Monthly Archives: January 2007

The Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye

Despite how it looks, I don’t read only on the weekends. It’s just that the graphic novels have a way of going fast, and especially so if I happen to be reading them on Saturday, aka “nothing breaks at work because nobody is messing with the network day”. So I suddenly find myself with free time on my hands, not all of which can be filled with illicit games of nethack. (I can hardly wait for someone at my place of employment to figure out this is me.) All of which is a clever(?) way of introducing a new graphic novel series into my rotation. This puts me at three now, but with a couple more pretty soon.

This one isn’t about the wellspring of mythology or coming to literal grips with religion, though. Nope, it’s about zombies! Days Gone Bye is the first volume of a thusfar ongoing series, The Walking Dead. Kentucky police officer Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma acquired in the line of duty to find that the world he knew has been blown away like a carelessly held handful of dust. Now he has figure out how to survive while civilization gradually winds down to nothing and find his wife and son. And okay, maybe this introduction isn’t that much different from Resident Evil: Apocalypse or 28 Days Later, but let’s be honest. It’s certainly a good way to explain all that early book exposition on how we got here. And from there, it flows straight into Romero territory. Which is a compliment rather than an accusation of plagiarism. Sure, the question is one that Romero has asked in each of his movies: when everything is gone except for the daily, hourly struggle for survival, is it still possible to retain humanity? But the beauty of that question is that it has so many avenues to an answer. About as many as there are people left to define possible answers. Sure, zombies have a special place in my heart (as, I’m sure, my heart would have a special place in a zombie), but this is something you can get out of any good post-apocalyptic story, and it’s a big part of why I like them.

Also from Romero territory is the black and white motif. I’m not sure what makes it work so well. Maybe it’s that it causes me to pay more attention to details, whereas my eyes take in color as part of the natural order of things and slide straight to the action. It seems to fit the theme of the world winding down very well, though, with the panels starkly black or white by turns as days and seasons progress. The people don’t talk too often, and that’s okay. Long speeches and angry shouts seem out of place in this world, and not just because it gives the walking dead something to hear and look for. It’s more that the words have run out and only actions have relevance anymore. Which is where those panels full of black or white come back into it: every word spoken feels as much of an intrusion onto the art as it does into the silence of the dead civilization or into the grief of our characters at each new or newly discovered setback.

Me Talk Pretty One Day

Is there any book quite as intriguing as the loaned book? I mean, don’t get me wrong: I’ve devoted the majority of my life to the premise that owning books is awesome, pretty much since I had two coins to rub together. But the thing about someone loaning you a book is that they liked it so much that they are compelled to share it, and that they see a commonality in you and really believe that you’ll love it every bit as much as they did, if not more. That’s deep, meaningful human contact right there. And spiritual, too. They are giving you of their own book, that you might read it and think of them. It’s, like, The Last Supper, but without as much bread, man!

…too far? Anyway, my point is, I approve of this practice between people.

As you may have worked out by now, this most recent book was a loaner. Me Talk Pretty One Day is a book of essays by David Sedaris, who apparently is a reasonably well known essay writer. (At least, he’s in the top 5 or 10 people I see mentioned on eharmony, behind Dan Brown and that guy that pissed off Oprah and five heavenly dead dudes.) I was very amused to discover that his sister Amy is in fact actress Amy Sedaris, though. Anyway, books of essays aren’t really my thing, generally speaking. And it would be difficult to make the claim that I have much of anything in common with a 40-something gay art guy who spent most of his life in New York and Paris.

And yet, he grew on me. There’s just something about his voice as he describes his misfit childhood and drugged out youth that gradually converted my tolerant smiles into quiet chuckles, and by the time he got to the second half of the book and his expatriation to France (for example, right now I’m having a chuckle at how he’d hate it being characterized that way), I was bursting out with sharp laughter once or more per story. I’m pretty sure this doesn’t indicate that the early stuff in the book isn’t as polished; like I said, he grew on me. I think if I went back and read it from the start, I’d find a lot of it more funny now. I’m not likely to any time very soon, but I expect I’ll try to borrow one of the others before too many books have passed. Because if loaning is a great way to say ‘I think I know you well enough to know this is for you’, reciprocal borrowing has got to be the best way to say, ‘good call, you were totally right’.

Still, though. It might be my bias, but I’m pretty sure the stories that included Amy were the funniest.

Peter Jackson’s King Kong

Back in the hazy, halcyon days of yore, when I had just gotten my ‘siddy, there were a fair number of launch titles I was interested in. And a few I wasn’t, mostly racing games and Perfect Dark Zero, which always seemed kind of terrible and whose demo left me cold. And there was King Kong, which seemed pretty awesome, but outside my then-jobless budget. And then as the months passed, it kept looking kind of old and worn compared to the new shiny games coming out at the same prices. (I’m looking at you, Dead Rising and Oblivion!)

