Welcome to the BURN CENTER!

Hey folks, Jonny Napalm here welcoming you to my charred little corner of the sky. Here I will be sharing views on all the things I love and adore and loathe with the burning passion of a thousand suns. Be aware.. my views tend to the nerdtastic, so... you are warned.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Looming Legacy

Tron: Legacy has been out for a while now,  I'm finally comfortable in my thoughts about it to put them up online.  The movie has received the massive power of the Disney Hype machine to get people behind it and talking about it and from MY perspective... It deserves it.  The film is gorgeous in oh so many ways.  The design aesthetic feels right and just different enough from Syd Mead's original for the 'System' to feel like a slightly different evolution of the computer universe the original TRON introduced us to. If you've been looking around online for any kind of cohesive statement about this film... the single greatest one you'll find (even in the harshest reviews) is of the quality of the design.  And while that aspect of the film is important... The score at times manages to overshadow it... and not in a bad way.  Daft Punk's orchestral/digital fusion gives the 'System' a heartbeat and soul.. creating incredible moments that took my breath away to experience in the theater.   
I'm not going to talk about the plot much cause I'm sure most folks have, A. seen it or B. read a review... and most of those are giving away major plot pieces left and right.  The story is really a great little allegory on order and chaos, planning and intuition, and not just a standard Good vs. Evil trope.  Kevin Flynn sells the greatest of these points when he tells his son of the remarkable evolution he encounters within this system.  A thing that one would think static and unchanging, suddenly encounters something remarkable and new which forever alters it's Architects worldview.  
For my part... I loved the layered story.  The son's search for his father and finding an entirely new world to build, in combination with the fun action sequences, exceptional performances, and beautiful design work, along with the subtext of the allegory; created a great piece that I will enjoy for years to come.  

This isn't to say that the film doesn't have flaws.  While I applaud the use of the tech behind de-aging Jeff Bridges to play his own nemesis is fantastic and cool, and necessary for this film... It still hasn't reached the point where the face don't feel unreal in comparison too the others on screen.  The primary example of this that I can recall is in an opening scene where Flynn tells his young son of his adventures in the 'System' controlled by the MCP. The younger Jeff Bridges face doesn't quit reflect the light of the room right giving his features a slightly unreal cast (though considering they are... that's not too bad).
I'm sure that I went into the movie better informed than most... partly because I'm a more than a bit obsessive about the things in media that capture my attention, so I look for additional bits of story.  Which is how I found Tron: Betrayal... a great little 2 book comic series built to tell the story of Kevin Flynn world and the days of it's creation and it's subjugation.  It served as a tool to tell of how Flynn found an entire world, but couldn't find enough time to live in them both... and how he eventually got lost in one.  Yeah.... tell me that doesn't sound familiar all you folks who just shelled out cash for more World of Warcraft.  

So... while the "critical viewing" community seems to be easily split down the center line on this one.. I happily remain optimistic about more Tron productions and hopeful to see more creative work to come.  My thoughts to those who haven't had a chance to see it... I suggest you give it a try.  You might be surprised.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Prophets in Programming...

I'm a bit of a sucker for series that get lost by the wayside... Over the past couple weeks I have got a little bit lost in nostalgia and reviewing some great programming that falls away or gets left behind, when it doesn't manage to lock onto an audience.  Three series in particular come to mind just because of a similar thought-thread through them, those being Kings (a great program I reviewed earlier), Kyle XY, and Eli Stone.  The interesting thing about all these programs is that they've got a prophet involved.  It's an odd concept to get thrown up on television... especially with as much fear networks have talking about God and religion in their medium.  With Kings we get David and Samuel both guided by signs and portents... a subtle approach done mostly with intriguing camera shots, music and slightly out of place events.  Kings has the strongest and most vocal use of "god" and the divine.. it's an intriguing thing to note that this is the shortest lasting of the three series with a single season with 13 episodes.

Eli Stone on the other hand managed 2 seasons of 13 episodes each (only 23 of which actually aired in proper sequence) which were fun and compelling drama with great eccentricities.  I loved this series and was a little bit heart-broken when it ended so abruptly (without even airing it's final 3 episodes that wrapped up the series).  This series had some REALLY great acting in it.  With Johnny Lee Miller as Eli, a lawyer who becomes entangled in visions of life and events beyond his ken, that he slowly begins using to produce social changes around him... with supporting cast including Natasha Henstridge, Victor Garber, Julie Gonzalo, and Loretta Devine the show included musical numbers and some great visuals, along with some truly spectacular guest performances.  The show is visible as a Berlanti production, having a great many similarities to Everwood, and to his current show No Ordinary Family.  The final episodes, that became viewable overseas first, and later with the DVD release were absolutely essential to drawing the series to a close, which actually REALLY does finish.  Which is much better than the final "prophet" series managed.

Kyle XY was something else though... A Sci-fi family show that originally aired on ABC Family of all places.  Our final "prophet" is an intriguing character who acquires the name Kyle from the first people who get to know him, and basically learns how to be human from the outside in.. becoming a gentle young man with extraordinary gifts who wants to find out where exactly where he fits in the world.  While this show got 3 seasons (the longest running of the 3 series mentioned herein), sadly this is the least cohesive of them... With the show-runners and writers formatting their seasons in half season segments all ending in cliffhangers.  While its a common enough practice on episodic television,  I find myself more drawn to series that actually tell cohesive stories over the course of a season.  Still, this show has one thing that made it TRULY remarkable... one of the most genuine and evocative depictions of a family that I ever saw on television.  The Tragers of Kyle XY are a loving, a very real family that still have their rebellions, conflicts, and troubles that still manage to converse about those problems, and it was the family that brought the series from just a good little scifi show to a great little drama.

The thing that got me the most about these three series... and that I think would have spoke deeply to many people who could have seen them, was the Idea of committing to making your social environment better.  While there's great drama in and around the series, and the character interactions...the true stories are the ones where we see our hero making changes in the world around them... those were the remarkable ones.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Champion of the Creed

The style of game that we've seen rise since Ubisoft's first resurrection of the Prince of Persia series, hasn't really seen a standard classification.  There's a lot of parkour style movement incorporated into the primary characters and they're all about elegance of flow.  Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is the latest in this style of game and it does a good deal to evolve the new style of movement.  The incorporation of the parachute and horse-riding within cities while slight changes, do add some fun new variation on the style of play.  It's true that they don't add a great deal to the game, as is being said in most of the reviews, but for long term play it adds some entertaining elements.
But for me the defining element of a good game is always the story that it tells, and from my perspective Brotherhood does not disappoint.  The fantastic mix of science fiction (reliving history through the genetics of your ancestors) and history (the rise and fall of the Borgias' of Italy) and conspiracy theory is all kinds of fun.  Then there is the city of Rome itself...it's a beautiful character that changes and evolves as you progress throughout play liberating the people and doing what you can to aid them.  It's also a ton of fun to run around and explore.  Leaping from roof to roof, diving from peaks to haybales... it's an immensely gratifying experience.  Then there's all the fun sneaking around, blending into your surroundings, hunting people just at the range of your vision, makes for extremely entertaining gameplay.  There is also the additional ability added to play more as Desmond Miles, the true hero of the game creates new ideas of where the franchise will be going with the next episode in the series may end up.  It makes for a great story, and I'm looking forward to seeing that next episode.
The big addition for this game is multiplayer viability.  By incorporating the traditional game of Assassin, played on campuses nationwide into the great manhunt style of play introduced by the initial story play, creates a unique and inventive style of multiplayer game, one that incorporates precision and control over heavy action.  It's something tremendously engaging and fun.  One of the other intriguing additions is the Online Facebook game that Ubisoft created for it's player base.  The game actually does end up telling more of the history of the characters and events in the game, along with incorporating new unlockable features in the game on whatever console the player is on, and the ability to improve play on said console.  It makes for an interesting advertising scheme and way to add to the game. 
It's a fantastic game that has fun, fast, addictive gameplay and some great storytelling.  I look forward to whatever the Ubisoft AC team decides to introduce us to next.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Zelazny's Lord of Light

