Yay for Comics! October 2014 Edition

yaySo, a million years ago, Paul Pope drew an illustration of his THB protagonist, HR Watson, jumping for joy and exclaiming “Yay for Comics!” It is a reminder that the medium is filled with excitement. Yet, it can be difficult to enjoy comics with the sexist and violent tirades of certain fans, the thin margins under which the industry operates and the continuing racial and gender inequality in the creative sector of the business, but there are still things to love about it. Things that make me jump for joy, just like HR Watson.

This month sees me returned from both Long Beach Comic Con and Alternative Press Expo, where I found brand new comics! I also got caught up on Fables in its trade paperback form, so let’s get going.

Under the Cottonwood Tree: El Susto de la Curandera: Sold as a preview at LBCC of a 164-page graphic novel written by Paul Meyer and Carlos Meyer with art by Margaret Hardy and Jasey Crowl, Under the Cottonwood Tree begins the tale of two brothers who find magic in the forest somewhere in New Mexico around 1949. Carlos, the younger brother, stole a cookie from the local Curandera and transforms into a donkey. Oh yeah, it’s that earthy sort of magical realism that seems to make sense for US/Mexico border towns post-WWII. I don’t know why that setting feels so right — perhaps a last gasp of the fantastical before the dull reality of the gravitational universe took hold — but the team on this title use it to its fullest with a good sense of the period and a surprisingly diverse color palette. Most importantly, the preview makes me want to read the whole thing as we’re only given a few tantalizing clues to the Curandera’s real intent. We also meet a talking owl with snooty glasses, and that will always get me invested. The book is expected to be released sometime in 2015, but the best way to get updates is via the book’s Facebook page.

Gotham Academy #1: DC Comics, long absent from this column, deserves recognition for this title, a new concept from Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher with art by Karl Kerschl and colors by Geyser and Dave McCaig. Set at Gotham’s distinguished private academy, we’re introduced to Olive Silverlock, a troubled girl who just survived a troubled summer. She’s avoiding friends and trying to disappear. She’s also doing everything in her power to tolerate the presence of her boyfriend’s little sister, a first year student assigned to her. And on this rainy first day of term, they get into a mystery, have a close encounter with Bruce Wayne and we learn that either the Academy is haunted or there’s someone skulking around spying on the children. Oh, yeah, and for some reason, Olive really, really hates the Batman. With striking art (and colors so notable, the people behind them richly deserve their cover credits) and new characters in the familiar Gotham setting, I say gives this a try. It’s fresh and intriguing. Also: we should encourage the company to make more books that branch out into different molds and directions.

From Gotham Academy #1

From Gotham Academy #1

Monument #1:  A find from APE, Mark Haven Britt writes, draws and gives color to this curious tale of a young man in a Boston suburb dealing with his brother, drunk grandfather (who might be something else) and an irksome morning in which someone has crashed a car into the Dunkin Donuts where he works. Oh, and he’s saving up money to marry someone he met during a church trip to Ireland despite the fact no one in his family believes she exists. There’s also a town full of secrets and someone threatening to reveal them all. Sure, it’s a little Twin Peaks or Strangehaven in its set-up, but it’s characters — starting with main character Declan — are quite individual and interesting even as they reflect a certain small town banality. As an artist, Britt has a great indie sensibility and designs some great page layouts. I look forward to subsequent issues. The first is available at his site, go pick it up.

Frankie Comics #1&2: Also found at APE, Frankie is a set of minicomics from Rachel Dukes illustrating her relationship with an adopted stray cat. I’m sure you’ve seen the “Life with/out Cat” comic appear on your Tumblr dash from time to time. Each strip is a delight and Duke’s work is quite charming. Through a seemingly simplicity, the strips reveal a strong command of comics grammar and skill with the page. Frankie Comics represents the sort of material comics excel at when not caught up in the superhero dramas or Crisis level events. Though the medium can go anywhere in the universe, they can also slow time and reveal the curious and wonderful in ordinary things. Not that a cat is ordinary, but you see my point. Hopefully. Anyway, I strongly recommend picking these up.


