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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Geek Heaven Podcasts Presents: Christmas Special!

Joseph & The Observer offer best wishes this Holiday season, and a look into the psyche of someone who has spent the past five Christmases in Retail Hell.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Geek Purgatory - Miyamoto Retiring?

Earlier this week, Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Nintendo video game franchises Super Mario Bros., Legend Of Zelda, Donkey Kong. Kid Icarus, and many others announced he was retiring. And then, shortly afterwards said he wasn't. We're not sure what's going on, but we're going to discuss what Shigeru Miyamoto's retirement could mean for Nintendo.

Edit: We are sorry about the video quality, we're working to fix it. This post will be updated just as soon as we figure out where the gremlins in this machine are and make them our bitch.

Edit 2: I give up. You win gremlins... this time. But you wait. I will have my revenge... oh yes.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Geek HELL - "Crossface" Movie

Our first Very Special Episode™, where we talk about the movie being made about the life and death of Chris Benoit. WARNING: Adult language, content, and subject matter.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Geek Purgatory - Video Game Music

We are back! Finally! Here with a new line of shorter, more streamlined episodes!

Now, let's see if we can at least average one a month.

This episode, we take a look at nostalgic video game music, and the arrangements we love.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Context Helps, Episode 3

In this episode, It's good to be the king. SPOILERS for Dynasty Warriors 7's Wu Ending.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Amon Amarth: Surtur Rising - An Observation

The oft-maligned metal subgenre Viking Metal originally spawned from the Pagan influences of Black Metal, though now it’s closer in tone to Folk Metal. Originated by the early Black Metal band Bathory, Viking Metal is exactly that, metal taking influences from Norse mythology and Nordic instruments. It’s easy to make fun of by the masses.

And it was my plan to do exactly that. I thought making fun of a Viking Metal album would make for a great April Fool’s Joke, and Amon Amarth just released an album on Tuesday, March 29. There’s just one problem… Surtur Rising… really kind of owns.

Sweden’s Amon Amarth formed in 1992, but didn’t really find their place in mainstream metal (yes, I’m aware of the apparent oxymoron) until 2005’s Fate of Norns. While their lyrical stylings are almost unilaterally about Norse Mythology, they refuse to call themselves Viking Metal, instead preferring the more standard label of Death Metal. Stylistically… they’re not far off. Lyrics aside, their sound is rooted heavily in the Gothenburg Melodic Death Metal sound, and can be compared to a very heavy Soilwork. Most Viking Metal, notably Finland’s Turisas and Ensiferum, are much closer to their Black Metal progenitors.

This year brings us the newest in Amon Amarth’s “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Viking Metal” style, Surtur Rising. Honestly, the more I listen to this album, the more I love it. Sure it’s silly, it’s over the top, and the lyrics can be downright funny, but… I just can’t help myself. The biggest technical complaint I have about the band is that drummer Fredrik Andersson lacks variation, and that the final track of the album, “Doom over Dead Men” is weaker than the other tracks on the album. It isn’t even bad, it’s just not as good. That’s all I can come up with, their drummer is meh, and they have one track that isn’t as totally and completely awesome as the others.

Surtur Rising opens with “War of the Gods,” which quickly sets the tone of the album. While the riff at first appears to be bordering on In Flames territory, they start the energy high, and never let it go. Vocalist Johan Hegg grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. If I have any real complaint about this song, it’s at the end. The track just… stops. It doesn’t really have an ending, and it doesn’t fade out. But it’s a great opener, with great riffs, and while the Power Metal-inspired solo might feel out of place, it really does fit with the overall tone of the album.

“Toke’s Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Pt. 2” Would win an award for most over-the-top title on the album… except it isn’t. This is a slower track, with a weird tempo. The riff is hard and memorable. But it just starts plodding along and doesn’t give up. In fact, that statement can be used for any of the tracks of this album, they don’t really have a “soft” song or even soft points in the song. They’re just metal. And that’s what this song is. Just metal.

“Destroyer of the Universe.” Again, over-the-top title. Fast-paced, hi-energy, a fantastic bridge solo, and a strong ending.

“Slaves of Fear” is kind of a weird track. Hegg’s vocals here are… I think he’s going for syncopated, but it comes off as off-beat. Guitarists Johan Soderberg and Olavi Mikkonen earn their pay here, with a technically complex and memorable guitar track.

“Live Without Regrets” is probably my favorite track on the album. Heavy, bombastic, unsubtle in the extreme, and about as perfect of a metal track as I’ve ever heard. This is the one time where drummer Frederik Andersson gets to shine. He suffers from what I like to call “Anders Jivarp Syndrome,” (as named for the drummer from Melodic Death Metal giants Dark Tranquillity), which is a seeming inability to variate his beats and tones save for one or two tracks on the album. This is one of those tracks.

“The Last Stand of Frej” can only be described as a metal march. It’s technically a slower track, but it’s back to that “not giving up” style of some of their earlier tracks.

“For Victory or Death” is another one of those tracks that fools you from the get go. Just like “War of the Gods” first tried to make you think it was In Flames, “For Victory or Death” tries to make you think you’re listing to a Metalcore band a la Trivium. While the energy is good, I can’t say this track does anything we haven’t heard on the album before.

“Wrath of the Norsemen” kicks it back up. This track opens a bit more Groove Metal influences, I can hear elements of Pantera or DevilDriver when I listen to the track. Great, strong riff.

