Saturday, October 31, 2009

Even The Muzzle Flares Look Good!

Happy Halloween.

Speaking of dressing up, can someone please explain the camouflage that soldiers wear these days? Why is it all digital-looking? Are our troops hiding behind pixelated flora? Is it some kind of homage to classic first-person shooters.

I realize that most of our soldiers learned to shoot by playing Doom and Wolfenstein, but graphics are much better-looking these days.

]{p

Friday, October 30, 2009

This Is My Rifle, There Are Many Like It...

Speaking of Left 4 Dead, some disagreement has arisen amongst my gaming friends (many of whom at least claim to read this blog) about the usefulness of the Hunting Rifle. I had taken for granted that it was a sort of red-herring weapon, there to distract gullible players. Almost everyone in the game forums agrees that the best possible combination of weapons is two shotguns and two automatics (everyone capable of forming a properly-punctuated sentence, anyway). I decided to try it out on a few campaigns and make up my own mind, and I reached the following conclusion:

The Hunting Rifle is both the most over and under-rated weapon in the game.

For the uninitiated (the initiated are free to skip this paragraph), L4D is a first-person zombie-apocalypse shooter. You and your three friends roam the city trying to get from safe-room to safe-room until you can find an evacuation point. You have a primary weapon and a pistol (or two) with unlimited ammunition as a backup. Along the way you'll find three "good" weapons, almost always grouped together: an automatic shotgun, an assault rifle, and The Hunting Rifle, which has a smaller clip and slower fire rate, but packs a mighty wallop and can be fired accurately over a great distance.

Hunting Rifle lovers point out the strengths: you can take down a Tank or a Witch at a distance without having to reload (on Easy or Normal, anyway) and that bullets pierce multiple enemies (the shotguns do that too, but have a far shorter range of effectiveness). What I found it most effective for was clearing out big open spaces from a distance. We've all done it--you come around a bend and find a large open area with maybe 30 infected in it. With a Hunting Rifle you can clear that out in about twenty seconds. Without one, you get close enough to start picking them off and the rest mob you.

HR detractors will point out that the weapon is basically useless in close quarters or against Common Infected on the move. And they're right. Even with the extra powerful bullets, it is far less useful than an automatic shotgun, which also pierces and has a wider target area. When I played with the HR, if the action got too close, I found myself switching to dual pistols, because I could fire twice as many bullets in the same span of time (doubling my chance of hitting anything--you can't take careful aim the middle of a mob) and reload just as fast (if not faster). But perhaps the biggest issue with the HR is that it lends itself to distraction--it's very tempting to use the scope to pick-off far off targets, but there are often better ways of dealing with them (pipe-bombs or simple avoidance come to mind). And waiting around while someone plays "sniper" can cause the AI Director to send another horde at you.

So you have the odd duality of the Hunting Rifle: it is a sublime asset in some situations, a liability and a distraction in others. So I think it can be used effectively, but the key to its use is in knowing when to not use it. Don't charge to the front and start sniping--hang in the back and snipe when needed; use your pistols the rest of the time. You also need to have a team accustomed to fighting with a sniper who will call him/her to the front when the time is right and protect him/her when the horde arrives.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

L4D2 Impressions

After a few delays and epic shit-tons of anticipation, the early access demo for Left 4 Dead 2 dropped for pre-purchasers. I'm a pretty big fan of the original, so please allow me to throw my two cents in regarding our glimpse of the sequel.

The demo lets you play through two chapters of the final campaign (about twenty to twenty-five minutes of gameplay or about 1/12 of a single run through the total game). My conclusion: L4D2 is everything we want out of a sequel--more of everything that worked in the original, less of what didn't work, and new and inventive additions. And let me also address the naysayers: we could not have gotten this game by incrementing through free downloadable content. This is a totally new game with vast improvements, so quit your goddamn bitching!

The key to this game is "more". More campaigns, more gameplay modes, more enemies, more variety in both your weapons and your enemies, more story, more well-rounded characters, etc, etc, etc. And all that "more" mostly works. I will say that the demo never felt like it got bogged down by the additions--and we weren't all veterans playing either. We had someone over that had never played the first one; we gave him a quick tutorial on the gameplay and by the end of the first chapter, he was keeping up and killing things alongside the rest of us.

