Saturday, April 28, 2007

Passing Sentences: April 28

It's One Month Later... and everything has changed.

Well... maybe not. :)

Obviously, this week's highlight was the triumphant return of Heroes, with an episode that was very much worth the wait (that said, it's good to know there won't be any more interruptions this season). .07% delivers a bit of everything: some misdirection, some revelation, some great character moments, some long-awaited reunions, and a cliffhanger that has me on pins and needles for the next episode. I think one thing "Heroes" is doing particualrly well is applying correctives to some of the more powerful, recognizable stories in comics: Niki is essentially the Hulk except her alter ego has a personality beyond "Jessica Smash!", Linderman's scheme is an updated take on Adrian Veidt's master plan in "Watchmen" sans giant alien monster, next week's episode is "Days of Future Past" without killer robots, etc. As a rule, there are certain levels of implausibility we just have to accept when it comes to mainstream superhero stories; in fact, it's so deeply ingrained that modern attempts to invoke "realism" in the Marvel or DC universes tend to fail awkwardly (ie: "Civil War"). We, as readers, have already accepted cosmic rays and Nordic gods and giant fork-headed planet eaters, so dropping a Superhero Registration Act on top of that just doesn't work. "Heroes", having never asked us to believe in naked silver guys riding surfboards through space, is able to breach that barrier and take the whole conflation of "realistic fantasy" to a new level.

Drive was cancelled before I got a chance to check it out. Pity: I loves me the Fillion.

Christie Golden's Warcraft: Rise of the Horde ended up being a thoroughly disappointing read: pedestrian, transparent, and way too intent on making the Orcs seem like gullible, naive victims even as the narrator insists that they knowingly condemned themselves. The whole good/evil schism is taken to cartoonish extremes: the draenei are ridiculously benevolent, the Orcs shockingly simple-minded, the Burning Legion unidimensionally bad. Bo-ring.

Supernatural, Folsom Prison Blues: Another by-the-numbers episode, servicably entertaining without hitting any particular highs or lows.

The recent conclusion of Girls left me a bit cold; on the one hand, I never expected the people of Pennystown to really figure out what was going on, but on the other hand, the series ends without much closure at all, emotionally or plotwise. Given that the Lunas focused far more on the human cast members as protagonists than on the mysterious Girls, it's a bit of a surprise to see all the attention in this double-sized finale given to the "sperm-monster" and its mission - we don't really get to grieve for the dead, or see how the survivors deal with the aftermath. A disappointing end to an interesting series.

Final Fantasy IV Advance: Having completed "Dawn of Souls" (which I highly recommend), I've started the first GBA remake of the SNES trilogy. It's a bit glitchy - the buttons tend to stick, and encounter rate/ATB is way off - but the retranslated script is excellent, and the graphics have been tweaked just enough that I don't feel like I'm just replaying the same old game again.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

I'm a hostage in a fortune cookie factory: send help!

Okay, maybe not quite that dramatic... it's just been a very eventful week in which I have somehow miraculously failed to actually write (or do) much of anything.

I've started reading Christie Golden's "Rise of the Horde", which is basically a history of the Orcs of "Warcraft". Unfortunately, it's being written with the most current "World of Warcraft" lore as canon, so... yeah, spaceships and other weirdness abounds. Not quite sure how I feel about that just yet. As an equalizer, I'm also reading Virginia Woolf's "To The Lighthouse", which I'm really enjoying despite Woolf's Joyce-esque tendency to go on long rambling quasi-stream-of-consciousness segments of introspection.

No more "Heroes" retrospectives for the time being, as I've found myself repeating a lot of criticisms that hold true after "Six Months Ago" - Niki's storyline is still being written in a very confusing and amorphous style (she's in jail; she's in a psych ward; she's an assassin; nobody seems to be at all bothered by any of this), Hiro keeps stumbling back and forth over the line between cute and annoying, revelations are being compounded with even more questions, etc. That said, I'm really looking forward to the last leg of the season: with "Rome" off the air, "Heroes" is now my favorite TV show.

So is "The Tudors" any good? I'll be checking out the first episode next week, but I'd certainly like to hear some opinions while I wait. :)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

But... but I'm an atheist!

You are The High Priestess

Science, Wisdom, Knowledge, Education.