“A Beast Am I” opens heavy and only gets heavier. Another sufferer of “Anders Jivarp Syndrome,” this once again showcases Andersson’s abilities. Why doesn’t the band utilize him more? Musically dissonant, especially at the solo, but not in an offputting way. The beastial nature of the song - as proclaimed by the title – is evident here. A wild and chaotic song. After the song, but still part of the album track, is an instrumental bit. This is the song that should have closed up the album.

… Instead we get “Doom over Dead Men.” … of doom? Sadly, they fall apart at the end. It seems almost like a metal ballad at first. The song lacks cohesion. It starts one way, goes another, heads in a third, then a fourth, and finally finishes off at a fifth, unrelated to the others. The solo is… okay, and the keys are solid throughout. But in the end, this track is just… uninteresting. It’s there.

This album was the first album by Amon Amarth that I ever purchased, and I did so entirely for what I thought would be a funny review. Instead, I found myself being infected by it. It’s just so… manly. That’s the only word I can use for it. Manly. I feel more masculine for having listened to this album. I can clearly see why they’re so popular, and at the same time, why Brendan Smalls (Creator of “Metalocalypse: Dethklok”) likes making fun of them. They’re silly, they’re over the top, they're Viking sons of bitches, and they’re going to metal your face off.

Surtur Rising is on Metal Blade Records.

Joseph watches The Room, The Observer follows along on Skype. Hilarity Ensues.

In the wee hours of the morning of April Fools' Day, Joseph decided he was finally going to watch that movie everyone's been harping on. He was warned by The Observer to stop and save his sanity.

Time codes are in Pacific Standard Time. Some content not affecting the snark was edited.

