Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rejected T-Shirt ideas: Pi

The above is the latest in our line of rejected T-shirt ideas. Despite the design's mathematical, scientific and culinary accuracy, do not expect to see it proudly displayed on shop mannequins anytime soon. Sadly, there is far too much "fact" in this particular logo for the casual observer to take in all at once, and so it is rejected.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Monday mini-movies: Clever (and not-so-clever) animals edition

My unusual love of hilarious animals continues in this week’s mini-movie. I’m more or less convinced the animal kingdom is capable of interspecies communication and they view humans as one big running joke, about which they discuss and laugh on a regular basis.

Many of these clips just go to prove this theory as said critters show just how much smarter than us they actually are. Stupid humans.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Read it: The Last Days of American Crime

Clawing my way through a veritable mountain of backlogged comic books, I took a quick detour to squeeze in the first issue of recently released The Last Days of American Crime.

Created by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini, TLDOAC came as a welcome kick to the groin following the hours of standard comic fare I had been gorging myself on.

In the not-too-distant future, the U.S. government is preparing to release a radio wave that will, quite literally, make people incapable of committing a crime. As the deadline for the switch approaches, the details of this top-secret event creep dangerously close to going public.

So, officials conveniently slip another story to the press to distract the masses: Paper money is about to become obsolete and all funds will be distributed by strictly controlled federal machines. With no paper money, there can be no drug deals or prostitution. There can be no cheating on your taxes. There can be no robberies involving cash. Not a single cent would be unaccounted for.

So, we’ve got money going out the window and, shortly after and unbeknownst to the public, people aren’t going to be able to do bad things to one another anymore. What is Graham, a federal employee/small time crook in charge of guarding one of the new money machines, to do?

You guessed it, pull off the biggest, and possibly last, heist of all time.

TLDOAC has a gritty, noir feel that drips off the pages. Tocchini’s art is striking, wet and perfect for the seedy world Graham lives in.

Book one opens with a fantastic, if not a bit cliché, mob-style questioning involving a lit cigarette and a carelessly sloshed jug of diesel fuel. The book continues to set up the score with Graham getting to know two of his three partners on the heist. Every damn character seems to have ulterior motives and there are dirty dealings aplenty. And this is just book one of three!

Issue one is 64 pages with no ads to break up the action, so you really get to dig into the story before being forced to wait two months for the next installment. At three times the content of a regular comic, TLDOAC comes in at just a dollar more ($4.99) than what you usually pay for 22 pages. In short, it’s terrific bang for your comic buck. It doesn’t hurt that the content is top-notch, either.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Read it: Daytripper

There’s something subtly beautiful about Daytripper, in terms of both its story and its art.

Twins Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba have managed to surprise me with this offering, creating the first book in a long time to pull an actual “wow” from my lips after turning the final page. Like a carefully planned attack, the book loads its punch through the first twenty-one, seemingly casual pages, and then goes for the knockout with a final moment you won’t soon forget.

Daytripper demanded a second read from me and, this time through, I saw how I was being expertly groomed for the moments, and I’m assuming story, to come.

So what the hell is this book about, anyway? In truth, it’s something of a study in subtlety. The story follows Bras de Olivia Domingos, a Brazilian obituary reporter/aspiring novelist who is about to go on a journey to discover what matters most in life.

For a comic, not a lot of “action” actually occurs in the first installment of this ten-part series. This is not to say nothing happens. Quite the contrary. Everything happens. But far be it for me to ruin such surprises.

The first issue of Daytripper sets the stage for the series, introducing us to Bras and the characters that will no doubt be vastly important in the coming issues. We follow Bras on what appears to be an average day, slowly learning the ins and outs of his humble existence through expert storytelling and pacing.

He walks his dog. He gets coffee with a friend. He talks on the phone to both his fiancé and his mother. Not the stereotypical crack-and-sizzle-type stuff these funny books usually offer, but it’s all oddly entertaining.

Bras is the son of a famous author with dreams of one day becoming an accomplished writer himself. He spends his days writing obituaries for the local paper, dedicating his own life to telling the life stories of others.

While Bras may not be as well known as the artists, athletes and politicians he writes about, something tells me his story, and all the people and events that make it up, will be every bit as important.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Review: Crazy Heart

I’m one of those smart-asses who, if you ask me if I like country music, answers with, “Yes, but none of that crap they play on the radio these days.”

I grew up in the South, so country music is in my blood. It’s not my genre of choice, true, but I’ll be the last to turn the dial if a good ole tune were to pop up on the radio.

