Friday, November 21, 2014

RARRR!! Card Game Art

Two years ago this very month I was first approached by Kevin Brusky of Ape Games about creating artwork for their RARRR!! game. 

RARRR!! is a multi-player card game, in which players create their own kaiju and pit them against one another while destroying various cities.

As I've been a long-time Godzilla fan, this assignment was right up my alley. Why, it's like I'd been training my whole life for this!

Over the course of the two years I created twelve different monsters, numerous power cards, syllable cards (to help name your monster) and more.

I also created twenty four city cards for the various monsters to destroy. Each of these cards featured an image of one of the kaiju standing over the skyline of a city. Sounds simple, but it was anything but. It's easy to find images of the London or Tokyo skylines. But try finding reference photos of Jakarta, Lima and Mumbai.

It all worked out in the end though, and it was a pretty enjoyable project. Ape Games was very easy to work with too, which helped a lot. They seemed to like the art I provided and had very few changes. That's always a plus!

Here are a few of the monster characters I designed. There are a few more, but this is enough to give you an idea of what the game looks like. I don't want to post every card here, as there are well over a hundred of them.

As you can see, we tried to include most of the basic kaiju monster types, such as giant dinosaurs, apes, pterodactyls and insects. Hopefully none of them are close enough to their cinematic counterparts to generate any lawsuits.

I actually sketched out quite a few more monsters than were actually used, including a giant turtle (natch), an enormous chameleon, a Mecha Godzilla type, a Gargantua and a Megalon-esque monster. Those five were rejected as we narrowed the list down to twelve.

If you're wondering, the symbols at the bottom of the cards pertain to the power the kaiju possesses, such as electrical, fire, radioactivity and poisonous gas.

The letters and symbols in the upper right corner are how you go about creating a name for your character (there are additional letter cards in the game).

Here's an example of the power cards from the game, demonstrating the various levels of power your kaiju can display. 

In the Level 1 card, the giant robot's slightly sparking, like he just walked across the carpet and touched the doorknob. At Level 2 he's firing a beam of electricity from his cyclopean eye, while at Level 3 he's going all in with a spectacular, if deadly, display.

So how'd I create the kaiju cards? I thought you'd never ask! 

It all starts with a sketch, of course. After getting the sketch approved by Ape Games, I placed it on a card template.

I then started blocking out the basic shapes. Actually I drew these shapes on a layer under the sketch, but I left it off here for clarity.

I drew about 95% of the game art in InDesign. What's that, you say? InDesign's a page layout program! You can't draw in that! Well, yes you can. InDesign has a set of basic drawing tools, and I find it much easier to work with than Illustrator, which is what most people use for drawing. In fact I would go so far as to say I cannot stand working in Illustrator. I've tried working in it and I just can't stand it. So InDesign it is.

The advantage of using a vector program like InDesign is that once your art is drawn, you can scale it up as much as you like without loss of quality.

I then started adding the various body parts, such as the arm, legs and tail.

By the way, I made this lizardy monster blue, since Godzilla is usually depicted as green. Remember, we don't want any pesky lawsuits!

I then added the facial features. Hey, it's starting to look like something now!

I seem to remember Kevin at Ape Games telling me that all my characters look like they're pissed off. I think that was a compliment.

Next I started adding various little detail lines to flesh out the monster's body.

Then I added his teeth. Monsters need lots of sharp teeth, dontcha know. I made his teeth kind of yellowish, not because he doesn't brush, but because white choppers would have been invisible against a white background. Planning!

Next I added his back spines, because all giant lizards worth their salt have them. Kevin suggested adding the forehead horn to further distance him from Godzilla.

Then I added shading to give him some depth and volume. I did this by drawing various transparent black shapes over the monster, using the blur command to give them a soft edge, and pasting them inside the various body parts. It's simpler than it probably sounds.

Lastly I added some spots here and there. Why? I don't know, but it's something I always do. A drawing of a monster doesn't feel complete unless I add some spots to it.

I then added the background. I used Photoshop for the background, because InDesign doesn't do scratchy edges or painterly color blocks very well.

The blue monster was blending in with the blue background, so I added a white outline and a drop shadow to make it pop. I can't believe I just said "make it pop." That's a phrase every graphic designer dreads hearing.

And finally I added the various symbols and icons to the card. 

And there you have it! Repeat all that several dozen times and you've got yourself a card game!

Early on I also created this box art for the game. I reused several of the monsters from the cards and added them to a city scape, complete with attacking jet planes and searchlights in the sky. The RARRR!! logo was done in InDesign as well.

Everything here was drawn in InDesign, except for the mushroom cloud, which was done in Photoshop.

Ultimately that box art wasn't used, mainly because the shape and size of the box changed. Ape Games took my art and re-purposed it for the new box, and did a great job. 

You can't really see it here, but the art forms one continuous image all the way around the box. If you line four of the boxes up side by side, it makes a little table top mural.

