Sunday, September 26, 2010

Red Dead RedAWESOME


Red Dead Redemption almost became my favorite game. It was so close! The story is wonderful, the scenery is incredible, and the immersion is without question. The problem is the extra content that drags the experience out to tedious levels. I played it on a PS3, and I take large amounts of enjoyment getting platinum trophies on the games I play. So I went through the game doing every little thing possible in an attempt to get that platinum trophy. Here's the rub: by the time I reached the third section of the game, it seemed so absolutely repetitive that I couldn't wait to finish it. I shouldn't feel that way! I should have been dreading the moment those closing credits rolled. Still, don't get me wrong. It's wonderful. I don't think I've ever enjoyed just traveling around an open-world game like that.

The main complaint I've heard is that it's the same game that's been fed to us again and again over the last ten years through the Grand Theft Auto series, but it replaces mobsters, cartel-members, and street gangs with cowboys, Indians, and Mexicans. I can certainly sympathize with this complaint—particularly because I've grown to absolutely hate GTA games—but there's something just inherently more enjoyable about a western-themed sandbox game. I don't know why I feel differently about RDR, but the fact is that I despised GTA IV within the first 15 minutes, but my love for RDR quickly catapulted to ridiculous levels.

Even though I feel that there's way too much content in the single-player section of the game, I can't argue that it's pulled off brilliantly and is a masterpiece of video game storytelling. What's really soured me on the game is the multiplayer. The fact that the multiplayer trophies are required for platinum bums me out to no end. I'm grinding levels right now to get to level 50, and I find myself really, really eager to finish with this game and move onto something else. My completionist tendencies probably hurt me here, since I must finish what I start before taking on another huge challenge (God of War III is next on my queue, and long overdue). But I'm so close to this platinum that I don't want to stop playing. At the same time, I can't stop playing soon enough.

Rockstar used to be my favorite game developer, purely because GTA 3, GTA: Vice City, and GTA: San Andreas were some of my favorites back in the day. But their formula has gotten tired and repetitive, and I think it's time for an overhaul. I'm not as excited for the next GTA game as I might be.

I'm going to continue grinding up to level 50, and I might work on a few of the DLC trophies, but once I platinum the game, it is unlikely I'll pick it up again. Then again, the online poker and liar's dice might be enough to play it every once in a while, but that remains to be seen. Overall, I think this is a must-play, but if you intend to platinum it, be prepared for some frustration. As for whether I declare it one of my favorite games, I'll have to let it sit in my mind for a while. When I was about halfway through, I thought it would overtake Ocarina of Time, but now I'm not sure where in my top ten it will go. Time will tell.

Ooh, Coins! (or, How Scott Pilgrim Rocked My World)


I recently saw Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and I loved it. It included all kinds of things I love, such as:

Rock music

Video games

Acoustic guitars

Hot punk-rock girls—I refuse to view Ramona as a hipster, and incidentally…

Hating on hipsters

Hating on vegans

Hot punk-rock girl in, at one point, boyshorts

Ridiculous, over-the-top EVERYTHING

Zelda sound effects

COINS

Basically, it's my new favorite movie. All it needed was some anti-PETA sentiment and it would have been enough for me to swear off other movies forever. I haven't felt any desire to buy a DVD in quite a while, but this one definitely goes on the list. EFF YEAH.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Undead and Uncred-ible

Today, I weep for humanity. I don't know what's worst: that this book can get published in the first place, that I couldn't find a negative review on it anywhere (!), or that it has been contracted for eleven books in the series.

I'm talking, of course, about Mary Janice Davidson's Undead and Unwed.

I'm not sure why I picked up this particular piece of chick-lit brilliance. I guess it sounded like it could be fun. When it was described to me I thought, "Oh, it's got to be tongue-in-cheek. I bet it's hilarious!" Now, I'm sure the author intended for it to seem tongue-in-cheek, but it doesn't take much insight to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that she is living her fantasy life through this book. And there's nothing necessarily wrong with living a fantasy life through a book. It's just that this one is so shallow. Here's a picture of the author that is printed in the back cover:

A quick synopsis: "sassy" Betsy Taylor is a former model and a current secretary who is obsessed with fashion and has a particular penchant for designer shoes (notice any—well, just one—similarities with the photo above?). She gets attacked by vampires, survives, dies in a freak accident a couple weeks later, and wakes up in the morgue as a vampire. Here's a quote from the morgue when Betsy sees herself in the mirror:

"Interesting shade #23 Lush Golden Blonde highlights. Heyyyyyy.... The woman in the awful suit was me! The woman in the cheap shoes was me! … I slipped one of the shoes off, looked at the inside. Property of Antonia O'Neill Taylor. I knew it. My stepmother! The bitch meant to bury me wearing her cast off shoes!"

