Take some Ninjas. Add some Aliens. Plot? We don’t need no stinkin’ plot! THEY FIGHT! That’s the plot.
Some wire stunts, fake blood, lots of body parts, a dash of tentacle porn, and you get Alien
Take some Ninjas. Add some Aliens. Plot? We don’t need no stinkin’ plot! THEY FIGHT! That’s the plot.
Some wire stunts, fake blood, lots of body parts, a dash of tentacle porn, and you get Alien
Full Disclosure: I liked the movie Sucker Punch before I saw it in the theater. Here’s the invitation I sent to my friends to catch the release last weekend:
Sucker Punch is out, and if you don’t want to see it then you are gay. And I don’t mean “gay” as a derogatory term, I mean gay as in homosexual. And even then, you should still want to see it.
The preview for Sucker Punch was completely accurate. So if you saw it, you should have a good idea of what you’re getting into: hot chicks in skimpy outfits and glittery make-up kicking ass against dragons, monsters, robots, and steampunk nazi stormtroopers.
Sells itself, eh?
Unfortunately, the opening weekend of Sucker Punch turned into open season on writer/director/producer Zach Snyder. Making fun of Sucker Punch turned into a pissing-contest-media-frenzy that I haven’t seen since Gigli was released. Steven Rea from the Philadelphia Inquirer called Sucker Punch “hands-down the most nightmarishly awful film of the year.” Ty Burr at the Boston Globe called it “Inception for dummies.” Steven Zeitchik at the LA Times highlighted the bad reviews, which he suggested were reaching “critical mass.”
Funny thing was, many of the reviewers spent so much time sensationalizing the violence and writing clever derogatory remarks that they forgot to actually review the movie. Many reviews I read dismissed anything good about the film by attaching the words “teen” or “fanboy.”
Guess what? Teens and fanboys go to see movies too. Lots of them, in fact. So do fangirls, so maybe it’s time we dropped the gender and just called them what they are: fans. To say that fans will like the movie isn’t much of a review, is it? In fact, for a reviewer to say that fans will like the movie and that they don’t like it tells us more about the movie reviewers than the movie they were supposed to be reviewing.
I ignored them and saw Sucker Punch anyway. Truth is, the film wasn’t actually as bad as the professionals insisted it was. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t movie-of-the-year by any stretch of the imagination, but users are currently rating it 6.8 on imdb.com and 6.6 on metacritic which doesn’t sound “nightmarishly awful” to me. It was also the #2 film over the weekend (coming in just behind Diary of a Wimpy Kid) pulling in 19 million dollars.
So in my continuing quest for un-professionalism, I’m going to give you a real movie review. Unlike the professionals, I’m going to tell you what actually punches and what actually sucks about Sucker Punch.
As far as hot chicks in skimpy outfits and glittery make-up kicking ass against dragons, monsters, robots, and steampunk nazi stormtroopers goes, Sucker Punch delivers. The movie was written, directed and produced by Zach Snyder, who also directed Watchmen and the ab-laden bloodfest/masterpiece 300. All the good things about the movie 300 are here in Sucker Punch, just replace Washboard-Spartan-Abs with Glittery-Lolita-Eyes.
The costumes, lighting, and special effects were all well done. Like 300, Sucker Punch has a preposterous number of over-the-top fight scenes, but they were so grand, so epic, and so well choreographed/filmed/edited that I didn’t get bored watching them. Sucker Punch’s biggest asset is that Zach Snyder knows how to move the camera through a scene. What to show and how to show it. What to leave out and how to leave it out. His taste in music isn’t bad either.
And seriously, when have you EVER seen a dragon dog-fighting a WWII bomber in a castle courtyard filled with orcs?
Under the hood, Sucker Punch might actually be more complicated remake of 300 – a series of epic, flesh-revealing fight scenes barely held together by a hint of a plot that simply won’t stand up to any analysis. Not that this is a bad thing, because there’s nothing worse than epic action scenes crowded out by an overbearing (and bad) plot or contrived dialog. Zach Snyder tries to cover his ailing plot with a thick layer of flesh, blood and CG.
Despite a weak plot, Sucker Punch has some clever plot devices. The opening montage sets the audience up with a lot of story in a very short period of time, and all without using a word of dialog. The same technique was used at the start of Watchmen. The feeling is more akin to a music video than a movie. Also, the multiple levels of reality layering Baby Doll’s world (similar to the recent movie Inception) were refreshing and well filmed, complete with color and costume changes to help the audience process how far down we’ve gone into Baby Doll’s abstract fantasy/reality.
I won’t ruin the ending here, but I can say that the twist at the ending of Sucker Punch was a surprise. It actually takes the standard Hollywood formula ending, and gives it the finger. This alone would give movie reviewers enough reason to hate it.
Zack Snyder deserves kudos for having the balls to try this ending, although there were lots of ways this movie could have ended that would have been more satisfying.
