Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Mystery Method: How To Get Beautiful Women Into Bed

Written by Joe the Revelator

Being badgered into reading a book will often taint the experience. I'm not a fan of self-help give-yourself-to-the-universe-guides, or motivational guides, or anything that involves soup (chicken or otherwise) being applied to the soul. I think the only exception to this is Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, and even that book made a lot of generalizations.

The Mystery Method guide was something of a curiosity at first. Most self-help books never hit my radar until someone's trying to shovel it in my face. Before cracking the cover I realized I had seen Mystery Method on recommended lists before; billed on blogs as the ultimate algorithm guide for attracting women. Though I have no intention on becoming the next Casanova, greased-back hair and gold medallion hanging against my fakely tanned skin, I have to admit it appealed to me on some level to crack the code of modern courtship.

See Chart A:

What I got was five hours of staring at over-complicated charts and wading through made-up technical jargon. Negs, IOI's, IOD's, sarge, 2-set, 3-set, moves, time bridges, and bounces; phrases used to bolster the voice of authority for the author. Mystery (the pseudonym of the author), an ex-magician, seems to suffer a lack of confidence in his academic qualifications, peppering his speech with words suited to heavy duty science texts.

I also made the mistake of flipping to the back cover when I was halfway through the book and saw a picture of Mystery. It almost made me stop reading. The author peers at the reader from the glossy back panel. His oversize, fuzzy, novelty hat, painted nails, and bracelet-heavy wrists encroach his face enough to hide most of his features, aside from his eye-liner lids.

So this is what he is prescribing to the reader? One must become a hot-topic commercial to follow his example? Despite my trepidation, I read on.

The meat of comedic timing:

So, I've finished the book. Am I a master of attraction yet?
Absolutely not. The Mystery Method outlines the simple procedure and repetition of making a cold introduction to a group of people, usually at a nightclub or bar, followed by 3 minutes of your set (canned speech involving witty stories). His complex charts and tables then explain the process of nonchalant meeting, getting the attention/attraction of a woman, and finally setting up a future date.

Mystery's focus is on the repetition of the game. He says a newbie must go out to the club scene at least four times a week. And each night the newbie must engage multiple groups, not expecting to score a date or a number, but to practice material on a live audience. To this end you're essentially becoming two things: A comedian, and a cold-reader. Your stories must catch everyone's attention, though his own examples of speeches are borderline retarded, and your assessment of the woman's/group's reactions must be dead-nuts-on.

To the author's credit he mostly glosses over the sexual exploits of his routine and sticks to the basic facts of attraction, which are actually quite insightful. He talks about how effective backhanded compliments can be when dealing with vain, highly sought-after individuals. He mentions self esteem, and how your quality of life must be balanced before you can climb the mountain to the disco bar. And about presentation (pea-cocking), and the merits of looking ridiculous to prove how immune you've become to immediate social pressures.

A dance Milady?

The function of this book is, in essence, to drag men back into Victorian cocktail parties and peerage. Instead of brandy snifters and ascots, where men would entertain groups of young petticoated women with witty repartee'; the Mystery Method clowns it up with outrageous mall attire and gender-bending cosmetics, encouraging guys to be the entertainment.

And the sad fact is... it works. I can recommend this book to anyone whose goal is to meet their next mate in a techno frenzy, or across the bar of some neon-lit hotspot. The social cues given by Mystery and his flow charts are pretty accurate if the user practices them a couple thousand times.

But then again, couldn't you just as easily practice anything else at nausea to get good at it? Must it be in a bar? Must I dress like I got lost in the wardrobe room of an Aerosmith concert?

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Walking Dead (Comic)

Behind vampires, zombies are perhaps one of the most overdone horror threats of the past decade. Certainly, compared to the vampires, it is harder to point to well-known zombie series/books/movies, but they are definitely out there en masse if you know where to look. Where the vampires have Twilight (*vomit*), Underworld, Anne Rice, Dracula, True Blood, and many many more, the zombies have George Romero, 28 Days Later, Left 4 Dead, and The Walking Dead.

Most of you likely know of The Walking Dead as a recent TV series created by AMC. I say screw that series. I haven’t even seen it yet, but I’m going to judge it nonetheless. This review is about the comic book series, which is so good in its own unique way that I have zero confidence in a TV series’ ability to replicate it. Let me explain why.
The Psychology of Man

The premise behind The Walking Dead involves a policeman waking up from a coma in a hospital in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Most signs of society and civilization are gone, zombies are everywhere, and survivors are scarce. This is not an original premise.

What makes The Walking Dead unique is its willingness to delve as deep as it possibly can into the human psyche and how people react and change when placed in an incredibly dangerous and often depressing setting. As is often said, you don’t know who you are until your back is up against a wall, and this series explores our reaction to crises. It would surprise you to see someone, who originally appeared ineffectual in the real world, stand up and become hyper competent when the zombies strike. But this, among many other changes, do occur and are indicative of humanity’s ability to adapt or break in the face of incredible stress.

