Saturday, August 6, 2011


            Take a second right now and think of the most important day of your life.  Was it the day you had your first kiss?  Was it the day you met the person you would later marry?  Daytripper takes a man’s life and takes it down into these days.  You skip between him at 37, him at 21, each of these moments being one of the most important of his life.  And in 10 issues, it creates one of the greatest books Vertigo has put out, period.
            Brás de Oliva Domingos is an obituary writer for a Brazilian newspaper.  He has problems living up to his father’s legacy as a writer, and doesn’t seem to be making the mark on the world that he wants to.  But really, his life is fairly normal.  Besides the unfortunate fact that, at the end of every chapter, he dies.  He dies on his 37th birthday.  He dies at 21, after meeting his first girlfriend.  He dies at 11, after his first kiss.  At the end of the next chapter, no matter when it is in time, he’s back and he’s fine.  It’s the perfect little fantastic twist that makes the book really good because of how nuanced this twist alone is.  There’ll probably be some questions early on, like why this keeps happening, a hook to keep reading.  Eventually, there might even be a guess about how he’s going to die this time.  But the writer makes sure the concept doesn’t ruin the book.  It’s not done for shock value.  You don’t even see him die in most cases.  You’re given an obituary, a reminder of how his life ended this time.  Not in the physical sense, but the state of his life.
           Because that’s really the point of the book.  It’s not about how you die or when you die.  It could be anytime, anyway, and it could be very unexpected.  It’s about how you lived your life.  It’s the brightness in a book that deals with a very dark concept.  Nobody wants to face their own mortality head-on, but the book asks you to, in a very polite way.  Brás is such a sympathetic character that you like him easily, and so you can feel not just for when he dies, but for the really important moments of your death.  His job as an obituary writer isn’t to just say how people died, it’s to say how they lived, a reflection of the themes of the book as a whole.
            Vertigo’s books, from my experience, tend to be either pure fantasy or realism so dark and gritty that there’s little hope to be found.  Daytripper gives you realism that doesn’t get dragged down.  It lifts itself up, deals with a heavy topic in a way that’s easy to digest, but still hits your heartstrings.  It hits life on an emotional level.  It’s an instant classic and a must-read.


            When the first Devil May Cry came out on PS2, it was big.  An action game full of energetic combo-focused gameplay, it easily influenced the God of War series and many other wannabes.  The game also had plenty of over-the-top stunts that had to try to match themselves the further they got in the series.  In the first game, it was satisfactory for Dante to be impaled with a sword, and then just pull himself up and out of it.  In the third game, he rode around on a rocket in one cutscene.  It gets to the point where it’s hard to tell if it’s serious or parody, and Bayonetta is either the biggest parody of it yet, or the logical conclusion.  And either way, it manages to be a hell of a lot of fun.
            Bayonetta is the last of the Umbran witches, a clan that existed 500 years ago along with the Lumen sages.  She goes to the European city of Vigrid in the hopes that she can find an artifact that will help her regain her memory.  It’s a pretty simple story, but it works well enough.  The game does slow down a good bit at the story-focused cutscenes.  But this may be more the fault of what it does in the action-based cutscenes.  I think the best way to explain this will be the opening cutscene (not technically the opening, but it’s the best way to place it).  It starts with a funeral, with a man and a nun.  Angels appear to take the dead body away…only the angels are evil.  And then they attack the nun, whose clothes get ripped off until she’s revealed to be Bayonetta.  And then a guy comes out of the coffin and starts throwing guns at her.  Her guns are called Scarborough Fair as a whole, and have the individual names of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.  She attaches two of these guns to her feet.  Where she fires them from.  She literally has moves involving sticking out her leg and firing off her gun.  It’s not over-the-top.  That’s an understatement.  The game revels in finding out where every other action game like it has gone and then going further, finding its place somewhere between camp and sexiness.  One move involves Bayonetta break-dancing around as she fires guns in every direction, until she rests in a seductive pose, and the camera zooms in and takes a picture of her.  It’s wonderful.  There is a good deal of self-awareness in the sheer ridiculousness of what it has you doing.