When movies try too hard to be cool, they generally aren’t. Sucker Punch isn’t as pretentious as a Quentin Tarantino film, but it does try really hard to be kewl, which is it’s biggest failing, and no doubt causes reviewers to drop the derogatory version of the word “fanboy.” Much of the pretentiousness in Sucker Punch comes not from bad acting, but a script full of contrived situations that boggle the mind without a hint of an explanation in sight. Who the hell is the Wise Man helping out Baby Doll, and why? Where did Baby Doll’s multiple layers of reality come from? How did so many smoking-hot and non-psychotic chicks end up in an insane asylum together?
And “Baby Doll”? Seriously? The protagonist’s name is “Baby Doll”? Wow. Objectify much?
Many reviewers called Sucker Punch on its high volume of violence against women, and I have to agree. Good stories need conflict, so it’s common to set up a bad situation for our protagonist to overcome, but Sucker Punch goes too far. There were very few moments that women weren’t being attacked, controlled (by men) or forced to do things against their will (by men).
Speaking of which, did we have to have so many near-rape scenes? And girls being forced to dance and prostitute themselves? Like things weren’t bad enough for them? Despite a PG-13 rating (???) and NO sex scenes or nudity, Sucker Punch still managed to go too far. Parts of the movie are hard to watch, especially the opening montage. And shooting innocent girls in the head just to scare the other girls into submission isn’t funny, or cool, or a necessary part of any movie.
Some wrongs are so bad, they just can’t be righted. Sometimes the story is pushed to such a dark place, there’s no ending that will gratify the audience. Such is the case in Sucker Punch. Did Zach Snyder realize this? Is this why he opted for the anti-Hollywood ending? Did Baby Doll realize this? Is this why she chose the way she did at the end of the movie?
I’m torn about the ending myself. While I’m pleased and impressed that the movie didn’t cop out with some kind of Happily-Ever-After ending, pieces of the story were left hanging. For example, Baby Doll’s evil stepfather never got his due. And there were other ways Baby Doll’s character arc could have resolved that would have been gratifying without resorting to a Disney ending.
And the voice-over at the very end of the movie is just plain silly. People in the audience laughed out loud. Read for yourself:
Who honors those we love for the very life we live? Who sends monsters to kill us. And at the same time, things that will never die. Who teaches us whats real, and how to laugh at lies. Who decides why we live, and what we’ll die to defend. Who trains us, and who holds the key to set us free. It’s you. You have all the weapons you need. Now fight!
From imdb.com: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0978764/quotes?qt=qt1458130
The flashy fight scenes and revealing outfits in Sucker Punch will amaze in a good way, and the violence against women will amaze in a bad way. Whether you’ll like Sucker Punch (or any movie for that matter) depends on whether the positives outweigh the negatives for you.
If you are able to see the (lame) plot as a device to connect (awesome) fight scenes together, you might forgive Zach Snyder and enjoy the show. If not, then the movie simply won’t be able to raise itself out of its own darkness, and you’ll write it off as a “fanboy’s wet dream” like the professional reviewers did. The ending won’t be the cherry on top, (unless you are sick of Hollywood Happy Endings) although it might just be the nail in Sucker Punch’s coffin for you.
Overall, I liked Sucker Punch more than I liked Season of the Witch, and Faster, two movies that weren’t bad at all. I agree that the situations were a bit childish, and the plot was beyond contrived. But with a little eye-rolling and properly placed restroom breaks, you’ll get more than your fair share of hot chicks in skimpy outfits and glittery make-up kicking ass against dragons, monsters, robots, and steampunk nazi stormtroopers, which is exactly what the trailer of the movie promised. It’s also where Zach Snyder shines. Perhaps someday he’ll realize he should hire a real writer, or switch to making music videos.
You start Dead Space 2 wearing a straitjacket. You couldn’t wield a weapon if you had one. Wanna live? Then mash the RUN key and run for your f**ing life, while hideous monsters called necromorphs chase you down, each of them eager to take your body apart in high definition.
Dead Space 2 adds to the list of Electronic Arts (EA) Games I’ve raved about (namely Mass Effect and Dragon Age) that make EA the MGM of Video Games. These are more than just video games, they make you feel like the lead character in a movie. The level of detail in every aspect of the gameplay is sick. In a good way.
I just completed the game, and the folks at Visceral should be proud. They really did their homework. Check out this article from Wired that covers their disturbing analysis of anatomy. The writers spin an intriguing story, and the game designers know the tricks of pacing and timing. The musical score would give Howard Shore goosebumps, and I was pleased to hear Russian Circles contributing some audio kick-ass to the soundtrack. Dead Space 2 has an engaging plot, puzzles, environments, characters, conflicts and complications that distract you from the horror, and then… Well, let’s just hope you have a change of underwear handy.
