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Screened runs down the films of November so you can mark your calendars. It’s looking far less grim than last month. The biggest draw is The Muppets.
Comic POW will be your source for intelligent comics discour -- OK, it'll just be Eric and I arguing about which comic is better.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m no longer talking about comic books here because Eric and I have started a new project: Comic POW!. Each week at CP! Eric and I will choose our favorite book, force the other to read it, and then BATTLE (with words) over which is better. If you dig comic books, check it out.
One of my favorite variant covers.
It's Halloween! I really hate Halloween, but these costumes are awesome! (Courtesy DJOtaku)
Castaway on the Moon – I’m about halfway done with this movie about a man so despondent that he gives up on society when he is barely isolated from it and a woman doing the opposite. Very interesting.
Heartbreaker (L’arnacœur) – Finished watching my favorite French romantic comedy with Min. I think he dug it too. One of those movies where the guy who the woman leaves for the protagonist is perfectly fine (better, even), but the leading lady would be “bored” with him. Also interestingly sidesteps most of the part of the movie where they’d be all, “Oh, but you lied to me!”
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (OSS 117: Le Caire nid d’espions) – Such a ridiculous movie, but I thought I’d watch it again with Min since we were on a French comedy kick. So stupid, but so funny.
How I Met Your Mother – Finished off season 6. Not a bad end to the season. I’m interested in seeing if S7 gets any better. If anything, at least I enjoy watching Cobie Smulders.
Community – Last week’s episode, “Remedial Chaos Theory” was aired a week late resulting in back-to-back seven perspective episodes. Last week’s was way darker, but this week’s was super funny. I’m really loving what they’re doing this season and Annie’s story was the craziest. She’s also really hot, you guys. Just sayin…
Parks and Recreation – Not my favorite episode (I don’t love Aziz Ansari’s character), but it had much more of Aubrey Plaza, which is awesome. The scene where she turned Jerry’s Potato Head smile upside down was classic!
Buffy the Vampire Slayer – I only watched about five minutes of the Incan mummy episode of season 2. So 90s! So contrived! So slow-paced compared to Community/Parks and Recreation!
John Oliver – So it’s not really music, but Min and I went down to see John Oliver deliver a stand-up set. He really tore down the house with a joke about Obama delivering the state of the union as an inspirational coach. Should have closed with it, considering we were in DC. Gave a really long set, too. Loved it.
The Last Best League – Getting close to the home stretch and loving that it looks like it won’t be a miracle season. I find the gushing over this New England sports league to be borderline intolerable, but I do love baseball, so…
1Q84 – Still haven’t even shifted reality yet, but I’m digging the weirdness of Murakami’s world.
Dungeon Defenders – Way more addictive than I thought it would be! I’m having a lot of fun playing this with Min, Lee, and Min’s buddies from Utah.
Team Fortress 2 – Halloween Event is up! Got the achievements from this year and even picked up a few from last. Monoculus is an interesting boss, but it’s hard to get people to focus on killing him. Still lots of fun, but it also gets old playing the same map for hours at a time.
This is pretty old, but it’s also pretty funny. Diablo Cody and John Krasinski. Both of them are funny and cute and it’s a nice interview.
Tim Burton is my least favorite director that everyone seems to love. I don’t know why, but every time I see his name I roll my eyes in frustration. It’s a weird personal problem, I know. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying Kees Van Dijkhuizen’s fantastic work as he continues his “Films of” series.
The Joker looks pretty gnarly in this game. (Picture used courtesy gamesweasel)
There may be spoilers ahead. Tread carefully.
Growing up in Florida confers all kinds of benefits to the aquatic athlete that you almost take for granted. Outdoor swimming, for one. I never swam indoors once during my years as a high school swimmer. Sure, things got cold in the winter, but we just heated our pools up a little and tried not to hang out on the pool deck.
We also had the ability to have practice on the beach once a month. Our beach swims were tiring slogs and I really loathed them. We’d start at one point of the beach, Coach would yell (she always yelled) out a stopping point about a mile up the shore, and we’d get swimming and run back. The change of pace was always lost on me. I only dug it for the volleyball game afterward, really. It all just seemed muddled and unfocused and like a waste of a Saturday morning. In the pool we had lanes, regimented practice sets, and direction. I may not have had as much fun watching the same landmark go by for two hours, but I always felt like I was getting something out of it.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going here…
Why does the myth of the open world game persist? Diluting your narrative does not make it sharper or more impactful. Arkham City was swinging for the fences with its story. I don’t see how you can refute that, given how it ends, but the path to get there is just…not as fun.
