Oct 31, 2010

LiveBlogging: The Walking Dead

I don't know what kind of mass appeal the show is going to have, but I sincerely liked the first episode. I wasn't blown away, but that can be attributed to the fact that I have read the comic books. I want to see a horror show actually succeed, and, of all the ones I've seen, The Walking Dead definitely has the best chance.

11:22 - The lingering temptation to commit suicide is something I imagined would be present, but it's not something I really, honestly thought about until now. If I were trapped in a tank with a "dead" zombie, there's no telling what I would be thinking about.

The scene involving the horse feast is a definite nod to George A. Romero.

11:20 - Yep. Hiding under a tank feels as sufficiently claustrophobic as I would have thought it to be.

11:12 - I'm ready to see images of a zombie-ravaged Atlanta, but, aw damn, another commercial break is interrupting it.

11:11 - Seeing him wrangle the horse brings to mind images of old cowboy movies.

11:04 - Headin' down I-85 toward Atlanta.

They just showed new characters. Oh, man, Jeffrey DeMunn is awesome. He has the coolest voice in all of filmdom, in my opinion. I've been a fan of his since I listened to the audiobook version of Dreamcatcher. He's the scraggly, white-haired guy in the fishing cap.

10:59 - One of the underlying ideas about zombie lore is that it gives regular people the right to kill indiscriminately. In fact, you are supposed to kill the undead. It is encouraged for the sheer fact that to not do it is to risk all of human civilization.

What The Walking Dead does is confront that notion with a simple conundrum: what if one of the people you are supposed to kill is your wife? Even though it's not her her you're shooting, it's still kind of her, and even though it's the smart thing to do, it's not the easiest. You say now you'd do it, but would you be able to?

10:57 - It's odd hearing ethereal music behind the sight of a zombie dragging itself (herself) across a grass lot.

10:45 - Second commercial break.

10:43 - What's great about the Rick / Morgan dynamic is that Rick's experience with Morgan is the exact opposite of his own, which will (ultimately) cause him to head toward Atlanta. Unlike Morgan, who knows that his wife is (un)dead, Rick does not, and it will become a motivation for him to move forward, to find out, even if finding out is as terrible for him as it was for Morgan.

10:39 - In seeing Morgan's wife, I have the hope that this show will be much more about the psychology of being involved in an intense, life-altering situation such as this one, rather than about the zombies. It seems counterintuitive, but it's what sets The Walking Dead comic apart from other pieces of undead lore. The characters are so well-drawn (forgive the expression) that you end up actually rooting for them, which is rare in the horror world.

10:35 - Morgan and Rick are discussing the Zombie Apocalypse (ZA) right now. I'm so jaded by zombie mythology that I have trouble sitting through the explanations of "what's happening." I almost find it tedious that every piece of zombie fiction feels the need to make this explanation.


What makes me happy is that, somewhere out there, there are people experiencing zombies for the first time, or at least experiencing them seriously for the first time. Zombies are so pervasive now that it's hard to have a defining experience, but I'm sure it's happening for some people. And I love that.

10:29 - First commercial break.

Overall, I like the show. Since I read the first several issues of the comic years before, I both have a vague sense of remembering what has happened without knowing the details. It's as though I'm experiencing dull deja vu.

I'm interested in getting beyond the stuff that I've read. I can't speculate or anticipate very much. It seems as though they're sticking to the source material with some fidelity.

10:25 - The show is very deliberately paced.

Lennie James (Morgan) is a bad-ass. That headshot was excellent, even despite the level of CG involved. In the last few months, he's played a pimp (Hung) and a zombie apocalypse survivor. Lucky guy.

10:21 - Characters in post-apocalyptic movies tend to walk in disbelief through the remnants of the final moments of humanity, among dead bodies and ruined structures, mostly to show the viewer the horrors which have taken place. I don't know. I've never been overly impressed with that method of storytelling. I understand why it's there, but it's so far removed from what 99% of the population would do (which is perhaps why 99% of the population is dead at this point) that it strains the suspension of disbelief.

Also, the Return of the Living Dead-esque lady in the grass - gross.

10:15 - I've suppressed just how similar to 28 Days Later this opening hospital sequence is. We have been told why he wakes up in the (non-functioning) hospital. Did we ever get that in 28 Days Later? Not sure. Having visions of Left 4 Dead and The Stand, also. Are there only a few horror archetypes that can exist in an epic (post) apocalyptic work? Is that the connection, or am I unnecessarily drawing on similar apocalyptic worlds?

