Nov 28, 2010

L4D2: US / Australian Comparison

There is a huge disparity in the amount of blood in these two games.

LiveBlogging: The Walking Dead: Episode 5

Tonight's episode is probably my favorite. I liked the first episode, but this one surpasses it. It's finally getting to be the show that I thought it could be. It was evenly paced all the way through. The tone was perfect. There were bits of action, and it all seemed to meld together very well. I'm impressed. I want the series to keep going, and I'm worried they won't be able to tie up the next episode in a way that makes sense, but they could give us one hell of a cliffhanger.

10:57 - Oh, man, this is an intense ending. Rick is losing it, walkers are everywhere, and, suddenly, the door to the CDC opens. I am utterly intrigued by this direction.

10:54 - The CDC is screwed. The close-up of the face is disgusting. In fact, just about everything they're showing right now is utterly disgusting. Dead bodies everywhere. A near-maddening sound of flies buzzing.

Speaking of, do you think they had to experiment with fly sounds to get the right one? Hmmm.

10:53 - "I think tomorrow I'm going to blow my brains out."
"Tonight, I'm gonna get drunk."

Wonderfully delivered lines.

10:52 - Dumb-ass. This definitely has a King "Stand" / Matheson "I Am Legend" vibe (both the movie and the novel).

10:50 - We're getting some insight on the infection. This is a surprising shift for the show.

Also, the brains / flesh...disgusting(ly awesome).

10:41 - The numbers are dwindling quickly. Jim (That guy) is about to get it. They've got him resting against a tree, and it looks as though they're going to leave him there.

This situation speaks to the very tension that perpetually exists in post-apocalyptic literature / media. Does a single person's right to do what he wants override the necessity to keep the group together?

Of course they couldn't take Jim with them, but to what extent is each individual able to act selfishly / individually? It seems like the group would have to adopt an ostensibly socialist philosophy to survive. Every person would have to work to benefit the group. I know the free market folks would disagree, but the philosophy of "means" is worthless when the "end" (existence) is at stake.

10:38 - The caravan is heading out. I love the shot composition and the music here. It's a little over the top, but it may be my favorite musical moment of the whole show. It manages to be transcendent and ominous at the same time.

I also like the shared movement of the whole group...and a little comic touch there. Wonderful. Of course one of the vehicles would break down almost immediately.

10:36 - Wonderful-looking shot to bring us back from commercial. I love just how green it is. I also like that we're opening the second half of the show the same as we did the first. It's interesting.

10:35 - Synergy. They're really piling on the zombie stuff for this show. Either it's a brilliant move, or a brilliantly stupid move.

10:31 - Shane isn't totally despicable, and yet they kind of make him one-note. I want to like the guy. He's got mixed motivations, sure, but the way that he's coming undone is genuine. They just need to give him a balance of screen time so that he's not just portrayed as being the guy to disagree with Rick on everything. He's not just the counterpoint.

10:30 - Okay, it's back. I kind of dig the first person POV shot they just put on display. Very comic book-y.

10:28 - I actually do kind of like Shane. He's been kind of the one-note villain...wait, my screen just went black! Anybody else?

10:27 - There's something vaguely metaphorical about Rick and (that guy) having a conversation about right to die and euthanasia while framed directly in front of an American flag.

Speaking of, what I do like is that they're not going overboard with the social satire stuff, which plagues a lot of shallow zombie flicks.

10:25 - Maybe I'm just way off in not seeing the connection between Rick and Lori. It's not like they don't have chemistry, but they only seem to come together to have a moment of "I love you blah blah blah" before going off to do other stuff. They haven't really come together in a meaningful way...or maybe I don't know what in the hell I'm talking about.

10:21 - And we're back. I kind of like the flashes of zombie premonition that (forgot his name) is experiencing. Nice little touch.

The field where the bodies are being buries is awesome, as well. It's giant and lush and green and works as a nice counterpoint to the disgusting nature of the work.

Also, the characters are starting to get a look I can only deem as "post-apocalyptic grime." Or, "Post-apocalyptic Grimes." Am I right?