The High Priestess is the card of knowledge, instinctual, supernatural, secret knowledge. She holds scrolls of arcane information that she might, or might not reveal to you. The moon crown on her head as well as the crescent by her foot indicates her willingness to illuminate what you otherwise might not see, reveal the secrets you need to know. The High Priestess is also associated with the moon however and can also indicate change or fluxuation, particularly when it comes to your moods.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Heroes Retrospective: Six Months Ago

1. Coda the First to "Save The Cheerleader", as we jump back six months before the events of "Homecoming". I suppose my biggest problem with this episode is that, while it purports to deliver the "origin stories" of the cast, it actually raises two questions with every answer. We learn how Sylar became what he is, but not the specifics of his power-thieving skills. We see Chandra Suresh tracking the Heroes down, but how did he find these people in the first place, and how could he have missed Sylar's mutation the first time? We meet Niki's dad and discover the source of her fractured mind, but why did Hal seek her out in the first place? And then, of course, there's the big question "Heroes" has yet to answer: up until this point, the assumption had been that the solar eclipse witnessed in the first episode was somehow responsible for "activating" the Heroes' powers. But here we see Nathan, Eden, Claire, Matt, Peter and Jessica use their powers long before that celestial event happened. So are we to believe that the Heroes had superpowers all their lives? And if so, how is it possible that no one figured it out all this time?

2. I love Ali Larter's subtle shifts of expression when she transitions from Niki to Jessica and back. Say what you will about her storyline (and I have), but Larter's definitely playing it well. Another question: Niki refers to D.L. as an ex-con, which means he was a criminal before the Linderman thing. So... what? When did that happen? What happened?

3. PARADOX! If Hiro and Charlie had a whole relationship before he was snatched away, why didn't she recognize him the day she died? That said, it was interesting to see Hiro's present-day storyline unfold alongside a flashback episode.

4. We're once again witnessing Nathan's ambiguous nature: having used his power of flight to escape his wife's fate, Nathan tells his brother he has no idea what happened. Is he telling the truth? Is he lying? Is he really, really good at repression? There's no way to tell, and that's what makes him so intriguing.

5. Umm... Mr. Bennet used Eden to get Claire's name off Chandra's list? Then how did Sylar know there was a Hero in Odessa, Texas?

6. Questions aside, though, this was a solid episode, and while I wasn't very impressed with Zachary Quinto as Sylar at the time, he's done an excellent job of growing into the role since then.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Heroes Retrospective: Homecoming

1. Also known as "The One Where All Hell Breaks Loose", this episode serves as the climax to the "Save The Cheerleader" arc. It's worth pointing out, again, that this storyline lasted for five episodes, start to finish, and included foreshadowing, character development, action, resolution, payoff, denouement and the creation of new story threads. Pacing 101, ladies and gentlemen.

2. I like how this episode slowly progresses from high school melodrama to outright horror - we start with somewhat typical depictions of the popular/unpopular schism in high school, Homecoming intrigues, and a Very Special Episode aspect to Zach's last conversation with Claire (the "I'm finally finding out who my friends are" speech). By the end of the episode, a girl is horribly murdered and everyone's covered in blood.

3. In the blah area of things, the Hawkins family crosses the border from dull to actively irritating. Someone please explain to me why Micah only speaks Comicese, and blames his father for "leaving" when he earlier expressed belief in D.L.'s innocence? (Which means he was framed, which means he didn't "leave", he was ARRESTED, you stupid kid!) And why didn't the dumbass kid tell his father about Jessica before they, you know, drove a hundred miles out of Vegas?

4. "Homecoming" also stresses, in a very subtle way, how unreliable Isaac's paintings can be. Technically, everything he painted came true, but the ones that got the most attention were misinterpreted: the shadow chasing Claire in the stadium isn't Sylar, it's Peter. The dead girl in the Sylar portrait isn't Claire, it's Jackie.

5. Mohinder's subplot... ugh. Well, like I said, he basically ends up right back where he started, except now he has a list of the Heroes. It's worth stating, though, that there is absolutely no explanation why Mohinder was able to figure out Chandra's program here when he couldn't in New York, or whether Chandra actually did find Sanjog (wouldn't locating the boy have offered proof of his theories, so people would realize he wasn't really a mad scientist or something?). Big, big, big mess.