This psychological focus on people and an intense delving into the characters of those who survive the zombie threat are what make this series a compulsive page turner. It also helps that just about every character can be empathized with in some way, even when they are driven to do horrible things in the name of self-preservation. The main character, Rick, is a prime example; though he is unofficial leader of the group, we are able to watch as his personality is slowly warped over time from confident, humorous dude to a hounded and scary-determined guy who flies into a near-psychotic rage whenever his family or friends are threatened.

Morality through the Lens of Survival

Another major exploration of the series is into how our civilized morals stand up when faced with an overwhelming do-or-die threat. This is a more common theme among zombie stories, but The Walking Dead nails it with a detailed aplomb that is near terrifying in how brutally real it feels. “Thou shalt not kill” swiftly becomes “murder if there is any slight threat to your people”. Questions of who should be leader are tossed aside in the need to find a strong figure to lead the group, no matter how vicious or sadistic they might be.

To that point, it should be noted that The Walking Dead is a very dark and personal tale. If you are looking for a humorous foray through the realm of zombie, see Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland. If you are wanting a look at how society and the world at large would be affected by a zombie apocalypse, see World War Z. Instead of any of those things, The Walking Dead follows closely a handful of characters, their thoughts, feelings, and changes as they traipse through the undead wasteland searching for food, shelter, and hope. It is gritty, nasty, and often brutal, but that only makes the moments of humor, love, and brotherhood stand out all the brighter.


In the end, it is this incredibly close, poignant, and often vicious look at human nature that makes The Walking Dead incredible to read. And it is this which makes me feel it would be impossible to translate well to TV or film. The sheer amount and detail of conversation between all the characters, the fact that the zombie encounters can often tend to be few but emotionally powerful moments, and the nasty shit that goes down... I just feel that the average TV studio wouldn’t be able to capture all that and would be very quick to jump to putting in more action and zombie killing at the cost of the overall psychological focus.

Guess this means I need to watch the series to see if my judgment is warranted, hmm?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Revenge of the Bridesmaids (2010)

by DionysusPsyche

Due to sheer boredom and the fact that it got good reviews on Netflix, I decided to give this movie a shot. Now, the last time I watched an ABC family movie was when I was too young to have a choice in leaving the house on a given weekend. Nevertheless, I thought that from a number of positive reviews, and the fact that this is an instantly available movie that this movie would potentially be up my alley.

Abigail (Raven-Symoné) and Parker (Joanna Garcia) return to their small town in Louisiana for a parents' anniversary. While there, they run into their childhood nemesis and their other childhood friend. It turns out that their nemesis/friend Caitlyn McNabb (Virginia Williams) has somehow stolen their friend, Rachel's, (Chryssie Whitehead) boyfriend and is now engaged to marry him. The girls hatch a plan to get close to Caitlyn by becoming bridesmaids and then sabotage her wedding so that she doesn't continue to ruin Rachel's life.

It's confusing as to why these girls who are now "smart, big City girls" suddenly care about their friend Rachel when the three have not talked in ages. They also must be really smart, because it seems that no one expects their crafty plan except Olivia McNabb (Beth Broderick), Caitlyn's mom. Of course, she never liked the girls anyway, and they are whispering really loudly, but never mind that. Olivia is played by Aunt Zelda from Sabrina the Teenage Witch, so obviously, she's on the up and up.

Then there are the typical plot points such as comments that Abigail needs to lose weight and a guy in the vicinity who is PERFECT for Parker and other liquid estrogen fixed with some stupidity that are added to make the movie charming. Also, Rachel won't stop crying. Why is she always crying? Why is she a bridesmaid who is always crying? If she weren't wearing all those bright colors, I would expect her to be wearing a hoody and some dark, Joker-esque drenched eye make up and telling me how she got these scars because she kept cutting herself. "Oh and life is full of pain, but I'm okay guys." If the fiance is so opposed to marrying Caitlyn, then why the hell doesn't he say anything? 

There are more plot points added, and even if those are supposed to be surprising, they're not. No, Abigail, you don't look anything like the person you're trying to dress up like, even with a wig and a hat. Please stop trying, although apparently the characters in this movie are all stupid so you can do whatever you want. Hopefully, the audience won't be hitting themselves in the face right now. Or yelling at the tv, like me.

They McNabbed themselves a bride!

There are a few things that were notable. One thing that is mentioned is how women and men in the deep South are still supposed to be brought up on proper lady and gentlemanly attitudes, and although that is true, I think they took that plus the "these Southern folk that we grew up with are dumb, but we Big Apple girls can outsmart them" too far. The cameos were fun, and it took me literally hours before I fully remembered where I saw the actress who plays Caitlyn (How I Met Your Mother--and now that I told you, I ruined the best thing the movie had going for it, the element of actor surprise).

