Trouble Thinking

June 30, 2010

Trouble Posting

Filed under: Site News — Tags: — Chris @ 8:47 pm

Good evening, reader(s)!

It saddens me to inform you that since both of Trouble Thinking’s esteemed contributors will be off visiting the great land of French-Canadia, there will not be any new posts until late next week. Fear not, however, for we fully plan on returning from our trip both colder and wiser, at which point the same level of high quality content* you have come to expect will return unabated.

Thank you, and see you next week!

*Remember, quality can be a subjective concept.

June 25, 2010

“Tough Old Guy” Stories Are Awesome

Filed under: Movies — Tags: , , — Chris @ 11:12 pm

It’s been a pretty crappy summer movie season, but I think I’ve finally found a film I can look forward to. Granted, this one comes out in October, which is not considered summer by any definition I’m familiar with, but that’s a minor quibble.

One of my favorite plotlines is “grizzled bad ass comes out of retirement for one final job.” I think I just like the idea that, at the end of the day, even if you’re not as strong, fast, or whatever as you used to be, experience and practice will always win out at the end. It’s always exciting to watch a person who is supremely competent at something, especially a physical activity, get it done—particularly, as is often the case with these sorts of stories, when this competence is completely unexpected by the other characters. Furthermore, as movies tend to be about activities that are already exciting to watch in the first place (there are not many about a guy who is the best roofer, for example), the end result, can oftentimes be extra satisfying.

Red has this going on two levels. Not only is it about expert former CIA operatives, but it has an amazing cast of highly skilled actors. Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren? The only thing better than a comedy starring talented comedians, is a comedy starring talented actors, and you can’t get much more talented than that lineup right there. Combined with the fact that in the trailer alone they just look to be having an absolute blast, promises that Red will be a film that will hit me on all the right levels.

June 23, 2010

Judging the Crackdown 2 Demo

Filed under: Video Games — Tags: , , — Chris @ 8:58 pm

I’m a little tired today, so I’m going to try to keep this brief.

I wish the demo for Crackdown 2 had been out back when I wrote the “Old Stuff/New Stuff” article, because it serves as a perfect example of what I was talking about. Judging solely by the demo, which feels like it gives a pretty good idea of what the game is like as a whole, Crackdown 2 is almost exactly like the first game. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—Crackdown is fun as hell, and therefore Crackdown 2 is pretty fun as well—but it isn’t terribly interesting either. It controls the same, the graphics look about the same, and aside from some slightly cleaned-up melee moves, all the combat is exactly the same as well. All of the changes new developer Ruffian has made are entirely superficial; the player character looks a bit more Master Chief-like, the city looks more run down, and the enemies are somewhat more diverse (the mutants from the first game are a bit more fleshed out). All of that is just window dressing, though. It doesn’t actually serve to make the game any different from its predecessor. Once you get past all that, you’ve got the exact same thing all over again.

Like I said, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Crackdown was incredibly entertaining, and if it’s almost exactly the same, Crackdown 2 should be as well—I just don’t see any reason to pick it up. I own the game once already, I don’t see any reason to buy it again.

Chris Reviews: When a Giant Thunderstrike Simultaneously Knocks Out Your Power and Wakes You the Fuck up at 3:30 in the Morning and You Have to be up at 6:30 for Work but it’s Hot as Hell and You Can’t Sleep Because Your AC is Out and Your Windows Are Shut to Keep Out the Rain.

Filed under: Troubled Thinking — Tags: , — Chris @ 7:08 am

It’s not great.

June 21, 2010

An Introduction to an Exciting New Corporate Owned Licensed Character

Filed under: Comics — Tags: , , — Chris @ 11:07 pm

It’s rare in the world of the “Big Two” comic book publishers (Marvel and DC), that an attempt to create a new, popular character is made. Rarer still is when these characters are any good, and go on to achieve anything resembling what qualifies as success in the comic book biz. In fact, an argument could be made that the last true breakout character to come out of the big two is the X-Men’s Wolverine, a fact that only gets sadder when you consider that he was created in 1974.

