Tuesday, March 29, 2011

High Noon

High Noon is not your typical Western. Gunfights are kept to a minimum. Vigilantes and vagabonds, while certainly present, do not dominate the film. There are no robberies, no chases on horseback. In fact, a shot isn't fired for 90% of the movie. So what is High Noon then?

The Hardest Road

High Noon is about holding to what you believe and know is right, no matter what other people may tell you. More than just about any other movie, High Noon illustrates how difficult it is to follow the path that you believe is true and moral. It follows the character of Will Kane, a recently retired marshal of a typical dusty old western town. Just married, Kane is informed as he is about to leave that one of the men that he put away has been released and is taking a train back to town to exact vengeance upon him. Though encouraged to leave, to enjoy his marriage, and to put this problem behind him, Kane recognizes that the right thing to do is to stay and defend the town once again.

However, this is nowhere near as easy as it may seem. It swiftly becomes clear that not everyone wants to back him on this. His wife struggles to convince him to forget about it because it is no longer his problem. His former deputy wants to hold the position of marshal himself and is jealous that Kane has returned, even though it is to do the right thing. As for the townspeople, they run the gamut of opinions on the matter. Some are cynical and believe that one can never successfully fight crime, making the whole effort to face the outlaw and his men pointless and suicidal. Some are pragmatic and suggest that, if Kane left, that there would be no confrontation and that town life would go on peacefully. Others are optimistic and determined to help, but hesitate when it becomes clear that nobody else is going to back Kane. Thus Kane's belief that he must face up to the outlaws is challenged at every turn. He is faced with the choice: when nobody else will help, do I give in or do I stand up for what I believe in, no matter the cost.

Reading Between the Lines

Aside from the gripping tale of one man trying to hold true to what he believes in, High Noon also has a history of controversy and argument over what the movie means on a metafictional basis. I, myself, first saw this movie in my senior thesis class years ago; my professor explained to the class how the differing attitudes and perspectives of the townsfolk were comparable to the different attitudes of appeasement that faced men like Churchill (Will Kane) who sought to wake people up to the threat of Adolf Hitler (the outlaw) before World War II. Upon further investigation, I also found that the screenplay was written as an allegory of the failure of intellectuals to fight McCarthyism, the Red Scare that arose over Soviet Communism during the 1950s.

On top of this, people have independently come up with ideas that the events of the film are applicable to the events of the Cold War, the Korean War, the blacklisting of members of Hollywood during the 1950s, and much more. High Noon has been requested for viewing by American presidents more than any other film. These facts should speak to how powerful and intriguing the film is. Do not be turned off by its black and white, old school depiction. High Noon is well worth seeing.


If you can appreciate an older film with a pacing and depiction that is slower than what we are used to, then you should check this out. Even if you doubt your ability to stay interested, you should try it regardless. The film is only 85 minutes long.

Needless to say, I was very much impressed with High Noon. Figures like Will Kane help to give us something to aspire to. In his character we can see the difficulty and resolve it takes to do the right thing when all else seems lost. And everyone can empathize with that and take strength from it. But even aside from this observation, I would point out that the movie is brilliantly acted and the story very interesting. On all points, High Noon is a great one. And conveniently available on Netflix Watch Instantly.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Royal Assassin

Royal Assassin is the second book in the Farseer trilogy written by Robin Hobb. A continuation of the plot started in Assassin's Apprentice (which I reviewed a month or so ago), Royal Assassin further highlights the nasty war between the Red Ship raiders and the Six Duchies, the internal politicking and strife amongst successors to the throne, and a whole lot of crap about the main character and his ability to talk to animals that gets really annoying.

As this is my review of the second book of a trilogy, I will not hold back with spoilers. Be forewarned, in case you plan on reading this trilogy at some point.