But then, earlier this month, it was sitting lonelily on the shelf at Fry’s for $19.99. That is the exact perfect price to win me over. And as it happens, it’s a price I’m pretty happy with. It’s still a lot prettier than Wii Sports, but when I compare it to any of the last 6 months’ worth of HD games I’ve played, it lacks a certain indefinable something. I’m pretty sure that something is realistic water effects, and wow, behold the snobbery of me! Anyway, aside from that, it was a pretty good game. Maybe slightly short, and maybe slightly easy, but neither in such a way that I felt like I’d lost out on the deal.

As the title implies, it’s almost a straight port of the movie, though with a lot more fighting giant insects and man-sized dinosaurs, and a little more running from T. Rex-y ones. I took longer than I should have to figure out the right way to perform most of the combat. But since I was playing as a script writer turned adventure hero, I don’t mind so much. Also, I’m sure the game would have been a lot easier if I’d been willing to leave areas with any of my enemies unkilled. The play as Kong part suffered from some of the same failure of learning curve on my part, which is less excusable, since I kind of figure he knew how to fight all along. (Though if so, where did all the other giant monsters keep coming from? Shouldn’t they have been dead by now?) Still: perfectly fun game up until the last level, where it suddenly becomes a quagmire of misery and depression. In case you’re not familiar with the game or any of the three versions of the film: nevermind why.

The Hitcher (2007)

Finally, a new local theater. It fails to be as wonderful as the Alamo Drafthouse, but it’s an easy second place among dine-in movie establishments. There must be something about Austin that made that one chain so much more awesome than any of the pretenders. But the Studio Movie Grill has daily menu specials and the occasional special event or limited release film; once they start having themed feasts and more events, it could be a reasonable facsimile of the real thing, until they get around to opening a theater up here. Plus, they have good crowd energy right now; I hope it stays that way, as it’s another good sign overall. The important thing, though, is that Monday is margarita night. I can’t really recommend the blue margarita, as it tasted both weird and not very blue, but I’m looking forward to the sangria one.

Speaking of things you shouldn’t do while driving, the movie on the screen was The Hitcher. It’s a remake of a movie I was aware of, but never got around to seeing. A young couple driving through New Mexico ends up picking up John Ryder, a guy who is in pretty bad need of a ride and who chooses his pseudonyms with flair. And then, instead of just riding quietly and getting out at the motel up the road like he’s supposed to, he starts screwing with their heads. And then he implicates them in a massive crime spree. That sounds kind of cheesy, and his ability to keep appearing in unexpected places as though he implanted His-n-Hers tracking chips in their asses definitely pushes some of the scenes over the top. They made up for that one chink in my suspension of disbelief by keeping the tension locked at fever pitch for almost the entire movie. No matter how deep you think the hole has gotten, they find a way to dig it deeper. And that’s awesome.

Also awesome: the soundtrack. Songs rather than a score for the most part, but the songs were masterfully chosen. Of particular interest is Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” playing over the helicopter chase. The only particular flaw I can point to is the anticlimacticism of the finale. With another 30 seconds of footage, they could have given the movie a much deeper theme on the dangers of staring too long into the darkness. For all I know they did, though, and it didn’t Test Well. So, y’know.

Gears of War

The day is coming when I’ll feel obliged to cross-reference some games with the movies section. The last couple of Zeldas fall into that evolving category, as does Halo 2. As, also, does Gears of War. On a class M somewhere out in the galaxy, humans are living out a reasonably Utopian existence. (Utopia looks like a sidewalk cafe in Paris in the springtime, apparently. If you remove the Parisians, then, fair enough.) The problem with Utopia, in this case, is all the humanoids and beasts living below the surface of the planet who decided one day to erupt onto the surface and smash human civilization. Now, some years or decades later, the military remnants continue their struggle against, um… the bad guys. No, seriously, I can’t remember. Ah, okay, it’s the Locust Horde. (I can only assume they call themselves something else.)

The actual in-game story is quite a bit more awesome than the, for now at least, cardboard premise. A squad of marines is tasked with penetrating Locust defenses to retrieve a potential doomsday weapon that has been lost behind enemy lines when the helicopter transporting it was shot down. Although only two are playable, all of the six or so characters has sufficient depth to be in a video game; that is, you care what happens to them and hope they don’t die. The story being about as grim and post-apocalyptic as it sounds, don’t count on that hope winning out, though.

