30 November, 2016

Warobouros

THOUGHTS ON CALL OF DUTY: INFINITE WARFARE

Whoever decided to make Call of Duty into an annual franchise is a madman.

The most interesting thing is how Activision-- in conjunction with three different studios-- has persistantly forced themselves into making the simple art of murder into a new and fresh experience year after year. Considering the rivals they seem to have left in their wake (and the rivals that seem to struggle to compete year after year), it's amazing that we're still here, in the year of our Lord 2016 still talking about these dumb games. Plus, Osama bin Laden has been dead for years, so trying to tap into whatever anxiety college-age males have about society is also an interesting endeavor in amatuer psychiatry.

With that said, I am a madman, as well. I've played through every single one of these games since Modern Warfare in 2007 (in fact, it's the primary reason that I bought an X-Box 360). As often as I say "I think I'm done with these games," November rolls around every year and I find myself with a six pack of Kirin Ichibans staring at a Red Box.

So here we are again. I played through Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. It's pretty good. Here are more thoughts about it-- Then again, maybe I'm not the guy to consult. After all, I'm the idiot that liked Ghosts.
In space there will be generic white dudes.

SO SAY WE ALL

I didn't think that Battlestar Galactica would be the direction Call of Duty would head in, but I'm glad they did. Because Battlestar Galactica is dope as hell.

Instead of ripping off Tom Clancy or the exploits of Richard Marchinko, this time around, they've decided that late 2000's sci-fi is the way to go. It's a good fit. Space is an appropriately dangerous and grim place. It's an environment where a pin-prick hole can kill you just as quick as automatic gunfire. But also there's both. There's no room to fuck around. . .  But also space is a really fun place to fuck around in. While BSG was never about the joy of duking it out in space, Infinite Warfare does convey the high-stakes thrills of pulling off something as impossible as not dying from literally everything at once. . . in space.

Unlike BSG, Infinite Warfare actually has a strong ending. A poignant one. Maybe too poignant. I haven't felt this way about the ending of an FPS since Medal of Honor-- Again, that is a distinction that nobody else has probably drawn about this game or any other. There is a grimness to Infinite Warfare that goes beyond the previous CoD games. Yeah, they've nuked you and shot you and shot you and blown you up and shot you again, but there is a diminishing returns to all of that. Infinite Warfare is different. Like BSG, the horror of war in space isn't set dressing, it is a thesis. It says, in a way that needs to be restated, emphatically, ever so often, that war, war is a real son of a bitch.

So say we all.

IS THAT APPLESEED?















Yeah, that's an Appleseed.

Good work, Infinity Ward.

Good work, Ethan.

Anyways, I mention this because the art design of these games has been all over the place. Specifically, Treyarch and their Black Ops series (especially II and III) seem to have all of the wit of a mid-90's CGI football commercial. Everything is all bulk and pads. The few robots that they had in BlOps II and III were ugly, boxy messes in the same vein (personally, I thought the robots in BlOps II looked like the juggernauts from the Warhammer universe, but without being some kind of hell-rhino, which, arguably, is the entire appeal of the Warhammer juggernauts).

Even the knives are needlessly complicated. Just look at how dumb these things look.

Who decided to complicate what knives look like?

I mean, besides the bad guy from Cobra.


Also, how come nobody had fucking sleeves in Black Ops II? Ugh . . .

Infinite Warfare* is a break away from that. They went whole hog into the future and they designed a world that both makes sense on an aesthetic level and makes sense on a mythological level. It's a consummate world that looks really neat. It's a world that fits in more alongside something like Deus Ex than it does Modern Warfare.

I'm also glad that I get to talk about Appleseed in public.

Next up: My opinions about Battle Angel Alita.

GHOSTS OF GHOSTS

As I said earlier: I was the guy that liked Ghosts. If anybody ever asks you "What kind of an asshole liked that game" you can tell them "It was James Kislingbury. It was him. Let's go stop him."

I liked it. But, again, see above: I'm a madman. But, before you burn me at the stake, hear me out (I mean, you've come this far)--

There are two main things that I liked about Ghosts. The first is that it took place in Southern California and the American West.

Maybe it's a masochistic kind of narcissism, but it's cool to fight a bunch of enemy militia members in a location that's less than a mile from my work. It's also nice to see Santa Monica get blown up, because fuck Santa Monica. Also, that game had a dog. You had to drag that dog to a medevac. I loved that little guy.

What's interesting is that it presaged the direction that first person shooters. Games have moved on from the "modern warfare" end of things.  The market has been saturated for a good ten years and groups like ISIS are too real to have fun with (and, again, we shot UBL years ago and it was awesome). Less successful imitators like Spec Ops: The Line and the Medal of Honor reboot have also probably pushed developers into safer markets.

So, they've gone in two directions: The Future (see Titanfall 1 and 2, Destiny, DOOM) or The Past (Battlefield One, Verdun, Wolfenstein: The New Order) or both at the same time (see: Black Ops II). This isn't a perfect analysis, but you see my point?

Then there was Ghosts. Ghosts came out on current gen and previous gen systems. It was split. So were its themes. It couldn't break away from the series' previous trappings, having neither been futuristic enough or stripped down enough to really matter. It was a game that

Infinite Warfare completes this loop. We're finally in the future. Black Ops II and III didn't quite do it and Ghosts was too trapped in the past. Now here we are: Space ships. Space marines. Orks. Mars. Lasers. You know, the future-ass future. And it's kind of neat.

THE TITLE

It's a really good title**.

Fight me.

SHOOTING PEOPLE IS FUN

Yeah, some ten years since the first Call of Duty, it's still fun to murder fools over the internet. It's also fun to murder robots. And robots pretending to be people. And people pretending to be robots. . . You get the picture. As a shooter, Infinite Warfare comes through and delivers the kind of top notch polish and shine that you expect out of a Call of Duty. While that sounds like damning with faint praise, consider how tight Modern Warfare felt when it first came out. It still feels good.

