Wednesday, April 30, 2003

On Angel:
Another great episode, as the story that built throughout the season comes to a very satisfying end, leaving the season finale to give a coda of sorts to the whole thing. I've seen some people excited that the end of Buffy will mean some of Buffy's writers will move over to Angel, but that prospect scares me more than anything... the writers of Angel have taken a show that I'd all but given up on at the end of last season and transformed it into one of my top five shows, while the writers of Buffy are writing the worst season that show has seen.

This episode did the impossible, in that it not only had me rooting for Conor, it had me feeling sorry for him. I no longer dread him returning as a regular cast member next season, because he now fits in much better with the theme of redemption that drives the show. And while I'd still like to see the supporting cast (especially the under-used Gunn) get more time in the spotlight, it's hard to argue when Boreanaz has developed into such a charismatic, likable and often funny lead. One of the other birthday gifts I received was Angel, and once I finish watching the Family Guy, I can't wait to dive back into season one and re-acquaint myself with the show, thanks to renewed enthusiasm from this season.
Warcraft D20 RPG: Sword & Sorcery, the White Wolf division that produced the gorgeous Everquest RPG compatible with D&D, have announced that they're doing a Warcraft RPG for D&D 3.5. I was not much of an Everquest fan, so that property held little interest for me, but seeing how well they handled the translation of that electronic game into pen-and-paper has me very excited about Warcraft, a game I have loved since its first incarnation. Given that I just bought Midnight and that I currently play in campaigns in the Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk, I think it's pretty unlikely that I'll ever actually play a Warcraft game, but I still want this and can't wait to see it.
On Buffy:
Yep, I'm sure of it. The fans would have been better off if UPN had never picked up Buffy. The balance of fun and spooky seemed to be there at the very beginning of this season, but now we're right back in heavy angst, no fun, helpless hero mode like we've been at the tail end of the last two seasons, and it's gotten very old. Buffy is acting like a complete idiot, and about the best moment of this episode was the intervention where everyone finally told her so. Shame that by the time they did it, I couldn't really feel any sympathy for Buffy's obvious pain because she'd gotten people killed and Xander badly wounded, and she hasn't been fighting smart for a long, long time.

I'm also still remarkably irked that the comedy relief has gone from Xander (who I liked) to Andrew (who I can't stand). The whole time during the Andrew/Spike exchange on the motorcycle, I was vocally wishing for a semi truck to come rolling down the road and fix two of the big problems the show has right now. I'm watching Buffy more out of a sense of completism at this point, which makes me sad. And even though last season had its low points, it also had its highs... now I'm wondering if I ought to stop my Buffy DVD collection at season five and just pretend it ended there.

On 24:
Then there's 24, which is firing on all cylinders for me right now. I was a little disappointed in Jack not putting a bullet into the murderous rednecks, especially when we learn later that they damaged the chip, but the rest of the show was great. Even the brief appearance of Kim solved a nice subplot that had been going since the first episode of this season, and I liked the personal stuff between Jack and Kate as well. My guess for next season? It takes place on the day Jack is going to propose to Kate, about a year after all of these events have ended. Oh, and the stuff with Palmer was dynamite... I kept hoping he was going to confront Mike with what happened to Lynne, since he must have figured that one out by now, but he was busy enough that I can see why they wouldn't get into it right away. The other thing that 24 occasionally reminds me of, and did this episode, is that because the show is sort of a discrete-24-episode thing, the status quo is very much fluid, and the vote with Palmer went in a way I did not expect.

Monday, April 28, 2003

The Family Guy Seasons 1 & 2 DVD set was one of the gifts I got for my birthday about a week and a half ago, and it's the only one I've had a chance to watch any of yet. It's great, every bit as funny and off-beat as I remember it, and it once again has me angry at the way Fox treated it, reluctantly uncancelling it only when it was Emmy nominated and even then subjecting it to schedule moves and pre-emptions so that nobody could find it. I adored the show, and still haven't seen about half of these episodes because I could never find them.

I have only watched discs one and two (of four), but the set is a laugh riot so far. The family moving into a dead aunt's mansion, post-Y2K apocalypse, "to the Pope-mobile!", Peter's complete butchering of "The King and I" and many other moments have been a lot of fun to watch. The commentaries are for the most part a little dull, but occasionally there's something really funny. I was a bit irked to hear that there were supposed to be commentaries on every episode, but that Fox decided some of them might offend the audience so they took them out. Offend... the Family Guy audience. That's *almost* as stupid as Warner Brothers removing all the commentaries from the South Park DVDs, although not quite as stupid, because that decision led to me not buying the South Park DVDs in hope that someone will eventually come to their senses and republish. I'm also irked that "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein" wasn't included, but hey, I've got an Internet connection, so at least I can *see* the episode, even if I can't have it on DVD.

