Short Game Review: Alan Wake

Alan Wake is a horror story about horror stories. You play as the eponymous writer, fighting people possessed by a malevolent darkness, armed with lights and some guns. The gameplay generally involves dodging creepy dudes and pointing a flashlight at things to weaken them before shooting them (kind of like what Alone in the Dark did with fire, only this game probably fit that name better). It is pretty cool the first hundred times or so, but it does get repetitive.

The game was marketed heavily upon the strength of its story, though, and it does indeed do a better job making believable characters and back story than most games, with a plot that kept me wondering what would happen next. Ultimately, it does a worse job with facial expressions and lip sync than a game so focused on story really deserves, and some niggling loose ends in the plot are really bugging me—but perhaps I’ll get my answers in the DLC. Overall, I’d say it’s worth playing, but might be even more fun to watch someone else play (especially if they don’t bother hunting for all the stupid, worthless collectables).

Short Movie Review: Machete

This is the kind of movie in which “foreshadowing” means mentioning offhand that the human intestines are 10 times the length of the whole human body. The main thing being foreshadowed is: “This will come up again next time Danny Trejo kills a bunch of dudes.”

If you enjoyed Tarantino’s and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse, and secretly hoped that the fake Machete trailer between features would actually get made into a movie someday, then the feature-length realization of Machete probably won’t disappoint. I didn’t think it was as good enjoyable as the Planet Terror half of Grindhouse, but I did prefer it in some ways over Death Proof (which started too slow for my liking). Probably Machete could have been improved by cutting out about 10-15 minutes of dialog scenes (and, optionally, replacing them with more scenes of people getting horribly dismembered), but overall, it elicited enough laughs and groans over its 100+ minutes to make me glad I went.

Lynd Ward’s Wordless Novels

Boing Boing brings word that the Library of America is offering a slip-cased, two-volume set of Lynd Ward’s Depression-era woodcut novels, edited by Art Spiegelman. The whole set is $70, but is a total steal at Amazon for over $30 as of now (for pre-orders).

I have a couple of the books collected in this series, and I can attest that they are stunning and excellent. I have been waiting for years for a collection like this, to see the images on fine paper and in a lovingly curated collection. Perhaps there’s something more “authentic” about seeing Depression-era stories told on the cheap, used, newsprinty-paper copies I have, but honestly, Ward’s work deserves the premium treatment.

These works were really influential for a lot of comic book artists (including Spiegelman, I’m guessing), and to me while I was first getting into my studies of visual storytelling and design. I had been counting the years until this material goes into the public domain (in a good long time), hoping that I’d be able to put together my own collection sometime, but I’m very happy that much more qualified people beat me to it years in advance.

Short Movie Review: The Boondock Saints 2

Mostly dull. Leads me to question whether the first one was actually as clever and self-aware as I had thought it was. Don’t bother.

The Most Underrated Games of the ’00s

An introductory note: I forgot to post this several months ago, then I found it again. I guess I’ll post it now, even though it’s pretty late to be posting roundups from 2000–2009. Whatever.

I thought about doing a “best games of 2009 list,” but I realize I didn’t really play that many games this year that actually came out this year. So, instead, I’m going to take advantage of the end of the decade to reach further back. I can’t remember whether we do “Top 10” lists around here or whether they’re more like “Top n” lists, where n = however many we think we’re going to need to include. I’m not sure I can think of 10 games that I thought were way better than everybody else seemed to think from the last decade, so here you get a list of arbitrary length, peppered with games from the last several years that I mostly wanted to rant about. Enjoy!

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Even Shorter Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Jason version)

They nailed precisely half of the equation that made this one of the best comics ever: the juvenile playfulness. Too bad the other half—the humorously, painfully familiar emotional realism—couldn’t fit in a Hollywood movie. Good soundtrack, though, and definitely recommended if you enjoy seeing people burst into spare change when killed.

Short Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Dan’s Take)

Tony has already regaled you with the tale of our adventure to see *Scott Pilgrim vs. The World* and [his review](—as with *most* things Tony says—is spot on. In some ways, as we discussed after the film, it would have been better not to have the comic so fresh in your head, because you find yourself waiting for jokes or looking for characters. That said, the film stands on its own, with plenty of quips and situations that are more “inspired by” the comic than ripped directly from the page. The casting is pretty much spot on for the most part, though it’s also worth noting that in many ways Michael Cera’s portrays a fundamentally different Scott Pilgrim than the protagonist of the comics (he lacks the manic energy of the latter). As a long-time fan of director Edgar Wright’s work, though, I maintain that the man is [three]([for]([three]( in feature filmdom. At the same time, though, I found myself thinking about halfway through that I couldn’t wait until somebody inevitably adapts the series to a television show so we can see all the parts that got left out.

