Monthly Archives: December 2011

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

I like that the Uncharted games are end-of-year releases. My parents enjoy the seamless cinematic feel, I like having something to do out at the Ranch at Christmastime that is commercial-free; pretty much everyone wins. (Well, sometimes it’s a little too seamless, and I end up with my dad giving me good but unimplementable advice during a cutscene. Still, as complaints go, this is a pretty minor one.)

Drake’s Deception is, for the most part, exactly the same game as the other two, though I understand there may be co-op campaign play that I did not see any part of, and which I suppose could plausibly change things? Probably it just turns a previously unkillable NPC into a new excuse to restart from last autosave, though. Anyway, my point is, there’s not much to say that I haven’t already said about one of the previous games. If you like a mix of platforming[1], shooting with the occasional pinch of stealth or dash of fisticuffs, and all kinds of Indiana Jones style treasure-hunting and clue-divining that also has a subdued romance plot, over-the-top action sequences, and a pretty hilarious ongoing exploration of the mentor relationship, this is an oddly precise match for what you seek!

I wonder if, novelty of the first game aside, any of them are better than the others? I’m pleased, I think, to note that while they all flow from one to the next with continuity and such, there’s nothing like a trilogy feel here. I guess they could keep making them forever, though I should say that getting much deeper into Nathan Drake’s life without some kind of real change (a marriage, a break-up, a death, something to shake up the status quo) will start to feel cheap pretty soon. Maybe even by during this game, but certainly by the next one. So past writers of half of the current game or at the very least future writers of the next one? This was your warning!

Oh, and I should warn you about the [spoiler elided, or else presented in Sabean script if you prefer], but nobody warned me, so, you pays your money and you takes your chances.

[1] That, okay, is not as good by a long shot as what you get in the Assassin’s Creed series, but what is?

The Walking Dead: We Find Ourselves

When I saw the cover to the most recent Walking Dead collection, I came to what is perhaps an ironic realization.[1] I think that maybe the title of the series does not actually refer to zombies! (Not that there was any particular thing on the cover, especially a particular thing about the story in question; it just happened.) I really have nowhere else to go with this point, it just struck me and seemed relevant to share.

As for the irony, though: this is the book in which real steps are taken toward moving from survival toward a higher step on Maslow’s ladder[2]. On the one hand, I am excited to see the few surviving characters I still care about finally seeming on the verge of a happy ending. But on the other hand, it really does feel like things are edging toward an ending, and speaking of ironies, now that it’s upon me, I’m not so sure I wanted it after all.

That said, I’m objectively wrong, and all stories should end while they’re still at least somewhat good. That said, this is obviously not the last volume and there are still stories left to resolve. But it really does feel like the home stretch, and as much as I don’t want to give my characters up, I also don’t really want to see them forced into an implausible new flight from an implausible new disaster. I’m pretty sure I want that one more, and I know for a fact that I should.

[1] Also, as with all literary analysis, I may be full of crap.
[2] Yes. I know. Shush.

The Eye of the World: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1

Skwid, in a stunning reversal, loaned me a graphic novel last week. While I was reading it, Brandon Sanderson announced the completion of the Wheel of Time series, which in turn reminded me that I’ve got this Kindle full of the series and have not read half of it but once nor in many years. (Well, a third of it, for sure.) And I might just have enough time to get the whole thing done (and still read a few other things) before the final book is published. The upshot of which is I cannot tell if I read the first (or so) of the Wheel of Time graphic novels at the best or worst possible time. At the very least, I’m pretty sure I could have safely skipped ahead to the chapter where this story leaves off even if I hadn’t just read it in visual form. Y’know, if I were / turn out to be so inclined.

So anyway, I’m not going to talk about the plot; what would be the point? The art is interesting. The people are not quite well enough differentiated for me, in many cases, though I was getting better at it by the end. There is very offputting scene in which Moiraine looks like a happy anime chick, if anime had never developed stylizations for “happy”. (But then, I think to myself, the book described her in that moment as clapping in girlish delight, if I am remembering the scene right. So maybe the art is right and the rest of my Moiraine perceptions are coloring me in the wrong direction?) By and large, I think they did justice to the story, both in terms of certain panel experiments[1] and in terms of the general look of things / people. Pacing is going to destroy the project long before it comes to fruition, though.