            If the pure insanity of the cutscenes didn’t draw me in, it was the gameplay that really got me.  It’s a very simple system at its base.  You use Y and B as your quick and strong attacks, comboing them together, and you use the right trigger to dodge.  What you get with combat that uses so few buttons is gameplay that’s easy to learn, but hard to master.  Dodging at just the right time triggers “Witch Time”, the game’s form of bullet time.  It’s figuring out the right time to dodge that adds some of the challenge to the game.  While some of the early enemies you can just wail on, you’re going to find plenty that will require you to time your dodges just right so that you can get your hits in.  And not dodging at the right time…well, this game is not afraid to kick your ass.  In fact, it will, any time you give it the chance.  But at the same time, the difficulty curves just right.  There were a few curse words thrown around, sure, but there was never a time when I thought it was unfair or cruel.  I managed to beat the game on Normal, and while there were plenty of deaths and item uses along the way, it did it in a way that was fair and fun.  Part of the replayability of the game comes from the fact that it challenges you to go through levels with no item uses, no deaths, and when you want to step it up even further, not getting hit.  Not to mention that it has a shop full of upgrades I didn’t even have the money to touch, and more difficulties that unlock.  My playthrough took around 9 hours to beat, and I considered this a very fulfilling 9 hours.  It does pull a few tricks like making you refight bosses again, but it makes sure that you’re never fighting them in the same way.  The game makes sure that you do not get tired of it in the final act.
            There’s two big reasons to play Bayonetta.  One is for the excellent gameplay that properly rewards you for doing well, and has enough intricacies in its system to make sure that it has some depth and not just button mashing.  The other is for how sheer over-the-top it is at every opportunity.  On the one hand, I’d want a sequel to it, on the other, I’m not sure how they could even top what they already have.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Rantings: Movie Ads and America's Got Talent

            This is a rant that is largely unrelated to itself.  I’ve helpfully split it up into two parts: terrible pre-movie ads, and America’s Got Talent.
Part the First: Stupid Ads Before Movies
            I rather like the First Look that shows up before the movies.  It’s terrible.  I can make fun of it like nobody’s business and I don’t care because it’s not like anybody else does.  As far as I can tell, they could put a blank screen up before the movie starts and it would be the same.  It seems to be the official time for everybody to get the last look at Facebook and Twitter before the movie starts, and I am fine with that.  Today in particular, before Rise of the Planet of the Apes (review forthcoming, hopefully before the weekend’s over), I saw 2 ads that have always been stupid and 2 that were new and were just as stupid.  To be fair, I’ll also take some time at the end to praise a good ad.
            We’ll start with the least offensive and least interesting of the bunch, and ad for some sort of Regal Premiere Experience which is apparently really special for some reason.  All it says is that it exists and that it’s over in the Regal Hollywood 20.  It doesn’t tell me where that is.  A Google search says Greenville, and hell no I am not going to Greenville for whatever it is.  There’s nothing too special to rant about here, it’s just a pointless ad.
            Next is an ad for Lenovo, a software that apparently starts your laptop up really fast.  You’d think they’d have a realistic situation for this.  Hell, you have people at the movies, why not show somebody having to buy movie tickets from his computer seconds before he leaves?  He boots up his laptop so fast that he’s right out to the car.  No, they don’t do this.  Instead, they show the laptop having to boot up in mid-air to open a parachute.  What.  I mean, I guess it’s impressive, but why would I ever need to do this?  The ad fails to say why I really need my laptop to boot up so fast in everyday life.  Oh, and we have to have a MAKING OF THE AD afterwards, which shows that the attempt failed several times, leading the people to awkwardly try to place the blame on the parachute instead of the software.  Yes, laptops were harmed in the making of this ad.  There’s also some fine print at the bottom which I wish I could’ve read had it not flashed by for about 2 seconds.  Shame.