10:15 - The death of Amy is sudden and tender without being melodramatic. Of course the speech Andrea gives borders on the melodramatic, but it manages to mostly avoid going too far. It's a nice touch.

What I like about this episode so far is the fact that the characters are interacting with each other and the environment well. It's an evenly-paced work, and the camp isn't divided between the people who are staying behind and those who have rushed off for some Macguffin or another.

Dealing with the crisis is what intrigues me about the show. I actually like watching the characters be conflicted about their situations and digging graves for other characters and things like that. Unfortunately, I think it might kill the momentum to only have a six episode run. They'll have to build the momentum back up after an extreme break.

10:12 - The gore is extreme, but it lies on the outskirts of the very human story taking place at its center, between Andrea and her sister.

We're getting the first stirrings of the zombiefied (or walkified) version of Amy. There's only one option here, unfortunately.

10:09 - Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale) is comforting Andrea by telling the story about his wife's losing battle with cancer. Very human. DeMunn is probably my favorite actor on the show, and I like seeing him get a moment to show off his ability to empathize.

This discussion is very King-ian in nature, and it, too, works very well. Dale and Andrea steal the scenes in which they are featured, most times.

10:07 - The characters are all discussing the possibility of offing one of their own, who was bitten in the attack from the previous night. The characters' personalities are coming out well in the dialogue.

10:06 - The show seems to be settling into the tragedy of the zombpocalypse very well. Up until now, there has been a lot of running around and going back into the city and so forth. Now the terror and shock and paranoia have all begun to sink in. I love it.

10:04 - Is it bad that I am much more a fan of Andrea (Laurie Holden) than Lori Grimes? I remember being specifically drawn to Lori in the comics. In the series, not so much. I mean, I like her, but just not in the same way. It's not her fault, though.

10:02 - Whoa! Pickaxe to the head. Way to balance the emotion related to death with the reality that they would come back to "life." Only two minutes in, and this is already my favorite episode.

10:01 - This episode opens with Rick Grimes talking (not) frantically into a walkie-talkie. Great cold opening. Perfectly silent, save for Grimes himself. Wonderful beginning. This is the sort of thing I've wanted to see all along.

Episode 5: Wildfire

Nov 26, 2010

First Thoughts On: Wii Punch Out

So I didn't do much Black Friday shopping, but I did manage to pick up Wii Punch Out for the Wii (of course) for half-price on a clearance shelf at Target. How I managed to pull this off, I don't know, but I did. I went, expecting to buy nothing but I ended up getting a Nintendo game for a discount, which almost never happens. Nintendo games manage to hold value better than Apple products, and that's saying something. Now, to the actual experience of playing the game.

Some of my fondest memories from childhood come from the Punch Out series, and for good reason. Mike Tyson's Punch Out (for the NES) and Super Punch Out (for the SNES) gave me literally hundreds of hours of enjoyment.

When I say enjoyment, though, I have to undercut that statement by saying that I used to be a complete and total gaming douche bag. I'm not a violent person, but I gave my NES games hell way back when. I remember getting so pissed during a game of Tecmo Bowl that I threw the game against my bedroom door.

I'd done it at least a dozen times, but this time there was something wholly different about the experience. The way the game sounded bouncing off the doorknob made me cringe. I thought I saw a quarter-sized piece of plastic go flying into the living room, but I hoped and prayed that wasn't the case.

It was. I'd ostensibly broken the cartridge for my absolute favorite game (right behind Mike Tyson's Punch Out, of course). I picked it up and started repeated no, no, no, no, no. I didn't know what it was like to be an abusive husband/boyfriend (and still don't), but this was as close to it as I could imagine. I had reacted violently to something I couldn't really control (Punch Out could be totally cheap) and felt immediate and overwhelming remorse for it.

Luckily, I put the cartridge into my NES and the damned thing worked (for a few months). It lasted me long enough for me to get tired of it. I think that the second Zelda game completely replaced it in my imagination. Sorry, Tecmo. You will be missed.

