Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Friday Night Lights

Dammit, didn't realize it had been this long between updates. I was hoping to hit a nice clip of roughly three "pieces" every two weeks since I figured that's about how often I take down a videogame or a movie of some note or knock down some TV. Also throw in the occasional article like the previous waste of bandwidth I put up and... well, yeah. Issue was, I spent the last two weeks catching up on weekly comics due to my car situation and the piece I did out of that is going up on the AICN and... yeah, again. So this time, it's going to be something I wrapped up last week (and because the Captain America movie will be another AICN thing), and that was the final season of Friday Night Lights, a show that I've really, really liked for three years now and still have yet to establish if it was a guilty pleasure or not. Well, at least until I had watched the show, sadly, go away on us.

FNL, to me, has been one of the best exercises in character investment I have seen in all of my television binging. Does it get way too melodramatic in and of itself? Yes, of course. Did some of the character and dramatic arcs wander into "tried and true" territory for something in its "genre" I guess is actually apt? Yeppers, and it was expected. And it didn't matter, because the reason I loved that show was enhanced by that stuff, either because the writing held up or because the actors sold all the terrible/absurd shit that was happening to their characters. Just because the plot may not have always been terribly original or exciting on paper does not mean it did not turn into riveting stuff when put in front of a camera. Hell, look at Mad Men. Like FNL, you could boil it down to "genre soap opera" if you wanted to, but at the end of the day I usually have no investment in Mad Men's characters and what they are doing because it's just people misbehaving. FNL's character threads, while often typical, hit home for that reason, because I can see them happening and I want to see how those characters deal with them and how they grow for them.

And, yeah, I understand here that I probably have to defend that last part because, yes, I basically just said I don't care about Mad Men, which is actually kind of true. I care about Mad Men because it's amazingly shot, amazingly acted, and I love the period piece. But let's be honest with ourselves, if anyone deserves that soap opera label I mentioned a second ago it's that show, because the vast majority of plot threads come down to "who's schtuping who" and "who got knocked up" and "who's getting fired?!" and so on. You may argue that FNL isn't much better but I'll still take plots like someone losing a scholarship because of a knee injury or Coach's big decision to go into the college arena or any of all the piles of shit heaped upon Matt Seracen over the first four seasons than someone going to fat camp and office romances.

But again, its those characters and how well the show handled them all. Some obviously stood out more than others - I  personally think Matt Seracen might be one of the best characters to show up in TV Land - but all of them had their time to shine. Especially the bunch that kicked off the show as they got the most play time of course. Tim Riggins and his drunken shenanigans, Jason Street and his tragedy, Smash and his arrogance, etc. And of course there's Coach and his life, as Kyle Chandler was a force on the show for its five years. If there was ever a man that could convince me to pad up and crush the man in front of me, it was Eric Taylor. And, I have to admit, as far as "household drama" arcs go, the Taylor family had some really quality dynamic. But these characters lived and breathed, and outside of the Wire are probably the best ensemble of them I have seen in a television show.

The only real shame, methinks, is that it obviously felt like this season was simultaneously crammed together to finish some plots while at the same time doing threads and character introductions with the hope they might get that sixth season. I just watched this last weekend and I can't even remember the name of the kid who came from the basketball team to play WR, it was so obvious they meant to develop something with him and never bothered. Like they learned the show wasn't coming back as they were writing the third episode he ever existed in. Same thing with the Epic character and her relationship with Tami as she tried to save her. Maybe that was there to promote Tami as what she was and what earned her the promotion at the end of the series, but it seemed like wasted space other than to build to that end, which came on REALLY quick. Seemed obvious they wanted another season to build her to that.

But I loved that show, I really did. Sure, it was absurd and in many ways made me kind of hate a sport I love because Lord help me I can only assume how accurate a lot of the atmosphere around it really is in Tehas. And yeah, some of those characters existed as dramatic lightning rods, but the vast majority of them drew me in. It was one of the best pure character dramas I have ever seen and I doubt there will be a show that handles sports dramatization - despite sports really just being the catalyst here - for years to come. It's the easy way to end this but it really is pretty powerful in light of the show, but "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose!"