            Next we have one of the things First Look does really well, promoting TV shows nobody wants to watch.  In this case, we had ABC’s Charlie’s Angels on ABC, an ABC production.  I’m pretty sure I saw that the critics already tore apart the pilot for this show.  Two things in particular stood out.  First, there was one of the angels saying, “This time we’re not cops or spies.  We’re detectives.”  As both my parents (and a quick search on IMDB to double-check) pointed out, they were always detectives, both in the original series and the movies.  So your actress just said she doesn’t know a thing about the original version of the show she’s remaking.  The other big “Waitwhat?” moment was when Bosley’s actor was talking about how great Bosley is and made sure to mention that he loves women.  I…I don’t even understand the point of this.  I know what they’re trying to say, that he’s a ladies man (or wants to be), but why not just say that?  Why specifically say that he loves women?  Are you trying to make sure that everybody knows that he’s heterosexual?  ABC: No homo.
            Finally, and I saved the best for last, it’s an ad by Regal saying how you should go to Regal.  No really.  It shows big action movies, as the screen slowly shrinks until it becomes a TV, shows “No movie should be reduced to this”, and then the TV explodes and then the tagline “GO BIG OR GO HOME” shows up.  Which opens so many questions.  For one, who the hell are you advertising to?  Movie-goers?  WE’RE AT THE THEATER.  Sell us popcorn or candy or the bathroom, sure.  Sell us the movie theater concept?  We bought a ticket, we’re in the seat!  You don’t have to sell to us anymore!  It’d be like showing a trailer for the movie you’re about to see.  The next question here is, well, what if I want to see a movie that’s not in theaters?  You’re not a second-run or even vaguely cult theater, you just show the hot movies.  What if I want to see, I don’t know, let’s say Star Wars.  Hell, Star Wars had an effective ad for one of their theater re-showings that did the same concept, but the point worked there.  It was saying “You can see it on TV, or you can come to the theaters and see it!”  It was a valid choice.  There’s no valid choice here.  I can’t go to Regal and say “Give me a ticket for King Kong”.  King Kong was really big and awesome in theaters, but I can’t see it that way again.  Until mainstream theaters start regularly showing second runs of movies, this ad is bad.  Finally, why don’t I just go home?  It’s cheaper, I have a better selection of movies, I don’t have to deal with the people talking in front of me.  What if I’m watching a movie that doesn’t need to go big?  What if I want to watch The Social Network or The King’s Speech?  Does this give me permission to pirate these movies instead of seeing them at the theater?  This is bad.  I can’t even get the words to describe how bad it is.  Just take this ad out of theaters now.
            Finally, praise where praise is due.  As much as I hate advertising in general, there was one ad I honestly liked.  It had a guy on a cellphone with Google Plus and Facebook icons around him, Angry Birds and the Nyan Cat flying around, all these various internet memes and game characters.  He walks up to a movie theater attendant, who stops him and tells him to leave it outside.  Sprint says turn off your cell phone as their “All together now” theme plays.  It’s effective.  It tells me all I can do if I get a Sprint phone, but also says “This stuff is really neat, but don’t let it ruin the movie”.  I’ll mark it down a point for having a guy play DDR by standing still, but overall, it was a decent ad that was actually rather nice, at least when compared to some of the other junk.
Part the Second: America’s Got Terrible TV
            Reality shows are definitely a guilty pleasure for me.  It’s brainless TV that I can easily consume and be entertained by.  It was tonight that I realized that America’s Got Talent has taken the pleasure out of guilty pleasure.  I just gave up on the show.  Now, admittedly, this was right before there were two REALLY COOL ACTS.  These two acts didn’t save the show, of course.  Instead, I have compiled a list of problems with the show, along with some suggestions on how to fix them.
1. Howie Mandel.  Oh good lord, let’s start with the biggest problem, because so many other problems I’m going to list can be traced back to him.  He’s unfunny.  He tries so hard to be wacky and weird that it hurts.  He constantly puts through terrible acts for the lulz and has an antagonistic relationship with Piers for no real reason.  David Hasselhoff was out of his mind and completely useless as a judge, and he was better than Howie.  Get him off the show or just bring the whole ship down.
