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Monthly Archives: June 2010

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Constantine Sequel? Without Keanu Please

Yes a sequel to Constantine is being planned. And Constantine should have been a solid movie. Despite having no non-music video credits, Francis Lawrence created a cool comic book movie universe, and the cast was decent. With one glaring horrifying exception. Keanu Reeves. For those who have no idea who Constantine is, he’s an embittered masochistic chain smoking British supernatural detective. This is not who Keanu Reeves is or can play. This is a movie that any number of actors, including Robert Downey Jr or Nicholas Cage would have been perfect for. But Reeves was in it, and now Reeves might be in the sequel, which eliminates any real reason for making a sequel. Aside from that whole money thing, you know. I know there’s a whole Keanu Reeves is Sad and Keanu Reeves is a Really Nice Guy meme making its way around the internet. And even if he gave stuntmen motorcycles, he still shouldn’t be Constantine.

Angel Goes Right Side Up

After going through a disastrous period after wrapping up the whole After the Fall season, Angel is on the way to righting itself. Not only is the painfully ugly art, which made it impossible to tell apart most of the characters gone, but the whole angels story which never made any sense is gone too. Not gone by way of a clumsy retcon, but by revealing the angels to be something else, in the classic Jasmine sense. And yes so far the new enemy smacks of Jasmine a bit, as we learn of high up demons who actually have a deed to the earth and want to use it for a demon breeding farm. And Angel has his arms actually torn off. But things are moving along nicely. While Wesley is missed, there’s a new redhaired female watcher to replace him, jaguar person is mostly staying out of sight, and the writing is quirky and snappy again. I don’t know about Eddie, the blue human demon on his own vigilante streak, but so far Angel is going well, even as Buffy Season 8 went all the way deep into stupid.

Futurama In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela

One thing the Futurama producers never quite got is that Kif is really not funny without Zap Brannigan, and Zap Brannigan is only mildly funny without Kif. It’s the pairing that works. In In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela there’s no pairing, except Leela and Zap. Which might have been funny. Which is sorta funny. But not all that much. In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela isn’t bad, except for the part where it’s like a lot of other Futurama episodes. The retro Zap clips were funny. But most of the garden wasn’t. The death sphere ref to VGer is more of a geek in-joke than actually funny. And any plot that revolves around a V Chip ref is hopelessly outdated, like a lot of Futurama material. In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela isn’t bad. It’s a lot better than sitting through a modern day Simpsons or Family Guy, but it’s not really anywhere as good as it should be. Zap is mostly wasted in episode should have had a lot more professor. And for an episode about censorship that’s being aired on CC, In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela doesn’t exactly push the limits. Instead it’s exactly the episode we would have gotten on FOX.

Futurama Rebirth

About halfway in, you start to hope and think that maybe Futurama Rebirth will actually be a great Futurama episode. Then you realize it’s an episode running on two jokes that recycles better material from older episodes. Then you realize that none of that even matters because you’ve been watching two robots interact and nothing you actually saw this half hour even matters. So whatever. Season 5 or Season 6 (depending on if you count the DVD movies as a season, which some do) starts out looking kind of like Season 4. A pale imitation. And if the DVD movies or Season 5 were overblown episodes without the right rhythm, the transition back to half hour shows has the opposite problem with episodes that feel like they have too much material to fit in, without the material really showing up. There are moments when you think Rebirth might be The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings or The Sting, but it turns out to be disposable.

Incorruptible and Irredeemable

For a while there Incorruptible and Irredeemable were the new comics to watch, a twist on superheroes, without the psychotic tantrums of contempt for the capes of a Mark Millar or Garth Ennis, and without the blatant revisionism of Warren Ellis. Incorruptible and Irredeemable were smart and character based stories that suggested a new take on the same issues tangled in Watchmen. But Incorruptible and Irredeemable are now a mess. Irredeemable is tangled in a ridiculous plot twist and a story that seems to be going nowhere. Incorruptible just went over the shark too. There’s the art style, which I haven’t bothered to look up, but Incorruptible now looks like a 13 year old girl’s webcomic, all big eyes and slanty lines. The revelation that Max Damage’s superpower is insomnia is a little crazy. And doesn’t fit with all his drama about not being able to feel because of his superpowers, when all he had to do was take a nap. And just to round it all out, Neo-Nazis. In comic books, Neo Nazis show up when you’re too lazy to think of anything even a little more original. So when in doubt, Neo-Nazis! Since the Plutonian is an alien from another planet, and wipes out everyone, Nazis worshiping him doesn’t make much sense.