ANYWAY, back to Punch Out. I like it. I've always liked it.

The truth is that I don't even really care for fighting or boxing games all that much. Punch Out provides the necessary nostalgia to keep me busy for a time, but it's also a pretty great game, as well.

I'm pretty good at this series, which is to say that I'm less worse at it that I am other Nintendo franchises. I somehow managed to master the game's basic mechanics in the late 80s, and, since the game hasn't changed very much, I've remained pretty good at it since then.

In fact, when Super Punch Out was released for the SNES in the mid 90s - 95, I believe - I went through a strangely obsessive period, wherein I fought the same boxers hundreds upon hundreds - and perhaps thousands upon thousands - of times. I'm not normally a numbers guy, but because I had a subscription to Nintendo Power, I became obsessed with the times people posted for defeating various fighters.

This was well before I had the internet, so the sense of competition I felt was palpable. I'm sure, internet notwithstanding, I'd feel the same sort of competition today over Rock Band or Guitar Hero. I was always better than my friends at the games that truly captured my imagination, and back then that was all that mattered.

These days, all you have to do is go to YouTube and find video of somebody beating "Dyer's Eve" (Metallica) on Expert without missing a note. It's heartbreaking for those people who fantasize about being good at anything. Go ahead. If you want to kill a dream of yours, just type it into YouTube. You will lose your motivation by the end of the hour.

That's why I was lucky to have Super Punch Out during the period of time that I did. I was good at Mike Tyson's Punch Out, but I couldn't, for the life of me, beat Mike Tyson. I could get to him, and I could hit him once or twice, but he normally beat me senseless in a matter of seconds. I won't hold that against myself, given the fact that nobody else I knew could beat him either (this is also a situation in which the internet would be a ego deflater).

Moving on...

Wii Punch Out (or Punch Out Wii) continues the tradition of excellence that started well before Mike Tyson's legal troubles. The characters are fun, the tone is just right, and the gameplay works very well, so it's more or less a success. I'll have to adjust to the timing - I hated that I lost to Great Tiger the first time I fought him, but I'll get it down pat - but otherwise, Wii Punch Out is a fine game. The whole game just seems to have an attractive atmosphere, because I, for example, played for well over half an hour longer than I had first intended when putting the disc in the drive.

One thing I like is seeing the parade of returning characters. I know that it's a bit lazy on Nintendo's part to release YET ANOTHER GAME full of characters we've seen on multiple occasions - Glass Joe was in both the NES and SNES versions of Punch Out - but it works here. I would like to have seen more new characters early on, but the experience of working with these old characters in a new way was enough to pique my interest.

Additionally, the learning curve isn't all that high. I played using the Wii-mote like an old NES controller, so it was like going back to my childhood. The main difference is that I was drinking beer instead of Mountain Dew.

That's part of what makes Nintendo games so successful. Yes, they go to the well way, way, way too often, but they also make fun, nostalgic games for Reagan babies, so it's entirely forgivable. The games, if a bit derivative, make for an interesting experience. New isn't always best. Games can be derived from the same pool of characters, plots, and story devices and still be original and fun (think Super Mario Galaxy. Well, not the sequel).

Wii Punch Out is the same way. I liked stepping into the ring against the horrible stereotypes which have been a staple of the series for over twenty years.

I have always been somewhat unsettled by the stereotypes on parade here, but how are they different from any other video game (or professional wrestling, for that matter)? The fact that the series wasn't developed by Americans doesn't shield it whatsoever from the criticism that it's just plain racist as hell, yo.

Glass Joe (a Frenchman) is literally surrounded by baguettes if you knock him out. Von Kaiser is stereotypically German. Don Flamenco fights bulls (I thought he was Italian in the original. I'm also an idiot). Bear Hugger (a Canadian) chugs syrup and fights bears. He even calls you a hoser during the fight.

