Tuesday, April 26, 2011

From the bargain bin: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (the game)

Lets get this out of the way: I hate the movie. I really, really hate this movie. It slaughters a good handful of great Marvel characters and reduces them to cameo appearances at best, right before either killing them off, or causing irreversible character damage to the point where a total franchise reboot is needed.

The only thing that sold me on this game was the fifteen minute demo I played when it came out. I saw promise in the fighting system and in the almost RPG-ish leveling up. But most of all, I saw what every X-Men movie and cartoon was missing: Blood and gore.

That's right parents, this isn't the superhero game you buy your six year old. It's bloody as hell. I'm talking Mortal Kombat level gore here. I mean, there are trophies for dismembering your victims.

Don't believe me? I don't blame you. Here, watch this...

The game is far from perfect though, but I can actually blame most of the problems on the movie. The parts that actually stray from the plot are pretty much great story-wise. But the rest of the time it's just a slightly extended version of the crap movie, with the same characters, and the same actors voicing them.

For the record, no, I do not like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine... But that's a story for another post.

The gameplay is slightly repetitive. I do assume it will get tiresome on my second playthrough (because I do intend to get that Platinum) but up until now the it just looks so great and gory that it just feels satisfying to carve someone up.

Also, most of the bosses are just way too easy. They are built up nicely but they go down way too fast. In an attempt to make these fights cinematic they really took away from the difficulty of the game.

The real star of the game is Wolverine's regeneration factor. Logan gets his ass kicked in this game. He falls from the sky at least five times... He then gets up and flashes his ribcage and internal organs at us just in time for us to see his skin grow back.

All in all, not the best game in the world, but for $18, it made for an interesting weekend.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Rejuvenating the Sound: Foo Fighters - Wasting Light album review

Not much of a secret here... I've been looking forward to this. That's why I've taken my sweet time listening to it. And I must say, I am not disappointed.

First off, let me get this out in the open... I haven't bought an album in a very long time. I'm not ashamed of that at all. But in this case I'm really glad I did. I gladly wasted spent ten dollars on this album. And if i were to enjoy all albums half this much, I might buy them more often.

Now, onto the music. I popped the CD into my car stereo as I pulled out of my parking space; by the time I was leaving the mall parking lot I had realized that Bridges Burning was my new favorite track on the album, dethroning Rope just by a little bit. This first track is just so much fun; a really simple riff just thrown around in so many tones with a catchy chorus.

The first thing I noticed is how much fuller the band's sound was. I had expected it after reading that Pat Smear was back with the group for the first time since 1997's The Colour and the Shape. Now with three solid axemen in Grohl, Smear, and Shiflett the Foo's sound is just powerful. The three guitars meld perfectly together with Mendel's flawless bass playing to create memorable melodies that stick almost as much as the choruses do. But the true showstealer on this album is without a doubt Taylor Hawkins who not only helps accent the other instruments, but also chimes in with drum flurries that truly make songs memorable.

Ironically, the last album I heard with this type of drumming was the debut album for Them Crooked Vultures in 2009, where Grohl was drumming. It's just a complimentary drumming style, not overbearing like other rock acts.

Anywho, after Bridges Burning the album jumps into the first single, Rope. And I must say, it's at this point where I was truly surprised. I was so excited by that first song, that I almost wanted to skip the one I'd heard before in search of further surprises. I was then reminded that it's a great song, and I just can't skip it.

Dear Rosemary, the first "slow" song on the album starts and doesn't automatically catch your attention. But much like White Limo that comes right after I must say it's one of those songs that really grows on you. It's a fifty-fifty thing with this album. Half the songs are in your head right off the bat, and the other half somehow end up there eventually as well. Since I got the album I've probably had most of these songs stuck in my head at some point or another. That's a pretty good sign.

I hate to repeat my references, but Arlandria, the fifth song starts off with a very Them Crooked Vultures-y  riff to it. I'm not saying it's a bad thing at all. It actually feels refreshing after the heart-pumper that is White Limo. But that riff quickly melts away to reveal a song that is both clever lyrically and musically. Sounds like a second single to me (but it probably won't be). I wouldn't be surprised if they milked the shit out of this album with four or five singles. Again, in this case, it's not a bad thing, the song are just good enough.

