Thursday, October 30, 2014

Let There Be Fight: A Critical Analysis of Rob Liefeld's Prophet #1

I've read many stories containing characters created by creative powerhouse Rob Liefeld; however his early creator-owned work is a blind spot of my comic knowledge.  Oddly enough the 2012 relaunch of Liefeld's Prophet is my favorite ongoing series.  Now I seek to learn the origins of this stellar comic through a continuing series of posts analyzing Rob Liefeld's Prophet.  Last week Prophet's genesis was examined in Youngblood #2.    This week I crack open my second Extreme Studios comic from those halcyon 90's and the first issue of the Prophet solo series.    Remember how I promised to be more concise?  I lied.

Despite Rob Liefeld being a monolithic figure it's important to remember that he had collaborators and give them due credit.  Rob shares creative duties on this issue as he is only responsible for being the creator, writer, and doing layouts as Dan Panosian (pronounced Pan-Ocean) takes up penciling and inking.

Monday, October 20, 2014

In the Bloodginning: A Critical Analysis of Rob Liefeld's Youngblood #2

Prophet by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Giannis Milonogiannis, Farel Dalrymple, Joseph Bergin III, Ed Brisson, Malachi Ward, Matt Sheean, and friends is easily my favorite comic on the stands.  Going into the series I was aware that it was a relaunch of one of Rob Liefeld’s old Extreme Studios’ property but lacked any knowledge on Prophet’s history beyond that.  Now, as Prophet prepares to begin a climactic chapter with Earth War, I find myself curious about the origins of this comic that I am so fond of.  Unfortunately, I missed the boat on Extreme Studios and all the other early Image comics the first time around.  Fortunately, this means I can read peak 90’s comics like the entire run of Prophet pre-2012 relaunch with virgin eyes and chronicle such an experience.  My mission statement for this continuing series of posts on Prophet is to do close readings and critical analysis of each old issue all the while trying to construct a map of how these comics from the decade of Extreme connect to the Prophet of today.  More than likely though, this pseudo-academic exercise will devolve into me just pointing out the raddest parts of the comics.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Ranking every James Bond film

I feel like a spy. It’s ten to five in the morning, I am sitting in the desolate departure lounge of Glasgow Airport, and I am wearing my navy blue herringbone coat--a stereotypically British knee length spy coat. I am waiting for my flight that will take me soaring into the arms of my loving girlfriend in Belfast Airport, and from there we’ll drive to her family home, where I have been cordially invited for Christmas… The butterflies in my stomach are erupting with excitement, and my mind is whizzing round and round. I feel like a child again, but instead of running around pointing my fingers at random people whilst singing the Bond theme, I try to sit like Bond, Palmer, or Smily would have, looking cool, calm, and collected, and decide that a real spy would get on with his mission…

The problem is, am I safe to begin here? Are the fat elderly couple next to me really an old fat couple, or are they KGB? CIA maybe? Who knows, but after a look around I decide I can begin. I really couldn’t be a spy, though, as I can't wipe the huge ear to ear smile from my face.
I slowly and quietly pull out my laptop, opening it with an attempted cool flick that ends terribly. I open up the word processor, look around both of my shoulders, and then begin my mission. I have been asked by my senior officer… okay my editor, Jake, to write a best Bond films list. This mission is going to be tough, but then again, I have a cup of tea and the Guardian newspaper next to me; I am doing this for Queen and Country. 

I am going to start with the worst Bond film, (leaving out the two spin off films, Never Say Never, and the original Casino Royale) that way I can build up the suspense, like a proper spy film does, as I draw closer to the best Bond film.

23. Moonraker
Moonraker is by far the worst Bond film ever made, but then again, all of the Roger Moore era films are. This motion picture, however, quite frankly just takes the biscuit. Not only was Moore too old, too nice, and just in every way shape and form too wrong to play Bond by the time the film was made; he lumbers along like an unfit, posh neanderthal most of the time. The storyline was just completely absurd! By this point, if you have watched the films chronologically, SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion) has been destroyed.

They funded all of Bond’s previous enemies, and yet somehow, it appears that a random evil mastermind has made a ton of cash and funded his own space program… UNNOTICED! For goodness sake, he has a bloody space station soaring around up there in space, did no body else see that!? I guess that's American Intelligence for you. The film is full of quirky, childish gadgets, and the attempted double entendres by Moore were just out of character, out of place, and completely cringe worthy. If I were you, I wouldn’t waste the precious time we all have here on earth and skip this, and all of Moore’s Bond films for that matter.

22. A View to a Kill
WHY!!!!???!?!? Just why!? Moore’s final performance as Bond sees him battling yet another crazy American Capitalist, Max Zorin (played by Christopher Walken). Bond's mission in this film was to take out the psychotic microchip manufacturer before he could wipe out all of Silicon Valley… Basically, Bond has to destroy a shite venture capitalist who’s jealous of Silicon Valley’s success. I ask again… WHY!!?!?!?! It was bollocks, complete and utter bollocks, however I will leave you with this: good bye Roger Moore.