From Frankie Comics #2

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1: Continuing the interesting mash-up of Archie comics and horror tropes, Afterlife with Archie writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa recasts the teenage witch as the star of her own Hammer horror flick, complete with moody interiors by Robert Hack. Set in the mid-60s, Sabrina deals with a lot of the usual high school dramas, but with a decidedly more lethal edge to the magic that surrounds her. Her Aunts are outwardly controlling and appear to have encased Sabrina’s father inside a tree; her cousin from England encourages her to use her magic to control mortals and there’s some sort of swamp hag coming for her. While the first issue is nothing but set-up, it was vital and interesting for me. It also strikes the right tone for a book about witches. Even if you’ve never read an Archie comic in your life (like me), the premise is inviting and worth reading through at least the first story arc.

Fables Vol. 20: Camelot: A return to form after a few books worth of wilderness. While the title has remained one of my favorites it has … lost some steam since the heady days of the war against the Adversary. There have been great one-offs and small stories, but the momentum seemed to disappear — especially during that couple of years when DC/Vertigo seemed interested in turning it into a franchise with two extra on-going titles, miniseries, an adventure game and at least one serious attempt to make it a TV show (which probably led to Disney/ABC developing Once Upon a Time). Momentum, at long last, is back. Shifting focus once again to Rose Red, Camelot sees Snow White’s ne’er-do-well sister attempt to do well as a modern day Arthur. So far, we’ve only seen her assemble a new Order of the Round Table and discover that invoking the imagery of Camelot means invoking the tale. Lancelot even returns from the muck and shame to join her Quest. While I don’t want to spoil to much, I want to point out the interesting place Snow seems to find herself in this storyline. There’s a serious Evil Queen vibe coming off of her and since Morgana herself suggests to the Lady of the Lake that the players will change, but the parts are the same … could Snow end up the bad guy? That’s the sort of thing that keeps me coming back to Fables, even when it can be a chore. Writer Bill Willingham and his collaborators find truly interesting riffs and ideas within these characters that both play on the popular notions of these fairy tales and the growth these particular versions of them have experienced over the course of the long-running series. There are two-books left to be published and I’ll be glad to see the endgame, but I’ll also be sad to see it end.

From Fables: Camelot

From Fables: Camelot

Well, that will wrap it up for this month. Next time, we’ll finally see a Paul Pope book, take a look at DC’s newly-refreshed Batgirl and enjoy a final visit with Fatale. I’m glad I doubled up on conventions in the last six weeks as I found a lot more reasons you shout Yay for Comics!

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Yakmala: Next

“You… you see that right?” “Giant Nicolas Cage head? Nope.”

This is kind of embarrassing. When picking movies to review, I look through various providers to see what they have to offer. I saw Next was available, and thought, “Hey, Nicolas Cage sees the future, plus Rose Byrne! That sounds great!” What I didn’t realize was that I had an entirely different “Nicolas Cage Sees the Future” movie in mind, 2009’s Knowing. So, yes, I recorded the wrong movie. Luckily, this one was pretty terrible too.

Tagline: If you can see the future, you can save it.

More Accurate Tagline: Nicolas Cage owes the government millions of dollars. Let’s see what he’ll do now.

Guilty Party: Whatever part of Nicolas Cage’s brain that decided he needed a castle, an island, a dinosaur skull, and a collection of genuine shrunken heads. Ever since he learned he owned approximately one Scrooge McDuck-sized money tower worth of back taxes, Cage will appear in whatever movie you want, just as long as you meet his price tag. Since recognizable names get movies greenlit, this is a reliable way to get a mid- to low- budget thriller made on a studio’s dime. It’s not going to be the movie you wanted, but at least Cage might go apeshit at some point.

Synopsis: Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage, presumably insisting that the extraneous H be taken out of his character’s name) is a hard-drinking magician in Las Vegas, performing under the name Frank Cadillac. I was a little annoyed that the character’s name wasn’t actually Frank Cadillac, just because Nicolas Cage’s characters should always be named things like Flame Swordington, Martini Explosion, or Fistfight Karateface. Anyway, he’s a magician who can see two minutes into the future, who uses this ability to amaze tourists, win at gambling, and occasionally to thwart casino robberies.