Medium Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Due to unexpected good fortune your protagonists were able to see a sneak preview of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World on Tuesday, here’s what Tony thought:

One sentence summary for folks who haven’t read the comics: Canadian slacker/rocker Scott Pilgrim falls for Ramona Flowers but discovers he must defeat the league of Ramona’s Seven Evil Exes if he is to date her.  (Maybe you’d like to watch the trailer.)

Is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World a good movie and/or a good adaptation of a comic? I have a hard time thinking about the movie without dissecting the choices Edgar Wright makes in adapting the six volume graphic novel series to a 2 hour movie. I knew going into it that the movie would have to make some tricky choices about pacing and cutting scenes and characters. The graphic novels chronicling the ups and downs of a year in Scott Pilgrim’s life work fine as discrete chapters but would probably feel awkward as movie. So the movie takes place over a few weeks (time passes oddly in Toronto) with Ramona’s exes coming at Scott fast and furiously. The backstories of Ramona’s exes are heavily condensed or basically not explored at all in some cases. Scott’s relationship with his drummer and girlfriend Kim Pine, a source of ongoing tension and slow reveal in the comic, is more or less gone in the movie.  A variety of secondary characters are omitted or make only token appearances (we never see The Clash at Demonhead’s cyborg drummer in action for example.) Also worth noting: the movie was completed before Bryan Lee O’Malley finished the sixth book in the series, so though they clearly knew how he was planning to end the series it won’t be exactly the same. Balancing out for the adjustments to characters (and some plot points) fans of the comic will be happy to see a surprising number of scenes recreated shot for shot with the original dialogue in place.

So after you finish obsessing on all the little adjustments and tweaks to the plot and characters how is it at a movie? Pretty good I’d say. Consistently funny and amusing with great visuals it was fun the whole way through. The music of Scott’s Band Sex Bob-omb (provided by Beck) adds a lot to the experience that obviously wasn’t there in the comics, and works as a great example of how adapting a comic means you can do a lot more than just filming it shot for shot. The actors were all fine and the degree to which they looked like their comic counterparts is uncanny in places. Overall Scott Pilgrim vs. The World does a great job of faithful adapting much of the source material while also being fun and creative.

Reading other reviews of the movie which criticize the surreal elements of the story suggest to me that unsurprisingly the people who wouldn’t have enjoyed the comic wouldn’t enjoy the movie. I particularly like how one critic derided the movie as un-appealing to anyone who didn’t grow up with Nintendo (or as I call them, super old people.)

I liked Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and I hope you will too.

Short Game Review: Alpha Protocol

If Splinter Cell had knocked up Mass Effect after the prom, Alpha Protocol would be their baby. Mind you, this is before those series grew up into more games they are today—we’re talking 2005’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and the first Mass Effect, circa 2007. That’s only an insult, though, if you wouldn’t love to go back and play those all over again for the first time, awkwardness and all.

Admittedly, Alpha Protocol has a visual style that looked outdated before the game even hit shelves, combat that feels clunky if you’re using anything but a pistol, boss fights that are literally impossible if you don’t build your character properly (I did, fortunately, entirely by accident), and a convoluted plot of secret agencies and double-double-crosses so numerous that not even the writers can keep track of what your character already knows, deflating some of their intended “A-HA!” moments. Still, sneaking around and punching bad guys in the throat is pretty fun, the dialog system is arguably an improvement upon Mass Effect‘s, and the game keeps track of more of your choices (adjusting plot and dialog accordingly!) than any other game I’ve seen. All in all, I’m sad it won’t be getting a sequel, but I’m glad I got it for only forty bucks.

Short Television Review: Treme

The new series from David Simon (The Wire) is good stuff for people looking for something out there in TV with some actual meat on the bone. If you’re expecting “The Wire: New Orleans Edition” (as Dick Wolf would have titled it) you’ll be a bit disappointed. The Wire was an exploration of crime, corruption, the nature of life in an American city, and the institutions we ally ourselves with (be they the police, unions, gangs, schools, etc.), Treme is almost a love story about New Orleans and music.

Set three month after Katrina you can be sure Simon will include plenty of swipes at FEMA and Bush-era politicians, but Treme seeks to tell a story not of institutional failures, but of the lives of several musicians living in the New Orleans neighborhood of Treme. Given that most of the major character are musicians, music unsurprisingly plays a major role in Treme, and even a musically illiterate person such as myself can enjoy what they offer the viewer. In some ways Treme lacks some of the punch of the Wire, whereas Simon burned with a love/hate relationship with Baltimore, it almost feels like he might not be much more than a New Orleans fanboy. On the other hand, I find some of the of the storytelling is much richer and more interesting. Many of the stories focus on the lives of the characters and their families, a motif that was pretty lacking in The Wire except for examples of failed families. I also enjoy that the over arching story is still interesting without the tension and conflict of the active case from each season of The Wire.

So, I’d watch anything David Simon puts his name on, but I’d recommend Treme as being more accessible and closer to The Wire than his other post-Wire piece: Generation Kill.