Friday, September 28, 2012

Borderlands 2 - First Impressions

Goodbye, cruel world!

It's finally arrived! The world of Pandora is back to sap every last bit of free time from your life. I finished Borderlands I with three of the four characters, all DLC included, so I know that of which I speak. Let me start this out with a couple of caveats. As the title indicates, this is a collection of first impressions. I have leveled my assassin to 20 and reached level 5 with the other three characters in order to sample their powers, but I am by no means finished with the game. Also, there will be several spoilers contained herein, so reader beware. 

Borderlands 2 is most definitely a sequel in the truest sense of the word. If you were expecting any monumental changes in the newest iteration of 2K's masterful mix of first-person shooter and RPG, then you will be sorely disappointed. It looks, plays, and even smells a little bit like Borderlands I. That said, the character classes are brand new and there are plenty of tweaks to make this a whole lot of fun for even those who played the last one until they were sick of it. Imagine that you got a new album and played it so much that you'd played it out in a after a couple of months. You loved it so much you ruined it. Well, guess what? It's two years later and the band is back with a new album that's even better than the first one. Get to rockin'!

Paraquat Punishment

Besides being the name of my favorite rocket launcher, Paraquat Punishment is also the heading I've chosen for the segment of the text where I talk about the stuff from the game I like. See the connection there? Stuff I like? Gun I like? See how it...ugh, nevermind. 

The primary thing that's great about Borderlands 2 is that they didn't screw it up. They stuck to the winning formula. Many familiar characters are back including Marcus, Crazy Earl, Dr. Zed, Moxxi, nutbag Dr. Tannis, and Scooter, who has developed a crush on his 400-pound sister in order to fill out the more Arkansian of his personality traits. We also see vault hunters from the last go around. Roland and Lilith play important roles in the main campaign. Mordecai sits drunk in a tower, but snipes some enemies from afar for your benefit. I haven't run into Brick yet, but I'm sure he'll make an appearance. 

It seems like the programmers took an If it ain't broke, don't fix it attitude toward Borderlands 2. There is still a premium on ammunition. You can't rely on a single gun type because, more often than not, you'll run out halfway through a mission. I even found myself running dry with two gun types. Just like the first one and in the tradition of history's best shooters, it has the ability to make you feel like some sort of post-apocalyptic super ninja when you get into the zone and critically headshot three enemies in a row. I literally caught myself saying, "Heh, heh," along with my Assassin after a particularly scrumptious string of headshots. I jinxed him. He owes me a Coke. 

Enough With the Old, What's New?!!

I've spent a lot of time talking about how great Borderlands 2 is because it's like Borderlands I, but it's not exactly the same game. First, and most obviously, the vault hunters have changed. Instead of Mordecai's Bloodwing, the Assassin class has a power that is somewhat similar to Lilith's Phase Shift. When activated, the Assassin sends out a holographic decoy and becomes invisible. He is then free to either run to safety or attack unaware enemies with a significant damage bonus. Once leveled up, the decoy will explode at the exact moment Zero (the Assassin) becomes visible again. This little trick comes in handy for the Kamikaze enemies, robot and human alike. It is also handy if you don't want to have to fight your way back through an entire area. You don't always make it, but it's worth a shot rather than spending another 15 minutes fighting your way back through a bunch of guys you just finished murdering.

There are also enough new characters to keep you wondering who is fighting on which side for a while. Ellie, Scooter's sister is a personal favorite. Handsome Jack is your new nemesis. He has a diamond-encrusted pony that he named Butt Stallion in your honor. Sir Hammerlock is a half-machine, half-Australian cyborg who really isn't all that funny, to be honest. Tiny Tina, on the other hand, is a 13-year-old psychopath to whom we are introduced as she explodes a tied-up baddie using a Looney Tunes-style ACME explosives detonator. 

I didn't get to spend as much time with the classes other than the Assassin, but I leveled enough to at least try all of their powers. Maya the Siren's power is called Phaselock and is quite similar to Singularity from Mass Effect 3. She temporarily traps enemies in midair, allowing for free shots on a damage-enhanced and defenseless psycho. Axton, the Commando, is the closest to the previous game's version. The only real difference I can tell at this point is the lack of a shield to hide behind. He deploys a turret again but this time it actually seems able to do some good. In the first one, I didn't really feel like the turret was pulling its weight until I'd leveled it enough to shoot missiles. In Borderlands 2, a single turret is capable of taking out multiple enemies, even at level 5. The Gunzerker, this iteration's version of Brick, is able to double-fist weapons while his power is active. It doesn't exactly explain how he manages to reload while holding and firing two assault rifles, but who cares?! We'll just have to suspend our disbelief for a minute and enjoy it. Aiming becomes a bit tricky, but that doesn't really matter when you're blazing away with two elemental death machines! Spray and pray is what I always say! 