This is a classic piece of science fiction and one of my favorite books of all time... I find myself reading fairly regularly every year... and each year I find the book speaks to me in a new way.  The book originally ran about 250 pages, but it's current incarnations are about 300... but it's an incredibly quick read.  The first chapter of the story deliberately takes place in media res of the over-arching storyline with the resurrection of Mahsamatman (or Sam as he preferred to be known), and introduces us to our protagonist and a few other players in the drama.  It is designed to get the reader involved by asking questions... who are these people that call themselves by the names of Hindu gods and goddesses?  What are they doing?  What has become of this world they live on?  All these questions and more are addressed slowly, as the flowering of a blossom with different parts revealing themselves in turn and each bringing more answers, and then more questions.  
One of the reasons that I find myself so drawn into this book time and time again, is the complexity of the relationships and characters we are introduced to.  Our protagonist character Sam is a "god" of the trickster mold... playful, cunning, infinitely devious and brilliant, but also very very human in the best possible way.  He sees injustice around him and is compelled to speak against it...even to rail and wage war against "Heaven" itself for his cause.  He cares deeply for his friends and allies, but is very aware of their own capabilities and allows them to make their own choices.  Watching his efforts to change himself and his world is elegant and tightly written.  
This fantastic story which elegantly skirts the lines between science fiction and fantasy also has compelling concepts of technological advancement.  Along with an elegant parable regarding the nature of religion and faith, and how they can become corrupted.  There are few books that I tell all of my friends to read.  This is one of them.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Magicians

The Magicians is the second novel from Lev Grossman, book critic for TIME magazine.  A throughly well constructed fantasy and work of fiction.  It's frequently compared with the Harry Potter series, but with a CONSIDERABLY more adult target audience.  Set in modern day New York, the series focuses on gifted youngsters whose talents extend much farther than anybody could really expect.  Basing some of his concepts of magic on the old hermetic/Pythagorean philosophies, the magic isn't ever really explained and it really doesn't need to be, it's enough to know that the young people are gifted.  The novel also has a familiar call back to the stories of  C.S. Lewis' Narnia, with a series of books that the folks at the gifted school Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy seem obsessed with, and the novel has a terrific twist near the end.  The characters are all rapidly painted, but fully fleshed, showing considerable writing technique... Though the novel feels like more mainstream fiction, meaning that there is little chance of more writing on the characters or in the world the writer created I hope there's more at some point in the future.  I highly recommend this novel for folks who enjoy either mainstream fiction or excellent stand alone fantasy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

JMS takes on Superman...again.

Folks in the comic book world already know that J. Michael Straczynski (Of Babylon 5, Rising Stars, and Midnight Nation, as well as numerous other television projects) is currently writing for the Man of Steel, with his "Grounded" storyline...an interesting concept where Supes is walking across the country helping folks where he can... all based on a comment that a grieving mother makes when she says that by flying above everyone he forgets about the importance of people.  I dig that it isn't a tale about big battles and other standard comic book stuff (though those things are there), it's about a man making his moral choice and sticking to it.  Now that might be enough for some folks, but the good editors over at DC comics offered JMS a chance to write a new Superman for a new Earth (based on the DC comics world numbering system they've come up with for parallel realities).  He took it, and got this new young man of steel off on a solid start.
The basic story of Superman is still the same, thus the one that has grown and become part of the collective unconscious of the 21st century.  This is more a tale of who he is, and why he makes the choices he does, and the aspects of his revelation to his world.    It's a story about a young man with seemingly infinite potential and prospects, and the burden of the choices that he needs to make.  The primary changes we see with JMS taking the reigns is his re-imagining of the story of Krypton.  Who it's people were, what they did, and what happened to them. [Spoilers]  It's a brilliant idea, making the death of the planet not an accident or something it's brilliant scientists missed...but a deliberate attempt to exterminate a whole world.[/Spoilers]  And sets our new Clark Kent up with a whole galaxy full of folks who may want him dead... so if nothing else, the Superman of Earth One will have plenty of opponents to look forward to.   The book also has an interesting new look for Metropolis... It doesn't look like the City of Tomorrow anymore... it feels much more like modern day New York.  And it's Grand Dame:  The Daily Planet is feeling the pressure of the changing times as much as our real newspapers, with all the problems that suggests.  So the question will inevitably arise..."Why there?  With all the other forms of news organizations available to the savvy individual for trouble shooting... why would Superman associate himself with a hurting media source?"  Mr. Straczynski cleverly incorporates the reasoning and justification straight into the story... well aware of the traditional maxim "show, don't tell", all tossed together with the new characters of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen for this new Earth.
With Shane Davis' excellent artwork, JMS has crafted a great story, and fun characters interspersed with terrific action.  Still, one of my favorite pieces of the book is the Clark Kent interview with Superman at the end.  It's clever and works to set up both the personalities that will be working for the character throughout the stories, Superman and the mask of Clark Kent.  This is a highly recommended book to anyone who's a fan of the Superman mythology... point of fact it's recommended to everybody.  And speaking for myself, I can't wait to meet the next hero from Earth One.

Fable 3- not what I was expecting...

