Handwritten by the Gaslight Anthem, Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith, Len Wiseman’s Total Recall Reboot, and Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain

Handwritten by the Gaslight Anthem

As I’ve posted before, I’ve been waiting for this album to release for a few months now and after listening to it multiple times over the past week I can safely say it’s been well worth the wait. Gaslight Anthem fans will find themselves completely at home with Handwritten, their fourth studio album.

Anthem has always cultivated a gritty, 80’s, punk-infused sound and they have continued to refine that sound with their latest release. As they age, they’ve perfected the almost bushido-like art of knowing when to smooth the edges and when leaving them rough will likely benefit the listener; it’s an art that’s far too rare in this era of music.

I won’t go over the entire album but I will make mention of some of my favorites. 45 is a tribute to Anthem’s predecessors and a throwback to the vinyl era. Hearty and nostalgic, this may be one of my favorite tracks ever, second only to The ’59 Sound. Too Much Blood cuts deep into the perils of being creative and putting so much of yourself into your art. As a writer, this song hit VERY close to home. The closing song “National Anthem” is very reminiscent of Springsteen’s I’m On Fire (too often, The Gaslight Anthem gets compared to Bruce Springsteen but to be honest I’d like to hope they don’t mind; there are worse artists to be compared to). It also marks Anthem’s first acoustic song and in my opinion they nailed it. Mellow, soulful and raw, I can’t help but think of a specific woman from my past as they quietly sing about life, love and loss.

Sadly my enthusiasm to purchase this album bit me in the ass as I was completely unaware of the existence of a deluxe edition with three extra tracks, two of which being covers of a Nirvana and a Tom Petty song respectively. I’ve since downloaded all three but I would have liked to have them on the disc and I’m seriously just considering ordering the deluxe and giving my copy of the regular to a friend. If you’re a CD collector like me, don’t make the same mistake I did.

Lyrically, the Gaslight Anthem is evolving as they learn how to weave that grittiness into poetry and I find myself turning their words over and over in my lead long after the songs had ended. That’s the mark of a great band.

 

Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

Penned by the same hand that wrote Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Seth Grahame-Smith finds himself this time stepping in the alternate fictional shoes of the Three Wise Men with the aptly titled Unholy Night. Admittedly I’m not a religious person but from what I little I remember from Sunday school class, said Wise Men appeared, gave gifts and then departed, never to be mentioned again. It’s a perfect stomping ground for Grahame-Smith’s particular brand of revisionist history.

Rather than learned men and kings from far away lands, Gaspar, Melchior and their leader Balthazar (also known as the notorious master thief called “the Antioch Ghost”), are death row prisoners who manage to escape the dungeons of the mad King Herod, narrowly avoiding their own executions. During their flight, they make a stop in Bethlehem and stumble into a well-known stable where a young woman has just given birth to a supposed messiah. Content to take their leave, Balthazar reconsiders when Herod’s soldiers quickly shift focus from tracking the fugitives, to slaughtering all first-born sons in the kingdom. The Three Wise Men decide to escort Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt and thus begins the adventure.

I found this book to be a little bit more straight forward than Vampire Hunter. Without the constraints of the memoir format of the previous book, Grahame-Smith was really able to demonstrate his ability to work with prose and I look forward to new books from him in this more traditional story-telling format.

He did an excellent job of weaving in characters from the original biblical story. Joseph and Mary are refreshingly portrayed as regular people rather than the saints that 2000 years of religion have built them up to be.  Herod is a masterfully crafted villain who walks the line between calculatingly evil and absolutely insane. Cameos by John the Baptist and a certain up-and-coming Roman soldier (whom Jesus will encounter again 33 years later) are worked into the story at the right time and in perfect doses. Gaspar is remarkably opportunistic and Melchior is demonstrably one of the greatest swordsmen of all time (not to mention absolutely ruthless once a blade is placed in his hand).

And then there is Balthazar. Balthazar is the lynch-pin of the story as we see this great escape tale told through his eyes. I’ve read other reviews in which readers found him unlikable at first, but I was a fan of his character from the get-go. The more that was revealed about his past, especially his childhood, the more I liked him. His transformation from a selfish, singularly driven thief, to reluctant protector made him someone I wanted to root for.