While there is some true blue country out there these days, much of what makes its way to the mainstream can’t be labeled as such. Honkey Tonk Badonkadonk? Are you freaking kidding me? Just shy of pop or rock, ninety percent of this stuff deserves to be listed under its own banner, leaving country to sound the way it’s supposed to.

Now that I’ve preached at you, let’s get down to the business at hand: Crazy Heart.

The story of fictional country legend Bad Blake, Crazy Heart follows this tragic hero into the twilight of his career, drunkenly stumbling to gigs in the back of a bowling alleys and watching as the music he loves gets turned into a mockery of its former self.

Rightfully compared to last year’s The Wrestler, Crazy Heart shows us just how far the mighty can fall and, more importantly, that it’s never too late to claw back out of the much and reclaim something resembling a normal life.

Jeff Bridges is electrifying as Blake, adding this as the largest jewel in his already impressive crown of roles. I hate to say “he was born to play this character,” but it fits in no better place than here.

Helping Blake find his way are longtime friend Wayne (Robert Duvall), protégé turned superstar Tommy Sweet (Collin Farrell) and love interest Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), all doing a great job in their supporting roles. Gyllenhaal, as a strong, too-many-times-wronged single mother, is particularly noteworthy and impossible to look away from.

As Blake says, country ain’t what it used to be. So it suits, then, that the soundtrack--much of which is sung by Bridges himself--is a bona fide dose of the good stuff.

Crazy Heart is a genuine slice of American history, telling the tale of yesterday’s forgotten heroes and the life our fleeting recognition has left them to lead. A year-in-the-life-of look at a man struggling to find his own brand of salvation, I mark it down as one of the best films of 2009.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Review: Avatar

In order to review Avatar, I first have to take off my pretentious-movie-reviewer-guy hat and put on my I'm-a-nerd-and-just-want-to-be-entertained +2 fire defense cape.

Yes, the film is written and directed by James "Let's Blow Shit Up" Cameron. And yes, the story is obnoxiously predictable (One scene, I swear, is ripped straight out of Fern Gully. Yes, THAT Fern Gully. And "Unobtainium?" Seriously?). And yes, some of the dialogue and acting is atrocious. But, honestly, I have a hard time complaining when I'm having this much fun.

I finally got around to seeing the bajillion dollar epic in IMAX 3D on the largest screen in the state and, so help me, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The nearly three hour run time flew by as my brain was bombarded by so many beautiful images I'm now mad at the real world for being so bland.

The pace is quick and you actually care about the characters making up the stereotypical love story at the heart of the tale. Zoe Saldana as the female lead, Neytiri, is so fierce and passionate, you can't help but have an emotional reaction to many of her scenes. And she's a freaking CG 10-foot-tall Smurf, so that's saying something.

Avatar is a triumph of technology, an action-packed adventure and an experience any movie fan should have, even at the cost of forgetting themselves for a few measly hours so they can just sit back and enjoy the damn ride.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Monday mini-movies: World's most talented man edition

Before pressing play on the above video, I must first warn you: Be prepared to feel like an absolute underachiever. Not only can this guy do every cool trick you can do, but he does it better, and pulls off two or three of said tricks at a time. He even manages to make sitting in a chair awesome.

Now, if you will excuse me, I’ve got some practicing to do. I’m thinking of mixing blindfolded sword juggling with pet grooming. Take THAT “world’s most talented man.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Review: Call of Duty- Modern Warfare 2

I know this Modern Warfare 2 review is about two months too late, but I don’t get early copies of games, I had to find time to fit it in amongst all the other games I’m playing and I refuse to rush through a title in a single sitting and spend a handful of hours online before giving my final opinion. I took my time with Modern Warfare 2. Here’s what I thought:

I’ve been a fan of first person shooters since the original Wolfenstein, so I like to think I know a thing or two about how the genre should be done.
I won’t say Infinity Ward has perfected the act of shooting terrorists, but I can’t personally imagine what else could be done to make it any better. I break any FPS into four equally important criteria—Control, single player campaign, multiplayer and fun factor. So how did MW2 stack up?

Control-wise, MW2 is as good as it gets. You know a developer got everything right when you start forgetting there’s a controller in your hand and, honestly, it feels like I’m controlling this thing with my mind half the time.

The single player campaign has been getting a lot of flack in the media and on message boards. Yes, the industry leaders should be pushing the genre forward, and yes, they made some poor attempts at doing just that, but I can’t really complain when I’m having this much fun.

The story is told almost exclusively through between-mission voiceovers with maps and schematics whizzing by as if we’re in the world’s most high tech control room yet incapable of looking up to see who is speaking.