21. The Spy Who Loved Me
Never has a Bond film managed to get the essence of Bond so incredibly wrong. Let's face it, Bond has had many staple features throughout the series, from cars to gadgets to double entendres and British pride, with the Bond Girl topping it all off. The Spy Who Loved Me singlehandedly managed to reduce Bond to a smouldering piece of bad acting, ugly cars, and ridiculous gadgets within the space of two hours. Bond, played by Roger Moore yet again, is sent out to destroy a complete maniac, and by maniac I actually mean the absurd and brainless villain Karl Stromberg.

Stromberg plans to start WWIII, have West nuke East, and East nuke West, therefore leaving the planet uninhabitable for thousands of years. That’s a fantastic plan, but where would this genius mastermind live? Well, he plans to build an underwater civilisation and create a utopia, a wonderful dictatorship styled utopia… Hell’s Bells. Again I will advise you to skip this film, that way you won’t have to witness a crap Lotus, a Bond Girl who can’t act for toffee, and more importantly, a storyline that was clearly taken from a sample of one of the screenwriters loo roll scraps.

20. Octopussy
No… Just no. Roger Moore go away, and Albert R. Broccoli bring us a better Bond another day.

19. Die Another Day
Die Another Day was made to celebrate forty years of agent 007, James Bond on screen, and what an abysmal job it did too represent such a brilliant British creation. The best parts of this film were the reintroduction of the Aston Martin as Bond's signature car and Pierce Brosnan’s final performance as Bond. Again Bond had been cast appallingly, Brosnan’s portrayal of 007 was too mature, too nice, and too healthy. He was too suave and too gentle and just didn’t have the roguish behaviour that Bond in the books was all too keen to display at every opportune moment. Luckily for Bond diehards, this was his last film, but Hell’s Horses, why was it the 40th anniversary!?

Die Another Day depicts Bond trying to stop the rebellious son of a North Korean general, Tan-Sun Moon (played by Toby Stephens) from dealing in dirty diamonds… because we all know that the worst thing North Korea are doing is dealing dirty diamonds. As the beginning sequence ends it appears Bond has killed Moon; he hasn’t! And gets captured in the process and imprisoned by the North Koreans. Long story short, he is released, goes on a vengeance mission, and finally comes to the realisation that that Tan-Sun Moon has had his DNA altered to a white man's; enter Toby Stephens as a Korean man, and under his new disguise has built a giant laser to wipe out the demilitarised zone, and unite Korea by force… where is my cyanide pill? We all know the outcome obviously, it’s James Bond, he wins and stops this lunatic's plans for world… well, Korean domination really, and gets the girl. Did I mention the Bond girl was Halle Berry? Oh yes, adding a touch of pure acting class to this otherwise poor film.

18. The Man with the Golden Gun
A trained assassin who goes by the name of Francisco Scaramanga (played by Christopher Lee) uses a golden gun to “remove” people who are a problem. However, he charges a million a shot and therefore is minted. Bond is sent to kill Scaramanger as he has built an incredibly large solar plant that he’ll sell to the highest bidder. This scares the West, as it contains the power to control the Sun's rays that could be used to burn the powerhouses of the Western world to the ground. So off Bond goes to collect another kill. Havoc ensues, Bond kills Scaramanga, and he locks a midget in a suitcase which he then throws overboard. Hilarious but also quite cruel. Moore's second Bond film was just daft because of the sidekick midget and the unimpressive storyline. 

17. The World Is Not Enough 
Brosnan’s second to last film celebrated the turn of the Millennium, it showed off new technologies, a hairdresser's BMW, and a lacklustre performance… again. I will admit though, the story is pretty bloody good. Bond is sent to protect a heiress’ oil pipeline that is under attack from an ex-KGB agent turned terrorist, Renard (played by Robert Carlyle) While in the process of completing his mission, Bond discovers that he is protecting a morally bankrupt daddy's girl who is in league with Renard. Together they have planed to destroy Istanbul and the competing Russian pipeline with a nuclear bomb leaving her pipeline as the only one in Europe, therefore making her filthy rich. Bond manages to kill both villains and saves the day. There you have it, a cool storyline, especially for the new Millennium, but still Brosnan and the Bond Girl, Christmas Jones (played by Denise Richards) let it down.

16. Live and Let Die
This was Roger Moore's debut… THIS!? Live and Let Die is simply Bond killing a group of black drug dealers who believe in Voodoo… yes, this is what James Bond turned into in the '70s.

