Joe Schmo Show) as Pincus’ doctor, and Alan Ruck (Spin City, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) as one of the ghosts seeking help. They all add a little something special to the experience that is this movie.

The only real sore spot to the film is that it feels like some things are cut. Some prominently featured ghosts are never shown to get any sort of resolution, Pincus’ back story is handled as almost a throw-away line, and some of the more emotional scenes feel somewhat out of place and forced in such an otherwise funny film.

There is also a point towards the end where it seems like the ending may not be the one you expect going in. I do not wish to spoil it for anyone, but it would have been interesting, if maybe a little disappointing over all, to see how that could have played out. Maybe there will be an alternate ending on the DVD.

This is a great date movie. It’s very funny, touching at points, and a little gross; all the things a good date movie should be. If you enjoy Gervais’ brand of humour then you will not leave the theater disappointed. I highly recommend seeing these dead people.