Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Of promises kept

(screening log updated)

My roommate was good to his word: my review of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is posted.

Coming soon, reviews of the new Resident Evil flick, Shaun of the Dead, and the Firefly: The Complete Series DVD.

I'll stay home forever where 2+2 always makes a 5

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

So this is it, huh? The grand vision that was supposed to wow us? The bold cinematic wonder, the glimpse into the future of motion pictures?

Please. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is nothing new -- George Lucas has already done the CGI orgy bit twice now, with a third coming out next year. In fact, it's rather old-fashioned, and not just in that nostalgic 1930s way writer/director Kerry Conran wanted. As with so many -- too many -- films these days, it looks good, but has nothing upstairs. The digital effects and unique visual style only take it so far before the vapid script runs out of gas and there's nothing but pretty pictures to hold your interest.

The beginning is at least promising. Conran's late 1930s New York is gorgeous, with zeppelins flying through the air (though opening your film with a giant ship called the Hindenberg is just asking for it) and everything all gray and washed out, like an old newspaper photograph. But Polly Perkins (Gwenyth Paltrow), ace reporter for the New York Chronicle, knows something bad is happening: several scientists have disappeared for unknown reasons. She meets a source during a screening of The Wizard of Oz (at 6:00, which would presumably be p.m., but an entire day seems to pass after that, so maybe it's an extremely early matinee) who tells her about the mysterious Dr. Totenkopf, who's kidnapping the scientists -- a group known as "Unit 11" -- to help him build his "doomsday machine."

If the wheels come off later on, it's this scene that first works them loose: Polly is a moron, a completely idiotic character that grates the nerves. This scientist tells her everything, the entire plan (minus a few details saved for the big third-act reveal), but she retains none of it at all. In fact, she chases him down as he tries to leave the theater and demands that he repeat everything. She grows no smarter as the film progresses, and by the end even the script is making fun of her. And poor Gwenyth Paltrow is totally lost inside this ditz, unsure of what to do with a character whose IQ is roughly equal to her hat size.

And then come the CGI money shots -- giant killer robots storm New York from the sky and start tearing it apart and crushing everyone in their way. The police try to stop them, but to no avail, so they call on "Sky Captain" Joe Sullivan (Jude Law) to save the day. There's no explanation of where Sky Captain comes from, why he has his own personal island near New York, or who all those people working for him (like Giovanni Ribisi) are, or why the city is able to call on him like Batman (with a special signal and everything) when danger arises, or what possible dangers other than giant killer robots could have arisen before this -- he's just a superhero, dammit, and we must accept this. It's really not even clear what makes him so special as a pilot anyway, but Sky Captain swoops in with his ridiculously advanced prop plane and chases the robots away. But they come back, of course, and Joe and Polly (former lovers, naturally) must get over their old anger with one another to stop Totenkopf from completing his evil plan...whatever that might be -- Polly isn't sure.

Jude Law is no better off than Paltrow -- Sky Captain is a cardboard cutout of a character, a collection of insults rather than a true person. He's actually kind of a jerk, which makes me wonder why Polly is so taken with him. Both Law and Paltrow look uncomfortable acting on an imaginary set; they never come close to deepen their characters beyond their most surface traits and stale dialogue. Angelina Jolie -- who shows up halfway through as Frankie, a British pilot who acts as the rift in Polly and Joe's relationship -- does a little better than those two; maybe because she's used to acting with computer cartoons from the Tomb Raider films, maybe because she has so much less screen time (she's disappeared and forgotten after about ten minutes or so). She spends most of her time barking out orders in that clipped Lady Croft accent and smirking around her eyepatch...and how in the hell can a fighter pilot still operate so effectively with one eye, anyway?

Conran built this project from the ground up, using CGI for everything -- every scene, whether an amphibious airplane assault (yeah, amphibious airplanes) or a simple conversation in a movie theater, is filmed before a blue screen, with even the extras added in digitally. It was all based on a short film he built on his Macintosh -- that got him the financing to make this big-budget disaster. And it sometimes feels like Conran knew this might be his only shot at a feature: the second half of the film is crammed with bad ideas that sound like "one day I'm going to do a film about..."-type stuff. Like the underwater planes, or the flying aircraft carriers, or the island filled with dinosaurs, or the Noah's Ark rocket into space, or Sir Laurence Olivier (!) back from the dead in glorious CGI, or ninja robots with laser sticks, and oh please make it stop. And again, it all looks fantastic -- Conran may not be much of a screenwriter, but his visual style may be worth another look.

