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E3 2012 – Beyond [GO/ER]
Jun 5th, 2012 by Dan

I didn’t mind Heavy Rain, but you can’t argue that Quantic Dream’s games tend to miss the mark a bit in terms of being actual games. Still, color me intrigued. Plus I always love Ellen Page.

The Last of Us Trailer [GO/ER]
Dec 12th, 2011 by Dan

So this is Naughty Dog’s big new secret? The music at the end echoes some of the banjo musical cues of L4D2 as do the running zombie types. The overrun NYC reminds me of Enslaved. The young girl reminds me of a younger Drake (and also a little Ellen Page) while the old guy is a little Drake meets Bill (from L4D). It’s easy to think it’s derivative and dated now, for sure, but I’m genuinely interested to see how this turns out. Naughty Dog proves in about a minute that they’re excellent at building characters. I wanted to know a bunch more about these two and why they hang out with each other. They seemed cool.

Anyway, it’s supposed to be a survival horror game and (especially if it’s co-op) I think I’m already sold on it. Nice work piquing my interest, Naughty Dog.

What I’ve Been Doing 05 Sept 2011 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Sep 6th, 2011 by Dan

Wild Flag

Best NPR First Listen!

Movies

Tokyo Godfathers – I wrote at length about this movie here, but I just wanted to take a few words to say how truly fantastic it was. Great movie.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. – Tiffany and I were choosing between this and Our Idiot Brother (ostensibly because they were the only two “date” movies, but really because of my dual crushes on Emma Stone and Zooey Deschanel), but I think this would have been the better choice. Crazy, Stupid, Love. was sweet and funny. Only real downside was the C-plot being a little creepy. Easily the best romantic movie I saw this summer (Best comedy goes to Bridesmaids).

Super – James Gunn is a sick man, haha. The movie was middling to me, but it was much better at showing how sick and ridiculous everyone involved would have to be than Kick-Ass was, so I liked it more than that. Ever wanted to see an awkward sex scene/quasi rape of Rainn Wilson by Ellen Page? This movie’s got it and it’s just as off-putting as you’d think it would be. Ellen Page does a great job playing a quasi-psychopath in this. She’s fantastic.

TV

Weeds – I can’t believe I’ve missed what’s been in front of my face this whole time. The whole season has been about Silas and Nancy’s relationship with each other after he found out who his real father was. Things are really ramping up here.

Top Gear – What a fantastic show. Makes me think stupid things like that I want to buy a BMW, but it’s a lot of fun to watch. The segment where they tried to escape that Italian town was hilarious.

Dexter – Lent my mom Seasons 1 and 2 and ended up watching part of the first episode. Always neat to watch the pilot and see how the show has changed from its inception.

Better Off Ted – An adequate way to kill a half hour while I eat or need a break. The show wasn’t gonna break any funny records, but it’s better than some of what’s out there. Just no real place for it on ABC, I guess.

Retro Game Master – The affirmation section of The Wing of Madoola was really funny. This show is at its best when the Kacho is able to make all kinds of silly jokes. Also hilarious was the part where he called the game company to see if he could still win a raffle from the 1980s.

Music

WILD FLAG – NPR’s First Listen looks like might it’s still up. Go check it out. I listened to this disc all last week and loved it.

The Civil Wars – Really got into them last week. Joy’s voice is so sweet and John Paul harmonizes well with her. Delightful to listen to.

Jonathan Coulton – His new album, Artificial Heart, came out this week. Good times, good music. I really like “Dissolve”.

Books

Collected Stories – So far Márquez is obsessed with twins and death.

(Comics from here down)
Amazing Spider-Man – Spider-Island continues! Still lots of fun.

Spider-Island: Deadly Hands of Kung Fu – Felt just a little too stereotypically Asian for me. Good art, but the story was kind of boring.

Ultimate Comics Hawkeye – I can’t say I’m that interested in Hawkeye as a character, but Hickman’s writing remains really cool and the consequences on the Ultimate U are huge. To have the X-gene eliminated in all but one region is a tremendous tactical advantage. Wonder if it will stick.

Video Games

Bastion – I agree with most people, the Narrator is super awesome. This game is fun, but it couldn’t tear me away from TF2 and…

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Got in the beta. Can’t say anything else or I’d violate the NDA.

Team Fortress 2 – TF2 remains awesome. Playing with Dave and Lee this weekend was a lot of fun. Got a lot of new achievements, but Sentry Gunner continues to elude me. I will have it one day. Oh yeah, I also played with KENDRA. Killed her once too. She did not get me back…yet.

