Very little in the way of media consumption last month. I’d like to say that was because I was studying so hard, but really, it’s because of the new Xbox360. So I decided to include video games in the recap, too, since they’re currently taking up such a large chunk of my life. After the jump, reactions to The Darjeeling Limited, Pierrot le fou, The Sportswriter, Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, Call of Duty 2, and Guitar Hero II. I also haven’t forgotten that I owe Mark some original Xbox reviews/recommendations, if he still wants them–I’m having trouble figuring out what I should consider family friendly for your kids, Mark. What do you let them play?
The Darjeeling Limited
Oh, Wes Anderson. You can make films about nothing, and yet I still enjoy watching them. I guess it’s not totally about nothing; it’s about three brothers (Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrien Brody) who meet up at Wilson’s behest to take a trip on the Darjeeling Limited, a cross-India train. They need to work through some relationship issues stemming from their mother’s absence (she’s holed up in a convent in the Himalayas) and their father’s recent death, and Wilson decided this train trip would be the best way. He’s controlling and anal, Schwartzman is ornery and horny, and Brody is having daddy-withdrawal issues, apparently. They have adventures. The film isn’t completely cohesive, but it’s a fun ride, colorful and quirky, as you’d expect Anderson to be. I am glad they decided to show Hotel Chevalier, Anderson’s introductory short which debuted online a few weeks before Darjeeling‘s release, along with the film. It sets up so much of Schwarztman’s arc that I don’t know how Darjeeling would’ve worked without it. Overall, my guess is that if you like Wes Anderson, you’ll like Darjeeling, but if you don’t….why don’t you? No, sorry. This may not be the film to convince you, that’s what I was going to say. Because it is quirky and it is idiosyncratic, and it is a tad indulgent. And The Royal Tenenbaums would win in a deathmatch any day.
Well Above Average
Pierrot le fou
I actually watched this for the Film Blogger’s Top 100 Project, too, just way too early. It’s #87 on the list, but it was playing in Houston so I went down to see it in an actual theatre! Albeit a museum theatre. Still. I’m still working through my thoughts on it; Jean-Luc Godard films are never easy to comprehend in one viewing, and this one is more difficult than some. Let me just say that seeing Anna Karina (and Jean-Paul Belmondo, but mostly Karina) in close-up on a gigantic screen is an experience that should NOT be missed. Expect a full review thingie when I get down to #87, and I actually hope that’s not until after February, when it comes out on DVD and I can rewatch.
Well Above Average
IMDb | Amazon (releases 19 Feb 2008)
The Sportswriter by Richard Ford
When class started the week we discussed this novel, most of us looked at each other and whispered, “Did you like this?…No, me neither.” Really, out of fourteen of us pretty much all of us disliked it, including the professor. I’ve never read a book for class that I hated before. Lots that I didn’t love, or didn’t particularly like, or wouldn’t read again, but there was not a single thing I liked about this book, not its characters, not its story, not its technique. Yet it’s apparently got a really good reputation, and Ford won a Pulitzer for a later book. People are weird. The main character is a failed writer turned sportswriter, and he basically whines for 400 pages. His oldest son died from a childhood disease, he’s not been able to really get over the death (though he’s not grieving, which is probably the problem), his wife has left him, though they still live near each other, he goes through a series of girlfriends, and finally he decides to accept himself the way he is. Whatev, dude, you’re a jerk, and none of us in the classroom were willing to accept him the way he is. Someone suggested that he is basically the adult that Holden Caulfield became when he grew up–which is a good description. I also hated Catcher in the Rye.
Well Below Average
WorldCat | Amazon
Shiloh and Other Stories by Bobbie Ann Mason
After slogging through Ford’s FAR TOO LONG book, a set of short stories was heavenly. Still not my favorite, though. Like most short stories they start abruptly, but they mostly end more abruptly than I would’ve liked. I got used to it after a few stories, but even with my love of ambiguous endings I would’ve liked a bit more resolution. There were four or five, though, that were quite evocative. “Still Life with Watermelons” tells of a woman who gets laid off and decides to make money by painting watermelons, since she knows of a rich man who collects watermelon paintings. “The Ocean” follows a recently retired man and his wife as they take a camper across the country to see the ocean; her first time ever, his since he returned from the army. “Graveyard Day” is more humorous than many, with a single mother trying to start dating again, while her 10-year-old daughter acerbicly tells her to get with the times. Most of the stories deal with the generation gap in some way, especially between mothers and daughters. I have the feeling that re-reading the stories when I have more time and attention will be rewarding.