Here’s the thing though: assaulting a man with a gun is really easy to misinterpret. So Johnson goes on the run from casino security. The FBI, headed up by Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore, dusting off her Clarice Starling impression and making me wonder what addition she needed on her home to take this role) is tracking Johnson. They’ve figured out he can see into the future, but don’t know the limits of his power, and they want to use him to track a missing nuke.

Johnson, however, would rather bang Jessica Biel. It’s worth noting here that Cage was born in 1964 and Moore was born in 1960, making them age-appropriate love interests (plus, Moore is still gorgeous, so it’s not even like that’s an excuse). Biel was born in 1982, so naturally, she’s who Cage will be oozing all over in the romance subplot. Anyway, the one thing Johnson can see farther than two minutes is meeting Biel in some diner at 8:09. He makes the meeting and somehow tricks a woman half his age and who looks like Jessica Biel into getting into a car with him, and remember, he’s Nicolas Cage. I’m not saying Cage is ugly, and the man has kept it admirably tight, but he does look like he’s about five seconds from setting literally everything on fire at all times.

The terrorists who stole the nuke also somehow know about Johnson, and they want him dead. Everything comes together at this little hotel on the Grand Canyon. Johnson seals the deal with Biel (I really wanted to say that), and the terrorists and FBI show up at the same time. The FBI tries to use Biel to turn on Johnson, but apparently, she’s into twitchy guys old enough to be her father and sides with him. Using his superpower, Johnson escapes, but when he saves Ferris (without the power of late ‘90s pop-ska) from some falling logs (don’t ask), the FBI catches him.

They Ludovico him in hopes to get some information, and he gets a vision of Biel hooked up to a bomb in Los Angeles. He agrees to help the FBI, and Biel’s already been kidnapped. You know, you’d think he might have wanted to do something about that before it happened. Oh well, anyway, he gets the license number of their white windowless pedophile van, and tracks the terrorists to this waterfront warehouse. There’s a giant shootout and the good guys win.

Or do they? Nope, he screwed up and a nuke goes off, killing everyone.

Then he wakes up just after sex with Biel and calls up Ferris, telling her he’ll help out with that whole nuke thing.

Life-Changing Subtext: Nuclear armageddon is fine and dandy, just as long as it doesn’t interfere with creepily stalking young women.

Defining Quote: Cris Johnson: “Here’s the thing about the future. Every time you look at it, it changes, because you looked at it, and that changes everything else.” This attempt at profundity is the entire message of the movie: nothing matters. In fact, you’re better off not watching the movie at all! It’s like the screenwriter’s conscience suddenly gained free will and frantically attempted to warn hapless viewers of what was coming.

Standout Performance: Nicolas Cage gets this in every movie he’s in. He even gets it in a few movies he’s not in. I don’t even know how this is possible, but it is.

What’s Wrong: The essential problem with this movie is the whole central conceit. Cage’s character sees two minutes into the future, which lets him head off disaster before it happens. The problem is that this gives us multiple scenes where he’s killed — shot mostly, but he’s also hit by a train, which is how I’m pretty sure the real Cage will go out — so the audience is conditioned to assume any time Cage dies, it’s not real. And it’s not! This turns into the worst twist-ending of all time in the end: It Was All A Dream. So I sat through 45 minutes of bullshit for nothing? Are you fucking laughing at me, Cage?

Flash of Competence: When Cage initially ducks casino security, he does it with a series of deft moves, knowing how both they and the crowd will react. There are no fakeouts, just smooth motions to hide his presence. It’s well-choreographed, and while not particularly thrilling — we know he’s getting out of there — it’s undeniably cool.

Best Scenes: Biel’s character takes Johnson to an Indian Reservation because she teaches there. He instantly starts rambling on about how he wants to meet their shaman, and it’s… uncomfortable. In his rant, he thinks they have power over the atmosphere and can see the future. It’s the kind of well-meaning racism you see out of any white person who owns more than one piece of turquoise jewelry. I wanted her to take him over to some trailer, and be like, “Here’s Jerry, he’s the shaman,” and it’ s just this guy watching Wheel of Fortune and drinking Budweiser.

Cris Johnson tells Biel’s character an old joke, and he gets it wrong. “What did the Zen master say to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything.” That’s how the joke goes. Not “I’ll have one with everything.” That doesn’t make a single bit of sense, you nutball.