There are a number of reasons for this, but the most important is that point comics are all about nostalgia at this point. If you’ll allow me to paint in broad strokes for a moment, comics nerds, like most nerd subcultures, really just want the same itch to be scratched over and over again, despite whatever protestations they make to the contrary. They say they want new stuff, but sales numbers seem to indicate that old stuff is far preferred.

Still, occasionally Marvel or DC will test the waters with a new character, and that is exactly what happened in 2006 with the Blue Beetle. Admittedly, the Blue Beetle isn’t an entirely new character, there had in fact been two characters who had used the name previously. The first, Dan Garrett, was created in the 40s, and is somebody no one really cares all that much about. The second, Ted Kord, created in the 60s by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko, was a fun character who was sort of a hybrid of Spider-Man and Batman. Ted reached his highest level of popularity in the 80s/early 90s as a member of the Justice League, after which he sort of faded into background, until 2005, when DC decided it was time to shoot him in the head.

Classy.

What followed was a bunch of big event crossover nonsense which I don’t particularly feel like recapping, so let me just say that eventually this lead to a new Blue Beetle being created; a high school student from El Paso named Jaime Reyes. While Ted Kord had been a “Batman who was actually friendly,” sort of character, Jaime could best be described as a “teenager who became Iron Man by accident.” Jaime was fused with a strange alien scarab, which could wrap around him in blue and black Iron Man-esque armor, allowing him to fly, shoot energy blasts, and all kinds of other superhero stuff.

Jaime was given a brand new solo series, which running for twenty-five issues under co-creator John Rogers, was an absolute blast. Rogers, a former stand-up comic, and a screenwriter who currently works as head writer and creator of the TNT show Leverage (and also, by the way, has a thoroughly excellent blog which I can’t recommend highly enough), moved the series away from the sort of ultra-violence that predominates modern day comics, understanding that above all else, superheroes should be fun. The series was infused with humor and action in equal abundance, and even when it was serious, never sunk to the level of being “gritty.”  Jaime ended up an incredibly likeable protagonist as well, an excellent coming of age arc about a kid finding his place in a world full of space aliens, giant monsters, alternate dimensions, and high school drama. Top notch pencils by artists Cully Hamner and Rafael Albuquereque didn’t hurt either.

Recently though, I’ve been a little worried about Jaime. His series was cancelled shortly after Rogers’ departure, relegating him to ensemble roles in books such as the frequently abysmal “Teen Titans.” Furthermore, recently DC has been killing off legacy characters at an alarming pace, and I’ve had this inkling that Jaime could be next on the editorial chopping block. So, it was with great relief that I read this news last week: DC is working to get a live-action Blue Beetle television series made.

Now, I know that DC is pretty bad at marketing, but even they’re not so bad that they’ll kill off a character right before giving him a television show. Understand, I’m not actually excited about the show itself. Judging by Smallville, the odds of it actually being any good are pretty slim, but this does mean that an exciting new character will be around for quite some time, and it comics, it doesn’t get much more rare than that.

Unless of course the show doesn’t get picked up, then Jaime is boned. So. Boned.

June 18, 2010

Alan Wake Impressions

Filed under: Video Games — Tags: , , , — Chris @ 11:31 pm

I don’t consider this a review, as I only really feel right reviewing a game I’ve beaten, and I don’t see myself beating Alan Wake anytime soon, if at all. Allow me to explain why.

(more…)

June 16, 2010

Book Review: Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — Chris @ 10:30 pm

I am hopelessly out of the loop when it comes to book releases. With movies or games, only a few are released each week, and even less of those are worth paying any attention to, so it’s much easier to stay appraised of what’s out when. With books, and to a lesser extent comics, the process isn’t so simple. So many are released so often, that I have trouble keeping up—if I’m even aware at all. Combined with the fact that I’ve yet to find a reliable source or website to help direct me towards novels that may match my interest, means I typically stumble across books haphazardly, long after others have read and absorbed them, and moved on to something else (or that’s how it feels anyway).

All of this is my way of saying that Motherless Brooklyn came out awhile ago—1999 awhile ago. I just read it though, so now I’m going to talk about it, and you can’t stop me. I mean, I guess you could stop reading, but please don’t do that; I only have like three readers as it is. Thank you.