(Then again, the source project was completed despite pacing issues so profound that the author was completed years sooner, so what do I know?)

[1] Particularly the story of Manetheren, with which I have a certain resonance.

Catching Fire

Several factors conspired to have me read the second book of the Hunger Games trilogy so quickly after the first one. There are some reviews I want to read and can’t until I’ve caught up. There’s a movie coming out this spring, and who knows how they’ll dole out spoilers? Amazon Prime has a feature that lets you rent one book a month free from the Kindle store, and the whole trilogy was on the list, and I have not for the life of me been able to find the second or third book used anywhere. (Mainly because of that movie announcement, I’m sure.) So you, see, that’s a lot of things!

Oh, and okay, I may have glossed over one of them unfairly. See, early this month, a couple of tremendously awesome people presented me with a Kindle Touch, all out of the blue! I have only read this and about a third of another book on it so far, so I have no idea where I will eventually land in the dead tree wars. But I can say that the device is extremely pleasant to use and doesn’t feel the least bit weird relative to reading from a book. It is even superior in some ways, e.g., no worries about holding the book open in a damage-free way, much harder to lose your page via random movement flaws (and even when it happens, you haven’t moved far, as opposed to the book is just closed and you have to find it), built-in dictionary functionality (this is cooler than you might think, even when you have a good vocabulary), and there’s even a thing where you can a) mark up a passage for later perusal / footnoting and b) enable the ability to find passages that lots of other readers have similarly noted. Lots of readers, in the case of this particular book, are teenage girls in search of romance. Which, y’know, fits. The main inferiority I notice with the Kindle versus dead tree books is probably quirky to me, but I miss the ability to use my appointment cards as bookmarks such that I don’t lose track of my upcoming schedule[1], and I miss the ability to put my movie stubs in the book I was currently reading when I watched the movie, because of how there is a personal archaeology scattered throughout my bookshelves and now I don’t really know what to do with them instead.

But I suppose I should say a word or three about Catching Fire itself? On the whole, I still liked it, though I share concerns I’ve seen elsewhere that it was less good than The Hunger Games. It is, I think not purposefully, a study on how history can decide who is important despite what that person may desire, despite even what they personally have done. Anyone can be a symbol at any time and for any reason. Because the truth of the matter is that Katniss is all over the place in this book, penduluming between self-sufficiently effective, petulantly stubborn, and (most frequently) blindly clueless. The latter is the most annoying because I refuse to buy into the “but she’s just a teenager” defense. The same hard life that made her so likable to me in the first book (not to mention so plausibly successful in the Games) makes it impossible for me to believe she’s this unaware of the way her world and the people in it work. And so she seems to stumble from one event to the next when I’m quite sure that she should be making choices. I’m not sure those choices should be good every time, but the fact is that the girl who stepped up to sacrifice herself for her sister in the opening scenes of the first book should not be gradually losing agency with each new chapter. That is the wrong lesson!

Also, I wanted the Quarter Quell section of the book to be a much higher percentage than it was, for what will be obvious reasons if you have already read this and spoiler proof if you have not.

[1] It has been pointed out to me, with some amount of audible disbelief, that there are electronic solutions to schedule-keeping.

In Time

You know that science fiction trope where there’s one guy who both sees the system is corrupt and has the moral / mental fiber to do something about it? And usually there’s a lot of running involved? In Time casts Justin Timberlake in that role, railing against metaphor run amok. Actually, it’s not that bad of a metaphor, and it’s certainly[1] timely, it’s just that I can’t decide if I wish there had been a subtler writer or if in fact the metaphor itself is too hamfisted for any given presentation of its message.