Those familiar with shooters like Doom 3 are in for a surprise.
Browse through your inventory for too long, and your body parts are likely to become inventory for something else.
Ammo and weapons are scarce, so you can’t just shoot at everything that moves. You eventually inherit a plasma cutter that’s about as dangerous as large Swingline Stapler. You’ll scavenge for clips to reload it, and you better make every shot count. No spray-and-pray here, Choirboy.
No more gentle deaths, either.
No more, “Oh I’m floating up into the sky, looking down at my body! How peaceful! Is there a tunnel?”
Trust me, watching yourself get pummeled, crushed, dismembered, skewered, decapitated by necromorphs or chopped in half by an airlock is not for the squeamish. One screwup, and you’ll get a lesson in internal anatomy: yours.
And just see if you can make it through a mini-game of running a drill press into your own eye. You need a steady hand for this one. In fact, you probably won’t get it right the first time, and even if you get it right and “win” it still looks painful.
Instead of downplaying the gruesomeness of the game, EA and Visceral Games embrace the horror. Check out www.yourmomhatesthis.com to see Moms’ reactions to this game. Marketing Genius.
I won’t lie, Dead Space 2 is simply an extended version of the original Dead Space with a multiplayer option and some general improvements.
You play the same character, Issac Clarke, and your story picks up several months after the end of events in Dead Space 1. I recognized plenty of graphics textures and sounds from the original game, as well as many of the monsters and weapons. Health monitor, stasis, suits, stores, benches, power nodes, upgrades and more are all straight out of the first game.
But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The original game was top-notch, and 2 is as good if not better. It’s safe to say that if Dead Space didn’t put you in the loony bin, you need Dead Space 2.
Dead Space 2 adds in the ability to play with/against others online. I dig the occasional multi-player mayhem, but I certainly did not buy Dead Space 2 to play with/against others. The multiplayer option of Dead Space 2 seems like an afterthought to compete with L4D2 or cave in to fanboy demands, very similar to the way F.E.A.R. handled it.
I’d gladly trade in the multiplayer component of Dead Space 2 for pretty much anything else. More content in the single-player version, or a reduced price. Maybe they could sell the multiplayer component as a separate add-on for people who actually want it?
Dead Space 1 had a short section of Zero Gravity, but all you could do was jump straight across the room. In Dead Space 2, you have micro-thrusters built into your suit, so you can maneuver around in zero gravity. The controls are intuitive and you can press “Z” to reorient yourself to the floor.
Zero G is unsettling all by its self, but when you add in 3-D 0-G puzzles, traps, necromorphs and a fricking countdown timer that shows how much air you have left before you DIE… well, the results are uberharrowing.
The story from Dead Space 1 continues in the single-player version of Dead Space 2. You wake up in an insane asylum long after the events on board the USG Ishimura, and you have no memory what’s happened since then.
The military wants you dead for reasons unknown. Religious zealots want you alive for reasons to horrible to mention.
There really isn’t anyone to trust, not even yourself, since your exposure to the artifact has left you with hallucination scenes of your dead girlfriend that are possibly the most frightening part of the game.
Oh, and let’s not forget the necromorphs. Lots and lots of necromorphs, who want everything dead. Including you.
There’s your old friends the line gun and plasma cutter, the assault rifle (my primary weapon), and the force rifle and flamethrower which are perfect for swarms of necromorphettes.
But one of the new kids on the block is the Javelin gun, which pins bad guys right to the wall. Gotta love that rag-doll physics engine.
Use the line gun to sever creatures legs to slow them down, or their arms to limit their attacks, or their heads to limit their lifespan.
Ah yes, and you stomp on corpses to loot them, crushing them into bloody bits. Genius. And the sound is spot on. [Editor’s Note: How do you know this?]
In fact, anything you can pick up is a weapon: chairs, magazines, plants, debris… What the hell are all these long, metal spikes laying around for? Heh. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more disgusting, use your telekinesis power to pick up and hurl body parts as weapons.
Never thought I’d be comfortable playing an RPG without a map, but the stellar ‘breadcrumbs’ feature from Dead Space made me a believer. Just press a button, and a line on the floor shows you which way to go. No more getting lost or turned around. No more pulling up maps that take you out of the game.
In Dead Space 2, the breadcrumbs feature gets an upgrade. Now you can also use it to find the nearest store, game save location or upgrades bench.
I like the idea of using power nodes to upgrade your equipment, but whoever thought up the weapons improvement matrix should be shot with their own line gun.
Power nodes aren’t handed out like Pez, you gotta work for them. Plugging power nodes into a matrix where they don’t actually increase weapon stats is a poor return-on-investment.
While you can reallocate your power nodes, it’s still frustrating to have to pick some arbitrary upgrade path just to improve the features you want. Please. Either one upgrade per power node, or make them cheaper/more available.
