Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Wrestlemania III: Championship Edition DVD Review

In 2007, in anticipation of the 20th anniversary of Wrestlemania III, WWE released the Wrestlemania III: Championship Edition DVD (coming soon, Wrestlemania III: Turbo?). Wrestlemania returned to Detroit for the 23rd installment, and it was all meant to tie in. The DVD is a 2-disc set, and features the event, and a slew of bonus features. Among them are several TV matches from the weeks leading up to the event, various promos, and, as a special bonus, a "Pop-Up Video" style version of the entire event featuring factoids and interview clips with the participants. This last item was previously only available to people with access to WWE 24/7 (i.e. not me), and was the biggest draw for me personally.

The entire package does not disappoint. Sure, the transfer isn't great, but what piece of 20 year old videotape (not film) is going to transfer that well? Sure, some of the bonus material isn't great (battles royals that aren't the Royal Rumble are usually dull, the one here sure is), but alot of it is great (plenty of "Mean" Gene). Overall, it's a solid purchase for any wrestling buff.

However, there is one thing about it that keeps bugging me. This DVD is how the old Wrestlemanias should be treated when coming to DVD, and yet, this is the only one (previous to Wrestlemanias that just came out on DVD because that was the format for home video) that has gotten this type of treatment. I expected at the time, that as we crested the 20th anniversary of each successive Wrestlemania, there would be another Championship Edition DVD. I expected they go back and do the first and second events, and that by now, I'd have copies of two of my favorite 'Manias on my shelf. But alas, they have not come

The Wrestlemania Anthology boxset is nice, but the DVDs contained therein have no bonus features of any kind. I want the histories, the facts, the "Mean" Gene interviews from Prime Time Wrestling. So, why has WWE forsaken me? Do they not want my money? This is one instance where I'll willingly go in on the double dip. I won't complain.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Top Five Friday... er, Saturday: Top Five Resident Evil Bossfights

Would've put this up yesterday, but I hadn't finished Resident Evil 5 yet, now I have, so I feel ok with this list. Presented in order of how awesome the fights are. (Contains RE series spoilers!)

5) Alexia Ashford I, Resident Evil: Code Veronica The first time you fight Alexia, she hasn't yet mutated into a giant bug-thing yet. She has, however, just schooled Wesker, and that means trouble for Chris. With the right weapon (read: a magnum) she goes down relatively easily, but her fire throwing and acid vomiting means you have to be in constant motion not to get burned up.

4) Right Hand, Resident Evil 4 The Right Hand is like a combination Alien and Predator, with a little T-1000 thrown in just because. The only way to kill it is to freeze it with liquid nitrogen, the shatter it. This is easier said than done. Of course, if you keep that rocket launcher you find earlier for this fight, you won't have much trouble. That and the fact that you don't have to defeat the Right Hand to move on keep him low on the list.

3) G-Type 2, Resident Evil 2 You might think you've taken care of William Birkin, but you're wrong. While escaping the police station on a giant tram/elevator thing, he comes back, and he's mutated more. And he's pissed. He grows a giant Tyrant-style claw and comes after you. He's tough, and even a magnum takes a bit to bring him down.

2) Tyrant, Resident Evil The original final boss, this guy is still an icon of the series. A superhuman monster with a claw where his right hand should be, you take him down in the lab, after he kills Wesker. Or so you think. Both Wesker and the Tyrant survive, Wesker escapes, and the Tyrant comes to the hellipad for one last ditch effort to stop you from escaping. Only a rocket to the face stops the Tyrant.

1) Jack Krauser, Resident Evil 4 Let's be honest, the final boss fight in RE4 is a little weak. Saddler goes down like a chump if you've been managing your ammo at all. Krauser, though? Krauser's a bitch, even with a fully-loaded magnum at your side. First you have to deal with him and his machine gun, then you have to deal with his plaga-enhanced physique. And arm blade that doubles as a shield repels anything you toss at him. He's the baddest boss of the series.

Next week is Wrestlemania week! A week of Wrestlemania related content!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Think Nintendo doesn't care about you? Think again.