Now, the way that the game is set up can lead you to believe that the characters are mere cultural touchstones rather than blatant stereotypes, but in my leftist cultural guilt, I refuse to jump onboard completely and say, "Yeah! There's nothing wrong with having an Asian character named Piston Honda!"

Still, so far Wii Punch Out has exceeded every one of my expectations, and I cannot wait to play it in the coming days.

By the way: I hope Georgia destroys Georgia Tech tomorrow. Go Dawgs!

Nov 22, 2010

Mortal Kombat: Defenders of Stupidity

I needed this today.

Nov 21, 2010

LiveBlogging: The Walking Dead: Episode 4

10:58 - What an awesome ending. Even when the show lags in the middle, the endings always seem to pull through.

What is strange is that the scenes with zombies are oddly the most humanizing, not the conversations about fishing and whatever. There is no pretense in them.

10:56 - With the way that the opening scene played out, I should have know this was going to happen. At this point, I cannot even remember what happened in the comic books. I can't tell what is faithful and what is not. I find that to be a good thing.

10:55 - This is the sort of thing to which I wish there had been some kind of build-up. But I suppose that it mirrors the way that things inexplicably happen in the comic book.

10:54 - Zombies are spectacularly adept at finding the jugular vein.

10:52 - Don't you hate it when people stumble into your camp site, ruin a perfectly serene night?

10:50 - I wonder what is so compelling to Frank Darabont about inaction. About stasis? Think about it. Shawshank. The Green Mile. The Mist. The Walking Dead. They all deal with the banality of inaction. Characters sort of sitting around and biding their time. It's interesting that all of those things have something fairly obvious in common.

10:48 - Those bruises are hyper-realistic.

10:48 - I'm not complaining about the mood or the tone (or really even the pacing of the show). Is there such a thing as balance of pace?

10:44 - The filmmakers do not effectively balance the zombie tension with the human tension. That's really my most damning criticism. Every scene is a talkie scene or a zombie scene, and the range in between is fairly shallow.

In a comic book, this idea is profound. On television, not so much. It makes the work seem unbalanced and leaden.

10:37 - Whoo-whee, it's about to go DOWN! Just kidding.

10:34 - (I apologize in advance for the obvious question) Are there no abandoned gun shops in Atlanta?

10:33 - Laurie Holden, it seems, has all but disappeared from this episode. Also, I still don't really care about Lori Grimes. Just throwing that out there. I want to care for her, but I just don't. I just don't.

10:31 - The zombie element is being minimized in order to maximize the human drama, and I can't decide if they are doing it because they think it improves the story, or if they are intentionally making it seem high-brow.

10:28 - I like young, Hispanic Denzel Washington.

10:24 - What's so terrifying about 'TWD' is that it holds very closely to the zombie trope of uncertainty. Just about any character (who is not a lead) can die at any point in a zombie story. The tension we feel for Rick Grimes is real, because his story could end any moment. The fact that it doesn't is almost irrelevant.

10:23 - Tying someone to a tree in a zombie story is the one way to ensure that person's situation ends tragically.

10:18 - I wonder which is a more terrifying proposition: fighting off the zombie hordes in TWD or facing down a screaming crowd of Beatles fans, circa 1966.

10:17 - I haven't seen the shaved head / bangs look since 2006!

10:13 - This is the first scene we get of real, honest zombie cabin fever. Jim's losing his mind. Jim hasn't really been featured in the show, which should give us a slight hint of what's going to happen to Jim.

10:10 - It takes some major cojones to cauterize a wound with a flat iron. Woof.

10:04 - I don't know why the Boondock Saint is so pissed. The severed hand indicates the guy - The Rook! - left with a fighting chance.

That hand is awfully sick (and real) looking.

10:02 - I get so caught up in trying to dig metaphors out of the characters' conversations that I sometimes lose track of what they're actually talking about. Like fishing.

10:00 - Episode 4 - "Vatos"

My First Thoughts on: Alan Wake

Alan Wake is basically just one hellish nature walk, which would be awesome, if not for the combat and the controls.

In fact, I would probably like the game a whole lot more if there were no combat and I was just allowed to walk through the woods and collect manuscript pages and coffee.