While I enjoy the heck out of all kinds of video games, and the latest incarnation of Fable isn't an exception, the game really doesn't live up to much of the hype that went around it.  With each version of his Fable series the head of Lionhead studios has promised gamers the moon, and while getting part of the way there, more often leaves us part way, gasping for air.  One aspect where he has become more insightful (in my estimation) is in his marketing.  He got involved in Kinect marketing with Milo last year (the primary demonstration of the systems capabilities...one that has yet to be introduced to the market), and that got him started with his Fable 3 marketing... And getting folks excited by the concept of getting into the Fable system once again and becoming King (precisely where the last game left off) didn't hurt either.  The promise of "evolving gameplay" a cool concept that brought a lot of attention to the series... Followed by the novel Fable: The Balverine Order by Peter David just before the games publication to get the series more into the public eye.  All great little marketing strategies to keep the game and his publishing company in the public eye.
The game itself is a fun bit of fluff.  None of the "remarkable" gameplay that was mentioned in press releases and lauded really made much of a difference.  I was hoping to enjoy John Cleese's role as Jasper the butler in the game's version of the pause menu, but after the first couple hours of gameplay his dialogue stopped completely, rendering the "alteration" of the pause from actual menus to a playable space moot.  Not to mention MORE time consuming.  The "evolving gameplay" that had been discussed while interesting to see, didn't actually see much evolving.  I used "hammer" type weapons through the entire game, which traditionally would have made the main character into a more muscular heavy built figure saw no changes in him at all.  The experience system for weapons is an interesting distraction, and most only change, when tasks for them are completed, and the fact that the evolution of the hero's weapons (Not the Legendary ones with experience bars) evolve throughout gameplay even without use.  I was terribly disappointed that while some of the weapons evolved through use, NONE of the magic system did.  The moral choice system throughout the game was actually my greatest disappointment, since the only real benefit to choosing the "evil" or "wicked" options being the accumulation of additional wealth.  And while in early game that can be a big asset, anybody who played the previous one, or investing in available real estate (in game) will quickly have more than enough available cash.  And that's without trading with pawn brokers throughout the game world.  Making the moral choices pretty much moot.  The "touch" system was also a big deal in press packets... but didn't really see a lot of effect to the game, just a change in animation.   The addition of the "Kingly" gameplay after the revolution in game was something truly new and fun... and would have been fantastic... if there had been more of it or more to do with it AFTER the game's conclusion.  All in all it's a decent game, with some great concepts to it that COULD have been great... but falls short at the end.  For me the best aspect of the game I found was the excellent packaging and design work on the collectors edition.
Now, that's a lot of material and not a great deal of praise for a very worthwhile effort that will likely speak to the development of a lot of games in future... and hopefully won't rule out a Fable 4 which may take all the best elements from the previous series.  Thus far the best element to come out of this series on Fable, was Peter David's book.  While it may not have a "pithy maxim" that could express the moral of the story, his book has a terrifically crafted narrative, interesting characters, and paints a more interesting picture of the world the Heroes of Albion inhabited than many of the games.  It also had a much more effective "moral lesson" necessary for the name of the series to stay accurate.  The book included a weapon for the game as well... but that was more of a marketing ploy... likely an effective one, but I hope that it will introduce some gamers to a great author and suggest that they may want to pick up some more of his work.
So in short... the Fable the novel:  Excellent... highly recommended.
Fable 3 the game:  For enthusiasts only... otherwise rent or Gamefly it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne

I've gotta give Brian Clevinger a lot of credit...His 8-Bit Theater was one of the highlights of internet comics back in the day.  He took old 8 bit characters from the original Final Fantasy series, and crafted a hysterical, fantasy romp through the crazy world he threw together for them.  It was funny bizarre and full of geek inside gags, and I was sorry to see it finish up... On the other hand, it garnered enough interest from the good folks over at Red 5 comics to give him an opportunity to publish something new, brilliant and all kinds of funny.  I am of course talking about the new Atomic Robo series with Scott Wegener.  The concept is that Nikola Tesla developed an artificial humanoid in 1923, ushering in the Atomic age with not a nuclear bomb... but a nuclear MAN.  Robo is all kinds of fun, a character who has been exploring the world for the better part of a century finding all kinds of weird science and trying to manage it's integration.  One of things I enjoyed most about the stories thus far (not just this book) is that Clevinger isn't stuck in Robo's present, jumping back and forth from past to present.  While not Historically accurate... the stories are incredibly inventive and all kinds of fun and the Tesladyne scientists we meet are all a lot of fun.  If you're interested in fun comics with some great character, beautiful art and crazy science... these books are highly recommended.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

On the disappearance and return of one Bruce Wayne...

Now don't get me wrong folks, I dig the heck out of Batman...he's one of the dominant archetypes and I will always thank Bob Kane for his generous donation to generations of comic fans.  Grant Morrison (the current dominant writer for the Bat) during last years Final Crisis decided to send Bruce Wayne on a mystical/scientific tour of the past of DC comics history.  While giving him an opportunity to make puzzling and bizarre contribution to the Wayne family history, the timing of it was a little too tight on the "time-bullet" debacle from Marvel comics with the "demise" of Captain America.  I'm hopeful about some of the changes that we'll see later on in the series and the treatment of the transition from Bruce Wayne as the Dark Knight to Dick Grayson was fantastic, but for myself... I keep coloring the positive story elements with the ridiculous plot device that initiated it, just as it did with the Captain America story line.  While a big fan of the Bat, as far as characters go I've always been more of a fan of Tim Drake, or the third Robin...a kid detective who figured out the Bat family secret of who Bruce was, Dick Grayson, and what drove Batman crazy after the death of Jason Todd...And one of the biggest revelations for me in that story was that Tim got the big reveal that Bruce wasn't dead.  Putting all the pieces together that Bruce scattered throughout his history, and delivering a fantastical piece of detective work for the comics. And that's not to mention putting a spike Ra's Al Ghul League of Assassins network with some great panache.  So while the passing of the Dark Knight's baton had some great moments... there was still a lot left to be desired.

A Triumphant return...

Folks may know about this already, but I'm blown away the quality of work done for the new series Sherlock on the BBC.  Then again, this is another Steven Moffat production, and much like his previous work on Jelkyll, Coupling and Doctor Who (for which he is now the show runner), it's infused with dry wit and rapid pacing... to the point of running before walking at some points.  While likely to be compared with Guy Ritchie's own version of Holmes set back in his original time period, this Sherlock is still possessed of the same manic energy and drive as Downey's,  Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes in the present day and brilliantly up to date and playing with technology like there's no tomorrow.  This present day Holmes hasn't quite got the same panache with Her Majesty's Boys in Blue, often derided as "a Freak", if not a suspect in cases, only brought in by good Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) when they are completely out of their depth....which according to Holmes is always.  While Holmes is our hero, the audience would be lost without their wonderful POV character Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) who has been recreated from another present day conflict in the desert...just like his earlier predecessor and trying to come to terms with leaving military service with a new set of skills for the present day, but with a tremendous desire for the action he's left behind. The cases Sherlock and Watson deal with are all new but have enough similarities to classic ones to feel familiar. Holmes' talents are shown briefly to the audience in flashes, text appearing on screen, mapping the circuitous routes of London, all quite imaginative, and an excellent way to keep the audience a bit more up to date on what's going on in Holmes' head.  In short, the series is a brilliant new set up that will hopefully see a lot more development in the future.  Check it out for dynamic dialogue, excellent entertainment and captivating characters, heroes and villains alike.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Kirkman's walking dead...

Frank Darrabont's new series on AMC using The Walking Dead comics series as its basis is going to rapidly solidify AMC's reputation as one of the best networks for original programming running.  With Mad Men, Rubicon and Breaking Bad all with sterling reputations and solid ongoing stories, The Walking Dead promises to bring new levels of drama while combining with terror for this, hopefully long running series.  The initial pilot starts quickly and tells us precisely what's going on with the world Rick's living in, before slipping back to the initial catalyst for Rick's story, maintaining the storylines from the original comics series, in a nice bit of continuity for those who read the books initially.  Just like the comics series, the AMC version promises to treat the premise of the zombie apocalypse with a seriousness that we haven't really seen before in zombie stories.  A trend we've seen in Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z , has hopefully made it to the small screen.  The show starts strong, and finishes strong....with very little downswing in between.  In short... this is going to be a series to keep an eye on.

Just in time for Halloween...