So called "hardcore" gamers and the internet at large (there's a big crossover) would have you believe that Nintendo no longer cares about people who got them where they are today. The people who stuck with them through the lean N64 and Gamecube years. The old school gamers. The ones like myself who were raised on the NES, and developed some kind of weird Stockholm Syndrome with Nintendo during the aforementioned lean years. And yet, I haven't cultivated this opinion.

Good thing, too, because if I had, Satoru Iwata's keynote speech at the Game Developers' Conference yesterday morning would've completely shattered the little microcosm full of nerd rage I'd fashioned for myself. In case I've caught you unawares, yesterday Mr. Iwata made a few announcements that were clearly aimed at the "hardcore" crowd. That whole storage space issue with Virtual Console and WiiWare games? No longer an issue. The Wii now recognizes SD cards up to 32 gigs, and games can be booted directly from the SD card. Retro gamers rejoice!

Retro gamers can rejoice further at the news that arcade games are now coming to VC. And "now" means right now. Both of the new firmware update and a few arcade games were available before Iwata's speech was even over. I have downloaded Gaplus and played it directly off of an SD card and... it works like a charm!

Oh, yeah, and Square's actually going to put the Final Fantasy series on VC and WiiWare. Final Fantasy IV: The After is coming to WiiWare, and all the (localized) NES and SNES entries are coming to VC in America (that's I, IV & VI, if you weren't sure). Now, you're probably saying to yourself that that has nothing to do with Nintendo, that's a Square-Enix thing. Well, dear reader, I don't know for sure, but I've got a theory to postulate.

Sqeenix has been renowned for their myriad excuses as to why these games would never come to VC. They came up with all types of crazy reasons (including a thin excuse about not having the source code anymore), but basically just ended up saying, in a roundabout way, that they make money re-hashing them and selling them for full price, so why let them go at the bargain basement rate of five to eight bucks? This leads me to believe that it was Nintendo who convinced Square (Blackmail? Endless cajoleing? Who knows?) to put these games on VC because the fans demanded it.

You see? Nintendo hasn't turned their back on us. These announcements weren't for my sister or my wife-to-be. They don't care about this stuff, they care if there's a sequel to Wii Fit coming out. We care about this. Nintendo knows we're the ones who kept them going during the Era of Darkness (N64/GC). So, I hope you're convinced now, in case the fact that a new Punch-Out!!, Sin & Punishment and Rhythm Heaven DS are coming out this year somehow didn't already have you convinced before yesterday's press conference.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Give me some more music, I'll sit and read the lyrics like a bible, a gospel I'll sing along..." Less Than Jake @ the Rave, Milwaukee, 3/23/09

I think it's pretty obvious, but I'm just going to mention that this didn't go up last night because I was at the concert I'm reviewing. You know, in case that didn't click with you for some reason.

The first time I saw Less Than Jake was almost ten years ago at the Rave in Milwaukee. They weren't touring on any particular record, as the band is pretty much constantly touring, even if they don't have a new release. Hello Rockview was their most recent release, but they were touting the upcoming Borders & Boundries, which was to be their first independant studio record since their debut. They had just gotten their release from Capitol, and were now on Fat Wreck Chords. The Suicide Machines opened.

Flash forward to last night. It's been nearly ten years, I've graduated high school and college, but I still go see Less Than Jake everytime they come to town (and sometimes I go to Chicago to see them a second time), and this night I'm realizing that there're a lot of similarities to that night all those years ago. Now, Less Than Jake isn't touring on any particular record, as the band is still constantly touring, even if they don't have a new release. Their most recent release is on an indie label (their own, in fact, Sleep It Off Records) after leaving a major (Warner, this time). On the other hand, I didn't care enough to show up for the opening bands.

The show was the least populated of any of the 20+ times I've seen Less Than Jake, but you wouldn't know it to see the band play. They were just as fired up as ever, playing a smattering of songs from their seminal sophomore effort, Losing Streak, up to their latest, GNV FLA (their debut, Pezcore, got the shaft). They also played a couple non-album tracks, including a cover of a FreeCreditReport.com jingle that had me in stitches (the pirate one, if you're curious).