Fitz = Emo Pansy

While this is not true for the entire novel, I would say that the one thing about this book that I hated the most was Fitz-Chivalry and his obsession with bitching and moaning over anything and everything to happen to him. Common sense is obviously not something that this kid grew up with, which is odd considering his surrogate father, Burrich, whose codename might as well be Burrich Badass, and his surrogate grandfather, Chade, who seems to be the physical embodiment of supremely awesome spy/assassins everywhere. Oh, and we can't forget Verity, who puts almost everyone to shame by being insanely committed to his kingdom when every other person around him doesn't seem to give a shit.

Long story short, I found that the supporting characters were the ones I loved the most in this book. I could excuse Fitz's whining back in the first book when he was a child, but in this book it just bugged me a lot how much time he spent complaining about things that seem extraordinarily easy to fix.

However, Fitz makes a turn toward being more interesting in the latter half/third of the novel when he finally seems to grow a spine and actually takes an active role in the events that surround him. I shivered with glee as he conspired with the Coastal duchies and agreed to take control of the kingdom until Verity's return. Sure, it didn't end well and he screwed that one up too, but it showed impressive backbone. In fact, much of his diplomatic shenanigans in trying to keep the kingdom intact/protect Verity and Kettricken reminded me of Varys from A Game of Thrones, which speaks to the complexity of the political situations that arose in this novel.

Impressive Depth amongst Supporting Characters

I can say definitively that Kettricken is currently my favorite character in the series. A noble princess of a foreign culture thrust into a harsh political situation where princes seek to take advantage of her... I was awestruck by her quiet nobility and absolute determination in the face of some of the nastiest political skulduggery I've ever seen. In Kettricken, Robin Hobb created a woman who you can't help but admire. I loved every scene that she featured in, and felt as heartbroken as her as Verity was unable to realize for the longest time how amazing she was. That depth of feeling is only brought about in me by very well-written characters, so it speaks to the quality of writing in this book that it was able to happen at all.

Molly and Patience also impressed me to this level. Robin Hobb clearly has a gift for writing women, which makes sense given that she is a woman herself. And, on top of this, she manages to make Verity into one of the more complex and interesting rulers that I've seen in fiction. I would say that her only failing with characters is that she can't seem to help but make villains truly villainous. Regal and his coterie are still complete assholes with no redeeming qualities, and that has not yet changed. Depth in villains could help make the story have even more resonance, but maybe I'll need to wait for the third book for that.


In the end, I did love this book. For a story as detailed as this one, it has continued to hold my interest. The only parts that I disliked (at first) were the scenes expanding on Fitz's use of the "Wit" power which allows him to bond with animals. I've never felt that the Wit is something that has truly fit in with the overall story, so whenever Fitz would go off to dick around with his wolf, I would get irritated and impatient for him to return to Buckkeep where the real action was happening. It was only when the wolf, Nighteyes, actually got involved in the action that I began to forgive and become more tolerant of this ("WE ARE PACK!"). By the end of the story, I was totally okay with Nighteyes, and I look forward to seeing more of him in the final book of the trilogy.

One thing that has been bugging me though is that I really hope that Robin Hobb explains Regal's motivations a bit more. He has to be a complete and total idiot to intentionally abandon the Coastal Duchies like he has without some yet unrevealed plan; it makes zero sense to do such a thing what with the enormous threat of the Red Ships out there. I'm hoping that Hobb goes into this in the next book. I'm hoping that there is some gambit that I'm unaware of here and I'm hoping that it isn't complete idiocy that is making Regal do the things he is doing. If it is idiocy and if he doesn't have some sort of hidden motivation to everything he has done thus far, then I'd be willing to point to him as being the worst villain ever. We'll see about this.

But, in the end, I would still highly recommend this trilogy to anyone interested by a tale of political intrigue and incredibly detailed characters all set within a fantasy setting. These books are fantastic and well worth checking out if you are.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dragon Age II

Written by Joe the Revelator

Like many new RPG’s, Dragon Age II sits atop a totem pole of DLC’s (downloadable content), expansions, and original content. From Dragon Age Origins to DAII, Bioware has kept up momentum the same way the Mass Effect and Fallout series have, which are more episodic than RPG predecessors who relied solely on peddling expansions every year until they lost support and petered out. DAII even goes so far as to reward players with items for downloading the demo, spewing in-game weapons at loyal followers like a piƱata full of knives.