There's a new game from Double Fine studios for the PS3 and 360.  Costume Quest.  And much like Tim Schafers' previous offerings it is brilliant and silly and wonderfully colorful.  Your protagonist is half of a set of twins, going out for candy on their night of make believe...  The child you pick gets a fun costume they may have made themselves...a task you will continue throughout the game, while their brother or sister is relegated to wearing a piece of candy corn costuming.  The game gets you into the swing of things quickly using the standard Halloween protocols, illuminated housing, bizarre behavior, bullies on the candy shakedown, and of course... monsters.  But these aren't just any spooky critters... these are on a very specific mission, to get as big a sugar rush as they can manage, and after stealing a walking talking piece of candy corn, your adventure begins.  While the replay value of Costume quest is negligible... at least thus far, the game itself is a fantastic and imaginative romp that only takes a few hours to get a great deal of enjoyment.  So thank you Mr. Schafer... I look forward to seeing more from your folks at Double Fine in future, and hope that the transition to making slightly smaller gems released more quickly works fantastically for you.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Touch of psychic....

Anton Stout sounds like a writer after my own heart....  I suppose that could be said of most of the folks I read...still He lists himself as an avid writer, gamer, with a love of music, and sometime actor.  That being said, while having a knack for the weird... his writing style in his book Dead to Me is entirely too uneven for me to recommend, as much as it pains me to say it.  While his concept of a Department of Extraordinary Affairs isn't new... his handling of it feels very...odd.  In addition, his protagonist Simon Canderous....while gifted with an unusual "psychic talent", that hasn't been covered in many publications to date, doesn't seem to have any actual "talent" with it.  Pyschometry is a cool sounding ability.. discerning an objects history by touching it sounds all kinds of nifty, and while Mr. Stout does a good job of making the DOWNsides of the ability readily apparent, his protagonists complete lack of control over his skill/ability makes for a weak story and fairly lame character.  Things do pick up towards the end of the book, but it doesn't make up for the weaknesses of the early story.  The series has another 2 paperbacks....and I have to wonder how exactly they got picked up by ACE Fantasy...  Hopefully they develop some more cohesion through the series.  Definitely not a recommended read, but there are some great moments in it.  I just have to say I have a hard time taking a book where the "white hats" are the Fraternal Order of Goodness...and called Foggies.  It seriously took something away from the story.  

Monday, October 11, 2010

Enter Sandman...

Sandman Slim is one of the latest in the growing recent trend of modern urban fantasies.  This one is coming from Richard Kadrey, a gifted writer with a flare for the bleak and a bit dirtier noir style.  Mr. Kadrey has said that his influences are very visible in his work, with classic noir, combined with the Crime style of Donald Westlake's  pseudonym Richard Stark, then adding in mysticism of the current urban style with the Christian mythos.  Kadrey  says that his writing tends to ramble and that it doesn't align itself with novels well, which can be seen in his books.  There's no clear chapter divisions, which makes for energetic but difficult reading...no places to pause or stop at night, and while it's an interesting style of development it's one that won't work for all readers.  For folks who pick up their books and plow through them, it's functional... but not so much for everybody else.  The character of James Stark (the protagonist of Kardrey's novel), is fun, harsh, sarcastic, obsessed with movies, and possessed of unusual occult gifts that even he doesn't understand.  His backstory is imaginative and weird, also full of potential for creative pitfalls and conflicts down the road that will be fun to explore further in the series development.  My primary issue with the story is that Stark's nickname, the one the novel is named for, and the series is titled for comes out of nowhere.  It seems the entire city of LA starts calling him "Sandman Slim" at some point and there is no clear reason why or what it ACTUALLY means. In the relative scheme of things it seems really minor, but the feeling it engenders lingers and colors the majority of the later half of the book.  That being said, it's a fun read..but not nearly so deep as the Kings and Queens of the Urban Fantasy...then again, he hasn't had the time to get to the same level of development they've got.  

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rewriting the map of the world...

The Unwritten is one of my favorite new comics of the past year and a half or so.  By the exceptionally creative team of Mike Carey and Peter Gross, a pairing that has done exceptional work for the Vertigo division of DC comics, the story focuses on the trials and tribulations of one Thomas Taylor (sorry, the alliteration was just so tempting.).  Thomas is known worldwide in large part because his father made him the central figure in a children's fantasy, much like Christopher Robin's character when A.A. Milne wrote his Pooh stories, and it has become his primary means of making a living, making guest appearances at Conventions, signing autographs, etc.  Of course the situation is turned on it's head in the exceptional first issue of the comic and bizarre events begin finding focus around Tom.  These events are interspersed with related parts of the stories told ABOUT Tommy, exceptionally illustrated and written, in a style that's very recognizable from many of the most exceptional children's stories around today.  These are only some of the things that have brought me wholeheartedly into the world Carey and Gross are crafting.  Now it may be noted that I qualified this "comic" with the literature tag as well, and with good reason... as the stories develop and the comics move outward expanding on our understanding of Tommy, his role, and the role his Father is playing in the events occurring around him and what they mean, we find ourselves intersecting with many other great pieces of literature.  Shelly's Frankenstein, The Song of Roland, Dicken's Our Mutual Friend, and many others rear their heads and shout to be noticed as we move through Tom's world...  If nothing else this book is a great education in the world around words that have taken on a life of their own.  This is far and away one of the best books coming out in comic shops currently.  But for those who find an interest in these stories, there are a couple other recommendations I can make, Carey & Gross' work on Lucifer, and The Books of Magic, both from the DC imprint, as well as Michael Stackpole's A Secret Atlas series of novels, which, while not precisely the same style of story have a fantastic number of relate-able concepts.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The dead... they Rise!

Dead Rising is a very special game it the hearts of many.  For me it was the first game I ever actually played on the 360... It pretty much sold me on the system as a whole.  It had lots of humor, fantastically imaginative gameplay, good solid story, and good graphics.  All those things on their own made for a great gameplay experience, plus the fact that the game was basically a Romero movie in which you got to control the lead was fantastic...  The idea of playing as a war correspondent covering the Infection outbreak was great, but limited.  The camera while occasionally fun, was considerably LESS entertaining that pounding zombies with chainsaws, baseball bats, golf balls, shotguns and swords.  Now going into the sequel, I find that many of the initial foibles of the first game were fixed for the second, along with a whole slew of new features added to make the game much more entertaining.  For instance, instead of a photographer, this time around you end up playing as the motocross version of McGyver.  Given enough time and duct tape, I'm fairly certain that Chuck Greene, our protagonist, could build himself a tank...similar to the A-Team (Thank you Stephen Cannell, you will be missed), seeing as he can build something similar with an electric wheelchair and assault rifle it's not that far a guess.  There are 52 bizarre and fun weapons you can build, and that's not including the simple fun of smacking guys around with the things that don't get combined into crazy weird toys.  There have also been huge improvements made to the follower AI for the sequel... something the guys on development must have got complaints about.  In the first game your followers were only effective when you were pointing them to run from place to place and wait, this time around, they are FAR more effective at barging past the crowds of undead and defending themselves.  The addition of the multiplayer gameplay is a big plus as well... though there isn't any local viability for it.  And the Terror Is Reality Minigame is hysterically funny and lots of fun as well, with great selection of little game modes that change up regularly.  It's definitely a strong addition to what's amounting to the season of sequels.  Highly recommended for fans of Zombie movies, action games, solid story, and the original game. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The rise and fall of Kings...

