Iron Men and Paper Dolls

FILM & CULTURE:
Iron Man & Iron Man 2

Gloria in Excelsior!

Let me be clear about something.  I like the Iron Man movies.  I'm willing to accept their pro-business, military industrial complex attitudes as flaws of the character.  Not every "good guy" has to have the same motives, and Tony Stark's selfish goodness is frankly less disconcerting than Bruce Wayne's selfish goodness.  With The Avengers, we're allowed to see the conflicting motives between Iron Man and Captain America in their appropriate context.  Cap pursues good for goodness' sake.  Tony chooses good when it makes him look good.  That's the character; a lovable bastard, a reckless cad, a cuddly prick.  I'm okay with this.

Pay no attention to the following speech.  It's totally about me.
Iron Man the character is what Iron Man the movie is, and the movie is what movies have become.  Money and polish wins, defining "good" by its own values..  Robert Downey Jr. sells it with his winking performance, and I confess, I'm a fan of the Downey Brand Ham in a Can.  Downey is Stark, but Stark is Downey too, grinning their ways through detention.

I tell you this so you will understand that I'm not just a big Mr. Complainy-Pants because I don't like the movies and I'm looking for reasons why you shouldn't like them either.  I like them, but there are still things that I don't like about them, and there comes a time when "it's just a popcorn movie" stops working as an excuse.  Tony Stark's attitudes are one thing.  The films' attitudes are another thing.

I've been marathoning my way through Mad Men lately.  There is a very clear case of the characters' attitudes being separated from those of the narrative itself.  Don Draper is a flawed protagonist of the reckless cad variety, but at no point does the narrative suggest to us that his attitudes are correct, or Betty's, or Roger Sterling's or anyone's.  They are presented in a context that shows us the way things were, and we balk at Don's disregard for women, at Betty's casual child abuse, at Roger's bitter excuses for bigotry.

Iron Man, obviously, doesn't operate on a level of that kind of emotional depth, so things are what they are, particular once they leave the circle of Tony's self.  Tony is the only real character.  Everyone else is stage dressing.  They are physical realities.  Only Tony has an inside.

So with Iron Man 3 coming, there is one character/expression that I could really do without.  It was Mad Men that really got me thinking about the outdated sexual attitudes in the first two movies; attitudes that would have been perfectly acceptable in the early 60s, but which are appalling in the context of the 50 years between then and now.

This attitude is clearly demonstrated in the characters of journalist Christine Everhart and perpetual "girl Friday" Pepper Potts -- specifically in the dynamic between them.  Well, of COURSE it's limited to those two characters, as they are virtually the only women present in the first film (another is Marine, mistaken for male, thus proving her non-frivolous stature as something other than sex object).

Everhart is the abrasive, ambitious reporter who makes a token effort at questioning Stark, but quickly succumbs to his tactless sexual advances to get the "inside scoop."  You know, because she's not really as good as a hard-hitting male reporter.  So in the space of a scene she's been sexed and discarded by Stark for Pepper to "throw out the trash."

This is where the ad writers in Mad Men would be delighted.  "Fast" girl is "trash."  Wholesome, patient girl is entitled to denigrate her.  Her long-suffering entitles her to the "prize" of blameless (but wealthy, don't forget wealthy!) cad Tony.

Just in case you missed it, they bring Everhart back in Iron Man 2.  This time she is diminished by her failure to be worthy of Stark, an unquestioned subject of ridicule.  She's stuck with the awkward and unappealing Justin Hammer, who fancies himself a worthy rival of Stark.  But Hammer is too forthcoming, too needy of attention (hers in particular) and she is cloaked in shame.

Pepper, meanwhile, through virtue of her subservience to Tony and coy pouting has been rewarded with "girlfriend" status, and graduates from executive assistant to CEO of Stark Enterprises -- in 1960s analog, she got the ring.

Everhart's aggression makes her "trash" destined to disappointment.  Potts' passivity wins the man sweepstakes.  Ann Romney would be so proud.

As the old Shaw line goes, "We've established what you are, madam.  We are now merely haggling over price."


Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud

BOOKS:















One of the most unexpected and delightful occurrences of 2012 was Stephen Colbert's interview with author and illustrator Maurice Sendak.  I'd never seen Sendak before or known anything about him (other than how much I loved his work), when out of left field Colbert delivered this fascinating and hilarious two-part interview.