Johnson briefly escapes FBI custody through karate. It’s the only time Cage busts out any karate — which is good, because if too much karate builds up in your system, it can cause karate-related blood poisoning — and it’s hinted that he’s using his future-sight to do this. And, sorry, that’s a better movie. Nicolas Cage plays a man who can only see one punch into the future? And it’s called Future Punch? Do not be shocked if Rodrick Rand makes that flick in the Blankverse.

Transcendent Moment: As any student of cinema knows, the various brown peoples of the world exist to tell white people the painfully obvious things that, for some reason, white people can’t see for themselves. In this case, some of Biel’s students want her to know that Johnson is totally into her. They can tell because of the way he looks at her. And it cuts over to Cage, and he has this confused and sleepy look on his face, like someone just woke him up by screaming, “MARTIAN COLONOSCOPY!” and he’s still trying to process what the fuck that means.

“I had one of those. It was delightful.”

I might not have recorded the correct Nicolas Cage, but Next is the next best thing. That really should have been the tagline.

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New Satellite Show Episode 18: The World is Bananas

The horror edition of New Satellite Show includes such diabolical topics as 7th Heaven’s Stephen Collins, Dawn’s first hours with “Alien Isolation” and the upcoming DC Comics film slate. A discussion of Iris West and “Gone Girl” lead to similar places. Also, Cole Phelps is on the prowl; don’t let him doubt you. This months Yakmala film is “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.” Truly, even the Cenobites would recoil from these tortures. Host: Erik: Panel of Experts: Justin, Clint, Dawn.

Click here or subscribe on iTunes.

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Lifetime Theater: Drew Peterson: Untouchable

For better or worse, Meredith Baxter and Valerie Bertinelli are indelibly associated in the public consciousness with Lifetime movies. Both women possessed the irresistible combination of recognizable faces and affordable price tags that guaranteed they would have work in TV movies whenever they desired. As Lifetime has expanded its brand, they have managed to attract fading but honest-to-god movie stars like Christina Ricci, Ellen Burstyn, and Heather Graham, brilliant character actors like Garret Dillahunt, and suddenly ubiquitous it girls like Rose McIver. It’s really no surprise when a quality actor shows up in a role, and really is hardly even slumming it. What is at least mildly surprising is when they show up to work. Rob Lowe plays convicted murderer Drew Peterson in this week’s Lifetime Theater, and plays the hell out of him.

I’ve often cited the Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra as the perfect example of the problem with Hollywood. First off, it’s directed by Steven Soderbergh, a director who manages to helm both big-budget crowd-pleasers and critically acclaimed indies with equal aplomb. It stars a recognizable name — Michael Douglas — doing some of the best work of his distinguished career, and a bona fide movie star in Matt Damon. It’s stuffed with ringers like Dan Aykroyd and Nicky Katt, and is compulsively watchable in that jittery, disconnected way Soderbergh has mastered. With all of that, it somehow failed to get theater distribution and had to settle for HBO. The reason I bring this up is that there is a solid argument to be made that Rob Lowe is the best part of that movie.

He appears out of nowhere as Liberace’s plastic surgeon, holding his face in a botox rictus, and speaking with the gentle tones of Dr. Leo Spaceman. He’s responsible for putting Matt Damon’s Scott Thorson on amphetamines, which is funny because that’s exactly the kind of thing Dr. Spaceman would (and has) done. Lowe repurposes the performance for Drew Peterson, making the the lack of facial affect stand in for his lack of conscience and his glib tone to undercut the horrifying things he says. While I might rail against laziness anywhere else, the fact is it’s a damn fun performance. Really, it’s a lot of fun watching Rob Lowe tear into the archetypical Lifetime villain with such gusto.

The movie features a wraparound scene that’s Drew Peterson squinting and joking through a television interview, though in true Lifetime fashion, it’s not fully realized. Since the movie ends with his incarceration, it’s unclear as to when this whole thing took place or really what’s going on there. But who cares? Rob Lowe! Playing a monster! And boy is he. The first flashback sequence features him having energetic sex with his (third) wife Kathleen Savio (Mad Men’s Cara Buono). When their son comes in, Drew just dismounts and stands in front of his kid, buck naked and presumably fully slicked and engorged. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but a kid should never be in danger of losing an eye due to careless dick use.

