Obsessed with trivia as I am, I like to think that I have a keen eye for certain off-hand references in films. Christopher Guest's 1996 mockumentary Waiting for Guffman has two little background details that I find very amusing, for no reason in particular. I think it is the fact that just as there are no extra words in a poem, there are no extra set pieces on a film. So the decision to insert these aspects was a conscious choice on behalf of Guest (or whoever does his sets.)
The first is an OK Soda machine in the school gym the cast is using for rehearsal. OK Soda was Coca Cola's abortive early-90s attempt to capture the hearts of Generation X and engineered by the same brilliant minds responsible for the New Coke fiasco. OK Soda attempted to play to their disaffection with an disaffected but anti-bleak ad campaign (“OK Soda does not subscribe to any religion, or endorse any political party, or do anything other than feel OK.”) and featured a self-consciously minimalist design; it resembled a cross between pop art and the Brand-X “BEER” cans in Repo Man.
The second is the copy of Waiting for Godot, in reference to the film's title, under Corky's drink on the lefthand side. Incidentally, the only reason I recognized it is because it is the same printing as the one I found in my grandmother's house when I was fifteen. I've yet to see that cover appear anywhere else but that bookshelf and this film.
Oh, and the post title comes from one of my favorite visual gags of all time:
If you were a kid around 1994, you probably saw The Mask. For me, it was one of the few films I saw with my mom in a theater, so I remember it pretty well. I had always been a big fan of Tex Avery and his very particular style in Looney Tunes and MGM cartoons. The film was like one of Tex's shorts brought to life, full of wacky nobody-really-gets-hurt violence and innocuous lechery. Which made the comic that inspired it surprise me all the more.
Click to enlarge
Mayhem #2, Dark Horse Comics, June 1989
I've been reading the old Mask comics recently, and the fact that they inspired what is, for all intents and purposes, a kids' movie is staggering. Instead of the film's wacky, mischievous, the comic's Big Head (as the papers covering his murders call him) is a serial killer with a twisted sense of humor, more akin to the Joker than anything from a cartoon. The big change for the film was that, as Wikipedia states, while they “had problems coming up with a script that could show violence that was comical, but had more success with a story that had comedy that was violent.” As a genuine fan of cinematic violence, I never thought this would be a good thing
Honestly? From what I've read of the comic so far, it turns me off. The 80s were a period faulted by dark-for-the-sake-of-dark. The Mask comes off as indulgence with nothing to hold it up. As far as the IP goes, I'll stick with this:
I discovered my current taste in music directly between high school and dropping out of college. The summer after graduating from high school, I started a music FTP with these three gentlemen, all of whom have also graciously contributed to this blog in times of need. I remember the exact three songs which knocked me clean into the 21st century; previously I'd listened to almost nothing but psychedelic rock and oi. They aren't the best tracks on the albums, but they were like nothing I'd ever heard before, and everything like what I want to listen to since that day:
Broadcast with “We've Got Time”
Belle and Sebastian with “Expectations”
Ladytron with “The Way That I Found You”
This Friday, I was sitting at work listening to NPR when a short feature on hyperlocal blogging came up. Needless to say, anytime the phrase "future of journalism" comes up, as it did, I become somewhat skeptical. The end result of my skepticism was a tweet-off between my friend Sarah (with a few contributions from her husband RJ.) This is a bit inside-baseball for those of you not residing in the five boroughs, so feel free to ask me to further disparage my hometown in the comments. Now, without further ado and in no particular order, a series of potential hyperlocal headlines for Brooklyn:
Gerritsen Beach: Tales of insane backyard wrestling and the east coast's only Juggalos.
Boro Park: Is your sheitel out of style? Summer '10 sheitel street fashion.
Kensington: Is there such a thing as too much tacky fake fur? The results may surprise you. (Answer: No.)
Marine Park: Local stuff do to: nothing.
Sheepshead Bay: Jesus Christ lady you're 55 time to put away the leggings and miniskirt.