As much as I love Titanfall 2 (which is my go-to for multiplayer this season), that's a game that just doesn't quite have the fine sheen that this game does. Which doesn't so much ruin one game or make the other as it does make me appreciate just how much money Activision poured into this game. It's there. It looks like it. It feels like it.

If nothing else, the economics of Infinite Warfare should leave an impression.

SO, WHAT ELSE?

What I think is going to be fun is seeing what the hell they're going to do with the next installment (which falls on Treyarch this time around). It isn't like they can go even farther (further?) into the future and any half-steps at this point better be well thought out, because nobody is going to go back to the farm after they've done a double-jump into a wall run.

Personally, I'm hoping for some kind of historical remix weirdness. Sending soldiers through quantum tunnels to fight in alternate historical time lines with modern weapons. Like William Gibson's The Peripheral, but vastly dumber. Or go back to Nam. I'd be okay with that. Or cyberpunk. You know, like those other William Gibson novels. All of this works. I'll even take a game with a difference engine in it.

Gimme that dumb stuff, Treyarch. I know you can do it.

Give me Space Reznov. And, for that matter, Infinity Ward needs to bring back Captain Price. Space Price. Thawed out to beat up the future, because they don't build MEN like they used to. Or mustaches. The aliens took our mustaches and we need 'em back Price.

At least somebody give me that dog from Ghosts back. Can't be that hard. . .

James Kislingbury writes, draws, and makes podcasts. He also hates updating his log line. That's what this is, right? Aw, who cares?

*The more I think about it, the more I realize how cool of a game Advance Warfare was. That game did a lot of really neat things that I don't think people appreciated. At least not that I noticed. I tend to stay off of the internet, because it's a freaking full-time nightmare zone.

**I mean, yeah, it's kind of a "Fuck you" to Sledgehammer and Advance Warfare, but what are you going to do? Infinity Ward was there first and it's a really good title.

08 November, 2016

An Addendum

The monster won.

Hate won. Ugliness won. Lying won. Spite won. Fear won. Desperation won. Revanchism won. The wrong person won. A lot of bad things are coming with him.

There's a lot of things that we could talk about now. Why such a man could get so many votes. How it came as a surprise. Why she didn't win. I don't know. A million other things. Frankly. I'm at a loss. Smarter people than myself are at a loss and I don't think they're as many beers into the evening as I am (I'm working on my third and it's Stella, so I think I'm good).

I am at a loss.

Still, I stand by what I said. Tomorrow is going to mark the beginning of a long project. It's not the project that's going to be about fucking up this man and his hostility towards basic human rights and democracy. That is only one aspect of what we have to do. We have to help out our fellow man. Not just the ones that vote like us, but all of them, because obviously they're hurting too. They're going to hurt worse by the time this thing has run its course. And it will run its course. We have to get to work building each other and our country back up as much as we have to tear down the things they're going to build to destroy us. And they will try to destroy us. We're going to survive and we're going to do it by being smarter, wiser, and better.

And I don't know.

We're all in this together. All of us. E plurbus unum. You know this.

Things will change. The anger will die off and his supporters will be left out in the cold again. Spurned, used, abandoned. It is what he does. When the tables turn and they learn what they have elected into office, we have to be there to bring them along with us. It's a long road and we're going to get there together. I believe that. I have to. Because if I don't, then I don't know what I stand for. I don't know why I am against this man. If we don't believe that we're together, only then does he really and truly win.

As I said before, they do not get to win.

Tomorrow, I am going to get up, hungover and with dread in my gut and a bitterness knowing that in the other room my dad is actively cheering on the destruction of the country he proports to care about. And I am going to get to work. I am going to find charities. I am going to find organizations. I am going to talk to people that need my help (or don't need my help or don't even want my help). I am going to get to work. That's just me. That's what I have to do.

I'll be looking, but I am all ears. I'm here to learn. I'm here to help.

I swear I'll get to

Upsidedown States of America

As of my writing this, neither side has lost. Neither Trump has lost, nor has America lost. Not yet. It isn't looking good.

I am tentatively holding on to the delusion of hope. I'm clinging to it. Not that Hillary will win. Even if she does, she still has to contend with 40% of America that are okay with a profoundly unstable and ignorant man in office (to say nothing of his more specific biases). I'm hopeful because this is still America.

And in America the bad guys do not get to win.

Even when this ends, and if it looks like it's over, nothing is over. Even if it's over, it isn't over. As Barack Obama said tonight, "The sun will rise in the morning." And it will. And it will again and again and again. There's a hope in that. There has to be. For as long as the decent people of the world, on every side of the political spectrum draw breath, we can still fight this cancer that has slowly spread across this country. Despair won't beat it. Despair is what built it.

And fuck that. To quote somebody else, long lost to the Internet's interlocking spheres of re-purposing, it isn't fair that Donald Trump can look in the mirror and feel good about himself and you look in the mirror and you feel terrible.

There's another quote, one we all cling to, one built into the myth of this country's fourth estate. Or at least, it is amongst the pantheon of liberal America. It's from Edward R Murrow. It's from a longer speech, which you can easily watch on your own. The line that sticks out to me, though is this:

We are not descended from fearful men.

It's a beautiful sentiment. It's also a fantasy. Of course we are. We are descended from Indian-killing, witch-burning, slave-driving, segregating, lynching men. We are also descended from men that stood by the wayside for centuries while these things went on.

We are also descended from heroes. Great men and women of all shades, all genders, all religions, all sexualities. People like Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman. Clifford Clinton and Abraham Lincoln. Audy Murphy and Joshua Chamberlain. Harvey Milk and Mary Harris Jones. There are victims, as well. Names and places and people that are too numerous to name. They do not deserve to be lumped in with the stains that cover our history. But the fearful men's blood is in our own. It's alive tonight. It's speaking to us.

