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31May/100

Playground

I saw Iron Man 2 this weekend and enjoyed the hell out of it. It had pretty much everything missing from the first film: a superpowered villain from the get-go, alcoholism, Sam Rockwell … I could go on. Now, it wasn't a ground-breaking film that redefined how we look at crazy men in costumes and all such jazz I'd like to pretend people expect out of these films. No. It was explosions and witty dialogue and a drunk billionaire urinating in a giant metal suit to please a crowd. My expectations were met and, at the exact moment when Mickey Rourke (in a delightfully dead-on Russian accent) says the phrase “this software is sheet,” exceeded.

So, I got home and decided to read some Iron Man comics. It was suggested I start during Warren Ellis' “Extremis” arc. Right in issue one, something caught my eye. If you're not familiar with his craft, you should know that Ellis has worn his cultural interests on his sleeve throughout his entire career – Transmetropolitan's Spider Jerusalem, for instance, would repeatedly (and sloppily) quote the Pixies' lyrics as dialogue. The scene below, occuring at a Stark International complex in “Coney Island, NY” (my relationship to which I've written about earlier,) was a bit more unexpected:


If you're a fan of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, you'll recognize that as a rephrased version of the monologue which opens “Sleep” on Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven:

Again, considering this is Warren Ellis, I'm wasn't too surprised, but it was nice to see a wink-wink-nudge-nudge sort of reference. As opposed to, in the next issue or two, having a character parrot out a brief summary of the works of Terence McKenna's. There's something to be said for both subtlety and pleasing the pretension of your audience.

27May/100

His Glamour Increases

I started this week off with a musical, so I may as well conclude it with one. I was about seven years old when my mother took me to a Broadway performance of Jesus Christ Superstar. We'd only recently emigrated, and while the seats were quite far away from the stage – I barely remember a damn thing – I know she splurged to take us there. A year or so later, I encountered the film version on television. It blew my mind. I'd been familiar with the bible: Old Testament by way of children's books, New Testament by way of a Story of Jesus comic book my mother most likely got from some proselytizers. However, the idea that one could could tell a story in a different way that it was originally told and use anachronism to help barely registered in my young mind. I can honestly say that Herod's sunglasses blew my mind open that day.

A few years later, during my sophomore year of high school, I sold my Magic: The Gathering cards for twenty bucks to buy my mother a birthday present. I got her the album version of Jesus Christ Superstar, and ended up listening to it more often than she did. Caiphas' bass has been burned into my mind permanently since those days.

26May/101

The Most Insidious Prison of All

I'm about four months behind the gaming blogs on this, but you need to go play VVVVVV right the hell now. You can try a two-level demo over at Kongregate and once you become thoroughly addicted, you can purchase the full version (fifteen bucks) on the official site.

I've never had much of a yen to play old-school style games since I started using a computer that could execute something outside of DOS games and an NES emulator. I'll come right out and say it: older games are way, way too hard for me. I get frustrated very easily. Until I received a Game Genie, I don't think I saw an ending to a single one of my Nintendo games, even with it I didn't finish many of my games. This led to the fact that as I got more powerful computers, I would play fighting games almost exclusively. They were fast, not terribly complex if you didn't want them to be and full of instant gratification. Turns out this is exactly why I love VVVVVV.

All you get is handful of colors and a player sprite with two, coun't em, two facial expressions. Your little guy ventures from room to room, scrolling between them Metroid-style. Each room presents a challenge for the only technique your little guy has: flipping gravity. Hit the Action Button and he flips onto the ceiling. Hit it again and he drops. It only works when he's standing on a surface, so you can't flip in the air. That's it. The rooms, in turn, becomes individual puzzles varying from laughably easy to come on comeoncomeon AGH! DAMMIT!. There's usually one exact way through and it's up to you to divine it. Oh. And there are spikes, odd sprites and various other dangers all floating about. When you die, you respawn at the last waystation you hit, which, depending on the difficulty of the puzzle, may be in the same room or five spike-filled and twitch reflex-demanding rooms away. There are no lives, no continues. You die, you respawn, you try again, you die, you respawn and eventually you figure it out. Well, usually, at least – I've had to find the solution to at least one room online. The odd thing is that watching the game is more frustrating than actually playing it. Each room, each puzzle is so minimalist that you know you can do it, god dammit, and you keep trying. While punishing (oh is it ever punishing) the game never throws something at you that you can't do. It's all about nerves and reflexes.

After you check it out, take a look at developer Terry Cavanaugh's site, where he keeps links to a number of his other games. Don't Look back is another gem, although more of a conventional platformer. Oh, and here is where you can get Souleye's PPPPPP, the soundtrack. I'm usually very way about listening to chiptune for too long, but the quality combined with the style of the game makes it eminently listenable. Here's my favorite track, “Potential For Anything”:

25May/102

A Man of Genius Makes No Mistakes

I took three essay-based exams today, in a row. While waiting for the final one to begin, I sat through a number of English Majors discussing in detail the, sigh, “physics and metaphysics” of a certain TV show's series finale. I was wincing the entire time, mainly because I'm entirely sure I sounded exactly as they did the few days after the Sopranos came to its own inglorious end. To celebrate both the completion of my exams, here is something related both in content and pretentiousness:

For those interested, here's a collection of Joyce's love letters to Nora Barnacle. They read like a cross between glossolalia and a cybersex transcript. So, y'know, nothing new.