6. You know, I'm back to "Yeah, good thing they killed Simone" again. As this episode demonstrates, she didn't have much going for her - way too easily manipulated by Nathan, still wishy-washy on whether or not she believes Peter... eh.

7. PARADOX! If the old waitress that Ando talks to recognizes Hiro, why didn't she peg him when he and Ando first arrived? (Well, now that I think about it, maybe she wasn't actually there until after Hiro teleported away.)

8. Anvilicious moments aside, Zach's attempt to reach out to Claire is sweet, as is Peter's genuine attempt to console her about life after high school.

Heroes Retrospective: Seven Minutes To Midnight

1. This is where Mohinder's storyline started dragging its feet. He stares. At a key. For hours. Before unlocking. The drawer. Ugh. This is a rare example of a Heroes subplot being mangled: Mohinder spends the next two episodes in a holding pattern, going around and around until he ends up right back where he started in the pilot. It's... well, it's awkward. And a rather transparent holding technique.

2. Charlie is, in a way, the perfect victim in storytelling: you see just enough of her to recognize a sweet, sympathetic person (without feeling like you're forced to like her for the sake of cheap drama). Then she gets a swift, brutal death, and you're left feeling a little sad for it.

3. The Matt/Ted/Audrey scene just doesn't work for me. Again, it's Matt being a mouthpiece, and since he can't actually pierce the surface of a person's mind, it's not clear why Ted thinks his responses rather than just, you know, saying them out loud.

4. Yeesh, Isaac looks terrible without stubble.

5. This is also where Eden started losing her villainous aura: her concern for Isaac seems genuine, and the sinister overtones of her interactions with Mohinder are gone now. Either Zehetner learned to tone down her telegraphing of the character's intentions, or she was rewritten as a foil to Mr. Bennet's ruthlessness. Either way, it's a change for the better.

6. Er... so if Chandra Suresh thought his daughter was "special", and he knew about Sanjog Iyer (the dreamwalker) before leaving India, why is Sylar "Patient Zero"?

7. We get to see Sylar's murder of Chandra Suresh here (albeit in a wonky dream/flashback), and it's actually more significant than you'd think because it contradicts the graphic novel supplements that NBC has been putting out since the show started (specifically, the first issue, which showed Chandra Suresh's taxi cab crushed and torn apart). I'll have more to say about the comics when we get to Hana Gitelman, but for now I think it's important to note that as far as consistency is concerned, the "bonus material" attached to "Heroes" is no more accurate than any other media tie-in.

Planet Hulk

I'm prefacing this review by saying that my expectations for "Planet Hulk", and the standards to which I held it, may have been a bit too high.

If I had to boil down Greg Pak's 14-part epic (15 if you include the Gladiator Guidebook, 16 if you include "Giant-Size Hulk"), I'd say it's characterized by missed opportunities. There was, I believe, a very solid premise at the heart of the story: the Hulk crash-lands on an alien world ruled by a monarchy that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Roman Empire, with slaves, gladiators and a Caligula-esque Emperor. Our hero is then enslaved, only to become a star gladiator and reluctant hero to the people, a figurehead around whom a resistance forms. Meanwhile, he befriends kindred souls - "monsters" similar to himself - and they forge "warbonds" that hold them together as a band of rebels. It's basically Spartacus in Space. Original? No, but as I said, it's a solid angle and fertile ground for good stories.

But Pak can't seem to make the most of what he's got. The biggest problem, IMO, is contrivance: things happen at the drop of a pin, with little or no set-up (ie: the Emperor goes crazy, Hulk gets a girlfriend, a bomb that sat around patiently for 13 issues suddenly goes off for no visible reason, etc.). Characterization is also deeply flawed, in that Pak's interpretation of the Hulk is even more erratic than he usually is, shifting motivations and goals at random intervals, and while this could have been attributed to the split personality aspect of the character, it's not clear if that's how we're supposed to interpret it. This has, I suppose, long been a problem with the Hulk, one of the more villainous heroes in the bunch - you can probably rely on him to show decency and heroism when it really, really matters, but he's also got the capacity to behave like an overwhelmingly obnoxious ass. Peter David balanced that out nicely by really exploring the Hulk's pathos; Pak forgoes any in-depth examination of the cast members, which only makes the story's developments seem even more forced.