I'm only a few hours into A. Wake - get it? - and I find myself much more interested in the scenery than the story. The background is lush and detailed and indicative of the Northwest (I think), and it makes me want to visit the west coast.

The story is sort of overwrought, which wouldn't be such a bad thing if the controls were much, much, much tighter. Combat kind of sucks, and I dread fighting off the shadowy hordes, and not because they're scary or anything like that. They're kind of lame and one-note and the shittiest thing about fighting them is that there is absolutely no way to avoid them.

AWake would be a much better game if avoiding combat were possible. The few times I've tried to run away, I've been tracked down and axed to death almost instantly. The bad guys gang up on you and kill you in a matter of seconds. It's kind of boring and tedious.

Which sucks. I really wanted to enjoy this game, and I also wanted to overlook its most obvious flaws. The story isn't that bad for a video game - writer gets trapped in his story-slash-subconscious, basically - and all of the visual touches are pretty great. There are no zombies (yet), and, unless a dramatic shift occurs, I won't be transported to the beaches of Normandy to ward off unnamed scores of Nazis.

But the sluggish combat is irreconcilable. If the fights were more sporadic or could be avoided, the game would be much, much, much better. The developers seemed to think I would be more interested in shooting things than I would exploring an interesting and original world (and maybe I am not your typical gamer), and they got that wrong.

I would be much more pleased to experience a game where not as much "happens" except for when stuff happens. Does that make sense? The story is engaging, and hoofing it around the woods of the Northwest, turning on televisions and radios and finding seemingly randomly placed coffee containers and manuscript pages (for the worst novel ever written) was fun enough for me.

I'm not saying I would have preferred to do this for twelve hours, but I would much rather stalk around the woods, pretending to be the Green River Killer or Dora the Explorer than fighting off half-assed enemies.

Nov 14, 2010

The Walking Dead: Episode 3

My overall impression - tonight's episode started off slow but ended up being somewhat strong. The human drama is picking up as we learn more about the characters. As the characters become more real, the more interesting the show will become.

Also, Next week's episode looks quite awesome.

10:57 - The Rook saved himself by re-enacting the first Saw movie.

10:56 - Since when did "cooze" become cable-friendly?

Also, Shane is taking his frustrations out on wife-beater Ed. Again, Southern masculinity (and masculinity in general) is being placed on the stand.

Traditional gender roles are being set up. The men are going in for a rescue mission, and the women are washing clothes.

10:55 - The "arrow being pulled from the skull" sound effect is perfectly disgusting.

10:54 - What we don't get from Shane is a sense that he wanted Rick's wife from the beginning, so we're clueless as to what his motivations might have been.

10:53 - Southern masculinity is being put on trial here.

10:50 - I now see a connection between people and frogs. Startle animals, and they scatter. If they scatter, then they're easier to catch. Like people. Intentional? Not intentional?

10:48 - Seeing commercials for Lipitor and Grady Medical Center puts everything in perspective. I can't entirely empathize with absolutely fictitious threats like zombies if I'm seeing statistics about actual problems popping up on screen.

10:44 - That tent is huge. I'm so jealous.

10:41 - Not to nitpick, but doesn't it seem odd that Rick would go back for a bag-o-guns? I live near enough Atlanta to know that guns are plentiful.

10:37 - Over the break, I read an interesting article about TWD at The New York Times. The ratings have been great for the show, and a second season has already been ordered.

10:32 - Long talky scene with Rook's brother. They've decided to go back to Atlanta to save Rook. Tonight's episode is supposed to be more emotionally than viscerally resonant, but for some reason I'm not really feeling it.

10:27 - The make-up is wonderfully disgusting. I'm a fan.

10:25 - Back from commercial break. There is already a pervading sense of detachment from the zombie threat. Almost has (forgive me) a LOST sort of vibe to it.

Oh, wait. Here we go.

10:20 - More than a literal storm is brewing at the camp. Sorry. Couldn't help myself.