15. For Your Eyes Only
In Roger Moore's fifth Bond film, Bond is tasked with retrieving a British submarine's automatic targeting attack communicator, as this important piece of equipment allows the Ministry of Defence to communicate with British subs and control the launch of British ballistic missiles. The Russians hear of Bond's mission and decide to attempt a retrieval themselves. Now as a premise, this is fantastic in all honesty, but as it was a Moore era Bond film, his shabby acting and face-palming one liners just kill it. Not only is it Moore’s fifth poor performance in a row that lets the film down, it is also the diabolical side story that involves Greek mobsters that are linked to the Bond Girl. I will admit though, for a Moore era film, the storyline is at least more believable and therefore I can bear watching it on Boxing Day.

14. Tomorrow Never Dies
Considering this was the second appearance of Bond for most of my generation, all I can say about it is it’s an appalling example of the character and culture of Bond. Pierce Brosnan’s watered down version of Bond is lazy, boring, and too straight edge, finding pleasure in, well, nothing at all. Brosnan’s Bond has gone Banker Wanker, and he doesn’t attempt to give his character an edge, especially when he drives the worst cars that have ever appeared in a set of Bond films: a BMW.

Tomorrow Never Dies just annoys me because it follows in the same vein as Moore’s films: bland, boring, full of ridiculous gadgets, and poor acting. Though it features all of this rubbish, I do however love the villain and the storyline of the film. Elliot Carver (Jonathan Price) owns a media company and makes all his money from journalism, so to expand his readership he decides to start a war between the UK and China, and plans to be the first to report on all the stories; this is because he is secretly stirring the pot by making attacks on both sides. It is slightly genius and Price is a fantastic villain. It’s watchable just for that.

13 - Diamonds Are Forever
Worst Sean Connery film! Diamond Laser Beam Death Ray and world domination. I won’t waste your time or my brain power on this fine Sunday afternoon. The one thing I will say is I am sad Connery finished on such a low.

12. GoldenEye
The best part about this film is Sean Bean, but the worst part about this film is the lack of Sean Bean’s natural Yorkshire accent. Okay, I will admit there is one other very cool part about this film, the reference to the famous British/Soviet spy Kim Philby. Philby was part of the Cambridge Spy ring, a group of young communists hailing from Cambridge University who decided to fight fascism during the early thirties, when the establishment simply appeased it. This led him to side with the Soviets and therefore spy against his own United Kingdom, but in Philby’s mind this was for the greater good of the UK.

Have you found the reference yet? Yes, Sean Bean’s character (Alex Trevelyan) was a British spy who decided that Britain had lost its way, and therefore defected to Russia. As an underlying storyline it’s fantastic, in fact if it had just been a hunt for the spy who went into the cold, it would have been brilliant. Sadly though, there is the added satellite and laser beam of death story arc, which to me is like pouring liquid shite all over your ice-cream and strawberries instead of chocolate sauce. Oh well, it was only a Brosnan film.

11. License to Kill
The only Bond film to receive a 15 rating, or R rating in America. Timothy Dalton’s second film playing 007 is a gritty, dirty, harsh, and ruthless masterpiece that shows Bond on a bloodthirsty rampage. The film begins with James Bond and Felix Leiter (Bond's CIA mate) nabbing a Colombian drug lord, Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) and sending him off to be prosecuted by the DEA. It’s a good day at the office, and it’s only going to get better. The bust has been made, Bond and Felix are heroes, and now awaiting them is Leiter’s Wedding Day. The wedding is full of merriment, drink, and love; crackin’ wedding.

When Bond leaves the happy couple at the end of the day, everything takes a turn for the worse. Firstly Felix and his wife are captured by the escaped Sanchez, and second, Felix is fed to a shark and his wife is raped and killed. Bond finds them both the next day. At least Felix is alive, but he’s missing a leg. Bond then spends the rest of the film unleashing a hellish rampage on anyone and everyone associated with Sanchez; by the way, at this point in the film Bond has been removed from service by M, and is now doing this Ronin style... Bad Bond.

Finally, after putting a young Benicio del Toro through a cocaine mincing machine and chasing Sanchez’s drug convoy in a lorry, Bond finally douses Sanchez in petrol and burns him alive. Now this is how roguish Bond was meant to be! And this is why Dalton was incredible as Bond! He was cold, ruthless, egotistic, and full of an adolescent devil may care attitude. He was nice, yes, and he spied for Queen and Country, yes, but that doesn’t mean he was an angel; he simply fought for their side. License to Kill was the third Bond film I was sat down in front of, and at the ripe old age of seven, I loved it. Though it’s one of my favourites, it does have a very ordinary story line that just reminds me, ever so slightly, of a brainless, American Hollywood action film. Still, it’s a good’n.