These Days starts up, and you get that "this could be a single" feeling again. Oddly enough, this was the first song off the album that I knew a lyric from. Mr. Grohl posted some of the lyrics on the band's Twitter, and for a second there I felt like I was a part of it... My mark out moment was interrupted by the opening riff to Back & Forth, which has the most obvious sex reference chorus in band history, even though it's totally kept PG. Still a fun song, mostly carried by vocal melodies.

Ok, maybe I lied before, there might be some filler in this album. Certain songs are fine, but they seem sub-par when compared to some of the really great ones. A Matter of Time for example, isn't at all a bad song, it just  feels out of place in comparison. On the other hand, I did notice that the song is almost built for live shows. I can just tell that this song caters to a big crowd, and I can't wait for a DVD to prove I'm right. But for now I might skip this song every once in a while.

But the filler is followed by more kick-ass. Next up is probably my second favorite song on here. Miss the Misery starts off like a good kick in the gut. It's a really good back and forth song to start rounding up the end of the album. This song is probably the bets example of that three guitar arrangement I'm such a big fan of. It's the little details in here that make it fun.

The Foos slow down the tempo one last time with I Should Have Known, which is the slowest song on the album, but it's a goodie. Not exactly one of the songs that gets stuck in your head, but it might be that "oh, that song" song.

Rounding up the tail end of Wasting Light, we get Walk, which seems to be the second single (I'm guessing, it's advertised on the sticker on the wrapper). It really reminds me of the vibe from Times Like These from 2002's One By One album. It's a nice song, but I really hope it's not the second single. There are much better songs on here.

From listening to this album, it's clear that the band had a blast recording this album. But there seems to be an element of anger missing from it. Aside from White Limo there's very little intensity to these songs. They're fun to listen to, but it's not much of a "rock-out" album. I miss the rage in Dave's voice from songs like Breakout  or All My Life. This is me nitpicking. Nobody's perfect.

Did it live up to my expectations. In a way, yes. I fell in love with Rope when I first heard it, and I got more songs like it. But I did expect more out of the album. I still love it tho, and if I need rage I'll just go back and listen to One By One again.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Breaking Bad season 1 review

So I took a break from watching superhero oriented anime to watch the first season of a little show called Breaking Bad. And I must say that I am presently surprised at my findings.

The other day, when I was halfway through the season, I was explaining to a friend what the show was about. It's about this  high school chemistry teacher  who finds out he's dying, has a handicapped teenage son, and a wife who is mid-pregnancy. He obviously has to leave them something to survive on so he uses his talents to start cooking crystal meth.

Her response was simply, "So it's Weeds, but with meth?" And honestly, to someone who hasn't seen it, that's exactly what it sounds like. But no. It's not that simple. I do love Weeds, with it's off the wall "this is fucked up" humor, but this show somehow creates an ambiance of seriousness about itself that makes it feel real to the viewer, and I do think that's what really keeps the viewer in.

On the other hand, I found the show very funny at times. The characters have very human reactions to these situations. They go through some really tough stuff, but at times I couldn't help but laugh at how you can see the characters thinking out their actions in the most bizarre situations. And it's in these moments where the acting in this show really shines through, when not only do you believe the character, but you can tell how he arrives at his actions though the thought process. Blogger's note: I'm trying really hard here not to spoil anything. Also, I love breaking the fourth wall.

Another thing that adds to that realism vibe is the chemistry. I have no clue how this all works, science is not my strong suit, and I've never cooked meth... But in my eyes they could have been doing some really illegal stuff on that set.

So no... It's not like Weeds. When I think about it, it's more like the Yang to it's Yin. And come on, who doesn't love a show about illegal things?


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ray’s Belated Reviews: Sherlock - ‘A Study in Pink’

This is a story about love at first viewing so, please, bear with me.

I can’t remember how old I was exactly when I first read ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I know that it was either in second or third grade and that it was the first novel I ever read but I can’t quite remember exactly when. All I remember was that this particular novel was solely responsible for turning me into a f---ing Anglophile and I’ll never even begin to forgive it for doing so.

Many years after the fact, I still go back to it every once in a while. Sometimes purely for referential reasons. Sometimes for the thrill of the story. But mostly out of nostalgia.