My only real complaint, and I hesitate to call it a "complaint", is with the new Special Infected. I like them, I just found them a bit underwhelming. The Spitter feels like a less-dangerous Boomer. The Charger feels like a less-dangerous Tank. The Jockey feels like a less-dangerous hybrid between a Hunter and a Smoker. The Wandering Witch behaves just like a regular Witch, only now she can't block off paths, making her much more avoidable. Coupled with the inclusion of the old SI's, the new ones gave us variety, but not much of a challenge.

The addition of Uncommon-Common Infected certainly made up for it. So far I've only gotten to play against the riot-gear-wearing infected, who are more or less immune to a frontal attack. Having those mixed in with the normal horde did a lot to spice up gameplay, and I'm supremely interested to see how the different UCI's add to the challenge and character of the levels they inhabit.

The really dramatic improvement of this game over its predecessor comes from the weapons. In the original game, you had a shotgun, an Uzi, or a pistol, and could eventually find an automatic shotgun, an assault rifle, a hunting rifle, and dual-wielded pistols. 98% of players go with either the shotgun or the automatic (whichever version of either that they happen to have handy), with pistols as a backup. Since all guns are found grouped into caches, everyone just goes straight to their favorite.

The L4D2 guns are far more organically placed, forcing players to occasionally use a gun they don't prefer. Additionally, there are many different types of each class of gun. We encountered two different pistols, three assault rifles, two handheld fully-automatics, and three shotguns--each with its own unique character. Furthermore, rather than having your secondary weapon be a pistol, you can swap it out for any number of melee weapons, everything from a cricket bat to a frying pan to an electric guitar. I was skeptical at first--would I really want to forgo dual-pistols just so I could wield a melee weapon?

Then I tried out the machete. After I picked that up, I barely even fired my primary weapon. Hacking the infected to pieces was just too much fun.

There's also a "bile bomb" (Boomer puke, essentially) that can summon the horde to attack whatever you throw it at--which is interesting and great for bringing down Tanks. It's not quite as cool as the plain old pipe bomb, which attracts infected and then sends bits of them flying every which way (as opposed to vaporizing them like the original game... pipe bombs are so much fun to watch now).

So, all told, I was looking forward to playing L4D2, and now my appetite has been whetted. It looks to be a dramatic improvement over what was already a fantastic game. I'm excited.

]{p

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Accidents Happen

So yesterday morning I was turning into the parking lot at my office, and the car in front of me was driving very slow, but since I was blocking a lane of traffic (turning left and all), I hugged her fender pretty close. Then she stopped. Then her reverse lights came one. Then I started honking my horn, but she didn't stop until she hit my front bumper.

It wasn't a bad hit. She was probably going 1mph when she hit me--we took one look and decided that it wasn't worth pursuing, there was no visible damage and no reason to think either of us had been injured. So she left... out the other entrance to the lot. Apparently she had planned to use the lot as a turn-around and hadn't bothered to look behind her as she backed up.

Whatever. It's rainy, it's morning, we all make mistakes. No blood, no foul. But in retrospect I'm a little irked at her total lack of concern. I understand not wanting to say that she's sorry because it might appear that she's claiming fault (which you're never supposed to do), but once we'd established that we weren't going to call our insurers, there was no reason to keep up the charade. I was standing still--it was pretty clearly her fault. She didn't even ask if I was okay.

Damned inconsiderate, if you ask me.

]{p

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In Case You Don't Hear From Me...

So, I decided to try out a casual game that showed up on Steam last week called Everyday Genius: SquareLogic.

The oddly titled puzzler is the first outing from developer TrueThought [citation needed] and is similar to the recent game KenKen that's been running on the New York Times website.

Also, it's been DEVOURING MY SOUL.

Avoid it if you can, or check out the free demo if you have hours and hours free for the rest of your life. There are literally tens of thousands of puzzles in there, all math-based, and covering a broad swath of skill sets. At the end of the day, it's all simple logic. You have a square grid. Like Sudoku, you can only use each number once in a row or column. Numbers are grouped into "cages", and the numbers in each cage share some attribute: maybe they're all even, or they add up to 15, or some such. Based on the clues, you have to sort out what numbers go where.