10. You Only Live Twice
Bond dies! Don’t worry, it isn’t a spoiler, it happens in the first scene and it’s planned. Bond dies so that he may live! He fakes his death so he can bring down the evil SPECTRE and finally kill their leader, Blofeld. Set in Japan, Bond learns that Blofeld and SPECTRE hold a base inside a volcano, they’ve captured both American and Russian spacecraft in order to flare up the tensions between the two nations, and plan to cause a full scale war, thus wiping out the two nations and leaving them to rule the world. Bond’s job, then, is to destroy the volcano base, the two spacecraft, and kill Blofeld. He manages to blow up the rockets, destroy the volcano, but fails to kill Blofeld. However he does get the girl, so it wasn’t a total loss, and there is always next time to nab the bad guy. Not a bad idea, and the film is very classic Bond. The storyline is cool, but then again, this is the first film where the gadgets started to get out of hand and become idiotic, so for me that takes away from the film.

9. The Living Daylights
My first Bond film, Timothy Dalton's first appearance as 007, and a Bond theme composed by A-ha… I still have a soft spot for this fantastic film. The Living Daylights deals with the Afghan-Soviet War and the Eastern block of the 1980s. Bond is sent to Austria to pick up a defecting KGB agent, General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe) and bring him to the UK for questioning. The mission goes well, but once home in Blighty, Koskov is captured and taken back to the Eastern Block, leaving 007 with no choice but to chase him. After a chase across Eastern Europe, the destruction of a beautiful Aston Martin, and the shooting of a cello, 007 learns that Koskov wasn’t captured, but simply gave himself up so he could feed false information to the West. With the West distracted, Koskov planned to fund the Soviet army using opium trading so he could lead a Soviet victory in the Afghan War. As a Bond film, the story line is incredible, as is the acting, and the cultural references of the times; Bond helps the Mujahideen... oh the irony. 

8. Thunderball
I love this film, not just because Connery was portraying 007, not just because the fashion of the early '60s was classy, but because this film features one of the UK’s most famous jet aircraft, and one of my favourite planes, the Avro Vulcan. Bond has to retrieve a NATO nuclear warhead that is stowed upon an RAF Vulcan that crashes suspiciously in the Caribbean. Upon his arrival, Bond learns that the aircraft has been downed by SPECTRE, and their agent Emilio Largo has the plane under his protection at the crash site. Bond soon locates the crash site underwater and leads a U.S. Coast Guard team in a battle against the SPECTRE agents, where Bond kills Largo and retrieves the warhead… oh, and of course steals Largo’s mistress in the process. I love this Bond film because it was the first Bond book I read, so it will always have a soft spot in my heart. It is Connery's fifth film, and he is still as brilliant as he was when he first said, “Bond, James Bond.” The storyline is brilliant, the gadgets are minimal, and the acting is classic. Plus is features an Avro Vulcan and the good old Aston Martin DB5. Did I also mention you see an Avro Vulcan in this film?

7. Quantum of Solace
Daniel Craig’s incredible portrayal of agent 007 James Bond is flawless, and in his second appearance as the British secret agent, he staples his name to the part and will forever be remembered for it. I personally liked Quantum of Solace because it continues the story started in Casino Royale, and yes it’s action packed, but it’s not the first Bond film to do that. The Bond series has always followed a pattern of one thriller-esque, spy film, followed by an explosion filled, gun battling flick where Bond destroys everything in his sights. Granted, the films may not always follow one another in that pattern, but there is always a variation on it. I loved Quantum anyway, not only because Craig nailed the character of Bond, but because the film itself was just pure and utter mayhem, which isn’t bad. Every and now and again it’s always nice to just get lost in complete and utter revenge, and watch Bond dishing out good old fashioned beatings and bullets to the heads of his enemies, it makes a Saturday night telly fun.

6. Goldfinger
Connery, what can you say about Connery? Well he was the first Bond, and the best until Craig came along, but Connery, well he is just the classic Bond and for that you just cat go wrong, especially when it comes to Goldfinger. The third Bond film ever made, Goldfinger set the bar in everything! You had the best suits, the introduction of the Aston Martin DB5 (the best car), the best Bond girls, both in terms of looks but also in terms of spirit and personality, and you had a great villain… Auric Goldfinger, oh and of course the introduction of the first Bond innuendo… Pussy Galore. The plot was fantastic, consisting of Goldfinger trying to fund SPECTRE with a marvellous money grabbing scheme: “Hey let's break into Fort Knox, irradiate the gold, deeming it useless of course, which in turn will send the price of our gold soaring.” Genius! But Bond stops him for Queen and Country using only a radio, a gun, and a beautiful, classic Aston Martin. Now that is a formula for a classic Bond film.

5. From Russia with Love
This is a proper spy film, no flare, no gimmicks, just intelligence through and through. From Russia with Love’s plot is quite simple, yet so classic that I adore it. You have a double agent working for the USSR and SPECTRE, they want Bond dead, not only because he poses a threat to Soviet agents, but more importantly, because he’s stumbled upon SPECTRE and their plans. The agent, Rosa Klebb, decides to give away Soviet intelligence through agent, Tatiana Romanova, leading Bond into a trap where he can be assassinated, but also leading the West into having stolen Soviet intelligence, which would end in war between East and West.