Rocksteady Studios had a certifiably great game on their hands with Arkham Asylum. Reviewers familiar with the comics loved the game because it allowed players to feel like they were Batman. Does futzing around the city completing side quests unrelated to the main story make you feel more or less than Batman? I like the sidequests, but they were so disconnected and brief feeling that I actually didn’t like doing them. Does that make sense? The way they’re not integrated detracts from their execution.
I’m gonna tie in the beginning: It’s like swimming in the ocean versus swimming in a pool. I may have more freedom, but the bucking waves and the looseness of the experience means I derive less use from it. The very fact that I preferred the volleyball game, our sidequest, so to speak, to the practice itself further strengthens the metaphor. The main story is not as satisfying as it could be.
Batman is focused and doesn’t fuck around. He gets things done. He wrecks fools who get in his way. Batman doesn’t futz around looking for Riddler trophies when helicopters are destroying the city. It’s that annoying ludonarrative dissonance thing rearing its ugly head again. In fact, I was just talking about this in the comments section of a blog post on Ambient Challenge about Red Dead Redemption. What it came down to was that I think the only modern game to be intelligent about this while reveling in its stupidity is Dead Rising.
How reviled was the clock of Dead Rising? I’ll tell you what, I loved it. I never bucked against it. You know what a time limit creates? Tension. It also limits freedom. I bet that’s what people were griping about. In Dead Rising things happen at certain times. If you’re not there, you miss it and the story is over. In Arkham City you have X hours until Protocol 10 is enacted. I’m 99% sure that you can just bullshit around until those X hours are done and nothing happens. Hours don’t “pass” until you hit certain story markers. By trying to be everything to every player, Arkham City loses out on the immediacy of Arkham Asylum. You could just hang out in AA and look for Riddler trophies, but the sense of momentum remained. In between story missions in AC momentum dies.
Rocksteady should be justifiably happy with their gliding mechanics. They’re truly brilliant and lots of fun. If you told me that the developers weren’t thinking about Super Mario World when they created the “dive bomb into gliding” mechanic, I would call you a liar. There’s no way that’s not true. It just works and I can see why they’d want to show off just flying around the city looking for stuff. I just wish (for Arkham Asylum too) that they left the side mission stuff off until after the game.
“Batman, you’ve saved the day!”
“Thanks, I’m gonna go home and take a –”
“Oh no! Batman, there are side quests and Riddler trophies to find! Go back into the city!”
Much better. What it doesn’t do is keep you playing the “main mission” long enough to prevent selling the game used the same week. If you’re distracted, it takes longer, I guess, but with the new DLC paradigm, do developers really have to keep trying to shoehorn in sidequests when there are pressing matters to attend to! They might claim that gamers resent being corralled down a narrow path and told what to do. I made this point in my FF XIII review, but choice is an illusion in 99% of the games out there. Many of them are far more linear than you care to believe. Instead of trying to have everything and executing to a passable degree on all fronts, why not segregate a game like I’m advocating? I think it makes more sense if you want a cohesive experience.
Arkham City remains much better executed when it comes to their combat mechanics. Just like the last game, fighting as Batman feels like controlling a superhero. He bounces between targets, has an almost psychic notion of who’s attacking him from where, and, when executed well, he never gets touched. Completing a fight like that makes you feel like a real man. It’s all crunch contact and smooth transition. Batman is a dream to control.
Well, almost. I can’t say I understand why they still feel the need to have a button dedicated to running. We have analog sticks, for Christ’s sake! When we want to run, we will hold said stick in the furthest possible position. Devoting a button to running is a 16-bit contrivance. I hate having Batman move like he’s on a determined, if not leisurely stroll if I’m not holding a button down. It’s downright ridiculous.
If it sounds like I don’t love Arkham City it’s because, well, I don’t love Arkham City. The game itself should be an absolute joy to play. Instead it’s just fun. Now, fun is fine, mind you, but fun is not greatness. I like playing Arkham City, I just wish it stuck to its lanes a little more.
I doubt that I could attend two more different shows than when I saw Wild Flag and The Civil Wars last week in DC. One was loud, raucous, and distorted while the other was quiet, pure, and crystal clear. Shockingly, given my predilection for loud, upbeat shows, I actually preferred The Civil Wars.