As far as gameplay is concerned, Dragon Age II is sleeker, cleaner, and better executed than Origins. The skill trees have been arranged into brainstorming maps, bubbles with connective lines and descriptions, so you can see exactly what skills you’ll need to get the Deathblow move you saw in the teaser. And instead of buying several rows worth of useless skills just to upgrade pyromancer or duel-weapon, you upgrade only the skills you plan on keeping, by using mini-tabs in each tree. This keeps your skillbar uncluttered, and early-level skills can still be kept effective during the later levels.

The Cleanest Gutters You’ll Ever Sleep In

Aesthetically I find DAII to be more stylized, but also more sterile than the first game, without as much clutter, stains, or gray skies. Even the poorer districts look relatively clean, like the walls have been plastered with brown wallpaper. The brightness of the character’s eyes are a new distraction. Even the dull dwarf merchant and his lackwit son have developed a severe case of spice addiction, with piercing blue or steely gray eyes that follow you around the room, even if you walk away from the monitor.

The combat system looks incredible. We may have Force Unleashed to thank for the trend in throwing henchmen around the map like a squad of armed puppets. Playing a warrior with a sword the size of a canoe is still gratifying even after the hundredth time you turn a darkspawn into strawberry jam, exploding them against a wave of steel. Rogues actually move during a fight. They dive into people knife-first, duck around enemies, and tumble through the air as they disappear behind smoke bombs. Battle is simply more kinetic; less halting when you jam special attack buttons. Instead of running up against enemies and sticking on them like gum, you bowl through them. Even mages are more energetic; using karate Kata's to propel projectiles and spells from their staffs.

Why Can’t We Be Friends?

The best way to deal with companions is to ignore them completely, or pick a party and stick with it. Companions are infuriating to win friendship points, and picking sides during their arguments leads to huge rivalries. Some of the male companions don't seem to trust you unless you make sexual advances toward them, regardless of your gender, and conferring with one ally during a tough decision can cause others to pout. Dialogues shared between them while traveling are entertaining and sometimes downright cruel. I eventually changed my party after the guard captain in my group took to outright calling the pirate woman a whore. While funny, it was far from conducive to a good working relationship. Anders specifically is a pain in the ass. His hate for Templars is so great that vengeful spirits surface within him, filling him with murderous rage and power, at the mere thought of their holy order. This wouldn't be a problem if half your early quests weren't given by Templars.

With the defeat of the last blight came a wondrous innovation: breast augmentation.

When The Dragons Come Home To Roost:

Without the narrator (the storytelling dwarf) and his foreshadowing of great and terrible things, the struggle would feel too slight. In Origins you were saving the world, rallying rival nations to defeat the archdemon, and working to overthrow a tyrant. For the lion’s share of DAII you’re a refugee and a street-tough doing errands in the city, buying bigger mansions and status for your family. I could almost hear the ‘mission completed’ music from GTA whenever I turned in a quest.

Aside from a sprinkling of dragons and darkspawn, and the piles of codex entries insisting they’re from Ferelden, DAII could have been written as its own fantasy entity. It’s a fun game to play, and it sets a new standard for skillbar/skilltree combat. But it could have been called Thug Age or Codex Age.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order - 1964-1980

The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order is one of the more unusual history books that I've read in my time. The first of two giant volumes, the book follows the general history of the United States from 1964-1980. The strange part of this focus is how Ronald Reagan, the American president from 1980-1988, is only part of this sprawling epic as a sort of supporting actor who shows up now and again to remind you that he exists.

Reagan and the 1964-1980 Time Period

For a book that is supposed to be about Reagan, the author spends maybe 1/5th of the book actually talking about the man. Stephen Hayward explains that, without this knowledge of the events that came before, one can't truly understand and appreciate Reagan's two terms in office. As I have yet to start the second volume (I need a break!), I can't yet attest to the validity of this approach. But having just finished the first volume I can say that I still doubt that this was a good move. Fact of the matter is that Reagan, while having a modicum of influence every now and then during this time period, really did not matter much. And insisting on covering every event in the 16 years before his presidency came off as excessive and seemingly irrelevant. I found it akin to the idea of starting a book about World War II by reading a prequel volume about World War I. Certainly, the first war and the Treaty of Versailles caused the other, but can't we just summarize that instead of having to read 800+ pages to get to what you are really reading the books for?