As much as it pained me to do so, I was able to find some flaws in the game. None of these are enough to cause me to recommend against it, but they're worth mentioning as they can get annoying in those marathon 10-hour sessions. First and most definitely foremost is the fact that your character auto-equips weapons from the ground if X is held down. For the uninitiated, holding down X is a way to pick up multiple pieces of loot in Pandora at a single time. This avoids the need to pick up each individual piece of ammo from a rack. It also keeps you from wandering around a sandbox for minutes at a time picking up each item dropped by a felled boss. However, there's a down side. When your reticle is resting over a weapon on the ground, if you hold X too long, rather than just picking it up, the game will swap out that weapon for the one you're currently wielding, no matter how much more under-powered and potentially ineffective it may be at the time. I had to replay the entire Dam Fine Rescue mission (the longest one to date) because of this little gem. You see, when your inventory is full and you perform this action, it tosses your current weapon in the air and equips the one from the ground. My rare, powerful pistol went flying off a cliff, replaced mid-battle by a flaccid, impotent shotgun that could barely make a spitter skag flinch, much less the Hyperion Badass Battlebot that proceeded to quickly dispatch my emasculated Zero. This problem was constant in the first Borderlands and it looks like we're all going to have to suffer through it on this one, too. 

Also making a return appearance from the control scheme in the first game are the vehicles, or, more specifically, the way you enter and exit. If I'm playing by myself, what are the chances I'm going to want to hop into the gunner's seat and just sit there, not moving, in the middle of a firefight? Does the term "sitting duck" mean anything to you? Just put me in the driver's seat, Gearbox. If I'm playing co-op you can open up the gunner's seat. Other than that, leave that option off, wouldja? 

Other than some corny one-liners by the Assassin that remind me of the poorly-translated Japanese announcer from Soul Caliber ("For the weak that have died in vain, he unleashes his blade in the name of vengeance!"), that's all I can find to complain about. It's some pretty minor stuff, I know. The game is just that good. 

When it comes down to it, this game is nearly perfect. It's a nerd's dream. It has all the weapons, leveling, and violence of Modern Warfare along with all the looting, exploration, and endless missions of Skyrim. What sets Borderlands 2 apart is its sense of humor. The writers for this game are among the most clever in the business today. Claptraps are again a major source of the humor that makes Borderlands 2 so enjoyable, so I leave you with the Claptrap Dubstep track: 

The Math

Objective score: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 for the sense of humor. It's the humor that makes Borderlands more than just  a shooter, more than just an RPG.

Penalties: -1 for not getting rid of that annoying auto-equip feature!

Nerd coefficient: 9/10. "Very high quality/standout in its category."

Worst Movie Death Scene Ever!!!

This is either the worst movie death scene ever, or the best ever. But it needs to be seen by nerds world round. Enjoy the wonderfully complex death scene from the Turkish movie, "Kareteci Kiz" (1973)

Enter the Ninja's wonderful death scene, however, gets an honorable mention.

 Yes, they need to be seen.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

TSOP: DOJ/publisher Settlement Could Make Ebook Prices Go Up

You may recall a lot of people, including this guy getting up in arms over the DOJ's lawsuit against the "big six" publishers and Apple, alleging price-fixing. There were, essentially, two arguments:

1. DOJ and Allies: "The agency model was agreed upon by a price-fixing cartel, which has schemed to keep ebook prices artificially high. Getting rid of it will stimulate consumer-oriented competition (i.e. price cuts)."

2. Apple, Publishers and Allies: "We're no cartel, but Amazon was a monopoly in the ebook space, so what we did, really, was inject competition into the market and help safeguard consumers from predatory practices in a future world where all books are sold by Amazon."

Turns out, both may be wrong. According to paidContent's Laura Hazard Owen, the reality may be that there's nothing left to stop publishers just raising the wholesale price:

Publishers Lunch’s Cader raises the seemingly counterintuitive point that settling publishers may actually raise their ebooks’ list prices. Nothing in the settlement prevents them from doing so, and “higher list prices could ‘use up’ a retailer’s annual discount pool more quickly and provide some protection against devaluation in the marketplace of a publisher’s biggest properties.” In other words, HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster could raise the list prices on bestselling ebooks from $12.99 to, say, $18.99. A retailer like Amazon would then have to pay those publishers a higher commission and discount their ebooks even more steeply, if the retailer wants to offer the greatest discounts.

Depending on what you think the ultimate goal of the agency model was, this either solves publishers' financial problems by, well, giving them more money; or fails to solve their distribution problems, as Amazon can still undercut all their other retail partners. Either way, in its quest to lower prices for the consumer at all costs, the DOJ may have just laid down some friendly fire.

