Monday, August 18, 2008

Media redux

  • I think I need to start properly italicizing my book/movie posts. Not following the convention has finally gotten to me again.
  • Nobody told me Bridge to Terabithia was like it was. I wonder what parents took their kids on opening weekend, only to find out what it really was. For the record, I think it was pretty good, but I'm not sure yet if it was cheating. And the book is probably better...
  • We watched Dan in Real Life once again. It slays me every time. There is an amazing economy of motion. It's hilarious. It's true. Steve Carell is the man.
  • I finally finished The Pearl. I wish people would make their critical Prefaces into Postfaces so there are NO SPOILERS BEFORE THE STORY BEGINS. When you are flipping through trying to find page one, these are the worst possible things to stand in your way. They are like the soundtrack preview just before the DVD main menu. In the immortal words of Frank Costanza:
"HeyHeyHey ComeOn ComeOn! I haven't seen it yet!"

"It doesn't have anything to do with the plot."

"Still, still. I like to go in Fresh."
  • So I will not ruin the story. It was exquisitely written. I don't think I've read or heard any Steinbeck since Ms Backen read us Of Mice and Men in the 8th grade. I've never read The Grapes of Wrath, is that unbelievable? Like Stephen King, I am now looking forward to reading the rest of his oeuvre, starting again with Of Mice and Men, which I bought at the library sale.
  • Speaking of Mr King, the last we left him, he was writing himself into a book ostensibly about a rabid dog killing people indiscriminately, which I read as a book about his drug addiction destroying his family, and he had republished his long stories in Different Seasons, which contains not one but three stories made into movies. Now he's back on his ground in my opinion, writing in 1983 about a loser teenager named Arnie Cunningham, and his beat-up Plymouth, Christine. I had seen the trailer, so I knew this was about a car gone horribly wrong. I was expecting Cujo with a chrome bumper, I have been pleasantly surprised. And as always, when King is at his best, he isn't doing allegory. He is doing a story that is somehow weightier than its logline. Sure, it's about a demonic car (50 pages in, all signs point that way). But it is about a lot more than that.
  • I snuck into the hold line and scored a copy of The Way of the World, by Ron Suskind. Ron Suskind, if you'll recall, wrote two extremely important books about the Bush Administration. I wrote about The One Percent Doctrine earlier, which was an examination of something like the inner workings of the war on terror, and The Price of Loyalty, which was about Bush's domestic policy as seen through the eyes of Paul O'Neill. The only reason I haven't read very far is that I always seem to be about to eat something when I think of reading it. It's brand new and I don't want to get soup, condiments, or salty snack remains on it. From the news reports, this is the book that contains a fairly detailed account of Tahir_Jalil_Habbush_al-Tikriti, an Iraqi intelligence official, forging a document alleging false links between al-Qaeda and Iraq at the request of the Bush Administration. Let me say that twice: in order to prop up support for the then-underway invasion of Iraq, fantasists at the White House planted a document in order to retcon the justifications for the war. And he has the transcripts to prove it. But it also seems to be about the post-9/11, post-Bush future that we will collectively create. I am looking forward to both that future and this book's treatment of it.
  • Sarah and I just freed a bunny. It fell down a window well by our basement. It was scared, and would not climb up a piece of lattice we stuck down there. So, I climbed into the window well with a cardboard box, cornered the bunny and got it to go into the box, then lifted it out to safety.
  • I had a total score at the library and checked out Okami, a Nintendo Wii game. (I also found a klezmer band interpreting unpublished lyrics of Woody Guthrie: Wonder Wheel, by The Klezmatics, but if I talked about every great CD I found at the library, this would turn into a great CDs from the library blog. An improvement over the current content...) It is tiding me over until Spore comes out on September 7 (at which point, all bets are off).
  • But what a game. In Okami, you are Amaterasu Okami, the Shinto goddess of nature. (Shinto being a nature religion, this puts you at the top of the world.) You have been incarnated as a white wolf who, one hundred years ago, beat back the eight-headed dragon Orochi and sealed it in the Moon Cave, saving the world. Now, Orochi's prison has been unsealed, and the evil miasma of its presence wreaks devastation across the land of Nippon. Your mission is to use the power of calligraphy to restore the natural beauty of the environment.
  • This is an older game, having previously come out for Playstation at least, but it really shines on the Wii. The game cries out constantly for you to manipulate it with the power of your brush. Trees bloom, lily pads sprout, boulders slice in half as a result of your drawing. You feed the animals so they love you and restore the land (and also, on a somewhat heart-tugging level, because you are Mother Nature and that's just what you do). The mythology was foreign to me, but it's note-perfect, completely consistent. The dialogue is well-translated and human.
  • And the graphics are unreal. Every screen seems like a work of art. It's cel-shaded and fulsome, filled with falling cherry blossoms and stylized splashes. It takes up Japanese iconography, where a few lines represent a mountain, or the blazing sun is the familiar circle surrounded by stripes. The ink, due to the Wii remote's sensitivity to distance, feels like it's dripping on the screen. There are countless little details in the characterization, the landscape... even the menus are full of little touches.
  • If anybody asks you if video games are art, tell them to try Okami. It's not just great fun (if a little linear, but like you care, what a story; be prepared for it to be extremely Japanese though), it's over-the-top beautiful. The most interesting thing about its beauty, though, is that so much of it is derived from the interactivity. This wouldn't be nearly as good as a story about Okami, or a movie. The whole point of the thing is that you are the one reshaping and renewing the world, everything responds to you.
  • Work has been going pretty well. We are finally coming to the end of our cycle. We're actually in pretty good shape on my portion of the project (I was in charge of a decent-sized piece that I and approximately one and a half people have been working on), so I'm starting to look past what we've got and think about what's next. The delivery ate up a lot of my summer break, so I'm hoping the fall will be relaxing and rewarding for the family.
  • My son is back in preschool, so Sarah has more time on her own. I think it is making her think useful, deep thoughts about the future. Whenever she is free to be herself, even for a few hours a day, these ideas bubble up. I am excited for what the future holds as well...
  • PS, the bullet points seem to work, so I might stick to them for a while. They help me pretend I am just jotting things down, not inserting 500-word video game reviews into the middle of What I Did Last Week.
  • PPS The coolest Olympic thing I have seen so far is the badminton final. That guy was totally amazing.

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