Now, I don’t profess to be a Sherlock aficionado or connoisseur. I love the characters and I love the world that Doyle created but out of all the books and stories that I’ve read over the years, I can count on one hand how many of those are Sherlock Holmes stories. That said, every time a new adaptation comes along, I always look forward to it eagerly.

Which brings me to this little gem of a show: Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ Sherlock. And for the purposes of this review, its first episode: ‘A Study in Pink,’ written by The Moff himself and directed by Paul McGuigan.

Back in July of last year I was suffering from a very peculiar ailment known as “Doctor Who withdrawal syndrome.” The cause of this sickness was simple: Doctor Who had gone off the air a mere couple of weeks before after a quite literally "explosive" series finale and the wait for the annual Christmas special had only just begun.

With two or three more months till Fringe and Supernatural came back to TV screens, I was looking for the next quick fix.

One day, in lieu of having nothing else to do, I decided to go on Twitter to see what everybody was talking about in the vague hopes of finding something to capture my attention for more than five minutes, when I noticed that a ridiculous amount of the people I was following were talking about this thing called #Sherlock.

A quick Google search, minus the grammatical correctness-impeding hash-tag, prompted a few hits about this little show from across the pond about the modern day adventures of one Sherlock Holmes and his trusty companion, John Watson. What really caught my usually wandering eye was that the series was created by one Steven Moffat, current head-writer and show-runner of Doctor Who, along with Mark Gatiss, who wrote a couple of episodes of the show that are best left forgotten (although, as an aside, I’m really looking forward to his creepy dolls episode this series). More so, the series was three episodes long, in a 90-minute format each.

I figured, “what’s the worse that can happen…?” and decided to check it out.

After “acquiring” the first episode through means best left unsaid, though if you have ample use of your imagination you might guess as to how, I sat down to watch it.

An hour and a half later, I was a convert.

Starring (mostly) unknown actor (unless you happen to remember him from ‘Atonement’, which I didn’t) Benedict Cumberbatch as the eponymous consulting detective and Martin Freeman (best known as Arthur Dent from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Tim from The Office) as Dr. John Watson, what unfolded upon my screen was one of the most faithful, loving and beautifully put together adaptations of the characters I’ve ever seen, filled with all the thrills, twists, quips and witty retorts you’d expect from an Arthur Conan Doyle written Sherlock story. In 21st century London.

Just ‘cause it’d be cheaper to produce. And, possibly, more fun and/or relatable (I guessed).

Loosely based on the 1887 novel of a slightly different name, ‘A Study in Scarlet’, the series starts off with John visiting a therapist after being discharged from the military due to an injury suffered during the war in Afghanistan (same as in the original story). Nigh ten minutes into the episode and he’s meeting the enigmatic Mr. Holmes as they set out on the trail of a serial killer together whilst, unbeknownst to them, setting the foundation stones of a uniquely transcendental friendship that has been at the core of every single one of their stories since they were created oh so many years ago.

This is a careful character study of Sherlock, through John Watson, and of Watson himself as he’s thrust into a world that he feels he no longer fits into with a man that certainly doesn’t. That particular disassociation from everything else around them, whether involuntary or otherwise, is what initially brings them together. And, as the series progresses, that relationship is cultivated into something more.

These are not the older, wise-cracking bro’s from Guy Ritchie’s film. Sherlock is not the benevolent hero. And John is not the bumbling sidekick. These two are not best friends (yet).

What we have, instead, is the beginning of what will eventually become that relationship. Sherlock is a brilliant, smug sociopath that “gets off” on solving crime-related mysteries, whereas John is a bitter ex-soldier who’s looking for a reason to simply be. Who, in a way, has never left the war and longs for it constantly.

Like Lestrade more or less says, “Sherlock Holmes is a great man and […] one day […] he might even be a good one.” This is the story of how, through his friendship with John Watson, Sherlock became that great man that we all know he eventually becomes.

The episode itself, while long, never lingers too much. It’s always moving and the character interactions are always so compelling that you simply cannot stop watching. McGuigan’s direction ranges from highly kinetic to thoughtful and calm at the drop of a hat, never missing a single beat. There’s not a single shot that‘s out of place, nor a single line spoken whose inflection feels wrong.