Dead Space 2 comes bundled with an optional utility called “EA Download Manager”. Beware. This is simply a poor knockoff of Steam, a utility created by Valve that was released over a year ago and is Far Far Superior:
Business 101 – if you want people to switch to your product, you have to offer something the existing competition DOES NOT OFFER. No one wants to run two gaming clients in the background, and no one’s going to ditch all their existing Steam friends, achievements, and purchased games just so they can run your limited knockoff.
The only thing EA Download Manager might be useful for is updating your EA game software. But shouldn’t this ability should be left built into the game? Don’t separate a necessary component from the game, connect it to your online store and call it a fucking feature.
The video game industry is still struggling to strike a balance between PC game accessibility and protection against piracy. Obviously, the game makers can’t just leave the game unlocked, but they also can’t have you calling in to their office with a note signed by your mother each time you want to play.
Dead Space 2 hits you up for e-mail, username and password each time you start up. Annoying, but you can cancel past that if you just want to play the single-player version.
Sadly, if that’s what it takes to make the game companies comfortable releasing games to the PC market, then I won’t bitch too loudly about it. Of course, these copy protection schemes doesn’t stop people from breaking the games and dropping them on torrents.
Yes, I could probably get Dead Space 2 for free, but I don’t want game companies to drop the PC market for the console market. Notice that Red Dead Redemption is NOT available for PC, which is a shame. The way I see it, my money goes to a good cause, and is also a vote to keep game companies interested in the PC market.
Dead Space 2 is a disgustingly, gruesomely horrific masterpiece sure to give you paranoia, high blood pressure, a nervous tic, seizures, a heart attack, and (if you survive all that) post-traumatic stress disorder.
In other words, bloody awesome fun, and worthy of the Conrad Zero UberCool Seal of Approval
In case you hadn’t noticed, RPG video games are evolving into movies. Check out the trailer for Blizzard’s Wrath of the Lich King – its better than most movie trailers. People look forward to the release day of “blockbuster” RPGs like Dragon Age video game just like they did for the release of The Lord of the Rings movies. The sci-fi game Mass Effect has epic intros, finales, and cutscenes that look like they were lifted out of Battlestar Galactica.People buzz on the internet about the big names being cast as the voice talent. The game credits scroll by and you wonder how it could possibly take that many people to make a video game. The video game scores and soundtracks are nearly Howard Shore Awesome. In fact, many game companies are releasing the game scores and soundtracks separately from the games themselves, just like Hollywood movies do.
With this evolution, RPG’s have become more immersive than ever before. While playing Mass Effect and Dragon Age, I didn’t feel like I was playing a video game. I felt like I was the lead character in a movie. Game designers are realizing there’s a difference between people who want the experience of being the main character in an epic saga, saving the galaxy from the forces of evil while knocking boots with hot crewmates in the cargo hold of an experimental military frigate… and those who just want to kill ten-thousand zombies with a chainsaw.
There is a difference between playing a game and playing a movie. Playing a game is measured in character metrics: levels, kills, headshots, unlocks, money. Playing a movie is measured in character experience: achievements, accomplishments, alliances, romantic encounters, trusts and betrayals, watching in awe as the climactic cutscene unfolds, but most of all DECISIONS.
All of these things are given to us with the new generation of RPGs, but something is still missing. A bit more evolution is needed.
RPGs like Doom, Quake, Half Life, F.E.A.R., Dead Space and many, many others are designed around a linear gameplay system. They lead the player through an ordered series of events from start to finish. This linear method is very efficient for game designers and programmers. It gives them control over everything including your inventory and your rate of skill/level advancement. Most importantly it gives them control over the order of events. This makes storytelling easy. The plot progresses like a book, from A to B to C to the end.
Notice the words “the plot” in that last sentence. One. Singular. This is a major limitation of linear gameplay. It can make you feel like a rat in a maze with no branches. No options. One path. One destination. Claustrophobic. Contrived. No matter what you do, the outcome will always be the same.
This might be fine for game players who just like to kill things, and they might enjoy playing the game several times, but those who want to play a story won’t have much interest in replaying the game when they already know the story and can’t do anything to change it. In the land of linear gameplay, you have no free will. Your fate is predetermined, and locked into the code of the game.
Eventually game designers realized the limitations of linear gameplay. Their attempt at a solution is called Nonlinear Gameplay, more popularly known as “Open World” and a major step in the evolution of video games. Current games like Grand Theft Auto, Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Red Dead Redemption have made the Open World catchphrase famous. Gone are the narrow, one-way corridors. With open worlds, exploration is encouraged. The world is wide open for you to explore, and you are not forced down any particular path.
Fallout 3 (Bethesda Game Studios) promised to raise the bar with over thirty or so different endings, depending on decisions you made in the game. I’m here to tell you, the cake is a lie. Some say there are four endings. While Fallout 3 is a fantastic game, it only has one ending in four flavors of lame, each awesomely narrated by Ron Perlman. See for yourself.