Nick Fury’s shameful secret origin.

Drew is constantly on the prowl and almost immediately sets his sights on motel concierge Stacy (Kaley Cuoco), who is young enough to be his daughters much younger friend. They start having an affair that’s so brazen it’s almost laudable. I mean, he actually takes Stacy into his own wife’s basement (not a euphemism) for banging. Kathleen knows what’s up pretty quick — and the implication seems to be this is how their relationship may have started — but she’s helpless to do anything. Why? Because Drew Peterson is untouchable!

Banging teenagers is the Chicago Way.

Specifically, he’s a cop. So even after Kathleen throws him out of the house, he feels free to barge in whenever. The cops she calls tell her straight out that they’re not going to do anything to Drew. When Kathleen shows up having drowned in a dry bathtub, every investigation should focus solely on Drew Peterson, but he’s not even a suspect. The Medical Examiner concludes it was an accidental drowning, and at a routine questioning, Stacy is way too relieved at that story, hinting that maybe she suspects something.

Drew wants Stacy to be home all day, and is utterly baffled when she expresses a desire to go meet new neighbor Karen. She’s played by Catherine Dent, so we know she will eventually be crusading for justice at some point. Stacy opens up to Karen and for the first time gets an outsider’s perspective on the relationship. Hilariously, Stacy only just realizes that sneaking into the wife’s own basement to cheat is seriously messed up. Pretty soon, Drew gets insanely jealous about every living thing (including, at one point, of a corpse), and the relationship turns violent. Before long, Stacy has vanished without a trace.

Karen teams up with Stacy’s sister to shed some light on the disappearance. Odd for the structure, it’s actually Kathleen’s sister — who has appeared briefly — who turns the attention to Kathleen rather than Stacy. Hey, that’s real life. It was Kathleen’s murder that busted Drew (after they exhumed her), and Stacy’s body was never found. The local cops were useless, but when the State Police question Drew’s dim bulb pal Glenn (William Mapother) they get the info they need. The flashback shows them loading up a blue barrel, hinting that these guys decided to use Heisenberg’s method of body disposal. When a priest comes forward, the final bit of the story comes to light: in an early throwaway scene Drew washed some clothes. Turns out he got home really late on the night Kathleen died and then threw those clothes in the wash.

Drew Peterson:Untouchable is nice because it bridges the gap between Lifetime as people perceive it and Lifetime as it has become. It’s a true crime story where the villain is an abusive husband, and to its credit shows the escalation of abuse in a fairly realistic way. The important thing to enjoy the movie is not to dwell on the deaths involved, and instead enjoy that he’s in prison. As a villain he’s pretty damn reprehensible. Lowe turns in a performance far too good for a simple TV movie, one he borrowed from a much better film. It’s really the most fun you can have with a multiple murdering scumbag like Peterson.

What did we learn? Well, maybe if he’s willing to sneak you into his wife’s basement (still not a euphemism) for sex, maybe he’s not quite marriage material.

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Thoughts on Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of MordorI finished the main story of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor on Monday night even though I was purposely delaying the end because the experience was so enjoyable. Roaming lesser-known areas of Mordor while stalking, killing and dominating Orcs has been truly fun. I’m pretty sure it took me less time to get the end-state than my aborted Destiny run. If that’s not proof of engagement, I don’t know what is.

Let’s star with the basics: Shadow of Mordor combines Assassin’s Creed-style stealth and wall climbing mechanics with Arkham City-style combat in an easy-to-digest Middle-earth setting. I’m no math expert, but that is a solid equation for good times. While some may quibble with co-opting these mechanics, I’ll say they mesh together really well. And this being Middle-earth, developer Monolith added a new mechanic: Domination! Just as Sauron’s One Ring allows him to dominate the wills of those men who wore the Nine Rings, the player character can exert a special wraith power over unsuspecting Orcs. This is good across all types of Orc enemies, from spindly soldiers to impressive Warchiefs. According to the story, I have to amass an army for –

Actually, that might be kind of a spoiler. But, while I’m talking story, let’s discuss it in a broad stroke as it is Shadow of Mordor‘s weakest element. You play Talion, a Gondorian ranger assigned to the Towers of the Teeth at the Black Gate. Because it’s a long-term assignment, his wife and son live there with him when a band of Orcs and Men sworn to Sauron attack and kill the lot of them.