2. Nick Cannon.  If we’re going to go after individuals, let’s go ahead and hit them first off.  I really don’t know why they got rid of Jerry Springer.  He was earnest and funny and had that natural weirdness to him.  Nick Cannon is loud and annoying.  Most of his annoyances pertain to the audition round, where the camera constantly cuts to him as he’s either just staring at the act or making fun of them.  It doesn’t matter whether they’re good or bad, he’ll make fun of them and take away screen-time from them.  It gets worse after the bad acts, where the act will get rejected, about to walk off-stage…BUT HERE COMES NICK CANNON.  Oh, that dancing was terrible?  IT’S TIME FOR NICK CANNON TO DANCE NEXT TO THEM!  That’s so wacky, Nick!  You’re so silly!  Yeah, this got old real fast, and serves little but to pad out the show.  There’s surely some C-list celebrity you can drag in to replace him.
3. Putting through terrible acts.  For those who don’t watch the show, the show goes through an audition phase, then a Vegas phase, and after Vegas the acts have to be pared down to 48 before the audience can start voting.  48’s a pretty small number when you think of the thousands of acts that have to audition, and even the hundreds that make it to Vegas.  So why is it padded out with acts that are quite clearly there for no reason but for Howie to laugh at them?  It’s sad to think that a spot in the top 48 to what could’ve been a honestly good acrobat or magician or dance group was lost so that Howie could laugh at a 30-year-old guy who can’t dance very well.  And yes, I say laugh at.  Howie wants you to think he’s the fun judge.  Instead, he’s the one who will laugh right in the face of somebody who honestly thinks they’re a good dancer, and NBC wants you to laugh at him, too.  Go ahead, laugh, America.  Now imagine you were on stage in front of a live audience of, I dunno, let’s say millions, for no other reason than because one judge decided he wanted people to laugh at you.  It’s not funny.  It’s cruel.  Howie isn’t the fun judge, he’s the cruel one who will destroy somebody’s dream just so that he can make fun of somebody else.  Also there were Those Funny Little People, which were a bunch of people in gnome/elf (they claimed elf in a later appearance, which blew my mind) costumes who lip-synced and kinda danced (their costumes really stopped that) to Ice Ice Baby in their first appearance.  Howie and Sharon thought they were hilarious.  Howie and Sharon apparently have the sense of humor of a 5-year-old.
4. Steamrolling over Piers.  Yes, Piers is supposed to be the mean British judge who’s mean to everybody.  But really, he just gives out his own honest opinion and doesn’t sugarcoat it.  Which is nice.  But any time he says the slightest negative thing, the audience suddenly starts booing, the other judges yell at him, and Nick Cannon talks about how mean he is.  He’s still one of your three judges.  I guess there’s no way you can control the audience, but you can still control the judges.  Which brings us to…
5. The judges are 12-year-olds on an internet forum.  I actually heard them telling Piers that his opinion was wrong.  Not “I disagree”, but “you’re wrong”.  How mature.  Next are you going to tell Piers how gay he is?  Grow up.
6. Putting through non-Vegas acts.  Professor Splash is interesting.  He high-dives into a pool.  And I can applaud him for that.  However, you’re looking for an act that can fill a 90-minute Vegas show.  Can you really imagine watching 90 minutes of some guy high-diving?  Take ten seconds and think before you put acts like this through.  It is entirely possible to applaud an act for being great, but say “It’s not really Vegas”.
7. Singers and kids.  Hoo boy.  Next to Howie Mandel, this may be the number one problem on the show.  It’s been running for 5 years, and every year a singer has won.  Now, Season 2 had Terry Fator, who was at least a singer/comedian, and sung through his ventriloquism.  He still falls under the category of singer.  It’s getting ridiculous.  Now, I know the point of the show is that you can audition with any act at any age (I’ll get to that latter part when I get to the kids).  But it’s time to cut out singers.  I’ll even be nice with this.  You can still have singing groups!  You can still have bands with singers!  And hell, maybe in very special cases, you can still have a singer.  Just one or two, though, and they better do something really damn extraordinary.  I am talking “Singing while being set on fire and doing acrobatics” extraordinary.  And then there’s the kids.  There’s been some decent kids, kids who have done something really awesome.  They had a kid DJing!  He may be the only DJ, period, that they’ve shown.  The problem is that kids seem to get a free pass.  They can be so sweet diabetics aren’t allowed to watch, but clearly not have the singing ability that will develop, and the judges will freely let them through.  I don’t expect you to X them out and be mean to them.  You can, in fact, politely let them do their act, applaud it, and then say that it was really nice and they should continue singing, but they’re not there yet. 