Is Sky Captain the future? A well-designed, poorly written film featuring actors who look like they'd rather be anywhere else in the world? Sorry, Mr. Conran, but we've had these movies for a long time now. Just ask Michael Bay.

Rating: *

Monday, September 27, 2004

Down to the wire

(screening log updated)

As usual, the Astros are going to give me a goddamn heart attack. Six games to play, 1.5 games out of the wild card. And the next three games are against the frickin' Cardinals. Blech.

My roommate is evil. He's going to drag me to Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow...uh, tomorrow. And he's threatening a screening of Resident Evil: Apocalypse on Wednesday. He lost his day job, see, and he's taking it out on me. Cruel bastard.

I've been out where I liked
I slept with who liked...
now I don't know why I feel so tongue-tied

Saturday, September 25, 2004

An M. Night Shyamalan Game

(anyone who plans on playing Star Ocean might not want to read this post. Spoilers, dead ahead!)

So my roommate's been hooked on this Star Ocean game for a while now. He likes it. I think it's annoying, with an incomprehensible story. But that's just me, and it should be noted that I'm not actually playing the game -- just watching him play it over and over. And over.

But here's something interesting. After roughly 50 hours of gameplay, it's shockingly revealed that the universe your characters has inhabited and fought over -- filled with thousands of star systems and alien races and everything -- doesn't actually exist. It's all part of a bizarre Everquest-like simulation, and your party (and their enemies) are merely characters in it. You then get out of the game and attempt to save your (fake) world from destruction.

Does this plot twist render the first 50 hours -- fifty hours -- of gameplay....

(a) fun?
(b) genius?
(c) pointless?
(d) completely fucking pointless?

Your call.

wake me up when september ends

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Buy. This. Album. NOW.

Green Day's American Idiot: *****. The best album I've heard all year, the best album Green Day's ever recorded. And, if you can believe it, it's actually a friggin' rock opera, like Pink Floyd or the Who, only twisted through punk rock and spat back out through Billie Joe Armstrong's snot-nosed vocals and snarling three-chord guitar riffs. For those not familiar with rock opera, or those who don't believe me -- the songs all tie together, both musically and thematically, with characters (Jesus of Suburbia is the main character, with St. Jimmy and Whatsername as support) and a storyline and character development and stuff. There are even two songs (perhaps "suites" would be a better term) that break the nine-minute mark. Yes, these are the same guys who released an album titled Dookie. And released a video showing a friend get a tooth pulled out in extreme close-up. This is a perfect, beautiful marriage of punk rock and art rock. It's not pretentious or stupid -- it's an incredible record.

This is instantly one of my favorite albums. I read a review in which the critic declared it "the greatest album I've ever heard in my entire life." I'm not going that far, but it's definitely a must-have. Go get it. Now. Go!

I'm the son of rage and love
the Jesus of Suburbia

from the bible of "none of the above"

Monday, September 20, 2004

Hail to the King, baby

So it's Stephen King mania for the next month. Good times.

  • The Dark Tower, the seventh and final book in the epic Dark Tower series, is released tomorrow. This is the book people have been waiting for for decades now, and it's finally here. I'm interested to see how King writes himself out of the, shall we say, unique conclusion to the sixth book, which was a little surprising to say the least.
  • To celebrate the tenth anniversary of its release, The Shawshank Redemption, one of the great films ever made (adapted from King's novella "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption"), is coming back to theaters this Friday. Signs don't indicate a release anywhere near me, but if it happens, I'm so totally there; if not, I can just pick up the new DVD set. Either way, expect a review for the Essentials list soon.
  • And a new film, Riding the Bullet, based upon the King novella of the same name (it was released as an e-book a few years ago, and published later as part of the Everything's Eventual collection), hits screens on October 5th.

And if memory serves, tomorrow is King's 57th birthday. So to help celebrate, either go out and buy The Dark Tower, or simply indulge yourself in one of his older works.

it's a thousand pages, give or take a few

Sunday, September 19, 2004

And the winner is...