[9:27:45 PM] Joseph: Three minutes to showtime
[9:27:54 PM] The Observer: Last chance to back out, I think.
[9:28:23 PM] Joseph: If Doug and Lupa can do it, so can I
[9:28:45 PM] The Observer: Good luck!
[9:31:16 PM] Joseph: Starts with a message not to duplicate it. People would want to?
[9:31:40 PM] The Observer: The absurd Belgian who shall remain nameless has a much bigger ego than is warranted.
[9:34:10 PM] Joseph: The don't duplicate thing popped up again. I think it's Adult Swim and not the movie itself
[9:35:18 PM] The Observer: That's too bad, actually. I don't remember any such warning from the theatrical version, but they add crap like that on occasion to home releases.
[9:37:06 PM] Joseph: Just how old is Denny supposed to be? He looks 14, and his lack of anything resembling boundaries is rather creepy
[9:37:45 PM] Joseph: Looks as if the sex activated candles was a wise investment
[9:38:07 PM] The Observer: Those would make bank from the porn companies alone.
[9:38:15 PM] Joseph: And we got black box covering the boobage
[9:38:48 PM] The Observer: This ain't HBO, kid.
[9:38:56 PM] Joseph: And one is now covering the entire scene
[9:39:07 PM] Joseph: WTF is he doing to her?!
[9:39:12 PM] The Observer: Though CSI of all things did actually have boobage once, so take it as you will.
[9:39:35 PM] The Observer: Joe, be thankful for the box. The things I've once seen... cannot be unseen.
[9:41:03 PM] Joseph: Oh, God! Thank you carefully placed box as Johnny was getting out of bed!
[9:41:13 PM] The Observer: As I said... CANNOT BE UNSEEN.
[9:42:06 PM] Joseph: Commercial. They slowed down the dialogue on the bumper. Funny, I guess
[9:45:38 PM] Joseph: Wow, Lisa's mom is nosy
[9:46:08 PM] The Observer: Naw, really? I hadn't noticed!
[9:47:22 PM] Joseph: Okay, I get it, she's Lisa's mother. You can stop telling me
[9:50:13 PM] Joseph: I believe it's called "foreplay" bearded guy
[9:51:48 PM] Joseph: No sure turned into yes for him rather quickly
[9:52:00 PM] The Observer: He's a dude.
[9:52:27 PM] The Observer: There's only so long dudes can hold out before their blood leaves their brain entirely.
[9:54:18 PM] Joseph: These black boxes are probably making the sex scenes seem so much worse than they actually are
[9:54:54 PM] Joseph: Especially when they cover the majority of the screen
[9:55:14 PM] The Observer: In terms of content, they're relatively mild. But in terms of squick factor? Holy $@#%.
[9:55:51 PM] Joseph: Wait. "We can't do this anymore?". Was that not the first time they've done it?
[9:56:02 PM] Joseph: Hi, Doggy!
[9:56:22 PM] The Observer: And with that, I pet Ginger hello. I know she's a cat, leave me alone.
[9:56:40 PM] Joseph: Commercial.
[9:56:47 PM] The Observer: Breather.
[9:57:13 PM] The Observer: When the movie's over, I'm going to break your brain. If you don't figure it out yourself. Just warning ya.
[10:00:32 PM] Joseph: I have never heard of an artichoke pizza before
[10:01:18 PM] The Observer: Fneh, must be a ‘Frisco thing. Either that or the absurd Belgian who shall remain nameless doesn’t even know food. Honestly, now I think it’s that.
[10:01:46 PM] Joseph: Denny's going to grow up to be a serial rapist, isn't he?
[10:02:08 PM] The Observer: You're assuming he isn't already.
[10:02:16 PM] Joseph: Good point
[10:03:09 PM] Joseph: What exactly is "the computer business" that Lisa partakes in?
[10:03:32 PM] The Observer: Never explained.
[10:04:29 PM] Joseph: Never pick Johnny as the designated driver. He goes from "you know I don't drink," to drunk off his ass in about 90 seconds
[10:04:49 PM] The Observer: Johnny's the king of inconsistent characterization.
[10:05:55 PM] Joseph: Based on the number of sex scenes, and black boxes covering up most of the screen, why do I get the feeling this movie was intended as a porn at one point?
[10:06:17 PM] The Observer: I take it you never watched Cinemax as a kid?
[10:06:30 PM] The Observer: 'Cause that style of film-making is obviously the influence here.
[10:06:41 PM] Joseph: Didn't have Cinemax as a kid
[10:07:00 PM] The Observer: I don't know whether to be relieved or concerned with that.
[10:07:30 PM] Joseph: "Breast Cancer? Eh. No biggie" that's how that scene came off to me
[10:07:51 PM] The Observer: Plot point? We don't need no stinkin' plot point!
[10:08:51 PM] Joseph: Oh, hai random people sneaking into someone else's house to have sex
[10:09:23 PM] The Observer: ... You've been infected.
[10:10:07 PM] Joseph: An excellent question, Lisa's mom
[10:10:24 PM] The Observer: Was that one "What are you doing?" or "How did you get in here?"
[10:10:42 PM] Joseph: "Who are these characters?"
[10:10:50 PM] The Observer: Right! Yes!
[10:11:23 PM] Joseph: Denny's an orphan? Was it self made? because that wouldn't surprise me
[10:11:35 PM] The Observer: Never explained.
[10:12:26 PM] Joseph: Is "I don't want to talk about it" Lisa's catchphrase?
[10:12:37 PM] Joseph: Commercial
[10:12:43 PM] The Observer: You mean other than bitching about Johnny? Sure, why not?
[10:15:54 PM] Joseph: Which is bound to be the bigger post Oscar win disappointment, Jamie Foxx going from Ray to Stealth, or Natalie Portman going from Black Swan to Your Highness?
[10:16:09 PM] The Observer: Jamie Foxx all the way.
[10:16:38 PM] The Observer: Damn good actor, and deserves way better than he's getting.
[10:17:03 PM] The Observer: As to Natalie Portman... she was in the Star Wars Prequels. And Black Swan. &%$! her.
[10:17:38 PM] Joseph: Why is everyone coming to the roof?
[10:18:50 PM] The Observer: Because they only had the budget for three or four set pieces.
[10:18:58 PM] The Observer: You know, on a budget of SIX MILLION.
[10:19:05 PM] The Observer: Obviously worth every penny, right?
[10:19:50 PM] Joseph: I kinda have to take Lisa's mom side on this.
[10:20:38 PM] The Observer: You do realize I'm not watching it with you, right? And that the last time I saw it was years ago? Lisa's mom's side on WHAT?
[10:20:54 PM] The Observer: What was her name again... Charlene... Claudette... it was some kind of C name, right?
[10:21:12 PM] Joseph: The reaction Denny and the drug dealer
[10:21:38 PM] The Observer: Yes, that was the singular glimpse of maturity here.
[10:22:22 PM] Joseph: That skyline is a green screen, isn't it?
[10:22:49 PM] The Observer: I'm pretty sure it's a painted background, actually. Either way, it's pretty obvious they're indoors. Though you wouldn't know it with the amount of ADR.
[10:23:39 PM] Joseph: So, how did that whole pursued by drug dealer thing work out? Not important? Okay
[10:24:05 PM] The Observer: Never explained.
[10:25:35 PM] Joseph: Denny's in College? Really?
[10:29:40 PM] Joseph: So your reaction to finding out Lisa told people you hit her is to push her down. YOU ARE TEARING ME APART, MOVIE!
[10:33:44 PM] Joseph: I swear they used the same shot of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Full House opening
[10:34:04 PM] The Observer: There's only so many ways to take a picture of that thing. Or so I heard.