Another thing I found interesting is how in an ABC Family movie, the movie, while trying to come off as somewhat wholesome fun, has the girls say things like "slut" and "bitch." Even Mean Girls who uses terms like that takes an afterschool special moment where Tina Fey tells the girls not to call each other that because "it makes it okay for guys to say those things." Sadly, that would be too deep and meaningful. In the reviews, the audience said things like, "you can tell it's a Disney movie," and I thought, "I don't remember Ariel saying, 'Damn Sebastian, can't a bitch get all up in the real world where she belongs?' To be fair, I don't think I've tried to memorize that movie since I was 6, and also Ariel wasn't trying to split up Prince Eric and Urs-oh wait, that WAS in the movie!

I'll be honest, there were some moments in the movie that did make me laugh, but over all, I was disappointed, because has Raven-Symoné been in anything recently? It also depresses me because apparently someone has a job of reviewing movies for cash, and here I do my reviews honestly for street cred (oh, and cigarettes, so I guess I do get something).

This movie was not so Raven. It wasn't without some jokes and laughs, but if you want to see a good movie about women screwing each other over, rent Bride Wars. They do a much better job, and it has a more heartfelt ending.

The League (TV 2009)

by DionysusPsyche

FX brings us the tv series The League, about five high school friends who participate in a fantasy football team. Similar to the show The Guild (online friends whose lives focus around a game similar to WoW), the five friends and one wife face obstacles each week to watch and win the title and ultimately obtain the year's trophy, the Shiva, based not-so-loosely on their high school valedictorian.

Pete Eckhart (Mark Duplass) is the "ordinary average guy" that Joe Walsh sings about and four time champion of the Shiva Bowl. Upon finding himself newly single, Pete is tossed back into the world of bachelorhood. Which suits him just fine, except for his friends and fellow competitors of the Bowl who block his attempts at dating and ruin each other's chances at the big win.

Kevin MacArthur (Stephen Rannazzisi), Pete's best friend, is a contender for the Shiva, mostly on account of his wife Jenny, who is a bigger football fanatic than he is. They are a double threat, well, mostly just Jenny. Kevin is always running up against jokes that Jenny is responsible for his winning plays, accusations that he resents, but not enough to stop taking her advice.

Rodney Ruxin (Nick Kroll) crosses Daffy Duck with Tobias Funke from Arrested Development. A Jewish lawyer in a sexless marriage, Ruxin's two objectives are to get his wife back in the sack with him at any cost and also to win the Shiva. He is paranoid, ruthless, and a little whiny.

Andre Nowzik (Paul Scheer) is "white and nerdy" and a rich surgeon. He is also the butt of everyone's jokes and once got high on a joint that was actually just made of pubic hair. Known for his dumb catch phrases and bizarre sense of fashion, Andre uses his funds and connections to try and take over the Shiva Bowl.

Taco MacArthur (Jon Lajoie), Kevin's younger brother, is reminiscent of a young Will Ferrell, and by far the most amusing of the Shiva gang. An unemployed musician, he makes his own ringtones of animals copulating and his own homemade deodorant to save money. He knows nothing about football, but it doesn't keep him from playing. He also makes the occasional birthday song, rap video, and frequently hooks up with women.

The League is a cross between The Office and the movie Old School if it had been a television series with less house fraternities and more emphasis on Vince Vaughn's character's everyday life. The episodes are somewhat improvised, and the cast is fresh. My only criticism of the show is the portrayal of female characters as they often appear vapid, demanding, and annoying. The wives are characterized as nagging baby wanting machines set on destroying their husbands' outside interests. The only exception to this rule is Jenny MacArthur who is equally obsessed with sports and winning as her husband. Minus the villainous female sirens, the show is an amusing romp in male bonding and subsequent elbowing to gain the trophy.

You don't have to like sports to love The League. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Scar Night (and its subsequent sequels)

Written by Joe the Revelator

My hunt through the used bookstore on the corner usually turns out successful, too successful, often spending more on books than I do on groceries. I blame the extensive list I carry with me, of sequels, prequels, recommendations, out-of-print and too -new novels. It can take over an hour for me to check all the shelves, a tedious process for anyone who comes to shop with me.

But sometimes, on rare occasion, I find nothing. Bubkis. Not a single title from my list has found its way to the used stacks. When this happens I have no choice but to let fate decide my next read. Scar Night found its way into my bag for no other reason than it was shelved upside down, and my hand moved to it, subconsciously, to correct the oversight.

Written by Alan Campbell, Scar Night is the first book in the Deepgate Codex Trilogy, and the first novel to be written by Campbell. His earlier works have been designing and programming for the Grand Theft Auto games, which I personally would have left off the 'about the author' section, since it does the book little credit.

Not all angels are good.

The story takes place in the gritty city of Deepgate, a wildly fanatical city built on a network of chains, hovering over an endless pit, at the bottom of which lies their god, Ulcis. Iron chains dominate the architecture and are used for supports. Hovels, mansions, roads, industrial complexes; everything rests on top of a massive interconnected hammoc. In the middle of this is the towering church of Ulcis, which rises over the city like a monolith.