However, for a book that is only occasionally about Reagan, I found it extremely engrossing. Stephen Hayward writes in a way that makes the book a page-turner, and that is exceedingly rare for a bulky historical door-stopper. He does an excellent job of pulling you into the crises of the times, from the riots of the Civil Rights era to the oil emergency during Carter's administration. On top of that, his grasp and explanation of the United States' foreign policy and the maneuverings of the Cold War is top notch; every move that the United States made during that time is assessed along with its effects on its allies and enemies. The only parts of the book which I found to be slower/less interesting were the sections where Hayward describes the various primaries and campaigns for President as they occurred. It was hard for me to get past all the painfully cutthroat and cynical politicking without getting very irritated; I often found myself wishing that these sections would end so that I could get to the more interesting domestic and world events and their effects on the United States.

Holy Bias Alert

But, more than anything, what made the book exciting, unbelievable, and jaw-dropping to read was the author's clear bias in favor of the Republican side of things. For the record, I've nothing against biases in biographies or histories; it is truly impossible to avoid getting attached to your subject, so to be unbiased is often the rarer occurrence. But damn... I don't think I've ever seen a bias like this.

It is difficult to explain, but essentially Hayward let his own impressions of events color the way they are presented in the book. At its worst, I was beginning to feel like I was reading an alternate history of America as presented in some sort of odd parallel universe. Some examples:

  • Hayward spends a paragraph or so about what made the Civil Rights Act a good thing, then spends at least thirty pages explaining how it was the worst thing to ever happen to America and how we are still trying to recover from it today.
  • Every single Democratic president he spends time on comes off as incompetent, opportunistic, vain, and often actively working against the interests of the United States. By contrast, Nixon and Ford come off as well-meaning and comparatively honorable and decent men. Considering that everything I've learned previous to this suggests that Nixon and Ford were both pretty awful presidents, I was understandably surprised.
  • He spends a paragraph on how the Three Mile Island incident was terrible, but then pages on how it really wasn't that bad and that we always blow it completely out of proportion.

Martin Luther King Jr. is depicted as vacillating and fairly unimportant. Lyndon Johnson in particular is portrayed as the worst president ever to hold the office (Carter being the second worst). I found this to be very odd, especially when, after a hundred or so pages of explaining how Lyndon Johnson's time as president was one awful, horrendous crisis after another, Hayward then explains that the U.S. economy was actually pretty good during LBJ's terms of office.

Lastly, I noticed that Hayward had a habit of focusing on the actions and influences of (almost always leftist) extremists in a fashion that made it seem like they were the main voice of the people when they were actually less than 5% of the public. Hayward points this out himself a couple times in the book and then goes on to seemingly write exclusively of what these extremists did in a way that makes it seem like they were the central catalyst of events, which is almost certainly incorrect. But this focus on the crazies and the crises helped to make the book an incredible page turner, so there's that at least.


All in all, I came pretty quickly to the conclusion that pretty much every part of the history in this book had to come with a grain of salt. It was certainly eye-opening and I'm sure that most of it is historically correct, but the fact that he would generally only present one side of things made it feel like I was being brainwashed at times. For example, I can't remember a single instance where he pointed out something good that LBJ had done, and he also never explained any beneficial motivations to the man; Hayward always would point out how the decision to intervene in Vietnam or create a government agency to fight poverty was a cynical and cold-hearted bid for votes. And I refuse to believe that. While that factor is always present in any decision the president makes, that is hardly the only system by which the president makes his choices.