24May/100

You’re In Every Song I Know

If you’ve ever seen a cartoon or film parody of a giant, elaborate dance sequence you were watching an homage to one of the greatest musical film directors, Busby Berkeley. The Chemical Brothers’ “Let Forever Be” is a great example. Mel Brooks, too, was particularly fond of his work, devoting the ending of Blazing Saddles to the production of a flamboyant director named Buddy Bizarre and inserting this dead-on and beautifully sardonic sequence – featuring Jackie Mason! – into History of the World Part 1:

His films, hitting their peak during the Great Depression, parallel the current love pop culture has for Las Vegas. Shitty economic climes lead to a desire for escapism to an opulence we can’t have in our daily lives. So, Depression audiences escaped to Fred Astaire doing a two-step on the ceiling and Busby’s girls. I used to have a DVD rip of his greatest hits which I unfortunately lost in a hard drive crash. Luckily, BluDirect has thrown the entirety of it on YouTube. So, if you’re ever feeling down, escape to the wonderful world of giant geometric patterns composed of beautiful women dancing in sync. Someone was awesome enough to create a video for the Magnetic Fields song "Busby Berkeley Dreams" (the source of this post's title) with some of this Berkeley material, creating a nice little sampler:

My favorite of his pieces is “Honeymoon Hotel” from Footlight Parade. It is a little different than his usual faire, having a plot. Everything about it (outside of the creepy little person playing a lecherous child) is grand and wonderful. The best section, in my opinion, is the good portion of it devoted to the Honeymoon Hotel’s resident not-so-newlyweds schooling the new girl in the art of love in the most innocent 1930s musical way possible: innuendo-laced singin’!

Apparently this sequence was so popular, it spawned a Merrie Melodies parody the very next year:

20May/101

A Boarded Front Door

I've played Interactive Fiction games on and off since I was about ten years old. I've never been particularly good at them and often got frustrated, but I never lost the feel for it. So, today, I was delighted to see that the People's republic of Interactive Fiction published a card-sized guide to IF. So, study it for a bit and then play some games, right in your browser.

19May/100

Guilty with an Explanation

Today I am writing on Caravaggio while attempting to memorize Sonata form for my Music final. Here's a little NYC slice-of-life piece in silent film style, courtesy of Woody Allen's 1971 film Bananas. One of those thugs look a bit familiar? Well, that's because it is America's Sweetheart Sylvester Stallone in one of his first on-screen appearances.

18May/100

Echolocation

As I continue pounding my way through Kafka and Opera, I require constant distraction. The webseries Hey Ash, Whatcha Playing? has served that function very, very well. It’s a not-as-abrasive Angry Video Game Nerd with less of a focus on the actual games. Plus, it is mostly contemporary stuff, so those of you who don’t spend hours on blogs revolving around Super Nintendo minutia don’t have to feel left out. Now, instead of a shit-beer-swilling obsessive, HAWP features a foul-mouthed and bright-eyed young lady (Ashly Burch,) her long-suffering brother Anthony, and, occasionally, their parents. It’s just the right mixture of slapstick, absurd humor and sheer adorableness by way of Ash. Here is my favorite:

17May/100

Zero Week: Crisis in Time

Well, it's finals week again. I'm going on low-content mode for at least a week. Wish me luck, everyone, and enjoy this Boards of Canada rarity.

13May/101

Gimme a Roll

As a Dungeons and Dragons player, I know my fair share of absolutely weird, weird people. A few years back, I went to a local D&D game I found thanks to LiveJournal. It was alright, but I decided I had too many other commitments to actually hang around. Oh. And one other thing. The dungeon master – a term about to become unnecessarily accurate – had a copy of the Book of Erotic Fantasy (SFW Amazon link.) This is a Dungeons and Dragons supplement that has no reason to exist. I am of the humble (and correct) opinion that, past the age of, say, thirteen, sex does not belong in Dungeons and Dragons. Want sex? Go start a Vampire LARP or whatever; I was just there to kill, loot and plot. Immediately afraid that this wasn't just an impulse/ironic purchase on behalf of the DM, I decided not to come back.


Co. DnD Game Shop

Five years later, I am downloading a D&D supplement for our weekly game when I come across a torrent of the Book of Erotic Fantasy and download it on a lark. The first page has a list of ...playtesters for the volume. I immediately wager to myself that every single one of them is male and begin to read the names.

I'll bet you can guess whose name was first on that list.

Every time I watch Fear of Girls – the short film below – I remember that experience anew, whether I want to or not.

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