Living within the church is the last remaining archon (church angel), Dill, a sprightly, happy-go-lucky teen with an old beatup sword and dreams of being a battle archon like his dead father. He is assigned to a guardian, the cynical Spine assassin Rachael, who seems to get him into more trouble than she helps him out of. Together they are charged with confronting the menace of Deepgate, the scarred angel who hunts the streets for fresh blood each moonless night; Carnival.

The church agents are not the only ones seeking Carnival. Briar, the rough, drunken, worldweary scrounger has recently lost a daughter. He found his little girl drained of blood, discarded in the safety nets strung under the massive foundations chains, where none but the poorest men go looking for treasures. His investigation leads him through hellish mazes and shocking revelations about the church, the angels, and about their god.

The ban on flying:

At times Scar Night can't seem to make up its mind what kind of story it is. It jumps between the POV's of the main characters, the church priests, the villains- anyone whose view best suites the story. It can feel like a mystery novel, and then it will switch back to fantasy adventure, and even epic adventure when the characters finally leave Deepgate.

There are several religious parallels, too, between Catholicism and the church of Ulcis, although I suspect they're made for storytelling elements rather than some grand hidden message. And the technology era is something industrial-gothic-steampunk-Final Fantasy-Golden Compass -ish. Overall it comes across as fantasy, pure dark fantasy.

Author: Alan Campbell

Standalone or series?

I would enthusiastically recommend Scar Night. But I can't recommend the rest of the Deepgate Codex Trilogy, which I have read in its entirety. Scar Night should have remained a beautiful, vivid standalone novel. It is imaginative and original, with a powerful and vicious ending.

The sequel, Iron Angel, tears up all the progress it made with Scar Night and starts over again midway; with new characters and new scenery. The writing is still brilliant and inspired, definitely worth reading, but it should have been separated into a story of its own.

The final book in the trilogy, God of Clocks, is like whacking your hand with a roofing hammer for a few hours. It progresses at a slow march to an obvious, unsatisfying conclusion, which utilizes one of my least favorite fix-it-all plot devices; something slightly more acceptable than 'it was all a dream'. Time travel. That's right, none of this adventure mattered, because it never happened thanks to time travel...

Read Scar Night. Pretend the sequels are a figment of your imagination.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Clash of Kings - Part 2

The Genesis of Arya Stark

For the longest time, I never thought much of the character of Arya Stark. It wasn’t that I actively disliked her or anything, it was more the fact that her character never seemed to do much that was exciting compared to the actions of other characters. Also contributing to this perspective was the fact that, in A Clash of Kings, she spends a great deal of her time in the company of whiny boys, serial killers, and the nastiest factions that the books can muster (Cleganes, Lannisters, the “Bloody Mummers”, and the Boltons). As a consequence, her chapters tended to feature accounts of atrocities, murder, and the least likable personalities/side characters you can think of.

But on this read through, I found myself reading into her chapters with far more depth and attention than I was before, appreciating her psychology and personality to a much greater extent. I already knew what would happen for the characters that I really liked; I wanted to focus on those characters who didn’t get quite as much time in my eyes. And, by the end of this book, I found that she is now one of my all-time favorite characters.
Arya Stark is easily the most adventurous of all the Stark children. When presented with the option of knitting or learning how to swordfight, she picks the sword any day. Though she can come off as a tomboy, it doesn’t define her character so much as her powerful desire to do what she wants, even if what she wants doesn’t correspond with what is expected of her in such a medieval era.

Perhaps most tellingly, Arya, more than anyone else in the series, is favorably compared to Lyanna Stark. I found this comparison to be very interesting. Lyanna receives more second-hand characterization than any other person in the series aside from Rhaegar Targaryen. She was a wilful and fiery beauty that many men fought over. King Robert Baratheon was betrothed to her before her death, and up until his own end he still pines after her as his “lost love”. Rhaegar himself crowned her as the Queen of Love and Beauty before kidnapping her and sparking the titanic rebellion that resulted in the Westeros we know in the present time.

From what we know of Lyanna, she was a wilder sort of girl who would sooner go horseback riding in the forests than knit embroidery, an extreme rarity in an era where women are expected to stay home and make babies. This is a mirror of Arya and her own personality; we learn as the book goes on that Arya is made of far sterner stuff than the average girl, echoing Lyanna’s own path through life.

But most of all, I found Arya’s approach to adversity to be heartbreakingly genuine. Here is a girl of ten years old who goes through more suffering than possibly any other character in the series. She is forced to watch her family ripped to shreds, her father killed, her sword trainer murdered... She is forced to go undercover as a recruit for the Night’s Watch before this new protector of hers is attacked and killed... She is captured by a faction of serial killers and rapists, required to serve as their servant girl, only for them to be replaced by a whole different kind of evil group that make her handle leeches or else face near certain death.
Despite all of this pain and difficulty, Arya manages to stay on top the only way she knows how. She stands up to it like one of the direwolves that adorn her House sigil. She refuses to back down or give in to fear. When needed, she stays quiet and keeps out of the way, but every fibre of her being struggles tenaciously to find a way to remain calm and escape. In doing so, she seizes upon the teachings of her sword master, the guidance her father gave her, and the determined recital of the names of those whom she would revenge herself upon.

