A Song of Ice and Fire


With all the hubbub surrounding E3, it would have been easy to forget that once of the most exciting games to come out this year was actually released the same day the convention began. inFAMOUS 2 is a stellar sequel that lives up to its memorable predecessor. Since a lot of people just got a chance to play that game after the PSN downtime, now is a great opportunity to pick up another of Sony’s best exclusive games.

inFAMOUS 2 opens with quite a bang as Cole has his first encounter with the beast, the monster we learned about in the final moments of the first game. Cole obviously is outmatched by the beast, so he and his portly companion Zeke travel down to New Marais, basically a renamed New Orleans, in search of getting Cole even more power. Immediately Cole makes another new enemy in the militia who’ve been running the town since some disaster. Together with some new female friends, Cole works toward helping the city, all the while building up his strength for the beast’s arrival.

Once again, powering up Cole depends somewhat on moral choices. In the first game, that meant more precise powers for good choices and more explosive powers for evil decisions. That seems to be the case this time too, but with the added incentive of ice and fire powers making two playthroughs practically necessary. Controlling Cole still feels great and Suckerpunch even added some new, faster ways of getting around the city. inFAMOUS 2 is all about getting more powerful, and you certainly will feel that way by the end of the game.

Unfortunately, the games vibrant visuals and tight gameplay are marred by poor sound design. Maybe it’s just because I’ve watched a lot of Treme, but New Marais seems eerily quiet. There’s occasionally some traffic sounds and a little chatter, but for the most part you be running around listening to the wind blow and the crickets chirp. The voice work is also… interesting. The dialogue is written very conversationally and the voice actors mostly sound unlike anyone I’ve heard in games recently. This leads to some oddly human moments, which would be a great thing, except this is supposed to be a super hero game. Make it more over the top! Make it fun! Don’t just throw a bunch of bizarrely real, angsty arguments at me.

I did genuinely enjoy the story, however, despite it taking maybe a little too long to get where it needed to go. But the ending is pretty impressive, regardless if you get the good one or the evil one, and it genuinely provided me with more closure than I would have expected. inFAMOUS didn’t make the same jump in quality Uncharted did with it’s first sequel, but that’s more because the first inFAMOUS was better than the first Uncharted. I think they stand together as the best PlayStation-exclusive third person shooter franchises, and among the best in the industry.

The Game of Life: Choose Your Destiny!

The Tree of Life

How do you solve an enigma like Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life? A film that at times is both beautiful and at other times incomprehensible. Though what can you expect from the J.D. Salinger of filmmakers? Arguably similar both in the mastery of their craft and their uncompromising reclusiveness. It’s in that vein that we may never uncover precisely what Terrence Malick is trying to communicate here, but we can certainly make our own valued assumptions. For the most part it appears to be a coming of age film not just reflective of youth but of mankind and our place in the universe. Possibly it’s trying to visualize where we all stand in the universe and the importance of things like love in the overwhelmingly vast scheme of things. There are times when it can try your patience moving at a crippled snail’s pace, but there are other moments as well. Several times I saw some of the most awe inspiring visuals I’ve ever seen in a movie and for that I applaud this film.

Tree of Life by it’s most basic definition is a movie about a typical blue collar family growing up in baby boomer era Texas. Brad Pitt is the family’s respectable but stern father and Jessica Chastain is the gentle and caring mother. Together the two attempt to raise their three boys as they experience all the triumphs and hardships of growing up. We see the boy’s; first steps, speaking, socializing, becoming dependent and even glimpses of rebellion that develops against their controlling and at times even abusive father. This is all intercut with the oldest son Jack as an adult in modern day (played by Sean Penn.) These sequences mostly entail a now disillusioned Jack aimlessly wandering through his own urban prison if you will, reminiscing about his childhood and occasional surreal imagery. Though for the most part The Tree of Life follows no real narrative, rather it speaks to us through visual symbolism and mostly religious themed narration regarding things like love and life.