I tore through this book quicker than I usually do (I read multiple books at once which typically results in my taking a very long time to finish one). That’s a pretty good indication of how engrossing the story is. I’d recommend this one regardless of whether you enjoyed Grahame-Smith’s previous novels or not. It’s sure to suck you in. 

 

Total Recall

I’ve never understood the perception of remakes. Whenever a filmmaker takes a beloved classic and decides to remake it there is this bizarre expectation that the movie be exactly the same as the original. When this doesn’t turn out to be the case, people flip out. Why would anyone want to see the same movie with merely a new coat of paint on it?

As soon as I saw trailer for Len Wiseman’s new Total Recall I knew that was the direction it was heading in. I try to avoid reviews before I see a film (I’m in total agreement with Chuck Klosterman in that I never understood why someone would want to be told the inherent value of a piece of media before they actually experience it) but I usually keep my eye on the aggregates via rottentomatoes.com. Sure enough, Total Recall was getting trounced.

What some people do not realize is that this film isn’t actually a remake of the 90’s film. Like its predecessor, this film is an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story, We Can Remember it For You Wholesale. To be fair, neither film is a very faithful to the source material; they both take liberties. Each film follows certain plot elements but neither is a verbatim adaptation.

Look, I get that the original film was a cult classic, I really do. But you know what? I’ve already seen that Total Recall. I want a new interpretation. Whenever I go to see a remake I try to do it with the mindset of the original having never existed. Of course that’s easier said than done with certain films, but as a whole, that perspective usually yields a decent result. And you know what? The new Total Recall movie was a good film in its own right.

They did away with the entire Mars plot and stuck to an Earth that was almost completely ravaged by chemical warfare, leaving only a small area of Europe known as the United Federation and Australia which is now known as the Colony. The Federation is populated by the rich and the Colony by the poor (a rather blatant allegory for the current 1% vs 99% sociopolitical discourse currently being waged in this country). Each day the Colonists travel on a transport to the Federation via a giant hole bored directly through the planet known as The Fall. We’re introduced to Douglas Quaid and events in the film play out similarly to those in the short story and 90’s film but in a much more grounded way. Overt political overtones aside, I felt that this plot, while less campy, was also less clunky. It flowed in a more even manner.

Rather than choosing to be influenced by the first film, Les Wiseman’s decision to pay homage to other classic sci-fi films succeeds with flying colors. There’s a little bit of Logan’s Run, a little Starship Troopers, a LOT of Blade Runner and a smattering of other classics that can clearly be seen. Robots, flying cars, futuristic weapons, a Rekall facility more akin to a drug den and The Fall itself (the gravity shift when the transports hit the earth’s core was pretty damn cool) all lend a great deal of credibility to the film.

It was well casted. Kate Beckinsale was an absolute badass; no surprise there as the Underworld films (also directed by Wiseman) have cemented her role as a Hollywood Queen of Badass. Bryan Cranston as Cohaagen did a good job of portraying that kind of controlled megalomania that the character required. Jessica Biel did the optimistic freedom-fighter gig well. And Colin Farrell spent a good deal of time channeling his character from the Recruit, which was surprisingly fitting especially in the scenes where Quaid was either confused or kicking ass.

Between the more streamlined plot, the excellent style and the great cast, Wiseman pulled the pieces together well and it worked. If you’re a fan of sci-fi I recommend checking it out. Just try to keep in mind what you’re seeing is someone else’s take rather than Arnie with some shiny new duds.

 

Heavy Rain

Admittedly I’m way behind when it comes to PS3 Games. I’ve been gaming on the 360 and the Wii for years now but the PS3 really didn’t have any proprietary titles that I just HAD to play the way the other consoles did. It wasn’t until I was in the market for a Blu-Ray player that I decided to spring for a PS3. Had I known about the existence of Heavy Rain I’d have sprung for the new console long ago.