They get progressively more complex and the grids get larger as you advance, but on any given level of difficulty (of which there are like 40), there are hundreds of puzzles (800 is typical, especially at the beginning), of which you really only have to beat one to advance.

Couple the uber-addictive-ness of it with the Steam Achievements (I'm kind of a sucker for achievements) and you get a puzzler well worth the $15 that is a complete time sink.

So, save yourself, 'sall I'm sayin'.

]{p

Sunday, October 25, 2009

It's Like Riding A Bicycle, Really

Overheard at work:

"I can't believe there are people who go their whole lives without ever learning how to comparison-shop."

]{p

Feeling quippy today. My apologies to anyone hoping for substance.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Money Too

So this week I got to tell professional web developers to their faces why I didn't agree with their decisions. I enjoy that aspect of my job.

]{p

Thursday, October 22, 2009

An Apolitical Post About The Left

How crazy is this?

Roughly twenty percent of the world's population is left-handed, but in a large part of the world, using one's left hand is taboo. I had a professor in college who remembered being told in grade school that writing left-handed was sinful (she's a lefty). Obviously, this was before baseball became the national pastime and south-paws gained some respect.

But seriously, we as a species have nothing better to do than pick on a fifth of the population for something that is absolutely meaningless?

]{p

Random trivia, half of the Beatles were left-handed. Anybody care to guess which ones? (before Abby does, because she knows).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

That Look Is Sooooo 1997

So, I've sort of become the UI guy at work. There's job security in that, but more to the point, it means I have some credibility when I rag on other people's poorly-laid-out websites.

So, in honor of my place of newfound esteem: WebTender, you kind of suck.

]{p

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Con-Census

So I got the latest batch of census-related paranoia from a rather conservative fellow I know. I know of a lot of Republicans who are really big on trying to undermine the census, like it's so important to protect your private information from that government. Which, I get. I think they're over-worrying, but I agree that it's a legitimate concern.

What I don't get is that this is the same party that pushed The Patriot Act through.

]{p

Saturday, October 17, 2009

More Like Orbital DORK Shock Troopers

We were watching something on Hulu not too long ago and got the option to watch a long-form commercial for Halo 3: ODST in lieu of the normal commercial breaks. This long-form commercial took the form of a Zune/ODST party where minor celebrities (e.g., Ryan Phillipe or the DJ from Incubus) sit around playing Halo 3: ODST and talking about the experience.

You can watch the entire video here (it's about three minutes long).

Also, ODST stands for "Orbital Drop Shock Troopers", if you're trying to figure out the joke in the title.

What I find so absurd about this is the set up. Four XBox's. Four TV's. Four couches. And all of these people are playing together but leaning back to shout at each other. It's like, they get some added enjoyment from being in the same room.

Remind me again, why have we abandoned local multi-player? It was games like Goldeneye with their 4-player death match that turned shooters from nerd pastime to social gathering. Maybe we could take a few steps back that direction.

'Sall I'm sayin'.

]{p

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sleep-Aggrivating

So my wife snores. Not often, in fact, not most of the time. But every now and then she'll roll onto her back and start snoring.

If this is keeping me awake, I'll move to tell her to roll over, and she'll stop before I even say anything. So I'll lay back down. And she'll start again. So I'll move to tell her to roll over. And she'll stop. Before I say anything.

Some nights this goes on for quite a while. Most nights I tell her to roll over anyway.

But it's interesting to me that, even in her sleep, my wife is messing with me.

]{p

Thursday, October 15, 2009

They Might Not Be Giants After All

I went to see They Might Be Giants at the Pageant last weekend. There were sock puppets. There was a confetti canon. One of my favorite albums was played in its entirety. So why wasn't it a better show?

I've seen TMBG before, back when they were promoting The Spine, and I found them pretty relentlessly entertaining with their on-stage antics and their near-constant berating of the audience. They seem to have acknowledged that nobody really cares about their new material anymore, so for this tour, they promised to play their most highly-regarded work, Flood in sequence, in its entirety. There would be a few breaks for "the telethon", or some such (never did quite catch that joke). In short, they made a pretty hefty promise with this show.