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


The DC Universe is "rebooting" or "revamping" or whatever the hell it is doing to itself (Let's go with "renumerating", it absolutely makes no sense, but I like the ring of that) and of course the world is going to end. Probably not, but it's definitely the worst thing since the Holocaust. Geeks are going to protest outside of the Mecca known as Comic Con - where all the world pretends it cares about the industry I/we love for a couple days - so this has to be serious business, right? Or it could just be more overreacting on the behalf of a fanbase that, despite continuing to have to pony up time after time for a product that is showing no sign doing anything but continuing to put rising costs on the back of their dwindling consumer base, wants to keep their little club at all costs? At this point, something has to give, and, corporate driven as it obviously is, this restart is something giving. 

Sure, it could just be a gimmick that fails and gets buried with the punch of Superboy's fist. God knows this industry isn't short on them as my little jab just alluded to. But let's be honest with ourselves, if comics are to survive their current state, and maybe even flourish again, a move like this may be necessary. I know the idea of an industry being in trouble seems absurd when you consider licenses stemming from it literally make their corporate owners billions but look at the numbers. The industry, for some mind-boggling reason, lives or dies off the decisions of two companies that have thrown the idea of artistic merit to the wind for the most part. And that's fine, they do what they do and we (hopefully) understand this and know why we purchase their product. But the concept that comic books will only survive because of two companies parading out decades old properties in any multi-million dollar form is absurd. That those being "leaned on" - which is probably too soft a term to describe the current business model for comic books - are up in arms over this is also somewhat obscene. There might be better alternatives, obviously, but to essentially throw a hissy because a market already too sheltered for its own good is taking a step that has been done before in order to maybe boost sales is about as masochistic as, well, as I've come to expect from comic book readers.

Now, I have my reservations about this thing too, most of them based in rational apprehension. I don't want to go on about it because we covered this move pretty substantially over at the AICN site, but I think the outlay of it has been too obscure while presenting it to the public and I believe that the number of titles is WAY too ambitious given DC's current stable of writing talent. But I get it. Let's be real here, comics have become a top-heavy beast in many ways. Primarily there's the fact I mentioned before, that too much market share has been put into the hands of two companies for their efforts in continuing to play gimmicks like this in regularity. Another aspect is how you can set your calendar to some yearly going on that more or less exists to keep the current establishment coming back for fear of "missing out", whatever that even means when you do these types of storylines so often they don't even mean anything within twelve months of occurring.  Look, I get the idea of the event and understand why one every so often can be a good thing. You shift your status quo a bit, you give your writers and characters a new framework to work within to add some new hindrances and ideas to what these characters already go through. But what you are really doing is making a medium that is already somewhat daunting from the outside look even more inaccessible and, really, let's not pretend people are stupid here. We know a money grab when we see one and, yes, still buy these things out of that curiosity factor because WE are invested. The problem is, you're losing everyone else, and even some of the faithful.

I'm not saying that comic books need to "dumb themselves down" here. I'm really not. I'm not even saying events need to go away. But the fact remains that too much emphasis inside the medium is put on just one genre within in, and a flexible and applicable that genre can and should be, the way its being... exploited and overloading itself is not going to do us any good. Remember comics in the late 90's/early 00's, right after the last time mainstream comics decided to eat itself by assuming they could convince buyers they should buy all their titles because they were all OH SO important and related to each other? Y'know what? I miss those times. Because what happened there is that comics had to play it "safe" and they did so by going back to what all mediums should do to thrive: Tell stories. Grant Morrison unleashed his JLA on the world. An up-and-comer named Geoff Johns got to bring back the JSA and run with the heritage of that book while also getting a FLASH run that showed why Wally is such a great character. BLACK PANTHER was a freaking critically acclaimed book for Christ's sakes!!! Warren Ellis and PLANETARY/THE AUTHORITY, the Brubaker/Rucka era of BATMAN, DAREDEVIL was being brought back from the brink of hokiness, and y'know what? The Ultimate line was coming into existence and it actually was a breath of fresh air... before just ten years degenerated into the perfect microcosm of why comics today look so daunting from the outside and are starting to overwhelm and/or disenfranchise those already in the building.