After months of tough competition, Lars Ulrich stands victorious as the winner of the Best Line So Far This Year poll, receiving a third of the vote. Here's what Lars had to say upon being notified of this glorious triumph:

"Well, the first thing I gotta do, like you were expecting, is I gotta thank Jethro Tull for not putting out a movie this year, right? HAHA!"

Uh, sure. Well said, Lars. It should be noted that his win was not an easy one: he defeated Tobey Maguire and Pai Mei by only a single vote. Yes, every vote matters here at jwalkernet!

[For those of you who are wondering, the above is not actually a quote from Lars Ulrich. I paraphrased from his 1992 Grammy acceptance speech. Though if you actually thought Lars had responded to winning my poll, I'm amazed you managed to find this website.]

With that poll gone, it's time for a new one. And I thought I'd make it about something other than movies. Go look at it. Vote. And get your friends to vote, too. I'm hearing lots of conflicting reports regarding polls of that sort, and it'd be nice for me to conduct a serious one of my own. So speak your voice, and remember: This Election Day, if you vote, you might get laid.

everybody wants to rule the world

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Suck on this, Swift Boat Veterans for Lies


Do you see how this kinda means you're, like, wrong? Do you? As if we didn't know that already.

Remember how much you blasted Michael Moore? For making "creative interpretations" of true, actual facts? This is how you respond -- by just making shit up out of thin air?

That is all.

J.: 1. Silent Hill 4: 0.

In just over fourteen hours, Silent Hill 4 has been defeated. I got the bad ending, of course, but that couldn't be helped.

On the whole, I'll give the game ****1/2. It's better than SH3, and certainly scarier, but it lacks one of Silent Hill's best elements: the puzzles. There are absolutely no puzzles anywhere in this game. At all. And the game slips ever-so-slightly into monotony towards the end, sending you back through already-completed areas for a second trip. But the story is compelling, the graphics and sound are top-notch, and the game remains entertaining all the way to the end. I'm obviously biased toward the series, though, as you may have noticed.

I also found something interesting earlier: Silent Hill fan fiction. Yeah. I won't link you to the site, because the writing was so bad that I couldn't finish more than a page or two of the first story, but I thought it intriguing nonetheless.

anyone perfect must be lying

Thursday, September 16, 2004

There ain't no party like a Silent Hill party cuz a Silent Hill party don't stop

Silent. Hill. 4. Aw yeah.

Oh, it's awesome. The new gameplay is phenomenal, the story is mysterious and intriguing, tying together elements from all the games (including some rather off-the-wall tidbits from Silent Hill 2), and my friends and my roommate and I are bloody terrified. Prisons for little kids and giant two-headed baby monsters and bloody handprints on the wall and an evil pink bunny rabbit we just know is going to start some shit.

I...I really don't what else to say at the moment. I'll fill you in some more once I've completed the game. Which, at the rate I'm playing it, should be within a few days.

And fuck you, St. Louis Cardinals. Yeah, you.

it's close to midnight and something evil's lurking in the dark
under the moonlight you see a sight that almost stops your heart
you try to scream but terror takes the sound before you make it
you start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes
you're paralyzed

Saturday, September 11, 2004

His task done, he would go free

And you didn't believe me.

In all its hideously long glory, the video games list is now complete and available for your reading pleasure. Fair warning: it's pretty long. Seven pages. 31 images. BEHOLD.

Next project: sleep. Wonderful, blissful sleep.

After that: not sure. I'll get back to you.

once upon a time
I was off the mind
to lay your burden down

Friday, September 10, 2004

And oh yeah...

I'm sure you thought I'd forgotten about the Astros. It's been a while since I mentioned them. And when I did talk about them, it was in a rather disgusted tone.

But, as I said, as I've always said, the only place in life where I find true optimism and hope is baseball. And the Astros are the most ungodly hot streak I've ever seen: they won 12 in a row (until yesterday, when they dropped the first half of a doubleheader), they've won 13 of 14, 19 of 22. They're actually leading the National League Wild Card race.

