Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The List, 2008 Edition

Now that I got all that self-pitying out of the way, I can move on to what the end of the year is really about: lists!  Nothing sums of 365 days like reducing it all to easily digestable snippits of largely decontextualized information.  Ah, bullet point hermeneutics.  This isn't a themed list, however.  This isn't the top ten movies, or games, or albums.  Oh no.  This is The List.  The dcornelius list of top ten... things.  I just don't feel like being comprehensive this time around.  So, with drums rolling and crowds roaring, I present the definitive list of 2008.  Take that, John Cusack!

The Dark Knight.  Between writing my initial and embarassingly glowing review of The Dark Knight and seeing it again this holiday season, a number of criticisms grew in my mind.  The movie was too long; it betrayed subtle story-telling; it was a bit too cartoony in some of its more extreme elements.  The second viewing, however, though it didn't completely erase those criticisms, eclipsed whatever objections I had to the point that they didn't really matter.  It is a great movie.  Runner Up: My Winnipeg. (Due to a variety of factors, I missed a lot this year. Synecdoche, New York, Man on Wire, and Let the Right One In are all movies that I still want to catch up with).

Dexter.  Season three is a wrap and it was brilliant.  Nothing really compares with the first season of this serial killer drama, but season three comes close.  Michael C. Hall can still make anything, any small and mundane activity, seem menacing, ironic, and chilling.  Runner's Up: Battlestar Galactica, The Shield.

L'Armee des Ombres (Army of Shadows).  Jean-Pierre Melville's 1969 film about the French resistence during WWII is breathtaking.  It, along with several of Melville's other films, such as Le Samourai and Le Cercle Rouge, completely transformed the way I watch movies and what I expect from the medium.  Runner Up: the films of Mario Bava.

Braid.  I can't so more than I already have about this game.  It still blows my mind. Runner Up: Dead Space.

Gravity's Rainbow.  Okay, I didn't really read the whole thing again in 2008, but I did go back and re-read many, many passages.  It's bizarre, grotesque, hilarious, morbid, ironic, irreverent, terrifying, and obscene.  It's also brilliant.  I don't really know what the term "postmodern" means (and I suspect no one does) but if it means anything than that definition comes alive in Gravity's Rainbow.  

The poetry of William Butler Yeats.  Being a student often means that you end up reading things you don't want to read and not reading things you want to read.  I finally got to spend some time with Yeats, however, and I'm damn happy that I did.  Runner Up: Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

Silent Hill 2.  Yeah, it's that good

The Slip and Ghosts I-IV by Nine Inch Nails.  Yes, a tie.  It was a good year for NIN fans. Runner Up: Vida La Vida by Coldplay.  

Sigur Ros.  Icelandic rock, post-rock, alt-rock, emo, whatever.  Their music is beautiful and haunting and for weeks I was transfixed by the song "Milano."  Sometimes, purely by accident, you discover things that you end up really loving.  This is one of those things.  Runner Up: Coheed and Cambria.

So there it is.  The highlights of an entire year's worth of watching, listening, reading, and playing summed up, dissected, and delivered in neat little, bloodless packages.  There is a sort of butchery involved in making lists.  It assumes that anything in life can be decontextualized, anatomized, and isolated.  A list is an autopsy.  How, for instance, can I talk about Sigur Ros without darkening the discussion with how I felt at the time and the emotional affinities it created?  How can I evaluate the sadness that I felt playing Silent Hill 2?  I can't.  I don't want to.  A list is just taking a step back, re-evaluating.  It assumes the largely fictional detached vantage point, which is probably something we need at the end of the year.  

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Good Riddance

It's the end of the year. The end of... something. For me, it's the end of school.

For eight years, I've been an undergrad. Eight years. Hell. However, I've put three degrees in the can and I think I'm better for it. I started at Briercrest College, a small-ish Christian college in southern Saskatchewan, where I hammered out two bachelor's degrees, one in theology and one in the humanities (vague, I know). I spent five years there, and though it didn't really open the doors I'd hoped it would, the training that I received there - academic training, moral training, personal, spiritual, etc - has been invaluable. I am who I am in large part because of that place and so I am grateful. After that, I skipped over to the University of Saskatchewan with every intention of banging out an English Literature degree with as much haste, and posthaste, as possible. However... see above closed doors. The transfer credits didn't amount to squat, so I spent three years (well, two and a half, plus some summers) padding my educational resume and fulfilling the requirements. I am, as of now, and notwithstanding some as-of-yet still unpaid tuition fees, an English graduate. Degree number three, in the bag. Now, on to bigger and better things. Bigger, at least. Greener pastures, right?