Brighton Beach: Tourists: tired of having horrible opinions about Harlem? have we got the neighborhood for you!
Carroll Gardens/Fort Greene: Not Park Slope but an incredible simulation.
East New York: "East Bushwick" is too a neighborhood, realtors say.
Red Hook: Hello? Anyone out there? We have a Safeway. Hello?
Park Slope: Are baby carriages awesome? We survey Frank from down the hall.
...and one for Queens:
Astoria: More shit to do in Astoria because you sure as hell aren't going anywhere and no one is visiting you.
I spent the better part of last weekend playing a JRPG called Mardek. Except it wasn't a JRPG. It was a homemade Flash game by a 21-year-old Englishman who goes by the name Pseudolonewolf. He has clearly put many, many hours into the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series (along with the rest of their ilk) to create a game like this. It's both a tribute to the the golden age of JRPGs, and a satire. Characters refer to menus and the plot, with fourth-wall-breaking sheepishness. The language flows back and forth between a a mix between eye-dialect cockney and text-message speak. The meta-aspect gets a little dumb at points and dialogue isn't Pseudolonewolf's strong point; I found myself skimming through most, if not all of it. The characterization is a bit sloppy as well, the women characters especially. There's a line where satire turns into sexism and the game sadly and repeatedly crosses it. I'm usually not this forgiving about sexism in video games, especially contemporary ones, but considering it's more dumb jokes than aggressive misogyny, I put my offense aside.
There are a few things about Mardek which made it very accessible for me. Generally, I can't stand JRPGs, almost entirely due to two aspects: storyline railroading and grinding. JRPGs really don't share the “role-playing” conception of Western games. Instead of making decisions and evolving a character by active choices, they're a set storyline with battles and exploration in between. I'm not saying this is a fault; it's convention, but I'm not fond of it. JRPGs, at least the older ones that Mardek is based on, also require you to grind levels incessantly. I played into the final level of Final Fantasy IV only to discover I died at every battle because I didn't spend an extra half-dozen hours running into random battles to pump my characters beforehand. Why? Because I don't find grinding fun. In Mardek, thankfully, the random encounter rate is just right to let you be at a game-beatable level without any extra work. You may not get all the skills you want – skills are pumped by using them in battle – but you'll be able to finish the game, secrets and all. Another lovely feature is the save crystal, found almost always when you need to find it. The crystal, which not only lets you save but refills your HP and MP, prevents you from having to do the punishing amounts of replaying many of the older JRPGs insisted upon. They may make the game a little easy, but I welcome the support.
The combat system is wonderfully featured. While the overworld is represented via pixel art, the battles themselves feature fully drawn characters. There are little details and flourishes everywhere: weapons and shields actually show up on your avatars and the sounds and swipes of the attacks make every hit feel meaty. The magic effects are a little underwhelming, but considering you have access to four basic elemental spells in parts 1 and 2 (I haven't played through 3 yet,) they gets a pass. The combat timing is completely turn-based, although turns are dependent on your character's speed rather than each side going at once. There's a reflex system (think Mario RPG/Paper Mario) that lets your attacks gain and your defense soak more damage on well-timed button presses. Each character also has equippable abilities defined by “RP points.” There are the requisite “add X% to attack/defense” ones, along with custom ones for each character: berserk, wound undead, etc. Usually these are determined by equipment, although you can “master” them after enough uses in battle (whether passively or actively) and no longer require the equipment to wield them; you are still limited to equipping only a certain number of them based on your RP points. This is both a plus and a minus: if you like individual and precise character management, you'll spend a lot of time figuring out the best combinations between equipment and skills for your characters. If you don't, you may up underpowering your team, as each time you switch equipment, skills need to be restructured.
If I've convinced you to give the game a shot, it's up on Kongregate in three parts: one, two and the recently-released three. There's a cross-game save system, which lets you carry over your character between each chapter. You should play them in order and on the same website, as Mardek is up on most popular Flash game sites right now. There's also a wiki if you need help. Enjoy!