All in all, though, this is a great set, and one of the best DVD sets I'll probably get this year.
On Alias:
Huh. Last season we had the midseason slump as they went too far into the whole mythology thing with Rimbaldi and Sydney was a potential danger and was locked up by mysterious men and women in black... this season, the midseason episodes kicked ass as they kicked over the status quo and sent the show off in a new direction, and the season finale, while not quite as nerve-wracking so far as last year's, is looking pretty damn solid. Great stuff with a dangerous and borderline delusional Sloane, the new relationship for Marshall is unbelievably cute, loved the tension of minor difficulties in the relationships between Syd, Vaughn and Dixon without just utterly (and stupidly) wrecking their relationships to wring out more drama and I also love that, in 24 style, Alias isn't afraid to have the good guys engage in some questionable torture to get what's needed. And I'm dying to know what the catastrophic event was that took place, because we all know Rimbaldi is never wrong... remember that the prophecy involved Sydney's mom, and we don't know what she was doing at midnight...

On Fastlane:
In contrast, Fastlane's season finale was a mess, but that shouldn't really be surprising. Van's difficulty in getting close to the latest love in his life rings false given how much of a player the guy is, and my exposure to Jack Bauer's character had me wondering why Nick wasn't just tortured until he gave up the name of the three families the second he set foot in the Candy Store. It couldn't have been a moral objection, because the three cops decided to *murder* Nick at the end of the episode in the flashiest and stupidest way possible, and then they acted surprised by the consequences of having diamonds spill all over the street. I've enjoyed Fastlane as something of a guilty pleasure, and will probably continue to do so, but man I wish they had some better writers. Oh, and it's really, really cheap to end a show on a cheesy cliffhanger the way they did, especially when there's a likelihood the show won't be coming back for season two. There's a difference between a good cliffhanger (like the one Alias ended on last year) and a forced one.

On John Doe:
I can't decide whether the end of John Doe was good or forced. It'll depend on the explanation, although I am a little worried that the Phoenix group and it's machinations and motivations could easily go into X-Files territory. I was hoping for some answers or resolution from the John Doe finale to keep me watching, and there was just enough (Theresa finally back with John, a big revelation about the third possible leader of the Phoenix Group that we've seen and a little more indication of what they're looking for) to bring me back. Especially if they add the NSA agent to the regular cast... I like the guy, and he's proven to be a pretty trustworthy ally and a funny character, which is unusual for the way NSA guys are usually presented in fiction. Oh, and one thing I have to give John Doe... I actually believed that every character was in danger in last night's finale because of their willingness to kill off a great and likable supporting character like Karen. I miss the character, but the notion that nobody is safe is one that I wish more shows would adopt, and one I wish Buffy would have brought back a little more strongly in its last three or four seasons.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

On Angel:
Creeeeepy. Ben Edlund (who IMDB assures me is the same guy who wrote the Tick) just kicked major ass on this week's episode, building up the "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" paranoia riff of Jasmine to new heights, and turning Connor into even more of a creep. If he isn't killed off at the end of this season, I'm going to be very disappointed, as they've made him a really good judas and bad guy, but I'm not real willing to welcome him back into the fold, and I don't think the Angel gang should be either. At any rate, some great mood and a little bit of believable coincidence, not to mention some creepy new bad guys, really ups the tension without giving the whole hopeless despair feel that Buffy has had for most of the season. The show really is, if not at its best, than among its best, right now.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

On 24:
Wow. I take back everything I said about 24 last week. This was one of the strongest episodes yet, and has me once again anxious to see what happens next week. I'm still having a little trouble buying some of it, as they seem to be stretching out the drama a bit, but they've put all the principals into really scary danger and given us a little karmic payback for the hell that some of the heroes went through last episode. Although the good guys still took a beating this episode, with one fatality and one near-fatality that could still end with one of them dead.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

On Bulletproof Monk:
For my birthday, my wife and I went with one of our friends to have dinner at Bahama Breeze (a Caribbean-themed chain of restaurants) and then met up with a few friends to see Bulletproof Monk. I honestly remember very little of the comic, but I was pleased with the movie. It's cheesy as hell, and the villains are about as camped up as anything you'll see outside a Joel Schumacher film, but Chow Yun-Fat is funny for the first time I can remember seeing him, both Sean William Scott and Jamie King are likable and have decent enough chemistry together and the action sequences are nifty, even if the CGI is a bit weak and easy to spot. This is a cheesy action movie, and I don't think the filmmakers intended all of the humor that I got out of it, but it was a lot of fun.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