Thursday Morning Superhero

Another week of great books is in the bag and I have your weekly wrap-up in Thursday Morning Superhero.   The DC #0 line continues and the trend towards creator owned books continues to keep the market fresh.   Here are my thoughts on what I bought this week.  If you have any comments or feedback hit me up on twitter at @newhousebailey.

Pick of the Week:
Mind MGMT #5 – At this point I need to go back and read everything that Matt Kindt has written.  I followed the hype on the last issue and gave this series a go.  I couldn’t be happier with that decision.  This issue touches on Henry’s past in a very personal nature that really connected with me.  Henry, despite his psychic prowess, is really humanized in this issue and we can appreciate the tragic figure that he is.  His power is on display (beyond his ability to teach language to dolphins) and it is a scary sight.  There are few books that I tell everyone I know to read.  Mind MGMT is one of those few.

Talon #0 – I have been underwhelmed by the DC #0 promotion, but Scott Snyder delivers on this one.  Anything that involves Snyder and the Court of Owls has my interest.  This book delivers a great origin tale of a former Owl recruit who questioned the court.  I hadn’t planned on adding another weekly purchase, but I am on board for the Talon.

The Not as Good:
Batman Incorporated #0 – This week I struggled to find a book that had to fit in this slot.  On a typical week this book wouldn’t be here, but compared to the other books it didn’t deliver.  We learned more about Wayne Enterprises sponsoring Batmen around the globe, but there was no substance to this issue.  Not bad, but not good.

The Rest: 
Mars Attacks #4 – John Layman continues his great run with this series.  The humans finally game some leverage as a Mayan and a Civil War soldier team up and begin to fight back against the angry Martians.  There may be hope for mankind afterall.

Steed and Mrs. Peel #1 – The action hits fast and continues through the run of the book, which features a nuclear disaster, and a team of mutants working for the Hellfire Club.  What else would you expect when Mark Waid takes the reigns.

Sixth Gun #25 – The return of an old friend and the growing power of the guns and how they are affecting Drake keep this series moving along in a direction that is of interest.  If you haven’t started reading this series, you really should.

Happy #1 – Grant Morrison delivers another odd tale that features a hitman whose hallucinations (a blue unicorn) drive him to safety after being set up by an organized crime group.  What else do you expect from Morrison.  He delivers with this one.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cult Films 101: The Worst Movie Ever Made

So far in our survey of cult films, we've tried to zero in on films with merit, however modest. But there's a cottage industry out there -- and let's be honest, it's far more mainstream than most actual cult films -- built around the idea of The Worst Movie Ever Made.
medieval torture chair
Strange there hasn't been as much debate about
The Worst Chair Ever Made.
But what does "The Worst Movie Ever Made" even mean? The most inept? The least coherent? Something that advances a morally repugnant ideology (the highly praised Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will, for instance)? The most insulting to the audience's intelligence? It's a fraught question I'm not entirely sure I know the answer to, but let's jump in.

Best-Loved Worst Movies

Troll 2
The subject of the documentary Best Worst Movie, Troll 2 is not the sequel of Troll, nor does it actually feature any trolls. But while bad, it ranks low on the utter incompetence scale. It had a decent budget and was shot by film professionals. They did not, however, tend to speak English, so the resulting dialogue spoken by the non-professional actors is pretty stilted and unintentionally laughable. It's not so much that it's inept, it's just that every single creative decision made in the movie was terrible.

Plan 9 from Outer Space
I talked about this Ed Wood movie as an example of the "Guilty Pleasure" variety of cult films. It's a bad movie, particularly in the acting and set-decoration departments, but it gets a lot of unfair knocks against it, such as day and night continuity errors when a lot of films in the 50s still used the time-honored day-for-night photography trick because of slower film speeds. It's my favorite film on this list.

Manos, The Hands of Fate
Also the subject of a documentary, this time called Hotel Torgo, Manos, the Hands of Fate was made on a bet by a fertilizer salesman, was forgotten after a single screening in El Paso, Texas, but rose to prominence after receiving the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, earning distinction as one of the worst movies the crew had ever seen. But there are some memorable elements, like Torgo, the weird satyr servant of The Master, the Master's ceremonial robes with giant, red hands on them, and a protracted fight between ladies wearing granny panties. Look, I'm not saying it's good, I'm just saying you won't forget watching it.

The Room
This train wreck has been a fixture in Los Angeles ever since I moved here, but much like the Springfield Tire Fire, its stink has spread. It ranks high -- so, so high -- on the utter incompetence scale, and gained notoriety for it. For years now, it has regularly sold out midnight screenings, and has even been shown at the American Film Institute. It just goes to show, kids, if you make your movie, and make it bad enough, people will take notice.

Simpsons - Springfield Tire Fire
Only slightly less offensive than seeing writer/director
Tommy Wiseau naked in
The Room.
Maybe Actually the Worst Movies

There are only two movies I would not willingly endure again due to their utter and complete awfulness. There are other movies I'd rather not see again because of their content, but these two movies are the cinematic equivalent of that single tear that leaks out of your eye while the dentist scrapes your gums to shreds with that little metal hook they have.