Elections have always been carnivals of horrors. They rarely seem to be civil, they only ever seem to be less terrible. The past two elections were rather tame compared to 2004. Especially when compared to 2000. The fearful men were at work there, as well. It's always been this way. From LBJ back to Andrew Jackson. Fear and loathing is an intrinsic part of the American process.

Which is why the American experiment is so expectional. It is that despite the worst of the worst being allowed to live amongst us and occasionally rule over us, we prosper. What makes America exceptional is that despite

Donald Trump is not strong enough to break our Union. Neither is his lapdog Mike Pence. Nor are the cowards in congress or the criminals advising him. He does not get to do that. They do not get to do that. Neither do his supporters. To us liberals it might seem like the United States has been turned upside down. It hasn't. It's doing what it is always doing. It is carrying on. It is continuing an ugly, uneven legacy. Despite that, it will work.

Tomorrow the sun will rise. We will know the kind of men that live among us. And then we get to work.

We donate. We volunteer. We march. We picket. We demonstrate. We become allies. We vote. We fight. We act like decent human beings. We tell ourselves that we might be descended from fearful men, but we do not have to be.

Because this is America, damnit.

That means something.

It is up to us to determine what that means.

18 October, 2016

Stomping His Way Back Into Your Heart

It's nice to see that Godzilla is back. Besides the 2014 Legendary Pictures version of Godzilla (which apparently exists in the same universe as their new King Kong movie, because shared universes is what films have been missing these past one-hundred years. . .), we have a new Godzilla from Toho Studios in the form of Shin Godzilla. It's about damn time. In this world stacked to the brim with dystopian fiction and escapist superhero movies, it's nice to see the grandfather of all anxiety pictures back.

It's also nice to see Godzilla back to his original form: A mix of existentially terrifying and sublimely ridiculous.

Shin Godzilla plays out as a healthy mix of Dr. Strangelove and United 93 if they were both about an atomic war-god raised from the sea. It's as much a political satire as it is a drama of procedure. . .It's also about a giant lizard fucking shit up. These three themes bounce back and forth off of each other, making big laughs in dramatic scenes and ratcheting up tension in what amounts to an impenetrable board meeting.

But also, man are those board room scenes good.

Shin Godzilla is a lot of fun and you get the sense that the people making it had a lot of fun as well, which is how it should be, because why should being involved with Godzilla ever be boring? It should be joyful, damnit.

One of the ways that the film manages to have fun, but also convey the byzantine inanity of the Japanese government is with the amount of super-imposed job titles it throws at you. Every character in the film is introduced (in very large typography), who they are and why they are there. This happens again and again and, considering that they're on screen at the same time as the subtitles, it's a decision that is clearly meant to baffle more than it is meant to elucidate. This distinct sense of confusion adds to the drama, as we have about as much idea about who these people are as they have about what Godzilla is (we, of course, know exactly what Godzilla is). Fighting Godzillas, as it turns out, is a confusing and terrifying existence.

What's more interesting is that the film feels like a live action anime (which makes sense considering Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi made their name working on Neon Genesis Evangelion). It's a film cut through with rapid insert shots that energize its scenes and B-roll that give it a sense of place, which comes in handy when those places start blowing up and catching fire. 

Yes, it has scenes where tanks impotently fire at Godzilla for 10 minutes
It even seems to use the same font as Neon Genesis Evangelion. Say what you want about that series, it had a bomb-ass font.

Shin Godzilla is a film that manages to be funny in the way that you want a kaiju film to be, but doesn't ever tip over into camp. While a lot of fun is had at the expense of old Japanese politicians shouting "Way to go, USA!" as American B2 bombers flatten entire sections of Tokyo, you still actually manage to care about the action going on on screen. You want people to get out okay. You want Godzilla to be destroyed. You want your POV characters to do the right thing. And in all that you also get a lot of good laughs at the expense of everything but the film itself.

It's a complex move to pull off and a lot of Godzilla movies don't pull that off. Even as a fan, a lot of Godzilla and kaiju movies are movies you laugh at. They're schlocky, silly B-movies that seem to have been primarily built with psychotropic users in mind. They're rarely ever good films. What makes Shin Godzilla stand out, though, is that you can watch it and laugh at how ridiculous this situation is without actually laughing at the film. Instead, you feel for these characters and this world and you want to see more of it, because nobody should have to live through anything as surreal as a Godzilla attack-- Nor should they have to suffer through a Japanese ministerial meeting. It's a testament to the film's direction that it can play both of these cards at the same time. I mean, that's what movies are supposed to be, right?

I mean, as much as I love War of the Gargantuas, sometimes I want to watch a good movie about giant monsters fucking shit up. I'm sure everyone can agree with me on this one.

Ultimately, if Shin Godzilla is about anything, it's about grace under pressure and not buckling to perceived wisdom. It's an argument against doing the easy or the obvious thing. It's about how heroics is less about who hits the hardest or the fastest and more about who has the resolve to stick around and make the hard decisions. It's a pragmatic lesson that I would cast as being a very Japanese solution if I didn't think that we could use more of that in America right now. . .

Speaking to my friend (who lives in Japan), it's become clear to me that there's a much more literal connection of Godzilla to the real world. Namely, Shin Godzilla is a satire write large of the Japanese government's reaction to the Fukushima Meltdown. While that seems obvious in hindsight, it is a testament of the quality of the film that you don't need to know the specifics to get something out of the picture. Like the original Godzilla, there is something strangely universal about seeing a giant lizard blow up Tokyo.



James Kislingbury is a writer, podcaster, and giant monster enthusiast. You can listen to his movie podcast here. You can listen to his "news" podcast here. He's still looking for a working Marklin Rifle. Anyways, enjoy.