Let's start with the opening act: two Irish boys who sang folksy love songs with a guitar. The music was solidly okay, just North of mediocre. If they had been Jon Secada, they could have done all right with those songs in the 90's. They did completely undermine their penultimate number. It had a build towards the end in which the line "Let's get naked and get under the sheets" is repeated eight times, but before starting the song, the singer told us a story about his nephew hearing that song and singing "Let's get naked and get under the sheep". Good story, but when it came song-time, I couldn't think about anything other than sheep during that would-be emotional climax of the song.

On to TMBG. They started pretty strong, playing a few numbers before launching into Flood. But right from the get-go, there were sound issues. John Linnell's vocal was too low, and I don't think I could ever hear Flansburgh's guitar. Besides the sound issues, there were a number of technical problems, not the least of which was that they botched the set list.

After Dead, they took their first break (for sock puppets) and came back and started with Someone Keeps Moving My Chair. Which means they skipped four songs: Your Racist Friend, Particle Man, Twistin', and We Want a Rock. They remembered them throughout the show and so they were peppered across the set rather than actually being played in sequence. It's not a big deal, I know. It didn't ruin the show for me. But it's indicative of the kind of amateurish mistakes that went on during the rest of the show. From their banter, it seemed like the set list had been printed wrong prior to the show's start. But nobody caught that? Even when they announced the sixth song (out of nineteen) as the start of "side 2", nobody stopped to say "wait, that can't be right"?

At one point Flansburgh commented that the only way the show could have been more awkward was if they had played in their pajamas.

The other problem I had was that the arrangements differed pretty wildly from what's on the album. I understand that certain songs that have been played to death are going to feel a bit stale and change over the years--I get that. And I also realize Flood was recorded when the band was playing along with a tape; it was never meant to be played live with, you know, instruments.

Still, it's my opinion that they veered to far off course. Sometimes they would sing missing instrumental parts, sometimes they would skip sections of songs, and what their sax player actually played when called upon to play never resembled what had been there on the recording.

It may sound like I'm nitpicking, but I'm not the only one who felt a little disappointed. By the second encore, I think everyone around us was just ready for the show to be over.

And I guess it's most frustrating because I know they're capable of putting on a better performance than that. Oh well.

]{p

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Death And Facebook

I found out this week that former classmate, Anna Rodriguez, passed on last Monday after suffering a fatal heart attack at the age of twenty-six. I'd friended her on Facebook perhaps three weeks ago, although we were never particularly close--I would describe our real-life relationship as "friendly" rather than "friendship". Nonetheless I'm sad to see her go, and I'm particularly struck by the weirdness of the phenomenon of death on a social network.

Because it's not like your status changes to "dead" when you die. Rather, there's your profile showing you alive and intact while your wall and comments sections become a sort of memorial to you. It's a bit surreal, especially because it is completely unfiltered. You get remembrances with LOL-style abbreviations or typed in all caps. Anna's last status update was to say that she was "ready for a change". A few people commented on the irony of that being her final post--someone even commented that "GOD heard your plea and although we may not understand it, he made a change". I'm pretty sure that's not what Anna meant by "change", but I can appreciate the intent of the commenter, even if I find the result to be a wee bit tacky.

Moreover, this is the second social-networking-friend that I've lost in real life, and I'm wondering about protocol. What is the proper amount to time to wait, for instance, before "unfriending" the deceased? A month? Or should you just wait until the account is disabled for inactivity? After the inevitable "We Miss You" group arises, should you join? Should you remain a member indefinitely? Some people might actually need to cut their digital ties to the deceased as part of the grieving process, I would think.

These aren't terribly serious questions (although if someone knows definitive answers, I'd love to hear them) so much as musings on the way that social networking has changed our lives, and also, apparently, our deaths.

At any rate, farewell Annie Rodriguez. I will remember you fondly.

]{p

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Messing With Texas

So I spent the weekend in Houston for a wedding in Cypress, which is just down the street from Spring, where I used to live. So I took a moment to revisit my old stomping grounds, and I was struck by how much Houston felt like home more than any other home I've gone back to.