This is another in my long list of television series executed too soon...  Firefly for it's edge of the universe style and brilliance, The Sarah Connor Chronicles for fun and twisted toying with the time space continuum that would give many fits, Journeyman for being the spiritual successor to Quantum Leap, Life for the excellent presentation of zen in it's everyday life of a cop.  But Kings has a very different distinction for me... It actively incorporated spirituality into its central storyline.  As King Silas says, "It's unpopular to talk about God..."  and I get the feeling that it is very true on the network landscape... thus leading to the shows ending.  The show was filled with fantastic performances of every stripe, Ian McShane as King Silas Benjamin in particular...but also Christopher Egan as Captain David Shepard.  Now if those names sound familiar, it's likely with good reason...the entire series was imagined as a retelling of the David tales.  You know, the young man vs. Goliath and the immense army, the Prophet Samuel telling him his destiny to come to the throne, all those great stories... too bad only a few of them got to be told.  The re imagining of these tales into a modern era is intriguing... especially with the concept of the Kingdoms holding sway in the invented world the characters inhabit.  The "crafting of the dynasty" is something that while not a frequent subject in the early episodes, becomes a big focus later in the series.  Another of the keystones of the series was the mysticism connected to faith in their world, but what impressed me most about it was how subtly it was incorporated into the show.  It was often small things, the passing breeze, a blown out candle, all covered with a excellent eye to photography.  There are many breathtaking little moments captured on film for this show.  it is sad to say it didn't reach nearly as much of an audience is actually out there, which may have fallen all over themselves for imaginative re-tellings of biblical stories.  Fortunately the series ended on decent point for a finale, though more stories would have been better.  And the series is available to interested parties who may be interested in it with its release on DVD.

A for amusing...

So, it may seem like a bit off my beaten track to say that I was HIGHLY entertained by Easy A.  It's a light comedy with a ton to recommend it, not the least being the slew of highly favorable reviews... all of which I can get behind.  Emma Stone has fantastic screen presence and a sense of dry wit that infuses her character in all the best ways.  And while I thought that she was exceptional, many of my favorite scene were stolen by the "Parents" of the feature.  Stanley Tucci, Thomas Hayden Church, and Patricia Clarkson are all hysterical and had me in stitches while sharing the screen with their youthful counterparts.  The thing that struck me most about them was how genuine all their interactions were.  They felt like a genuine family playing and having fun with each other, and it carried off the screen to the audience.  I'm not sure how much of those reactions were scripted and how much were improvised, but congratulations need to go to Will Gluck, and Bert V. Royal the director and writer respectively for getting such excellent performances from the cast.  For anyone who appreciates good genuine comedy, this film is very much recommended. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Golden Avenger....

With Iron Man 2 on it's way to homes all over, thoughts on the newest series focused on the Golden Avenger spring to mind.  Writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvador LaRocca have been the driving forces behind the Invincible Iron Man title..And one of the best main stream teams out there for comics, definitely one of my favorites at the house of Marvel, just behind Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (who have been taking Marvel held B & C list heroes into cosmic scale events and crafting epic sagas around them).  There are a lot of brilliant ideas in The Invincible Iron Man, and one of my favorites is the way Fraction allows the readers into Tony Stark's head...his fears of falling back to his drinking, his fears about what happens if his Iron Man technology falls into the wrong hands... most particularly, his fear of the Iron Man tech becoming cheap and replaceable.  The hardcover collection of the first 19 books of Invincible Iron Man is particularly fine.  Beautifully illustrated and telling some of my favorite stories I've read in some time...Tony dealing with an opponent who manages terrible acts while staying practically a ghost, while being hunted by one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the Marvel Universe.  Still, my favorite story comes during the middle of the book, where Tony teams up with everyones' favorite neighborhood hero Spidey dealing with a major terrorist attack against Stark Industries, and a underground supertech pipeline.  Not the superhero bits that come through, but the way Peter Parker gets to the genuine feeling under Tony Stark while trying to comprehend the tragedy that's befallen the people who work for him and he protects.  Then there's the final story as Tony is on the run from Norman Osbourne and literally losing his mind.  It's a brilliant take on the ramifications of the Extremis storyline Warren Ellis wrote not too long ago, and it's fantastically put together.  This is a book I highly recommend to anybody who loves good story lines.  It helps to have Marvel Universe background info for details on what's going on, but it isn't particularly necessary since Fraction gives you most necessary info as the characters are presented.  

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Season begins...

So the new network season began (for the most part) last week.  As a mediaphile I feel an urge to jot down notes on the series that have either had my attention or caught it.  That being said, I'll begin with Sunday.  Boardwalk Empire: This is the new kid on the block, and it's catching peoples attention quickly.  With a period piece set in the Prohibition and Steve Buscemi, a fantastic character actor, leading the charge plus setting it on HBO this seems like the show that folks are going to be keeping their eyes on.  The characters are vibrant, the settings are fantastic, and the dialogue is terrific.  There's a lot of good here that hopefully will grow as the series continues.
Chuck:  One of my favorite series.  Season four looks like it'll be as much fun as the previous ones.  I'm looking forward to the CIA figuring out they have no idea how to run a big box store... and the development of Chuck and Sarah getting their relationship of equals on more even footing.  Plus there's Casey (the always fantastic Adam Baldwin), how's his life going to change now that his daughter is in the picture?  The first episode is adequate to set up the rest of the season, but it's going to be the rest of the series that lets us see how things go. 
Castle:  Ah, the modern Moonlighting, with the fun loving author and the driven police-woman.  It's a challenge for me to articulate the reasons that I enjoy these stories.  It's not just cause Nathan Fillon is one of my favorite actors on TV and has been for awhile, it's the sense of fun and joy in the macabre and strange he seems to bring to each case he works with the NY cops, then there's the home life with his hysterical actress mother and his terrific young daughter (in the show that is).  Having Castle as a suspect in the season opener thus leading to another amusing interrogation, is just gravy.  Still one of my favorite shows for this season.  
The Event:  Not sure what to think of this show yet.  Government conspiracies, and terrible events have it feeling a little bit like Lost, but with sci-fi overtones showing up late in the episode.  Going to save my judgment on this one til later in the season, when I've got a little more to think about it.
Undercovers:   JJ Abram's latest.  Fun little show.  Not a lot to it yet, but we'll likely see a lot of character development and history revealed as the series progresses.  Hoping the show will be more like the earliest ALIAS than the later seasons.  All I can say thus far is the first episode was entertaining.
Bones:  Another long running investigative show, focusing a little bit more on the science and the characters than many of the investigative series.  At 6 seasons, the long running tension between Booth and Brennan is getting a little weak.  The new season seems to be pushing that Booth is moving on, and Brennan is just now realizing how much her work with Booth and the FBI, made a difference to all the people around her.  It'll be interesting to see if these revelations have any kind of long term affect on the characters.
Fringe:  Back to the the series set in 2 different universes.  There's nothing about this show that I don't like.  The season opener has more mad science, lots of fun little reveals around the second universe, and just a glimpse of what is going back in our world.  Walternate is fun and scary, Olivia has a fantastic escape scene all in all one of the best openers yet this season.

Smallville:  The final season is barreling forward with out even LOOKING at their brakes.  There are a couple great reveals, though the conversations with Jor-El are getting weaker quickly.  Still, John Schnieder's return at the end of the episode, was heartfelt and touching.  Still, unless someone has been following the show since it's beginning and knows DC comics... it'd be difficult to follow all the storylines going through this show.
Supernatural:  Moments of brilliance with a majority of average.  The initial presentation of Dean's new life is fantastic, but the monster of the week this time around is weak   Bringing in new hunters this early in the show feels way too rushed.  Hopefully there will be some better material down the line, but the first episode while fun, isn't nearly so strong as stuff we've seen before.  I'm still looking forward to what else may show up through the season though.