And don't look now, but the Red Sox are on fire, too.

always look on the bright side of life

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Load up on guns, bring your friends

So the ban on assault weapons expires on Monday. You can read all about this from whichever news source you prefer. (Except maybe one, they might be ignoring it, and I don't think you need me to say to which one I'm referring.) As of Monday, you can once again legally make, sell, buy, and own a TEC-9. This pleases the NRA, and pisses me off...not surprising, since anything that makes the NRA happy is going to piss me off, generally speaking. They're just not my kind of people, you could say.

Fearless Leader, of course, supports an extension for the ban. And by that I mean he's allowing it to expire with no effort at all. He says he'll sign an extension, but then turns around and does nothing to support said extension. Hmm -- saying one thing, doing something else. That's called "hypocrisy." If one were slightly more simple-minded, one might refer to it as "flip-flopping." Something the Bush campaign has been accusing John Kerry of. Wait -- Bush? A lying hypocrite? No!

I'm almost done with the list. Next couple of days, you'll see it up here. But if I don't, please don't go out and buy an AK-47 and hunt me down.

and I swear that I don't have a gun

Monday, September 06, 2004

'80s style. And (surprise!) Hannity's crazy.

So after months and months of hearing the name Modest Mouse thrown around on various radio stations and magazines and stuff, I finally managed to hear their single, "Float On." If Depeche Mode stripped down and became a drunken sleazy bar band, that's what they'd sound like. Not writing Modest Mouse off: it's a great song. But it's got a weird-ass '80s vibe that be my imagination.

In comedy news, Sean Hannity once again proved why he's the defining voice in the Republican on his show earlier. Sam Donaldson -- friggin' Sam Donaldson, and when this human statue is the voice of reason, we're deep into la-la land -- was attempting to make the point that he disagreed with the Bush's religious stance: he's a man of deep faith, and that's fine, but he's trying to force everyone else to share those beliefs. I nodded. Seems pretty clear to me. But not to Hannity: "What makes you say that?" Donaldson told him, explaining about the faith-based initiatives and calling for an amendment against same-sex marriages and other things the President has done and said since taking office. Again, I'm nodding, but Hannity is...well, Hannity. He tries to say that there's nothing wrong with that, since the nation was founded on Christian values, that there isn't anything with forcing Christianity down the throats of all the citizens. Again, Donaldson disagreed: yes, the nation may have been founded on Christian values, but that was well over two hundred years ago. The country and the society have evolved since then. So has the nation's stance on religion. The nation was also "founded" by white Europeans, but those white Europeans are no longer the sole voice -- in fact, they're not even the majority any longer. No point in sticking to out-dated irrelevancy just because that's what we were "founded" on. (This is something that Hannity and most Republicans don't seem to understand -- just because it used to be a certain way, that doesn't mean it always has to be that way, that a new way is bad. See same-sex marriages for the exact same bullshit.) So Donaldson felt the Bush approach was improper. Hannity, though, either didn't see Donaldson's point or knew he couldn't defend his own, and rapidly switched the topic to Bush's gain in "momentum" after the convention.

By the end of this segment, Hannity was so obviously outclassed by Donaldson -- Sam fucking Donaldson -- that I was giggling in my car; and then, floundering for purchase before the commercial break, Hannity proudly declared a "landslide" victory for the Shrub in November. I was screaming with laughter by this point. I almost had to pull over.

Hey, Bush could win. I don't disagree with that. I mean, I saw it happen once. It's hard to beat Bush. People like the guy, for reasons I can't fathom. Hell, in 2000, he lost and still managed to win. And he has the Evil Empire on his side. But a landslide? Come on, chief: I know you like to lie, but don't do it to yourself.

The video games list crawls ever closer to completion. When it's done, you'll be the first to know. Well, after me, anyway.

"You know what the worst part about being an atheist is?"
"No. What's the worst part about being an atheist?"
"You don't have anybody to talk to while you're fucking."

Some kind of monster

So I'm working, as promised, on my Top 25 Video Games list. And it's turning out to be quite the Herculean task. But I'm getting through it, much faster than I thought I would (once I realized the scope I was shooting for, anyway -- I didn't think I'd ever finish, and I'm more than halfway done), and it should be finished and up in the next three or four days.

Still haven't seen Hero, but man are people raving about it. I'll have to really make an effort. We'll see what happens.