Which is not to imply that I would ever want to live there again. It still has the oppressive heat, the wasps, the roaches, the torrential downpours, the mother-loving humidity, and, you know, Texans. I talked to the groom at the rehearsal dinner, he asked me how my drive was, and I said it was twelve hours in a small car, but it wasn't awful. He proceeded to tell me about how that was nothing--you could drive for fourteen hours from one end of Texas without leaving the state.

Really? You went straight from "how was your drive?" to "Texas is big, yee-haw!" without pausing for, you know, conversation? I lived here, I've gotten over how big it is. And for your information, there's nothing but filler between El Paso and San Antonio, so it's not as if you're making the best possible use of the space.

Another striking Houston oddities: the sheer number of people who dress up for a wedding by wearing their "good blue jeans" and their "nice belt". Why yes, I'm glad you wore your nice ball cap to the reception. If my recollection holds, there were eight men in suits: the groom, the groom's father, the preacher, the two groomsmen, the two ushers, and me.

The bride's father wore a sports jacket over a Henley, which I might almost count except he paused at one point to tell Abby and I that he wanted to design a short-sleeve sports jacket for warmer weather. I swear to god...

Now, I don't want you to think that this is in any way a representative slice of Texans or that I'm deriding Texans across the board. There are lots of perfectly wonderful people living in Texas and Texans, in general, share some admirable qualities. They're typically very polite, as long you're non-hispanic, straight, and willing to at least feign some religiosity. They say "y'all" without even a hint of irony, and my word, but they could teach St. Louis a thing or two about building roads. Roads are big and broad with wide shoulders and dividers. Highways have one-way multi-lane feeders with no-signal U-Turn lanes at intersections. Damn straight.

'Course, they freak out a little when the weather gets below freezing, but it's not like that ever happens.

Also, if you speak fondly of Spring, they immediately thing you're talking about Old Town Spring, which is sort of a like a mile-long craft fair with sturdier tables. I don't care much for Old Town Spring, but it was good to see the old stomping grounds. I found the road where I got horribly lost after only a month with a driver's license. I found my old house, my old Junior and Senior high schools. I found the community theater where I had once been active, and found that, even fifteen-odd years after it's moved, the old sign is still visible from 1960 pointing to its old location in Breck Plaza.

Something never change, it seems, even though they really could use to.

'Twas good to be back, if only for a weekend.

]{p

Monday, October 5, 2009

Less is Moore

It's interesting to see how the left is sort of backing away slowly from Michael Moore. Self-proclaimed liberals have been complaining about Moore's new film Capitalism: A Love Story, and as a more-or-less liberal person, I have to agree with them.

Now I've been a long-time Moore defender. Yes, he plays fast-and-loose with the facts and yes he presents information in a way that is not strictly dishonest but somewhat misleading. I don't agree with the practice, especially if you're calling your film a documentary, but I understand that he's trying to make what is often a very honest point with cinematic flare, even if the facts seem to require some tailoring. Exactly how ethically dubious that is, well, that's a matter for another discussion.

But he's sort of isolating himself, and I'm not 100% sure why. I would cite a combination of factors: first, as the left has taken control of the middle, Moore and his ilk have become outliers and the rest of the left is trying to not be lumped into his extreme viewpoints. Another possibility--he may be losing his mind, just a little.

Take a look at C:ALS. I haven't seen it, but I'm aware of his two major themes: 1) Capitalism is evil and you can't regulate evil (that's a direct quote, by the way) and 2) Capitalism should be replaced by Democracy.

Ahem?

First, let's talk about this "evil" word for a minute. "Evil" is sort of like "Love" in that it doesn't really exist that way most people think it does. It is a word used to describe people's actions and perhaps their attitudes, but we tend to regard it as a causal force. "Evil" is not a thing that compels people to action, it is simply a description of horrific actions. In that sense, it can sure as hell be regulated. We regulate it all the time. We don't always do so effectively, true, but it's sort of like saying "you can't regulate murder". We should. We can. We do (to the best of our abilities).

Second, is Capitalism even a thing that is capable of being "evil"? Of course not. It doesn't make decisions, it doesn't act, but on the other hand, it does compel people to action. It is a system, so we can describe it as "flawed" rather than "evil". But if something is flawed, you treat it one of two ways: you fix the flaws, or you replace it with something better.