Obviously there are a few gadgets in this film, but they were real spy gadgets that were used during the Second World War, so for instance you had a briefcase that carried ammunition, a folding sniper rife, money, a knife, and a special tear gas canister that exploded if you opened it incorrectly. From Russia with Love is a spy nerd's dream, because it wasn’t full of big explosions and action. Instead it was a thriller, where a movement in the shadows was more extravagant than a crashing helicopter; the film does feature a crashing helicopter, but it’s used as a grand finale. From Russia with Love also had little nods to the book, so it featured Bond’s car from the books, a Bentley, and Connery was just superb in this film, only his second time playing 007 and he had it down to a tee.

4. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
The only Bond film that will make you sob uncontrollably every time. I am not giving anything away for this film, so just watch it, trust me, just watch it. 

3. Casino Royale
This film was the best regeneration of Bond to date. Craig has, by far, mastered the portrayal of 007 and does a brilliant job of bringing the Bond from the books to life. He takes Bond back to how he should be: cruel, cold, and spoiled, with an adolescent touch thrown in there too--he truly is Bond.  However, what in god’s name were they thinking making 007 blonde? It is clearly stated in Casino Royale (the book of course) that Bond looks like Hoagy Carmichael: "Bond reminds me rather of Hoagy Carmichael, but there is something cold and ruthless.” Still, though it pains me to say it, I can overlook this foolish inaccuracy because Craig can act so well, though Craig isn’t the only incredible addition to the reboot. Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green, was a perfect choice for the film's Bond Girl; she was what a good Bond girl should be--strong-willed, confident, and sexy, but still classy and ladylike. The villain Le Chiffre, played by Mads Mikkelsen, was your classic Bond Villain; smart, cruel, and egotistic, this character was spot on and you hated him. Does anyone remember the torture scene?

Casino Royale has been the only Bond film to follow its book almost perfectly, the plot was almost identical and all the characters were there with no idiotic additions; I’ll admit it had the occasional modernisation in there too, just to date it and make it relatable for modern audiences, but you can’t hold that against the writers. All in all the film was superb; there wasn’t anything I really hated about it. It was true to the book, and so I was happy. The one criticism I really have, and it was taking the piss a bit, was the famous gun barrel sequence. I’ll be honest and say the new one is “cool”, but still, bugger that, I wanted the classic gun barrel sequence, there was no need to alter that.

2. Skyfall
This film was just awe inspiring. It was a homage to every classic moment of the 007 series, and it made ever person in the UK, even if just for a second, think “Oh yes, we’re that good.” I don’t need to say anything more, other than, Bond. James Bond is going back to being classic again.

1. Dr. No
Duh, duh, duhduh, duhduh, duuuuuuuh! Bond. James Bond. The first time the world saw agent 007, James Bond, on screen was just sublime… Wait, no, it was in fact, cool. Dr. No brought Bond to life and we got to witness one of the UK’s best exports, incredible cinema, and a hard bastard leading the way. This film was all spy thriller and no explosive killer, having only one action scene at the climax of the film, and even then it’s tame for a Bond film. This film was what started it all and Connery set the bar so high for Bond that it took four actors in between Craig and the original himself, to finally find someone as good, or better, as I’d say. The film features no gadgets, it features no cheap thrills, no outdated and childish pens that go boom, but instead simply uses brains and Britishness to defeat the villain… oh, and Bond’s Walther PPK of course.

Behind the explosive pens, the beautiful women, the incredible cars, and the spying, Bond is the UK, he is an integral part of our island and will forever represent our style. Bond is the representation of Boxing Day, classic cars, Saturday nights in watching the telly with the family, and playing pretend spies in the street with your mates on those long Summer days. The UK is Bond and the UK is he, we raised the super spy, we produced his creator, Ian Fleming, and forged him through our bravery and steadfastness during the Second World War. Agent 007, James Bond, will always be there on those long winter nights, foiling SPECTRE and racing through country roads in his beautiful Aston. Every boy longs to be him, and everyone gets in a tiff about who the next Bond should be, and who was the best. Bond is every moment in the UK's history and so everyone in the isles is Bond, James Bond. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Primer on American Vampire Second Cycle

Oh my God, you guys, American Vampire, oh my God.
Ahem... so, American Vampire is a Vertigo comic series written by Scott Snyder and dawn by Rafael Albuquerque that was originally published in March 2010 and until recently had been on a hiatus.  To that end, I had originally intended to do a review of American Vampire: Second Cycle #1 but it quickly became apparent that I had way too much to discuss before I even got to talking about the newest issue. So while I intend to do a monthly analytical critique of each issue, I’ve decided to use this space as a primer to give some background on the series and explain why it’s so great.  Because it really is so great. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What the Heck is this Noah Thing Anyway?

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume at least some of you watched the Super Bowl a while back.  The game itself was…boring for the best reason (go Hawks), but that’s neither here nor there. The thing that really keeps people in their seats these days is the Super Bowl commercials.  These ads, which are important because they are aired during the single most watched event of the television year, have become an institution in and of themselves and the occasional movie trailer is no exception.