What begins as your average terrorist plot evolves into your average series of twists with little sense to be made of a messy, average narrative. Did I mention the story was average? The game jumps around the world seemingly for no other reason than to give you different locals to blow up. So, as the story goes, don’t expect much more than a weak attempt at intrigue used to chain together a fantastic series of set pieces.

I feel I have to at least mention the now infamous “No Russian” mission wherein, as a deep cover agent, you join terrorists as they mercilessly mow down hordes of innocent civilians and wave after wave of police officers.

I believe Infinity Ward was trying to make a point and draw an emotional response with this mission, but I think they succeed in making the player feel all the wrong things. I’m not sure such a mission could ever be properly included in a game and not feel out of place, but I respect IW’s decision, no matter how poorly executed, to try to make players do more than just pull the trigger.

You have the option to skip the mission without missing out on anything else, so that’s at least a nice favor. But if you’re going to allow people to ignore it, what’s the point of trying to say something in the first place?

While the story driving the game is lame (and one type of mission-ending twist is used FAR too many times for a single game), everything that happens in-level is pretty damn awesome. Take every big moment from every war movie you’ve ever seen and cram them into a single, frantic, white-knuckle package and you end up with Modern Warfare 2. From epic chases (on foot and in vehicles), to overwhelming shootouts and even a couple interesting quicktime events, MW2 has it all.

At about six hours, the story is short, but it’s a concentrated dose of visceral fun. So, again, I find it hard to complain. Especially when the disc offers so much more than this single experience.
The multiplayer options are what’s going to keep this game in everyone’s console until the inevitable Modern Warfare 3 drops.

A series of 20 or so Spec Ops missions have been torn from MW2, MW1 and a couple extras and reconfigured for co-op play. While all but two are playable on your own, playing with a friend can be a boatload of fun. I firmly believe a singleplayer story is important to have in these types of games but, when the story doesn’t call for co-op, it’s nice to have the option to play these types of missions with friends. Various star ratings and difficulties means everyone should find a dozen or so extra hours to pour into Spec Ops alone.

Finally, we have the straight up online multiplayer. I think I can safely say nobody does online twitch shooting like MW2. It’s superb.

The maps are complex and well thought out, there’s more than a dozen game modes, the weapon and class upgrades are addictive, dozens of additional challenges are available to keep you striving for more than that next headshot and there are more random unlockables than I can possibly count.

There’s seldom a hiccup with online stability and, all-in-all, I can’t think of a better way to play a shooter online.

My only complaint is, shy of adding a personalized tag in front of your name, there is no clan support. In a game seemingly built for clan play, I am baffled by the lack of a true clan interface. It’s also a hassle to just jump in and join a friend.

These small gripes aside, Infinity Ward deserves all the praise they’ve received for creating such a fantastic shooter. The bar has once again been raised.

Movies to miss in January

While the first month of the New Year brings with it a nice selection of decent movie-going options—Daybreakers, Legion, The Book of Eli, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus—there’s also a few bad apples in the mix I’d suggest folks just steer clear of.

Leap Year- A woman’s boyfriend won’t propose, so what does she do? She books a flight to Ireland where she aims to hunt him down and propose to him herself. Irish tradition has it that if a woman asks for your hand in marriage on the day a leap year begins, you can’t say no. She gets lost along the way, however, and has to rely on a rugged, good looking lad to help her find her way around the Emerald Isle. Golly, I wonder if she’ll have a change of heart and propose to this new guy instead.

Crazy on the Outside- Tim Allen tries to break into a more adult role with this comedy (?) about a guy fresh out of prison and forced to live with his sister and her crazy family. If he attempted to super-charge a lawnmower while grunting in a manly fashion somewhere in this film, I might be down. Otherwise, I’m fairly certain we’re eyeing a pile of poop here.

The Spy Next Door- Dammit, Jackie Chan. Dammit all to hell.

Tooth Fairy- The damning goes doubly for you, The Rock. Please end your contract with Disney and maybe, just maybe, you’ll get another shot at some decent roles.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Games to get in January

For those experiencing a sense of time-warp, I assure you it is not, in fact, November. With Modern Warfare 2 dropping this past fall, many publishers pushed back release dates to keep from having to compete with the bazillion pound gorilla that is Infinity Ward’s flagship title.

But what happens when everyone runs to the next room to avoid overcrowding the one you’re already in? You effectively crowd that room instead.

We’re in January now and, for the next three months, it’s going to feel like Christmas all over again. What we have here is enough content to keep everyone busy through the entirety of 2010. We’re only one month in, folks. Better pace yourself.