The Miscasting of Leonardo DiCaprio

What do Howard Hughes and J. Edgar Hoover have in common? Neither of them should have been played by Leonardo DiCaprio. (Whether Leonardo Di Caprio should be playing anyone at all is a whole topic for discussion.) Somehow DiCaprio became the go to guy for loosely artsy dramas which gets him miscast in movie after movie. Part of what DiCaprio has going for him is that Sam Worthington blandness, except that you can actually recognize DiCaprio, while Worthington just looks so generic that he’s unrecognizable. Combine that with Clint Eastwood’s obsession with turning out mediocre artsy movies, and it’s like a perfect marriage of something and something. After Spielberg wasted part of his down years putting DiCaprio in Catch Me If You can, Scorsese even more incomprehensibly stuck him as Howard Hughes in the Aviator. Now Eastwood will have his shot at turning out another boring mediocre drama, with DiCaprio in the lead. Who’s next on the DiCaprio express, Oliver Stone?

Imager by L.E. Modesitt

L.E.Modesitt Jr - ImagerImager by L.E. Modesitt reads as if Modesitt took Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind and decided to map it over one of his usual Recluse plots. Imager is supposed to be a new series, but it has all the old familiar elements of Modesitt’s Recluse books. There’s the usual young protagonist who can’t seem to focus on what his parents want him to do, who discovers he has magic powers and has to learn to use them while being denied relevant information by a mentor figure. On the other hand the plot also has similarities to The Name of the Wind, with that book’s University and its Masters showing up as the Collegium and its Masters, right down to an Ambrose like figure.

But unlike Rothfuss, Modesitt gets stuck again with world building that has no real imagination to it. The magical system of Imaging is generic and limited. And the world he creates boils down once again to wrangling countries and politics, with doses of Modesitt’s own philosophy delivered again through mentors and tomes. Determined to create a series, Modesitt doesn’t even bother wrapping up most of the plot of Imager, though he does throw in the usual explosion that leaves the imager unconscious (if you took scenes like that out of Modesitt’s Recluse novels, you’d be left with around two pages) as a climax.

The comparison between Name of the Wind and Imager is not in Modesitt’s favor. Because Modesitt again trots out a dull main character who spends most of his time learning things and thinking about how little he knows. This is filled out with Modesitt’s love for describing woodcraft and everything anyone eats in the book. Where Rothfuss brought the power of Naming to life, Modesitt inflicts rambling lectures about the evils of naming things. As usual, Modesitt has written a book about magic that has no magic in it, reducing the amazing to just another job in between other jobs. That’s his message, but it’s also a hopeless imagination killer.

And Imager is Modesitt rewriting his Recluse books again, even ending it by having his forgettable main character signed up to work with the patrollers, a plot that he recently used in one of his Recluse books. In the introduction, Modesitt mentions that he’s written 50 books. Maybe he should slow down and put more thought into the books he writes.

Dragon Age DLC vs Mass Effect 2 DLC

It’s strange that even though Mass Effect 2 was released earlier than Dragon Age, somehow Dragon Age has had fantastic DLC, while Mass Effect 2 has nothing but the leavings. Let’s take a look at ingame DLC characters. Dragon Age had the memorable Shale, a golem with a hatred for the pigeons who had crapped on him and the humans who enslaved him, who turned out to be a female dwarf. Mass Effect 2 had Zaeed, a cliche with no real face time, not that you’d want any.

Afterward, Mass Effect 2 got around to dumping Kasumi’s Stolen Memory, an odd and brief mission where you play James Bond. While Dragon Age gave us a meaningful mission to Soldier’s Peak. Dragon Age 2 gave us Awakening, a virtual sequel to the original game. Mass Effect 2 gave us, uh Firewalker, with a few missions based around jumping puzzles with a version of the MACO that can jump a little higher. Dragon Age gave us The Darkspawn Chronicles that changed how you saw the game. Mass Effect 2 gave us Overlord, which let you shoot a few more robots. Dragon Age is giving us Leilana’s Song and Mass Effect 2 is giving us, what?