Also, the chick in the hallway - gross.

10:13 - They're not shying away from the blood. Great.

10:09 - I like the way Darabont is shooting the show so far (though I'd be lying if I
said I knew if it had any distinct Darabontness to it. I don't know what Darabontness would entail.) They don't seem to have gone out of their way to make the show seem absolute in the awareness that it was a comic book in a previous life.

10:06 - The Southern accents aren't too terribly distracting, which is nice. I know, as a southerner, I shouldn't ever be personally offended by much, but southern accents are usually egregious enough to be prosecutable. All right, the dialogue sequence is over. Here goes...

10:03 - I still think Timothy Olyphant would be a great Rick Grimes, but I can see that Andrew Lincoln fits the bill as well. Also, the burgers in the post-title sequence look delicious.

10:00 - The show has just started. What I'm afraid I'm going to do - especially early on - is try to pick out the places where the show was filmed. This is sad for two major reasons, the major one being that I don't really know Atlanta well enough to be able to do that, so I'd be lying half the time if I did pretend to know.

Happy Halloween!

Oct 19, 2010

The Quality of Zombie Death

I've been thinking a lot about Left 4 Dead lately, and, for the most part, it's because I cannot seem to get it out of the tray of my 360 (sorry, Mass Effect).

I mean, I really love that game. The shooting is terrifically precise, individual missions are tense and dynamic, the music gives a sense of dread that I wish more horror movies would adopt, and, of course, because it is perfectly all right to be a fan of games that Valve makes.

There is no question that Valve is a great software developer. Left 4 Dead, while only one of about a million zombie games to come out in the last five years, manages to stay within the mold cast for it and yet be better than ninety-nine percent of games within the mold, like making a fine wine in a prison toilet.

Much of Left 4 Dead's success has to do with actual quality of the game, a point I find so mundane I should scarcely mention it. Its metacritic score is 89 at present moment (for the XBox 360), as is the sequel's, curiously. So, not a great game, according to the critics, but not a repeat of E.T. or Superman 64 by any stretch of the imagination. Just a good, solid game.

But a game, like any form of media, does not exist in a vacuum. Some of the praise heaped upon the game, though, is due to perceived quality. Left 4 Dead is perceived as a quality game in part due to the studio delivering it. Were it Activision or EA putting out L4D, then the reception might have been somewhat more plagued by criticism.

That point, though, is also teeth-grindingly specious. If EA, Activision, or Capcom, even, had released the game, it would have been completely different altogether (and probably much, much worse). I will concede that the argument doesn't hold up to close scrutiny, but I can't help but to argue with myself when I feel like I'm making obvious points.

Video games are different than other forms of media in that quality becomes evident over time. Games are easily digested, and even some of the better games released each week die after a couple weeks of intense play. To get a better sense of a game's quality, look down the road a few years. Servers all over the internet are fill with hordes of gamers still hooked on Quake or Doom II. Plenty of people play shitty games for a time, but no one really plays shitty games over a long period of time, unless the purpose of playing that game (or series of games) is done for some ironic purpose. I can remember friends of mine and I engaged in hours-long

People still play Left 4 Dead because it is a terrific game. It gets a bit samey in parts, but that is a flaw of the game's construct. To give gamers a variety of experience in each campaign, different types of terrain must be inserted. I'm speaking specifically of bloody (or dingy or rotten) corridors here. There are certain points during each campaign where I forget which level I'm playing, usually during the places - and each campaign has one - where you and the other three survivors are forced to walk into a building, walk up stairs, walk down a corridor, clear out rooms, walk up more stairs, walk down a corridor, and so forth.

It doesn't make the game bad, and, besides, this post isn't about how good or bad Left 4 Dead is or is not. It is about how perception influences the relative quality of a product.

Tell me if this has ever happened to you: you see a preview for a movie and, seeing nothing that interests you, independently decide that the movie is going to be shit. This may be during the preview for a movie you actually want to see - Inception or something - and you even think during the movie, "God, I can't wait to tell everyone how terrible this movie is going to be." You are giddy because you feel as though your friends will agree.

However, when you disparage the movie to your like-minded cohorts, you find that the movie was directed by this guy or produced by this other dude...and suddenly your perception changes altogether. You may not be entirely on-board, but you are more on-board than before. Slowly but surely, you come to find yourself liking the movie, or at least liking the idea of the movie, because of the potential. It usually relates to the "prism" (and I hate using that term)through which said director will view the movie he/she is making.