07 October, 2016

BLADERUNNER 2049 NEWS

Is that. . . Is that a new Blade Runner gun on the left? Next to the M2019 PKD Detective Special?



YOU TELL ME

25 September, 2016

Maybe this isn't the best time, but. . .

I was just thinking: My birthday is coming up.



And this can be yours for the low, low price of 447 Confederate dollars (plus Lincoln's cut).

Just putting that out there. . .

05 July, 2016

Science Fiction That Doesn't Involve the Predator!

I'm sure I've said this before, but, considering the amount that I drink and how rarely I write on this blog, maybe it needs restating-- We're living in a goddamn golden age of science fiction. I mean, that can be said of media, in general (with the possible exception of movies, which seem to be stuck in Saturday morning cartoon mode, but anyways. . .), but it can be said especially of science fiction comic books.

Between Low, East of West, Wild's End, and Prophet, the past few years have been very good for nerds like me. Foremost amongst those comic books though, is the Fionna Staples and Brian K. Vaughn vehicle Saga.

Just read that book. Go. Do it now if you haven't already. I mean, unless you're a kid, in which case, you should not be reading this comic. Or this blog. Go play Minecraft. What are you doing? Get out of here.

Man, Saga is really, really good.

Saga works because it seems to be having fun with the world that it has built. It's got magic, wooden space ships, and seal boys with giant axes. It's a silliness that also gives the book gravitas when it shifts gears into darker, uglier subjects. It's a back and forth that never feels out of place and never throws the reader off balance. It is a silly world where terrible things happen and despite the smart-ass liar cats, it's a world that reads as true.

What it doesn't take for granted or play around with is how seriously it takes its characters. There is a real care taken to how the characters interact with each other and how they sound and how they read. The same can be said of the art. Staples and Vaughn are knocking this book out of the park with every issue that they complete.

That is not to say that Saga is not an intensely silly book. Because it is. It's very silly. It's about kids and has an immense amount of sex in it. I could not think of two things more diametrically opposed that can bring the same amount of levity. Because, man, kids are pretty dumb and adults are even dumber.

Saga has a life to it that few other comics of any genre have, and I cannot wait until Volume 7 comes out in trade paperback. At the very least, it'll help me get through another miserable family holiday.

James Kislingbury is a writer and a podcast. You can read him on this dumb blog and you can listen to him here.

23 June, 2016

Some Nice Reactionary Nonsense.

The fate of the Western world is scary and weird right now. It used to be kind of simple.

You had your rich people and you had your racists scared of how brown people were going to get over here and somehow fuck us out of everything. That was shitty, but it made sense in a kind of regressive, real politik sort of way. It made sense in the way a caveman would react if you gave him some real shiny rocks. There was a logic to it. Shitty, but rational.

Now, though? Now? Now, it's those same racists and shit heels worrying about foreigners, but instead of looking to do the same old shit like bomb them or whatever, these old fucks are standing on top of their towers begging these people to kill them. It's like, somehow their own lives because so terrible and bereft of meaning that the only way out they see is to demand that these foreign folks FINALLY fulfill their duty and finally wipe them out, which is what they've been telling themselves all these years. Suicide by foreigner.

Let's finally do it. Take out the whole country, the fuck do they care? They don't even have the balls to do it themselves. So they foment division and fear and all the rest of the standard playbook crap that goes back to when we was all in caves. Because the people in charge, however vague of an idea as that is, do not care. The mob wants somebody to finally break it apart and put it out of its misery. You lot seem like a good choice.

They can try to finagle their way into an assisted suicide all they want, but it's the people below them that get crushed and, let's not forget, the people they were afraid of all these years aren't the fiends they thought they were. They won't do that kind of dirty work. Because, you know, they're not all fucking assholes like some people.

I'm bummed out about the UK (more specifically: England). I'm bummed out about America. I'm bummed out about huge chunks of Europe that see their worst fears in the shadows.

Remember, we are not descended from fearful men. But we are. We're scared shitless. Top to bottom. Never forget that. You can love your neighbor as much as you want, but it's a scary world out there. People will try to shake you out of it. They'll try real hard. Because these people want desperately for some big brown fella to crush their head in with a rock. Because that's easier than dealing with reality. Which is fucking hard.

What was I saying? Oh. I don't know. Congrats to the shit heads. Congrats to the fascists. Congrats to the far right. Congrats to the Nazis. Congrats to the poor people about to get fucked by Boris and Farage and their ilk. Congrats to a newly independent Scotland, because I'm sure this was how they wanted this to shake out. Congrats to the expats who now get to think about if they get to move back or not. Congrats to lizard-fuckers like David Cameron. Congrats to the EU and the flaming pile of dog shit that just go mailed overnight to Brussels. Congrats to the Kremlin, which benefits from a divided Europe. Congrats to the shit heads and the people having shit poured on their heads. Don't worry, America is coming to meet you guys there soon.

But what do I know. I'm drinking and "Fairytale of New York" just came on, so who can say, really?

12 June, 2016

A Matter of Life and Death Part 2

PREDATOR: LIFE AND DEATH #1-4
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Brian Albert Thies
Coloring by Rain Beredo

It's fine. Predator: Life and Death is fine. Perfectly fine. There's colonial marines. They fight and they bitch at each other as you would expect Colonial Marines to fight and bitch. Somebody screams “Get some” and unloads a magazine into the jungle. There's a corporate goon. There's a predator-- Predators, even. And it's all fine. It's a Predator story and it's fine.

Predator: Life and Death is another "multifranchise story cycle" from the minds at Dark Horse. Their previous attempt at weaving Predator, Aliens, Aliens Versus Predator, and Prometheus together into one big story involved different writers and different artists for every story. This time around, they just got the one writer.