Neverwinter Nights 2 (Atari/Obsidian) proclaimed Everything you do has Meaning but that meaning is pretty limited. The Good/Evil barometer doesn’t have much impact on the game story. Primarily, it helps determine the loyalty of your party members. Make the wrong decisions and they will leave or worse, defect and side with your enemy. And if you play the game as an Evil character, you’ll have the option of joining the dark lord at the end of the game. But these supposed ‘differences’ don’t really change the story you experience, only the ending cutscenes that play out.
After completing Oblivion, Neverwinter Nights 2 and Fallout 3, I’ve found that games claiming to be Open World still have a problem that keeps them from being truly ‘open’. I call this problem The Inevitable Master Plotline. You can branch off from it if you like – you can save every village from every dragon, and you can kill every living creature in the cosmos, but you can’t escape fate, destiny, and the power of the game designers. The inescapable master plot awaits. Check your journal, and there it is – The Single, Solitary, OverArching Plot. That “open” world suddenly doesn’t seem quite as open anymore. The game designers have simply modularized the path between the start and finish, and you’re free to knock off the pieces of the story in any order you choose.
The problem with the Inevitable Master Plotline is that it limits the ability of the player to affect the world. The story is still unchangeable. But some games are opening up the open world and letting players have an effect.
Dragon Age is the game Neverwinter Nights was trying to be. In this game, things you do DO have meaning. Your decisions have an impact on the world around you. Do you kill off or save a main character? This decision affects who becomes king. Do you stay to defend the keep, or rush off to flank invading forces? Do you help one of your classmates escape the mages’ tower? These choices will come back to affect you later in the game. They actually change the story as it unfolds. This is the kind of interaction that makes people feel like they have an effect on the virtual world around them.
Some of the decisions in the game Mass Effect I had to pause the game and walk away from the keyboard to think about my choice. Whom will you choose to represent Humans on the Alliance Council? Which will you save from destruction, the council or the citadel? Will you kill off the last of a rogue alien species? How do you handle a fanatic fanboy? Do you fall for a hot crewmate or hold out for your true love? These decisions have major effects not just on the current game, but future game expansions.
While Bioware is clearly raising the bar for RPG interactivity, it’s just a step in the evolution. The world may be open, but we still have the Inevitable Master Plotline, which means every game will end the same way. Nonlinear gameplay hasn’t really opened up the world, it just widened it, giving players multiple paths to the same ending.
Remember the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books? “If you climb into the alien spacecraft, turn to page 17. If you run away, turn to page 43.” I loved those books, and enjoyed going back and seeing how different choices changed the story. The same is true with RPG video games. For someone playing a story, replayability requires having the power to affect the story with your actions and create a different experience. This means Multiple Story Arcs, not just different cut scenes at the end.
For example, in Mass Effect an Evil character should have the option to become a rogue pirate, steal the Normandy, destroy the Citadel, and defeat the Alliance forces. Now THAT is a completely different game.
I can imagine game designers burning me alive for even suggesting such things. But I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to point out the path. And the path leads through interactive movies – where players must ride the One And Only Master Plotline – to a virtual reality with stories and worlds that really react to the player’s choices.
No doubt it would be damned expensive to create multiple story arcs for video games. However, with the new technology of DLC (DownLoadable Content) games can already be expanded. Currently, Dragon Age and Mass Effect have modules that let you expand on the game with side missions that offer you extra experience, achievements and items. There’s no reason game companies couldn’t release game expansions that add alternate plotlines, leading to alternate endings, just like television shows offer new episodes each week.
Having multiple possible story arcs would really open up the open world. Imagine the replayability of an open world crossed with infinite story arcs! Baby steps to Virtual Reality.
Bring on the Holodeck!
Every January, City Pages and Radio K showcase Minneapolis’ Best New Bands show at First Avenue. Even if you don’t get out much, you owe it to yourself to check this annual event, and see what the new up-and-comers have to offer.
This year, we were blessed with another year of hyper-talented musicians and an audience who isn’t afraid of the Siberian-cold Minnesota weather. I was pleased at a return to garage-pop-rock with electric guitars blazing. But I was disappointed at the trend of replacing drummers with fucking mac laptops. Anyway, here’s my overview of the currently best new noisemakers in Minneapolis.
I’ll be honest, I had no idea who Grant Cutler was… and I still don’t. Seems he’s half of the electro-pop duo, Lookbook, and now he’s the front man for Grant Cutler and the Gorgeous Lords. Don’t know about the “Gorgeous Lords” part, but the rest of the name fits well.
Grant has a rich, deep voice which dominates this easy-listening experiment that needs a serious shot of… something. Passion mostly, but I’d add adrenaline, tequila and methamphetamines, because they make Coldplay sound like punk rock.