           
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Grim Colberty Tales with Maurice Sendak Pt. 1
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive



Colbert starts to edge up on that line where he's a little too "Colbert" in Part 2, but it's still a lot of fun and Sendak shines through.


                   
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Grim Colberty Tales with Maurice Sendak Pt. 2
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive



Sadly, this was just a few months before Sendak passed away, May 8, 2012.  The interview made the loss more palpable, I feel, which maybe it should be.



A New York Times tribute by Christoph Niemann on his passing, culled from a Terry Gross interview on NPR's Fresh Air.





And here's the Terry Gross interview.  Hm, it doesn't seem to want to embed, so here's the Fresh Air interview on NPR.



Gladly, he kept working right up until the end, and leaves a trove of books yet to discover.  While I grew up loving Where The Wild Things Are like crazy, in recent years, it was his first pop-up book, Mommy? (2006) that really blew me away.

They're doing incredible things in pop-up craft nowadays

It's silly and short, but I love the tribute to classic Universal Monsters and the way the pop-up is animated, rather than just "boing! I'm a picture and now I'm poking out!"  Opening that flap on the mummy page is a show-stealer.

Did you know that there was almost an edition of The Hobbit illustrated by Sendak?  There was, until someone screwed up the labels and Tolkien got all grumbly that Sendak didn't know the difference between a hobbit and a wood elf.


I don't have a conclusion here.  Maurice Sendak was awesome and now he's gone.  It's happy and sad and happy again, because of who he was and all he left behind.

We should be so lucky.


6/11/2013
In recognition of Maurice's 85th birthday yesterday, I'm adding a couple more incredible interviews that came to my attention.  In fact, any time I find a new one, I'll throw it in.  He had some pretty brilliant things to say while he was with us.


This is another nice animated tribute based on interview audio, from Blank on Blank & PBS Digital Studios.





This one is particularly great.  Bill Moyers AND Maurice Sendak?  Oh, BABY!

(It's in 2 parts with Madeline Albright in the middle.  Go ahead and skip her, but make sure you get both parts of him.)





EDIT: Another!  From the TATE & Guardian UK.





EDIT: For Maurice's birthday this year, I'm adding this fantastic interview he did with Dave Eggers for Vanity Fair in 2011.









Time, Time, Time, See What's Become of Me

A Consideration of the Lives and Times of Star Trek, Old and New

That's why they call it a trip through time.

While we now look forward to the Star Trek: Into Darkness, I thought it was about... time ...to examine the nature of temporal and narrative continuity in the J.J. Abrams reboot of the Star Trek franchise.

...and therein lies the rub.

Because, you see, it's not really a reboot, or a re-imagining.

Now, allow me to offer this caveat.  I am perfectly okay with re-imaginings, and I kind of hate the fanboy fixation with continuity.  I spent a LOT of years dealing with comic books, and getting sick-to-death of the kind of hardcore nerdistry that placed rigid statistical consistency about the telling of good stories was a big reason I finally walked away from them.  Events are not stories, and stories came to sacrificed by the industry to the petty gods of events.  Then, when continuity of events becomes so convoluted, they end up scrapping it all and starting over again with characters who hold less and less of the iconic power that gives them substance.

First words, "...the hell?"
For an alternate example, look at The Simpsons.  Continuity is irrelevant to The Simpsons.  Bart and Lisa have been in the same grades for over 20 years (temporary story lines notwithstanding).  In that time, they have experienced at least two first days of school, a number of Christmases, and a ton of Halloweens, their Aunt Selma has been married a number of times, Apu has married and had children who now walk.  Still, Bart and Lisa remain the same age.  Even Maggie, the baby, remains the same, despite pre-existing the Nahasapeemapetilon children who are now older than her.

And that's okay.  That is their character, and those are the stories the writers have to tell.

I tell you this to make it clear that continuity is not sacred to me.  Story matters. The narrative is all.

That said, the world of Star Trek is one where continuity hasn't always been iron-clad, but it has come to be an area of great consideration, particularly given its relationship with time travel.

Which brings us back to 2009's Star Trek movie.  It's a reboot of the series... except it isn't.  It would have been one thing if they just took the same basic concepts and created a new series from (nearly) whole cloth.  Batman Begins did this.  Battlestar Galactica did this.  But Star Trek didn't.

Hands out of your pants, nerd.
They just HAD to have Spock.

By building the story around a time travel conceit in which Leonard Nimoy's original Spock travelled back in time, they not only laid claim to the legacy, they bound themselves to the continuity.  So this is not merely a universe in which some classic concepts are birthed anew; this is a universe in which the same people and events -- barring redirection -- are occurring.