Birdemic: Shock and TerrorThe Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies 

They continue to arm-wrestle in my brain over which is the worst movie I've ever seen.

They Really Should Have Known Better

Hollywood, bless its little Botoxed heart, will occasionally line up its utterly unparalleled storytelling, production, marketing, and technical skills behind a pile of poo that somebody along the line should've smelled, scooped, and disposed of way before anybody had a chance to buy a ticket to the thing. Usually, these movies result from an actor/producer's inflated ego, a contract with a star that has to be honored with a movie release, no matter how bad the finished product, or just terrible, terrible luck. As Bill Murray told Elvis Mitchell, nobody wants to make a terrible movie. Even the terrible ones require long hours and tremendous amounts of work. When it comes to Hollywood misses, the end product often looks beautiful and is technically excellent, but the story, script, utterly uncharismatic acting, or confounding direction make it largely unwatchable. I personally find these the least enjoyable "bad" movies because they are often dishonest and cynical money-grabs by people capable of much, much more. But to each his or her own...

The usual suspects in this category are too numerous to mention, but include Battlefield Earth, Catwoman, Freddy Got Fingered, everything by Uwe Boll, and Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever.

I believe that, ultimately, the Worst Movie Ever Made is one in which you can find no enjoyment whatsoever. And to be honest, that's hard to do because when it comes right down to it, we're still watching movies. Things could be worse.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Microreview [book]: Scourge of the Betrayer, by Jeff Salyards

The Meat

Jeff Salyards's debut novel, Scourge of the Betrayer, is a hard-edged, dark fantasy and the first book of his new series, Bloodsounder's Arc. It is told from the perspective of a naive, bookish young chronicler named Arkamondos (known as Arki), who, in an attempt to gain fame and wealth, joins a band of the feared Syldoon warriors (led by Captain Braylar Killcoin). For Arki, what better way to establish himself as a chronicler of repute than to follow a patron who intends to do great things?

Since the novel is told from the perspective of a chronicler, it gives the reader a sense of being an embedded journalist, piecing together the story of a band of rugged soldiers. The reader is placed in Arki's shoes, and is privy only to what he sees or hears. But since Arki is a newcomer to the Syldoon company and does not yet have Braylar Killcoin's trust, he is only given information on a need-to-know basis (and for much of this short, 255-page book, it is obvious that he does not need to know). Using Arki as his lens to view the broader world, Salyards thus presents his readers with a number of slowly unfolding mysteries. Who are the Syldoon, and what, exactly, are they up to? Why does an outcast Grass Dog named Lloi accompany them? Why does the Syldoon comapny require a scribe? And what is the deal with the mercurial Braylar Killcoin, his preternatural ability to sense danger, and his mysterious flail (which exacts a brutal toll on its wielder)?

Captain Killcoin, after noting that his contract with Arki discloses almost no information about the nature of his work, hints at the overall storyline. He tells Arki:
For now, I'll tell you this much. All empires crumble. All borders change. All kingdoms die. Where I'm talking you, you'll witness the death of a body politic, the expiration of a way of life, the redrawing of a map. Something singular and priceless. So put away your bleak looks and let's eat some of Hobbins' slop. My belly grumbles.
This piqued my interest. But what follows is a mostly slow-moving tale of the naive Arki slowly integrating himself into the Syldoon team. I appreciate Salyards's willingness to tell the tale from the point of view of an embedded journalist, one who little by little aligns his own interests with that of the warrior group. But in telling a story this way, Scourge forces the reader to wade through much of the book before getting any sense of the broader storyline.

Salyards's strength as a writer rests in his ability to tell a character-driven story. He creates a cast of memorable characters, some of whom are confronted with choices of foggy morality. Lloi the Grass Dog is perhaps my favorite character. She is an outsider to the group, but remains owing to her fierce loyalty to Killcoin. The other outsider, Arki, witnesses the greatest character development. His innocence and sincerity causes him to make questionable choices on the battlefield, choices that ultimately may have broader repercussions for himself and the group. And Braylar Killcoin is perhaps the most complex character. At times a mild-mannered man with a silver tongue that takes no joy in a fight, he nonetheless never hesitates in dealing out brutal or deadly force.

That said, Scourge does suffer from a number of problems. First, it does not engage in extensive world building, leaving the reader working through both the mystery of the Syldoon and the mystery of the world Salyards created. Moreover, there is no sense of geography linking the word together. This would be unsurprising, since we are seeing the world through Arki's eyes. But Arki appears almost too naive: he should know a lot more about the world than he actually does.