Those scenes that spoke most powerfully to me were those where Arya goes to the godswood to try and keep it all together. Let there be no mistake; it is clear that Arya is, at heart, traumatized by her experience. By the end of the book, she looks at cold murder as something that is often necessary. When she goes to the godswood, she is haunted by memories of how good and peaceful things were before the war broke out. She wonders what has happened to the rest of her family and whether anyone else is even alive. Like anyone does in a time of turmoil, she questions herself before rallying and forcing herself to remain strong, no matter the cost.
Another aspect of her story that I found interesting as well as saddening was how everyone always fails her. Time and time again, Arya tries to find someone to help her. Syrio, Yoren, the Night’s Watch boys, Jaqen H’Ghar, Gendry. Every single time, they fail to give her the support she so desperately desires, so desperately needs. This gives impetus to the tragic, albeit necessary, change to her character that she has to embrace in order to endure. There are no friends for Arya, nobody who can help her. There is only survival and the sword.

Consequently, Arya has become one of the most interesting characters in the books for me, a girl with whom I’m very curious to see how she turns out and who I’m quite emotionally invested in. Wilful, genuine, youthful, and badass; Arya is one of the greatest characters I’ve encountered in storytelling.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Clash of Kings - Part 1

Much like what I’ve been doing with the episodes of the Game of Thrones TV series, instead of a conventional review to this book, I’m going to talk about a few things/characters that especially piqued my interest. If you are looking for a general review, you’ll have to look somewhere else. A Clash of Kings, to me, is just as stunningly amazing as the previous book in its series. Thus it would be impossible for me to do a spoiler-free general review without it being one long sequence of endless gushing. On that note, do not read this if you have not yet read the book!

The Wavering of Theon Greyjoy
Theon Greyjoy is one of those characters who you just love to hate. Before rereading the books this time around, I remembered him as being one of the most frustrating characters to read about because I could recall always wishing I could punch him in the face. In the first book, we learn that he has lived with the Starks for most of his life, though he spent a part of his youth with his family, the Greyjoys, on the tough and merciless island keep of Pyke. In essence, he is the Starks’ political prisoner, punishment for the Greyjoys’ rebellion in the time before the events of the series. As a consequence, he never feels fully attached to the Starks, even though he is treated with the utmost courtesy and raised by Ned Stark as if he were one of his own children.

In A Clash of Kings, he is sent back to his windswept Viking-like archipelago of a home in order to try and call his original family to arms to support the Starks in the upcoming war. Instead, he finds that the Greyjoys wish instead to rebel once again and to raid and destroy the holdings of the Starks. Being the duplicitous little ass that he is, Theon seizes the moment to try and garner glory for himself, traitorously leading his own stealthy operation to seize Winterfell itself, capital city of the Starks. In the process, he shows the cruel rapaciousness the Greyjoys are known for, raping and butchering as many people as need be to hold the peace.
This background story that I just recounted shows how easy it is to loathe this character. I may as well add that Theon’s ego is off the charts, that his self-worth is so gargantuan that it leads him to make absurdly retarded blunders, and that his sexist nature is grating to the extreme. However, despite all of this negativity, I found myself very interested by a facet of his character that I had not noticed before: his conflicted loyalties.

Perhaps “loyalties” isn’t the correct word, as he clearly aligns himself with the Greyjoys. But it is definitely clear that Theon Greyjoy is in constant inner conflict. For here is a man who has no true home and no true people to call his own. Theon spends much of his time in the novel seeking that acceptance and approval. His is a neverending battle; he has to repeatedly question whether he is to act like the Greyjoys or the Starks; his choice is between the way of the Ironborn: rape, raids, and strength through fear, or the way of the Northmen: to be resolute, stern, and yet maintaining a quiet honor.
Thus does Theon become a tragic and thus sympathetic character in my eyes. Nowhere is this more clear than in how he treats his hostages at Winterfell. Theon rages about how they don’t understand that he has treated them as best as he can; he notes that any killings that have happened have been the bare minimum necessary to placate his men. However, this effort is doomed to failure. His captives view him with the loathing reserved for a traitor while his own men view him as a softie brought up in a weak foreign land. Theon seeks to satisfy his bloodthirsty family through bold acts of butchery while simultaneously attempting to treat his former people well.

Consequently, I found myself saddened when Theon’s plans fell apart and he lost more and more control, over the situation and of himself. While his maelstrom of insecurities aren’t a huge part of the series and have little relevance in the long run, I found him to be a well written character with more depth than his surface level savagery would suggest. I, for one, can only imagine how awful it would feel to feel loathed, homeless, and unable to completely align myself with one family or another. Theon Greyjoy demonstrates the nadir of what makes us human; through him we see what it is to be presented with a situation so conflicting that it brings one to confused despair. And I thought I’d make note of that here in an effort to defend the character and to point out that there is greater complexity to him than one might think.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Game of Thrones (TV) - Lord Snow

Arrogance Personified - Jaime Lannister

Next to Arya, my favorite casting thus far has been Jaime Lannister, incestuous brother of Cersei Lannister, Queen of Westeros. In the book, Jaime is the embodiment of confidence, favored son of the richest House of the realm. He is infamous for betraying the previous King (Aerys II) and personally killing him. Thus, among most everyone, he is known as the Kingslayer, a title that also speaks to his personal view on authority and the “game of thrones” mentality. Fact of the matter is that he could care less; Jaime’s opinion is that the whole world can burn so long as he can spend time with his sister.