All in all, the band doesn't seem to have lost a step in ten years. Granted, I'm a superfan, and always will be, and I was with my roommate/best friend who's also a superfan, but I think even if you don't know all the words to all the songs and have a best friend who does as well, you'll still enjoy yourself. The band's aforementioned energy is infectious, and I didn't see anyone who wasn't at the very least tapping their foot in time to the music for the entire set.

Dueling singers Chris and Roger (Less Than Jake disavows their last names) continued their witty between song banter as they always have, and provided a much needed rest for everyone who was thrashing or skanking. During songs, Buddy (trombone) and Roger are almost never not moving, and Vinny (drums) has that look on his face that says "I love every second of this... and I'm a little drunk."

The band played a solid set of crowd favorites, and finished with a five song encore that capped the night with "All My Best Friends are Metalheads," which is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. The house was rocking, and that song really put an exclamation point on a set that was already great. Bottom line; if Less Than Jake comes to your town, go see them. You won't regret it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Top Five Friday: Top Five Retro Remakes

The Midwest Gaming Classic starts tomorrow, and I've spent much of the week's free time playing the new Resident Evil, so I managed to come up with a Top Five that incorporates both classic gaming and Resident Evil. In this context, a remake involves all new assets/sprites, and not just a port with new dungeons/levels (sorry, Chrono Trigger DS). Presented in chronological order (US dates of remakes, not originals).

-Super Mario All-Stars (Nintendo, SNES, 1993, original games released 1986, N/A, 1988, 1990) Until the next entry, this was the template for remakes. Three of the greatest games of all time (and one of the not-so-greatest, but an interesting curiousity for us Americans anyways) all on one cart, all totally redone from the ground up to take advantage of the SNES hardware. The music is better, the graphics are better, and, apparently, reaching the lettered worlds in the Lost Levels was a way bigger pain in the ass in the Famicom version. This game still fetches high prices on eBay (even higher for the All-Stars+Super Mario World version), but it's very, very worth it.

-Resident Evil (Capcom, Gamecube, 2002, original game released 1996) For anyone looking to remake an old game, this is the game to play first. This is how it's done, people. New areas, new bosses, new weapons, new mechanics, but enough of the same to make it recognizable to fans of the original. An easy find for less than ten bucks, if you've never played it. If that isn't enough, Capcom just annouced that they're bringing the Wii version (with waggle) to America by year's end.

-Mega Man: Powered Up (Capcom, PSP, 2006, original game released 1987) Giving the original Mega Man two new bosses to bring it in line with the rest of the series was a good way to draw interest. The few people who were interested (this game did not sell very well, blame the platform) found more than just Mega Man with two new Master Robots, they found a fully revamped game, with almost entirely new maps and a playable roster that included all 8 Master Robots, as well as Mega Man and his sister Roll, not to mention Proto Man. Now, if only they would do Mega Man 2: Powered Up.

-Final Fantasy IV DS (Square-Enix, DS, 2008, original game released 1991) Yeah, I just shot some barbs Squeenix's way for all their tireless rehashes, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. FFIVDS is amazing. Rebuilt entirely in 3D with voice acting and CG cutscenes, it takes my favorite game in the Final Fantasy canon and makes it palatable to today's audiences. It also makes the game somewhat difficult and fixes the horrible translation! Score!

-Bionic Commando: Rearmed (Capcom, XBLA/PSN, 2008, original game released 1988) And the hits keep comin' from Capcom! Bionic Commando: Rearmed takes the NES game and somehow makes it better. Allowing players to take multiple weapons and items into a level eliminates a great deal of frustration, and turning the final boss battle into an entire level was a stroke of brilliance. Riffing on the hokey script of the original game cracked me up throughout, and if that's not reason enough to buy it, there's always shooting Hitler in the face. There is no reason anyone with a 360 or a PS3 should not have this game.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rediscovering Indie Comics

I enjoy comic books. I have since I was a kid, but in my college years, my interest in collecting waned, on account of being a broke student. At that point, I realized that the stories were all that interested me, not the collecting of individual issues, so I now read trade paperback almost exclusively (occasionally, things like Neil Gaiman writing Batman compel me to buy an individual issue here or there, but it happens about once every two years).