Friday, September 24, 2010


So, Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw is now a published author in addition to the game design and web journalist credits to his name... As a fan of his web journalistic stylings I figured it'd be a fun time checking out his book.  I have to say it's an odd mix of styles... feeling at times, very similar to Terry Pratchett's Discworld series along with a great little send up on MMORPGer's (as the author calls them), going so far as thanking Blizzard Entertainment for three months he'll never get back.  Taking advantage of his general knowledge of the gaming development process, his natural knack for sarcasm, and the concept of progressively developed systems; Yahtzee's novel moves along at a brisk pace and kept this gamer giggling throughout.  With that in mind, Mogworld, is still in a very niche market for it's target audience.  Aiming for gamers and fantasy enthusiasts and taking advantage of Mr. Croshaw's reputation in the former community to contribute to 'buzz', the novel is definitely not going to be for everyone... it is, however, a fun time and a pretty quick read.  I hope to see more from Mr. Croshaw, but until then I'll just join the rest of his fan base over at the Escapist for his weekly gaming tirades.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Words of Warding...

A short time ago I found myself perusing the bookshelves of the local bookshop and came across The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett (also known as The Painted Man in some other publication areas).  It's the first in a series of fantasy novels the author's calling the Demon Cycle and if the quality of his writing continues improving I'm sure they're going to be seriously good novels.  With a solidly building fan base, I have hopes that the series takes wing and is a HUGE success, since the quality of the characters, and the story development is excellent through the first work.  The Desert Spear, the second story in the series is out on the market now, with a 3rd hopefully under works.    From first appearances in the next novel the main concern I have is that there may be  a glut of characters throughout his novels, which can create problems with plot focus.  Said plot focus problems are the main reason I left behind the Wheel of Time series Robert Jordan wrote, which is being finished by another author with Mr. Jordans passing.  While a breadth of characters can create some great point of view moments to project the readers all around the world that the author has created... too many and a single novel can loose cohesion and the readers can get lost in the shuffle from place to place.  Still, The Warded Man is a fantastic first novel, and seems to me to have been an excellent exercise in world building.  The concepts and places in the story are fully-fleshed out and vivid...and the world filled with wonders and horrors at the same time.  While the story is fully focused in a fantasy setting, the quality and characters would well and truly make it an excellent read for just about anyone.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reaching the end....

Halo: Reach is the culmination of almost a decades worth of gaming.  A series dedicated to using classic sci-fi and gaming tropes that has seen its true development in the growth of its multiplayer community.  Centered around a faceless figure known as Master Chief John-117, the games allowed the player to a great deal of association with their protagonist by keeping him helmeted throughout gameplay a concept further extended into the closing chapter (from Bungie, the company most responsible for the games development) in Reach.  Bungie has developed a deep and beautiful graphics engine for their games and as a gift to their fans, with the completion of the Forge engine, have created an almost infinitely customizable and craftable game that will see a great deal of play for a long time coming.  I enjoyed the game series, mostly through my eyes as a reader and someone who appreciates stories, and the crafting of Reach as an "initial" bookend for the story saw some great moments.  The fact that the series has a even deeper story when connected with the Forerunners tales in the game, and the Marathon series of games that Bungie created spoke well to me, even when it doesn't for some of my friends.  While I hope that the games that will likely come after this, will probably not see the same level of depth, the potential for the series to grow does exist, who knows what may come after this.  For many, the best results of the Halo series may be all the related media into which it's extended.  One of Halo's Machinima (digital puppetry) series Red vs. Blue, has seen enough growth and a lot of brilliant content that has extended into film and internet media that it's almost more well known than the series that spawned it.  And one of director Neill Blomkamp's most known pieces was a series of Live Action style Halo shorts, that saw a great deal of use just prior to his film District 9, and similarities can be seen in the two media styles that very positively affect each other.  My greatest hope is that we continue to see new growth in media and storytelling through the many platforms inspired by Bungie and their Halo series.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Classic sci-fi comic stuff...

Ah Netflix, how you spoil me... always finding something interesting and new/old to watch.  Here I'm back to write a bit about a bit of Comic book history from the 1982 film Swamp Thing....a great little Wes Craven pic.  While the story is the stuff of classic comic book origins, and may not be some of the best written material ever, the performances are great...and it's one of the classic pieces of F/X work.  F/X specialists should make films like this one an essential for study, with fantastic practical effects and prosthetic work... showing that while computer generated effects may be what everyone looks for, there's a lot more to special effects than what can be done on machines.  Not necessarily a classic piece of film, but there are a lot of redeeming features worth examination.

Fractions of illumination

Brent Weeks is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors...  I loved his previous Night Angel Trilogy... a fantastic little paperback series published under the Orbit imprint, a company that seems to be going out of the way to get great fantasy stories out to the people who love them.  His characters are vibrant, detailed, and troubled...all of whom tend to get under your skin and keep you thinking about them.  These qualities in his writing are also visible in his first installment of his new Lightbringer series.  Both series have unique and deep "magic" systems, standard in fantasy series but often one of the elements that stands to set one writers series from the others.  The Black Prism, follows 3 focus characters...keeping the cast limited and allowing for development of the environment, setting, and character, preventing us (the readers) from getting bogged down with extraneous characters.  Any reader of The Night Angel series, will be aware that Mr. Weeks isn't afraid too pull the occasional fast one or misdirect, and he's more than willing to do so again in this new series, and though this one may cause a headache or two for the reader...it's still a very satisfying read.  Hopefully we'll see more fun developments as the series develops. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Zen or something like it....

Just before the writer's strike in Hollywood in 2007-08 a a nifty little show appeared on NBC called Life.  Centering around police cases in and around Los Angeles and police officer Charlie Crews (played by the fantastic Damian Lewis).  Now there are and were a TON of police style shows around it... so what made this one different?  For one... most cops in cop shows haven't spent 12 years in Pelican Bay for a crime they didn't commit.  Then proven innocent by a crusading attorney, he gets his shield back and a serious settlement from the city of LA.  The series only made it for a short run for it's first season, followed by a second that hit a minor snag when Sarah Shahi needed to cut her time on the show for her pregnancy, but both had a lot of really fantastic episodes, an wonderfully developed characters.  Charlie is a fun and troubled spirit... who survived as a cop in prison through learning new skill sets, and working on developing a Zen philosophy towards "Life".  Partnered with Sarah Shahi's Dani Reese he skillfully uses his unique perspective to solve many crimes around the city, all the while trying to find the people who lead to his original incarceration.  As short lived as the series was it had wonderful characters, story and some brilliant photography.  I love this series, and highly recommend it to folks who enjoy good drama series.  It is one of the few shows that originated around the 07/08 Writer's Strike that actually got enough of a heads up for an actual resolution when the series ended.

Sometimes the best good guy... is a villian.