Arki, we find out, went to university to learn to read and write. One would assume that university would have provided him with much more than this basic knowledge. After all, even though schools of learning in premodern times taught through the classics, they would still have given students a sense of geography and politics in the broader world. But Arki lacks this knowledge, a surprising state of affairs for a learned young man.  


Finally, although I found the writing for the most part good, Salyards does include scenes that could have been deleted from the book. One scene I found particularly grating was Braylar's sex scene with the barmaid. No, this doesn't owe to my puritanical nature (although I do find myself living in Beantown, the home of radical puritanism). I found it grating because it served no broader purpose (outside of alerting us to Arki's rearing and Braylar Killcoin's devil-may-care attitude, but these could have been brought out in other ways as well).

Although initially hard to get into, Scourge picks up toward the end. The last hundred pages were very good, and set the stage for a promising series. Fans of dark, gritty fantasy (Joe Abercrombie, for instance) will find much to enjoy in Scourge. Salyards has written a pretty good book and a nice introduction to what will no doubt be a riveting series.

The Math

Objective Quality: 6/10.

Bonuses: +1 for a cursed flail, memory magic, the Deserter Gods, and the Godsveil. +1 for willingness to kill off characters.

Penalties: -1 for world building and no sense of geography. -1 for the meaningless sex scene.

Nerd Coefficient: 6/10   "Still enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore"

[See an explanation of our non-inflated scores here]

Monday, September 24, 2012

Contributor Profile: Brad

Let's all give a hearty nerds_feather welcome to Brad, our video game blogger! Brad is a man who wears many hats, several of of them fuzzy. In his spare time, he edits things professionally, so the rest of us better watch our grammar and spelling while he's around. Thankfully, he's an all-around genial and very funny guy, and has promised to go easy on us, both on language and over XBL, so we feel safe in his company. As should you.

NAME: Brad


NERD SPECIALIZATION(S): Video games, sci fi movies, and books.

MY PET PEEVES IN NERD-DOM ARE: Patchouli, people who don't remember V: the Final Battle fondly.

VAMPIRES, WEREWOLVES, ZOMBIES, ALIENS OR ROBOTS: Let's put it this way. I believe wizards and elves once existed. I believe the robots will eventually enslave us (and not metaphorically like I'm currently a slave to my smartphone, but literally like Terminator or the Matrix). I believe Earth is all just a big experiment constructed by aliens. Whether or not they dabbled in the undead or half-human, half-beasts like Dr. Moreau, I'm not sure. Probably, so I'm just going to say 'yes' to all of them.
RIGHT NOW I'M READING: Dance with Dragons (I'm behind, I know! I tore through the first four so quickly that I've always regretted it. I should have taken more time to savor. Not having that problem with book 5 :)

...AND A COUPLE BOOKS I RECENTLY FINISHED ARE: Handbook of Sports & Media, Eds. Arthur A Raney and Jennings Bryant. It doesn't sound nerdish, but it was for my thesis which was on the topic of online message boards, so it qualifies as nerdish in a roundabout sort of way. Also, The Adventures of Cavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

NEXT TWO ON QUEUE ARE: Pale King by David Foster Wallace's editor (Maybe. I've got to emotionally work up to this one). Also, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

MY FAVORITE SUPERHERO AND SUPER-VILLAIN ARE: Luke Skywalker. I'm a Star Wars baby, literally. I was born the week it came out. My first dog was named Luke. You may think I'd go Vader to balance that out, but I'm going Sidius/Emperor/Palpatine. He was the architect. He should get the credit.

IF I WERE A SUPERHERO/VILLAIN, MY POWER WOULD BE: Like the Hulk. The more pissed off I get, the stronger I get.





EVERYONE SHOULD SEE [FILM Z] BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE: Titanic. I'm not sure anybody caught it, but it was actually a lot better than I expected.



THE OFFICE--BRITISH OR AMERICAN VERSION: American. I can't stand Gervais. I quit watching when Jim and Pam got married, though, so don't ask me about anything after that!

GAME OF THRONES--LIKE OR DISLIKE DEVIATIONS FROM THE BOOKS: I'm okay with it. They had to do some cutting. You simply can't fit that much detail in without having 20 seasons. I think they're doing a pretty good job with it, although I've never been a fan of the Dany scenes. Somehow I imagined Dothraki hordes had more than 20 people, but I guess that was just my imagination.

Microreview [film]: Porco Rosso (紅の豚)

The Meat

There comes a time in everyone's life when they find themselves addicted to seaplanes. Well, maybe not. But there should be. My addiction only reared its ugly head while in my early twenties, after I first saw Miyazaki Hayao's classic animated movie, Porco Rosso (known in Japanese or kurenai no buta). Porco Rosso has not made the greatest cultural impact of Studio Ghibli films, nor is it Miyazaki Hayao's best story. Nonetheless, it remains to this day my favorite Miyazaki Hayao film.