Lately, I've been reading alot of these trades I've amassed over the years, since my day job involves sitting and waiting for things to happen, and when things aren't happening, comics are an easy read, and offer a good break from a novel. Many of the books I've been reading (and buying) recently are indie books. Nary a cape or cowl to be seen, and it's occured to me that there are much more interesting things happening in comics today on the indie front than on the Marvel or DC front.

I'll just come out and say it, I think Eric Powell's The Goon is the best thing in comics today. It's got humor, action and zombies. Everything a book needs. On the flip side of that is The Walking Dead, which I have limited exposure to so far, but everything I've seen tells me it's a book to get into. An honest-to-goodness zombie book without too much of a camp factor that takes an extended look at survivors of a zombie apocalypse. (I have a thing for zombies, you see.)

I also recently read Scott Pilgrim for the first time, and I'm pretty impressed. The art is good, the characters are interesting, and there are more NES references than you can shake a stick at. It's much more interesting than the recent Marvel books I've read, that's for sure. (This whole thing with all the Skrulls? Not really feelin' it.)

Of course, I'm not unaware that indie books have been around for quite some time. One of my all time favorites is still Reed Fleming: World's Toughest Milkman, and I've been a Daniel Clowes fan since high school as well. Jhonen Vasquez has been cracking me up long before "Invader Zim" introduced him to the Hot Topic/Nickelodeon crowd (Zim is hilarious, don't get me wrong).

I'm also not trying to be that "indie-er than thou" guy. You know the guy, the one who doesn't like movies/music/comics that come from a studio/major label/big publisher. Yeah, I hate that guy. Studios make good movies, major labels sign good bands and DC and Marvel publish good comics (Batman being "dead" is mildly retarded, but Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" is really, really good).

What I'm really saying here is, if you're a comic guy, and you haven't ventured outside of capes and cowls, or if you're not a comic guy because capes and cowls don't interest you, then check out some indie books. You'll probably find something you like that's not exactly what you expect. You might even find some capes and cowls you do like that you don't expect.

I recommend the following indie books:
The Goon
Scott Pilgrim
Johnny the Homicidal Maniac
Reed Fleming: World's Toughest Milkman

And my buddy Kurt, who I've known since the first grade, is currently working on Blessed Machine, so check his stuff out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"The dreams in which I'm [killing] are the best I've ever had..."

Anger management therapists should begin purchasing Wiis and copies of PlatinumGames MadWorld. It's a perfectly safe way to work out any aggression you might have. It's a game that gives you more points for more grotesque and contrived executions. It's stylish, and keeps its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, in case anyone had any ideas about taking it seriously. In short, it's right up my alley.

MadWorld is, as I've covered, the first release from PlatinumGames. In it, you play as Jack (just Jack), a new contestant on "DeathWatch" (what's with this developer and not knowing where the space bar is?) an Escape from New York-cum-Running Man style gameshow. The producers of "DeathWatch" have eliminated all paths in and out of the fictional Varrigan City, and are now running a gameshow which sees killing as the main objective for rich sadists the world over.

The plot is slightly more than window dressing, as it does go above and beyond the typical action game story. It involves more than a few twists, and can be credited to Yasumi Matsuno, who previously penned the much vaunted Vagrant Story for the original Playstation. Ultimately, though, the action takes center stage, and you can skip all the story sequences and get straight to the killing without feeling like you're missing much.

I can't say I recommend that, though. The game's script and voice acting are very well done. The cut scenes are very stylish, and made to look like a (Frank Miller) comic book. Steven Jay Blum of "Cowboy Bebop" fame provides the voice for Jack, and does a superb job. The rest of the cast is very nearly as good. Greg Proops ("Whose Line is it Anyway?") and John DiMaggio ("Futurama") provide side-splitting commentary, and though I've heard complaints of sports game-esque repetition, I only encountered it a few times (mostly during boss fights and Bloodbath Challenges). Danny "Bobby Budnick" Cooksey ("Salute Your Shorts," T2) even lends his voice to a young doctor Jack saves early on.

Now, the killing. As I said, the scoring system rewards you for the more creative kills. Many modern games have eshewed scoring, but MadWorld puts it to great use. Each level is like a mini-sandbox. You're dropped in, and you have access to all of the areas right away. This is where scoring comes in. The higher the score you get, the more deathtraps start up and items become available, with which you can unleash additional mayhem. Once your score gets high enough, bonus games called Bloodbath Challenges and eventually the boss fight for that area become available.