As far as gameplay? It’s really pretty cool. I felt more present than I have in the majority of first-person shooters, despite it being a third-person. The maps being open enough for true flanking and the easy-to-use cover system make the repetitive parts of the game (where you repel this or that wave of enemy attackers before proceeding to the next such wave) not only tolerable but genuinely fun again, and the non-standard parts of the game where you’re dealing with the things that come out after dark, the unkillable aliens, or the ginormous spider all have sufficient tension and uniqueness of play to rival anything I’ve hooked a controller up to. Plus, yay, it’s a current-gen game, so you don’t have to hook up controllers anymore. And not a moment too soon.

The Good Shepherd (2006)

I went to a lot of movies this weekend. Well, three, but three is kind of a lot, I think. One was Children of Men again, and I liked it every bit as much the second time. Another was The Hitcher, which I’ll discuss later. The first one, though, was The Good Shepherd, Robert De Niro’s largely failed Oscar-bait story of the founding of the CIA. I’ve been busy with things as well as stuff, but I also have been trying to let the film marinate in my brain juices so I could figure out what to say about it. It’s three and a half days later, and I’m still really not there yet.

Was the acting good? Yes. Did I like it? I did. Am I trying to fill up an entire paragraph with a Rumsfeld impersonation? I’m pretty sure he was never in the CIA, so that wouldn’t fit the theme; therefore, I will lie and say no. Was the movie too long? Maybe, but it’s a pretty dense subject. I think it comes down to whether you’re extremely interested in that subject, or to whether you care about CIA guy Edward Wilson’s experiences and the effect his devotion to the job had on his family, and the effect his family had on his devotion to the job. Because there’s a really good character study on the question of where cause ends and effect begins hidden in that script, behind layers of Bays of Pigs and deaf girls inexplicably going out for nights at the opera and in-depth studies of Skull and Bones, “the most secret society in America”. For the record, it does a much better job of portraying the character study than of exploring the early CIA, so if you’re after the latter, it probably is too long, after all.

Preacher: Proud Americans

The only problem with modern graphic novels is that they fly by entirely too fast. I feel like I’m doing the art this massive disservice, even though I try my very best to linger over it. In any case, I continue to greatly enjoy the Preacher series, which as of this afternoon I am now a third of the way through. If the second volume was meant to be a reflection upon family and love, then by all means Proud Americans is an investigation of friendship and loyalty.

Preacher’s third entry begins where the second left off: Cassidy the vampire is in, er, mortal danger, and only his friends Jesse Custer and Tulip can save him. Trouble is, it’s a trap set by the mysterious Grail order, tasked with maintaining the bloodline of (familiarly initialed) Jesus Christ and interpreting the signs that will tell them when to trigger the apocalypse. Rife with fortunate meetings, fatherly reflections, fallen angels, flying bullets, Ferrari thefts, and literal fireworks, it’s not hard to see why I’m enjoying this thing so much. Sure, Jesse doesn’t get much closer to his showdown with God, and it’s possible by the end that he’s finally made an enemy he can’t afford to have. But with so many perfectly captured moments whirling through my head right now, I won’t have any problem letting myself wait a few months to see what happens next.

I’m left annoyed by what seems to me to be an unnecessary misstep, though. With so many fully realized heroes and villains wandering through the piece, it becomes lame that the few glimpses we’ve had of God leave him seeming so cartoonish by comparison. Obviously, I haven’t gotten nearly far enough into the thick of the plot to pass judgment (so to speak), but I anticipate being pretty disappointed if such a good story ends up being purposed mostly as an anti-religion wank. There’s way too much here for it to end up being petty.

Obsidian Butterfly

61fzp0DkFALApparently, I have read nine Anita Blake books over the past year and a half. That seems like kind of a lot, although the year and a half part brings it back down to reasonable levels. Here’s the awesome thing, though. For the first time in a little while, I really liked this one. In Obsidian Butterfly, Anita is called upon by her mysterious assassin friend, Edward, to join him in New Mexico for an old-fashioned creature hunt. They, a Native American bodyguard-for-hire, and a misogynistic German serial killer must all join forces with the local police and the Feds to track down a creature that is killing a lot of people, and skinning but leaving alive a lot of other people. Since Anita Blake’s bread-and-butter is killing the vampires, the demons, the forces of darkness… well, okay, that’s somebody else. But Anita does it too, generally speaking. If you’re unaware of her, she’s this book series chick who raises zombies to ask them questions, and sidelights as a legal vampire executioner, whenever they get too uppity and outside the law. And those skills translate into hunting down were-creatures, witches and other spellcasters, fairies, and all the other non-mythical creatures that inhabit her Earth and go rogue from time to time.