This year, a lot of Hollywood’s big players played their hand with their Superbowl trailers.  We had a trailers for Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, Transformers 4: Age of Extinction and The Lego Movie among others.  Also, quick side bar: the aforementioned Lego Movie really is as good as you’ve heard.  You should go see it. Now.  I’ll wait.

Oh shoes are going to get so wet.
Anyway, despite the big name trailers throughout the game, like me you may have been attracted to a short 30 second spot at the beginning of the game.  The movie in question looks like some sort of High Fantasy apocalypse.  It’s got Russell Crowe who is generally decent, Emma Watson who is generally hot, and it’s directed by Darrin Arronofsky who doesn’t really make bad movies.  It’s also got some cool shots in the trailer like celestial beings falling to Earth and a guy with a fire sword (which is a statement that I wish could be attributed to more movies in general).  But then the title appears and the film’s name is revealed: Noah. Okay, what?  Where was all of this stuff in Sunday school?  It certainly would’ve made things a whole lot interesting right?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Console Review: PlayStation 4

On Saturday, February 22nd, 2014, the PlayStation 4 finally came out in Japan, and I waited anxiously by the door for the delivery man to appear with my deceptively heavy package and extra fire-red controller so that I could begin setup of my new toy. But it didn’t come on Saturday. In fact, it only shipped on Saturday, it wouldn’t arrive until the next day at the earliest, and, assuming bad weather or Godzilla related turbulence, Tuesday at the latest. Luckily, it arrived on Sunday morning, because Japan does not believe in weekends for their UPS equivalent, much to my heartfelt joy.


It’s tiny – much, much tinier than I initially thought it would be – and solid. It feels like a good piece of hardware and the strange-but-interesting parallelogram shape of the case looks nice, even though the shape is such that, unless you already have your standing systems on the left side of your TV/media center (which I do not), it will look rather awkward with the rest of them. After a few minutes deliberation, I decided to re-organize so that I could lie it down on its side.

I also discovered that one unfortunate aspect is that there are no rear USB ports, meaning that if you’re like me and bought a cradle for your two controllers, unless you have them hooked up to a different USB source, you’re going to have a cable coming out of the front of your PS4 at all times.

After making room for it and getting it hooked up, I turned it on and went through the initialization (choosing a language – which the Japanese Wii U absolutely does not allow – and internet connection, etc.) and got to the home screen before turning it off, unplugging it, and setting it on my work table to begin replacing the HDD.

And it was so easy. It was a breeze snapping off the case, unscrewing 5 screws, changing drives, re-screwing 5 screws, and re-snapping on the case. It took 5 minutes. Of course, with a new HDD, you have to have a thumbdrive with the latest firmware ready to re-install, but that’s no problem, either. From there, it took maybe 20 minutes to get through that, back through initialization, and to the home screen for the second time.


All the while, I was admiring the new DualShock 4. I’ve been a fan of all of the DualShocks (even though the original controller was a little too small, if still comfortable, and the SixAxis was too light, if similarly shaped), but this one is by far my favorite. It might even be my favorite controller, ever. I don’t have particularly big or small hands, and had no problems whatsoever with the DualShock 3, but this one feels good. The buttons are crisp and springy, the triggers are improved, and the reintroduction of the dimpled analog sticks make this the best incarnation thus far. The handles are more rounded than the previous versions which do make it look a lot bigger, but, in fact, it has the exact same footprint as the DualShock 3. At least, eyeballing it, they do.

I will say, among all that, it is jarring not to have a Start button, anymore. This is my first controller ever without one. That’s 25 years, or more, of gaming with a Start button in, generally, the same place (the original XBOX and XBOX S controllers notwithstanding). I keep wanting to reach over to pause Resogun or Outlast and accidentally brush the new little touchpad, instead. But, really, that’s okay. I’ll get used to it. The functions of the Start button have simply been moved to the new Options button in the shortstop position between the Triangle and Square buttons.

One other interesting thing is the big bright light on the back of the controller. It is there to show whose controller is whose, assuming you have a bunch of same-color controllers, and to work with the PlayStation Eye, but, mainly, it's there to be bright. While playing Outlast with the lights off near 11 pm, every now and then I'd notice a little light toward the bottom-left of the TV that I initially thought was in the game, a collectible item or something, that I finally discovered was that light. It's so bright that it reflects off the screen in the dark, unfortunately distractingly so. It's not a huge problem, but being able to turn it down or off is something that will hopefully be addressed in a future update. The controller also has, like the original Wii Remotes, a surprisingly clear speaker in it that sometimes shouts instructions at you or adds ambient noises at odd times. I'm withholding judgment as to whether it's necessary or not, but I'm willing to give it the opportunity to wow me.