And the boss fights do not disappoint. Both the mini and main bosses for each area are creative and unique. They have unique patterns and unique methods for the quickest dispatch. Of course, each bossfight ends with a spectacular death scene, which uses the Wiimote to immerse you in the killing.

With that in mind, the game does avoid too much waggle, and stupid quicktime events. There are times that something similar to a QTE appears, but the motions always make sense (slash to lock chainsaws with a mini-boss) and aren't just an arbitrary combination of buttons, a la God of War. Waggle is only used for high power attacks and finishing moves, so your arm won't get too tired during combat.

Overall, this game is easily one of the five best Wii games available. For M-Rated fare, it's second only to Goichi Suda's amazing No More Heroes. Run, don't walk to a copy of this game. Especially if you have anger management issues.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Top Five Friday: Top Five Game Series That Need a Rest

So, in all forms of media there are those series that should just stop. They've been flagellated to the point that they're barely recognizeable when compared to their early iterations. There's Saw in the movies, spinoffs of Flava of Love in TV (or even spinoffs of its spinoffs) and, well, these five videogames. Presented in order of most dead horses beaten. (Note: Tab of "dead horses beaten" does not include phone games, or rereleases of previous versions for new tech)

Guitar Hero (8 games, debuted 2005): Harmonix was already milking the "yearly update plus spinoffs" bit when Red Octane took their ball to Activision, but Activision diddled this franchise to a whole new level. It's at the beginning of the list because it has the least iterations, but it's also by far the youngest series. Not even 4 full years out of the chute, and there're already 8 games in the series, 4 of which came out last year! And this year, Activision has plans for at least 4 more, with the first being the Metallica version coming at the end of this month.

Final Fantasy (39-ish games, debuted 1987 (in Japan), 1990 (in the US)): I'm all for the numbered entries in the series. They come at a rate of about 3 per generation (and there hasn't even been one yet this generation), and that's hunky dory by me. The spinoffs, pseudo-sequels, snowboarding games and remakes (My god the remakes!) are what drives me nuts. See, that's why the series has "39-ish" games. That doesn't include all the quick cash-in cell phone games or the remakes. So, that would take the total to something I'd need Doc Brown to calculate for me. I'm guessing a google-plex-ish.

I mean, I understand that the first game saved Square. That's fine, it's your cash cow. That doesn't excuse barely letting two months go by without releasing Final Fantasy: Some Guy with Bad Hair and Non-functioning Zippers on His Clothes Whines and Fights the Ultimate Evil Part XVI: Sometime Near the Crisis. Give it a rest, guys. Seriously.

Sonic (48 games, debuted 1991): Really, Sega? Haven't you figured it out yet? Every new "Sonic & his furry friends do stuff that isn't just running really fast and twitch platforming" game just takes more and more away from the legacy of a series that used to be competition to Mario. Give the poor blue woodland creature a break for a couple of years while you come up with something new for him to do. (PROTIP: Start with running really fast and twitch platforming.)

Mega Man (70 games, debuted 1987): Ok, I love the Blue Bomber as much as anyone, and I have the tattoo to prove it, but Mega Man is Capcom's most prolific star (and that's saying something!) and maybe 35 of those 70 games is worth playing. Now, last year's Mega Man 9 was, in a word, amazing, but that doesn't justify three versions of the mediocre Mega Man: Star Force, which was, itself, continuing the mediocre and over-exposed Battle Network series. One 2D Mega Man game every other year would be a wonderland, because I'm sure Capcom and series auteur Keiji Inafune would take the time and care to make it really, really good.

Sports games (NBA 2K, NBA Live, Tiger Woods, Madden, MLB The Show, MLB 2K, WWE Smackdown, etc.) (Too damn many, annual releases began in the 16-bit era): This has been a thorn in the side of many (gullible) gamers, myself included, since the 16-bit days, but, hey, everyone wanted to play with an updated roster. But even in the 16-bit days, we still usually got some gameplay innovation at the same time. Now, you basically pay sixty bucks for a roster update.