10:19 - Nearly twenty minutes without a commercial break.

10:12 - One thing I have noticed is that none of the characters really stand out all that much. They're all pretty stock. The thing about AMC shows is that they feature peculiarly strong protagonists (Don Draper & Walter White), but no character from TWD really stands out as different.

It's not necessarily a fault that will hurt the show if the chemistry of the whole cast works together fairly well.

Perhaps it is why horror shows don't have the same punch as other kinds of shows. In horror shows (or movies), regular people are placed in extraordinary situations, which is sort of the opposite of the norm (L O S T being the obvious exception).

That may be a reason (excuse) why the characters don't stand out. They're the straight men in this otherworldly setting. They need to be normal and regular to make this work. If they were not grounded to reality, then the show might lose all sense of credibility.

10:10 - The family is reunited (ten minutes into the third episode). Not bad. I thought it would take a little longer, so perhaps my ideas about it being paced too slowly are way off. Good.

10:07 - What symbolic significance does the frog legs conversation really have? It's odd, given the circumstances. I'll have to ponder that.

Frogs are subject to the story about slowly boiling water. Slowly boil water and a frog will not jump out of the pot...that sort of thing. Any connection? No?

Frog legs. It's odd.

10:05 - Even though the fan credit sequence someone posted online is better, I still like the regular ones. The music is awesome.

10:04 - Either I don't remember the comics all that well or this sequence didn't really happen. Either way, a tension has crept into the show that I hadn't felt until tonight. I like that.

10:02 - The threat of zombie violence hasn't been quite as overt in the previous weeks as it is right now.

10:01 - Immediately, we see Rooker going crazy on a rooftop. Beautiful. It took him this long to realize just how fucked he really is.

"Tell it to the Frogs."

Nov 11, 2010

Suspense in Video Games: Alan Wake

What makes suspense difficult to create in video games is the necessity for player and character, player and controller, and player and game to interact. All of these elements combined make for an experience that takes the audience member - the player, ostensibly - out of the game itself.

Take Alan Wake, for example. It opens with suspense, but that doesn't matter, because it's nevertheless a tutorial level, which destroys any sense of built (and I hate to say it) immersion. Even if you were immediately pulled into the game, the fact that you are told how to run and dodge attacks minimizes the actual story and brings the game's mechanics to the forefront.

Of course, this is unavoidable in a game, but I don't remember (and forgive me for destroying Alan Wake in favor of nostalgia) Silent Hill doing anything like this, and I hold Silent Hill 2 to a gold standard of suspense (much more than Resident Evil).

But these are just my initial impressions of the game. I am more critical of the things I love, like works of horror. I wonder why that is.

Nov 10, 2010

Conan: Do You Agree?

Here's a snippet of a conversation about Conan's show. Obviously, these hosts come off as a triplet of jagoffs, but they weren't really wrong. Apparently, Conan's ratings dropped by a third last night,, but at 2.8 million viewers, it's still holding strong.

It didn't quite beat Leno and Letterman, and, though it's doing respectable business, you know Conan wanted to keep the trend going. He came back with a vengeance, and he spent a lot of his time dogging NBC (which a lot of people seemed to reject). I didn't mind it so much because it's the big elephant in the room. I don't know how I would have reacted had not not talked about being canned by NBC. That would have been out of the ordinary.

I like Conan. I like the new show. I'm not a talk show kind of guy, but I like his sense of humor. Part of me is supporting him because he's popular right now. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that. But I'm also on his side because I genuinely like the guy. Even though he's doing nothing really super outside the box, his persona isn't couched as much in the "talk show guy" gimmick. I don't buy Leno. He seems smarmy and host-y. I like Letterman, but I still know he's a host. Conan seems quite a bit different to me, and I like that (even though I can admit to watching about ten percent of his stint on NBC).

Still, I hope the show does well, and I know he's looking for my blessing to keep going,'s to Conan's return.

Nov 7, 2010

LiveBlogging: The Walking Dead: Episode 2

10:57 - sort of an unexpectedly blunt end to the show this week.