This point of view is an oddly appealing one, which is one of the reasons why he is one of my favorite characters in the entire series. Where everyone else holds themselves to the standards and rules set by tradition and duty, Jaime strides through it all with a devil-may-care attitude. Where others do their best to seek influence and manipulate world events, Jaime just straight up doesn’t give a damn. This carefree manner is matched by legendary skill with the blade and a self-assured arrogance that can’t be topped by any other character in the entire series.

In the TV series, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has managed to capture this personality perfectly. Although Jaime’s unique golden plate armor didn’t seem to make it in, he remains the most distinctive among the Kingsguard and, so far, the closest we have to a villain among the cast. But, as is also captured in the books, Jaime’s magnetic personality prevents us from hating him completely. And this is very necessary considering the character development he gets later in the series.

My only kinda-sorta criticism is that I don’t feel like Jaime’s character was quite as antagonistic in the books as he is in the TV series. Jaime making fun of Jon Snow’s choice to join the Night’s Watch for no particular reason comes to mind. As well as Jaime’s continual confrontational attitude with Eddard Stark. From what I remember, book-Jaime only challenged Ned once Tyrion was captured. By contrast, TV-Jaime seems like he’s looking for a fight with Ned with every conversation. In the end, this sort of change to Jaime’s character is largely irrelevant and doesn’t affect much, but I thought I’d make a note of it.

The King’s Small Council

This is the first episode to feature the King’s Small Council, the group of advisers and policy-makers who are essentially the government of Westeros when the king is busy. We see a great deal of them this episode as Ned Stark arrives at King’s Landing and gets used to his position as King’s Hand, which makes him effective chairman of the Small Council. Given their importance, the Small Council is populated by some of the most interesting characters of the entire series, which fueled my curiosity as I watched and compared their performances to the descriptions in the books.

First off, Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish. So far, I think I like Littlefinger’s casting (Aidan Gillen). Visually, he looks comparable to the description of the character within the book. And he appears to embody all that is manipulative and tricky, particularly seen in his interactions with Ned Stark and Varys. I would say that the only thing so far that I wish they had spent more time on is giving some background on his long unrequited love for Catelyn Stark. I say this because, so far, his affection for her seems pretty unbelievable; the problem is that the audience is merely told that Petyr loves her; you can’t really tell that from just watching (he appears to treat her pretty much the same as everyone else, just marginally more polite). Hopefully they treat this aspect of his character with more depth later.

Second, Varys the Eunuch. Varys is, like Littlefinger, visually cast well (Conleth Hill) and his character seems perfectly recognized. But I noticed that Varys’ character also has a piece missing; we aren’t told why everyone often seems disgusted and barely tolerant of his presence. In the books, this is because Varys acts the sniveling eunuch, which the other characters find distasteful and dishonorable. In the TV show, instead we see this polite and slightly eccentric bald guy get continually blown off and rudely treated for no understandable reason. Again, hopefully they point out why this is happening later.

Lastly, Grand Maester Pycelle and Renly Baratheon. These two get less attention this episode, so all I can say is that I expected Pycelle to be fatter and Renly to look more kingly (as he is often described as the spitting image of King Robert at his best). But I won’t judge them on looks alone and I look forward to seeing how their characters are treated later in the series.

And, finally, my favorite scene this episode...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

X-Men: First Class (Revisited)

Written by Joe the Revelator

I wrote this after watching the new X-Men installment on opening night at the theater, and sincerely meant to post it the next day. I was, however, delayed long enough to see a more in-depth and fulfilling review pop up on the Inquisitive Loon. So here a second look, as well as my own gut reactions.

In a mutated nutshell:

If you're unfamiliar with the X-Men series, here's the gist: Human beings spontaneously begin to evolve new survival traits all across the globe. Nothing so benign as webbed toes or darker skin pigments, but things like laser eyes and invincibility, things that would make the real Darwin groan in disbelief. One such mutant, a telepath named Charles Xavier, opens a school dedicated to educating and disciplining the fire-starting whipper-snappers, and thus we have the X-Men.

The most striking part of X-Men First Class when comparing it to the prior X-Men movies, is how underpowered the characters seem. The term "First Class" strictly refers to the sequential order of Professor X's student body, and not the classification or rank of mutants. The powers of the "First Class" students consist of the abilities to spit acid, bounce energy hula-hoops from their bodies, grow blue fur, and scream really loud. It seems Magnito got all the powers.