            I still believe in America’s Got Talent, someday, becoming watchable again.  I believe in it being a pure showcase for incredible acts that can’t be seen on any other show.  Right now, it’s not a show so much as some decent material you can probably Youtube the day after.  Maybe that’s all it wants to be, and if so, you can just stop it now.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Disapperance of Haruhi Suzumiya

            In my ultimately-pointless thing about anime series I hadn’t seen at the start of my Antique Bakery review, I mentioned that I had watched Haruhi Suzumiya, albeit with someone pestering me to do so.  I should start out this review by saying that, if you haven’t seen it, go and watch it right now.  It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s charming.  It has a great cast of characters, a genre-bending premise, and wonderful animation.  To be fair, I’ve only seen the first season, which means I have not sat through Endless Eight from Season 2, a Groundhog Day plot which has the same episode 8 times in a row (although they reanimated and revoiced it EACH TIME, which is at least some dedication).  At Otakon, they had the east coast English dub premiere of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, and I waited in a crowded line to go see it.
            I’m going to go ahead and warn in advance that, if you haven’t seen the series, you shouldn’t see the movie.  I know it seems obvious, but there’s quite a few plot points that either spoil parts of the series or just don’t make sense unless you’ve seen it.  Because of this, I’m not really going to concede to explaining some of the basic plot elements like characters.  After all, didn’t I tell you in the first paragraph to go and see the series?  Anyways, he plot has what appears to be a normal action for Haruhi, as she’s planning an over-the-top Christmas party involving the SOS Brigade, whether they like it or not.  Then Kyon wakes up the next day and everything’s different.  Haruhi and Itsuki are gone.  Mikuru has never met him before.  Nagato is just a shy girl rather than an android.  Kyon is the only one who even remembers how things used to be, and he has to figure out what happened and how to fix it…unless he decides that a normal world is better.  It’s not exactly a completely unique plot, but I think it works well for the show.  Kyon is the one normal person in a group of abnormal people, and suddenly he’s put into a world where everything is normal.  There’s enough moral decisions on his part about whether or not the previous world was better.
            It all comes down to the big emotional climax, a trippy inner mind sequence as Kyon has to make the big decision about what he’s going to do.  And it works so well.  The audience cheered at the end of it.  I wanted to get up and applaud.  I’m explaining all this because it comes to the big problem of the movie, and that’s the fact that, after this climax, there’s still 30 minutes of movie left.  You’ve just hit the highest point of the movie, and everything afterwards is going to be slow in comparison.  The movie as a whole is just far longer than it ever needed to be.  Before it showed, an audience member got to ask one question, and that was “Is it really 3 hours long?”  The answer was no, it’s 2 hours 40 minutes.  And that is a long, long 160 minutes.  Knowing that the Haruhi series as a whole, and this movie in particular, is based on a series of books helps to explain this.  It really does move at the pace of a novel.  It takes an incredibly long time for Kyon to do anything besides get used to this new world he’s in, and then he spends a lot of time just hanging out with Nagato.  It’s like, for every huge moment of a new revelation or a really big joke, there’s 20 minutes of meaningless wandering.  I got fidgety within the first hour of it.  I think the lack of Haruhi also hurts the movie.  You take a show based on a very eccentric main character, and then take her away for an hour.  It’s no surprise that the pace is going to struggle without her.
            Disappearance is a good movie, and a welcome addition to the Haruhi series.  But its length makes me really hesitant to just outright recommend it, especially to newcomers.  I’d almost say that, if you watch it, it should be split into two sittings.  I could see myself watching the first season again, there’s no way I could see myself watching the movie again as it is.