10:54 - The key thing is the most comic book-y moment thus far. And who wouldn't leave that guy behind? We have all been trained to be compassionate, even if it goes against our basest instincts, which is what makes zombie fiction so interesting. It's about the constant struggle between altruism and selfishness and where to draw the line, which is one of the most interesting aspects of 'TWD' so far.

10:52 - If I were in one of those giant moving trucks, I'd be tempted to just turn on the crowd and put the gas pedal to the floorboard, just to see what would happen.

10:48 - Is walking on one's ankles a skill that can be taught? Or do you have to be a natural at it?

10:41 - Does the end of the world change how people experience jealousy? If I were to die in some horrible shenanigans like the Zombpocalypse (and I had a son), I would want someone to take care of my family. But still. The filmmakers are setting up the situation perfectly, but it makes me wonder how I would react. Not favorably, I would guess. But I'm no Rick Grimes.

10:39 - Favorite line so far: "Give me the axe. We need more guts."

10:37 - So I guess eviscerating a dead person is not subject to the kinds of FCC regulations that everything else is.

10:36 - Brutal.

10:31 - Even though 'TWD' is somewhat somewhat slowly paced, I think it's going to benefit the show overall. Zombie stories are epic in nature, and cramming the end of the world into a ninety minute work (a film) is pretty difficult, so perhaps a good zombie show is what the genre needs in order for zombie filmmakers to really get the pacing down. Maybe the genre needs something that can really stretch its legs out.

10:28 - Why did it take so long for the zombies to learn to use the rock on the plate glass window? Stupid question, I know...

10:25 - This whole thing has a very Kingian quality to it. This whole store scene is reminiscent of the part of The Stand where whats-his-name meets the dumb assistant from 'Coach.' Remember? Tom Cullen?

10:24 - Is the blonde the same one from 'The Mist?' Looks like her, and since Darabont did both 'The Mist' and the pilot for 'TWD', seems pretty likely that it is her. She's awesome.

10:22 - There's nothing too meta about this show (or about the comics, either, I suppose). It's really straightforward, very earnest, not necessarily a critique of zombies or an ironic take on the zombpocalypse or anything. I wonder if it's 'hip' enough for the audience that comes to AMC.

Also, and this is a major concern, is the show a bit too deliberately paced?

10:21 - Sugartits! I don't remember that from the comics. Maybe Rooker's channeling Mel Gibson.

10:20 - I love the R. Lee Ermey Geico commercial.

10:16 - I know there's quite a bit of talking in 'TWD', but what's strange is that nothing's really that memorable. I cannot recall a single thing anybody's said over the last two weeks.

10:15 - Not to cross the streams of too much zombie lore, but Rooker totally looks like Francis from Left 4 Dead. Or, and this is possible, Francis may be based on the Rooker character from the comic books.

10:11 - Is that MICHAEL ROOKER? Awesome. I had no idea the ROOK was in this show. It just went up an entire letter grade for me. Whoa, and the Rook's a bit racist in this show, as well. Hmmm.

10:09 - So far the show's followed the comic pretty closely.

10:07 - The make-up for the show is excellent. Tom Savini would be proud.

10:05 - Crane-in shot over Rick's tank. Looks like something out of the 'Resident Evil' movies. Odd how silent it is inside that tank, given what's going on just outside.

10:04 - What's odd about 'TWD' is that it doesn't really step outside of the cliches of zombie fiction or play with them too...oh, wow, that sex scene is overt!

10:02 - The main female protagonist looks like a cross between Angelina Jolie and Katie Holmes, at times. Weird.

-oh. Rustling sounds in the woods. Of course, it's just the weirdly possessive-ish boyfriend character.

10:01 - Opening on a track shot of a woman's ass in white jeans. Much different than the last episode. But not bad.

Episode 2: Guts.

A Brief Note on 80s Metal

There are few things in this world more universally ridiculed (or ironically lionized) than 80s metal, most notably what we deem today as "hair metal."