Created by Quantic Dream, well-known for their innovation, Heavy Rain is an interesting kind of game in that there really isn’t anything else out there like it. Anyone who’s been reading my reviews for a while knows that in gaming I value story above all other aspects of gameplay. The game plays out like an interactive story, but in a much deeper way than just directing where the story goes. You’re invested in a way that most games can’t reach because of other aspects that get in the way.

 Heavy Rain tells the story of the Origami Killer told through the perspective of 4 different characters, an investigative reporter, a private detective, an FBI agent and the father of the Origami Killer’s most recent 10-year-old victim. You move the story along through a series of quick-time events that allow you to manipulate the environment. Certain decisions must be made on the fly, others can be thought about for a period of time before you need to decide.

The story in and of itself was excellent, that is to say, the story I experienced. Everyone who plays this game will have a completely different outcome depending on what you said and the decisions you made. I’m choosing to say very little in terms of the plot to avoid spoilers, but I will say the use of the rain as a major plot element was absolutely brilliant. The plot twists kept me guessing and in some cases took me completely by surprise, which is hard to do because I’m typically pretty good at calling those kinds of things.

If you’re like me and you’ve only recently jumped on the PS3 train or you’ve been passing Heavy Rain over in favor of more standard faire games, definitely check this one out. One thing I will note is that the beginning starts off rather slowly. Power through. Once you get to the meat of the story it becomes apparent that the slow beginning was necessary to establish the motivation of one of the characters.

Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn and Patiently Awaiting The Gaslight Anthem’s Handwritten

So I just caught the trailer for the new web-series Forward Unto Dawn and I have to admit I’m a little excited. Granted it’s not the epic full-length feature film helmed by Peter Jackson that we were promised, but I’ll take what I can get. 

The Master Chief’s appearence around the 2:15 mark officially elicited an involuntary “woo hoo!”

On a side note, It’s release day for the new Gaslight Anthem album and Amazon has yet to release the mp3 downloads for purchase. It’s frustrating to say the least because I’ve already heard the first song on the LP and I can’t wait so sink my teach into the whole thing.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Trailer

So I’ve viewed this trailer about 10 times. All I can think afterwards is “how the hell was High Moon able to cram more of my childhood into a two minute trailer than Michael Bay was able to in three full-length feature films?” Take a look and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is High Moon Studios’ follow up to their wildly successful and incredibly well-done 2010 title, Transformers: War for Cybertron. Serving as a prequel of sorts, the Cybertron games take the Transformers franchise back to a time only briefly touched upon in the various cartoons, movies and comic books: the conflict initiated by Megatron between the Autobots and Decepticons which resulted in the near-destruction of their world. It’s obvious that this franchise was made by developers who were fans of the original Generation 1 cartoons, toys and comics for fans of the original Generation 1 cartoons, toys and comics.  

The trailer is chocked full of “that’s awesome” moments and little nods to the past incarnations. Optimus carrying an injured Bumblebee and the brothers-in-arms handshake they share. Starscream’s attack countered by a typical brawny punch from a grisled Ironhide. Megatron stomping on the body of a dead Autobot with a villianous sneer. The Combaticons combining into their gestalt form of Bruticus. And Grimlock, Grimlock, GRIMLOCK! Next to Optimus Prime, every kid from my generation loved Grimlock and his inclusion in this sequel is sure to draw some smiles. The music for the trailer, The Humbling River by Puscifer is just icing on the cake, tying everything together with a haunting anthem that totally fits the mood.

If a trailer is this exciting, anticipation of the August release is going to make the summer crawl.

Journey: Entertainment or Art?

 

Are video games a form of art?

 

I’ve seen that question raised more and more over the last few years as games begin to blur that line between art and entertainment and it can be hard to convince people that they are. So to most non-gamers, even the ones who are the least judgemental, video games are seen as a worthless distraction or a waste of time at best. I suppose the problem is that games have to be experienced in order for their value to be recognized or understood and most people do not see the benefit of taking the time to do that.

 

However, every once in a while something comes across that is so amazingly unique, it renders the argument moot. This time around, that something is Journey designed by That Game Company, the studio responsible for other PSN exclusive titles such as Flow and Flower.