Anyways, I did really enjoy reading this book as an entertaining, if painfully biased, history of the United States from 1964-1980. Reagan himself was always interesting when he showed up, but that was fairly rare until near the end of the book. I will be interested to see how Reagan is depicted during his years in office; up to this point, Hayward has portrayed Reagan as a golden, kindhearted crusader of the people and the embodiment of American optimism. It will be intriguing to see if Hayward will be levelheaded and fair in pointing out Reagan's mistakes when he was in office (Iran-Contra Affair, I'm looking at you!).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Once upon a time, there was a man named Richard Nixon. He became president of the United States, did some good things, did some bad, and is now entirely synonymous with the word "Watergate". The Watergate scandal is what sunk his presidency, an event where he abused the powers of his office in order to try and cover up investigation into his wiretapping of political opponents. In essence, he decided that, as president, he did not need to operate within the law, and it was this belief which ended his presidency.

Frost/Nixon takes place right after Nixon has left office, with the United States still clamoring for some admission of guilt or an apology. The main focus of the movie is on the interviews that led to this apology, as well as an analysis of the men involved. The spotlight particularly shines on David Frost, the glitzy British talk-show host who serves as interviewer, and Richard Nixon, the man who was once president and is now the interviewee.

The Enigma of Richard Nixon

What this movie did especially well, I thought, was to capture the peculiar character of Richard Nixon. Here is a man who is spectacularly intelligent. Though he is generally frowned upon now, his presidency was not without accomplishments. It is arguable that, without Nixon, Communist China would have remained closely tied with the Soviet Union, which might have extended the Cold War for dozens of years if not changed the course of history. It is also notable that, despite the immense criticism levied upon him by the American citizenry, Nixon did more than any other president to win the war in Vietnam; through sheer grit he may have attained complete victory if Watergate had not ended his term of office.

And yet, despite the sympathetic aspect to his character, the movie does not shy away from Nixon's more negative aspects. Nixon is shown to be greedy when he insists on pushing the cost of the interviews higher than their already monumental drain on Frost's pockets. His insecurities shine through, particularly in one powerful scene where Nixon and Frost speak privately together. And his opportunistic tendency manifests itself in his constant attempts to mess with Frost in order to utilize the interviews as a method of vindicating his tarnished public image.

As can be gathered, Frost/Nixon does an excellent job of showing what made Nixon a powerful, confident, and intelligent individual. One might expect a typical attack on Nixon going into it, but the movie manages to surpass this expectation by providing a more balanced and complicated view. The acting of Frank Langella helps to perfect this and add incredible depth to this depiction of the president; he was even nominated for Best Actor for the role.

The Background Drama

Another aspect of the interviews that the movie focuses on is just how difficult, expensive, and controversial it was to have the interviews happen at all. It cannot be emphasized enough how incensed the average person was with Nixon after he left office, particularly after he was given public pardon by the following President Ford. People wanted him to go to court, wanted him dead... He symbolized everything that had gone wrong with the government, which made him a massive target for incredible hatred that was, to a certain extent, justified. Consequently, part of what made it so difficult to have the interviews happen at all was that people would only support the interviews if they resulted in a public confession/apology by Nixon. And that was in no way guaranteed.

Nixon had no intention of apologizing, believing utterly that his every action in presidency was justified, including Watergate. Thus Frost and his team were placed under an enormous amount of stress as they sought to prod Nixon into blurting out a statement that would condemn him. This pressure manifested in the cost of the interviews, the difficulty of getting funding from companies that didn't believe Frost could do it, the disturbing possibility of Nixon coming out of the interviews with his reputation looking much better than it did before, and the damage that failure could cause to the reputations of those involved if they failed to obtain an apology or slip of the tongue.


Overall, I thought this movie gripping and hard to look away from. Through the preparations for the interviews and the interviews themselves, you are held to your chair, uncertain how they will possibly get Nixon to concede. It ends up cast into a sort of personal duel of wordplay and character between Frost and Nixon, giving a depth to both of their characters which makes the movie even more compelling. Being history, one knows that the interviews end in Frost's favor, but even armed with that knowledge this does not prevent the movie from being a harrowing step-by-step of the dramatic and difficult lead up to that pivotal moment.