It all goes back to pacing, and this is where I think I might be a little spoiled, because I read "Planet Hulk" shortly after finishing "Narbonic", a marvel of meticulous exactitude - every strip, every arc, every subplot was perfectly measured out and planned. By comparison, I can't help but feel like Pak was given lots of space - we're talking over a year's worth of issues here - and didn't do enough with it. His villains are two-dimensional (the Emperor in particular is a caricature), his heroes are stick figures (what, at the end of the day, can we really say about Elloe or Hiroim other than they're cliche archetypes?), and the lead-in to "World War Hulk" could only have turned out more contrived if Joe Quesada had materialized out of the ether, shoved Hulk into a rocket and blasted him off to Earth, Superman-style.

And now I'm starting to wonder if I've been wrong to endorse Pak all this time based on what he did with "Phoenix: Endsong" - if the "Warsong" sequel and "Planet Hulk" are any indication, he's not quite the bastion of talent he initially appeared to be.

Monday, April 9, 2007

On the subject of Narbonic

The pool was refilled...

"Alice in Wonderland" set Dave off...

That beautiful "dream gallery" at the end, and Dave's childbearing predictions actually coming true...

Shaenon Garrity, I salute you. I am in awe of you. I am so very, very glad to have read "Narbonic".

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Oh dear.

I honestly don't know where the time's gone...

* "Poor Unfortunate Souls" by the Jonas Brothers is just the cutest Disney remake I've ever heard. Teen rock meets Ursula. I love it!

* Yoko Shimomura has outdone herself with the box set soundtrack of "Kingdom Hearts" (available only in Japan - thanks, Jonathan!). The added tracks for KH2 are wonderful, but what really impressed me was "Lord of the Castle", the new final boss track for "Chain of Memories"; when the orchestra kicks in around 1:40, it easily matches "Darkness of the Unknown" for energy and rhythm.

* I'm in the middle of "Final Fantasy II" (the Dawn of Souls remake) and ye Gods, I hate this gameplay system so very, very much. But the story's quite good.

* Just a few words about the series finale of Rome: on some level, it was perhaps the episode most strongly bound by historical context - we know what happens at Actium, we know what it means for the losing side of the war. That might account for the largely anticlimactic feeling I got by the time it was over; for all that Purefoy and Marshall delivered Emmy-level performances, there's no real surprise. Also, I'm not sure why Vorenus' fate was conveyed so ambiguously (we don't see him die, but Pullo later says he did, but Pullo's lying to Octavian anyway, etc.). And I'm also displeased with the fact that, looking back, Timon's subplot ended two weeks ago. It's not that I really wanted to see him again, but I think I'd been waiting for a more thorough degree of closure (because "Let's go to Jerusalem!" is never a sentence that leads to "Happily ever after"). And finally, much love to Polly Walker for batting it out of the goddamned ballpark, acting-wise: forget Simon Woods, that penultimate scene at the triumph was all her.

* Starcrossed was a 15-minute film by James Burkhammer that raised quite a few eyebrows, though I'm not too clear on why. Yes, it tackles the incest taboo head-on, but it's hardly the first film to do so... and unlike "Harry and Max", which at least admits that seducing your brother has perks but will screw your head up something horrid, "Starcrossed" plays it as the standard Romeo-and-Juliet plot: Connor falls in love with his older brother Darren, "teh sexxx" is had, they're discovered, and they decide to cash in their chips and kill themselves. See, it's missing something. Whenever I think of the quintessential suicide pact storyline, it's not "Romeo and Juliet" that comes to mind but "Thelma and Louise", because the latter added something to the formula: when the situation becomes untenable, you can at least try to run. Because, IMO, if you feel so strongly about someone or something that you're willing to defy social conventions, you're not going to give up easily. It's when you can run no further that you drive off a cliff. "Starcrossed", by contrast, has Darren and Connor giving up without much of a fight, and what the film suggests is that the story couldn't have ended any other way - even though Burkhammer never puts a negative slant on the relationship to begin with. So it's a bit garbled, and the acting's only so-so, and the plot is utterly, thoroughly standard, so I don't see what the big deal is.

* Heroes retrospective catch-up to follow soon (hopefully).

Monday, April 2, 2007

In the words of Hiro Nakamura, "Greato Scotto!"

I just saw the secret ending to that new remix/whatever-thingy of "Kingdom Hearts II".

Bloody Hell. That's the kind of ending I wouldn't mind slaving over Jiminy's journals for.