I didn’t even know Black Cat had a second floor venue, but I guess that’s where the larger shows take place. Unfortunately it comes at the expense of the nicer bar downstairs and the intimacy of the smaller room. Wild Flag is just too big to play that room, I guess, but the upstairs room just feels colder and less fun (that could also be because I was right below an a/c vent).
Long ago I tried to get into Eleanor Friedberger because she was linked on NPR or somewhere else, but her music just didn’t resonate within me. I don’t know if it was just her older material or that I wasn’t listening to full tracks (Amazon previews and whatnot), but her songs were actually pretty solid performed live. Each one escalates as the song goes forward, adding more and more elements and embellishes. Sometimes it’s more subtle than others, but it’s usually there. While I would recommend a little more diversity in a song catalog, it makes for excellent concert music. I don’t think her set was cohesively strong, but on an individual song level I tended to find myself really getting into it about halfway through each song. Like I mentioned in my WIBD post, “Roosevelt Park” was my favorite track, mostly for that funky bass line and sound. It’s a genre that I have an extreme weakness for and it gets me every time.
Definitely has a hipster look to her. I haven't seen jeans with a waistline that high since the 90s.
As for Wild Flag, it’s really a shame that the venue doesn’t quite highlight their sound. I don’t know if it was because I was too close, but every element was crashing over each other where they work more cohesively on the album. It seemed that Mary Timony thought so too, because she kept mentioning that she wanted something turned up. Vocals were mostly washed out by the hard guitars, but Rebecca Cole and Janet Weiss’ harmonies usually shone through regardless. They also had some feedback issues that they had to work out (and mostly figured out by the end of the second or third song).
Carrie was totally into it.
It didn’t sound bad, but it didn’t sound as good as it could have and that’s disappointing because Wild Flag was kicking ass up there. I’ve never seen Mick Jagger move on stage, but every description I’ve ever heard of him came to mind as I watched Carrie Brownstein just own the stage. We’re talking some serious moves all while maintaining her delicious guitar playing. Both Carrie and Mary had this air of professionalism; that they’d been there before and they knew what they were doing so much that they could almost “show off” with their behind the back playing, windmills, and just general guitar artistry. They really owned that stage.
Mary Timony and Carrie Brownstein just rocking out.
Not enough has been said about Janet Weiss on drums, but her presence is the glue for the whole performance while Rebecca Cole’s keyboards were essential, but often masked by the overloud crunchy guitar work. The whole band was impressive and the setlist hopped around the album gracefully, only diverting from that course once to play two new songs. Both were impressive and harsher sounding than the mostly pretty sound on Wild Flag. It’ll be interesting to see how they wind up sounding when recorded.
The encore set consisted of covers that I wasn’t into (I don’t dig the Ramones and I’ve never heard of Television, sorry), but were performed with the necessary aplomb. It was a great set that I’m glad I went to, even if the sound issues were a little disappointing.
The Civil Wars
I’m not a fan of shows where you have sit down, assigned seats. There’s an inverse relationship (it’s not quite linear, but I don’t know if I’d say it was quadratic (and definitely not exponential) between how close to the stage you are and how much “soul” or “force” a performance has for me. Sit too far away and it’s just a sterile experience. My seats in the Lincoln Theatre were in the balcony, pretty far removed from the stage. I was worried.
This is the view from my seat. Definitely a little removed from the stage.
Milo Greene came out and did their remarkably short set. The band itself is large (five members) with anywhere from two to four of those band members playing a guitar of some sort on each song. It results in a layered, complex musical sound that contrasts heavily to The Civil Wars, but it lacked the energy that five young musicians should give the band. Granted, that could have been my seat position, but I know that their closing number far eclipsed the rest of their songs and made me think that I wasn’t just imagining the energy problem. Then again, maybe it was just excitement for The Civil Wars.
It's a very busy band. Good sound, though.
In any case, they were fun, even if they have to work on their stage banter. Friedberger’s was almost non-existent and Wild Flag kept it short (but great) while Milo Greene kind of floundered up there (made worse by the fact that The Civil Wars have unbelievable stage chemistry and amazing banter). They were solid openers and I liked their music, even though I’d say that the standing O some audiences decided to bestow was…well…overkill.
Then again, The Civil Wars destroyed my illusions about distance and involvement. Those two have an uncanny ability to put an audience under their spell. The best word to describe us during their songs would be rapt. Being an acoustic duo, John Paul and Joy’s production is spartan, which highlights how much the audience is completely drawn in. Every pause or moment of silence was so complete that you could have heard a pin drop. During one such silence I found myself annoyed by a man several rows up chewing something crunchy. It was surreal and amazing.