My only warning is that, if you have zero knowledge of Watergate or the general events of the time period (early 70's), some aspects and questions of the interviews might go completely over your head. I already knew of this stuff, so it is hard for me to gauge if having no knowledge will ruin the movie for you. But I doubt it. Even if Nixon and Frost mean nothing to you, it is an interesting study of two complicated characters, their verbal repartee, and their impact on the world.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Reality Television and the Death of American Standards

Written by Joe the Revelator

2010, Time Magazine releases a list of the 200 most influential individuals. On this list are celebrities, talk show hosts, musicians, artists, orators and politicians. Barack Obama hits as number 26, and Hillary Clinton mounts the list at 4. Elton John is only ranked 163’rd, which isn’t too substantial considering his history in the spotlight and the hundreds of millions he’s raised for his AIDS foundation. But in a world populated by dynamic, influential people, only so many can be recognized. Right?

Nicole "Snookie" Polizzi

On a list voted by the readers of Time, it may be a surprise to see Snooki’s name (#16, Jersey Shore) pop up, as well as Bristol Palin (#84, Dancing With the Stars), Susan Boyle (#58, Britain’s Got Talent) and Simon Cowell (#59, American Idol). Most of us recognize these “influential” people, by face if not by name, and they grace the list alongside presidents and world leaders. They’re not physicists or astronauts, or writers, or painters or actors. None of them hold a Nobel Prize. In fact, the most notable skill-set of many of these chart topping champions is that they have no skills. They’ve contributed nothing to the community. They are Reality TV stars.

It’s hard to believe that a nation so steeped in its television roots would arrive at the entertainment level we’re on. We, who embraced the dramas of Broadway and the hotdog frenzies of baseball, the comedies of war in M.A.S.H. and late night interviews with Johnny Carson, have allowed the immature slap-fighting of The Hills, Jersey Shore, and Big Brother to reign supreme. Primetime is littered with amateur singing contests full of warbling hopefuls, and tourists halfway around the world begging the impoverished locals to help with their gameshow challenges. Today’s romance has been reduced to a leggy blonde with bleached hair and artificially whitened teeth, passing out roses to twelve potential mates in Brooks Brother’s suits; a far cry from ...never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

Before a new reality series is launched, teams of psych analysts and executives sit around tables to interview potential reality stars; not to gauge their experience or their savvy, but to determine if they fit a relatable archetype, if they have the right pathology to stir up rousing dramas in a house full of narcissists and adult children. Network executives are approached by more and more attractive youngsters who come to Hollywood with dreams of becoming reality-stars instead of movie-stars, with no more qualifications than “Because I’m me.”

I believe we’ve sold off our stages, our screens, and our microphones, and rented cheap rave clubs with cameramen sprinting after short-skirted vixens who swear like sailors and cry on command. I ask; who watches this smut? And the sad answer; I do.

The family sits down to eat dinner, and the tribal drums of survivor start beating like an army on the march. None of us reach for the remote. We’re all waiting to see who gets voted off, even though it has nothing to do with their survival skills. They may hunt, and fish, and carve canoes and spark fire with rocks, but in the end it’s all a popularity contest as trite as high school, and the ability to adapt in nature is quickly punished with excommunication. Torches get snuffed. Singers get berated by Simon Cowell, and chefs are screamed at by the red-faced Ramsay. Calling it a train wreck would be polite. It’s awkward, degrading, and brings us back to locker room hazings and playground fights.

...judging you, judging you, judging you...

“I hope J.T. wins.” My aunt tells me. She picked him as her favorite because of his honest southern drawl and his youthful face. I pick poorly. I root for the tall, proud black man, who used to work as a gravedigger before he was dropped in a hostile island environment. He braves the wilderness with nothing but a machete- and a team of cameramen, some TV network supervisors, a host, doctors, and the local experts. My pick gets eliminated 7th, not even halfway to the finish.

Great minds discuss ideas.

Average minds discuss events.

Small minds discuss people.

This quote by Eleanor Roosevelt is the best clue I have to explain reality television’s sway over the public. It’s like catching a rumor midair and putting it down in ink, to be discussed later. Episodes are unscripted yet heavily edited to give it the illusion of story and plot.