[10:34:30 PM] Joseph: Claudette is Lisa's mom's name
[10:34:52 PM] The Observer: Thanks. I knew it was something like that.
[10:35:09 PM] The Observer: But now I just want to watch The Shield.
[10:35:45 PM] Joseph: The football scene is the alley is... weird
[10:35:58 PM] The Observer: Something about this movie is weird. I'm shocked and amazed.
[10:36:05 PM] Joseph: Hi, Claudette. How's the chemotherepy coming?
[10:37:12 PM] Joseph: And Claudette makes another good point. Why did you bring up the fact you're cheating on Johnny if you "don't want to talk about it"?
[10:40:44 PM] Joseph: Is this Peter person at Johnny's? Who is he? Why haven't we heard about him before now?
[10:41:09 PM] Joseph: "It's an awkward situation". That's this movie in a nutshell
[10:42:37 PM] Joseph: "Have any of you even heard a chicken before?" from Arrested Development just popped into my head from Johnny's "chicken" noise
[10:42:58 PM] The Observer: Never got around to watching that show, sorry to say.
[10:43:35 PM] Joseph: A running gag is Jason Bateman's character's family doing chicken noises at him on certain situations, all of them different, and none even close to accurate
[10:44:05 PM] The Observer: Ah! Gotcha.
[10:44:29 PM] Joseph: Commercial
[10:46:22 PM] Joseph: Once the drug dealer came on the scene, the movie started verring into Stupid Town. And not in the fun Troll 2 way, either
[10:47:02 PM] The Observer: Don't look at me. You're the one who thought this was a good idea. I tried to warn you.
[10:50:44 PM] Joseph: And Mark now smokes pot and has homicidal tendencies. Character development?
[10:51:17 PM] The Observer: In this movie? Never.
[10:51:21 PM] The Observer: Just random $@#%.
[10:51:25 PM] The Observer: That's all The Room is! Random $@#%!
[10:51:34 PM] The Observer: I'm not even watching it and I'm pissed at it!
[10:52:02 PM] Joseph: Mark shaved. Which is apparently a big deal, I guess
[10:52:11 PM] Joseph: I mean, the camera lingered on it
[10:52:36 PM] The Observer: Probably to say, "Look here! Totally the same guy! Not like that other asshole we had to recast halfway through!"
[10:55:46 PM] Joseph: Is Mark Johnny's best friend? I had no idea. Why didn't they tell us sooner?
[10:56:29 PM] The Observer: This movie is repetitive. This movie is repetitive.  This movie is repetitive. This movie is repetitive. This movie is repetitive. This movie is repetitive.
[10:56:32 PM] The Observer: This movie is repetitive.
[10:57:02 PM] Joseph: And once again the black boxes are taking over most of the screen
[10:57:12 PM] The Observer: Be thankful.
[10:57:15 PM] The Observer: CANNOT BE UNSEEN.
[10:57:24 PM] Joseph: I mean, all but a little square in the top left corner
[10:59:43 PM] Joseph: Commercial. I want to play Homefront just because of the writer
[11:00:38 PM] Joseph: The Nickeloden kids choice awards is an odd commercial to have during this.
[11:00:51 PM] The Observer: It's still Cartoon Network.
[11:02:23 PM] Joseph: And now we have the Full house opening shot going in reverse
[11:03:08 PM] Joseph: Oh, goody, even more football.
[11:06:01 PM] Joseph: You know, Mark, every time you go near Lisa you end up in bed (or spiral stairs) together. Why are you still so surprised by her advances?
[11:06:12 PM] The Observer: Never explained.
[11:08:38 PM] Joseph: Since when is 8:00 considered late afternoon? And I'm pretty sure banks have been closed for a few hours by then
[11:09:23 PM] The Observer: Stop trying to apply logic to The Room. That way only leads to madness.
[11:11:15 PM] Joseph: They-- they bought the rights to Happy Birthday?
[11:11:27 PM] The Observer: I told you about that.
[11:11:55 PM] The Observer: Martin Scorsese didn't do that for Boardwalk Empire, but the absurd Belgian who shall remain nameless put in the money.
[11:12:04 PM] The Observer: Six million dollar budget. Well spent!
[11:12:34 PM] Joseph: I do like the one original music cue that this movie has. A nice tune that's rather catchy
[11:14:23 PM] Joseph: commercial
[11:19:01 PM] Joseph: "Leave your stupid comments in your pocket"? WTF is that even supposed to mean?
[11:21:01 PM] Joseph: I think I actually like totally not recast Peter better than the original one.
[11:23:12 PM] Joseph: Wow the "fight" really needs the cat sound effect Nostalgia Critic added in
[11:25:23 PM] Joseph: commercial
[11:26:04 PM] The Observer: Think about it this way: It's almost over!
[11:26:50 PM] Joseph: It seems like they are really stretching this out
[11:27:15 PM] The Observer: You stretch out Random $@#% how... exactly?
[11:27:29 PM] The Observer: You make it sound like the absurd Belgian who shall remain nameless actually had a plan when making this thing.
[11:28:40 PM] Joseph: Seems like there's more commercials than there should be
[11:29:07 PM] The Observer: Every 15 minutes, it looks like.
[11:29:51 PM] Joseph: "I don't think I should be alone with him" "I understand that. Well, I'm going home. Bye" WTF?
[11:33:46 PM] The Observer: Just wait 'til I hit you with the Fridge Horror.
[11:33:54 PM] The Observer: I'm looking forward to it so much.
[11:34:12 PM] Joseph: Wow, this tantrum is downright pitiful
[11:35:50 PM] Joseph: And they boxed up most of the screen for his suicide
[11:36:09 PM] The Observer: That's too bad. Seeing him die is the only reason to watch the movie!
[11:36:21 PM] Joseph: "Wake up"? HE SHOT HIMSELF
[11:36:52 PM] Joseph: Why did Mark just kiss Johnny's forehead?
[11:36:55 PM] The Observer: I hate to say it, but that sometimes happens in cases of the loved ones of Gunshot Homicide victims.
[11:37:08 PM] The Observer: The "wake up" part.
[11:37:11 PM] The Observer: Not the kissing part.
[11:37:13 PM] The Observer: Great timing!
[11:37:34 PM] The Observer: Hell, suspicious death, period.
[11:37:54 PM] Joseph: Why did Denny suddenly run in there?
[11:38:02 PM] The Observer: He's stalking them. Duh.
[11:38:18 PM] Joseph: And why was he crying before he saw the body?
[11:38:41 PM] The Observer: Probably listening to A Simple Plan or some $@#%.
[11:39:47 PM] The Observer: You know, that's how much I hate this movie. I'm not even watching it, and you have me thinking about the pathology of homicides, and THAT'S A STEP UP!
[11:40:41 PM] Joseph: At least there were people with brains in that building and the police was called.
[11:40:58 PM] The Observer: Why couldn't this movie be about THOSE people?
[11:42:04 PM] Joseph: I can now say I saw The Room.
[11:42:12 PM] The Observer: Mazel tov.
[11:42:25 PM] Joseph: I'm actually left with a feeling of "that's it?"
[11:42:27 PM] The Observer: Okay, so Fridge Horror time. Get a bottle ready, you're going to need it.
[11:42:51 PM] Joseph: Given its reputation, I was expecting something so much worse than what it was
[11:42:51 PM] The Observer: So, the actress who played Lisa was 18 at the time of filming. The character... probably wasn't much older than that. How long did Johnny say they'd been together again?
[11:43:09 PM] Joseph: O_O
[11:43:29 PM] Joseph: WOW