The villains, on the other hand, are on steroids. Kevin Bacon's character has the ability to absorb energy and spit it back out at people, including but not limited to explosions, radiation, and heat. He's teamed up with Azazel, a ruthless, demonic version of Nightcrawler, and Emma Frost, the telepath with diamond skin. To my disappointment none of the villains are explained in any depth.

Nazi's did it.

Much of the movie rides on Magnito's (Erik Lencher's) shoulders for the emotional driving points. We see the birth of a supervillain as an SS psychiatrist questions the Jewish boy Erik about his abilities to twist metal, and when he can't supply an adequate answer, his mother is shot with a Luger. It's here that Erik reenacts a more compelling version of Darth Vader's awakening (NOOooooo!), crushing everything in the office made of metal, including the SS guard's helmets while they're still attached to the heads.

The rest of First Class is watching the young professor Xavier try to convince the now-adult Magnito not to be so angry all the time, and shooting disapproving looks at the other child mutants. The ham-fisted theme of accepting who you are crops up again and again, and although this attitude is practically the soul of X-Men comics, it's unnaturally injected into every corner of the movie, frequently breaking the stride.

One bullet to sum it up:

First Class is a fabulous introduction to the series, and it strikes a chord of nostalgia for the cold war era and comicbook revisionist history. As far as prequels are concerned, First Class achieves what it sets out to accomplish. It's lighter and more friendly than the X-Men trilogy, which focused on the brooding Wolverine and boiling racial tensions.

If I had the ability to melt plastic with my mind, I'd rid the world of X-Men III (aka; I'm the Juggernaut, bitch) and shoehorn X-Men First Class in as the start of the series, with a heavily modified Wolverine movie for an end-cap, a version wherein Deadpool isn't thrown into a blender with the powers of every other mutant on earth.

Friday, August 5, 2011

It Sucked and Then I Cried (2009)

by DionysusPsyche

When you out to accomplish a first time task, a variety of options present itself. You can "watch and learn," learn by doing, or read a how-to book. There's the action itself--"furniture building," for example--then a series of sub genres. Maybe you don't want to just make furniture, you want to make authentic looking antique furniture or you want to rebuild antique furniture. In this day and age, people have endless options, so when I bought a hair dryer, I didn't buy a black, beige, or gray one but a bright pink one. Why? Because it was an option. Also, so I could find it around all the other colors in the bath room that blend together when I'm not wearing glasses.

Heather Armstrong's book It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita chronicles the life of the creator of as she battles from going from newly married to pregnant to new mom. Of course, there are lots of books about babies and postpartum out there. I mean, isn't that what Brooke Shields and Tom Cruise fought about publicly? Yeah, yeah, heard it. Also, Armstrong checks herself into a mental institution temporarily.

Wait, what?

Armstrong and her husband, Jon, moved just after their marriage, to be closer to both their families. She leads us through the first year and a half of change but not in a boring "I heart babies" t-shirt way. In a guffawing, gasp-inducing, and amusing way. Armstrong speaks out about her difficulty battling with her already problematic depression. Off depression medication in order to conceive and carry, Armstrong is a bought of emotional roller coaster, anxiety, and morning sickness. Yet her humor fails to fade and is often at its best when Armstrong herself is at her weakest.

"Another inconvenient side effect of having a six-pound critter fighting for space in my belly was being constantly reunited with the taste and texture of things I'd just eaten. Everything caused heartburn, including water, ice cubes, and air. If I ate a handful of Tums, I'd burp Tums for the next three hours...Chuck was constantly smelling my breath and licking my face, searching for bits of the burrito I'd eaten last week. I could never have comprehended how magical it was to be a ripe pregnant woman, belly widening inches per day, grumpy and irritable from sleep deprivation, burping acidic salsa into my dog's face. Don't ever let anyone ever tell you that this isn't an exquisitely beautiful experience." (p. 62) 

The novel is not What to Expect When You're Expecting, and more than occasionally reads more like a horror novel. It is insightful and incredibly useful for those wishing to gain expertise or find sympathy. However, her wacky narrative on the ride of peril awaiting all parents and to-be parents is more along the lines of Go the F*@# to Sleep, a bedtime story for adults.

Armstrong is an ex-Mormon living in Utah, which alone makes the book fun (although, occasionally over the top). Devout Mormons will probably not be fans as the author throws in snippets of examples of what makes Utah it's own special place. Armstrong is also a blue sheep in a red state which makes for even more giggles, although her more often than not jibes are directed towards Salt Lake in general. Dog lovers will also enjoy this book as Armstrong's dog, Chuck, makes many the cameo and always elicits a laugh.

The author's use of examples and voice are also shouts of accolades for the book. She compares her dilation when about to go into labor in terms of the sizes of donuts and her husband's constant support throughout the whole thing. During her breathing exercises in lamaze class, Armstrong scares the other expectant mothers by jokingly asking when they can start drinking again, thus endearing her to women who feel a little bit unlike their June Cleaver counterparts.