Dan Abnett is a perfect choice. He's done space warfare with his Gaunt's Ghost series and he's done comic books (with Andy Lanning) in Guardians of the Galaxy (you might know them from the only Guardians of the Galaxy comic story than anyone has ever ready).

Unfortunately, like much of the line art and the coloring, Predator: Life and Death is a merely adequate experience. At best, it hits the beats that it needs to, at worst it just feels slightly off. It's a book that's better than it could have been, but still not as good as it should be.

At least it's not good enough to get me to forget about how the last time this went down, half of these stories were garbage.

There's one thing about these books, one thing that almost always bugs me, which is that the art doesn't feel right. It doesn't have the grit or the feel of the movies (or even my memory of the novel adaptations-- shout out to SD Perry). The work of Brian Albert Thies is no exception. His work feels unfocused, making it look less like an Impressionist's vision of Predator and more like sloppy art. I suppose there's an argument for both of those art styles. It isn't like adhering to the world's previous creators is going to do anyone any favors.

The colors from Rain Beredo don't help either. The page are colorful in a way that a limited edition bag of Skittles are colorful. It's a semi-pastel wash that doesn't seem to match either the art from Thies or the story from Abnett. In some cases the coloring from Beredo seems to be doing a lot of the heavy lifting (and not very well). The two sides of the art seem to be telling a different story, and neither of those seem to agree with what kind of story they're telling. It isn't bad. There aren't any mistakes that are irredeemable, but they're mistakes that keep the book from being better than a competent licensed comic. That's a bummer, considering the potential that even something as silly as Predator (see: Predator: Fire and Stone).

Then again, I suppose Thies deserves some credit as far as the design of the world goes. He's got some chops as a mechanical draftsman, which sounds like it isn't much, but, seriously, you go out there and try drawing machinery that looks like it actually works. It's really hard. He also manages to embed references to the original 1990 AvP comic which is a nice, if superfluous touch.

But, of course, the most important touch is this:


Thies put the Cracked Tusk Predator from the Kenner AvP action figure line into the comic. There's two reasons for this: 1) He's lazy and used the figure (or the Neca update) as a physical reference or 2) Either him or Abnett did such a deep lore dive that they figured it would be cool for the superfans to see a twenty year old toy in their silly little comic book.

Well, I noticed, and I love it.

It's little things like that that this book needed more of. More weird stuff. More easter eggs. More joie de vivre. As it stands, it's a very nice book, I just see myself having any real future with it.

. . . That was weird. Don't know where that came from. . .

Anyways, like I said, all in all Predator: Life and Death #1-4 is fine. And as fine as it is and as glad as I am that anyone can get comic books made, I can't help but feel that this isn't the best project for Abnett's talents as a military sci-fi writer and that Thies could use a few more years in the oven before he's allowed to handle something as kinetic as this book. And Beredo? He'll be fine. Jordie Bellaire and Dave Stewart can only color so many books, right?

MONSTER OF THE MONTH/MONTHS/WHATEVER: There is none. It's just the predator. Unless you consider Man to be the ultimate monster. Which I don't. Because that sucks. I suppose a straight Predator story, if well executed, doesn't need a gimmick monster to make it worth reading. Predator: Life and Death is not in need of a silly monster. It's fine as it is. It'd just be nice, you know? It would be nice if there was something more to this story than what there currently is.

I give Predator: Life and Death THREE CHESTBURSTERS OUT OF FIVE. It's a likable, well put together action story, if entirely by the numbers.

ONE QUICK NOTE-- This is not the only Dan Abnett story on the shelves right now. Over the past five years or so Dan Abnett and his artist partner INJ Culbard have been quietly making some of the coolest science fiction books out there (The New Deadwardians and Dark Ages) and Wild's End is a continuation of that run.

Wild's End is-- and I want you to stick with me on this until I'm done saying what I've got to say-- is a retelling of War of the Worlds in the world of The Wind and the Willows. It's an alien invasion with anthropomorphic animals.

It's a conceit that allows for Culbard to do some pitch perfect cartooning and for Abnett's handle on the English vernacular to be that much more charming. It's a well written, beautifully illustrated book that I simply adore. I would highly recommend it to anyone. I also feel like after the amount of shit I just talked, I should say something nice about something. Well, there it is. Buy Wild's End.

IN OTHER NEWS: This series doesn't stop here. I will be covering Dark Horse's "Life and Death" story cycle for as long as it's going. That also means that I have an excuse to talk about other Aliens, Predator, and AvP comics because, boy howdy, have I been making some dumb decisions on eBay lately.

If that sounds appealing to you at all, then stand by. If that doesn't sound appealing to you, please send help.

Aliens: Defiance #1 and #2 are out as we speak (and are not part of the "Life and Death" cycle as I had assumed they were) and, just last week Prometheus: Life and Death #1 has come out as well. I'm working on those reviews as we speak.

More on the way, in the meantime, you can check out my previous run of reviews by searching for “James Versus Fire and Stone."

As far as other parts of this series (which includes Archie Versus Predator and Aliens/Vampirella), you can go here.

See you soon.

09 June, 2016

Abandon Hope All Ye Etc Etc Etc

A review of The Wailing (2016)
Directed by Na Hong Jin

The Wailing is a film that, from the outset, purports to be a mysterious film, mystical, even. While there's many questions and concepts the film raises and just as easy moves past, there's one question that bothers me the most. Is The Wailing a dumb film that thinks its smart or a film that's just dumb?

The Wailing: It's like The Exorcist, but shit.
 We might never know. Nor should we. There are some things man isn't meant to know. That might be one of the themes of The Wailing, but you shouldn't spend any amount of time trying to find out if that's true or not. The only thing people should do to The Wailing is to encase it in concrete and drop it into the bottom of a very deep lake.