This is profoundly fascinating. I have found myself literally changing my mind over the course of a two-minute discussion in reference to a movie I thought I'd despise just because of some arcane detail I didn't know before the beginning of the conversation ("Oh, that movie was produced by Quentin Tarantino? Hmmm. Maybe I'll check it out.").

I didn't have that reaction to Left 4 Dead for two reasons: (1) I became aware that Valve was making Left 4 Dead at the same time I found out that Left 4 Dead was going to exist, and (2) I am a sucker for zombies. The fact that Valve was involved had almost literally no effect on me, other than that first thought, which was, "I bet that'll be interesting." Interesting is by no means the best endorsement I could give of a product, but it's by no means the worst. I'd almost something be interesting rather than good. In the world of democratized media, plenty of "good" things exist - just check Reddit on a daily basis - but few genuinely interesting things pop up.

To put it another way, think of how many mediocre or declining bands release albums that, if released by other artists, would be considered excellent. If Christina Aguilera had put out "Fame Monster" and Lady Gaga had dropped (whatever her album was called), then people would still probably care more about Lady Gaga than Christina Aguilera and "Fame Monster" would, thus, die on the vine.

This has nothing to do with the relative quality of either person or either album (though I think that Lady Gaga's is somewhat listenable), but it speaks to the force behind the product (and let's face it: these are all products, first and foremost). Nothing is without context, but that's obvious to anyone who has taken an intro history course.

I would like to parse this difference, though (at a later date). People don't play Left 4 Dead because it's a Valve title. That would be a silly and transparently false argument to make. People don't crowd servers because the studio producing the game generally makes solid titles.

They play it because it is (mostly) a good game, and I suppose that is what trumps all. I have no real response to that argument, and until I do, I'll have to leave it alone. Nothing is without context, but, then again, very few people really care about context. Users on Steam (Valve's gaming response to iTunes) don't care whose name is on the menu screen. They just want a clear angle for a headshot.

Oct 17, 2010

Bill Murray in full Ghostbusters Gear

I don't need anything else to make me happy today.

Oct 11, 2010

Zakk Wylde and Slash Playing Jimi Hendrix

Because it's badass.

Joel McHale at the Cobb Energy Center

Being funny is something that just about anybody who works hard enough can accomplish. Think about it. If you are my age or around it, then Pauly Shore has made you laugh at one point or another. If you spend enough time honing a comedic persona, sooner or later you will become somewhat talented at the craft of telling jokes.

Joel McHale is a hardworking guy, no doubt. But he has something that a lot people much funnier than he is do not have: likeability. He's the friend who, in high school, could call the prom queen a disgusting mongoloid and end up going home with her at the end of the night...and get tired of her.

McHale is frustratingly adept at being a likeable jerk, and the longer that he's in the spotlight, the farther he tries to rib the audience and then subsequently pull them back in. However, it's not like he's a comic who tries to push the envelope - much of the time his comedy is little more than PG-13.

It's that he's caught in a space where he has to try really hard to put people off. He's a good-looking dude, but that's not really a hindrance or a source of contention for anyone looking to criticize him, because he doesn't even address his own good looks, even ironically. It's something that really attractive female comedians do, more often than not, because they seem to feel a need - understandably - to address their looks so they can get on to the funny stuff.

Joel McHale is able to glide along on his personality, and I mean that in the best possible way. He has perfected the ability to say absolutely heinous shit to celebrities' faces and have them love him for it.

It's not like they have a choice. Joel McHale is the Jon Stewart of the celebrity world, a merry prankster who, on the surface, seems to denounce and deride his own existence but in reality takes the necessity of the public's need for something like The Soup very seriously. Anyone who lashes out at him or The Soup looks deservedly stupid and callous, despite the fact that what Joel McHale says on a weekly basis would drive seventy-five percent of the television-watching public to wracking sobs, if not in front of friends, at least in the privacy of their homes (while probably watching The Soup.

In seeing him live, it's obvious that he's somewhat new to the stand-up game, but that doesn't matter. Watching him perform is like watching a really excited friend hold the room at a party in the palm of his hand for an hour-and-a-half. His live persona is very similar to the one we see on The Soup, but somehow he's able to string together a collection of high energy jokes into a solid night's worth of entertainment.