With DLC and every system on the market being hooked up to the intertubes, there's no excuse for this. Take some time EA/2K/THQ and make an innovative game. Use DLC and make me pay five bucks to update the roster once a year.


I wrote this blog with pen and paper at work Wednesday afternoon, but was too busy playing (surprise!) MadWorld Wednesday night to post it. Then I went to the midnight release of RE5 last night, so... Yeah. But this post was written before I had played MadWorld.

Today marks the US release of PlatinumGames first release, MadWorld for the Nintendo Wii. It is imparative that MadWorld do well. Now, just to clarify "do well" does not mean "sell as many copies as Halo 3." No, "do well" means something more like "garner critical acclaim and sell a couple hundred thousand copies."

You see, there's alot riding on MadWorld. As the first release by Capcom expatriates PlatinumGames, it will set the bar for their future releases. It's also being published by Sega, and that gives them a chance to change their image in the eyes of many gamers.

Sega's decision at the beginning of the decade to cease hardware production and development and instead focus on developing software on all platforms came as a pleasant surprise to many, myself included. Now, I love my Dreamcast, and I was a diehard Genesis fanboy in my playground days (despite owning both a Genesis and a SNES), but let's face it; the DC wasn't exactly living up to expectations on the business end of things. The Saturn before it could best be described as an abject failure everywhere but Japan. Sega was far from their most profitable days.

So, they decided to publish games for every console. This was great news! We'd see Sonic, Virtua Fighter and all the great innovation we'd come to expect from Sega no matter what machine we owned! Well... two out of three ain't bad. We saw Sonic and Virtua Fighter and Sonic and Sonic and... oh, yeah there was that Sonic game. Sega's basically become a sequel factory, and even their few interesting less pimped out franchises have become mediocritized (see: Samba de Amigo on Wii).

Recently (to cope with the continual failures of Sonic Team, no doubt), Sega's began publishing for smaller developers, like PlatinumGames, with whom they inked a multi-game, multi-platform publishing deal. Platinum, and the other developers Sega's partnered with, could help turn the reputation of the House That Sonic Built around. You see, the average gamer (especially the average Wii gamer) doesn't know or care who PlatinumGames is. They just see that big blue SEGA logo on the box and know it's a Sega game.

The aformentioned "big blue SEGA"

As for Platinum, they're comprised of mostly ex-Clover Studios employees. In the minds of many hardcore gamers, that's some pedigree, but the truth is, their games got mixed reviews. (No matter how much I love GodHand, not everyone did.) Hopefully, MadWorld will start a trend of critical acclaim, so that gamers who do look beyond the big blue SEGA will know a game with the Platinum logo is one to check out.

Look for a MadWorld review coming soon!

Monday, March 9, 2009

"Never compromise... even in the face of armageddon."

So, I went out with 11 of my closest friends and family members to see Watchmen on Friday night, and... almost everyone I went with hated it. They were disappointed and/or bored. This came as quite a shock to me, because I liked it as much as I think I could like it, given that it's based on one of the best graphic novels ever.

In short, the film is as good as an adaptation of a 12 issue, self-contained, extremely dense comic could possibly be, which makes it... a slightly better than average movie. No offense to any parties involved. I mean, David "Solid Snake" Hayter, Alex Tse and fellow Wisconsinite Zack Snyder all did the best they possibly could, but it's just not a story that works well as a movie.

Which brings me back to the people I saw it with. Of the people who did enjoy it, all but one of us had read the comic. This means that all but one of us knew what to expect. The rest? They'd all gotten it into their heads that they were going to see an action movie. To quote Rorschach, "Hurm..." An action movie? Where ever did they get that idea? Watchmen is, in many ways, the anti-action comic. It relies heavily on mood, pacing and dialogue. The movie is the same, in that respect. Well, apparently, no one told the guy who edited together all the trailers, because every trailer makes this movie look like the second coming of The Wild Bunch, except with people in costumes.

It is not that. Not even a little. But people think it is, because this movie is being market all wrong, and it's going to leave a lot of people who haven't read the book feeling deceived (which they should, because they were). From what I hear, it seems like perhaps that's what the studio wanted the movie to be (rumors of requests for edits are abound), but being true to the geeks, Snyder doesn't compromise, and stays true (as true as possible) to the source material.