The main cop is kind of chubby. That's fun.
The Wailing comes from Na Hong Jin, he of The Chaser, one of the more contentious films amongst my friends and I (they love it and I'm right). As troubling as that film is, there was a talent on display. Hearing about The Wailing, I wanted to see what he could do with some more years under his belt, and with a different genre.

This is what I get for being curious.

The Wailing is part ghost story, part possession story, part detective story, and part family drama. It's as much True Detective as it is The Excorcist as it is The Host. And, brother, does it show. In The Wailing's ass-grindingly long seventeen hours (IMBD says “Two hours, thirty six minutes,” but that can't be right), it bounces confidently from one genre to another, from one theme to another. At first it's fun to watch the movie slowly work its way towards the main plot. It's a mystery film and it does a good job of being mysterious. It doesn't show its cards right away and that works right up until you realize that it isn't taking the scenic route, it's just meandering. At no point is either the set up, the execution, or follow through anything less than a waste of time. Exciting sometimes, but, by the end, The Wailing's drama is one massive, ghosty wank.

God, I'm angry at this fucking movie.

Part of this is because the few twists that the film has neither work nor are they actual twists. The film's central premise is wrapped around a mysterious Japanese man that has shown up in this rural mountain village. Ever since he showed up, one of the movie's more gullible charcters says, there's been trouble around town.

The film's main character, like you, knows that this is ridiculous. People don't just show up to town and cause trouble. Especially not foreigners. Plus, it's 2016, you can't just throw a mysterious foreigner into your film and expect us to be afraid of him because it's A) Hackneyed and B) Racist. It would be like a Mexican showing up to an American movies and everyone going “There's something wrong with that greaser up there.”

(Oh, and everyone calls the Japanese man the “Jap,” which, like, I get. These aren't hyper-liberal city folk. Maybe they don't use all the right nomenclature. This isn't tumblr, this is the real world and sometimes that's okay. I'm not so much offended by any of it as I am confused. Am I meant to sympathize with these people despite their xenophobia? Or empathize with it? Am I meant to feel sorry for their ignorance? Is there just a level of Korean mountain patois that I'm missing? If the movie is only two and a half hours long, how come when I look in the mirror, I see the face of a seventy year old man?)

Anyways, if an American movie busted that out, you'd go either “Fuck you, movie” or “Fuck you, guy.” I'm not sure where I'm supposed to stand with The Wailing, which goes back to the degree of stupidity that the movie is guilty of. There are very few sane readings of a plot point like that and I don't think The Wailing accounted for any of them.

As the film unravels, it's supposed to be a revelation that this semi-racist stereotype is, SHOCKER, actually not a bad person. Unless of course. . . HE IS! And then you realiz that you don't care and that none of it makes sense. The film wants to play the premise of demonic possession and ghosts and all that in a straight manner (I must confess, Korean mysticism is not one of the areas of my expertise),

It's like watching a really confident lumberjack run along one of those logs in the water. For a while it's fun to see him play this game, to keep ahead of the log, to keep his balance, then, eventually, the momentum catches up with him and he eats shit and falls into the water. Except he keeps pumping his legs. And he's telling you that this is important, that this is really what lumberjacking is all about. And it takes three hours. And you hate yourself at the end. And lumberjacks. And life.

Fuck lumberjacks.

Fuck The Wailing.

Fuck me.

What movies was this dude in?
Wait, don't tell me, I'll get this.
Like a lot of truly hateable films, The Wailing isn't just plain bad. There's a kind of charm to shabby films. Your indy comedies, your Z-grade monster movies, your exploitation films. Those can be fun. And The Wailing, up until its ludicrous fifth act has some laughs in it, as well. It's also well shot and beautifully set dressed. You won't find a better looking movie that takes place in the Korean countryside this year. Or maybe any year.

Did I mention that I hate this movie?

I guess that zombie attack was cool. I mean, it was nonsense, but. . . No, wait. Why was that even in that fucking movie? 

Alright.

Something nice: The girl that plays Gyo-Jin does an A+ of playing both a percocious daughter that has a dumbass for a dad and a ravenous demon that has a dumbass for a dad. I'd like to see her in a good movie. Also, I can't find her name on IMDB. MY BAD, OKAY?

That script, though. Boy howdy that mother fucking script.

That fucking script.

Jesus Christ, do I hate this mother fucking movie.

Ugh. And the ending. I don't even hate the ending because it's a downer. DOWNERS ARE FINE! The Exorcist is a movie that this film owes and awful lot to and it has a bummer ending and I love that movie. I also love The Host which has a both a bummer ending and an ending that makes very little sense, but I LIKE that movie because it's fun! It does stuff! What does The Wailing do? It makes your a series of promises and then, over the course of the rest of your life, breaks them one by one until you look back on them and have one fatal, terrible realization. It's too late. The Wailing already has you in its grips and it is never letting go.

The Wailing is the Devil.

18 May, 2016

A Matter of Life and Death #0

They don't tell you this when you get into it, but self-flagellation is exhausting work. As cathartic as my run on the Aliens/Predator/Prometheus rat-king clusterfuck that was “Fire and Stone,” it was not something I could revisit. At least not immediately. Or willfully. I said my piece. I prayed for death and it would not come.

My heart would not stop beating and Aliens/Predator comics would not stop coming out. I realize that self-flagellation is not a hobby, but a calling. A vocation, even. The comics call to me and, no matter how far away from them I get, I will come running back.

What I'm saying, is that I have housekeeping to do.

First, I missed the release of an Aliens comic and a Predator comic. Not that I didn't read them. I just didn't review them. I am going to remedy this as best as I can right here and now.

Secondly, my cries of ceasing this madness have once again fallen on deaf ears and Dark Horse has begun releasing another pair of Aliens and Predator comics. They've actually been quite good, so far. One more so than the other. I will get to them in future installments.

Actually, there's three things: Belated happy Aliens Day. Now buy methis vinyl soundtrack.