Porco Rosso centers on the story of a flying pig, a seaplane ace formerly known as Marco Pagot. An ex-fighter ace of World War I Italy formerly known for his great moral character, Marco now lives alone on a desert island. He makes his living as a freelance mercenary, for hire to combat the rampant air piracy in the Adriatic. He uses ammunition to fight air pirates, but makes it his policy never to kill anyone.

Although the story is told in a very subtle manner, Porco Rosso seems to be a retelling of the frog prince, albeit set against the backdrop of seaplanes, piracy, and the rise of Fascist Italy in the 1920s Adriatic Sea. In years past, while a World War I fighter ace, the handsome young Marco Pagot turned into a pig. This was no mere curse; instead, it is more likely that he abandoned his own humanity due to his experiences as a fighter-ace in World War I. Before the war, Marco had the opportunity to choose between love for woman (who happened to be a wartime enemy) and love for country. He chose the latter, and went to fight for Italy in World War I as an ace pilot. His wartime trauma and suffering, however, led Marco to abandon his humanity. This adult-oriented drama and action adventure deals with, in a light and roundabout way, real life events. It is a story about reclaiming humanity, overcoming self-hatred, and perhaps even recognizing true love (the beautiful Gina). His meeting with Fio, the talented 17 year-old American seaplane designer, starts him on the path toward reclaiming his humanity and overcoming his self-hatred. Does he shed his inner pig? Is he able to find love again? 

A character-driven love story and tale of adventure, Porco Rosso features such iconic characters as Gina, the beautiful owner of the famous Hotel Adriano; the young and vibrant Fio; the American pilot Donald Curtis, a man with ambition for fame, glory, and the hand of a beautiful maiden he would be proud to introduce to his mother; and the air pirate Mamma Aiuto, a rough, tough, greedy, and smelly pirate who also possesses a warm, softhearted side.

This is not a children's movie. It is, instead, a must see for adult nerds of all shapes and sizes.

But please, please watch it subtitled!!!!

The Math

Objective Quality: 7/10.

Bonuses: +1 for well-designed, detailed seaplanes. +1 for loveable pirates, even more loveable hostages, and leaving the ending ambiguous. +1 for the iconic line, "a pig who can't fly is just a pig."

Penalties: -1 for the at-times-annoying caricature of wild west America. Otherwise, this movie is filled with nerd awesomeness.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 (Standout in its category)

[See an explanation of our non-inflated scores here]

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Microreview [film]: Attack the Block

If there's one thing I find more annoying than American films that try too hard to be cool, it's British films that try to hard to be cool. Why? Because American films that try too hard to be cool are almost always cynical ploys by marketing executives to "get with the times," even though they are clearly aware that they are not in any way, shape or form "with the times," and so tend to produce Poochies that range from lazy to kind of embarrassing to masterpieces of unintentional comedy.

British movies that try too hard to be cool, by contrast, range from grating to grating. Thus I should probably not have been surprised to find that Attack the Block, a film about how a group of inner city London youth and the woman they just mugged fight off an invasion by alien hellhounds, would both try too hard to be cool and, consequently, irritate the living hell out of me.

The idea is interesting, but that's about the only good thing I can say about this film, because most of its excruciating 88 minutes are made up of cliches, failed attempts to be quotable and more cliches. It's as if the film's writers, producers and directors are saying: "hey friend! Look how badass these kids are. You can tell because they smoke weed. Weed! And did I mention that they mug women walking alone late at night? Yeeeeaaaaaaaah! Badass!" I spent most of the film hoping that the hellhounds--or something--would eat them, then turn on the film itself and erase it from living memory.


[Okay, fine--I did think the kid with glasses was reasonably sympathetic. Unfortunately, he actually does get eaten, whereas his Poochie-esque friends are spared. Especially the one who is just completely unconvincing as "street"...yes, I'm talking about the kid in a hat sitting on the bike in the poster above. Why, hellhounds, why?


So yeah...don't see this one unless you think introducing rapping kung-fu hippie surfer dogs into a well-established mouse/cat scenario is a good idea.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 3/10.

Bonuses: +1 for I saw it on a plane; +1 for at least it's not as bad as Human Traffic.

Penalties: -1 for that's all I could come up with; -1 for plus there's the incredibly irritating cast of characters; -1 for especially that one kid.

Cult Film Coefficient: 2/10. "Really really bad."

Friday, September 21, 2012

Cult Films 101: The Corman

Francis Ford Coppola feels Happiness is a Warm Gun
I swear by this mighty beard, Vance, if you don't shut up about
Dementia 13 already, the Apocalypse is coming right the f*$% now.
Welcome back to Cult Films 101, where this week's film is Dementia 13. This is a b-horror movie about some folks jockeying to inherit a fortune but instead meet untimely ends at the blade of an axe murder, and it's an example of the third main type of cult film...The Corman. Made in 1963, Dementia 13 was written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Now, from 1972 to 1979, Francis Ford Coppola had about as good a run as any director has ever had, cranking out four consecutive, unassailable film classics -- The Godfather, Parts 1 & 2, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now. But ten years earlier, like so, so many fimmakers of his generation, he was working for Roger Corman.