Moore's ideal replacement: Democracy. What does that even mean? One is a political system, one is an economic system, but the two are analogous in their own spheres. This is not an apples-to-oranges comparison, this is an apples-to-applesauce comparison. Bill Maher asked Moore that very question: "What do you mean by that?" and I think it's an important question to be able to answer if you're going to make any kind of statement about, well, anything. Moore started talking in pretty platitudes, but he never answered the damn question. Show me an implementation. Tell me how to Democratize commerce. Tell me what it is, why it's better, and give me a roadmap there.

I mean, Jesus, Mike, look at some of your own movies. Previous themes have been: Roger Smith (and by extension any CEO) doesn't care about working-class Americans, America has a bizarre and dangerous fixation with guns, the Bush administration lied about Iraq and other things as well, Americans would benefit from universal health coverage. These are all things that can be argued and discussed factually. But "Capitalism is evil"? It's too vague to be meaningful and, frankly, too childish to be discussed with a straight face.

And the beautiful irony of this is that capitalism begets democracy? You want to democratize something? Open up trade with it. And if you want to criticize capitalism, start by pointing out that what we have in America is a far cry from pure capitalism. That's an interesting subject. But "evil"?

Meh.

]{p

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Yes, I Am At A Wedding Today, How Did You Know?

And now, a live-blog of a wedding.

They do!!!!

Kiss!!!

...Photos...

Speeches.

Dancey and drinky.

Maseltav.

]{p

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Small Fear For My Own Safety

Right now I'm on the road with my wife and my (rather conservative) mother-in-law, driving to Texas.

Must not blaspheme in the car... or in the Texas.

]{p

Friday, October 2, 2009

Review: Zombieland

Today Zombieland opens, and if you're like me, you were probably just thinking to yourself wow, you know what I haven't seen in ages? A zombie movie. I could really go for a zombie movie right now. Sarcasm aside, Zombieland is at least a mild winner for being light, quirky, and self-aware enough to have some fun at its own expense.

Zombieland stars Jesse Eisenberg, whom we might as well call the "poor man's Michael Cera" right here and now. He's fresh from starring in Adventureland, and I can't help but think that missing out on Land of the Lost might have nearly killed his career. The film also stars Woody Harrelson, but don't be fooled, he's there to put a name on the marquis. It's Eisenberg's film.

When making a zombie apocalypse film, you have to ask yourself a few questions: What kind of zombies are we dealing with, i.e., how did it start? How do the survivors survive? What are the survivors trying to accomplish? How will it all end in a memorable bloodbath?

The zombies in Zombieland are the fast-moving variety. The outbreak started with an infected hamburger that carried a mutant strain of Mad Cow Disease, which turns humans into raging, bloodthirsty, mindless... well, zombies, along with anyone they bite. Eisenberg plays Columbus. And here I will break for a moment. The movie subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) points out the similarities between our nameless, stoic, insane heroes and the nameless, stoic, insane hordes. For most of the film, we don't know anyone's real name. Columbus is called "Columbus" because he's from Columbus, Ohio. His neighbor, back when the outbreak started, was "406". Anywho.

Columbus is going back home to try and find his parents when he meets up with "Tallahassee" (Harrelson), who is basically playing a funnier Bruce Willis. He starts out pretty one-dimensional, killing things because he enjoys killing and trying to find the sacred snack cake... a Twinkie. He and Cera--whoops, I mean Columbus--team up if only briefly because they're going more or less the same way and have found their union convenient, if not necessarily pleasant. En route they meet "Witchita" (Emma Stone) and "Little Rock" (Abigail Breslin, in the only role I've ever liked her in so far) who are sisters heading West to Los Angeles so they can visit Pacific Playland, which they hear is zombie-free.

The flow the story (and the tone) revolve around Columbus' rules, a list of mandates for himself that he writes on a little pad and constantly updates and adds to. Columbus was kind of a bookish, WOW-ish, shut-in before the apocalypse. He spent most of his life avoiding people, a tendency that turned out to serve him well once people became deadly. And he has found some very practical axioms that he chooses to share. There's "Limber up" and "Beware of bathrooms" and "Don't be a hero", but the first and ostensibly most important is "Cardio". Exercise. You can't outrun the horde if you're overweight and/or out of breath. These rules are represented visually and often show up as scene punctuation and transitional material (not unlike the rules from Fight Club).