Thursday, March 10, 2011

CD REVIEW: Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger Single by Joseph Michael Sciola

            I’m in uncharted territory. Not only am I here to write a text review for a CD – something I have never done before – but it a CD that I imported from Japan, and to say I am not entirely fluent with the Japanese language is a bit of an understatement. This CD is a single so it is only four tracks long, but the lack of song quantity is more than makes up in quality. It is my opinion that good music transcends all language barriers, and this track exemplifies that.
            The first track is the opening theme song, creativity titled “Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger” which is the name of the show itself. Listening to the song itself, it’s clear that there is some influence being taken from “We Are!” -- The best known opening song for the similarly pirate themed anime One Piece. While I feel as if I should simply trash the song just because it reminds me of One Piece, which is the only anime that I have seen that I have outright hated and gave up on after forcing myself to watch ten episodes, even I can’t take away that “We Are!” is a great song filled with energy and a great way to get people excited for the show. If they had to take anything from One Piece, I’m glad they took the one thing that was actually enjoyable. “Kaizouku Senati Gokaiger” is performed by Tsuyoshi Matsubara with Young Fresh, both members of the music group Project R.
            The second track is the Ending song, titled “Super Sentai, Hero Getter” is quite frankly my favorite song on the single. The song is fast paced, catchy as all hell, and just plain fun. The best comparison I can make for it is that it is essentially the Pokemon Poke-Rap that aired after the episodes had finished that covered the then 150 Pokemon with the song being broken up into segments. That’s pretty much what “Super Sentai, Hero Getter” does with the previous thirty four Super Sentai titles, going through the names of the previous thirty four and a brief one line description of the show’s theme. “Super Sentai, Hero Getter” is performed by the various members of Project R.
            The third and fourth tracks are instrumental versions of the first two…. sort of. They start out as instrumental versions, but then the background vocals kick in. It just sounds weird, and since I can’t read Kana, I have no idea if they are actually Karaoke tracks that you are supposed to sing with, or not. It definitely makes more sense that way, but I would need much more practice with Japanese before I attempt to use the track as it was possibly intended, but they are worth a listen nonetheless.
            All in all, I have to say this was a very satisfactory purchase. I got a CD that has some great music, and because I pre-ordered it, I got some free gifts as well. The CD came with a poster, a Dice-O card (which is useless because they don’t have Dice-O machines outside of Japan) and a Ranger Key (which is useless without out the toy of the Gokaigers’ transformation device, which I do not have, and despite my irrational want of one, I don’t really feel like spending $100 to get it).  I am very happy with the CD, but unless you are already a fan of Tokusatsu I can’t really recommend importing it.
Now if only the show these songs were made for were half as enjoyable…

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Shawn Ryan Strikes Again: The Chicago Code – An Observation

Shawn Ryan, probably best known for The Shield, is one of those rare producers that really knows how to make an intricate show. While none of his many projects have been called a Masterpiece, many have been memorable at least and critically hailed, if rarely highly rated. The Chicago Code is no exception, blending a gritty cop drama with a serialized arc and intriguing, layered characters.

The show stars Jason Clarke as Detective Jarek Wysocki (no relation to Burt Wysocki on Reaper, almost sadly) and Jennifer Beals as Chicago’s first female Superintendant, Teresa Colvin, who used to be partners. Jarek is incredibly unique as a character, having many problems with his various partners (who tend to last days at most) stemming from either Jarek’s methodology or sometimes just his aversion to swearing in public. Partnered now with Jarek is Detective Caleb Evers (Friday Night Lights’ Matt Lauria), who almost gets kicked out of Jarek’s car just for having the audacity to be a Cubs fan (for the Chicago uninitiated, Cubs fans and White Sox fans do NOT get along).

This Yankees fan can relate. If he were ever forced to share a car with a Red Sox fan, oh man…

The supporting cast includes Generation Kill’s Billy Lush as an Undercover inside the Irish Mob, Jarek’s niece Vonda played by newcomer Devin Kelley, Vonda’s partner and possible boyfriend Isaac Joyner (In Plain Sight’s, Todd Williams), and corrupt local politician Ronin Gibbons, played by veteran supporting player Delroy Lindo.