In addition to being funny (if David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, or Chuck Klosterman were married women), Armstrong spends a good deal of time speaking openly about the pain of postpartum depression and loving your family despite a crippling dark cloud around you. She speaks about the guilt induced by books and other mothers about breast feeding and the worry that somehow she isn't good enough.

I would recommend this book to any woman who someday would like to be a mother or just after having a child or even someone trying to understand a pregnant friend. Most of the excerpts from the book are usually are prefaced by the phrase "no one ever told me about this," and like I said, might potentially be too terrifying to read for a currently pregnant woman (and especially a to-be father).

Game of Thrones (TV) - The Kingsroad

In this episode, I noticed the something interesting about the opening credits. First off, they are jaw-droppingly epic. It takes you on a crazy tour of Westeros, the continent on which much of Game of Thrones is set, and you watch as the architecture of various cities grow and assemble before you. Second, the music is insanely awesome. While maybe slightly repetitive, it definitely embodies the ancient and heroic grandeur that comes with the series. Lastly, and I just noticed it this episode, but the cities that are focused on actually change! It looks like they alter to focus on wherever we spend good parts of the episode on. For example, wherein the first episode we have Pentos, the merchant city where Daenarys starts her journey, in the second we have Vaes Dothrak, the city of the horselords where Khal Drogo takes her. Sure, this is a relatively minor thing to point out, but I thought it was pretty sweet. Most starting credits stay the same. And, of course, with my affection for strategic games, history, and geography, I couldn't help but get nerdily excited.

Now, for my favorite moment of the episode...

That's right. I'm so glad that they carried over Tyrion treating Joffrey like this. Somebody has to, given how much of a little prick Joffrey is. And, I feel kind of bad saying it, but they cast Joffrey perfectly because he just looks like the kind of arrogant kid you want to slap. Poor kid. But perfect for the character.

Not Quite So Bitchy - Cersei Lannister

This episode got me to thinking about Cersei Lannister and the actress who plays her, as this character is feeling quite different from that of the books. In the books, Cersei Lannister is, in her purest essence, queen bitch of the realm. Certainly, she is in a loveless marriage with the King but, to a certain extent, she desires that position for the power and influence that it brings her. More than perhaps any other character, Cersei is motivated first and foremost by power, retaining that which she has and getting more of it. It is through her that Robert is antagonized and persuaded to grant more and more authority to the Lannister household, despite any reservations he might have. This desire of hers dominates her character and makes her act like a total bitch to anyone who might affect it, causing her to brusquely dismiss or attack anyone who gets in her way. Her incestuous relationship with her brother, which results in her bringing forth the idea of killing a child to preserve its secrecy, only cements her as one of the closest characters to a villain in the entire series.

By contrast, I haven't really got this impression from Lena Headey's performance as said Queen. Lena is able to look regal and beautiful (necessary for the role), but there have been very few moments so far that have made me look at her character and want to strangle her. It is almost as if she is incapable of portraying a domineering bitch. A good example would be the end of the first episode. In the book, unless my memory is failing me, Cersei actively gives the impression that Bran needs to be killed in order to preserve the secret of her incest with Jaime. In the TV show, she looks panicked and uncertain and says only that, “He saw us!” while not appearing to know what to do about it, leading one to believe that it was Jaime's idea to toss the boy out the window. And then the scene where she tells Catelyn how much she wants her son to recover, in the next episode?

This sort of inability to act dominating also shined through to me when Cersei suggests that one of the direwolves die for biting her son. Instead of coming off savagely proud and happy that her will is being carried out (as happens in the book), she politely and quietly states that the direwolf must die and then merely looks on as the Starks spaz out, leading one to almost believe that she is just doing as a queen must in this scenario. Perhaps it is nitpicky, but I just don't feel it matching up with the book's portrayal of her.

The Great and The Questionable - Arya Stark and Jon Snow

Arya, however, has matched up perfectly, actress to character. Lovable, young, yet roguish, and proud... Arya is embodied perfectly in the little actress Maisie Williams. Every scene with her makes me extremely excited as to the awesomeness I know will come in the future, when Arya is left to fend for herself with her family scattered.

Jon Snow I am still on the fence about. Part of it is that I'm still too hung up on his looks; in the book, Jon Snow is one of the only Stark children to have the “rugged looks of the North” whereas, in the TV show, Kit Harington looks like he should be in some southern Italian royal guard. Again, I feel kind of bad judging on looks, but he just doesn't seem to match up with the description in the books, instead coming off looking like some member of the Renaissance era Venetian nobility.

There's also the peculiar matter of how his trip to the Wall and “taking the black” has been handled. That is, it has barely been truly touched upon. The TV show has done a fair job of explaining how those who go to the Wall are the dregs of society, but it hasn't done a good job of showing how permanent and important a decision it is to become one of the Night's Watch. The nasty ramifications of being Ned Stark's bastard are also merely skimmed over; we are led to believe in the TV show that Jon is going to the Wall simply because Catelyn doesn't like him, when the truth is more that, as a bastard, he doesn't have a future. Hopefully they will touch more on this later, as Jon being a bastard is an important facet of how he defines himself as a character.