My greatest optimism, and what I hope will topple reality shows, are the popular 45min-1hr dramas that have cropped up on pay channels and Netflix. Shows like Dexter, Prison Break, Weeds, Sopranos, Deadwood, Mad Men- There’s a flavor for every pallet, and the stories are compelling and well crafted. In light of these quality series, I believe Reality TV is an adolescent phase of entertainment, a hiccup in the grand scheme of diversions. In twenty years we’ll laugh fondly at the folly of Reality TV, like we do spandex-clad pro wrestlers. Soon we won’t remember who the hell Snookie was, or why we thought she was more influential than Ghandi.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days

Written by Joe the Revelator

I’ve been a fan of Kane and Lynch since the release of their first game in 2007, and not because of the game itself. The original Kane and Lynch was jerky, unwieldy, and awkward as a cover-based shooter. But it wasn’t the gameplay I was impressed with. It was the characters.

Long has it been a successful formula to cast male characters as generic, brown-haired ruffians, with muscles the size of cinderblocks and clefts in their chins. Kane and Lynch abandon this formula with a sadistic glee. The crime duo is crazed, loathsome, and thuggish, with receding hairlines and weak jaws, often wearing cheap suites that look tailored for loan sharks, or stained wife-beaters.

Dog Days reunite the lovable brutes after the events of the first game, in the streets of Shanghai, where the accidental assassination of Big Boss’s daughter pits our anti-heroes against the toughest gangs in town, the cops, some spec-ops ninjas, and pretty much anyone with a gun and a beef. In keeping with the first game, Kane and Lynch tear apart the city in a hale of bullets, all the while cursing and muttering like sociopaths.

The Game:

The controls and gameplay are smoother this time around, although ducking cover to cover can still be awkward. Many times I found my character standing up in the middle of a gunfight instead of crawling against a wall, or jumping behind a splintered stick of post when I was diving for the safety of an iron stove. Practically everything onscreen is considered ‘cover’ for better or for worse.

No, that splintered beam won't stop a 12ga slug.

God help you if you actually get shot into unconsciousness, since the countdown before final death is dependant on button-mashing. While your ally searches for you, a health-bar appears with a prompt to tap the square button repeatedly. This false comfort only marginally slows the flow of blood. The icon at the top of the screen indicating your position to your teammate is the size of a chevron-shaped gnat, so unless you fell into his lap after being sprayed by a mac-10, he may as well pencil-in the funeral on his calendar. The difficulty of finding your friend amongst a sea of tattooed Asian bodies is balanced slightly with the instantaneous recovery time. A quick slap on the back of the head and you’re ready to take more bullets.

My biggest gripe about Dog Days is almost a deal-breaker, especially after a few hours of playthrough. Large portions of the game, mostly early on, take place during a protracted chase through sweatshops and dingy ghetto apartments. The levels are dirty, dank, and fitting. One impoverished residential building looks like the next. And the rooms are built with split paths, corridors, and byways, to encourage players to part ways and flank enemies. Unfortunately, this also turns every level into a massive freaking maze. Even if your buddy manages to navigate through the dilapidated labyrinth and locate the exit, checkpoints require both players to activate the next stage. So you’re left chasing an ally-icon, like a rat following the vague whiff of cheese.

Everything Can-Shaped Explodes.

The action is long and repetitive; fighting the same kinds of enemies in different hats with progressively bigger guns, but that’s the name of the game where shooters are concerned. The best innovations to the Co-op have been directly ripped off from Army of Two, like obstacles that require both players to trigger. Step-jumps, heavy two-man doors, etc. Give Kane and Lynch a pair of skulls masks and some steroids and it would be Army of Two: Unwashed Psychopath Edition.

As far as mindless destruction goes, Kane and Lynch do their job well. Like the GTA series, the player need not concern themselves with doing the right thing or being a good person. Everyone is a target. If you feel like some destructive fun that’ll make you need a shower afterward, rent Dog Days.