The main myth arc involves Colvin and Jarek trying to take Gibbons down. Unlike Blue Bloods, which we covered early on in the Geek Heaven podcast’s life, this myth arc doesn’t bog down the show, but instead enhances it. Gibbons’ ties to the Irish mob are what compels Billy Lush’s character to even exist. The arc plays out like a cat-and-mouse game between the two adversaries, but it’s far more complicated than that, since Gibbons is A: influential enough to ingratiate himself with the police, and B: damn smart. These things together make him an incredibly tough opponent, and played far more realistically than many series in the same vein.

Much like The Shield, the day-by-day cases go on along with the myth arc are intelligent, but not so much as to confuse the audience. The narrative is very fast-paced, rarely letting the audience catch their breath, a technique that has worked well for Fox’s prior hit in that same timeslot, 24. The cases flow back and forth with the myth arc easily.

The actors are generally solid, though Jason Clarke has a tendency to be a bit over the top, and Jennifer Beals’ accent – Chicago Native or not – is not very clean. Delroy Lindo honestly only seems to have one kind of character he can really play with good guy and bad guy variations therein, but he’s in his element here. There is a wide and varied recurring cast, which like all casts runs the gamut between talented and, well, not. On the down side, Billy Lush seems miscast, as he doesn’t have the necessary gravitas for what is basically Leonardo DiCaprio’s role in The Departed. Lush’s emotionlessness made him ideal for the sociopathic Cpl. Trombley on Generation Kill. It does not, however, make him ideal for the more conflicted role he plays here.

One of the gimmicks of the show – one that miraculously works well, I might add – is the use of Flashbacks. Unlike Lost, the Flashbacks on The Chicago Code are fast-paced and are accompanied by narration, explaining a bit about the characters’ motivations. It’s a useful tool, and doesn’t take too much time. It also managed to increase the shock value in the pilot, where Colvin’s driver and bodyguard (and protégé Antonio) had his Flashback and narration interrupted by being shot to death. It was a jarring and emotional scene, and again, much like The Shield, Shawn Ryan tricked us into believing that the doomed Antonio was going to be made a main character.

The whole series is shot on location in Chicago. The Dark Knight really paved the way for productions to move to Illinois. With Los Angeles and New York both losing productions left and right due to the recent economic problems, anything that keeps film and TV productions in America is a good thing. The cinematography does a very good job of capturing the essence of Chicago, but certainly with more flair than The Wire did for Baltimore.
Overall, this is a very strong show, but there’s one thing that keeps me from believing that it will live beyond a single season: The presence of the Killer of Shows himself, co-executive producer Tim Minear. Joss Whedon’s old crony has managed to get every single new show he’s been on cancelled, one for one, most recently F/X’s Terriers starring Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James, a subtle, engaging, and often funny show. This man needs to get away from television before he kills everything good about it. The worst part is, Minear is not even a bad producer or storyteller, but I am personally convinced that he is the single unluckiest man in show business today.

The Chicago Code airs Mondays at 9 PM EST on Fox.

TV Season in a Nutshell

The series that started it all! Joseph's first video, and without this, Geek Heaven would not exist.

This episode, Supernatural season 3.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Context Helps, Episode 2

In this episode, Joseph thinks Debbie should see a doctor on True Blood.

Context Helps, Episode 1

A new series from Joseph! Context? Who needs context. We have humor!

In this episode, Power Rangers Mystic Force

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Geek Heaven Episode 8

The second episode of our triumphant return!

Topic for this episode include:

∙We get in the game, Academy Award Predictions.
∙Hollywood's run with video game adaptations.
∙SyFy's Being Human.

MOVIES I JUST WATCHED: I AM NUMBER FOUR - A review by Joseph Michael Sciola

            I Am Number Four, based on the novel of the same name is a movie I have been looking forward to for quite some time. We covered the trailer in Episode 6. I picked the book up on a whim, and read a few chapters before getting sidetracked. I have yet to finish it (in fact, I really need to find the book) but from what I have read, I really enjoyed, and was thoroughly surprised to discover it was being made into a movie so soon after its release.
            From what I remember reading, it followed the book relatively well. There were a few changes, but that is really to be expected for the book to movie transition, and honestly, I didn’t really mind the changes. The movie has a relatively young cast which includes Alex Pettyfier as Number Four/ John Smith, Teresa Palmer as Number Six, Dianna Argon as Sarah, Callan McAuliffe as Sam, and Jake Able as Mark. The cast is rounded off with Justified’s Timothy Olyphant as Henri, John’s guardian and protector, and Kevin Durand as the unnamed Mogadorian Commander.
            Acting wise, the more experienced Olyphant and Durand were the highlights of the movie. At times, saying more with simple looks than any line of dialogue. The rest of the cast was far from horrible, but they were just outclassed in this.
            As far as villains go, the Mogadorians were good ones with a significantly creepy design and just an overall eerie presence to them. They had a few rather comedic moments as well, such as one of them going shopping and waving at a little kid as he walked past, and another bearing his fangs at a car that car they were passing, scaring the hell out of a kid inside, but don’t let these two small moments fool you. They were portrayed as serious threats from the very beginning, and remained so until the very end.
            The final fights towards the end of the movie were nothing short of incredible with a great mix of chorography and CGI. The end result of the big battle left the school’s football stadium a smoldering crater and that is just awesome. My only complaint about the fights is that they were so fast paced, and I would have liked to see them have gone on for a little longer, but they are fortunately not on the same level as the knife fight in Faster which lasted about ten seconds.
            The book was planned as the first book in a series of six. The Power of Six, the second book in the series is expected to be out this August. I know I plan on picking that up, and hopefully the movie does well enough to continue adaptations of those books, because as I see it, I Am Number Four was a perfect ten.