Dragon Age 2 – Still working on that second playthrough as a Templar supporter this time. Reminds me that I’ve gotta go back and fix my ME2 playthrough for ME3 in March.

Dragon Quest IX and Inception [GO/FB]
Jul 20th, 2010 by Dan

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies - Nintendo World Store launch pictures slime

What a weekend!

It started with a craving to see Inception on an IMAX screen and was filled with slime and questing. Some quick words on both.

Inception

I don’t think it has quite enough to supplant The Dark Knight as my favorite Nolan film, but it’s certainly up there with his best work. The less you know about Inception, the better. Seriously. I’ll have something more substantial up later, but for now I want to stay relatively spoiler free. All I’ll say is that Tom Hardy is now definitely on my radar, Ellen Page did precisely what I love in her movies without being a pretentious-seeming teen like in Juno, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was fantastic and hilarious in a role much better than in (500) Days of Summer, DiCaprio continues to impress with his post-Titanic roles, Marion Cotillard has, like Tom Hardy, become one of my new favorites, and Ken Watanabe was also fantastic, if unintelligible, in the movie. Special mention to Dileep Rao for bringing humor and eccentricity to an otherwise tiny role. His tiny quirks made Yusef a funny character to witness.

The movie plot is brilliant and the concept is so meta that it makes me love it even more. You should definitely see this in theaters, it will wow you, especially if you know next to nothing going in.

Dragon Quest IX

It doesn’t have the stronger narrative ties of V because the characters are supposed to be ciphers, but I don’t think that Horii has sacrificed much in the way of his storytelling ability. The quests and experiences seem relatively trite to the uninitiated, but the thing about DQ games is that there is skillful storytelling in even the most basic of stories. I can see the emotion and the attention to detail that remains and I love the puns introduced by the localization team. So far so good, just gotta find more time to play it.

In the meanwhile, enjoy a nice bit of Dragon Quest cosplay.

Cute Dragon Quest cosplay

Thoughts on Whip It and An Education [Filmmakers Bleed]
Apr 29th, 2010 by Dan

It’s a tough world out there. The first person you meet in the beginning of The Legend of Zelda says, “It’s dangerous to go alone,” and he’s 100% right. I know this as well as anyone.

Childhood, and school in general, wasn’t that long ago for me. For a kid whose family was decidedly not in the military, we sure seemed to move around and swap schools plenty. It’s not a contest (protip: it is a contest), but I’d say I beat out most non-delinquent, non-military kids with seven school transfers in the thirteen years that I attended school.

The solid core I had at home with my brothers could only take me so far. Once the school bell rings, you’re on your own. When you switch schools roughly once every two years, you have to learn to adapt to new environments, find your niche, and fit into it as fast as you can. It’s tough to be a kid and constantly find the right crowd to fit in with. There were times where I had no crowd and I was a reject. Lucky me that I never found myself giving up who I was or falling in with “the wrong crowd”.

Whip It isn’t literally about this. Bliss Cavendar, played expertly by Ellen Paige, does have a best friend (marking the first time I’ve seen Alia Shawkat in a major role outside of Arrested Development) who supports her youthful yearnings for “something more”, but, for a movie about friendship and sisterhood, there is a distinct lack of sap, probably because roller derby is an intensely violent sport being played by women out to hurt each other.

Drew Barrymore is no stranger to girl power movies. She was a heavy influence on the direction that the abysmal Charlie’s Angels movies took and her roles tend to feature stronger female characters, so there’s nothing too unexpected about her directorial debut, except, maybe, that she doesn’t really star in it. Her cast focuses on Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat, and the ridiculously hilarious Kristen Wiig and the community that Bliss becomes a part of, much to the chagrin of her mother. The beauty of this movie comes from the empowering message it doles out. A lesser movie would have Bliss’ mother be a super-bitch who refused to understand that her daughter didn’t want to do the pageants. Sure, Bliss’ mother is trying to achieve the dreams she lost to an unplanned pregnancy through her, but she’s also looking to see her daughter succeed and have something good in her life in the only context she really knows. She comes around when she realizes that Bliss really does love roller derby and she lets go with almost zero fuss.