The one thing I'll bring up is that the film knows what it is. It knows that zombies are a bit played-out at this point, so it has some fun with the topic. Oh, we get our fair share of gore, but it's generally fun gore. I particularly remember a shot of businessmen being chased by a blood-covered zombie in a G-string and pasties. The movie doesn't expect to be taken too seriously, but it offers wild surprises and meta-humor where a more serious film would have been stoic and tormented. Which is not to say that there isn't some melancholy under the mirth. Our four survivors are all heading someplace that they've heard is free of zombies, but deep down, they all know it isn't true. They just want to keep moving, because it's kept them alive so far.

As for the ending, I won't give it away, but it's called Zombieland and two of our characters are on their way to a theme park, so feel free to start drawing conclusions. All told, it was a perfectly enjoyable way to spend an evening. Kinda fun, kinda jaunty, kinda cool, and fairly fast-paced. It got a little cheesy in places, and there was an extended cameo in the middle that dragged on for a bit too long and then ended in a fairly obvious plot twist (albeit a pleasantly absurd one).

Oh, and the music was rock-solid. So that's a plus.

So if you get a chance, see it. Take the kids.

]{p

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Welcome To The Folds

I've now seen both ends of the Ben Folds performance spectrum. We saw him about this time last year when he was touring with a 5-piece band, playing mostly stuff from his production-heavy recent album Way to Normal. This time around, he had a piano. That was it.

In the spirit of the Ben Folds Live album, Folds put on a somewhat informal, rather low-key show that was heavy on audience interaction and pulled from his entire catalog, including three new songs from a forthcoming collaboration with--of all people--novelist Nick Hornby. We got Army from Reinhold Meissner and nothing at all from the self-title Ben Folds Five album, although the encore consisted entirely of songs from Whatever and Ever, Amen... including one of my all-time favorites: Selfless, Cold, and Composed.

I realized I should probably give Songs for Silverman a few more listens, because he played four songs from that record, none of which I knew too well. He played a handful from Way to Normal, including rousing versions of Dr. Yang and Effington. The best-represented album was probably Rockin' the Suburbs with 5 songs: Still Fighting It, Annie Waits, Zakk and Sara, Not the Same and, oddly, Rockin' the Suburbs.

He opened with a shortened rendition of Free Coffee and played a few lighter songs before launching into an impromptu number about the coat-check/soft-drinks sign on the wall facing him. This quickly devolved into something about his tuna sandwich tasting like burnt plastic because tuna is treated with carbon monoxide to make it stay pink.

Swear to god...

It was funny to watch this, because when he got to a part about Googling "burnt plastic" and "tuna" he realized that his creation had grown perhaps a bit beyond his control and sat shaking his head as he played for a few measures before going into carbon monoxide treatments of sandwich fish... with the coat check... and the soft drinks... and the green exit sign... etc, etc, etc.

We had pretty decent seats--third row back in the balcony, right on an aisle. We were behind two men in pink shirts and, in front of them, their wives. As the show started the usher came and asked to see our tickets and it turned out he had seated us wrong the first time--we were actually a row up, so the husbands had to move. They had general admission tickets anyway and were just hoping to snag empty seats, but when we got moved, they were ejected back to the standing-room-only bar area. A few minutes later, they showed up and took a couple of seats in the front row of the balcony, right across the aisle from their spouses, smiling and waving. It felt very much like a Mentos commercial.

But I digress...

You have to give him credit for audience participation. In addition to the usual callbacks on Army and Song for the Dumped, he taught us backing parts to Bastard and promised us a cookie if we got it right. He added a fourth part to the "ahhhh's" on Not the Same and then led us all in some vocal chicanery at the end. But I think Ahmed won the night in this category.

Ben's one cover was Such Great Heights by The Postal Service, but he forgot the lyrics halfway through the first verse and asked us if any of us knew them. He pulled a kid named Ahmed up onto stage to sing lead. Ahmed (we learned his name later) gave it a noble attempt, swapped some lyrics around ("everything looks perfect from up on stage") and he and Ben even managed some decent harmonies by the end of the song.

So, congrats, Ben. You've ruined this poor kid for all other musicians.

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