WorldCat | Amazon
all games played on the Xbox 360
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
NEW.FAVORITE.RPG. And if you knew how much I loved both Knights of the Old Republic games, you’d know that’s saying something. The main storyline involves saving the empire of Cyrodiil from being invaded by the Daedra, evil god-lords of the alternate universe called Oblivion who keep opening portals and spilling through into Cyrodiil. You are an escaped prisoner tasked with finding, protecting, and aiding the heir to the empire after the current emperor is murdered. But this is just the main quest. Along the way, you can also join various guilds and advance through their ranks; each of these questlines also has a narrative arc of its own (in the Fighters Guild you have to deal with a rival company of mercenary fighters, in the Mages Guild you must take care of a faction of dark wizards, in the Thieves Guild you pull off the ultimate heist, etc.). Personally, I liked all of these questlines better than the main quest, largely because the main quest involved a lot of running through the Plains of Oblivion and killing nasty creatures, and Oblivion isn’t nearly as pretty as Cyrodiil. :) And BESIDES the main quest and the guild quests, there are a ton of completely independent side quests. So it’s a long game (100+ hours and counting for me, though I’ve finished most of the major questlines), with a lot of different ways to play. You have almost complete control of your character’s type and appearance, much more than KOTOR or the (few) other RPGs I’ve played. It’s addictive, though. So if you pick it up, expect to immerse your life in it for a while. Version alert: You can get the standalone game for around $27 used now, but there’s also a Game of the Year edition which include two expansion packs. I didn’t know about the GotY edition (or that I was going to love the game so much), or I would’ve gotten that one. On RPGs: I’m getting Mass Effect really soon, so we’ll see whether it can beat Oblivion; skimming the LIVE boards suggests that it can’t quite, but I haven’t read too deeply, because I don’t want to get spoiled on ME‘s story.
GameSpot | Amazon: original edition; Game of the Year edition
Call of Duty 2
The Call of Duty games have a reputation that far precedes anything I could say about it. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare released a few weeks ago to universal acclaim. But I’m cheap and opted for the $14.99 CoD2 over the $59.99 CoD4. *shrug* Anyway, I have to say that CoD2 is definitely the best WWII shooter I’ve ever played and easily one of the best FPSes overall. (Bias note: I tend to prefer realistic shooters over alien/mutant/sci-fi-based ones, which makes me rate Halo and Half-Life and stuff like that a lot lower than most people would.) You get to play all three European fronts, as a Russian soldier in Stalingrad, then as an English soldier in Northern Africa (including a tank mission, which is easily the weakest section) and into France, then as an American on D-Day and pushing toward Berlin. The action is incredibly intense, even on the Normal difficulty setting. I’m trying to work my way through Veteran difficulty now, but so far that’s largely involving me dying every five seconds until one time I manage to hold on for like a minute and make it to a checkpoint. At which point I start dying every five seconds again. Good thing the checkpoints are frequent! Anyway. It feels extremely realistic, and I found myself just about crying at one point during the D-Day mission, realizing that I was just playing a game, but so many people actually did this in real life. It may be a couple of years old, and have a couple of sequels under its belt already, but if you haven’t played it, please do. (I haven’t played CoD3, but I’ve heard it’s not quite as good.)
GameSpot | Amazon
Guitar Hero II
I’m sorry, but pretending to rock out with a guitar is just fun. I haven’t actually completed as much as I hope to of this, but I’ve beat it on both Medium and Hard, so I feel qualified to talk about it. There’s a wide range of difficulty levels accommodated, which makes it a good choice for both casual and hardcore gamers; I breezed through the Easy career, but am very, very stuck right now on Expert. The song order is set up nicely to build your skill as you move through the career so by the time you make it through the final songs on one difficulty, you’re good enough to tackle the beginning songs on the next difficulty up. There are a few oddballs that seem to throw that off (“Woman” by Wolfmother comes to mind; it’s in the second set, but it held me up for far longer than any other song), though. Also, when you change difficulties, the speed and the way the notes are arranged changes enough that it doesn’t feel like you’re doing the same thing, only it’s harder, like a lot of shooting games feel when you up the difficulty. Obviously, if you know the song you’ll have a slight advantage, but it’s not nearly as much as you have in karaoke games. Really, all you gotta have is rhythm. And hand eye coordination. An eventually, fast fingers. There’s a total of 58 songs in the career, plus at least fifteen or twenty you can unlock within the game, plus there are several downloadable packs you can buy with real money, so that’s a lot of songs. However, I will say that as a person who only started listening to rock music within the last five or ten years (and never a metal, thrash, or punk fan), there were really only about three or four songs I’d ever heard before. And there’s probably only twenty songs or so total that I’d ever listen to outside of the game. The setlist for Guitar Hero III is a bit better, and the one for Rock Band actually includes several that I’d LOVE to play. But they really need to figure out a way to let us add custom songs. Because they’re never going to be able to create a setlist that pleases all of GH’s fans. (One of the threads on xbox.com a few days ago mourned the lack of thrash/metal songs and the prevalence of classic/indie rock on Rock Band. Personally, I thought it could’ve used a lot MORE classic/indie rock, and no thrash/metal, but then I’m biased. We all are, which is my point.)
Well Above Average
GameSpot | Amazon