Like I said before, Joy and John Paul have such lovely chemistry that it’s almost unbelievable that they’re not a couple. They must have unbelievably understanding/trusting significant others to trust that the stage chemistry is just that. It’s smoldering sometimes. Joy is playful, cute, and sexy while JP is an “Aw, shucks” type of cowboy with a tiny sarcastic streak. It just works. When you throw Joy and JP’s fantastic voices into the mix you have alchemized pure gold, my friend.
They are just so beautiful on stage!
The duo hit every song of theirs I love and really brought down the house with a whisper rather than a bang. It was one of the most special shows I ever attended and I honestly did not expect it. Next time they’re in town I’m definitely buying tickets again.
Bizarre, but awesome. Not just because it’s centered around a baseball game, mind you. Love this band and the surreal imagery of bears playing baseball.
The Civil Wars were absolutely beautiful. What a fantastic show.
50/50 – What a great movie. It was funny and emotional at all the right times. After seeing it I just wanted to go home and hug my roommate (like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, she got cancer at a young age). I’ve seen her in a grand total of four movies now, but I love Anna Kendrick. She is absolutely adorable and she will go far in this business. So cute!
Solaris – A heady movie about a man who chooses to reject reality for a chance at fixing his mistakes. So muted and quiet and sci-fi without being sci-fi really at all. It’s not gonna blow you away, but it’s remarkably well acted. Potentially could be a stage play if it wasn’t for all the flashbacks.
Homeland – Claire Danes is just perfect at her insecure, crazy, competent role. Morena Baccarin has the most unenviable role. The wife who thought her husband was dead and moved on is not one that audiences attach to. Also she got to take part in the most awkward sex scene ever. I guess I don’t have to keep worrying about this harem subplot (thank god!)
The Walking Dead – I really hate that nonsense with the “He told me…it doesn’t matter what he told me.” plot contrivance. Setting up suspense by explicitly hiding information from the viewers is one of my pet peeves. Hey Merle, a motorcycle in the zombpocalypse is a TERRIBLE IDEA. The premiere was tense and pretty awesome most of the time. I like how it’s going so far, but if they ever kill Glenn…haha.
Eleanor Friedberger – The opener for Wild Flag, she was definitely interesting. All of her songs crescendo to these great endings, but can often sound similar. I fell in love with “Roosevelt Island“, but know that all of her songs aren’t that funky.
Wild Flag – I plan on writing more about both of these concerts, by the way, but these women rocked the stage like they owned it. They were having serious fun up there dancing and playing and almost showing off how great they are at this. I can’t say I love the mix that Black Cat had going (and Mary Timony seemed to agree with me. She kept motioning for adjustments), but it’s never a bad thing to be struck by a wave of sound. Great show, heard some new songs, a lot of fun.
Milo Greene – Super busy on stage as the four frontmen swapped instruments repeatedly during the show. They had some great songs, but their set was so short! The song they closed with was stellar.
The Civil Wars – This concert was…wow. Best show I’ve seen in a long time. More to come later, for sure, but The Civil Wars are a quiet group. It’s just Joy singing (occasionally on piano too) and John Paul on guitar (and also singing) and in moments of silence during the songs you could have heard a mouse sneeze. I heard someone crunching five rows behind me. The audience was rapt and Joy and JP just totally rocked the stage. Just beautiful. I can’t think of a show I enjoyed more this year.
The Last Best League – Coming to a close on this one. I was expecting the team to suddenly turn things around during the summer, but it seems like they might close in last place. Wasn’t expecting that.
Batman: Arkham City – Batman’s face isn’t so obscured that he shouldn’t have any expressions. He’s seriously like a robot when he talks. It’s…unnerving. Makes him seem like a sociopath. I might explore it more in this space, but I don’t think the open environment served the game well at all. Arkham City was superior and, while Arkham City was definitely a good game, it’s very far from the best of the year for me and nowhere near as impactful as the previous game.
Gears of War 3 – Shotgun event means…I get killed badly. Not my thing.
Mass Effect 2 – My game was so glitchy yesterday that I quit after making 10 minutes of progress over an hour. Bleh…
Wild Flag knows how to rock
It’s almost a joke how much I dislike playing SC2 in multiplayer, but Sarah Kerrigan’s story is what always brings me back for more.