If you ask my honest opinion, I'll tell you that Dementia 13 is a good movie. It manages a not inconsiderable bit of atmosphere, has a number of memorable scenes, inventive camera work, and it clips along well enough for 70 minutes to keep you entertained. But let's be honest, the real draw here is that this was Francis Coppola's first credited directing job.

This trait is the unifying factor for The Corman category of cult movies. They could be good, bad, or indifferent, but they launched the careers of filmmakers who subsequently went on to make remarkable work. Most often, these movies will have been made under extremely tight budgets and restrictive production circumstances (often both, and for Roger Corman), and sometimes those conditions will have gotten the better of the movies and made kind of a mess of them. But we watch hoping for that flash of genius, the little recognizable spark that, with hindsight, we can point to and say "That! There's the birth of something amazing!"

William Faulkner in Hollywood
"Dear Ma - I made it to Hollywood, where shirts are
optional but high socks are totally required."
At the University of Texas, my alma mater, the Harry Ransom Center contains many, many treasures. One of them is a letter a young William Faulkner wrote to his mother. It is the first piece of writing in which appears, fully formed and breathtakingly, the style that is now recognizable as William Faulkner's "voice."

When we watch films like Coppola's Dementia 13, Christopher Nolan's Following, Wes Anderson's short film Bottle Rocket, Katherine Bigelow's Near Dark, or watch a 20-year-old Jack Nicholson in The Cry Baby Killer or Crispin Glover and Sean Penn in The Beaver Trilogy, we're looking for the joy of that discovery.

And also, it makes us feel better to know that Francis Coppola started with Dementia 13 and Battle Beyond the Sun before becoming a genius. It gives us hope. Because if everybody had to crank out a Reservoir Dogs or The 400 Blows right out of the box, aspiring filmmakers everywhere would be burying their dreams under a stepping stone in the back yard as we speak.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thursday Morning Superhero

It is Thursday and we have all had a chance to read our weekly books so it can only mean it is time for another edition of Thursday Morning Superhero.  DC is continuing its #0 push and I ventured into the world on digital only comics by picking up Bandette from Monkeybrain for only 99 cents on ComiXology.  The Walking Dead continues to bring the thunder and Fables maintains its current upswing.  Not a bad week at all.

Pick of the Week:
Walking Dead #102 – Has Rick finally been defeated? One of the strongest characters in comics may have finally been bested.  In the last issue Negan and his men launched two attacks on Rick and his crew and things aren’t looking good.  The impact from Glenn’s death in #101 has taken its toll and things look bleak.  Per Kirkman’s style, you are led down one path throughout this issue only to have a twist that leaves you drooling for the next issue.  Walking Dead has managed to maintain my interest and remain fresh through 102 issues.  I don’t know how he does it, but this book will continue to get my money each week.


Bandette #2 – Chris Roberson launched Monkeybrain, his digital only line, with great success.  He has launched some books on Tuesdays and this week, from the team of Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover, we are able to scoop this fun title for under a buck.  Bandette is a superhero/thief who has her team of cohorts (The Urchins) who help her in both pursuits.  In this issue Bandette upsets a local crime organization by foiling their heist and the infamous cat burglar Monsieur returns.  This fun, light comic keeps you on your toes.  It comes across as a simple and fun comic, which it is, but has a breadth of characters that can sustain this one for quite some time.  Count me in!

The Not as Good:
Wonder Woman #0 – I really have not been into the DC #0 line.  It was nice to read about Wonder Woman’s past and her training with War, but it seems like this has happened before and it is a retelling that doesn’t wow me.

Daredevil #18 – This should be a book that you buy each time a new issue comes out.  Mark Waid continues his great Daredevil run.  Has Matt Murdock lost his mind?  Did he dig up the bones of his father and lie about it to his partner?  Waid raises some interesting questions and I will continue to read to find out the answers.

Fables #121 – Therese learns of her brother’s sacrifice and begins to restore order to Toyland by making the banished toys save 100 lives for every one they have taken.  Therese is finally able to return home but has aged much as time passes faster in Toyland. You really get the feeling that she has matured a great deal and learned much from her ordeal and her redemption.  The covers lately for this series have been phenomenal. 

Justice League #0 – We see the birth of Shazam and the underlying temptation of being a teenager with the ability to turn into a superhero.  This was a fun read and my current favorite DC #0 title.