Motherless Brooklyn follows Lionel Essrog, an orphan whom years ago, alongside three other boys from his orphanage, was unofficially adopted by a small-time Brooklyn hood named Frank Minna, who for all intents and purposes grooms them to become his loyal henchmen. After they grew up, Minna employed the boys, now known as his “Minna Men,” as an equally small-time detective agency, hidden under the cover of a car service. As the novel opens, Minna is killed by an unknown assailant, and Lionel decides that it is up to him to uncover the mystery behind his boss/father figure’s death. Oh, and one other thing: Lionel has a severe case of Tourette Syndrome.

Described in a blurb like that, Lionel’s illness sounds like a cheap gimmick to spice up what might otherwise be a run-of-the-mill detective novel. In Jonathan Lethem’s hands, however, Lionel’s Tourette’s becomes the focal point of the story, delving deeply into how the various tics, vocal utterances, and OCD compulsions and obsessions of Tourette’s affect how he thinks about, and interacts with, the world around him. Lethem must either know someone with Tourette’s, or did some serious research, because he goes into phenomenal, engrossing detail regarding the condition, and what it feels like to be on the producing end of the various symptoms. For someone like me, who knows almost nothing about Tourette’s, I found it an enlightening look into a disability I had only heard about as a bad joke in equally bad movies.

This is only my second Lethem novel, the first being his sci-fi noir tale Gun, With Occasional Music. While both are detective stories, Motherless Brooklyn adopts a much lighter tone than the earlier novel. Despite being a tale revolving around murder, revenge, orphans, and the effects of a severe mental illness, it really isn’t all that grim. Many of the minor characters that enter the story seem almost intentionally absurd, and while I certainly wouldn’t describe the book as tongue-in-cheek, there is definitely something deliberately off-kilter going on that I found endearing.

Motherless Brooklyn received a lot of praise when it was released, and I can certainly see why. It is an exciting, exceptionally well written murder mystery, which in the character of Lionel Essrog, finds a unique, likeable, and incredibly sympathetic protagonist who you will remember for some time. I highly recommend it.

June 14, 2010

Regarding The Only Band That Matters

Filed under: Music — Tags: , , — Chris @ 11:43 pm

One of the greatest parts of music is discovery. Uncovering some new song, album, band, or entire genre which you hadn’t before been exposed to, and just becoming overwhelmed as it changes your entire listening-life forever.

Recently, I have discovered The Clash. Their whole discography had only been around for my entire life, plus about ten years. Whatever. It’s all new stuff to me.

Well, not all new stuff. I’ve known of The Clash, obviously. I’m not entirely oblivious. I’d heard “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” “Rock the Casbah,” and “London Calling”—it’d be basically impossible to live in our culture and not get exposed to those songs, they’re pretty ingrained at this point.  Furthermore, I’ve actually owned the album London Calling for somewhere around five or six years at this point, but, who doesn’t own London Calling? It’s one of those albums everyone owns, its greatness so well-known it is taken for granted. I know that I had. I’ve listened to it for years, always enjoyed it, but for one reason or another, never really thought about the band behind it.

At least until a couple months ago when, driven by forces unknown, I felt compelled to see what else the minds behind London Calling had produced. First, I picked up their self-titled, debut album. Hard and fast, The Clash sees the band at their most stylistically punk. The lyrics are still powerful today, and while generally uncomplicated, songs like “Career Opportunities” and “London’s Burning” will stay trapped between your ears for days at a time, demanded to be listened to over and over.

Next, I grabbed Combat Rock, home of previously mentioned perennial favorites “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and “Rock the Casbah.” The rest of the album is pretty great as well, though doesn’t reach the level of London Calling—it lacks a sort of cohesiveness that London Calling has. Still, overall a good album, and “Straight to Hell” is fucking excellent.

Then, came Sandinista!. For those who don’t know, Sandinista! is The Clash equivalent of jumping into the deep end—a triple album covering a plethora of divergent styles, released only a year after London Calling; it is nothing but bizarre, genre-schizophrenic madness. It is simultaneously the least and most punk thing ever.