I wonder:
do I want the simple, simple life that I once lived...
in a way they were the better days
but now I am the proudest monkey you've ever seen

Thursday, September 02, 2004

My day in court

So in July I was pulled over and given a few citations. Namely, for an expired registration (got the letter, forgot to take care of it), an expired driver's license (again, forgot -- I had other things to worry about), and no proof of insurance (no explanation here: I honestly don't know what happened to the card). Since I didn't want to pay any of those tickets (and couldn't pay any of them, for that matter), I decided to wait for a municpal court date, get all of that stuff straightened out, take my case to the judge, and have the citations dismissed. Fairly common practice. Nothing out of the ordinary. My court date is set for 3:00 pm, September 1.

1:32 pm. I take my roommate's old keyboard to a pawnshop. He'd asked me to do this the night before, so I crammed the clunky thing into the backseat of my car and tried to "get at least a hundred for it" like he'd asked. Trouble was, the keyboard didn't look worth anywhere close to a hundred bucks. I thought forty or fifty would be generous, frankly. And, lo and behold, the guy at the pawnshop offers me...$40. I accept, fearing my roommate's wrath but hoping he'll listen to reason (to his credit, he came to the same conclusion on his way to work that morning). I put the cash inside my wallet for safe keeping -- I have a small amount of my own cash in there, but not for long, because at...

2:24 pm. ...it's off to Wal-Mart to buy jeans. See, they don't allow shorts in court, and I don't own anything but shorts, so I have to purchase something. Regrettably, I'm forced by the time constraints to head to Wal-Mart. But I buy the jeans and get the hell out of there, deftly avoiding the displays everywhere trying to sell me Passion of the Christ DVDs. After stopping for a few bucks in gas, the only money I have left is my roommate's keyboard money.

2:58 pm. With new clothing on, I enter the court and take my place in line. For those of you who have never been through this, it's not like you just go in at your scheduled time and they call your name or number and take care of you. No, they've written in about eighty other people for 3:00 pm on September 1, and it's first come first serve. Should've been there sooner.

3:16 pm. After watching numerous people plead their cases before the judge (whose name escapes me), it occurs to me that His Honor is a pretty cool guy. Understanding, fair, never rude or mean or any of the other traits that Judge Judy and her ilk tried to make synonymous with "tough." I also can't help feeling a little out of place every time I hear the clerks refer to the judge as "Your Honor," like I've wandered into a John Grisham novel or something.

3:35 pm. Finally, it's my turn. I give the judge my name, he reads off a sheet my offenses, and ask for a plea. I tell I've fixed everything, he looks at the paperwork, and dismisses the whole batch without much thought. "You're legal now," he says. "I'll assign a dismissal fee..." Err, uh-oh. "...so you can sit down and wait to be called." More waiting. This time, I have to wait for the clerks to finish my paperwork so I can leave. The problem -- I don't have the money for a dimissal fee (which will come out to $30 -- ten bucks per citation). At least, not today. I hear the clerks talking with other offenders, and they're working out payment plans on stuff. So surely they'll work with me, right?

3:57 pm. I'm called by the clerks. One of them hands me a slip with my name (well, sort of -- they drop my first name and write "Richard Walker," and I cannot begin to describe how much that pisses me off), case number and the dismissal fee of $30. "Just take that up to the front and pay that and you'll be done," she says. I ask her if it's necessary to pay this today, because I don't have $30 in my possession. I do, of course, but it's not mine. She tells me to go to the front and talk with "them." 'kay.

3:59 pm. I go up to the front. "Them" turns out to be a girl I went to high school with, but not one I remember fondly, nor one who remembers me at all. She basically tells me, in a digusted tone, I have to pay this today, period, no exceptions. If I don't pay, the citations won't be dismissed. I plead my case. She tells me to go back into the courtroom and talk to the "court administrator," who -- as I remember from when I set this date in the first place -- is a rather rude and disdainful person herself. But I go back to wait.

4:48 pm. The court adminstrator reveals no new character traits in our conversation. Since I can't pay the fee today, but they need it to dismiss the citations, we reach a compromise: I pay the citations today. Oh, wait, I guess that's not a compromise. Oh well. Since I don't have a choice, I'm forced to give them three-quarters of my roommate's keyboard money. And I finally get the hell out of there, just in time to be late for work.

So don't violate traffic laws. If only to avoid all of that.

You can't fight city hall, but you can goddamn sure blow it up.