I’m including this because the Vita is essentially my 3rd controller now. Of course, I’d never choose the Vita over the classic DualShock as a plain controller, but the Remote Play and 2nd Screen functionality are so… awesome, that I have to seriously consider it. Remote Play is flawless, quick, and I was able to fail spectacularly at Resogun on a high difficulty just as I would have with the DualShock on the TV screen (although the L2/R2 really need physical buttons to be perfect). I haven’t been able to test the 2nd screen, yet, but it’s on my list of things I want to try.

The Vita is finally going to become useful for more than my PS One classics, and for that I’m very excited.


I’m not going to cover any games in this, but I will say of the ones I’ve played (Resogun, Knack, Outlast, Contrast, and Don’t Starve) that they are gorgeous. But, I have to say that I don’t believe these are experiences I couldn’t have had on the PS3, with the exception of KnackKnack is quite technically impressive.

The automatic shut-off also appears to actually work on the PS4, as having fallen asleep with it on last night and waking up to find it in standby mode will attest. Too many times, I would leave the PS3 on, hoping that it would finish its download, install, and then turn itself off only to find that it’s been on all day or all weekend, wasting my expensive Japanese electricity (and believe me, that’s no pittance).

The PSN looks good, even though it’s currently bare, and it’s drastically quicker to get to the store from the home screen, which is amazing. I used to have to wait up to 2 or 3 minutes for the store to open on the PS3, but now it’s practically instantaneous. I even accidentally went into the store once or twice and didn’t realize I’d done it, but it was so quick it was of no consequence.

However, that is one thing that is both good and bad: the PS4 home screen and the PSN are identical. It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish exactly where you are because, even outside of the store, some of the advertised games have price tags. For example, I got a free copy of the Japanese Knack with my PS4 and, after going into the Japanese PSN to get it downloading, logged into my other American account to look around and saw Knack’s download progress on the screen, but it also had a BUY NOW $59.99 underneath it, which, at first, was rather confusing. But as soon as the game finished downloading (35 GBs, good lord), the price tag, even in the American account, disappeared.

However, the PS4 is a classy, high quality addition to any media center. Now we need some console-defining game experiences to arrive. I can’t wait.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Super Smash Bros: Nintendo's Undercover PR Machine

You love Super Smash Bros. I love Super Smash Bros. Even people who don't like video games love Super Smash Bros! Everyone loves seeing their favorite Italian plumber and pointy-eared adventurer duke it out. But it's not just the big names like Mario and Link in SSB. The first time many of us played the game, we had no idea who Ness or Captain Falcon were. Heck, some first-time SSB players back when the original was released in 1999 didn't even know Samus was a chick. But those characters have earned a place in our hearts, and their games have gone on to become popular in their own right.

When EarthBound was finally released on the Wii U Virtual Console last year, it was a huge deal. Some of it was due to the game's cult status, but most people rejoicing had never touched the game before. Most players' familiarity with the game and its characters comes from Super Smash Bros. Nintendo, master of nostalgia, has this sneaky way of using Super Smash Bros. to make us nostalgic for games we never even played.

Super Smash Bros. hooks us in with its big-name characters, but it uses the game to introduce the company's more obscure and dormant series. Fire Emblem had never seen a Western release before Marth and Roy showed up in Super Smash Bros. Melee, but once the characters found a devoted fanbase in Melee, suddenly we got a whole slew of Fire Emblem titles released outside Japan. There hadn't been a new Kid Icarus game in over two decades, but once its protagonist Pit appeared in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, his popularity prompted Nintendo to create Kid Icarus: Uprising for the 3DS in 2012.

Super Smash Bros. is, along with Mario Kart, by far the most commercially successful crossover Nintendo franchise. It appeals to both hardcore gamers and the casual crowd. It's a love letter to Nintendo games, with its trophies and extras effectively serving as a Nintendo encyclopedia. But in many ways, Super Smash Bros. is simply a marketing vehicle for Nintendo's B- and C-list franchises. That's not a bad thing. Tons of creative new games have come to fruition due to characters' popularity garnered in SSB.

We're all dying to learn which characters will join the lineup of the upcoming Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U. I'm excited for the game itself, but I'm even more excited about what the new SSB lineup means for Nintendo's lesser-known series. Little Mac from Punch-Out!! has already been revealed; what other characters from less famous series would you like to see in the new Super Smash Bros?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Collapse of Civilization

Jimmy Carr may or may not be your cup of tea, but on an episode of QI he once told a joke about wondering why Germans were so fastidious, so he googled “German anal.” And when he finally emerged, no doubt caked in a crusty filth, it had been a week. He’d lost a week! And that’s how I feel about Civilization V.

This is going to take so. Much. TIME.
Recently available via the glorious Sid Meier Humble Bundle, I went ahead and paid my $15 (I always go between $15 and $25 on the Humbles) and added Civilization V (and its subsequent DLCs, as well as Civilization IV) to the purgatory of my Steam account, not expecting to get around to it any time especially soon. However, due to unforeseen severe boredom and the fresh memory of having just purchased it, I installed it and gave it a try. That was at noon last Wednesday, and from then to the same time the next day, I’d logged 15 hours of play.