Throughout the book, the author spouts all kinds of "smart-mouthed" nonsense and horrible, horrible puns. One of her characters uses the classic line, "She's a poet, and she didn’t even know it!" And you might think that it's supposed to be a cutesy, ironic usage. I sure didn't read it that way. The character (and author) is just corny enough to think that it's funny. And then there's this one:

"I was fast, I was strong, I was…I was SpiderVamp!"

The author perpetuates the horrible phenomenon of making vampires "sexy." Her big gimmick is that when a vampire drinks the blood of a human, it's an orgasmic experience for both parties. Then the vampire has to have sex with the human, or the human will turn into a deranged junkie who can think of nothing else but the sexy, sexy vampire. (This is just a little too much of a look into the author's psyche. I don't want to know her fantasies.) The whole book is oversexed and, oh, there's also a lesbian vampire.

So Betsy learns that she's Queen of the Dead because she fits the description of a prophecy told long ago, but she's a reluctant hero who just wants to hang out and get more shoes. At one point, she's riding in a car with the mysterious and sexy male vampire, Sinclair. Let's visit:

"He started the engine and jerked in his seat as Rob Zombie's 'Living Dead Girl' blared through the speakers.

"'This is intolerable,' Sinclair shouted in a vain attempt to be heard over the music. He lunged for the volume control, then stabbed irritably at the preset buttons. The car was instantly flooded with—gag!—serene string quartet music."

I must give credit where credit is due. The idea of a young vampire woman listening to "Living Dead Girl" makes me smile a bit. But, and I realize that I'm very biased in this situation, her reaction to the classical music is ridiculous. I can be reasonable, though. Sometimes someone just doesn't like a certain kind of music. They wouldn't do something completely rash and unreasonable, though. Right? Let's visit Betsy in a car she's borrowed from Sinclair a few chapters later:

"I had one hand on the steering wheel, and the other was buried in the CD holder up to the elbow. I groped, felt, and pulled. Soundtrack from Amadeus. Nope. I took my hand off the wheel long enough to hit the power button for the window, and out into the night air ole Wolfgang went.

"Beethoven: Violin Concerto. Pass. I tossed it. Sentimento, Andrea Bocelli. Who the hell was she? Toss. Mahler: Symphony Number Five. It probably wasn't any better than symphonies one through four…buh-bye. Chopin: 24 √Čtudes. Et tu, Chopin? Kiss pavement.

"…Stupid Sinclair. Even if he wasn't an arrogant cuss, I felt like giving him a kick for his musical taste alone."

There are so many things wrong with this excerpt. I don't even know where to begin. I'm going to ignore her blatant hatred of classical music and get down to the more pertinent issues. First of all, what kind of jerk borrows a car from someone and throws the owner's CDs out the window? Can you think of anyone who would do that? It's unfathomable. Second, the fact that the author thinks that the Amadeus soundtrack is the kind of thing a classical music lover would have in his collection is just…hilarious. Not that there's anything wrong with the soundtrack, but it's essentially random movements from several pieces over the course of Mozart's life. I find it more likely that the guy would own CDs with the pieces in their entirety. Third, the idea that Betsy feels a need to "give [Sinclair] a kick" for his taste in music is the most egotistical, self-centered idea with which she could have possibly closed this section. Finally, how much do you want to bet that as the author painstakingly thought up her delicious little puns and comments on each CD that she thought she was being absolutely hilarious? I'd put money on it.

So the book continues and Betsy is bribed with ten pairs of designer shoes (Seriously. I'm not joking) to do her duty as Queen of the Vampires and defeat the bad guy. Then Betsy and Sinclair have hot and incredibly graphic sex in a swimming pool, but then she gets mad at him for some stupid reason. The book's final paragraphs:

"Now if I could just get Sinclair to quit dropping off pairs of designer shoes. In his last card he said he would drop off a pair a day until I forgave him. I'm up to fourteen pairs of Pradas, eight pairs of Manolos, and six Ferragamos.