One of the most stunning sequences of this almost avant-garde docudrama is where we watch the creation and evolution of planet Earth. Accomplished through the masterful effects work of Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner) we are treated to visuals that are better than anything I’ve ever seen done with common CG. Which is why I wasn’t surprised to find that Trumbull managed to create most of this sequence without CG using; chemicals, paint, fluorescent dyes, smoke, liquids, CO2, flares, spin dishes, fluid dynamics, lighting and high speed photography. Words cannot describe the kind of breathtaking imagery that he creates, I think it’s time for Trumbull to get his first oscar.

The scope of Tree of Life is so overwhelmingly immense that I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it, which is why I’m going to have to cut this review short. To summarize my rambling, I’ll say that although Tree of Life can be dense and almost annoying with it’s lack of structure and lack of proper plotting, it’s a visual feast that is like no other and will perhaps live on as no other, at least until the next Terrence Malick film.

C.A.T: Another Green World

Brian Eno – Another Green World (1975)

Seems like it was only a couple weeks back that I mentioned this album in my review for the latest Death Cab release, so it makes sense for me to give you my two cents on Brian Eno’s electro pop pioneering third album. Descending into stripped down, almost robotic arrangements, Brian Eno dabbles with fresh ideas without compromising any of his accessibility as a solo artist. As a matter of fact many critics have noted Another Green World as his most accessible with poppy cuts like “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “I’ll Come Running”. Fewer tracks feature Eno’s very english vocal delivery but personally I favor most of the instrumental tracks over the ones with vocals.

Though the bulk of Another Green World seems optimistic it certainly has it’s darker moments. “In Dark Tree” still gives me chills bordering on the lines of industrial, I’m sure Trent Reznor likes that track. Some tracks I can’t even describe, take the album opener for instance “Sky Saw” sounds like Can on some weird drug trip, but it’s nonetheless a trip I want to take as a listener. Eno goes to bold new places but he’s never dicking around or alienating his listeners. This is still a competent and organized album for eager listening audience.

The instrumental “The Big Ship” is easily my favorite track as it is without a doubt the most beautiful track on the album. It has that majestic keyboard progression that slowly builds and builds, accompanied by that great, choppy kind of percussion, I love it. Sometimes I wonder if this would’ve been a better album if it was just entirely instrumental, but even though some of the vocal tracks are a little cheesy sounding they really balance everything out. It’s hard for me to think of many albums that so seamlessly blend instrumental and non-instrumental tracks, this one somehow pulls it off.

Favorite Tracks: “The Big Ship”, “Golden Hours”, “In Dark Trees”

We’ll Always Have Paris

Midnight In Paris

I always love a good Woody Allen movie.  But the quality of his output has been a little inconsistent in the last fifteen years or so, which has led to me seeing very few of his recent films.  So when I saw the positive reviews for his latest film Midnight In Paris, I figured I might as well try and see it.  I mean it sure beats spending money on The Green Lantern.

From the one trailer I saw for Midnight In Paris, I get the impression that there was an attempt to keep the actual premise of this film under wraps, but I have no problem spoiling it since most of the people who read this blog have already seen the movie.  Anyways, it follows Gil (Owen Wilson), a hack screenwriter with literary ambitions who is on vacation in Paris with his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams).  One night while walking the streets of Paris, the nostalgic Gil inadvertently takes a cab that transports him back to 1920’s Paris, in which he encounters Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter, Pablo Picasso, and many other of the great artistic minds of the era.

Now from the plot, the most similar film in Woody’s catalogue would have to be 1985’s The Purple Rose of Cairo, another nostalgia-fueled film with a fantastical premise.  And just like Purple Rose, Midnight In Paris really has a perfect blend of fantasy and comedy, along with plenty of Woody’s commentary on art, life, and relationships.  It’s also another one of those films that is quite simply a love letter to Paris, past and present, and you get the idea that Woody has just as good a feel for Paris as he’s shown for New York in so many of his films (not that I’d really know, considering I’ve been to neither city).