And the thing is, it's mostly him. It's not really the writing, and that may sound kind of mean, but it's really not. McHale, like I alluded to above, is able to carry a room on his charm and wit, which is not something I could imagine most comedians could do on any given night, especially early on in their careers. He's able to pull it off as though he's barely trying, even though we all know he's one of the hardest-working entertainers around. Standing up in front of people and making them care, making them want you to like them, rather than the other way around, is nigh impossible. And Joel McHale makes his audiences feel like the prom queen who can't believe she's about to go home with the class clown. It's almost like John Hughes was right all along.

Oct 10, 2010

Oct 7, 2010

Down - Stone the Crow

Just a song from the 90s that I happen to enjoy.

Oct 6, 2010

A simple quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson

“When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have lately become quite fond of the Transcendentalists, chief among them being Ralph Waldo Emerson. This has not always been the case - my distaste for their idealism remained trenchant throughout my teens and early twenties - but a question that keeps recurring to me seems to have softened my view of them: Do people change, or does the world change them? It's a trite expression, of course, but I am solipsistic enough to ignore its application elsewhere, and it is a damned intriguing question.

As I get older, and I am still relatively young, my yearning to search out Truth has taken me, well, very few places physically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually (even in my atheism, I can think of no better existential metaphor), I feel I have traveled to a variety of different places. I am all the richer for the search.

I can say, somewhat, that it is my perception which has changed. I used to believe myself running from something, but I think the camera itself had been positioned in the wrong place all the time, because the wide open space before me has never seemed more intriguing and enigmatic.

While I cannot relish in lingering silence even still today, my need to be immersed in the noise of life has subsided somewhat. I have begun the necessary steps to transcend my more prohibitive notions about existence. I am going to die. Someday. I will grow old. Someday. My life is but a tiny wrinkle surrounding an aged eye. A blind eye, though one which is as intriguing a spectacle as any out there.

This is me at my most vague, my most oblique. It is freeing to know these things, or, rather, to be able to try them out. I am not one of those people who can know about death or age, but only one who can have intense moments of knowing, like someone who has been pulled to the surface of some raging ocean for a desperate moment every now and then. Either way, you drown, but the drowning isn't so bad as long as you're not contemplating it. It's when you flail your arms, see the way your fingers have pruned, that you realize how dire the situation really is.

It is difficult to be free enough to see the water for what it is. But I am trying.

Oct 3, 2010

My First Thoughts On: Dead Rising

Yeah, that's not a typo. I didn't somehow miss the 2 in there somewhere. I am really playing the first Dead Rising game, the one that is about to become seriously unnecessary by way of its sequel.

Still, there's someone out there in the Eastern Bloc or Haiti who hasn't played this clunky gem of game, which is the thing I love most about the internet - people are always finding new and interesting ways to amuse themselves - so I feel entirely validated in talking about it. Whoever reads this review may become me a month from now.

However, the need to pick up the first installment may be diminishing, considering that (a) the sequel is out and (b) the original seems to be getting pulled from the shelves in order to make room for the sequel. I'm a compulsive gamer - I'm a compulsive everything - so I spent the better part of an afternoon searching the shops, malls, and cavernous used game stores for a copy of Dead Rising, and, it being my luck and all, only managed to find a battered version at my local used dealer.

The original copy I got was overpriced and seemed to be suffering from third degree burns inflicted by the previous owner's 360's laser, so I had to return it and get a fresh(er) copy, which worked fine, though once I got it home and slid in the disc tray and went through all of the installation mumbo-jumbo, I realized, well, Dead Rising isn't really that fun.

It's sort of like Grand Theft Auto with zombies, which sounds on its face like a magnificent time, but there's some aspect of fun that seems to be lost in the follow-through. I'm no expert, but I expected more than just the melee combat from a Rock Star game to be present in Dead Rising.

You may disagree, and, yes, there are some aspects to it that aren't jaw-droppingly inane, but Frank West moves too slowly and clunkily, the controls are somewhat awkward, and the constant need to check one's watch detracts from the emergent, open-worldedness of the whole experience, which, in my gaming OCD state, I found irritating.

I sincerely want to like Dead Rising, and I do, to a certain extent. I think I should have played it several years ago, before games of a higher caliber had been released. It is a dated, flawed experience, but one that I will give more of a chance in the coming weeks.

To be able to enjoy Dead Rising, you almost have to give into its Dead-Rising-ness and enjoy it for what it is, which is what I intend on doing until I feel I've gotten my money's worth. Since I managed to snag it for 15 bucks, ostensibly the cost of a pretty good XBLA title, it shouldn't take long for me to be able to squeeze worth out of the experience. If nothing else, I should be able to run around and mow down zombies (literally!) to my heart's content.