LET'S ROCK

ALIENS/VAMPIRELLA #1-3

The first two comics that I have to clear out are Aliens/Vampirella (which I thought was named "Aliens Versus Vampirella," which is an infinitely better name than what they ended up with).

Full disclosure: I didn't read the entirety of Aliens/Vampirella. I'd be a liar if I said that I wish I had. I read three issues and even I, in the depths of my self-hatred and nostalgia tinged madness thought "I think I've had enough of this."

This keeps me from outright calling it trash. Maybe it snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. Maybe you'll be the first female king of the Iron Islands. Maybe a dog can play basketball. Who knows. What little I did read did not leave me with much confidence for the rest of the book. Rest assured, though, I plan to thoroughly punish myself in full when this comes out in trade.

So, you know, fuck me.

Aliens/Vampirella is a kind of needless, low-trash/high concept that is what comic books should be. Get weird with it. Get crazy. Make a dumb decision, but do it well. Part of me feels that somebody came up with the title and that was the most work anybody did on this. Or somebody at legal realized that the license to this book was going to expire next month and that they gotta move, move, move or IDW is going to eat their lunch. Mixing vampire bikini babes and the kitchen sink funk of Alien should have been a slam dunk. At last it seems like it would.

There is a movement online about how artists should receive more credit for their work in comic book reviews. Jordie Bellaire and Declan Shalvey are the most prominent people heading this opinion, and I am in agreement with them. The artist is as critical to the work, if not more, than the writer, and too often we cast them aside as supporting players in their own work.

It is with that in mind that I tell you that Javier Garcia-Miranda's art is very much not good. Well. That's mean. Maybe he gets better. I don't know. Looking at some of his line art seperate from the comic, he seems to be great at details, but fails when it comes to drawing dimensions. From what I have seen, his work is stiff and sloppy. Inklight Studio's coloring doesn't help, either. The best that I can say about it is that it is extant.

Gabriel Hardman's covers are pretty good. Unfortunately, that brings me to my next point: Corrina Bechko wrote this comic. Possibly under duress. But she wrote this damn thing. The work her and Gabe did on their Planet of the Apes run are some of my favorite comics, licensed or otherwise, in the past five years. She's done good work. She continues to do good work. Aliens/Vampirella is not good work. It's the most basic slot A/tab B schlock that I've read in a long time, which is amazing because Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes had an ape prison and that was awesome. That ape had an eyepatch, man. That was cool.

Alien Meets Vampirella should be a horror convetion punch out. It should be a drunken scrum at a bar in blade. It should be crazy! It should be fun! It should not be what it actually is, which is dull! This is made worse by the fact that I have read awesome-- repeat: AWESOME-- comics from Corrino Bechko. This is not one of them. That's a bummer.

Go read Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes instead. That book is great.

And then again, maybe it picks up after issue three. I'll let you know. So far it has all the joie de vivre of a bus ride to your grandman's funeral. At least it wasn't AvP: Fire and Stone.

BEST MONSTER: I only ever saw your standard gauge xenomorph. Hardly worth writing home about. 

I give the three issues of Aliens Versus Vampirella TWO FACE HUGGERS OUT OF FIVE. Ugh. God. Off to buy the trade, because fuck me, right?

Oh, and Exile of the Planet of the Apes was solid as hell, too. Not quite the same without Gabriel Hardman's art, but that's okay. Nobody's perfect.

ARCHIE VERSUS PREDATOR #1-4
I'm telling you. This book.

Archie Vs. Predator came out of left field. When it was announced, I thought it was a joke. I thought it was another half-assed mash-up premise, drummed up by the lowest of marketing goons to fool idiots (like me) into buying books.

I was wrong. I was so wrong.

A younger, less worldly, less tolerant James Kislingbury would call it a book that was “better than it has any right to be.” That's foolishness. Over the past few years (or, now that I think about it, decade) Archie Comics, as a company, is pumping out some fine books. From regular Archie to Afterlife with Archie to Jughead, Archie Comics is cranking out some solid books with solid talent. They're out there doing weird stuff and taking risks, and more than that, they're delivering.

Archie Vs. Predator should not have been a surprise. It, in so many words, is incredible. I realized about half of the way through reading this book that, the reason it worked wasn't because it was goofing on Archie (which is easy) or the Predator (which is deserved). What makes it work is that Archie, as a comic book and as a cast of characters, are as rock solid as anything Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, or anyone else is putting out.

This book.
There's a reason people are still out there writing Seinfeld scripts. It's because when you end up with a strong cast of characters, you can basically set them in any situation and an interesting story will unfold. As unfamiliar as I am with the bulk of the Archie universe, it's clear to me that this is the case with these characters. As silly as the premise might be, the characters hold up, and as an audience we're willing to go along with it, because we care about these people and we want to see where the artist and the writer go with it.

This also made me realize what so many of the Aliens and Predator comic books are missing, which is something to latch onto. It's not enough to just throw a monster at the audience. You have to have stakes and you have to give the audience something to hold the entire endeavor together. Predator or not, what makes this book work is the Riverdale gang.

Lastly, the book has no qualms about brutally murdering its beloved cast of characters. Jughead, Sabrina, that one jock guy, the black chick, the gay dude. All of them. Dead. Wasted. It's not a spoiler. It's just awesome. As you move through Archie Vs. Predator, you start to wonder how they got away with this and by the time you finish it, you're left wondering how they did it. We don't deserve a book as good as Archie Vs. Predator. I know I don't. And the Predator certainly doesn't. . .
I'm telling you!

ELLEN RIPLEY PRIZE FOR DISTINGUISHED MONSTER: I'd say what it was, but it's literally the final sting in the story. It's. . . Man. It's really good. It's the last panel and it is so worth it.

It should come as no surprise that Archie Vs. Predator receives the ever elusive FIVE OUT OF FIVE FACEHUGGERS.