See, it’s like this. For reasons that are unexplored (and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s why sci-fi exists), humanity has been genetically engineered to remain forever young, the aging process halted at 25. On the downside, the currency of trade is time, and the only place time comes from is the one year of additional life beyond 25 that everyone is born with. (Well, okay, there are mathematical problems with that claim, but as far as I know nobody ever claimed to an additional source.) And so the poor people live, literally, day to day, while the rich are functionally immortal. And if you thought that ‘day to day’ reference was a little bit twee, well, that’s my point when I was wishing for a bit more subtlety. But still, it is a genuinely apt metaphor that brings into stark relief why someone might have a problem with a CEO earning an eight-figure salary, even if our fictional née gold-backed currency system is less literally deadly and less literally draining out of our accounts, moment by moment. Plus, there are lots of pretty people running and a somewhat hilarious central irony.

But man, it would piss me off that I was paying to be at work, even if I made back more at the end of the day. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that it does piss me off, since the currency being split into two forms doesn’t make it less true that I’m spending my life away in this office, one second at a time. On the bright side, though, I got to spend a few of them on you, my readers!

[1] Forgive me.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Things the Sherlock Holmes sequel did right, in no particular order:

Less action-for-the-sake-of-action feeling to it than the original. Sequences that showed the inner workings of Holmes’ mind; not so much how he is eight steps ahead of anyone else, but at least the demonstrable fact that he is. (Though maybe the first one did too? I can’t recall.) Sufficient use of Doyle’s canon that I was able to anticipate certain events and recognize others. Robert Downey Jr. Stephen Fry. Still excellent Holmes/Watson chemistry.

Things the movie did wrong, in no particular order:

Y’know, I got nothing. It was light and fun and better than its progenitor, and what more do you really need? Oh, right, if you care, blah blah Moriarty, anarchists, gypsies, unstable Europe, Reichenbach. That should pretty well ought to cover it, except to promise that you will laugh.

Powers: Forever

81rp8fcRC7LIf I remember correctly, the previous volume of Powers marked a major shift in the way things work, with said Powers being basically outlawed altogether. (Which only makes a limited kind of sense in a world with supervillains, but roll with it.) Naturally, therefore, Forever picks up… at the beginning of time. What?!

No, actually, it’s pretty cool. If you’ve ever wondered about the origins of superheroism in the world, or also about the secret history of now-police detective Christian Walker, and if you haven’t wondered about that last bit by now we aren’t reading the same books, then this is a can’t miss entry in the series.[1] Except to warn you that it’s a historical interlude with no apparent bearing on the future, there’s almost nothing else I can say. No, not true, I can say that it’s good. And that it has really unexpected monkey vagina. (Is there another kind? …if you’re not a monkey?)

[1] Someday, I will probably still not understand people being able to skip a book in a series.

Resident Evil: Fire and Ice

71B5eejlZsLSo you want to read a bad graphic novel? Allow to recommend Fire and Ice, a book that makes me look longingly back on the manga-style of the last few Resident Evil comics I’ve read. (Which, to be fair, is more a comment on my dislike of manga than on the quality of this book’s art. The troubles, as you will see, lie elsewhere.) So, it starts with some random characters that the authors seem confident I should be attached to despite them being uninteresting, overly soap-operaish in their equally uninteresting interrelationships, and never having been introduced before. The never-mentioned Charlie Team of S.T.A.R.S.[1] is off on missions to Mexico and Alaska to stop Umbrella from blah blah blah zombie-cakes. And yes, that’s the entire source of the title, is that some people went somewhere hot and set a fire while some other people went somewhere cold and I guess there was an avalanche maybe? Also a giant flying zombie penguin, because they live in the Arctic Circle now, apparently. Probably for the candy.[2] And then, after that series was over, I still had half the book left, in which possibly the characters could be developed a bit more and I could decide that, okay, there was a point after all.

Yeah, no. Instead, there were a lot of very short (short enough that if they were sold as individual comics at today’s prices, I predict that a lot of punching occurred later) stories set between and before Resident Evil 1 and 2, mostly traveling backward through time, but not because of a cool literary trick that reveals more detail with each step backward, no, they’re just arranged oddly for no good reason. Some of them were slightly amusing, some of them were shitty retreads of stories told better by the actual game, item-collecting and steps-retracing[3] and all. Some of them were just not any good at all. In the only original story to which I attached any interest, the characters were anonymously killed at the end in a wry twist reveal that this particular outbreak predated all the games, which is why nobody ever heard about it. To be fair, I think that last one would have bothered me less if I had not been looking for a character to care about for the entire damn book.