So of course I’d like that, except that lately the series has run to vamporn more than detective-y awesomeness. Which is what made this book so much better than lately. All of the ‘Who will I choose?’/’Getting my hump on is immoral, but he’s so dreamy!’/’Check out this awesome new power I have thanks to my ongoing relationships!’ stuff has been put on hold, to settle into an old-fashioned investigation and hunt. It’s possible that this reset to the early series values marks a Vampire Hunter renaissance, and I’m really going to like the next few books? It’s a nice thought.

Especially because the editing was atrocious, and having to deal with that in addition to lame storyline will make me very sad. The badness was due to repetition. If there’s one thing I really understand about this book, it’s which people have empty eyes signifying that their soul has eroded away. Because I was told about it on an average of once or twice per chapter, spread out among a very few number of characters. And this book has 60 or 70 chapters, just so we’re clear. But even worse than that are the moments when Anita monologues internally about her opinion on this person’s motives or that person’s effectiveness, and then speaks those thoughts aloud (presenting them almost exactly the same way she thought them) to some character or other that was in the room with her when she was thinking to herself, all on the same page. Speaking as someone who can maintain attention to the plot for longer than 90 seconds at a time, this was an exercise in pain. It’s possible that this speaks to just how much I enjoyed the plot, that I was only rolling my eyes at the prose rather than having it make me want to claw them out.

Night at the Museum

In case you’re wondering, there are two factors that led me into the treacherous mazes of kid movie-dom. 1) There’s only one thing I actively want to see that’s out right now (leaving aside things I’d be willing to see a second time, I mean). 2) Nearly everyone I know who isn’t me, and certainly everyone local, has kids. And since we were all free for the holiday yesterday, the obvious conclusion was to catch a flick. And Night at the Museum has seemed to be the best kid-movie option of the season. On the other side of it now, I’m willing to stand by that pre-assessment.

Still, though, it was a kid movie through and through. When you’re a dad and you’re afraid of disappointing your son one time too many… Here’s the thing. I started to say what kind of thing you do in a grown-up movie vs. in a kid movie. But let’s face facts. Unless you’re actually irredeemable, your eight-year old son isn’t going to get disappointed in you in an grown-up movie. But when you’re stuck in a kid movie and you’re afraid of blah blah blah disappointment cakes, you go get yourself a steady job as a museum night watchman, and make sure that it’s in the museum where the magical artifact of plot convenience animates all of the exhibits and skeletons and statues and so forth. Because kids dig that.

While you’re at it, may as well include a couple of pretty girls as potential love interests, a comedic fight with a monkey, and a sly reference to a certain movie from last year about the forbidden love between a man and his cowboy. Because now you have something for everybody! Okay, though, I’m being harsh now. The plot was dumb, but since it wasn’t supposed to be anything more than a vehicle for a cool premise, I can forgive that. I mean, not if the execution of the premise was terrible, but as it happens, the execution was absolutely fine. So, cool museum hijinx plus cool effects means that if you’re the type of person who has an undiscriminating kid who wants to see a movie, almost any other choice you can make right now would probably be worse.

Children of Men

MV5BMTkxNDA5MTM5NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTYyNDE0MQ@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_I don’t have time to tell a story about the circumstances surrounding my viewing of Children of Men, because that would delay you from reaching the sentence wherein I tell you to go see it, immediately. Which, conveniently, I’ve put right here at the front, so that I can now relax and go about my review at my normal, not-as-frantic pace.

So, then. Liked it, did you? …what do you mean you haven’t seen it yet? I just said… Oh, nevermind. Fine, we’ll do it your way. In the not at all distant future, the world is rocked by the death of its youngest person. Which sounds crazy, right, because people are born on a constant basis, so how would you even know? That’s just it, though. People have stopped being born. For reasons unknown to any world government, women have become completely infertile. Even test tube materials aren’t viable. At the same time, current dystopic tropes about immigration and terrorism have been amplified by the passing years and the new situation, such that Britain is the only marginally strong country left in the world (or so they claim to their citizens), and that only by virtue of iron-fisted control over the freedoms of its people. For example, providing food to a non-citizen is a punishable crime.

Clive Owens wanders through this bleak future with only a bottle and hippified Michael Caine for companionship. And it’s likely that he would have lived out his remaining days in the same manner, except that his estranged wife reveals herself to be the leader of an immigrant-rights based terrorist group and asks him to help a young illegal to get the proper papers to allow her to reach the coast, a waiting ship, and escape from Britain. Which is not a particularly compelling story to tell, one is forced to admit, except for one exceptional factor: the girl is pregnant.

It’s hard for me to say enough good about this movie. It has a little something for everyone. Great acting all around; a compelling political statement; a perfect balance of humor; the Operative; explosions; and above all else, a fleeting glimpse of the miraculous. I’ve gotten to where I take a lot of things in film for granted, and it’s rare that a scene will leave me holding my breath and in need of emotional recovery when it has ended. So, seriously. Go see it.