 

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this game is that no words can possibly explain the feelings that Journey conveys. I can’t describe what Journey is; it simply must be experienced in order to be understood.

 

Perhaps its charm lies in its refreshing simplicity. Or maybe it’s Journey’s amazingly heartfelt story which is presented to the player without a single word of dialogue being uttered. It could be the gorgeous landscapes that seem to stretch on infinitely. Or possibly it’s the incredible score which manages to induce the proper emotions at precisely the right times. I’d like to think that it’s a combination of these attributes which are blended in just the right way that they transcend the game beyond merely playing it.

 

 

You begin your Journey as a lone humanoid wanderer in a vast desert. Cloaked in red, you are given no background, no instructions (save for a quick wireframe indicating how to move) and most of all no direction. Atop a lone dune off in the distance is a small thin stone sticking out of the ground. You make towards the top and as you crest the hill you see it… the mountain. Simultaneously foreboding and awe-inspiring with a shaft of pure white light emanating from its peak; somehow you just know, that mountaintop is your destination.

 

Your travels take you through the endless seas of dunes and sand, through ruined city remains of what was once an expansive and mighty civilization. From deep, dry dungeons (that feel oddly like they’re underwater even though they’re not), to frigid snow-covered mountainsides. Along the way you are told the hauntingly sad story of what happened to this world you now traverse as you learn the fate of its previous inhabitants.

 

 

I won’t go into specifics about game play or mechanics because to a game like this, they simply don’t matter all that much. One aspect I would like to touch on however, is how they handle the multiplayer. During your travels, you may come across another wanderer like yourself. You are given no screen name, no back-story and most interestingly of all, no way to communicate, save for a melodic “chirp.”

 

 

It seems like this wouldn’t be very conducive for multiplayer but it works out surprisingly well. In a game where you are meant to feel isolated and alone (sometimes terrifiyingly so), your first encounter with another living soul like yourself will actually invoke REAL emotions. You can choose to travel together, help one another out or you can simply chirp in acknowledgement and continue on your way. Regardless of how you handle it, it’s a unique way of interacting with others in the game world.

 

 

Journey will take about two hours or so to complete, roughly the equivalent a full-length feature film. During that time you will experience the entire gamut of emotions. You’ll feel happy and you’ll feel sad. You’ll experience loneliness, wonder, amazement, terror and awe. At one point you will actually feel COLD. I can’t quite explain how a game manages to do this, but it does.

 

And should you finally reach your destination, you will encounter a philosophically brilliant ending that you will spend weeks turning over and over again in your head. That is what Journey left me with; a desire to ponder the knowledge that it attempted to impart for weeks after I finished playing.

 

If that isn’t art, I don’t know what is…

 

Coming Soon: Donavon Frankenreiter, Rise of the Guardians, Dark Tower, Thundercats, Risen 2

Early spring tends to be a slow time of year for media. Most industries typically take a deep breath as they prepare for the plunge into thesummer release season. Today, rather than discuss some things I’ve already experienced, I figured I’d talk about a few upcoming movies, shows, music, books and games that I’m particularly excited about.

 

 

Start Livin by Donavon Frankenreiter

 

Donavon Frankenreiter’s next album will apparently be titled Start Livin’. Frankenreiter himself says “To me, the most beautiful thing about this record is it really reflects who I am today. Start Livin’ means stop worrying about where you’ve been, where you’re going—just start embracing what you have around you. Start loving what you have right now.”

This track, called A.I., was inspired by the unfortunate death of his close friend and fellow surfer, Andy Irons, who passed away in 2010.  If you listen closely to the lyrics it’s quite jarring but still an excellent, albeit tearful tribute.

The content of this track already lends a little more weight to Frankenreiter’s typically carefree, laid-back fare so this could definitely be an interesting LP. None of his albums have ever disappointed and I’m guessing this one will happily join his others in the Surf Rock section of my collection alongside Jack Johnson, G. Love, Current Swell, Bag of Toys, and Zach Gill.

Start Livin is slated for a May 9th release.