Of course much of the film’s appeal is getting know all these great artists and writers of the ’20s through the eyes of Owen Wilson’s character.  These takes on these iconic figures are often quite funny, such as the way a machismo Ernest Hemingway speaks in terse, comma-fueled prose, or Salvador Dali’s obsession with rhinoceroses, but there’s still plenty of wisdom that the characters reveal in terms to Gil’s overall story of being caught in a loveless romance and an unfulfilling profession.  All the performances are quite entertaining, though my only real quibble with the film is the one-dimensional quality of Rachel McAdams’ character, who does little more than come off as a whiny shrew.

As much as I admire a more serious film like Match Point, which is probably Woody’s most acclaimed film in the past ten years or so, Midnight In Paris really is the kind of film that reminds me why I love Woody Allen.  It’s got that fantastic light touch, with a perfect blend of comedy and profundity, and it just has a simple kind of magic to it.

C.A.T.: Radio City

Big Star – Radio City (1974)

Sorry for the lapse in C.A.T’s, I guess I’ve just had a lack of enthusiasm about writing another one of these things, just as I’m sure everyone has a lack of enthusiasm towards reading them.  Anyways, Big Star has always been one of my all-time favorite bands, so it’s a little surprising that I haven’t gotten around to doing them for a CAT, but today that all changes.  I’d probably say 1978’s Third/Sister Lovers stands as the band’s crowning achievement, but Radio City is still probably the best example of Big Star’s signature brand of sunny power-pop.

The first Big Star record was fueled by the songwriting team of Chris Bell and Alex Chilton, but prior to Radio City, Bell left the band with Chilton more or less taking over as the band’s leader.  You can’t really feel Bell’s absence on the album, as it really just feels like a continuation of their debut, but the songs are just as good if not better.  Everything is very upbeat and undeniably catchy, though there are certainly moments that hint at the slightly darker sound that Chilton would pursue on Third/Sister Lovers.

For some reason, Big Star always reminds me of my teenage years.  I guess one obvious reason would be that I really got into the band while I was in high school, but it also has to do a lot with the breezy nostalgia Chilton evokes in these songs.  Something like “Back Of A Car” pretty perfectly exudes those fleeting feelings of youth, while a song like “I’m In Love With A Girl” is such an unbelievably simple and naive take on love, and yet somehow Chilton makes it work magnificently.  But I guess it was Big Star’s ability to boil down what makes a great pop song to its purest necessities that made them special.  And I don’t think that’s any more evident on Radio City‘s high point “September Gurls”, another underrated gem that’s about as good as youth anthems get.

Favorite Albums: “Life Is White”, “September Gurls”, “I’m In Love With A Girl”

Eight is Enough

Super 8

On May 2010 I was nestled in a crowd of many awaiting the latest Iron Man when a particular trailer of unknown origin appeared. This purposefully ambiguous trailer would of course be Super 8, JJ Abrams second stab at the secret viral marketing game. I like many had fallen into the web of rumors that surrounded the Abrams’ produced Cloverfield, so I could already tell I would be a victim to the hype of Super 8. Time passed and little information surfaced until it was more or less made official that this would be a sci-fi flick and that the monster would in fact be an alien. That’s all well and good but it was not until I was made aware of Spielberg’s importance and involvement that I really got excited. A nostalgic tribute to some of the greatest sci-fi/fantasy flicks ever forged? How could I not get excited, but deep inside I knew there was no movie that could ever fully satisfy my expectations.

Plain and simple, Super 8 adds virtually nothing to this immensely popular genre, but just because something isn’t original doesn’t mean it has no entertainment value. Super 8 is sure fire entertainment for the summer crowds, but little more than that. Tragically it fails to live up to the same kind of wonderment, soul and heart of such Spielberg classics as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but it definitely marks an effort. Super 8 has a handful of top notch moments with a talented young cast and some exciting sequences, but the message is cliche and predictable with very few if any surprises. I went into this movie expecting to be taken on a wondrous ride of twists and turns, but was instead treated to a fairly formulaic film, a well made film but very formulaic.