Friday, February 18, 2011

V and the Decline of a Television Series – An Observation

V, starring Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost), Morena Baccarin (Firefly) and many others, had a great first season. But somewhere between the first and the second, something went wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. The production team seemed to implode, and the second season became something to watch not because it was good, but because it was so bad as to be incomprehensible.

I have to give credit where credit is due, the second season made some great casting choices. Veteran character actor Oded Fehr, The Shield’s underrated Jay Karnes, even Bret Harrison from Reaper made an appearance. But even these great actors were unable to pull the series back from the precipice.

The problem stems indelibly from the writing. What was once engaging, if a bit outdated, storytelling has devolved into mindless cliché and plot contrivances. It’s as if the writers believe their audience has never watched another television show in their lives before. This is especially noticeably since one of the executive producers, Rockne S. O’Bannon, was once the showrunner for Farscape, one of the most creative and unique science fiction shows in recent memory.

The writing, of course, has lead to the acting to suffer as well. Morena Baccarin’s character, Anna (the V’s leader) went from a cold and calculating menace to a stereotypical bad guy. Even her scenes with Diana (Jane Badler, reprising her role from the 80’s series… sort of), while supposed to be menacing, are only funny due to the sheer silliness of the dialogue. Morris Chestnut, despite having one of the only emotionally engaging storylines remaining in the show, seems to have given up entirely.

The story suffers from a stubborn refusal to actually move anywhere. Anna’s right hand Marcus is assassinated? Well, not quite, since he’s still alive. And on top of that, he’s replaced by TOTALLY NOT MARCUS, I SWEAR Thomas, who, by the way, is exactly like Marcus. Joshua (played by voice actor Mark Hildreth, best known as Sten from Dragon Age: Origins), V ally of the Fifth Column – the anti-V resistance group – gets caught? Thanks to amnesia (!!!!), he’s back to being Anna’s loyal mook. Erica and the Fifth Column get a new ally? Dead three episodes later. While characters move back and forth on which side they’re on, no actual progress gets made.

The writers had the opportunity to do something different, too. This was probably the worst part, that instead of trying to tread new ground, they only decided to maintain the status quo. There was an episode during Season 2 in which the Catholic Church dared to stand up to Anna’s advances. This could have made a very interesting storyline; such a major organization like the Catholic Church allowing its priests to speak out against the Vs could have added some much-needed tension and drama. Instead, Anna just blackmails the church… and it works. They back down. Anna’s still the scariest one on the block.

The most recent episode as of the time of this writing (“Siege”) was so full of plot nonsense and cliché that I don’t even know where to begin. Erica and her ex-husband Joe (The X-Files’ Nicholas Lea) getting back together? Of course not. He dies. Fifth Column not-quite-terrorist and overall badass Eli Cohn (Oded Fehr) pulls out a picture of his dead wife and child? Anybody who’s ever watched an 80’s movie knows that’s the Kiss of Death right there. He dies. Erica suspected of working with the Fifth Column? A fancy plan involving a hostage situation “clears” her. No one questions this? No one knows that Diana, Anna’s mother and the former queen is still alive (why is she still alive?). Anna’s daughter Lisa (Smallville’s Laura Vandervoort) and Fifth Column ally just HAPPENS to walk by as Anna leaves the ship’s secret prison, giving her the opportunity to meet her grandmother.

Even Anna’s once-capable plans seem to be suffering. Ryan, played by Morris Chestnut, was a V sleeper agent living on earth who turned towards the Fifth Column. Having fathered a half-V child with a human woman, Anna takes the child hostage to use against Ryan, splitting his loyalties. Generally, this is a good plan. It worked against Jack Bauer just fine. But, when Ryan gets captured by Cohn, Anna pulls this tactic again with someone else entirely. Despite it being a good plan, doing it over and over makes for repetitive writing. Continuing the 24 analogy, Zeljko Ivanek’s character on the show said, “When plan A fails, you go to plan B, not plan A recycled.” Sound advice for any writer.

Joss Whedon once wrote, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Unfortunately, the writers of V are doing just that. They write themselves in circles, ignoring the fact that what they’re doing now has already been done.  There’s a lot of flash, and nothing of substance anymore. What pains me is that this is a show I used to love. Now I can only hope that ABC puts it out of it’s misery.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - An Observation


You know…


All right fine, I’m just going to say it: THIS MOVIE SUCKS! What in the HELL was Edgar Wright thinking with this!?

A friend of mine finally sat me down and forced me to watch it. It honestly didn’t interest me. Even as a pretty damn hardcore gamer (I’ve beaten I Wanna Be The Guy, though only on Hard, and I’ve taken down the Demi-Fiend in Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga) , this movie just looked dumb. And I was right. It was really dumb.

I’m going to talk about the things I actually did like, first. Item one: the fight scenes rocked. Peng Zhang is proving himself to be the second-best fight choreographer in the industry, right behind Yuen Woo Ping of The Matrix and just about every Jet Li movie ever made fame. Peng Zhang did Ninja Assassin, a terrible “movie” which however had some of the most creative and interesting fight sequences I’ve ever seen. Kick-Ass and ­The Transporter 2 are some of Zhang’s other films. His choreography coupled with Edgar Wright’s direction created dynamic, interesting, and entertaining fight sequences which were easily the best part of the movie.