The most telling scene in the movie comes before the final, climactic round. Bliss’ rival on the opposing team, Iron Maven, learned earlier that she was underage and could be considered ineligible. She reveals that she knows this to Bliss, who then comes clean to everyone and gets proper authorization from her parents to compete. When she confronts Maven later on about her jealous ploy to remove her from contention, Maven surprises her by saying that she had no intentions of outing her; she just wanted to get in Bliss’ head. Whether or not this is a cop-out response, the intention is crystal clear. These women are competitive and hate losing to each other, but they are not catty, jealous, or manipulative, as you might expect.

Kristen Wiig also gets standout mention from me for her role as a responsible mother figure/mentor to Bliss. In fact, everyone in this movie is so supportive and grounded in making the right decisions that it borders on unbelievable. The only people who make dumb choices are Ellen Page and Alia Shawkat’s irresponsible teen characters. Their lack of experience and teen self-righteousness realistically gets them in trouble.

An interesting side effect to all the feminism is that every male character in the movie plays to some kind of stereotype. Bliss’ father is a yes-man to the wife who spends all his time watching football, going so far as to sneak away to sit in an abandoned parking lot in his van to watch football, far away from his wife’s judgmental eyes. Oliver, the love interest in the movie, is a pretty-boy member of a band who predictably cheats on Bliss the first chance he gets and is rejected by her when he returns to apologize. Birdman, the manager of the restaurant Bliss works at, is constantly manipulated by his female employees and, though he does “get the girl” at the end, he’s not exactly a strong male lead. Jimmy Fallon’s character is the announcer at the roller derby and a pathetic seeming man who makes lame jokes and repeatedly fails at coming on to the roller derby girls. The strongest male role comes in the coach of Bliss’ roller derby team, Razor, played to perfection by Andrew Wilson as a tactician, almost hippie lover of the sport who is so anemic at managing the team that he can’t even get them to execute any of the plays he concocts for most of the movie.

I’m not saying a movie needs strong male roles to counter the female parts at all. I think it’s kind of refreshing to see a movie that marginalizes men instead. It’s rare that you see a movie made by women, for women that’s not a sappy love story, a Lifetime movie, or a feminazi-type production, so this was refreshing.

The main beauty of Whip It is precisely that it’s a movie about being true to one’s self, one’s friends, and one’s dreams, without being all that sappy. It’s a coming-of-age tale that hides in violence and comedy, but couldn’t sing its message clearer. Sure, the message can get a little heavy-handed, I mean, Bliss’ mother the beauty queen trying to force Bliss into pageants that she doesn’t want to do, blah blah, the evils of the exploitation of women by the mainstream, yes, it’s a clear contrast being made to the world of roller derby. Then again, this movie is smarter than that. Roller derby isn’t exactly a feminist’s dream. The sport does trade on sexual exploitation, so the movie is more railing against not being able to choose for oneself.

I wasn’t planning on watching back-to-back feminist movies when I set up my netflix queue, but that’s kind of the way it happened when An Education made its way to my mailbox a few days later. Despite similar themes, we’re talking a complete tonal shift, as An Education takes place in 1960s England and revolves around a similarly-aged boarding school student named Jenny (Carey Mulligan).

As you might expect, Jenny’s troubles are more of the pre-feminist revolution type. Jenny’s got this “Why bother?” attitude toward the Oxford education that her father is pushing her toward, mostly because all it seems to mean is that Jenny will have a few more years of a fulfilling, educational life before she ends up back in the dead-end world of 1960s England where her prospects are teacher, secretary, or housewife. Jenny wants what many 16-year-olds want, a chance to see the world, become cultured, experience more than what her middle class life has destined for her and so she naturally falls for an much older man, David (played by Peter Sarsgaard (and his terrible faux-British accent)), who can provide those things

An Education is a little more blatant with its comparisons. Jenny is constantly sharing screen time with Helen, the beautiful girlfriend of David’s business associate Danny, who is far more interested in fashion, glamor, and not using her brain. The opposite path is the one that her teacher is on, but she’s ridiculed by Jenny for being somewhat homey and her appearance is far from beautiful (in the way that Hollywood goes and makes beautiful women look not beautiful).

The real crux of the movie comes from the futility of the decision that it seems like Jenny is making. As citizens of the 21st century, we know that Jenny would certainly find more opportunities for success in the England of the 70s and 80s, but the end of the movie does leave you feeling that the education that Jenny is receiving, both from David and from Oxford, are ultimately futile attempts at delaying the inevitable.

In any case, both movies are fine examples of pro-feminist film that actually promote healthy lifestyles and relationships for women. How rare is it in Hollywood to see that?

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