It makes sense that Dragon Age’s DLC would be better, since Dragon Age was a much better game than Mass Effect 2 in sheer terms of story. But Bioware could at least have made an effort. Dragon Age’s DLC is story integrated. Mass Effect 2’s DLC often seems story disconnected. Cerberus is still recruiting team members for you after the mission over. The Geth are still a threat even though you destroyed the Reaper worshiping Geth. It’s like with the Mass Effect 2 DLC, Bioware isn’t even trying.

In Defense of Gothic 3

The Gothic 4 trailer release means that there’s the return of the usual arguments about Gothic 3. Yes the pre-patch versions of Gothic 3 are hard to defend, the boars and the other stun lock creatures mangling you for 2 minutes is not anyone’s idea of a good time. But those criticisms overlook a great RPG that could best be described as Just Cause meets Dragon Age. Except it predated those games and brought something else to the table.

Where Gothic 1 limited you to a prison camps and a few ruins, Gothic 2 to the prison island and an outside city, Gothic 3 turned you loose in a land conquered by the Orcs, with human collaborators, letting you organize a resistance movement or work together with the Orcs. It was about clashes of religion and ethics. And the first time you led a rebellion of a few bedraggled slaves against the Orc overlords, and won only to see that most of the people you encouraged to rise up were dead, that was a more meaningful moment than anything I’ve seen in most games.

Dragon Age saddles you with limited choices with defined outcomes. Gothic 3 let you make your own uncomfortable decisions and live with them. There was no good or evil bar or companions lecturing you all the time. You just did what you had to do and lived with it. The way it was in the original Fallout games.

The Gothic 4 trailer shows improved graphics that are a bit too Obilivonish for my taste. I’ll reserve judgment until I see the actual game. But Gothic 3 should be remembered as an RPG that tried to do a lot more than the stuff that Bioware or Bethesda cranks out every two years.

No Big Bang Theory is Not Friends

Yes it gets high ratings. And yes CBS executives decided to use it to anchor a comedy block. And yes it’s a traditional multicamera sitcom with young people and a laugh track. Which is why it’s successful. Friends catered to a specific audience, but managed to go beyond it. Big Bang Theory did that too. But the audiences they cater to are very different. Friends was basically a soap opera with a laugh track and a bunch of attractive people delivering lines that were being done better on other shows. Big Bang Theory has one attractive person and it’s a formulaic sitcom with two ethnic stereotypes and a defined weird character, straight man and pretty girl.

Friends was a show for people who had good jobs and were feeling too old for MTV. Or MTV as it was back then. Big Bang Theory is just there. Like Two and a Half Men, it’s successful because it’s one of the few traditional sitcoms around. Big Bang Theory wouldn’t be the hit that it is, if networks hadn’t turned their backs on traditional sitcoms. Instead NBC filled up its slots with shows like Scrubs, The Office and Community, where the only joke is awkwardness and human misery.

But audiences still want sitcoms, because while they might be lame and sugar coated, they’re relaxing and easy to watch. After a while you realize that everyone on The Office besides its golden yuppie couple are doomed to be awful and miserable. You realize that even though Scrubs talked a lot about saving people’s lives, it was again about awful miserable people with serious mental problems, without the relief of a laugh track. Enter CBS, the more traditional network, which still fields derivative sitcoms with laugh tracks.

Don’t get me wrong, not just any sitcom will do. Big Bang Theory has a cast and a formula that works. But it’s still completely disposable. The genius of it is that first time viewers can quickly figure out what’s going on and who the characters are. The pretty girl, the mutt and jeff nerds and the two racist stereotypes who pad out the cast. This is how sitcoms used to work. Big Bang Theory is not Friends. It’s salvage. It’s one of the few shows on TV that older and younger viewers can watch, requires no intellectual or emotional investment and can be turned off 5 minutes in without feeling like you lost out on anything. And is still entertaining. No wonder it’s a hit.

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