The Conqueror's Shadow is a fun bit of independent fantasy based around a specific conceit:  The villain isn't always JUST a villain.  Corvis Rebane is Ari Marmell's focal character and we are introduced to him at the height of his power before skipping ahead 17 years.  Ari uses the "skipping time" conceit to show us the characters at differing points in their history and to explore further depth of character.  As a frequent reader of "high fantasy" style stories it often seems easier to create remarkable villains than it is heroes, and it seems this author took that style of writing to heart, by crafting his "world-conquering despot" into an anti-hero.    While the 2 concepts of conqueror and hero often feel impossible to reconcile, Mr. Marmell builds his characters history well through his development and flashbacks finally showing how a man so battered by the system he lives in comes to decide that breaking the system to put it all together again is the result.  While the story isn't terribly original, it is a fun and quick read.. independent of the frequencies of trilogies and series that are so popular these days.   The novel is excellently written and developed, much like his previous "fantasy" style outing with Agents of Artifice for Wizards of the Coast's Magic the Gathering line.  Well worth checking out at your local library or picking up as a quick paperback if you're looking for a read that won't leave you high and dry waiting for the next installment.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A new kind of Monday Night sports...

Monday Night Combat... a recent addition to the Xbox Live arcade cabinet, has taken a fun bit of time from me over the past couple months...  The concept is a nifty little blending of Team Fortress style class play and Tower Defense.   The game knows where it got it's ideas from and has worked to build on them, adding class specific skills that improve for each player with cash earned throughout fights.  With 4 player co-op online and 8 player competitive there's a lot of fun to be had for a bit of investment.  Playing with folks you know can allow you to develop deep strategies and tactics for taking on the Mass numbers of robots that will assault your Money ball... your defensive home base.  The fact that the game has both local and online co-op is really why I like it.  The potential to play in both formats is something I really hope to see more of from Xbox live.  It's been my primary complaint of the 2 XBL games I've been playing recently that both formats aren't covered.  Since being able to play with your friends online and at home is a fun concept.  The play style of MNC is fun and fast, with some hilarious voiceovers by the games announcer, making it well worth trying.  I'd definitely recommend the demo for anybody looking for something fun and silly.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Robert Rodriguez and the cinematic time machine....

Watching Machete today I was amazed at Robert Rodriguez' sense of cinematic history.  The movie feels very much like it was just opened up at a theater from a old roll from about 30 years ago.  The movie is ridiculous and strange and very entertaining...every bit what one would expect from the trailer included with Planet Terror and Death Proof.  A word of warning though folks... this is just as much a Grindhouse flick as the previous films... Intense and over the top violence, scantily clad women, fast cars and chases... all the classics... yet this movie had me wondering... why wasn't the Expendables more like this?  I mean it was cool enough for me (the Expendables), but still I didn't figure on it beating out the fantastic Scott Pilgrim vs. The World?  If the all star action cast had a bit more direction and feeling behind it like this fun Grindhouse film, I'd have been less put off by the idea.  Now all that being said, Machete...  while being a lot more fun than it's most recent Action Film predecessor, suffers from standard action flaws... There's very little in the way of actual plot and the characters are Caricatures of people.  There is some nice development of character with a couple of the female leads that I enjoyed, but most of the males...including the title character never really have anything similar.  Yet I had a far more enjoyable time watching this movie than I did with the Expendables several weeks ago.  Setting this movie with Planet Terror for a double feature would be a highly entertaining experience, one that I'll likely look to try once it's out on DVD, or Streaming media.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


This is one of those cult movies that folks either know about and love, or haven't really heard about.  Released in the shadow of "The Matrix", it has as deep a story and at least as many awesome fight scenes.  Christian Bale and Taye Diggs turn in some fantastic performances in this film, as well as a tragically short one by Sean Bean.  The film focuses on a futuristic dystopian society where human emotion and feeling has become the great boogie-man of society.  Being blamed as the cause of wars and injustice it is suppressed by most people by a drug regimen and enforced by a societal arm called the Tetragrammeton.  These are the basics... but the film has so much more than just a great sci-fi story and action.  This movie was my introduction to Kurt Wimmer, a film writer and director with a huge sense of visual style.  He also helped pen Street Kings, an incredibly violent cop actioner, that's still one of my guilty pleasures and Law Abiding Citizen, a movie I really enjoyed until the last 4 minutes just seemed to fall apart...
Equilibrium has all the best parts of story throughout it, which is why I often find myself recommending it to friends.  There's hope, tragedy, familial drama, espionage, sacrifice... and brilliant use of imagery.  It's one of my favorite films of the past decade... and I highly suggest you check it out.  But do yourself a favor and stay away from Ultraviolet (Wimmer's next directorial piece)... the story is too uneven and not nearly so solid as his last outing, though the visuals of it are intense and inventive.

Recettear: A bizzarly entertaining experience

Another game on the menu for today, a tongue in cheek little RPG based around one of the staples of the genre:  The Item Shop.  I know it sounds bizarre, and in many ways it is...  but entertaining as well, full of a self-aware humor and sense of fun.  A story about a girl has to start hawking gear in a fantasy society in order to pay off the mortgage on her home/shop, Recettear is primarily based around said shop and gear.. A fun little conceit of the program is that the city in question also has an Adventurer's guild...which you can search for gear to sell in your shop by outfitting Adventurer's in either your shop or on the fly.  The dungeons are short and simple, randomly generated and fun...and you fill your pockets quickly.  A surprisingly fun little diversion, and something different from the standard hack & slashes or turn based games we see.  It's a well designed little game with a bunch of fun aspects to it... the keyboard controls are decent, but the game does really well when played with a game console style controller.  Well worth taking a look at if you're into something RPG styled but with a little different feel to it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Resident 4vil...(3D)

So, I'm having a hard time deciding where to start with this small treatise, so I suppose I can just jump in anywhere.  First off... if you are not a fan of bullet time and it's flagrant abuse in films... do not see this movie.  Seriously.  In my guesstimation that if the bullet time sequences were left at regular speed you'd drop between 15 and 20 minutes of film time.  It really just feels like one more thing to try and take advantage of the 3d effects, which fails utterly.  In Avatar (to date the only 3d movie that's actually used the tech relatively well, IMO) 3d was used to add fullness and depth to the environment... and I hope that such is the case in the next 3d film I'm looking forward to (Tron: Legacy). Whereas many of the weaker 3d films just use them for standard "shock" effects.  The only 3d effect in the entire film I enjoyed was in the opening credits where raindrops bounced off names in the title sequence.  Secondly, I have a hard time reconciling the films with their titles...since aside from a couple names, very little of the series to date is in any way related to the thrilling horror series that originated it.  There's not a lot that can be said about any of the acting in the film... there's just not much for the actors to work with... which is a shame, since the cast is pretty decent.  The movie feels uneven to me... the Alice assault that has been in all the trailers is in many ways a high point, and the films final act is pretty unfulfilling since it's a standard "cliffhanger" like the previous two.   Thus I'd say the film, while likely to succeed as an action flick, isn't worth most folks time unless you've really gotten into the movies (don't laugh... such people are out there).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tragedy, Triumph

Sons of Anarchy made a fantastic return to FX last night.  Reminding us that there are worthwhile programs full of drama and character that aren't related in any way to police procedural formula.  I've been following the show since it's premiere and it's been constantly surprising me with the drama and human character.  If you haven't taken a look at the show so far, I highly recommend you do, toss it in your Netflix cue and take a look... or see if they've got it at your local video store if that's where you look.  The story lines for the Sons started Shakespearian in scope and progressively expanded and become more impressive, and when combined with the immense talents of the cast, the terrific Katey Segal as Gemma and Ron Perlman as the fantastic Clay, patriarch of the Sons...It creates a weekly experience of unparalleled drama.  I'm not going into any kind of detail here on what goes on throughout the series, 'cause if you follow my recommendations, you'll check it out and I want all of the beautiful and terrible surprises to be there for you... So, give SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original) a try... you may find something unexpected.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Taking advantage of Elseworlds...