Why does this matter?  I'm glad you asked.

In the film version of both Star Trek and The Next Generation, the most powerful elements were those that carried the emotional weight of pre-existence.  In short; Khan.  Wrath of Khan is unanimously (or as near unanimously as is possible in a world that allows for insanity and wrongness) the best of the six original cast movies.  It's not necessarily the best story of the bunch -- or at least not exceedingly so -- but because we know Khan, and we understand the hatred between Khan and Kirk, it resonates for the viewer.  When Spock dies, that has weight for us.  When, in Search for Spock, Kirk's son is killed, we really don't care because he doesn't have that emotional weight for us, even though we know his death is permanent where Spock's was not -- and it's not just because we're glad to be rid of a whiner in an early-80s perm.

No other villain in the Trek movies resonates like Khan.  Probe on shrooms?  Angry Klingon?  Spock's brother we never heard of before?  Conniving Romulan?  Meh.

KHAAAAANTINUITY!!!


Oh sweet!  Pinhead!  No, wait...
Likewise, in the Next Generation movies, the characters that resonate with us most are both in First Contact; Zefram Cochrane and the Borg, both of whom have ties within the history of the series.  The weaknesses of Insurrection and Nemesis include this absence.  F. Murray Abraham's plastic surgery addict exists only to die in the end, much like the "nemesis" that we've never heard of before.  So what if he's Picard's clone?  We didn't care about Spock's brother that we never heard of before, why would we care about Picard's clone that we never heard of before?  We don't actually care so why are there so many scenes with them discussing this tenuous connection?  There's no weight there, and they didn't even bother to connect him to Tasha Yar's Romulan daughter.  That, at least, would have meant something to the viewers.

SO, when they -- rather than rebooting or re-imagining, but -- rewound the series in 2009, there was a great opportunity to recreate things that the viewers will have an emotional connection to, in fresh new ways.  Eric Bana's Nero, frankly, didn't bring that much interest of his own, other than the borrowed interest of bringing us Nimoy as Old Spock.  The team behind the new series tried to have it both ways, and as a result, really kind of has it neither way.  By paying homage to fan service, it's not wholly fresh and unburdened of history.

You still want to buy it?  Even when I rub it like this?
With all the anticipation for the new film, fans are looking for Benedict Cumberbatch's villain to be Khan, which we are told he is not.  That's okay.  Technically, these new films occur in a time frame prior to the original series.  Kirk did not originally go directly from Starfleet Academy to his own command, as happens in the alternate timeline of Trek '09, so there is clearly a window for new experiences.  But the Botany Bay is still out there.  That history hasn't been changed.  Likewise, Charlie X is still gaining powers, Harry Mudd is still smuggling and scheming, Cyrano Jones is still managing a small marketing concern for black market pets, Zefram Cochrane is still making freaky-deaky energy love to a far-out light show...

Therefore, not merely does the opportunity to revisit characters and situations of emotional gravity fall to the new vanguard of the franchise, but so does the responsibility incurred by tying themselves to the original series through Spock.  Pumpernickel Pumpkinpatch may not be Khan, but Khan is out there, and he's going to need to be addressed in due ...time.







Separated at Death?

This stop-motion animated film opens with an homage to campy old horror films.  The protagonist is a young boy whose father uses control to allay his concerns about his son being a "misfit" is a society that is predominantly ignorant and fearful.  This boy's "gifts" cause him to become involved with the dead.  The living dead rise and the boy must use his knowledge to restore restore peace in his quirky small town with a dark and unique history.

This film is
ParaNorman (August 17, 2012)
Directed by Chris Butler & Sam Fell
from Laika Entertainment

This film is
Frankenweenie (October 5, 2012)
Directed by Tim Burton
from Walt Disney Pictures


In ParaNorman, our young male protagonist is Norman.  Norman can see the spirits of the lingering dead all around him.  This puts him at odds with the painfully mundane citizens of Blithe Hollow, who treat him with apathy to antagonism.  His father fears for his son, but lacks the tools to express this fear in any way but anger.  His passive mother struggles to facilitate understanding between them.

In Frankenweenie, our young male protagonist is Victor.  Victor is... good at science.  This puts him at odds with no one but his father's expectations.  The other children of New Holland appear to be equally as enrapt by science, and Victor is actually the most normal one among them.  His father tells us that he's a misfit and goads him into playing baseball.  His passive mother is... passive.