On tonight's 24:
I think maybe next season the show should be called 15. Just as it did last year, the show flagged once the big tension builder was pretty much wrapped up, although I don't think they could have drawn that main story out much longer either. At any rate, the story now certainly isn't bad, it's just that it gets more and more contrived as things go on (a few too many coincidences) and while the stakes are certainly still high, I'm not really feeling the danger as much as I did early on, when I thought they might actually detonate a nuke in Los Angeles. Interestingly enough, though, the bit with Mike and Lynne has gotten me interested in what's going on with Palmer again, and it's always fun to see Jack's bad-ass-edness reinforced, as it's one of my favorite elements of the show. Shame Youssef isn't a little more like Jack... if he'd popped the two guys in the head who attacked him, the whole situation he's found himself in could have been avoided... and let's face it, the world could have used two or three less bigoted rednecks, right? :)

As for Buffy:
The constant inspirational speeches that don't inspire and the constant way that Buffy and her allies have been getting their asses handed to them is getting repetitive and frustrating. I thought when this season began we were going to get a more familiar mixture of light and dark, but so far the darkness has been overwhelming, and of late the light has been comedy with Andrew (who I can't stand) and other parts of the show that don't feel as funny. I'm actually starting to think it would have been better if Buffy hadn't been picked up by UPN, even though we've had some very solid episodes (the musical, for one) since that time, because overall the show is weaker now than it has been in quite a while. Of course, tonight's episode was better than most have been, and more Eliza Dushku is always good. Especially when she's flirting with Spike... now *that's* a Slayer/Vampire relationship I can get behind, because it lets both characters be who they are instead of having to dirty up one or clean up the other to make it work.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Midnight is a way cool new setting for D20 D&D from Fantasy Flight Games. It came into the shop in the middle of this week, and I got a chance to look through it, and this is not only a great idea, it has been executed extremely well.

Basically, it's set in a world where evil has triumphed and the good gods can't help, and the heroes are sort of the last vestiges of resistance trying to hold onto hope. It's fairly dark, but it's rife with possibilities for taking D&D beyond hack and slash, and the world seems well-realized and (judging from the publishing schedule) well-supported.

Probably the coolest things to me are the new magic system, which allows anyone (not just spellcasters) to learn minor amounts of magic, the redefined character classes and races to fit into the world and specifically the gnomes. In this world, the gnomes live on big barges that roam the waterways, becoming the transporters for this evil empire... but they're secretly the best smugglers and spies in the world thanks to their nomadic existence and relatively free ability to travel.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

The Matrix Reloaded trailer is now online. I was talking to a friend of mine a minute ago (not usually given to hyperbole) who told me "It is the coolest thing I've ever seen in my life." After watching it myself, I'm not too sure he's wrong. In a summer full of movies I'm looking forward to (X2 and Hulk among them), Matrix Reloaded is definitely top of my list. Oh, and the latest Animatrix installment, by the creator of Cowboy Bebop, is also probably the best Animatrix segment so far. And I'm psyched for the Enter The Matrix videogame and the 2-disc Matrix Reloaded soundtrack.

Man, I am so the Wachowskis' bitch.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

New Preview on Soul Calibur 2, which is supposed to be coming to platforms in August. It was news of Soul Calibur 2 that finally got me to buy a console system, since I bought a Dreamcast almost entirely for the first Soul Calibur and have never regretted that decision. Though I'm loving War of the Monsters right now, I can't wait to have what I consider the best fighting game ever (in it's next iteration) for my PS2.
Hero Games: Champions: Millennium City - I've been waiting anxiously for this one to be released, since I'm running a campaign set in Millennium City, and I've been sort of keeping locations and details vague to avoid contradicting the source material later on. Not that I won't modify some of it for the campaign anyway, but I wanted to see what the originators had in mind before really mucking with it. This is a pretty nice sourcebook, with plenty of detail on the real Detroit and surrounding area mixed in with the fictional Millennium City. Highlights for me were the map of the districts of the city, more explanations of some of the technology, the exploration of local politicos and law enforcement personalities and of course the statistics for Dr. Silverback, everyone's favorite genius gadgeteer gorilla in the new Champions Universe. I was hoping for maps with a little more detail, and indeed a little more detail on some locations (a map of the university and a map of police headquarters and city hall in particular would have been great for the inevitable slugfests that will take place there), but overall I'm very pleased with the sourcebook.