Which, as I've said, is part of the problem in another way. Quite frankly, in the end you're just better off reading the book. It was conceived in that medium, it's amongst the finest examples of that medium, and you can always turn back quickly if you feel like you missed something. Of course, if you do read the book first, then you'll have all kinds of minor things to gripe about when you do see the film, but really, they're just nitpicks. In order to keep the movie watchable, it hits all the major events and plot points and gets you out of the theatre in less than three hours.

The last thing I want to say is that many of the performances leave a little something to be desired, but one performance is worth the entire price of admission. Jackie Earle Haley is, in a word, phenomenal as Rorschach. He is perfect in the role, and his performance has stuck with me since the viewing. Rorschach is by far my favorite character, and I wasn't sure if one of the Bad News Bears was going to be able to do the role justice. I'm glad to say, I was very, very wrong.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Top Five Friday: Top Five Live Action Comic Book Movies

In this first edition of Top Five Friday, I bring you the Top Five Comic Book Movies. Since I'm going to see Watchmen tonight, it seems appropriate. As I still haven't actually seen Watchmen, it is, obviously, excluded from the list.

Top Five Live Action Comic Book Movies (in chronological order)
-Batman (based on the DC comic book created by Bob Kane, directed by Tim Burton, 1989) Look, I'll just say it here and now, Tim Burton's Batman is my favorite comic book movie of all time. It gets the top spot today, because it was released before the rest, but the casting is perfect (I still say Michael Keaton's eccentric Bruce Wayne is way better than Christian Bale's), the sets are brilliantly surreal, and Prince is awesome.

This was also the first serious comic book movie. Before this, the '60s Batman movie and series were pretty much the template for how comics were treated by the film industry. Batman made the studios realize that if the material was treated in a mature fashion, people would respond.

-The Crow (based on the Kitchen Sink Press comic book created by J. O'Barr, directed by Alex Proyas, 1994) If Batman made studios realize that people would respond to comic movies maturely, The Crow galvanized that realization. Based on J. O'Barr's indie comic phenomenon, The Crow tells the story of a murdered man come back to life to reap vengence on those who killed him and his wife-to-be. Brandon Lee's swansong (he died in a freak accident during shooting) was also director Alex Proyas' American film debut, and it served to boost the visibility of both men greatly.

Lee makes the movie, naturally, but supporting performances by Jon Polito (Gideon), David Patrick Kelly (T-Bird), Michael Wincott (Top Dollar) and kept it going. A live performance by My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult during the film's best action sequence doesn't hurt, either.

-X2: X-Men United (based on the Marvel comic book created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, directed by Bryan Singer, 2003) X-Men was my favorite comic growing up, so I was chomping at the bit for a movie to come. It eventually did, but after I'd finished growing up. Still, Bryan Singer's X-Men was incredible, but still, left me wanting just a bit. X2 took care of that. The addition of Nightcrawler, Wolverine going berzerker and the removal of Tyler Mane's awful Sabertooth all made the second film worlds ahead of the first.

-Sin City (based on the Dark Horse comic created by Frank Miller, directed by Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller & Quentin Tarantino, 2005) Sin City was the first live action comic book movie to actually look like a comic book. The style of the film never strays from the comic, so much so that it's rumored that when Rodriguez sent scripts to the actors, they received instead copies of the graphic novels. An all-star cast (Bruce Willis, Benecio Del Toro, Elijah Wood, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, etc., etc.) and expert direction not only from Rodriguez, but co-director Frank Miller and "guest" director Quentin Taratino make this movie more than just nice to look at.

-The Dark Knight (based on the DC comic book created by Bob Kane, directed by Christopher Nolan, 2008) If you're reading this, and you haven't seen The Dark Knight, there's not much I can say to you that hasn't already been said. It is a great film by any standard. Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his portrayal of the Joker, making him the first actor in a comic book movie to achieve that feat, to my knowledge. Nolan is a master storyteller, and Bale is a more than capable Batman (except that voice thing... maybe he just needs a lozenge?) and Bruce Wayne. My mom even liked it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

CGI and Movies

Look, I'm just gonna lay it all out right here and right now. I hate CGI special effects. Don't get me wrong, much like the professional wrestling promo and the videogame cutscene, they do have their place, but their place is small, and shouldn't supplant traditional special effects.