The music was brooding, but it didn’t have enough energy to be dark. Slow, but not enough energy to be sexy. Like a lethargic walk through a pool of waist-deep maple syrup. You couldn’t make love to this music, and you probably shouldn’t drive or operate heavy machinery while listening to it.
In 1987, Jake Sullivan stepped through some kind of funky time-machine/blender hybrid set to Future/Frappe and ended up in Minneapolis 2010. I’m sorry for him because he missed out on the whole Grunge/Industrial Rock thing, but it’s been long enough that the 80’s are cool again, and I bet Jake doesn’t even notice, and I can’t think of a compelling reason for us to tell him.
BadNRad is really a one-man show, consisting of Jake and a fucking Mac laptop. The laptop holds together the percussion, synth and sound FX, while Jake plays along with guitar, keytar, keyboards and/or sings through a pitch-shifting vocoder. He’s joined onstage by insane friends dressed as pole dancers, Richard Simmons, Michael Jackson, and a giant slice of pizza.
BadNRad put on a great show. Jake Sullivan is hyper-talented in all the instruments he plays, but as far as Best New BANDS go, I have to write off BadNraD because of the laptop. Jeremy Messersmith and Peter Wolf Crier record and loop samples on the fly that blow away BadNraD’s ‘Push Play’ mentality. But BadNraD had plenty of moxie and performers to pick up the visual slack. All in all BadNraD is a wickedly fun retro-adventure/guilty pleasure – best enjoyed live.
Back in July 2010, Phantom Tails released their debut CD, Sounds of the Hunchback Whale. Phantom Tails are fun, fun, fun and easy to listen to. They blend moody, Cure-ish dark pop with quirky, music-box melodies and put a bit of sugar-gloss on the whole thing to make it taste good.
In a recent interview with Chris Riemenschneider, they described their genre as Deep Space Doom Funk. I don’t think they’re kidding, either. Check out this killer video of All Good Things:
Local legend Ed Ackerson (Polara, etc…) and Julie Ackerson (Mood Swings, etc..) joined forces in more ways than one by getting married and starting a band with the mysterious name BNLX. They both sing, while Ed plays his always awesome guitar and Julie plays bass. Everything else is done by a fucking Mac laptop. The music is straight-up, kick-ass, pop rock.
The highlight of the evening was their rocked-up cover of Prince’s When Doves Cry. Absolutely Epic.
They would have been better with a real drummer, though.
I’ve met the one-man-band Hastings 3000 (also known as H3K,) and I was looking forward to seeing him perform live… and I’m still waiting. I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to Skype him in on a teleconference from Hawaii, or whether First Ave actually tested this questionable idea before they fired it up in front of a crowd, but it didn’t work. I think we saw him for about three seconds and heard his voice (and a ukulele) for about five seconds, but that was it.
Plan B was to play a couple of his songs off the CD while people wearing gas masks filled the house with fog from industrial fog machines. The music was good. (Check out this cover of Ã‡a plane pour moi ) The intentions were good. But the plan was poorly executed. Please don’t hold this against H3K, but I’ll have to reserve judgment until the next time he plays here in Minneapolis.
Fact: Girls with Guitars are Hot.
Those mourning the loss of Ouija Radio can rejoice at the return of Christy Hunt and her new cohort of blazen, brazen rockers. Pink Mink blew the room away with hooks, looks, and weapons-grade guitar tones. And I’m not just saying that because Christy booked Jagged Spiral’s very first public performance.
Thanks to Arzu Gokcen for having an intervention with Christy and saving her (and us) from Christy’s near-retirement.
Oh yeah, and they have a real drummer.
The Goondas have worked hard to become local media darlings by following the formula of “bad boy” rock bands – most notably The Replacements. I can’t help but notice that reviewers have more to say about their on-stage antics than their music, so I was interested to both hear and see this band for myself.
I can verify the antics. The lead singer is completely drunk and belligerent onstage – spitting up, falling down and climbing up onto things even a sober person shouldn’t. His drunken slur obliterates any possibility at audience comprehension. The band has the energy of a Springer Spaniel on crack.
I’d love to rip on the Goondas for being nothing more than The-Replacements-Wanna-Bes, but I can’t, because the Goondas back up their image with some awesome, tight, catchy songs. They bring fun, punch-drunk-rock back to the fore. In a word: entertaining.
Hey, it worked for the Replacements.
Oh, and they had a real drummer.
The greatest crossover band I know of is called Dread Zeppelin. A Led Zeppelin cover band performing Reggae-style with Elvis as their lead singer. If the thought of such things pegs your excitement meter, you’d have been thrilled at the special guest of the evening: The Jah-hawks, a band that played Jayhawks songs, Dub-step style.