It was the mid 1990s, and comic books were still working the late-80s requisite grimness out of their system. Grant Morrison became the opening writer to JLA, DC's new Justice League book, meant to revive the franchise. Morrison strikes an odd chord with comics fans. Opinions of him run the gamut between those who welcome his sci-fi psychedelic romps and out-of-this-world revivals of old characters and comics, and there are those who think he is little more than a drugged-out Silver Age fetishist. If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, it's pretty obvious that I'm on the fanboy side of the equation. Anyhow, He had proved himself to be a reliable and inventive writer with long-form works like Vertigo's Doom Patrol and Animal Man. However, this was long before he was handed the keys to DC Continuity wholesale. He still had to follow the bizarre choices of the editorial decisions around him, which involved using the unfortunate Electric Superman for a spell (Yeah, let's hear your complaints about Wonder Woman's new costume again.) An aside: if a thirteen-year-old who considers DragonBall Z OVAs to be compelling and original entertainment finds your new Superman concept to be ridiculous, beat your word processor into a plowshare immediately.
Morrison opened JLA with an invasion. An invasion of new superheroes. The Hyperclan endeared themselves to Earth's population with a combination of superficial acts of charity – turning the Sahara into a forest – and the sort of ultraviolent, take-no-prisoners attitude toward supervillainy that made the Todd McFarlanes and Rob Liefelds of the time such roaring successes. Even if you were brand-new at comics, it was pretty clear where the storyline was headed around the time the Hyperclan roasted Wolverine and Doctor Doom at the stake.
After exposing themselves as conqueror-villains, the Hyperclan immediately disabled the newly-formed JLA. Except not the entire group. In one line, Morrison managed to convey the wonderful naivete of Silver Age supervillains, while taking the piss out of every grim-as-graveyard-dirt, man-sized-gun toting “hero” to grace the pages of Image comics:
I can't find any other word for that line of reasoning outside of “adorable.” Needless to say (and SPOILER ALERT for a 14-year-old comic storyline) Batman discovers the Hyperclan's secret weakness and saves the day.
(Hello, due to extenuating circumstances, your regularly scheduled Griph will not be posting today. Instead, he's unchained me from the radiator to fill in for the Thursday post. I also update Pre-Sonic Genesis semi-weekly, should you find yourself interested in even more novelties of questionable worth. -CJ)
For the past month, I have found myself summering in scenic Lincoln, Nebraska in an effort to leave behind the harsh Texas sun for the merely capricious heat of the midwest. Unfortunately, this means leaving my limited social circle behind, which leaves lots of time to devote to the endless variety of media available to any technologically enabled person these days. If you are anything like me, and may God have mercy if so, then even living as spartanly as possible you tend to acquire media faster than you can readily consume it. So rather than focus on one thing in particular, you tend to form a vanguard of the few things that strike your interest and keep it nearby to pick at almost randomly. You have your own name for it, but I call mine The Stack.
So with two hours until this needs to be posted and absolutely no idea what to ostensibly entertain his faithful audience with, I decided to fall back on the narcissistic standby of trumpeting my own self-interest in a quick look at what occupies the half dozen hours between deciding I need to go to bed and actually falling asleep.
The Corner - David Simon and Edward Burns: If you are reading this and have not watched David Simon's sublime HBO show The Wire, I am not going to lecture you about why that is incorrect. The Wire is one of the greatest television shows to have ever been aired, you already know this. The show is not just good, but it is objectively good. Science can put it under a microscope or set the DVD over a bunsen burner for a half hour, but thirty reports out of thirty reveal hey this is a very good television show guys. But before The Wire, there was The Corner, a book David Simon wrote after following a group of speedball addicts and dealers around the slums of Baltimore for a year straight. The Corner was made into an HBO mini-series, which more or less became the basis for the first season of The Wire, which largely took place on the same streets that Simon wrote about in The Corner, but with (mostly) fictional characters on both sides of the law. The Corner is absolutely gut-wrenching and visceral, to the point where the gonzo-journalism starts to wear at your soul. Simon and Burns don't pull any punches on the war on drugs, and definitely do not have an answer (Season Three of The Wire revisits this, down to a few word for word scenes, with a harsh look at why both sides of the law wouldn't be able to handle a sudden legalization of the drug trade). But while they have no easy answers, they know the current system isn't working. The works of Simon were a major factor in my need to switch to attain a Bachelors of Social Work, and I can't recommend them enough simply as a starting point into the preciously small library of work that tackle social problems without being preachy.
Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther: Due to the choice of dreary name and needlessly wordy and opaque album title, Midlake's 2006 sophomore album The Trials of Van Occupanther can and has found itself criminally ignored. This is, predictably, a shame, as Midlake are one of the best Americana-twinged bands in recent memory.
The album gets compared to Fleetwood Mac fairly often, and that's not entirely an inaccurate way of looking at things. The band relies on lush seventies style production, with every instrument playing warm and a little fuzzy over analog synths older than most people reading this. The band relies on softly sung vocal harmonies barely hovering above the instrumentation, both of which are appropriately understated considering the subject matter - a bizarre magical realism exploration of isolation on the American frontier. Or at least that's how I hear things. Think of it as The Decemberists, but you are fifty times less likely to punch the members in the throat. But don't just take my word for it; in grand Come On Let's Go tradition, here is a music video showcasing the opening track:
Cabelas Big Game Hunter 2010: Hey, listen. I am not a strong man. Sometimes, the allure of cultural garbage is just too strong. And the allure of a free Gamefly account that seems to permanently never actually send you anything you actually want to play is even stronger. So here I find myself taking part in what I can only describe as genuine hunting pornography. I really doubt that there is a secret society of hunters that whisk potential recruits around the world to stand in glowing blue circles to open fire on an endless parade of foxes, but you sure can pretend there is for a few dollars and the endless shame of the game taking permanent residence on your achievements list. As an added bonus, there is a veritable party boat of homoeroticism that I have a sneaking suspicion is intentional, given the developer's cheeky self awareness popping up in achievement titles like "Metal Deer Solid"
Of course, there's tons of other stuff there, some of which I will savor, some will just get a cursory glance before being thrown back on The Stack, potentially never to emerge. Out of all the problems our information saturated society has saddled us with, The Stack is probably the best of them.
Co. TV Guide
For about half a second – well, five weeks, really – NBC aired a single-camera sitcom entitled Andy Barker, P.I. Starring Andy Richter (Conan's buddy and star of the of the genius and ill-fated office sitcom Andy Richter Controls The Universe) it was a send-up of police procedurals and noir films. Andy, an accountant by trade, opens his own firm and moves into the former offices of retired P.I. and hardboiled curmudgeon Lew Staziak (Harve Presnell, who you may remember as the equally curmudgeonly grandfather from Fargo.) He ends up taking on cases, usually from anachronistic femme fatales. His main support is Simon (Arrested Development's Tony Hale) a film geek video store manager, and Wally (Marshall Manesh,) the Afghan restaurant owner who may or may not have been a member of his home country's secret police, which at least in part explains his ownership of CSI-level surveillance equipment. Wally, with due post-9/11 concern, also displays the same sort of suspiciously overt patriotism Apu did when he bought citizenship papers from Fat Tony.
Co. TV Guide
The show was hilarious. The writers clearly knew their hardboiled territory and exploited it's every angle. After Andy gets his first case – a wife reporting her missing husband – Wally and Simon deduce that she's not really his wife as her story mirrors that of the plot to Chinatown. The set pieces are marvelous. Simon's tiny apartment has an enormous Vertigo poster. Wally's backroom looks like something out of Scorsese's paranoid thriller The Conversation. At one point, Lew figures there is a clue in his old office and he and Andy take a trip down memory lane: Lew's old office is an exact replica of the set to The Maltese Falcon.
The show was canceled after a month. Luckily, the entire six-episode run is available on Hulu.