 

 

 

Rise of the Guardians

 

I don’t go really seeking out “family” films. While I do have quite a collection of them, it’s mostly comprised of movies from my childhood rather than more recent releases. However I will say that Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon was a pretty kick-ass film which I enjoyed immensely.

So what happens when you take the creative team behind How to Train Your Dragon and put them together with noted visual filmmaker Guillermo del Toro? You get a hulking, sword-wielding, naughty/nice-forearm-tattooed, Nordic Santa Claus. Rise of the Guardians just looks freakin cool and I kind of dig the idea of Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost and the Sandman being portrayed as a team of superheroes.

Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Chris Pine and Jude Law are voicing the main characters and the talent seems to fit the roles perfectly. I’ll admit I was a little leery about Alec Baldwin until I realized he was doing the narration in the trailer. Jude Law as the villain, Pitch, seemed spot on, as did Hugh Jackman’s Aussie Easter Bunny (which seems to be more of a jackrabbit than a bunny).

Should this film do well, I could definitely see it as a new franchise for Dreamworks. Especially since they now seem to be putting down the Shrek series for the time being. 

 

 

The Wind through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel

 

Of all the Dark Tower books that Stephen King has written I’ve found myself enjoying the stories of Roland’s youth before the world “moved” on, over the stories relating the current struggles of Roland and his Ka-tet. Consequently I’ve a soft spot for certain parts of The Gunslinger and almost the entirety of Wizard and Glass as well as the Marvel Comics Gunslinger graphic novels.

The Wind Through the Keyhole is another tale that Roland tells his friends, relating events that happened to him years ago. It is not a prequel or sequel, but apparently a side-story. When discussing the sequence of Keyhole, King says “for longtime readers, this book should be shelved between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla . . . which makes it, I suppose, Dark Tower 4.5.”

The Dark Tower cycle may be finished (or not depending on whether you read the Afterward) but there are still many stories to tell. I’m looking forward to a short trip back to Mid-World.

 

 

Thundercats

 

Thundercats was a staple of my childhood and I can still remember watching it for the first time. When the Cartoon Network announced that they were going to do a reboot of the series I was pretty stoked. However, as more and more details emerged, I started to worry a little. The art style was reported to have shifted over to a slightly more anime format. The origin changed as the cats went from a spacefaring race to natives of Third Earth. And perhaps most egregiously, there was a complete lack of any details about Panthro, which was the all time favorite Thundercat of my childhood (c’mon, he had nunchucks!), while all other characters were accounted for.

Any doubts I had about the Thundercats were laid to rest after I watched the 1 hour season premiere, and while Panthro’s whereabouts still remained an unknown, the series definitely kicked things up a notch. Whereas the original show introduces us to the main characters after their society has already been destroyed, the reboot shows us Thundera in its prime and when we witness its destruction there’s a sneaking suspicion that they might have deserved it.

 

As I continued to watch throughout the season, I was amazed at the subject matter they touched on. Social issues like racism, psychological vices such as pride, obsession, and impatience, and abstract concepts like death and reincarnation are presented in very thought-provoking ways, while not taking away from the fun an animated program is supposed to provide.

Really looking forward to Season 2 this year and while Season 1 left Panthro with BOTH HIS ARMS SEVERED (how the hell is he supposed to spin those nunchucks?), I’m sure the Robear Berbils will whip him up a pair of sweet robotic arms so he can get back to kicking lizard tail.

I’m a little obsessed with Panthro, huh? Whatever, he’s a baddass…

 

 

Risen 2: Dark Waters

 

I could easily bring up some of the more well-known franchises that will have entries this year, Halo 4, Bioshock: Infinite and Assassin’s Creed III will all be making blockbuster appearances in 2012. But I’d like to give a little love to the sequel of Piranha Bytes’ 2009 RPG, Risen.

I’ve spoken about Risen before and it’s easily one of the best RPGs I’ve played before. Now, with Risen 2: Dark Waters, we get a sequel that apparently fixes the few flaws from the original and adds a seafaring/pirate theme to the mix. How can anyone go wrong?

If you haven’t played Risen yet, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy which you can probably do for a very cheap price. And if Risen 2 isn’t on your list, do yourself a favor and add it.