The town of Blithe Hollow was the site of a colonial witch hunt which has burdened the town with a witch's curse and the threat of the walking dead rising from their graves.

The town of New Holland was founded by Dutch settlers, thus explaining the windmill in the film's climax, and built on... an abandoned mine?  An ancient burial ground?  We can't be sure, other than it explains the frequent thunderstorms.

When Norman's creepy, societally rejected uncle dies, the burden falls to Norman to keep the living dead at bay for another year.  With the reluctant aid of others, he gets to the bottom of Blithe Hollow's mystery, and, saving them, earns their respect.

When Victor's dog Sparky dies, his creepy, societally rejected science teacher gives him the idea of how he might reanimate his pooch.  Reluctant to aid others, Victor's secret gets out, unleashing a plague of living dead pets.  Sidestepping mystery, Victor and his friends smash monsters.


It was impossible, as I watched Frankeweenie, not to continually reflect upon ParaNorman, which had already become a favorite film for 2012, and in reflecting, it was nearly as difficult not to find Frankenweenie wanting in comparison.

ParaNorman was one of those classic stories; familiar, not because we've seen it before, but because it's true.  It deals with universal themes.  Its characters demonstrate human behaviors.  Things happen because of natural reactions.  It took a story that first appeared to be simple and challenged the basic preconceptions of who and what the living dead were, and in so doing, became something more.

Frankenweenie, perhaps not so surprisingly, felt like it was cobbled together from the dead pieces of other movies.  While some have responded positively to it for representing a return to form for Tim Burton, it's like a reanimated form of old Burton, lacking in satisfaction or surprises.
It's Burton wanking to Burton.

Now I'm not one of those on the Bash on Burton bandwagon.  For years, when others have accused him of falling off, I've continued to feel that there's always been something interesting to his films, even when they stumble... even when they're completely unnecessary remakes.  Up until, pretty specifically, Alice in Wonderland.

Now, they're not the same movie and I am in no way suggesting that anyone copied anyone else.  The film industry is certainly no stranger to very similar films coming out in proximity to each other, especially animated films -- A Bug's Life (1998) /Antz (1998), Finding Nemo (2003) /Shark Tale (2004) /Shark Bait (2006) -- but the similarities demanded analysis, and the analysis stacked up in favor of ParaNorman.

It attempted more.  It was better animated.  It was better designed.  The characters, even the less likeable ones, were more relateable and dimensionally human.

The other was thin of thought and intent.  It attempted nothing more than to serve up a reheated dish of the film-maker's obsessions.  To start with, it's obviously a retelling of the 1931 film version of Frankenstein, recast as a boy-and-his-dog film, which is itself an overly familiar trope at this point.  But Burton already did that in 1984 with a live-action short film, so this retells THAT, only longer.  Little visual cues abound.  The neighbor girl is predictably Winona.  The monster cat's snaky legs are familiarly Beetlejuicy.  The classroom science rivals are mad scientists from movies today's kids will not have seen.

Even the dog, Sparky, is reanimated from Brad Bird's 1987 Family Dog episode of Amazing Stories, upon which Burton served as Animation Designer.











I'd venture to say that ParaNorman exists in a universe where Tim Burton has already happened, or rather, is the product of a universe in which he's happened.  "Okay, that's been done.  We've seen that.  NOW WHAT?  Let's go deeper.  Let's be about something."

Burton is still about being Burton.  He's like a Burton App now.  Hey, let's take [existing fiction] and Burton it up, and in this case, it's like Burton pulling a John Malkovich and ending up in a Burton Burton, Burton Burton Burton.... BURTON!!!

Which is not to say that Frankenweenie is bad, per se.  It's fun.  It's... I dunno, cute?  It's probably very satisfying if you're looking for the Burton Experience, and perhaps more isolated from ParaNorman in context.

So in true Mirror, Mirror form, the Evil Twin goatee in the race between undead-themed animated films in 2012 goes to...





...Hotel Transylvania, because get the hell out of here with your Adam Sandler & Kevin James.

"Best" of "2012"

As is my way, when I put together a "Best of" list for the year, I openly acknowledge the extreme subjectivity of my list.  The "bests" can only be the best of what I saw.  There are sure "bests" I didn't see, but I can very well rank them as such without having seen them.  Even so, "best" is so purely subjective in the first place.  So what constitutes a "best" for me is really what I liked a lot, or found inspirational and/or thought-provoking.  Now, given this subjectivity, which would appear to be limiting, I then find myself free to choose, not just from the media released in this calendar year, but from the media I myself have consumed in that year, regardless of its year of origin.