Oh, baby, you know I ain't goin' nowhere.
Now, there were times as a teenager where I literally didn’t leave my bedroom but for bathroom breaks or to make a bowl of cereal because I was engrossed in something - in those days (and for that long) I was probably playing Xenogears or Final Fantasy Tactics, or even possibly one of those ludicrous 12-hour Gran Turismo races that forever soured me on realistic car racing (I fell asleep somewhere near the last 5 to 10 laps of one of those races and was much too discouraged to bother trying, again) - but that was a time of life where I actually had that much free time to spend as worthlessly. Since then, possibly with the exception of a few group, all-night, alcohol-fueled gaming sessions of Guitar Hero/Rockband, either in one sitting or one general period of time, I simply haven’t sat and played a single game for so long. Until now.

Civ V is ridiculous. I’m not much of a board gamer – this kind, anyway – and I think that’s where this caught me off guard. If this were a normal board game, everyone would quickly lose interest: it moves too slowly, it would require an insane amount of attention to keep track of all of the moves (not to mention attention span), and any war would be fought likely both on the board and in real life. But in Civ Vit’s always your turn.

And that’s seductive.

You should have accepted my trade proposal, baby.
Oh, I can just get a few more roads built! I can wait two more turns for that Seaport to finish! I just want to conquer France before I go to bed! And before you know it, it’s 4 am. I can’t think of another game off the top of my head that is as much of a time sink that isn’t an MMORPG (I never played World of Warcraft in any of its iterations, but I know that one falls into the same category). I began my civilization on Wednesday afternoon, and I completed my first game on Sunday evening, and I did practically nothing else (besides work and eat) in the time between. It’s easily the quickest I’ve ever put 40 hours into a game and while I had a great amount of fun with it, I’m glad the game’s over. Having been an adult these last ten years or so, playing these long-ass games is fun, but taxing.

I’m going to go read 1Q84 for a while. Or go buy a bookshelf to put together. Or take a drive. I just need to get off the computer. 

Hmm, actually, maybe just one more turn...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I want to love Blade Runner, but the rape scene ruins it for me.

Trigger warning. And spoiler warning, since this is the internet and people will get upset about spoiling the plot of a 32-year-old movie.

I've watched Ridley Scott's landmark sci-fi dystopian noir Blade Runner a handful of times over the years. I watched it in high school and didn't really "get it." I watched it for two different classes in college, where I finally gained an appreciation for it. And I've watched the movie two or three times since then. I've considered Blade Runner one of the best films ever made, and up there with 2001: A Space Odyssey as one of the all-time most important works of science fiction.

But the past couple times I watched, one scene in particular stood out like a sore thumb. The sex scene between the main character, Deckard, and the female lead, Rachael, that occurs about two-thirds of the way through the film. Take a look for yourself (don't worry, there's no actual nudity):

The real questionable stuff starts around the 3:15 mark of the video. Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) and Rachael (played by Sean Young) share a tender moment, but Rachael becomes flustered and tries to leave the apartment. Deckard slams the door shut to prevent her from getting away, then throws her against a wall, corners her, commands her to tell him to kiss her, and has her way with her. She's crying as it happens.

Maybe I'm interpreting this all incorrectly. A quick google search for "blade runner sex scene" shows that most people on the internet are as confused and conflicted as I am.

Some people defend the scene by saying "Rachael is a replicant, so it's not rape." Considering the entire plot of Blade Runner revolves around replicants having the same emotions that humans do, I don't buy this excuse at all.

Others say it just goes to show that Deckard is an imperfect character. I think that's probably what Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford were going for. Everyone appreciates a flawed protagonist; it humanizes them. But there's a difference between "protagonist is kind of a jerk who just wants to do the right thing" and "protagonist is a rapist who just wants to do the right thing."

It reminds me of all the controversy surrounding Woody Allen right now. He might be a child molester, but he's such a witty guy! People want to ignore sexual abuse charges because he's made so many good movies. Does Blade Runner get the same pass? He might've raped the female lead, but the movie is such a cultural touchstone that everyone sort of forgets about it.

Apparently Harrison Ford and Sean Young never clicked during production of the film, and the scene was incredibly rough to shoot. Sean Young said she had to take a few weeks off after shooting the scene because she had so many bruises.

But in a recent interview about sex in movies, Young seems to have a more positive view on Blade Runner. She says a sex scene in a movie is good when the woman looks happy, and that's why it worked for her in No Way Out and in Blade Runner. Huh? I've re-watched the sex scene a few times now, and her character seems to be closer to sobbing than to smiling.

If the actress who was actually involved in the scene in question has no problem with it now, are my complaints unwarranted? I still want to fast-forward through it every time I watch Blade Runner. What do you think?