I suppose this would be the best place to insert that awesome “Towers of the Teeth” war song:

Nearing death, Talion is used as part of a blood sacrifice, seemingly to bond an elf-wraith to the physical plane. The ritual is successful and the wraith gives Talion new, awesome abilities. Both watched their wives and children die and while it’s definitely the generic revenge plot — featuring the cliched death of the wife — there is an interesting twist here: both seek the means to be released from their curse and die while getting their revenge.

It’s not entirely successful, but at least an attempt to blunt the obvious.

The story missions tend to be the least interesting, except for a small diversion to hunt Gollum and a later sequence in which a Dwarf teaches you to hunt Trolls. I think the biggest problem with the main sequence is the lack of urgency. So many of them exist just to teach you game mechanics that maybe a handful really progress the story in a meaningful way: including one in which you learn the elf-wraith’s identity and his importance to Sauron.

Another issue is Talion himself. Everyone around him — the wraith, a local Queen, her daughter, that dwarf hunter — is more compelling than he is. He lacks a personality and comes off as just a generic Jon Snow-eque Good Man™ with a typical revenge agenda.

The game makes up for the weak main story with fantastic side quests, collectables and the simple pleasure of putting hundreds of Orcs to the sword. Freeing enslaved Men, finding relics that reveal more about local tribes and progressing on a powerful skill tree are so worth the effort that I pretty much ignored the main sequence until the game stopped supplying me with other things to do. Even then, I was just as likely to fight Orcs for a bit and grind some XP. Combat situations make the grind a delight.

A stellar element of the great combat mechanics is the so-called Nemesis system. The enemy AI remembers if a given Orc successfully killed you. It will learn from your moves, get more powerful and straight up insult you when you encounter him again. Lose to a Warchief four or five time and you’ll have to look for another way of attacking him. You might dominate all the lesser captains around so they can weaken him, allowing you to deliver a satisfying killing blow. It’s pretty compelling and enriches the experience. Nothing is more personal than finally seeing an Orc that has bested you a handful of times finally brought low. That’s the kind of engagement these sorts of games should have.

Oh, did I mention you can control Trolls? Yes, you can!

Oh, did I mention you can control Trolls? Yes, you can!

The various skills, once mastered, make it possible to take on a seemingly unending stream of enemies. A key skill for me was in-combat branding of Orcs to bring them to my side. Once I got comfortable with this skill, it was easy to defeat 50+ Orcs in a single encounter. Though skills are acquired via a standard XP/skill tree system, they actually bring a great deal of power to the character and provide a surprising number of options in defeating the enemy.

Weapon advancement is simple, but interesting. As opposed to an unending incremental change to your gear, your long sword, de facto dagger and bow remain the same, but they grow in strength thanks to runes won in combat against Orc captains. They add a variety of bonuses and make the weapons remarkably customizable. Given options to regain health, focus or even inspire fear amongst the enemy, I actually played around with this customization system more than in most similar games with similar weapon progression mechanics.

Okay, back to the story. I will admit the ending was a bit of a let-down, both in the (lack of) strength of my foes and the resolution of the storyline — a penultimate mission even had me rescue a damsel in distress (yawn) — but the game accomplished mission one: I want to travel with Talion to other parts of Middle-earth where he might gain more strength to take on Sauron. Well, provided subsequent games continue the expert meshing of good mechanics, enjoyable side quests and Orc captains I love to hate.

Oh, and maybe a stronger storyline.

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The Mazda5 Game Project: Week 1

Welcome to the inaugural post of the Mazda5 Game Project, a limited series chronicling my experience with the shitty games preloaded on the DVD system in our new car. For more details, please refer to this primer.

#7 – Table Tennis

Oh, Pong. A video game so elemental that it has spawned a thousand imitators, remakes, and reboots, but is still most entertaining in its purest form: two digital sticks batting around a digital dot. All other versions since have tried to improve upon the graphics, sound effects, play modes, and other bells and whistles. But nearly all of these versions manage to keep some semblance of the original’s tense, breakneck gameplay. And then there’s Table Tennis.