And, lastly (for now), there's the idea that we put so much emphasis on just one aspect of a medium that can literally do any kind of storytelling out there and do it as well as any other member of the entertainment industry. I save this for last (and somewhat briefly) because I did not want this to feel like I was playing a "Indie versus Supes" argument. That stuff is behind me - as I've pointed out before in this fledgling blog - and trying to justify one genre over another is somewhat inane. I love superhero comics. They have so much range and the best of them usually play out the gamut from emotion to power to action to humanity. Just like a dedicated story without them can be just as excellent when it hits all the right points; your 100 BULLETS, SCALPED, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, WALKING DEAD, etc. But 95% of them are the same old same old, and when that is what you're presenting to a wider audience you are trying to lure in, your doing yourself and those potential readers an injustice. Not only are you doing yourself a disservice by not putting your best foot forward - that being a medium that can bring you anything - but the product you are showing is needlessly convoluted and aimed at sucking money out of people for completist reasons, not trying to win over dollars through originality, uniqueness, and (hopefully) quality.

There's a lot of goodwill aimed at comic book related stuff right now and I don't want to see it squandered. Thing is, it may be too late already; we've all seen the numbers from this summer's comic movie fanfare and they've been okay so far. Fact of the matter is, if comics are to survive so that, y'know, these properties can be put into other mediums such as these multi-million dollar features, they need to show off all their stuff. We need to get to a point where someone who sees "Captain America" the movie in a couple weeks can hop into CAPTAIN AMERICA the comic and be treated to a book rich in heritage, but that is not going to leave them out in the cold for being new or throttled with confusion because they don't pony up for seven other books a month all dealing with the same crossover Cap is involved in (and yes, I understand the irony in this example being that Cap has actually been 95% its own book the past half decade or so). We also need to get to a point that when people come to, say, a Comic Con (other than to put on a silly show because you don't like what DC is doing with "your" characters instead of, y'know, voting with your wallet) to supposedly appreciate "all things comics" that instead of the only real comics there just being more "This Will Change Everything!!" bullshit that something like Jonathan Hickman announcing a new creator owned title is met with just as much media "push" and fan excitement as Marvel announcing another AVENGERS title. And eventually media crossover projects like THE WALKING DEAD need to start becoming the rule, not the exception with the opposite traction from TV and Movie screen adaptations like that leading back to the comics.

At some point comics need to grow up and out to just be comics, and the first ones to stop pigeon-holing the medium need to be those currently propping it up on its two legs of mediocrity. I firmly believe comics will survive no matter what - the creative drive of those out there wanting to truly make some fucking comics will always be great - but until we are realistic with ourselves they may never thrive like they used to or even enjoy something as taken for granted as having market stability. The tragedy being all the great ideas that will never even get to be just because single-minded guys making decisions from the top and close-minded guys buying at the bottom aren't willing to adapt or concede that things are not working as they are. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Shadows of the Damned

As part of my "No, really, there's nothing to play until August?" attempt to find, well, stuff to play until August, I got this for some trade-in credit at The Exchange. The Giant Bomb "Quick Look" sold me (amazing how watching someone play a game for a bit will give you the insight you want into it) and I decided it was worth, well, no real money. The game, if you have not caught wind of it yet (easy enough to do considering no marketing behind it whatsoever) comes down to - and am taking this cue too from Giant Bomb - a world of John Constantine meets El Mariachi set in a Rodriguez Grindhouse film. It's a third person shooter from the guys who brought us stuff like "No More Heroes" and "Killer 7" in which our protagonist - Garcia Fucking Hotspur (yes, always with the fucking in there) see's his lover, Paula, murdered and her soul stolen by agents of the Underworld. Combined with his sidekick Johnson - a floating skull who's an escapee from the Underworld - Garcia kicks ass through the Underworld making loads of sexual references and Boner jokes, posturing and taunting through a thick and somewhat cheesy Mexican accent, and in general dealing with fucked up shit.