I mean, aside from the flying zombie penguin.

[1] They were the folks who exposed the Umbrella conspiracy in the first game, and were basically all dead by the end, the few individual survivors working together under their own recognizance with no leadership structure anymore, so on top of the rest, there’s a pretty massive canon violation.
[2] I’ll take really, really obscure internet jokes for $600, Alex.
[3] “Hey, look, I should grab another part of this bomb that I haven’t mentioned needing to find, in case I want to set off a bomb later!” “Ooooo, I should take this key and go back to that locked door on the other side of the mansion from  before!”

Ice and Fire

51nrpwy4fylI’m reading too many of these, and they are too similar, for much in the way of in depth reviews. So I think if you are interested at all, you’ve got the premise settled in your head by now, and I can just go with sense impressions, unless something vital changes. So, here’s what’s going on in Ice and Fire.

1) More secrets from the past, via cryogenic chambers! That is definitely a cool thing, not simply for the information they have been able to glean that will help them on their way, but also because where there is one bank of cryogenically frozen people from the past, there will be more. Y’know?
2) More ambivalence about the purpose of their travels. I guess the real purpose is to eventually teleport into a place where they like what they find and want to stay there forever and grow old and fat together with lots of slightly mutated children, but I think even though that’s what they believe, they none of them would be willing to put down roots when there are more things to see and people to save. Yet at the same time, they spent the whole book seeing a big, obvious problem (otherwise happy, wealthy people living one of the better lives available in our tragic future, except the massive mutant snake-worshiping cult that has sprung up is threatening to turn them all into hate-filled religious slaves) and saying in a number of different ways, “Hey, this is not our problem, we don’t have to solve everything, we’ll just get chilled if we do”. Right up until they end, when they remembered that they’re suppose to leave the campsites cleaner than they found them. I want this ambivalence and, okay, flip-flopping to be a psychologically interesting long term problem, but the truth is that it’s probably just iffy writing. Still, I hold out hope!
3) Romance is in the air! By which I mean the guy who likes guns is awkward around the baron’s secretary and also the blonde girl that’s been associated with Doc Tanner gets tired of him being old and her vagina starts making questionable decisions for her. The second part was the worst thing in the series so far, because even though their relationship troubles have been in evidence around the edges of the previous book or two, she suddenly becomes completely unreliable out of nowhere in this book, and then is clumsily removed from the plot. It all felt very “teenager in an ’80s horror movie”, when the rest of the series has not shown any evidence of slut-shaming or indeed imbalance between the sexes on either the good or evil sides of the equation.
4) Gradual cast turnover continues as well, which I still like, even if I could stand for it to not be, y’now, clumsy like this was.

By and large: there’s still more good than bad here, even if I wasn’t so susceptible to the setting that I’d ignore the bad for as long as possible. The edges are fraying a little bit, but I see all kinds of ways to recover, so for now I’ll hold out hope that my trashy apocalypse-porn series can stay less trashy than one might expect.

Hugo (2011)

One of the cool things about Hugo (and believe me, there are many) is that it contains multitudes. It explores with uncomfortable realism how it would feel to be an orphan in 1930s Paris, forever doing the (apparently unpaid!) work of an adult, because to let it go undone is to be caught and exiled to the orphanage. It has the best use of 3D I’ve seen since My Bloody Valentine. It has one of my favorite character archetypes in fiction, the (in this case) girl who desperately wants adventure and has no idea what she’s letting herself in for. It has all kinds of foreshadowing, frequently in multiple layers. It tells a lot of the different stories swirling around Hugo, not just his own one. It has a robot! It is one of the funniest non-comedies I’ve seen in a long time, and while it’s not a “kid’s movie that is great for adults too lol!”, it is almost certainly a movie you could take your kids to, if you care about that kind of thing.

Most of all, permeating every other aspect of the movie (even if it’s not obvious at first), it is Martin Scorsese’s love letter to the art of cinema. And it’s a damned good one.

Also… that girl Isabel was both the second main character in Let Me In and the girl hero in Kick-Ass? Damn.