5th- Darksiders (360, PS3)
5th- Bayonetta (PS3, 360)
12th- Army of Two: The 40th Day (360, PS3)
12th- Lunar: Silver Star Harmony (PSP)
19th- Dark Void (PS3, 360)
26th- Mass Effect 2 (360)
26th- MAG (PS3)
28th- No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle (Wii)

Holy crap I need to set up a Gamefly account. There’s just too many games and far, far too little time to get through them. Sadly, too many of these titles will have to go on the backburner as I carefully budget my gaming funds over the first quarter of the year.

I have yet to experience the joys of Mass Effect but I’m assured it’s a top shelf Sci-Fi epic. I expect the release of the sequel, with much improved combat, to be another huge success.

I’ve been waiting on Dark Void for quite some time, but early looks aren’t sounding overly positive. I still say give ‘er a rent, though.

Darksiders and Bayonetta will be duking it out in the action/adventure category and both games look to be worth every bit of attention they receive. Flip a coin on these two, you’re likely to be pleased no matter which side comes up.

Army of Two had its flaws but man was it fun to play with a friend. Hopefully a longer story, better online options and improvements to various aspects of the game will equal an even more entertaining co-op package.

Lunar is coming out on the PSP. If you have not played Lunar, I highly suggest you pick up this enhanced version of one of the best RPGs out there.

No More Heroes was a critical darling but ignored on the store shelf. Hopefully Wii gamers won’t make the same mistake twice when Desperate Struggle drops late in the month.

And finally we have MAG. I dug the beta and recent videos and screens look like the folks over at Zipper have used the past few months to make the game look and play even better. For a huge war experience, you really can’t do better than 256 players on epically large maps. Despite the sheer size of the experience, the game’s squad focus, class system and evolving missions keep everything organized and manageable.

Best of 2009!

It feels like I’ve taken in a lot of entertainment over the past 365 days. Despite that fact, I had some real trouble coming up with a few of these “best of 2009” selections.

In the end, I just sat down and wrote down the first thing that came to mind when asking myself, “what (fill in the blank) did I enjoy most this year?”

Keep in mind staticEchoes.com has an editorial staff of exactly one person and, as such, I still missed out on loads of games, movies, etc. this year From what I did get around to, though, the results follow.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves- This one, at least, was a no-brainer for me. Three months later and I still find myself returning to the single and multi-player modes of this gaming gem. Uncharted 2 had a fantastic story, top-notch gameplay and enough going on onscreen to warrant multiple playthroughs just to catch everything. Games don’t get much better than this.
Honorable mention- Demon’s Souls

Television Show-
Battlestar Galactica- Season 4.5 came to a close in early 2009, but this year marked the beginning, middle and end of the journey for yours truly. I finally invested in the entire series in boxset form and consider every penny money well spent. Season 4.5 was one of the best of all with a conclusion that literally left me weeping like a small child. Every episode of the series was of the highest quality, making BSG one of my favorite TV shows of all time. It’s that damn good.
Honorable mention- True Blood

Comic Book
Hotwire- Picking a favorite comic from the year was especially tough for two reasons. 1) Due to their size, I’m able to get through more comics in a year than anything else, making recalling many of them a real chore. 2) Despite the number of comics I got around to, many still sit on the backlog stack just waiting for my attention. Some of those, I’m sure, are absolutely fantastic. In the end, Hotwire-the story of a digitally enhanced super detective cutie who hunts down ghosts-got top honors for the simple fact, no matter what the backlog looked like, I always stuck Hotwire on top. I enjoyed the story so much, I refused to wait any longer than absolutely necessary to continue it.
Honorable Mention- The Boys

Tom Waits: Glitter and Doom Live-
I know I just reviewed this album a month or so ago, but I can’t seem to keep it out of my CD player for very long. My favorite musician of all time, I have yet to see Mr. Waits live in concert. Glitter and Doom, at least, gave me the opportunity to pretend I was actually there. Beautifully flawed, I can’t stop listening.
Honorable mention- Them Crooked Vultures

Monday mini-movies: Reckless abandon edition

I can’t decide how I feel about this clip. On the one hand, I’m seriously angry with this biker for his obvious lack of respect for the wellbeing of his fellow man. I’m not being sarcastic here. Act stupid with your own life if you want. I don’t care. But I hate to see someone risk taking out a few innocent bystanders simply because they lack two brain cells to rub together.

On the other hand, god I wish I could be that laid back about ANYTHING in my life. How absolutely relaxed do you have to be to pull something like this off? In this regard, I envy the ignorant bastard.