Some of the supporting cast was really good. Chris Evans was gloriously hammy. Mark Webber was perfect as beleaguered singer Steven Stills. Keiran Culkin was hilariously understated as Scott’s roommate Wally. A surprisingly badass turn by Mae Whitman (the voice of Katara in Nickelodeon’s hit cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender). Disaster of a Superman Brandon Routh managed to actually be really awesome. There was a fantastic cameo by Clifton Collins, Jr. (Boondock Saints 2: All Saint’s Day) and Thomas Jane (The Punisher) as the Vegan Police. And the normally annoying Jason Schwartzman was phenomenally smug as Gideon Graves, the “final boss” of the movie, including a pretty much perfect fight scene.

And oh yeah, there were succubi early on. What can I say? I have a thing for demon chicks.

And that’s the good stuff.

You notice how I left the main, well, everybody out? Yeah…

The title character is a douche. Which I get was part of the point of the script, being Scott growing up and becoming less of a douche. But here’s the thing, even as you’re supposed to like him near the end, Michael Cera sucks out all likeability. He’s like a black hole. It’s a testament to Peng Zhang’s skill as a fight choreographer that Cera looked even remotely cool at any point during this movie.

Alternately, we have Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the female lead Ramona. I just don’t buy Winstead as a romantic lead. As evidenced between this and Live Free or Die Hard, Winstead’s destiny seems obviously as an action star. She has a great, deep voice (her role in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof notwithstanding), she can do a great death glare, and she looked very natural holding and using a weapon. However, her softer scenes were just… uninteresting. She was flat.

In neither case did I actually buy them as a couple. This is a big problem; if you can’t stand the leads, the romance just dies. And when your movie is ostensibly a romance, you need to have likable romantic leads. Winstead was only believable when she was annoyed, snarking, afraid, or in combat, while Cera was just… Cera. What’s worse is that the love triangle was rounded out by Ellen Wong, whose performance seemed to be channeling that of Kathy Bates in Misery but in reverse. Pathetic and ignorable when shy and quiet, memorable and scary when angry, and able to switch between the two on a dime. She was actually interesting (comparatively)!

The final female characters were… they were there. And if they didn’t get so much screen time, they’d probably be entirely forgettable.

The direction was completely out of line. I know the world of Scott Pilgrim is supposed to be colorful, but there is such a thing as too far, and this movie’s visuals were WAY too far. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Edgar Wright. Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead are two of my favorite comedies. But in trying to keep with the sensibilities of the comics, he’s sacrificed the tolerances of his audience. It is a filmmaker’s job when adapting from another medium to make it watchable, and in this particular project, Edgar Wright ignored this job. The colors were blindingly bright at times, the constant text effects were grating, every flashing light and quick comic-panel-like cut was an assault on the senses. I will sometimes say that a movie “gives me a headache,” as a way of saying it’s stupid or obnoxious. While I feel these adjectives do fit the movie, the aggressive colors and directing style literally did give me a headache.

When a project causes a viewer literal physical pain, there is something wrong with the project that needs to be addressed.

The game references were constant. Constant and overbearing. They just wouldn’t go away. At first they were funny. Then they got old. Do we really need to see a pee meter? Do we need the constant DDR references? Though I will say, the girl named Richter using the Belmont whip was really awesome. Go play Rondo of Blood!

The music… was not my kind of thing, except for the tracks originally written by Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy II battle theme) and Koji Kondo (Legend of Zelda theme). I admit, I was kind of looking forward to the battle between the Katyanagi Twins and Scott’s band, but… apparently they decided that actually hearing the supposedly badass musician twins’ Electronica music was unnecessary and did not need to be in this movie. Instead we got that obnoxious Beck-composed monstrosity that plays throughout the entire movie. Though I will say it’s awesome that the principal actors did in fact learn the instruments they were supposed to have played.

This one is probably a nitpick, but it honestly sent me up a wall. The camera work. You see, Mary Elizabeth Winstead actually did her own stunts in the movie (another point for her as a burgeoning action star). However, in both of her big fights were obvious “Stunt Shots.” Basically, action directors are trained in such a way so as to avoid shooting faces so the stunt doubles are harder to notice. So during several moments, most notably a very impressive wire-work jumping flip, I muttered “stunt shot.” Turns out, no, that was actually Winstead. Directors, if your actors are doing their own stunts, SHOW IT OFF! Give them the credit they are due!

Look, this movie isn’t a total disaster. There are definitely positive elements. But this movie should have been a lot better than it was, especially in the casting department. The actors involved deserve better, and the audience this movie is targeting deserves better. If you want a gaming-reference movie, go watch Dark Maze Studio’s Press Start directed by Ed Glaser. It’s actually funny, despite being MUCH lower in budget. You want a gamer romance? Well… I’m not entirely convinced that such a blend can exist. Feel free to send suggestions! You want to see awesome Peng Zhang fight scenes? Go watch Ninja Assassin. Yes, it too has unlikable leads and a stupid romance plot, but that movie at least knows it’s about ninjas killing each other, and knows what to concentrate on. And if you want more Scott Pilgrim than just the comic book? Play the XBLA/PSN game. For fans of Scott Pilgrim and old-school 16-bit beat ‘em ups alike, that game OWNS.