I don't exactly know why that is for everyone, but I do know why it happens to be so for me. I'm currently reading Chuck Klosterman's wonderful Fargo Rock City, and while I agree with him on almost every one of his points, there is one thing he neglects to mention that can help to explain some of the disdain people had for 80s metal (it now seems as though 80s metal has been forgiven and let back into the house of commercial music).

Klosterman points to the idea that labels more or less ruined the legacy of 80s metal. He writes at one point, "Part of the reason '80s hard rock will never get respect - even kitschy respect - is because so many of the major players have retroactively tried to disassociate themselves from all of their peers. Disco didn't wrestle with this kind of shame" (29).

Now, on its face, the statement seems true enough. Hard rock bands have always been obsessed with their own images. Even Metallica, in not wearing make-up and teasing their hair out, was trying to mold the public's perception of what their music, and, as an extension, what they were all about.

Metal is kind of like a giant religion in that all of the competing subgenres are actively trying to excommunicate one another. There are moderate metalheads and moderate metal bands, but they are always under attack from more militant factions under the metal tent.

You can get a general sense of this idea by listening to Pantera's 1996 album, The Great Southern Trendkill. Philip Anselmo railed against "the trend" incessantly for the whole of that album (check out the opening track and "Sandblasted Skin, Pt. 1) without really quantifying what "the trend" was. One can assume that, given the climate of the music scene of the time, that it was grunge music (even though Kurt Cobain had died two years before and the grunge scene had more or less petered out), but no one can be for sure.

But I don't think that it's the constant self-labeling that corrupted the integrity of the 80s rock movement. I think the answer lies in the time period itself.

My first (and most damning) piece of evidence: Monster Ballads.

Now, I will reconcile my point with one of Klosterman's strongest. The culture of the 1980s had an indescribable impact on the way that metal bands sculpted their images. They were materialistic and opportunistic and plenty of those bands made gobs of money.

If you listen to Monster Ballads (or take even a cursory glance at the song list), you will notice that a great number of bands that do not generally fit together have tracks on that album, from The Scorpions to Damn Yankees.

Yet, given the fact that (most of) these groups released the bulk of their material in the 1980s is the key point here. It reflects the dominant philosophical ethos of the decade: that of greed.

I'm not necessarily saying that metal bands from the 80s are or were greedy, but I am saying that the problem wasn't that they were hesitant to label one another. It's the fact that they chose to cash in on the female demo swarming to rock music during the 80s, which isn't an out-and-out sexist comment, by releasing such overtly sensitive music. I refuse to accuse them of selling out (though this is probably a moot point), but the commercialization of rock music in the Reagan Era plays into the criticism.

Combine that with the fact that albums like Monster Ballads exist, and you have at least a partial answer to why these bands have a problem gaining any sort of respect, even the kind of ironic respect Klosterman mentions above.

Dozens of bands tried to emulate Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath during the 70s, but what we often forget is that most of those bands have completely disappeared into obscurity. Led Zep and Sabbath persist for a reason, and the other bands gave up on their dreams and went to work at normal jobs because the viability of their music had all but dried up.

Bands like Poison and Ratt and Quiet Riot benefited from and were cursed by the music milk machine of the 1980s and 1990s, which sold immediate nostalgia to the masses without any sense of shame. The bands, critics, and the fans got caught up in a nostalgia loop from which they could not immediately recover.

Normally, there is a cool-down period between the death of a certain genre of music and the nostalgia that helps us forgive or endorse it. The bloated 70s rock of the aforementioned Zeppelin and Sabbath had a cooling off period, wherein people weren't necessarily spiteful of its existence but didn't necessarily care for it either, but the rock of the 1980s did not, and the bands suffered. Poison went directly from the bargain bin at Wal-Mart to the nostalgia circuit without much of a gap between the two periods.

All in all, Klosterman is dead-on, however, and I'm not entirely sure that the points I've made contradict his own, but I couldn't help myself. All right. Now I'm going to listen to a little-known ballad from Sabbath's fourth album.

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