To call the actors merely fantastic is to do a disservice to the quality of their work. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is wonderfully snide and slightly mercurial in his disposition. He never misses an opportunity to show off his considerable intellectual prowess and what results is a character that, while polarizing at times, never fails to command your attention. You simply can't take your eyes off him whenever he's onscreen.

That said, Freeman’s Watson is just as much the star of the show.

He fully embodies a soldier that has gone through Hell and back and is now lost, looking for his place in the world. He wants to be optimistic and believe in people once more but, at every turn, he sees the ugliness behind humanity’s fa├žade and it makes him question his place in the grand scheme of things.

In Sherlock, he sees a man with almost super-human deductive skills, who can read entire histories out of the smallest details and who doesn’t shy away from that ugliness, instead facing it head-on. That gives him something to hold on to and it’s the true catalyst for his overall story-arc throughout the series.

At times funny and thrilling, yet always entertaining, Sherlock became an overnight sensation in the U.K., earning a mere 9.23 million viewers for the first episode alone, and with very good reason: it’s brilliant television!

Steven Moffat had already won me over with his wonderful take on Doctor Who, so it was very likely that I was going to enjoy this regardless. What surprised me, however, was just how much I did. And with a second series of three more 90-minute episodes slated to air in the Autumn, I think it’s fair to say that I’ll stick around giddier than a kid hopped-up on too much sugar with anticipation for this odd couple return.

Go watch it. No excuses!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Marvel does anime!?: Wolverine anime review

Did you know that Marvel started doing twelve chapter animes?! Because I had no fucking clue!

Wolverine is actually the second one they've done, it just finished last month and I happened  to have stumbled upon it right here.

First of all I need to warn you... You might have to throw most of your Wolverine knowledge out the window for this one. There are a lot of very well placed nods to those who know their comic book history, but really, you're supposed to just look at this as a whole new experience... Which is what I tried to do.

The first thing that really bugged me is the animation style. Wolverine is not a pretty boy (and I'm already failing at what I stated in the previous paragraph, but fuck it), he doesn't wear oops-I-did-it-again red leather jackets, he doesn't have a cutesy jap mullety haircut... He's fuckin' Wolverine... Rugged, and badass... And that's all you need. Then again, I've never seen anime Wolverine before... So maybe this is what he's supposed to look like. I guess I just don't like it.

On the other hand every thing else is pretty nice. Totally ignoring the comic books, the story stands well on it's own and it's actually very well told over twelve episodes. The dialogue is bearable, with it's obvious couple of anime-cliches thrown in, but it's not repetitive and I love that.

The action is good and well spread out. Every episode has it's own fight scene, some better than others. And for a twelve chapter anime it has a lot of bad guys, which is fun.

Being anime, it know it's advantages too. Biggest one being the blood. I love the fact that you actually see Wolverine draw blood with his claws this time around. I'm sure I'm not the only one who was tired of the gore-less stabbings in the movies... Well not this time. There's not as much as I would have liked (Elfen Lied style!) but there's enough to keep me satisfied.

All in all, it could have been better. But honestly I enjoyed it. It may be the fanboy in me, but as long as they don't totally fuck up the characters a la Origins with Deadpool, I'll be fine with it. I look forward to watching more Marvel Anime soon... Next up... Iron Man.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Hank Moody FTW: Californication season 4 review

The only words I can use to describe Showtime's Californication would be sexual situational comedy with a family element thrown in... Did that make sense? No? Well, it's much simpler than it sounds. And honestly it's totally hilarious.

The show follows the exploits of author Hank Moody, a New Yorker living in California, legendary womanizer, and all around smart ass/asshole to most. That's honestly all you need to know about the characters; much like House, it's one of those shows where you have one amazing character and most events revolve around people reacting to him and his behavior.

On it's fourth season now the writing still seems oddly fresh. Most shows go through cast or locale changes by this point just to keep the viewer into it. But CF has managed to keep at least me totally into Hank's exploits. The show just feels consistent throughout the four seasons, other than Hank's daughter Becca's sudden growth spurts between seasons you'd think that they were totally continuous.

Californication is definitely in my top five shows. It's just one of those shows that literally makes me laugh out loud constantly. The characters are all very lovable... And when one comes up that you don't like, your love for the other ones just makes you not care. And if season five, and hopefully six keep coming in the same fashion then I can't see myself not staying hooked.