And I loved it. Well, okay, I really really liked it, as I'll breakdown here. The thing about this game, as it goes with most these Suda 51 joints, is more or less the random crazy that comes with it. The main demon, Fleming, has three skulls stacked on top of each other for a head? Alright. Locked doors are accessible once you give the crying baby demon that is attached to it a strawberry or eyeball to eat? Sure. There's a "light and dark" mechanic whereas the darkness continues to suck the life out of you until you use your "light shot" on a goat's head on the wall to keep it at bay? Fuck it, I'm in. Your gun's name is the Boner anyway since it's formed by your buddy Johnson for god's sakes, if you're on board with that from the get-go, might as well give the rest a try. That remainder includes some fucking gruesome imagery, as well a bit of psychological horror, and a very apparent self-awar attitude. One level involves running from the flesh-hungry form of your Paula chasing you into a cabin in the woods where there's something terrible in the basement. This game knows its influences and its sense of "HA! Bad pun!" humor and revels in them, and it makes the essence of the game very endearing in its craziness and referential manner.

The problem with this game though, is that all the fun stuff is wrapped up in a pretty mediocre third-person shooter. The targeting is twitchy, sometimes the camera gets too up in your face - especially since some of these enemies are pretty damn fast - and it becomes difficult to see freaking anything. The variations of gun Johnson takes up - large barreled pistol, shotgun, and machine gun - have some cool alt-fire stuff going on, but in of themselves are pretty standard. There are some genuinely enjoyable puzzle designs in here, particularly using the light and dark mechanics, but then, and most of the boss fights, boil down to "find and shoot the shiny button" and running around a lot trying to duck things out to rip your head off. There's some really off-the-wall gameplay deviations in the Act 4 section that are nice, but even then they go to well with that stuff probably too soon or too often and lose their novelty quick. For all the greatness I think the environment, characters, and atmosphere reach, I think the actual gameplay is not necessarily "generic" but rough and kind of brings the experience down.

If there's a rub to this game at all, I think that it really is one of those titles that calls in the "what is a game worth?" question. I really liked this game, despite its frustrations. I'll take an okay shooter with great atmosphere like this over a shooter first experience with almost no personality (like a Gears) any time. But the lackluster mechanics have left me unwilling to deal with them again for a replay, especially when you tab on that this game is pretty Platinum Trophy/Gamer Score unfriendly (They don't give you credit for lower difficulty level trophies/achievements when you beat it on a higher one. You want full credit, you're playing this three times through buddy). If I had paid actual money and full $60 of it at that for it, I'd be kind of let down. As is, I think this kind of game is the perfect "wait six months for it to hit half price" item, the addition rub being that with next to no notable releases until late August, impatience may set in on some gaming thumbs.

I'll say this, the day if/when a sequel comes out, I'll be overjoyed that it did and highly anticipate playing it. The whiff I catch on how much the gameplay is "fixed" though, will be the deciding factor on when I get it. For some though, what I've said here and review sites have posted, that might be fully worth the whole sixty clams, and that's great, but some may have mixed feelings like I did about the gameplay and feel a little anxious about that price. I have a feeling this could be this year's "Darksiders" though, a game with great atmosphere and okay enough gameplay that gets it enough "cult" praise to get enough people on board for another. Of course, Darksiders sold well out the gate, so I guess we'll see how this does when NPD's hit.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Just Let It Go...

This posting, or at least the essence of it, is actually one that stuck in my head enough to convince me to start up another blog. Not only is this something I am hoping will set the example of what I am looking to type up here, as well as, honestly, being kind of a reflection of an attitude change I have had over the past couple years not only when it comes to my media consumption habits, but my life in general. I don't mean that as an allusion to this blog getting "personal", lord help me I did enough of that seven, eight years ago, but obviously our personalities reflect our consumption habits and vice versa. And, in that regard, the world affects our personalities and the cycle continues. More to that...