Now, all the M5GP games have the graphic and sonic maturity of late-model NES games, though they all carry a copyright date within the past decade. Given the advances in gaming even ten years ago, this would be a significant setback. However, in the case of Table Tennis, and its great-grandfather in spirit, Pong, any improvement over green rectangles and harsh beeping is welcome. So, it wins in that arena by default.

It's something. Right?

It’s something. Right?

However, the programmers of Table Tennis decided to rest on these considerably mediocre laurels and decided that fluid, responsive gameplay was just too much work, man. One of the keys of Pong is that the ball got faster as you went on, thus adding interest to the game. Not here: the ball lopes around the court at the same speed the whole time, with no increase of difficulty to speak of. There was also some element of English you could apply to the paddles in the original Pong, if I remember correctly. Also not here: it’s just right angles the whole way through, so much so that you can cover several volleys just by parking your paddle in one spot. You can go so far without doing too much, they may as well have named the game “Anna Kournikova.”


So, with minimal effort, you can beat the computer with 6 points. And what reward awaits you for such an accomplishment? Nothing. The game just resets. At the very least, give us a “Thank You Mario, But Our Ping Pong Ball is in Another Castle.” They couldn’t even pay off what little effort you put into it, much like my experience with the third Matrix movie.

A note about the audio: the simple fact there is music in the game does put it technically ahead of the original Pong. However, the music you get is the same terrible synth riff over and over again. And it’s in 7/8 time, for some unknown reason. It’s not simply torture; it’s as if you’re being waterboarded by Rush.

History’s greatest monsters.

Rating (out of 5 stars): 0.1

#4 – Hitting Mice

You can’t blame this title for being vague. The Final Fantasy series may be a landmark of gaming, but tell me what the fuck a “final fantasy” is. Exactly. This game, you’re hitting mice. Sorry, PETA.

And the weapon at your disposal is… a gorilla with a blue mattress? I think? You, as the gorilla, are at the top of a cliff, the base of which is crawling with rodents. They start climbing up the cliffside, trying to get into various holes (THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID), and to stop them, you throw your mattress down to knock them off.



Like Table Tennis before, the game suffers from stiff controls and shitty button response, two things diametrically opposed to fast-paced action gaming. As such, you’re gonna get a lot of mice in a lot of holes (THAT IS ALSO WHAT SHE SAID). And when you do, the game’s over. No extra lives, no continues. Just back to the start menu.

Ferreal, tho, that's a solid title screen.

Ferreal, tho, that’s a solid title screen.

Look, video games are a haven of weird-ass ideas that David Lynch at his least lucid couldn’t fathom, but an ape throwing a mattress at rodents is out there even on that scale. It could be a serviceably fun game if the controls could keep up at all, but that’s not the case. It has one of the catchiest titles of the M5GP, but Hitting Mice is just boring and annoying, as it probably would be in real life.

Rating (out of 5 stars): 0.3

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Now Fear This: You’re Next

This shouldn’t be news, but there is a language to film. Languages of all kinds have rules, which is what prevents us from screaming obscenities in the middle of the street and calling it the St. Crispin’s Day Speech. Well, that and all those cease and desist orders. So when a film disobeys its own language, one of two things is happening. It’s either because the filmmaker doesn’t actually speak the language of film and only knows what garbled transmissions made it through the Specter Nebula to his homeworld, or because some interesting subversion is about to take place.

You’re Next, a home invasion horror thriller, is one of the latter.

Every horror fan knows the rules of a home invasion movie, as though it’s born into our DNA. Sadly, the truth is much more prosaic: home invasion pictures can be made on the cheap. It’s one set, a handful of actors, and some gore effects and you’re done. Consequently, they have to do something interesting to set them apart: The Purge caught a lot of undue flack for being a by-the-numbers example of the subgenre. (It was, but it was at least a decent by-the-numbers example, and I can’t hate anything with Lena Headey.) You’re Next starts out exactly as these movies are supposed to, but pretty quickly takes a turn for the unique.