Why? Because they just aren't good enough yet. They simply are not convincing. It's very rare that CGI manages to fool anyone, let alone a savvy moviegoer. CGI looks too clean, to artificial, too much like a videogame.

I'm sure you're wondering what, exactly, spawned this dose of vitriol directed at recent film special effects. Well, I'll tell you; there're two things. One, I watched a very interesting one hour documentary called "Fantastic Flesh: The Art of Make-Up EFX" via my XBox and Netflix. It was very facinating, featuring interviews with Dick Smith, Tom Savini, Quintin Taratino, Robert Rodriguez, Greg Nicotero and a host of other make-up artists and filmmakers. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in filmmaking, particularly horror filmmaking (though other genres are discussed).

The other thing is a recent re-watching of Blade Runner (the workprint version, if you're curious). Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies of all time, based on one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors. In fact, I owe Blade Runner and Total Recall a special debt, as they're the reasons I got into Philip K. Dick in the first place (tragically, young moviegoers today will probably be driven away from his work thanks to crap like Next and Paycheck). Now, if you watch Blade Runner today, any of the five versions of it, it looks more convincing than anything released lately.

The work of the entire effects team (whose names you can read here, if you like) continues to be lauded to this day, and rightfully so. The film creates a cohesive reality of the future of Los Angeles, a solid and believable backdrop for the film. No, not a backdrop. More than that. The aesthetic created in Blade Runner continues to inspire filmmakers to this day, the settings are so tangible and so convincing that they could be considered a character unto themselves. Shot of the Los Angeles skyline that opens the film still inspires the awe in me it did when I first saw the film something like 15 years ago, as a pre-teen geek.

The worlds of the 2nd Star Wars trilogy, or the Lord of the Rings films have a strange, glossy look to them. They look fake. The feeling they resonate is similar to the feeling you have looking at the old painted backdrops of films from the first half of the 20th century. They make you realize that this is supposed to take place in a certain setting, but you realize it on an intellectual level. "Oh, this is supposed to be Middle Earth. Ok." Blade Runner creates a setting that you believe on an instinctual level. "This is Los Angeles in the future."

Why is that? Simple. Because all of the set pieces are actually there. They're miniatures and composite shots, sure, but they are things that actually exist. They weren't generated by a computer.

Now, I understand why computers are used, they're much cheaper, require fewer people (which means fewer salaries, which means, well, cheaper) and are faster. And I realize that CGI is going to be the way it's done for the most part from here on out, but nothing would do my heart better than to hear of a big budget, effects laden film that planned on going old school on all the effects. Of course, it all means nothing if the story is crap, but all other things being equal, I prefer the old methods.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Depreciation Guild's "In Her Gentle Jaws"

Before I get into today's entry, I'd like to hip all three of my readers about the new format. In order to prevent me from going insane, the blog will now have a schedule. Mondays will feature reviews of things in particular, Wednesdays will feature general articles about things in general and Fridays will feature Top 5 lists. This will make it easier on all of us. Now, on to The Depreciation Guild.

I'm not big into chiptunes, unless they come in the form of music from an actual videogame. If they don't, they tend to sound like... well, like videogame music, except it's videogame music that I have no nostalgia for, and is therefore unappealing.

Previously, I hadn't really considered that a band might use chiptunes to back traditional rock 'n' roll. Enter the Depreciation Guild, a Brooklyn band who brilliantly merges shoegazy guitars with catchy chiptune rhythms. The result is rock 'n' roll with videogame music. Which is awesome.

Their debut self-released record, In Her Gentle Jaws, shows the versatility of both chiptune rhythms and shoegazy guitars. The record shows the bands abilities to merge both of these things into danceable power-pop ("Butterfly Kisses"), as well as more morosely traditional shoegazy ("Nautilus") with plenty of stops between (the title track). Overall, if you're into recent indie rock, chiptunes, or old school shoegaze, you owe it to yourself to pick this record up. The band has made it much easier by providing the record for free at their website. So what are you waiting for? At the cost of a little hard drive space, you can have one of the most original albums to come out in the latter half of the decade.