This media blow might get political, but that’s no fault of mine:
The Lives of Others: Oscar-winning German film from 2007. Set in East Berlin in 1984, it follows a Stasi captain ordered to surveill a popular playwright and his actor girlfriend. The passion in their lives draws him in, until he finds himself bending the rules to keep them safe. Like The Conversation, but heartwarming and taking place outside of Gene Hackman’s head. Phenomenal – moving, funny and rich in historic detail.
(Note: National Review called it the best conservative movie of the last twenty-five years – which, coming from a magazine that’s spent hundreds of pages defending warrantless wiretaps and detention without trial in the last decade, ranks as one of the sicker ironies I’ve read in some time)
Half-Life 2: Acquired it with the Orange Box; finished it last week. I see what all the fuss is about! The grossout horror aspects don’t do it for me (zombies! ceiling barnacles!), but the shooting felt more intuitive and intense than any other FPS I’ve played in recent memory. The house-to-house urban levels (Anticitizen One and “Follow Freeman”) justify the sticker price – which isn’t much in 2009, so go get a copy.
And the in-game dialogue does not disappoint (as it shouldn’t, coming from the makers of Portal). Dr. Breen’s tired lectures to the troops at Nova Prospekt beat the writing in any given Michael Bay movie, hands-down. “This brings me to the one note of disappointment I must echo from our Benefactors …”
I started in on HL2:Ep1 but logged off pretty early. Given the cataclysmic ending of HL2, I figured that Ep1 would put you in control of Alyx Vance as she fled City 17. Now that would have been cool. But no, once again it’s Gordon Freeman, forced to invade the same Citadel he just spent several hours blowing up. I’ll pick it up again once time has cooled its memory, I’m sure.
Slan: Typical ’40s pulp – lots of action, lots of breakneck pacing, lots of pseudo-scientific talk. In the distant future, the human race has united into a single global police state, fanatically devoted to one end: killing the super-mutants called slans. Slans look exactly like humans, except for the golden tendrils emerging from their skulls that give them telepathic capabilities. That, plus their superhuman speed and reaction time, make them a threat to the human race.
The story moves along at an engaging clip, pausing only on occasion for lengthy lectures on the history of the current situation. In these lectures we get a definite sense of the time in which van Vogt wrote this novel: 1940, when the world hadn’t quite lost its fascination with fascism yet. Because fascism isn’t just jackboots and insignia (though those are essential). It’s any political system which treats culture, genetics and politics as different facets of the same machine, a machine that, if it were only tempered just so, could launch the human species at a lightning pace.
Still, it’s pretty understated. Get past that and you have a classic piece of sci-fi history.
Buffy: I haven’t forgotten you. A couple more episodes, then I’ll have my next batch of 5.
Black Summer: Superhero comics stem from adolescent power fantasies, and the passing decades have not matured that appeal much. Sure, comic books sometimes touch on political issues of the day, but almost always within their own limited language – “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if a super-soldier punched Hitler in the face? and he had a sidekick who was my age?” At the end of the day, it’s still wish-fulfillment. And that’s fine. Indulging in wish-fulfillment gets the human race out of bed in the morning. But let’s call it what it is.
Black Summer is an independent comic series written by Warren “&%$#” Ellis and illustrated, sometimes too ornately, by Juan Jose Ryp. It tells the story that brings the Seven Guns, America’s only cybernetically enhanced vigilante team, out of retirement. Each of the Guns combines cutting-edge information processing nanotech with handguns of unequalled power – some can run faster than light, some can throw tanks at helicopters, some can see through every satellite or computer in the world. Four of them can hold off an Army battalion.
The series begins with the most trusted member of the Seven Guns, John Horus, killing the President and Vice-President with his bare hands moments before they’re scheduled for a press conference. He appears before the White House press corps and charges the (unnamed) President with a number of crimes, including but not limited to prosecuting an illegal war in Iraq and ordering the torture of enemy combatants. He demands a new election take place as soon as possible, and then flies off.
To Ellis’ credit, John Horus is insane. No one – not even his teammates – thinks that murdering the President will solve what’s wrong with America. As one of his allies puts it, John Kennedy was so unliked that he barely got elected, and now look what people think of him. So is Ellis saying violence won’t fix the system? That violence is an ugly but necessary first step? That the system can’t be fixed?
I don’t know that he’s saying any of those. I think Ellis took a dark idea that writers have been batting around since Watchmen (“what if someone truly invincible, and maybe a little bit crazy, were as mad at the President as I am?”) and ran with it. The result is an interesting, and brutally violent, little story. I don’t think it’ll change anyone’s mind on anything important. But, again, it’s a comic book.