What I missed:
Spider-men #5 – The conclusion of Peter Parkers journey into the world of Miles Morales concluded quite nicely, or so I have read.  It seems that this event, headed by Brian Michael Bendis, wrapped up nicely and provided an exciting tale for all.  I will have to get this as a trade.

The Pound: Ghouls Night Out #1 – Apparently Howie and Scottie have an animal control company that have handled werewolves in the past and are currently after something new.  It sounds like this is a light, humorous read that I should really consider. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Microreview [Comic]: Thief of Thieves


The Meat

Robert Kirkman has the Midas touch. Another one of his projects has been picked up by AMC and may indeed be pure gold. After the insanely successful The Walking Dead, Kirkman is teaming up with a host of writers to tell the tale of a man with two identities. Redmond, the best thief of his generation who is expected to lead one of the biggest jobs of the century, and Conrad Paulson, a divorced father of one.

On the surface you have a great heist story along the lines of Ocean’s 11 or The Thomas Crown Affair, but underneath is a story of one man’s redemption as a father and husband. It is clear early on the Conrad is a man who regrets his past decisions and how he feel’s it is his fault his son, Augustus, is in jail.

The story starts off with a bang as you see Redmond in action and how his sly, cunning plans utilize the element of surprise to pull off improbable theft. Cut to Redmond celebrating with a collection of great thieves hosted by Arno, the head honcho of thieves. In not the most original move ever, we have a character who is quitting the criminal organization he helped build to seek redemption. We are left with a flawed protagonist who is dealing with a multitude of issues. It seems that all he wants to do is set things straight with his family. With only a thieves’ tool belt at his disposal, Redmond, I mean Conrad, may not be on the most direct path to reunite with his ex-wife and set things straight with his son.

Sean Martinbrough is a true storyteller with his art. He makes effective use of panels without any dialogue to provide a very cinematic feel to the story and to emotionally connect the reader with Conrad. The flow of his panels makes Thief of Thieves a quick and immersive read that will easily translate to the television screen.

Collecting issues #1-7, this volume is full of twists and turns that ultimately tell a story about one man’s desire to shed his criminal past and utilize his talent (thieving) to set things right in his life. There is nothing mind blowing in the series, but it is an enjoyable read that is worth the read. Kirkman is an effective storyteller who seems to have a grasp on the big picture. As you read this collection you can’t help but wonder what moments that seem insignificant will pay off later in the series.

While not my favorite book on the market today, it is a series that I would have no hesitation recommending to someone looking for a fun read that provides the depth of character to make you care. When you read it you will see how it will easily translate into a successful television show.

The Math

Objective score: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for a Who’s the Boss reference; + 1 for pure cinematic quality

Penalties: -1 for Kirkman not killing off any main characters…yet

Nerd coefficient: 8/10. "Well worth your time and attention."

[Read about our non-inflated scoring system here.]

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Contributor Profile: Jemmy

We all gather to welcome Jemmy to the fold! He will be our point man on new fantasy and science fiction releases, though I'm sure he'll cover some classics while he's at it. He may, even, educate us on topics like manga, of which we know little, yet he knows much. Either way, we are very excited to have him on board!


NAME: Jemmy


NERD SPECIALIZATION(S): Fantasy, Science Fiction, Manga

MY PET PEEVES IN NERD-DOM ARE: Failing to observe the distinction between the nonrestrictive "which" and the restrictive "that"!!!! Aaaaargh!

VAMPIRES, WEREWOLVES, ZOMBIES, ALIENS OR ROBOTS: Zombies, and I plan to join them, not fight them. Give me a pair of razor-sharp teeth and the luck to last long enough before they fall out. Brains…. mmmm….

RIGHT NOW I'M READING: Forgotten Armies, Scourge of the Betrayer

...AND A COUPLE BOOKS I RECENTLY FINISHED ARE: The Dragon's Path, The King's Blood

NEXT TWO ON QUEUE ARE: Cloud Atlas, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, Something by Steven Erikson


IF I WERE A SUPERHERO/VILLAIN, MY POWER WOULD BE: The power to eat food and to convert it into energy. Check and check. Ready for world domination!


THE WORST COMIC FILM OF THE PAST 5 YEARS IS: Far and away Green Lantern, though Daredevil and its spinoffs were pretty bad.

I JUST WATCHED [FILM X] AND IT WAS AWESOME: Okuribito, Twilight Samurai

I JUST WATCHED [FILM Y] AND IT WAS TERRIBLE: Green Lantern! It was so bad it was awesome.


BEST SCIENCE/SPECULATIVE FICTION SHOW OF THE PAST 10 YEARS: The pilot episode and seasons 1 and 2 of Battlestar Galactica

WORSE ENDING--LOST OR BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: Never made it to the end of either.

THE OFFICE--BRITISH OR AMERICAN VERSION: Huh? The Office? I don't get out much… Does Dr. Who count?