I’m not enough of a Jayhawks fan to recognize anything beyond the hits “Blue” and “Waiting for the Sun” which were wonderfully (re)done. But the others were lost to me – I would have mistaken it for original reggae music. So if you like Dub/Reggae, check these guys out. If you like the Jayhawks, then check these guys out. If you like music in general, these guys are really talented. Check out the video below. (Look for me and Xtna in the lower-right corner, front row.)
Real drummer – check.
Xtna was disappointed at the lack of diversity, but I was thrilled that there were more fun, uppity, dance-rock bands than previous years “best new bands” shows. I’ll admit there were plenty of white folks with guitars, and no hip-hop, rap, folk or blues, but what bothered me more was the number of drummers replaced by a fucking mac laptop.
Should be interesting to see which way the trend swings next year…
After playing through the awesomely awesome Dragon
Could it be? Dragon Age… in Space? Explore strange, new worlds? Seek out new life and new civilizations?
There’s a reason I’ve listed Evernote on my 2008, 2009 and 2010 Free Software Christmas Lists. Imagine if you could hook up a hard drive to your brain to remember anything that can be put into text, picture or file formats: Drawings, screen captures, e-mails, notes, doodles, webpages, pdfs, mp3s, etc. Now imagine being able to effortlessly sort and search through that information database to find what you need when you need it. Such a thing does exist, and it’s called Evernote.
“Remember Everything” is the mantra of Evernote. You don’t have to have a poor memory to realize how useful an information database is. If you have notebooks full of ideas and sketches, or a binder full of research notes and printouts, or even your class notes from Fiction Writing 101, store them to Evernote. Then, the only thing you’ll ever need to remember is your username and password for evernote.com. [Read more…]
Does Nicolas Cage ever take a break? I mean, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was only a couple months ago, and Drive Angry is only a couple months away, and this weekend Season of the Witch is released. Take a look at Nicolas Cage’s filmography on IMDB. Talk about busy.
And why do people rip on his acting? He doesn’t actually act, you know. He’s made a career of being himself on camera since I first remember seeing him in Raising Arizona, waaaay back in 1987.
Season of the Witch casts Cage as Behmen, a Knight of the Crusades who suddenly realizes that killing innocents in the name of God is not the path for him. Ron Perlman is Felson, his good friend and comrade-in-arms. Together, they desert the crusades and go off on their own, only to find a village with a witch problem.
The writing in Season of the Witch was good. A simple plot, but it keeps you guessing about who the bad person really is and what’s really going on. Reminded me of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale. Not as much sorcery and witchcraft as I would have expected, and the ending had a layer of cheese on it. Although the ending wasn’t a happy one, it also wasn’t disappointing. But the accents were. I don’t know how a New York cabbie got teleported back to Medieval England, but it did make sense that he was their guide.
The filming is gritty and dark, but not quite as dark as the Underworld series. (Could anything be darker than the Underworld series?) Score and soundtrack were good, and at the theater I saw it, the sound was damned loud. Guess I’d rather have the sound too loud than too quiet.
Overall, I rated Season of the Witch a 7 of 10 on IMDB.
Twenty-four years since Raising Arizona, and Nicolas Cage’s character in Season of the Witch isn’t so different from anything else he’s done. But I’m totally fine with that. Although in this film, I don’t recall him freaking out like this:
In a word, 2010 was stagnant. But it certainly wasn’t a bad
2010 is the year I officially progressed from a writer to a published author. My story Big Game is now available through the Apex Publications compilation: The Blackness Within. Being picked for publication was an honor and a valuable experience. You can read more about my published authorness in this blog post. [Read more…]
Don’t recall how I came across Richard Florida’s The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity, but it sounded like an interesting and timely read for someone curious about where things are heading here in Post-Crash America.
The last thing I was expecting was a book written by a geographer… sorry, I mean a self-proclaimed “leading urban expert.” It’s too bad, because although there are a lot of insightful observations in The
One thing missing from The Great Reset is a fad called the Internet. Mobile computing is also conspicuously absent. Richard Florida must not think these things have a bearing on the current situation or our “new ways of living” because they aren’t mentioned. This is probably because Mr. Florida is a self-proclaimed leading urban expert, and he’s more interested and versed in the physical world than the virtual one. Note that he’s not a suburban expert or a rural expert, so you can probably guess his suggestions for post-crash prosperity, but I’ll touch on some of his main points:
He calls suburban houses McMansions. There’s no doubt they played a major part in the housing bubble burst, and were a major contributor to the current recession, but it’s not the houses themselves that are bad. Not even the big ones. It’s people buying houses they couldn’t afford that caused problems. Even I know that, and I’m just a hack writer from Minneapolis. The Great Reset tears down the American Dream of owning a home, equating it to a nightmarish anchor that limits your flexibility, ties you down and sucks all your money away, giving nothing back. Not true of course, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
Mr. Florida believes you are better off living in more consolidated housing. He doesn’t do this himself, mind you. He lives in a house near Toronto, Canada. Most of his rationale about housing is the debt that comes with them, which ties into his next major point:
Mr. Florida says that housing can no longer be considered an asset that increases in value over time. I don’t know who thought this, but I guess some people did. Anyway, he suggests renting becoming more prevalent as part of the new post-crash economy, which will allow people to be flexible in their employment and living options.