So, good for Alex di Campi, Fernando Ruiz, and Rich Koslowski. You people done did it. Ya nailed it. Now run. Run as far and as fast as you can from this franchise. Hide. It will never be as good as what you did here. SAVE YOURSELF.

NEXT TIME ON JAMES AND LIFE AND DEATH:

Currently there are two series out, each under the "Life and Death" banner. This time around Dark Horse wisely decided to keep the books unconnected (so far, anyways). And, so far, the results have been fairly successful. For the first time in a while, my excitement for these books persists after I've read them.

The two books are Predator: Life and Death by Dan Abnett, Brian Albert Thies, and Rain Beredo. Three issues of it have been released so far. The final issue is due out June 1st. I'll have a review of the first three issues out soon.

The next book is Aliens: Defiance (which, in my mind makes it Aliens: Defiance: Life and Death) by Brian Wood, Tristan Jones, and Dan Jackson. Only one issue has been released so far (as well as a short story available in Dark Horse's release for Free Comic Book Day). I'll have a review of that up soon, as well, but I'll leave you with this: The first issue blew my doors off in a way that I didn't think a licensed book still could. Check it out. I'll meet you back here in a week or two.

2016 might actually be a good year for xenomorph nerds like me. We don't deserve it, but hey, stick around long enough, anything can happen, right?


James Kislingbury is a writer and a podcaster. You can buy the book he worked on with his dad here. You can donate to his podcasting endeavors here. You can contact him at penguin dot incarnate at the gmail dot com. And, yes, he is aware that his email address sucks. I'm also willing to forgive Corrina Bechko if she pens a really good Aliens on the Planet of the Apes story.

08 March, 2016

EL ABRAZO DE LA SERPIENTE

A Review of Embrace of the Serpent (2015)
by James Kislingbury

At this point Aguirre: The Wrath of God is probably hard baked into my soul. Like a lot of movies that I watched at a certain time and like a lot of other movies that I watched when I thought I was writing real important screenplays, it's always there.So, any time you say that there's a foreign language film about Amazonian madness, I'm there. It's that memory that pointed me towards Embrace of the Serpent. That and the knowledge that I hadn't seen a real art house movie in the theaters since. . . God only knows. I needed to see something weird. I needed to see something that reminded me of how I felt about Aguirre, even if it was superficial reasons.

As far as metaphysically harrowing and art house films go, Embrace of the Serpent is exactly what I needed.

Embrace of the Serpent doesn't feel like a lot of films that I've ever seen. Or, well, any really. And I've seen some weird crap in my time. First of all, it's a film shot in 2015 that's in black and white. Typically that comes off as an art house pretension or a statement of some sort. Here is feels integral to the story. This world simply is black and white, and, of course, since it's a movie that deals with dreams, psychosis, and the metaphysical, shooting it in black and white leads naturally to a certain kind of punch line.

Beyond how it looks, its cadence is odd. Its structure, while split like a lot of Western film, it doesn't feel a though its splitting up these stories according to traditional editing rules. It splits its time between a story in 1909 and sometime in the 1940s,with each story sharing setting and the shaman Karamakate. Instead of moving back and forth at a rapid pace, its a film that is willing to let long strings of scenes play out their course until we are brought back to the past (or forward into the future. . . which is also the past) and the cycle begins again.

I dare say, it feels like a South American film. Whatever that might mean. It reminds me of taking my Latin film class in college. Or at least it reminds me of what I remember of that class. Of how I was told that not everyone tells films like Hollywood wants them to be told.

Most of the film is from the perspective of South America's indigenous people. While I'm no expert on that subject (nor do I have the energy to pretend to be), it's interesting to see a movie that emphasizes the South Americans over the Spanish or the Portugese or any other European.That means something. That alone might be why it feels so unusual to me. Yeah, there are two white people and, yeah, they are our ticket into this world, but they're, well, assholes. They're interlopers from the outset and the only concrete takeaway from this movie is that white people, when given the opportunity, will always make things worse. It's a movie about a people that need to be educated and, for once, that group of people isn't the natives.

I don't know. Sorry. It's a movie that seems unadorned in any meaningful way. It isn't precious or showy and yet there is clearly something deeper beneath this film. It's trying to tell a story that reflects its geography and its own history rather than the history of film or the history of, well, Western colonialism. In that way my comparison (and anyone's comparison) with Aguirre is idiotic. It isn't a movie that uses the Amazon as a setting, it's a movie that is about the Amazon by people from South America.

Or maybe, without overextending myself, it feels like a film by Ciro Guerra.


At a length of 125 minutes, Embrace of the Serpent certainly takes its time. I can't say that I wasn't wondering when it was coming to and end. I suppose part of that is down to the fact that it didn't seem to be leading to any sort of traditional climax. It was about a mystic teaching two sick men how to see the world, which isn't exactly your normal heroes journey. That's part of the appeal of the film, though. It takes its time and, while you might be confused or antsy, the film doesn't ever seem to lose its way. In those moments, it still manages to be fascinating. It still manages to fill those still moments with meaning and dread.

It sometimes feels good to break away from traditionally structured films. As much fun as Deadpool might be or as well made as The Witch is supposed to be or as reliable as the Coen Brothers might be with Hail, Caesar, movies like The Embrace of the Serpent have their place, as well. It isn't so much odd as it is unique. It's a film that has a specific purpose and perspective. It's the kind of film that makes people fall in love with film. It's an affecting, insane journey that's better than any other "psychadelic" film that I've seen in a long time. It's beautiful, terrifying, well thought out, and has a half hour jag into an insane Amazonian cargo cult. What the hell else do you show up to movies for?

James Kislingbury is a writer. He has a movie podcast called A Quality Interruption. He worked on a saloon book with his dad called American Saloons, Bars, and Cigar Stores.