What follows is not an intellectual dissection, but pure emotional reaction.

It’s kind of amazing, even the parts that are no good (and they are there). A common criticism of Sandinista! I’ve read, is that it’s one good album in three albums worth of music, and that’s probably true, but what interests me, is I bet if you asked around, everyone would give you a different list regarding what that good album consisted of. Sure, songs like the “The Magnificent Seven” and “Police on My Back” would probably universally make the cut, but what about others. Like this song.

Listen to that. That is “The Sound of the Sinners.” It is a no fooling gospel song, as recorded by The Clash, and I fucking love it. Only three years previous, The Clash’s lead off single was this song, “White Riot,” and then they went and recorded something like “Sinners;” or this. Or this.

The album is so diverse, it’s like The Clash decided to absolutely push their artistic abilities to their limits, just to see if they could do it. It doesn’t always work (there are a couple covers of their own songs on this album—as sung by children), but when it does, the results are spectacular. The only other band I can think of that has this sort of growth in so short a period of time is The Beatles. The more I listen, the more I see how The Clash could get away with calling themselves “The Only Band That Matters”—it’s true.

June 11, 2010

Facebook, We Need to Talk

Filed under: The Internet — Tags: , , — Chris @ 11:07 pm

Listen Facebook, we’ve known each other since 2004, and I think we have gotten to know each other pretty well by now. In fact, the way I hear it, you’ve gotten to know me really, really well. It’s just that, well, I think you may have started to get the wrong idea about me. There have been some things you’ve been saying to me, and it’s just, you know, I’m not sure how you got some of these ideas in your head.

I’m talking about your ads, Facebook. Look, I know you’re just trying to help. You think you know me, and are just trying to point me towards some stuff I’d be interested in, but this isn’t helping, and you’re starting to make me a bit uncomfortable. Like, ok, I know that in my profile I’m listed as single, but that doesn’t mean you need to plaster my page with dating ads. Does it say “single and desperate?” No, it doesn’t. It says “single.” And another thing, why do all these ads exclusively feature skanky teenage girls? I know you know how old I am Facebook, you made me tell you, so what kind of weirdo do you think I am? Does it say “Single, desperate, and super creepy?” It does not. I just checked.

And recently, it’s just been getting worse! You’ve been getting awfully specific, and I’m not entirely certain where you’ve been getting these ideas about me. You’ve ditched the teenage girls, and are now just throwing fetishes at me at random. “Hey, Chris,” you say, “Would you like to date some Big Beautiful Women?”

“Wait, so you mean fat women? What would make you think I’m seeking out—“

“What about Cougars? Want to date some Cougars? I’ve got 6000 Cougars just waiting for your call.”

“What? I haven’t even explained the big girl thing, and now you think I want to date—“

“Big Beautiful Cougars, Chris. Thousands of retired chubby chicks, just the way you like it.”

It’s getting unseemly, Facebook. It would be one thing if you ever let me explain myself, but all you do is ask me over and over again if I “like” stuff. Well, what if I don’t “like” stuff, Facebook? What if I “dislike?” I don’t know what makes you jump to these conclusions about me, and I’m not certain how to fix it.

Wait a second. Fat girls, and old women…this is because I fucking told you I like Billy Joel, isn’t it? Well, fuck you, Facebook. First off, you don’t get to make fun of me. I’m not the crappy social networking site that’s getting more and more inept and difficult to use with each redesign, abusing the trust of its users, and becoming more and more bogged down with useless features, all while your basic chat functionality is still an exercise in torment and frustration. Second, Billy Joel is fucking awesome, and you aren’t worthy to shine his booze-soaked shoes. His early work is amazing, and if you don’t feel at least a little moved by “Piano Man,” then your soul is nothing more than a cold, shriveled lump of shit.