So it's been a good year. And it's been shitty. Upon reflection (and what else is the end of the year for besides reflection? Oh right, booze. Well, I'm drinking wine as I write this so I've got that covered), every plan that I made, every hope that I laid, turned brittle, fragile, and pretty much crumbled at my feet. I graduated, but just barely. It was a fight to the finish. (I'm speaking financially, by the way. Academically, I nailed it.) A conspiracy, its tentacles seemingly stretching into all sectors of my life, both public and private, was launched against me. At every turn, and on every front, frustration bit me in the ass. Scholarships were denied. Loans were reduced to rubble. Jobs disappeared. Things that I had assumed were guaranteed turned out to be smoke, vapor. Life is fragile. Dreams are even more fragile. Both can be upset by the smallest decision of another. Both can be set back, darkened, and even snuffed out.

But I'm being dramatic. I'm indulging. I did get that third degree locked down, and I did it with style. I'm proud of the scholarship that I can produce. Academically, I'm no slouch. I may slouch in other areas of life, but not in school. No sir.

So 2008 is done. Good. Get rid of it. It was a stressful year. Highs and lows, ups and downs, cliche here, cliche there, etc, etc. All that proverbial knowledge, all those gnomic sayings and all their sickening banality, their tedious mundanity... they are all true. School is tiring, family is tiring, money is tiring, lack of money is tiring. Life is tiring. What I'm saying is I'm tired. I need a break. I have eight months to kill before I enter graduate school, which seems like a good thing but I honestly have no idea what I'm going to do and it's a bit scary. I thought I had a job lined up but... the conspiracy. Thwarted again, and at the very last minute, at just the moment when the conception becomes reality, where life is most fragile.

I'm not sure what's going to happen in 2009. Actually, I'm quite nervous about it, and that's not good. There are two things I can't deal with like an adult, being bored and being uncertain. Both tend to drive me towards unhealthy trespasses into my past: a renewed interest in the heavy metal music of my adolescence and re-runs of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Both are comfort food to me, and they tend to appear, like not-so-subtle screaming klaxons, right when I'm most depressed.

Yes, lately I've been listening to Tourniquet and crushing on Sarah Michelle Gellar. Again. I'm in a state of emotional regression, I recognize that. Thanks again, 2008.

So here I am, on the raggedy edge. Graduated. Unemployed. Three degrees. Tired. Damn it. I need a new year, maybe one a little less fraught with peril and disappointment. Also, a miracle would be nice. Maybe a finger stretching out from the clouds, pointing the way. Yeah? Yeah? I know, probably not going to happen. It's not that I don't believe in intervention. I do. I just don't expect it, not for myself anyway.

Okay, enough. Like 2008, I'm done. This post is upsetting me now. It was supposed to be ironic catharsis. But now I'm not sure what it is. It's more sincere than I intended. That bit about Buffy... that's revealing more of myself than I'd planned. Of course I could delete all this. I'm considering it. But I won't. Maybe tomorrow I will.

Anyway. To 2009. I'd toast but I'm out of wine. Cheers anyway.


Okay, I'm intrigued.

It's a feature-length adaptation of a short film by the same name, 9, directed by the same guy, one Mr. Shane Acker. Looks to me like he's got more than a little visual prowess, though I wouldn't yet call him a "visionary," an entirely over-used word in the film industry (I mean, come on. I liked 300, but I wouldn't call Zack Snyder a visionary, though the Watchmen trailer sure wants you to think he is). I'm not sure what to make of Russia's Timur Bekmambetov's involvement, though.  I liked the Night Watch and Day Watch movies, or at least I liked their visual style, and I'll confess to looking forward to the forthcoming Twilight Watch, but I kind of hated the obnoxious Wanted.  But since he's only producing here, I won't get too worried.  Also, as a final note, Burton, Acker and company, or at least their publicity department, have good taste. The song playing in the trailer's second half is "Welcome Home" by Coheed and Cambria.  

Here's the original, eleven minute-long short that Acker made, and it alone is enough to secure my anticipation of the feature adaptation. Enjoy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Some Thoughts on Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

In my downtime, while I'm searching for things to do now that I'm no longer entrenched within the mud and blood of academics, I've been catching up on a few "last-gen" games that I missed. I know these games have been out for years but this is my blog, dammit, and I'll write about whatever I want to write about.