He mentions a housing concept that makes your rental living space more like a subscription that you can change on a moment’s notice. An interesting concept, but one that he doesn’t dwell on long enough to consider its effects. I would have liked to hear what he thought about how ‘subscription housing’ would effect human migration patterns or working conditions or influence job markets. (Would people move to follow nice weather? Would states change their laws or taxes to attract residents? What if businesses were free to move about like people?) Exactly the kind of things I’d hoped to find in this book, sadly lacking.
The internet also makes a case against The Great Reset’s tend towards renting vs owning. What kind of flexibility do you need in housing when you can telecommute? Doesn’t it seem more likely that people will scatter away from high-density (Read: Expensive) areas to get larger property for less cost, and make up for the distance by utilizing high-speed communications technology to trade video/audio/ideas?
This all overlooks an important aspect of owning a home – after you pay off your mortgage, you DONT HAVE A HOUSE PAYMENT ANYMORE. What’s more, this conveniently happens at an important time of your life – retirement, when your income also tends to decrease. And once your home is paid for, even if it’s only worth a fraction of what you bought it for, that equity is profit when you sell. Houses may decrease in value, but they won’t decrease to $0 in thirty years. If you rent, you’ll PAY FOREVER and OWN NOTHING, so keep that in mind, because the “leading urban expert” did not.
I’d hate to see Richard Florida’s dream world. It would probably look like Zion from the worst parts of the Matrix trilogy, stuffed with living cubicles that look like Bruce Willis’ apartment in The Fifth Element.
Then there’s that pesky internet fad I keep talking about. If a large portion of work, social interactions and entertainment move online, then it doesn’t really matter where you live. In that case, why not get more property for less money? Besides, if you put anyone like me into a hell like that, I’d kill everyone in a half-mile radius so I could have some personal space.
The MegaCity solution provided in The Great Reset doesn’t make sense to me. I’m more inclined to believe cities will go the other way – breaking down into MicroCities; tiny sustainable communities similar to the villages of ye olde days, or the Happy Hippy Communes of the 70s. One person grows crops to feed the village, another raises cattle. One works on computers, another works on the wind turbine and solar panels that power the village. They all pitch in and work together to keep their little community running. Strangely, our Leading Urban Expert never even considers or mentions this possibility. Probably because if it came true, he’d be out of work, and have to retrain to be a Village Expert.
Mr. Florida sees cars as an outdated mode of transportation. He advocates connecting large cities together with high speed transit, turning multiple MegaCities into MegaRegions. He suggests that high-speed rail connecting lame-o cities like Minneapolis to important cities like Chicago would allow people to commute to where the jobs are.
But doesn’t this just bump the McMansion problem to a larger scale? Isn’t taking the bullet train from Minneapolis to Chicago every day just like driving your Humvee to work from your McMansion the suburbs? Not to Mr. Florida, who sees a half-hour car trip from the suburbs to the city as wasteful, stressful and pollutive, but a ninety minute bullet train ride between Pittsburg and DC is “reasonable”. Huh? And how this is different from Airplane travel (that we already have) isn’t clear.
I’m sorry, but public transportation does not solve all the problems. If you agree that one of the key features of the “new normal” will be flexibility in jobs, housing and entertainment, public transportation fails, big time. Personal transportation wins. Once again, it isn’t the big cars that are the problem, big cars that people can’t afford are the problem. Easily solved by making smaller, more efficient transportation like smart cars, motorcycles and mopeds, which we already have.
Another possibility that Mr. Florida never considered is that people might start to collect multiple forms of transportation. They’ll walk/bike to work. They’ll take the bus or rail downtown on weekends. They might have a moped/scooter for traveling to friends who don’t live near a busline. And they might still have the big Range Rover under a tarp, but it’s only for the occasional vacation or longer trip.
The overall impression I get from The Great Reset is that Americans should all move to New York and LA. This would not only be efficient and reduce our carbon footprint, but it would make us more connected, so we are better able to exchange and ideas and… well, stuff we share over the internet now.
There is a saying that when the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I’d say when you’re a “leading urban expert” everything looks like a problem that can be solved by packing into a Megacity where life is more ‘efficient’. Perhaps he would have a more balanced view if he specialized in geography instead of just urban areas.
Despite many fallacies, omissions, and fluffed up geography discussions that would bore a city planner, The Great Reset poses useful thoughts on consumerism, education, political policies and trends regarding the current recession and comparisons to previous “Resets”. But you’ll have to read ten pages to get one page of useful info.