In other words, Art does not have a shelf life; not true art certainly, and I am not obligated to consume it on a market-based schedule.  Large portions of our culture are trapped in the myth of newness -- that new is better, that our jaded standards for style and effects demand the cutting edge, and all else must be cut away as scrap by that edge.

ZO!  The Best Arts of (which I was audience in) 2012 arrre...

FILM

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Beasts of the Southern Wild is not here to be the story you want it to be.  Centering on Hushpuppy, a 6 year old girl (AMAZINGLY performed by the young Quvenzhan√© Wallis) living a subsistence-level existence in a Louisiana flood basin, one of the people with whom I saw it kept waiting for it to be an uplifting Hollywood story about her journey from squalor to security.  It's not.  Rather, it plays more on the level of a Greek epic, or, more specifically, The Divine Comedy, complete with a journey through Hell, Purgatory and the revelations of Heaven.  It's not about the world changing for Hushpuppy; it's about Hushpuppy changing how she sees, and fits into the world.  This film gave me more to think about than any other this year, or in recent years.




John Carter (2012)

And the winner in the category of most mundane name ever for a grand sci-fi epic goes to...

This film performed with notorious badness at the box office, which is really a damned shame.  John Carter has the kind of classic high adventure spirit that Disney would be well-advised to harness for the forthcoming Star Wars sequels.  It's FUN, for one thing, which so many action flicks forget to be in all their masculine posturing nowadays.

The talent behind this thing tells the tale.  Director Andrew Stanton comes from Pixar.  He's the one we don't know the way we know John Lasseter and Brad Bird, but he's the powerful visual storyteller behind Finding Nemo and WALL-E.  It's the most lushly written action screenplay in years, thanks to Stanton, Mark Andrews (writer/director of Brave) and novelist/genre buff Michael Chabon (Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay).

I tend to suspect it was the utterly generic title which left audiences unclear whether John Carter was a grand sci-fi epic adventure or a tax auditor.  It is very much the former.




ParaNorman (2012)

Laika Studios returns to the dark side with their second theatrical feature, and this one is, in my opinion, even better than their first release, Coraline.  ParaNorman both tells a deeper story, and delves deeper into the themes that it takes on.  Anyone like me, who had initial reservations about another zombie story, need not fear.  While the "z" word does come up, the undead are not zombies.  They come to be something much more meaningful.  It manages subjects of the inner emotional lives of certain characters, interpersonal relationships, one's effect of society and vice versa, and spiritual themes connecting them all.  None of which should suggest that this is some kind of heavy exploration.  It's often a very funny film filled with marvelous moments.  It just doesn't forget to be about something.  ParaNorman is a new classic, telling a new story, but rooted in the Truth that nurtures our great fables.




The Avengers (2012)

Pure comic book in the way that The Avengers comic books were meant to be.  Every bit as big as the concept demands.  Pure fun, not a thought in its head, but an endless supply of "Oh man, remember that part--" parts.  Everyone gets at least one stand-out scene (except Hawkeye, but who cares; no one came to see Hawkeye).  None of Dark Knight Rises' self-important turgidity.



Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

This documentary explores the life and work of Japan's most lauded living sushi master.  I felt it missed a big opportunity to fully unfold its narrative about the relationships between fathers/masters and sons/apprentices, but as a meditation on an artisan's commitment to craft, I found it inspirational.  Smaller stories about the quiet dignity of Jiro's elder son and the commercial face of the global issue of overfishing emerge from the simple pondering of Jiro's world.



 Hanna (2011)

Imagine if Jason Bourne was a 16 year old girl.  Hanna plays out with more pathos than a Bourne roller-coaster, but then isn't that part of being a 16 year old girl?  The film would also serve as a good model for a properly executed Elektra origin story.  It's an action movie that's not about the action, but where the actions remembers its place in the story, and the story serves as a conduit for developing the character.




Jeff Who Lives at Home (2011)

Unexpected.

Just in case you hadn't gotten the message yet, it's time to start respecting Jason Segel.











The Hobbit (1977)

Nope, not the big fat Peter Jackson epic Part 1.  The 90 minute Rankin & Bass animated TV special from my childhood.  Hold on, I'll tell you why...