It’s the summer of 1979 (made very clear by the film’s soundtrack) as we follow a young group of fledgling filmmakers trying to actualize their dream monster movie. Our central protagonist Joe (Joel Courtney) is a talented but shy makeup artist still quietly recovering from the unfortunate death of his mother, blamed on the carelessness of the town screwup Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard). Hoping to enter their film in a Cleveland film festival, the group invites the pretty yet slightly rebellious Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) to be a part of their film. Butterflies are flapping all about inside a love struck Joe until the children’s project is quickly interrupted by a disastrous train incident. What builds from here is a series of puzzling questions, disasters, and other extraterrestrial phenomena that eventually falls into the hands of our young heroes and this is not a burden to be taken lightly.

So enough of that, let’s touch on the cast of characters, long story short their great. All the kids are likable, relatable, and wonderfully played by their respective actors. Standouts are easily Elle Fanning as Joe’s crush Alice and Riley Griffiths as the gang’s temperamental perfectionist director Charles. Though really all the kids have their moments with some equally entertaining adult actors as well. Kyle Chandler as Joe’s father the deputy has that great kind of expression that can effortlessly transition from soft to stern, though unfortunately most of his screen time is relegated to commands with an unfortunate lack of personal moments. Which reminds me, what exactly is the emotional core of this film?

Without spooling anything it seems to be a film about learning to let go. Though an even more pressing matter that seems to be brushed over is the rift between Joe and his dad. Here we can see a father and son torn apart by tragedy only to be brought together by what, an alien attack? There’s nothing shown in this sequence of events to show that the father will act any different to his son in all the aftermath. Of course they hug and and embrace and apologize and all that sentimental stuff, but were never really shown that this stern father has learned anything. Maybe he learns to forgive the man who he blamed for his wife’s death, but with the lack of dialogue between him and his son and the lack of an epilogue, I really don’t know where they stand. Basically that’s a key plot element that left me unfulfilled, but I have a few comments geared towards the alien as well.

It’s pretty hard to show audiences anything new, so there was pretty much nothing Abrams could’ve done to surprise us with the final reveal of the alien, but maybe that’s just the thing. Maybe there is something he could’ve done to take us by surprise but none of us know what it is, after all if we knew what that thing was then it wouldn’t be surprising. Though I really wish there could of been something unexpected in Super 8, I mean why make it if you can’t think of anything new? That’s a little harsh but I think there’s a lot of truth to that. So what we are given is a fairly conventional alien plot with a less than spectacular alien. I didn’t mind Abram’s Cloverfield monster so much but this thing doesn’t really look like anything. It really does look like they just went with the first doodle they could think of and then called it a day. I’m still not sure what exactly I was even looking at, was it a muscular bug? It certainly had a lot of limbs and I could swear I saw a tentacle one time. You see they should of done one of two things; 1. they could of made it as simple as possible with merely one unique feature (like E.T. and his extendable neck) or 2. the look of the monster could of somehow been referential to a previous detail in the movie, so people could understand the relevance of it’s features within the context of the film. Ok, so that second option is a little vague, but at least I’m trying to justify the alien’s appearance and that’s more than they did.

Though in the grand scheme of everything what’s my main beef with Super 8? Not that it’s not a good movie, just that it’s not as good as it should’ve of been. With the quality of the personnel involved and the exciting concept, this movie should’ve made more of an effort to make it’s presence known. Aside from the delightful idea of aspiring filmmakers it has not a single original bone in it’s body and that disappoints me. I appreciate that Abrams is making the kind of film’s he’d like to see rather then what Hollywood demands, but he’s really got to go that extra mile if he wants to make his mark on the genre.

The War Story Quiz

With such a great post week going why stop now? So here’s the official War Story quiz that I’d always mused about making. I’d say the difficulty is fair if you’ve seen all 11 episodes. Don’t feel bad if you can’t 100% it, I bet Paul couldn’t even get 100%.