I had never played a Metal Gear Solid game before, so when Substance (the Xbox version of Sons of Liberty) arrived in the mail the other day, I was moderately excited, especially now that the semester is over, I'm officially finished my third, count 'em third, undergrad degree, and I have some extra time on my hands, which, I know, could be more profitably used - by, like, reading Joyce's Ulysses (honestly, I'm getting to it) or finally sitting down and writing something meaningful - but I'm tired of all that shit. I need a break. I've read enough and written enough in the last eight years that I really want to just lay about, mentally speaking, for a while. So game on, I say. Where was I? Oh, excited about Metal Gear. I'd say that in terms of anticipatory arousal I was about a 7, 10 being an almost undeniably urge to couple with the game, like with Silent Hill 2, and 1 being the flaccid disinterest I feel every time Square Enix announces yet another excursion into hermaphroditic heroism. There's an aura about the MGS franchise, a tone used when speaking of it usually reserved for religious ceremony. Solid Snake is one of those icons of gaming, one of those god-like figures apotheosized by millions of devoted (and, let's face it, probably sweaty, lonely, and sexually confused) fans. I knew a bit about the franchise. I knew, for instance, that the games are strangely fixated on Snake's ass, which in all the games have been very lovingly and carefully designed (see) so as almost to give players a whiff of Snake's musky greatness. I also, and more importantly, knew that the games have a tendency to be... um, bombastically dramatic. By which I mean incomprehensible. But, I was still excited, ready to feel up this franchise. Only an hour into my Metal Gear dalliance, I already knew two things: one, this game is old and two, it's still pretty fun. The mechanics are ancient. They were ancient, I fear, when they first launched. Just one year after Sons of Liberty's release, for instance, Ubisoft would launch Splinter Cell, which in terms of stealth gameplay absolutely eclipsed Metal Gear Solid. All the stealth aspects of MGS2 just feel like a game, as if mimicking anything approaching reality was the furthest thing from the designers' minds. Stealth in MGS2 is governed by very rigid sets of rules and parameters. You can run, flat out sprint, past a guard and unless his very short and limited field of vision is aimed at you, you are invisible and silent. So it all feels very contrived. But that's not all that wrong here. I'll make a list. The weapon combat is clumsy as all hell, basically requiring you to switch to a fixed first-person view if you want to hit anything. The hand-to-hand and sword combat (yes, a sword... stealthy) is even worse and basically only lets you fumble about in the dark, like a clumsy and desperate teen attempting to unclasp a bra and reach the promised land. But, worst of all, the camera seems to be alligned not with the player but with the terrorists as it continually refuses to show you anything. On top of all of that, the game is a clinic on how not to pace your game. Hideo Kojima, the mind behind Metal Gear, is apparently in love with every last freakin' word he writes and so makes you sit through hour after hour of exposition and talking heads. In the last 45 minutes of the game, I played for about five minutes, the time it took to beat the boss. The rest of the time was spent watching character after character pontificate, reveal plot twists, confess parentage, etc, etc, on and on, until the player is rendered comatose, which I'm taking as a mean-spirited gameplay mechanic: lull the player into torpor and then laugh when he tries to rouse himself to fight. But, despite these archaic limitations, despite gameplay that has been improved upon by almost every other entry into the stealth genre, despite the game's best efforts to leave me unconscious, despite my better judgment, I found myself having fun. There's a lot here that I don't like, and writing it all down I realize that I should not like this game. It's pretentious, over-written, and ludicrous, yet it also has something else, an X-factor if you will, some unquantifiable aspect that keeps all those criticisms from locking the game away forever in limbo somewhere. It's a fun game and, I assume based on this second entry alone, a fun franchise. Not by any stretch of this writer's imagination (and that imagination is stretchy, let me assure you) is this game art, which is what I'm always looking for these days. It didn't even fulfill the expectations I had for it, but it was a decent holiday distraction and I'm glad I finally caught up with this franchise, if for no other reason than that now I know what it's all about.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Flight of the Conchords

Okay, time to champion a little-known television series. Flight of the Conchords, an HBO sitcom just entering its second season, follows two independent (read: failing) New Zealand musicians and their dubiously credentialed manager as they try to launch a career in New York. It's like Once meets Napoleon Dynamite. While the stories are fun and clever, and usually feature more than enough humiliation and self-deprecation to suggest outright derangement on the creators' part, the real meat of the series lies in its songs. I don't know how to describe them without spiraling into meaningless cliche: they are "off-beat" (whatever that means, especially in a musical context), quirky (but not sickeningly so), self-referential (but not sickeningly so), and... well, just fun. I lack the grammar to intelligently talk about music, especially music so obviously odd, so I'll just show you what I mean.