Things are becoming more... "radicalized" is the word I think is the appropriate word. Not just in the world in general, but even down to something as insignificant in the grand scheme as what we consume. Let me put it this way, anyone who follows politics right now (and no, I won't do politics here, been there done that too) knows things are fucked. There's people on both ends that are so determined to bury their heads in the sand of their own crapulence the middle ground might as well be a chasm they don't bother looking into. And when two forces so strongly opposed to each other clash, all that results is their licking their wounds on a farther end of the spectrum while preparing to come at one another even harder. All that results in is less and less, well, results.

I look around and see a lot of that same "push and pull" when it come entertainment. There's so much vitriol that tends to fly around at stuff meant to distract, it's almost bordering on the absurd. And yes, I'm willing to address right now the "hypocrisy" of my doing freelance work for a group that calls themselves the @$$holes and tends to lay into comics we deem to be of very low standard. Herein lies the difference, it is rare that I think one of our crew writes something insulting at anyone involved in the process and, despite some material heavy on the "snark" as the kids put it, almost everything we do comes with either humor or a critical nature. I, for one, don't think I've even posted more than an average of a negative review a year over the past three, and that plays to the overall arc of what I want this post to be about.

Who cares? Really, why should you? Yes, I want to see quality product out there, stuff that I find pleasing to myself and think pushes the mediums I enjoy further. I want to see comics rise out of the funk they are in, see even movies that are designated "summer fun" play more to the Inception's and District 9's of the season than the Transformers of them, and the fiery death of reality TV. But, y'know what, my continuing to rail against the stuff I do not like is not going to get us anywhere. I hate the mindless drivel that is Twilight that has been sparkling its way into the theaters every year for the past three, but y'know what? I have better things to do and consume. I even regret using the word 'hate' just two lines ago, I'd much rather remain apathetic. I don't post bad reviews because I like to think I have honed my tastes to know what comic book I like, what is doing what I believe comic books should, and material that I believe deserves a chance. I put my critical hat on and hope that if for some reason that the creative crew catches wind of what I wrote, they take it heart if they think I have a point or, well, shake it off and continue to produce work if they disagree with me.

I used to be one of those "clever boys" who thought of something terrible to say about a piece of media just because it made me feel all big man to do so. Stupid. Why should I even care that the stuff exists? I don't like it, some people do, so whatever, I have better things to do. What I've realized is, much like the political arena, if you start to push on something holds dear, even if it's just a movie or a book or music type and, hell, even if that person admits its not the best of things but a guilty pleasure, they'll eventually push back. The problem is, everything has become so very fanboy. I despised that mentality back when it applied only to comics, now that it applies to computers and video game consoles and movie brands within genres it's gone too far. Should you care that I prefer the Playstation brand for my own reasons as opposed to your preference of the XBox if we both have valid reason? No. Maybe we don't agree with each other's preferences, but we should at least remain brothers in enjoying video games and work from there.

I simply say "Let it go" because it really is easier that it seems to simply disavow this stuff. Why waste time and effort on being drawn into discussing stuff you do not enjoy, even if you really do feel it is that insultingly terrible, when there is so much material out there worth the time and your consumerist dollars? Why should disdain for Twilight or The Jersey Shore or Lady Gaga preoccupy you when you can be putting down money at the theater for Captain America or counting down the days (like I am) for the new season of Breaking Bad or downloading some Mumford and Sons? You want to know how you "win" this? You let people have their media, whatever it is, and instead of being drawn into a "How much Twilight is fucking terrible" argument when someone mentions they like it, why don't you recommend they try True Blood instead? Or that there's this comic book series about vampires call AMERICAN VAMPIRE that is really keen? Bringing the hate is just going to make someone hole up in their opinion more and ensure they resist efforts to be brought to try and enjoy stuff they may like better. There's so much material out there to both build on and, failing that, drown out the "offensive" objects, there's no reason to let the hate roll. It's just counterproductive.

And now, after having just spent six paragraphs discussing understanding and fairness, I'm going to spend my entire day watching The Lord of the Rings Trilogy on Blu-Ray, and you go to hell if you don't love those films...