It's definitely dated per the expectations of today's audiences, but I still get a stiffy for the creativity of the 70s -- reedy hippie songs notwithstanding. It's better than I remembered, and doesn't suffer nearly as much as one would expect from abbreviation. The worst shortcut is the battle for the mountain, but once you realize they took care of most of the action off-screen, it makes sense. I expect that will make up most of the third Jackson film.

Production design is marvelous. Scripting is poor, relying heavily on exposition (see: shortcutting action). Voice acting ranges from excellent (John Huston, defining Gandalf for a generation) to poor (Orson Bean, hyper-aware that he's making a cartoon).   I actually like the Gollum voice better than Andy Serkis. It's like a muddy Peter Lorre; it wears its years underground, whereas Serkis reminds me of Howie Mandel's Bobby character.

Even our popcorn entertainments today take themselves too seriously. With the effects available today, so much of it exists under this dour cloud of believability, which involves no actual belief (or suspension of dis-) on the viewer's part. Consider the joylessness of Nolan's Batman. the earnestness of something as sub-moronic as Transformers that demands to be mocked, the fanboy rage because Peter Parker had the offending gall to dance. I think we're paying a price for that with our cultural soul.
I don't know if the real Lester Bangs said it or if it was just Cameron Crowe's version of him, but in Almost Famous he talks about us all trying so hard to be "cool" that everything good and honest is drained away from the creative endeavor. That's where I see us, and for that, one or both versions of him have earned a place in my own personal bible.


TELEVISION

This was the year that I pretty much entirely gave up on broadcast television.  Even the one night each week that I still made an effort to watch, NBC's Thursday comedies, kept getting so jacked around that I was no longer to bother.  On the off chance that some NBC executive is scanning the internet to find out how they screwed up, here you go: putting The fucking Voice on comedy night, keeping The Office on the shelf long past its expiration date, messing with your single best show, Community, over and over and over, and trying to make Whitney a thing.  Also, much as I once quit commercial radio due to advertising, I have likewise had it with TV advertising.

But there's one element that's no one's fault.  Rather, it's to the credit of the creative people making television today.  I'd simply rather watch one show at a time, straight through or at least in big chunks, than have to worry about it being on once a week, unreliably.

So, the series television that defined the year for me was:

Star Trek (1966-1969)
Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1975)
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1984)
Dollhouse (2009)
Twin Peaks (1990-1991)
Community (2009-current)
Californication (2007-current)
Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
The Wire (2002-2008)


LIVE THEATER

Star Trek in the Park


LIVE THEATER/FILM HYBRID-THINGY

Filmusik presents Gamera vs. Guiron


MUSIC

The best music I listened to this year was funk & soul from 1970-1973 or hard bop jazz from the 60s.  I'm sure someone is making good music somewhere, but I just can't bring myself to care enough to dig through all the twee rock & roll and glitchy DJ mixes to find them.

Oh...








 Bobby Womack -- The Bravest Man in the Universe (2012)


...that was good.






COMICS & BOOKS






I can't front; I barely read this year.

I did, however, work on my own book.  Watch this space!












VIDEO GAMES

Batman: Arkham City (2011)
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (2010)

Both great action/adventure games.  Batman is near-perfection, combining a good (not great) story, incredibly moody and interactive game world, and excellent control.  AC:B had the same curse-inducing camera/control issues that plague the series, but also the same great story & immersive worlds that have crowned the series.

Yeah, I'll say it... I played a lot of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011).  What angry fanboys call "the same thing over and over," I call a well-developed game platform with which to share new experiences in an effective format.  This one was massive in scale, befitting its World War 3 setting.  It's not a game that you play.  It's an experience through which you are guided.

The Professor Layton puzzle/adventure games on the Nintendo DSi continue to charm the hell out of me.


BOARD GAMES

My brother-in-common-law and I have really gotten into a game called Garibaldi (2007).  It's like an asymmetric game of Battleship where one player plays as the Italian patriotic hero Garibaldi, racing across the Italian countryside in 1849 while hiding from the other player/players who take the role of Austrian troops trying to track him down.  The design of the game builds in a lot of natural tension as Garibaldi scrambles for his life, surrounded by troops who flounder in the near-dark.

We've also gotten some mileage out of Tsuro: The Game of the Path (2004).  It's a fast, simple game for as many as 8 players. 


BEST TREND

Republican delusional thinking coming around to bite them in the ass.


THE BEST "BEST"

Babytime with the neff.