"Maybe I'll forgive him…eventually.

"I'm still waiting for this season's red Jimmy Choo slides."

And so it all comes back to shoes. I just don't know what to say. I was expecting the book to be funny, but in an over-the-top sort of way. It's definitely over-the-top, but not quite enough to be funny in the way the author intends. It's really more unintentionally funny, in a very sad way. Kind of like the author's picture.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ys Is The Best

Words can barely describe my love for Joanna Newsom's Ys. I first heard it coming from a former roommate's bedroom. I don't know why he had it—it's not really his type of music. At first I thought it was musical theater, which is even less his thing, and I was intrigued. I don't think he listened to it again, but I got a copy from him and put it aside for a couple of months. Then I noticed that a good friend of mine had a copy of the record sleeve framed in his house. He told me it was one of his favorite albums. Finally, after a couple more weeks, I plugged in my headphones. It blew my freaking mind. I listened to it repeatedly for the next several months.

In general, I dislike the harp. Why then, you may wonder, is my favorite musician a harp player? It's really the way she plays. First of all, and really most importantly, she completely avoids glissandos. The harp glissando is one of the worst things that ever happened to music, and it makes me want to break down in tears whenever I hear it in an otherwise brilliant piece. Second, she plays incredible contrapuntal accompaniment patterns and picks out melodies that most classical harpists fail to accentuate every time. She's an absolute virtuoso. (On the other hand, I don't really know anything about the intricacies of the harp. It's possible that everything I just wrote is nonsense. But the fact remains: I generally find harp to be a "blah" instrument, but in Ms. Newsom's hands it is angelic.)


Much has been written about Ms. Newsom's voice and most of it is ridiculous. It seems like everyone has jumped on the "fairy" or "childlike" bandwagons, which is really just a simplistic way of trying to place a label on something that one needs to hear in order to truly grasp. Labels often pigeonhole musicians into specific classifications, which I believe does a major disservice to seekers of greatness. If someone had said to me, "You should check out Joanna Newsom! She's a really great harpist and her voice is crazy. It's very childlike," then I may have never bothered to listen. Even the categorization of which instrument she plays may have deterred me; never mind that she plays it like no other harpist I've ever heard. So I think those people that say she sings "fairy music" damage others' abilities to go in with an open mind. I understand that placing labels is unavoidable, and the first person to say that she is reminiscent of a fairy probably really heard it that way. But now every critic that has heard that description perpetuates it, and it takes away from what she really has: a truly unusual—unique, even—voice that is unlike anything that I've ever heard.

The subtleties of the orchestration on the album are incredible. Van Dyke Parks should earn just as much praise as Ms. Newsom for the brilliance of this record. From the opening pizzicato accents to the closing arco chords, the strings are the perfect complement to the relatively sparse texture of harp and voice. One of my favorite moments is during "Emily." The music is growing, and Ms. Newsom is singing, "The whole word stopped to hear you hollering." She places an emphasis on the word "stopped" and, right on cue, the strings rest. As soon as she continues with her line, they continue with their own. This reinforcement and musical commentary of the text continues throughout the album. There are surprises, too: just when you think that "Emily" is going to be limited to lush string accompaniments, Mr. Parks brilliantly includes a mouth harp and banjo. In "Monkey and Bear," winds are added—bassoons, flutes, French horns, and muted trumpets can all be heard. There's even a great moment where an electric guitar arpeggio can be heard, seemingly out of nowhere.


My one minor, minor complaint is the lack of orchestration in "Sawdust and Diamonds." It's a brilliant song, and to some extent a needed rest from the dense texture of the orchestrated content, but what truly places this album so close to my heart is the texture. Perhaps a full orchestra wasn't needed, and it's certainly a fine song without, but some added instruments would have made it absolutely celestial. Nevertheless, it's hard to argue with perfection. The weakest track on this album would easily be the best song on many others, so any negative criticism I might offer hardly applies. As it stands, Ys is easily my favorite album of all time. To anybody who is looking for something different from the standard pop songs that plague the airwaves, this is a great place to look.