There were of course a few typos and mislaid sentences, as has been the norm with the new Champions... minor irritations at best, although I did get sort of an ironic chuckle that one of the lines that was dropped ends with "Their help spotting typos" and errata reveals that the rest of the sentence involved "dropped words, and the like." Suppose that's why you should let the proofreaders read *everything*, even when you're thanking them in that sentence. :)
On tonight's 24:

As the story goes on, I'm having less and less interest in every subplot except for Jack's, but I'm really enjoying that aspect of it. The writers have done a great job bringing in a couple players late in the game (Youssef and Mr. Coral Snake, whose name I can never remember) and turning them into interesting characters. And the gunfight was terrific, giving a real sense of confusion and danger but still showing off the skills of the protagonists. Kim's story reached something of an anticlimax for me when we learned that everything was OK after all, except her boyfriend dumped her... given that her boyfriend was the one who decided to try the crazy lighter stunt in the first place, I don't have a great deal of sympathy for him, quite honestly. The President's story is mildly intriguing, but it's mostly an off-shoot of Jack's story, and I kind of miss the "who can he trust?" elements of that story. I'm also finally accepting that we're not going to see Nina again this season, which is a shame because her involvement was some of the best TV 24 had to offer, and I was sort of looking forward to a showdown of sorts between her and Jack. Guess they want to keep her in the "recurring adversary" department. I'd certainly rather see her back next season than Kim.

Friday, April 04, 2003

You know, it occurs to me that if they'd just do a fight to the death between Connor and Spike, with mutually assured destruction, both Angel and Buffy would become much, much better shows.

Otherwise, I quite enjoyed Angel on Wednesday. It was fun to see Skip again, even under those circumstances, the revelation of what's going on (for the most part) made enough sense, the actress they have playing the big bad is one I like and while I thought they went a little too far at times in trying to portray Cordelia or Skip as evil, verging into bwa-ha-ha territory, I liked some of the ideas about a little manipulation and a big plan getting them all to this point in the first place.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

I realized today while looking over games orders for June that the Babylon 5 game coming out in June is a D20 product, that it's produced by Mongoose Entertainment and that it is being released almost simultaneously with a player/GM supplement as well as a big self-contained adventure. Which pretty much means I want to have it. Budget? What budget?

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Tuesday is my favorite night of TV this season. Buffy, 24, The Shield, and even if one of them isn't new (or isn't on) there's a pretty good chance at least one of them will be.

24 has had a pretty strong second season... I'm not sure if I think it's better than the first, but there are elements that are certainly as good. I'm hoping and praying that Kim won't be a part of the third season, as her part of the show started out as a stretch and quickly veered into ridiculous (a friend and I have taken to making constant fun of the whole cougar thing). But I am very pleased at how they took what could have been the finale of the season (the bomb going off) and turned it into the catalyst for the last 8 hours and a new conflict, preventing an enormous and costly war. I'm also pleased with how they've introduced new characters fairly late in the game (the foreign intelligence agent who has become Jack's ally, Michelle's former boss, the rogue Coral Snake operative) and made them interesting and important to the ongoing story. If you cut out Kim's part of the story, I'm really happy with tonight's episode, although I'm not entirely sure I follow the plot logic for why Coral Snake guy needed Kate Warner. I'm hoping he was lying about needing her DOD connections, because I couldn't quite figure out how taking her with him was going to help when her using her business connections wouldn't, except that (out of plot necessity) it puts Kate in danger and forces Jack to make a hard choice.

The Shield finished up tonight, and I won't say much about it to avoid spoiling anyone... but if you aren't watching this show, you should be. Fantastic moral ambiguity, amazing direction, strong scripts, great characters and actors, this is a top notch show on every level. The finale of season two wasn't quite the nail-biter that season one was, but it was a great show to finish out a great second season, and has me chomping at the bit to see season three.
It occurs to me that it couldn't hurt to mention on this site that I'm currently looking for bigger and better job opportunities in the Austin area. I love my job at Dragon's Lair, but it doesn't pay a lot, and with my daughter being born, it seems like now might be the time to find something new. So if anyone knows of anything in the Austin area (sorry, no plans to move unless it's for an obnoxious amount of money and security and/or a field I can't pass up) for someone with a great deal of writing, editing, retail and management experience as well as a comfortable level of skill with HTML and general computer skills, please let me know.
On Alias "Endgame":

I'm really enjoying Alias this season, although it does seem like the relationship between Vaughan and Sidney could very easily veer into the overly sappy. Not saying I want them to suddenly develop relationship problems or anything like that, but a few less adoring moments where they're portrayed as the perfect couple might not be a bad idea. Of course, that said, I thought the drawer conversation this week was a lot of fun. Some interesting revelations about the Christian Slater character and his wife, pushing credibility to almost ludicrous levels but still working because that kind of thing happens in the Alias universe. And the ending... we could all see it coming the moment we saw Sloane's face, but it was still just brutal.

Does anyone else think that the "new" Francie is Anna Espinosa, formerly of K Directorate? Something about her expressions (which is a tribute to the actress who plays Francie), plus I think it would be a really neat little twist. I'm hoping that this revelation about who Francie is will come sooner rather than later.