Christ it’s just…look…I’m sorry I blew up on you there. I’m trying to be cool about this, but you’re starting to fray my nerves a bit. For the entire time I’ve known you, you’ve become nothing but more and more useless. You’re regressing. I’m not going to delete my account or anything, in fact, I’m not even sure if I can. I’m stuck with you. I made a bad decision a while back, and now I’m stuck with you for the rest of my life, checking in every day just to make sure you that haven’t gotten completely out of control. You’re like the herpes of the internet, Facebook.

Ok, ok, that was rude, I apologize. How about, you just try to shape up, huh Facebook? I remember when we first met you were this clean, uncluttered alternative to Myspace. Now…now you’re just as bad. You have to shape up Facebook, and I believe that you can. If you don’t…well, I mostly just like writing status messages, and I hear Twitter doesn’t make me put up with this of shit.

I’m just saying.

June 9, 2010

Old Stuff/New Stuff

Filed under: Troubled Thinking — Tags: , , — Chris @ 8:55 pm

I found myself thinking recently about a conversation I had with someone after I quit playing City of Heroes. Loyal readers (Ha!) will recall my mentioning way back in my first article, that I played City of Heroes, a superhero themed Massively Multiplayer Online RPG, for something like three or four years straight. It would be a safe bet to say that I was pretty obsessed, but eventually even my obsession got bored; I realized that I had long since ceased having any interest in the game past coming up with fun character ideas, and I stopped playing. Sometime later, I found myself discussing it with one of the people I regularly played with (part of what can make MMOs so addicting is when you find a steady group of people who are just as addicted as you are, and you all sort of feed off of each other), and I mentioned to him that I couldn’t understand how he could still be playing the game after for so long, that part of the reason I gave up playing was that the game just felt old now, in every aspect of the word. Not only did it consist of doing the same old stuff over and over, but that everything from the graphics, to the basic design principles of the game, were hopelessly outdated. His response to me was, “I don’t know, you just put more of a priority on new stuff than I do.”

Ignoring the irony of saying that to a guy who had managed to play the same old stuff for just over three years straight, the entire idea behind that statement sort of took me aback. I suppose I’d never seen it stated so frankly, but were there really people who didn’t put a priority on new stuff?

Sure, I like my old stuff plenty, and I go back to, even treasure some of it—hell, you’ve seen me write enthusiastically about old stuff before, and that’s not going to stop any time soon. Yet, I’m always on the lookout for new stuff—and when some of my old stuff tries to do new stuff, I love it when legitimately does new stuff. I loved Bioshock, but never even bothered with Bioshock 2. Why? Same old stuff! They didn’t change or expand the game in any way that mattered. I love the Killers’ first album Hot Fuss, but am completely indifferent on any of their subsequent albums, because there isn’t any new stuff; all the later songs sound just like they could be on Hot Fuss, so what’s the point of that? That’s old stuff. Give me a band like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, where every album might be the same old band, but yet features all new stuff. It’s all the same band, but their style grows and changes and evolves with each album into all new stuff. That’s the stuff I like. All old stuff with no new stuff sounds dull to me, but who knows, maybe that’s just me.

Really, this is one of those stupid, ego-centric, “wait, so you mean not everyone thinks exactly like I do?” moments we all have every now and then. Nostalgia is a very powerful force in our culture, and in fact, I can’t think of a time when old stuff has ever been more popular.  Look at the movies coming out in the next few weeks, an A-Team remake, a Karate Kid remake, and Toy Story 3, a sequel to a franchise which has lain dormant for years. Furthermore, technology is making it easier and cheaper for people who love old stuff: DVD releases of old TV shows can keep you awash in nothing but your favorite old stuff for the rest of your life, if you so desire.

Of course, then again, if you missed those shows when they first came about, well, it’s all new stuff for you, isn’t it? I guess it’s a good time for new stuff too.

So, what was the point of all this? No idea, honestly, just something I’ve been thinking about lately. I like my old stuff, but I love discovering new stuff, and I love just as much when old stuff adds some new stuff to itself and becomes like new.

What about you, noble readers (there’s that joke again), how do you feel about old stuff and new stuff? Are you comfortable with just your old stuff? Do you say all new stuff all the time, forget old stuff? Do you have no idea what the hell I’m going on about (this is entirely possible)? Let me know! Let’s get some use out of these comments!

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