I first became aware of You’re Next at the 2013 Scare L.A., a horror-themed convention in South Los Angeles that I do every year. One of the booths had a few models wearing sleek, dark suits, and creepy white animal masks. Though I barely registered the image, the visual stuck with me long enough so that when I saw those white masks on Netflix, I was intrigued enough to watch.

The movie opens, as these often do, with an unmotivated murder of a pair of people — one of whom is indie-horror godfather Larry Fessenden, once again granting his blessing, this time in the form of his onscreen murder. The narrative shifts over to the anniversary celebration of two wealthy WASPs and their large, dysfunctional clan. There’s Paul (Rob Moran, recognizable from every Farrelly Brothers movie), the stern patriarch, Aubrey, his fragile wife, Drake, the douchey oldest brother, Crispian, the pudgy academic, Felix, the shady fuckup, and Aimee, the daddy’s girl. They’ve also brought their significant others: Drake’s wife Kelly is a brittle, judgmental grown-up mean girl, Felix’s girlfriend Zee is a sullen, creepy goth, Aimee’s boyfriend Tariq is a quiet documentary filmmaker (played by real director Ti West). The most important is Crispian’s girlfriend and former student Erin (Sharni Vinson, owner of the worst IMDB pic ever), a friendly Aussie who looks to be the movie’s Final Girl, destined to run screaming until the third act twist when she goes all Nancy Thompson on the bad guys.

The movie first establishes the family dynamics, and it does so with a minimum of exposition, allowing simmering tension to do the job for them. Drake passive-aggressively asserts his superiority over first Tariq and then Crispian with a variety of condescending remarks, while Felix rolls his eyes, and Aimee trolls for her parents’ approval. Then, in the middle of dinner, the bad guys attack with a crossbow, and that’s when shit gets really interesting.

While every other character reacts how they’re supposed to — screaming and blind panic — Erin begins calmly telling people what to do. She’s scared, certainly, but she remains collected enough to do things like pulling people away from windows, using chairs to shield them from bolts, trying to get people upstairs (and not in the basement, where she casually says, “They could just pour gasoline down the stairs and toss in a match”), call for help and stay down. She has the best ways to secure a house, instantly grabs weapons, and even knows how best to deal with a crossbow wound. Crispian watches her with the mounting horror of anyone seeing another side of their mate. In this case, Erin’s other side is “terrifying survival monster.”

The three villains are instantly iconic due to those white animal masks — a fox, a lamb, and a tiger — that stayed with me from Scare L.A. They are similar enough in outline to mark all three as a unit, but close up have enough differences to see who is who. In particular, the three masks send a clear signal to the audience in the early going: these guys are not human. They are animals. Predators. The lamb would seem to be the oddest choice then, but he’s often shown with a combination axe-sledgehammer that deftly calls to mind images of the slaughterhouse. The white masks contrasted with the black paramilitary costumes make the animal heads appear to float, and director Adam Wingard makes good use of their reflections in panes of darkened glass.

As the evening wears on and the bodies pile up, Erin matches the brutality of the invaders and combines it with an ingenuity that’s downright disturbing. In the beginning of the film, the invaders are inhuman — they don’t speak, they are strangely baffled by corpses — you know, how home invader bad guys in masks are supposed to act. Once Erin starts truly hurting them, the masks begin to come off, and the humans underneath are shown. They’re bleeding, they’re vulnerable, and they’re really wondering how Erin, who looks about ninety pounds soaking wet and wearing a dive belt, has turned into the hunter. It would be like a version of Alien where the monster gets on the Nostromo only to find that it’s full of acid-resistant clones of Mr. T armed with giant gold lobster crackers.

The twists begin to pile up in the back half of the movie, and they’re good enough not to spoil. The best part is that they stand up on repeat viewings. Acting choices that initially look like one thing, or even just a camera lingering too long on a neutral expression, turn out to have much deeper significance. You’re Next is chiefly interesting to horror fans for the specific way it deconstructs the Final Girl trope in fiction, and unlike other examples of deconstructed tropes it contains no easy way out. It works just fine as a straight example of a home invasion horror thriller, but it’s also a deceptively smart send-up of the same, ensconcing Erin in the hall of fame with her spiritual sisters, Laurie, Nancy, Sidney and all the others.

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