Ah, the alternate dimension trope.  A classic of all science fiction, fantasy and comics, with quite a few video games besides.  It's one of the primary elements in a new gaming experience, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions.  I've always been a fan of the webheaded wonder, and knew that this would be a game I'd like trying,  I DIDN'T figure on how varied the folks who put it together really would make it.  Each of the variants on Spidey feel very distinctive and fun...yet retain the wise-cracking mania that's such an essential part of his charm.  The control scheme they developed is slick and quick to learn, but with a lot of room to play with to build combos and change up your play style.  The most likely negative comment folks are going to see about this game are the similarities they made to another archetypal hero, who also got his game on last year.  I am of course referring to the fantastic Batman: Arkham Asylum.  Where Bats had his "detective" vision to aid him, Web-head has his spider sense.. which functions in a similar way, pointing out villains, weak spots in the environment, and pick ups for each level.  Speaking of levels, talk about a visual feast... these are some seriously vibrant and fun environments the player gets to speed through, each with it's own villains, challenges and a couple secrets... Though there's no grand city to web your way through aiding civilians in sandbox style like we've seen in the earlier generations of Spider-Man games, Shattered Dimensions has something those games could often use... direction.  Oh... and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fun voice acting throughout...props to Neil Patrick Harris, Dan Gilvezan, Josh Keaton, and Christopher Daniel Barnes for playing the Friendly Neighborhood Wall-crawler well. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

CASTLEVANIA: Harmony of Despair

As it's become increasingly clear to me over the years, I am a child of the video game age.  I enjoyed pumping quarters into the old arcades in my hometown and working towards the next goal, playing a little bit better next time.  One of the first games I remember like that was Castlevania.  I never made it to Dracula in the original... so Simon Belmont never managed to take the blood sucking fiend down until I played Castlevania 2 on my home console years later..  Still there was something about Castlevania Harmony of Despair that makes me reminisce about those early days of playing.  Probably because playing as the "Simon" style character, the single player game was super challenging.  That's not a criticism.. just an observation, but this new game has something entirely new.... a multiplayer experience.  Up to 6 people at a time whupping Draculas butt.  That was fun, but only available if you buy the game... no opportunity to try out its single shining aspect in its demo mode.
It would have also been a much superior game if there were some more variation between the single and multiplayer systems of play.  And finally... my primary criticism... NO local multiplayer?  I don't get that.  It'd be a ton of fun playing with 4 other people in the same room, but no you can only play with others over XBoxLive.  It's the exact opposing flaw I found in the Scott Pilgrim vs. the world game.  I guess it must be a real challenge to program both styles of multiplayer system into a single game.  To sum up... while there are opportunities for fun in this one.. don't grab it unless you're a BIG Castlevania fan.

Dreams that come...

So in this posting I'll be putting my thoughts up on Eric Nylund's Mortal Coil series... Mortal Coils and All that Lives Must Die.  I found Mr. Nylund's work after reading his imaginative development of the Halo universe for Bungie.  And having tried out these two novels, I've got to say, for a chemist he's got a heck of a talent for writing.
This series takes advantage of the new "Urban Fantasy" trend that's been developing over the last 8 years or so and combines it with traditional story fare of the hero's journey, temptation, meetings with monsters and gods, and most other tropes of the sub-genre.  While the story isn't necessarily exceptional, it is fun and with the development of some very entertaining villains, does bring some feelings of apprehension for the characters living it.  One of the things that spoke the most to me, was the finales of both pieces...primarily because while they do end each story, they don't end on a saccharine high note.  So... while the books are entertaining... don't go into them looking for a great many twists or surprises.  There is also a fun Reader's Guide to go with both books... If you can manage to tempt a friend or two to read your copy or grab one from the library, I'd imagine you could have a great discussion about your shared thoughts on the stories.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

And The WORD is....

Transmetropolitan...  that's the word of the evening for my posting tonight.  One of Warren Ellis' more profound works and one known by most comics afficiandos already.  Still I thought, since I've got my copies in front of me it's as good a time as any to get many of my thoughts down on the matter.
I dig the hell out of this book.  Spider Jerusalem is one of my favorite characters ever, and not just for his Gonzo larger than life approach to everything, or his basis in Hunter S. Thompson, but for his single-minded dedication to his Truth (and yes, he means it in the traditional Platonic sense).  Facts that are beyond reproach and inevitable when one takes the time to think them through.  I understand that Spider is a faint analogue for the authors own point of view to be brought across to his audience (and so should you), but that doesn't make any of the things he talks about any less important.  The way we treat the lost in our society, the terrorism of religions and the political power struggles of our world are all addressed in a roundabout way in a dystopian world that, while we wouldn't necessarily want to live there, can certainly be recognized as a possible future.
For comics folks... this is essential Warren Ellis work.  All his black humor and inventive use of analogy is here for display.  And with 10 volumes of Graphic Novels full of material?  That's a lot of things to say.   I'll likely cover more of Ellis' work in this blog at later dates...  and while TransMet isn't my favorite of his works... It's definitely worth more than just a once over.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (The media phenomenon)

Okay folks, here it is, since this is my inaugural post within the blogosphere I figured I'd make it about something near and dear to many of my obsessions.  Bryan Lee O'Malley's brillant little treatise on nerd culture has grown fantastically from it's comic roots.  With the help of Edgar Wright, it's become one of the most fantastic yet underviewed films of the summer.  I can't imagine why... A stunning feature with a tremendous soundtrack and visuals that take the breath away, and some seriously fantastic performances from some really gifted actors.  Am I gushing a little much?  If so I don't apologize... since the only thing that Hollywood seems to acknowledge these days is the amount of money a film makes at the box office and a estimated gross [to date] of 26.2 million dollars, brillance seems to me to be a bit snubbed by those who could really use it.  Still...I imagine if you're reading this you've likely seen it already... so, let's move on shall we?

Now don't get me wrong... I am very much a comic guy... but while I adore Mr. O'Malley's graphic novels, the licensing out of his characters and titles to the video game industry was nothing short of fantastic.  Many thanks to the wonderful folks at Ubisoft who brought us this great little nostaligia fest and bit of fantastic multiplayer mayhem.  Only one gripe really occurs to me... while the same console multiplayer is great, ONLINE multiplayer is the name of the game.  Social gaming on any and all systems with friends over long distances is often much easier than getting them all in the same place... so why was this aspect denied to us.  I may never know, but I will hope for it as I play when I can.  I really love the old school design and and feel of the controls, leveling, and even the enemies and I am confident that when I can actually get multiple people to sit down at one console to play together, the experience will be truly EPIC...  but for now I will while away the hours finding old things in my library to rant about and pull people into...

In short...  Thanks Bryan for the great times at the movies, the fun comics, and the great game.  I dub Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in all it's forms:  Incendiary.  Doesn't mean much from a gamer I suppose... but we're your demographic.  Thanks for the good work.