So there you have it! RARRR!! isn't the first card game I've worked on, but it's the most fun. The games getting great reviews, and from what I've seen people seem to enjoy playing it. If you'd like to order it (and see the rest of my art!), head on over to Ape Games and pick up a copy or three.

M-O-O-N, That Spells, "I Have A Slightly Better Feeling About This"

Way back in June of this year I posted an epic rant about the news that Hollywood was adapting Stephen King's massive novel The Stand into a single measly film.

As a long-time fan of the book I didn't see any way one film could possibly do the story justice. The 1994 ABC miniseries was six hours long and they still had to drop characters and subplots for time.

It also didn't make sense to me from a monetary standpoint. Hollywood is positively desperate for film franchises these days, and The Stand could easily be turned into three films. Heck, the novel is already divided into three "books" for the filmmaker's convenience. Turning it into a movie trilogy seemed like a no-brainer to me. They could even split the last film in two, as is increasingly the fashion these days.

Welp, behold the strength of my powerful and highly influential blog!

This week writer/director Josh Boone announced that The Stand is indeed going to be turned into three, and possibly even four films. Just like I said it could be! Finally! Was that so hard, guys?

You're welcome, fans of the book. Thanks to me, we're getting our three, and possibly four films.

Although this is welcome news indeed, there are still a few worrisome details:

Josh Boone's only two directing credits so far are the romantic comedy Stuck In Love and the "teens with cancer" tearjerker The Fault In Our Stars

Can the perpetrator of such schmaltz really do justice to a horror-fantasy epic about a world-ending plague?

• In a recent interview concerning The Stand, Boone said, "So I think we are going to do like four movies. I can't tell you anything about how we're going to do them, or what's going to be in which movie."

Once more with feeling: The novel is already divided into three parts, each of which has a beginning, middle and end. All you need to do is take the book and turn it into script format! The hard work's already been done!

• Lastly, back when the plan was to make just one movie, Boone said, "I really wanted to do an A-list actor, really grounded, credible version of the movie."

Oy vey iz mir! There's that word again, grounded! What the hell does that even mean? It's one of those buzzwords that everyone keeps saying, that sounds like something but doesn't mean a goddamned thing.

Josh Trank, who's currently ruining The Fantastic Four film over at Fox, keeps saying he's making a grounded version of the comic. Because of course if ever there was a story that needed to be grounded, it's one about a man who can stretch his limbs like a rubber band, a woman who can turn invisible, a guy who can burst into flame and a man who's made of orange rocks. 

I swear to Thor, if I hear the word grounded in reference to scifi or comic book movies one more time, I'm going to lie down in the middle of the Expressway.

I'm trying to look on the bright side here though. The fact that Warner Bros. finally got it through their thick heads to make three of four films is a good sign. Let's just hope it doesn't turn out too awfully grounded.

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, Episode 8: The Things We Bury

Wow, there was quite a lot going on in this episode, so let's get right to it.

But before we do, one thing-- there's only one more episode this year and then the series is going on hiatus until March. MARCH! That's four months! I hate, hate, hate these damned split seasons that every show seems to be doing these days. 

This series is firing on all cylinders right now and building up a really nice momentum, and they're going to throw that all away-- and risk losing their audience-- by going off the air for four goddamned months. I guess I'd have to be a studio executive to understand the logic behind this.

We will be getting the eight episode Agent Carter series in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s absence, but still... going off the air for four months seems like a bad idea to me.

OK, enough whining. On with the review!


The Plot:
We begin in the closing days of WWII, with the secret origin of Werner Reinhardt, aka Daniel Whitehall. He's forcing a bunch of Chinese villagers to grab hold of the Diviner, which naturally turns them all to stone. Well, all except for one woman who can pick it up with no ill effects, and who totally won't turn out to be Skye's mom. 

Whitehall is about to find out what makes this woman tick, when he's captured by S.H.I.E.L.D. and interrogated by Agent Peggy Carter herself. She locks Whitehall in prison for 45 years.

Whitehall's an old man when he's freed from prison by secret HYDRA agents. Now an old man, he somehow tracks down the Chinese woman from before. The woman, who totally isn't Skye's mom, hasn't aged a day in 45 years. Whitehall performs horrifying experiments on her, discovers her anti-aging secret and somehow transfers it to himself.

In the present day, Coulson and the rest of the Team cook up an extremely complicated plan to hack into an Australian satellite system so they can discover the location of the secret alien city from Coulson's wall carvings. You know, the city that absolutely isn't the home of the Inhumans.

Meanwhile, Evil Ward captures his older brother Christian and takes him into the woods, to the well in which their younger brother Tommy died. Evil Ward says Christain forced him to throw Tommy down the well, while Christian says he tried to stop Evil Ward from doing so. They're both such despicable people and so good at lying that at this point I don't care which one is telling the truth. Maybe Tommy jumped into the well of his own accord just to get away from the two of them.

Bakshi kills himself during his interrogation by Mockingbird, Skye's dad teams up with Whitehall because he secretly wants revenge against him for killing Skye's mom, and Evil Ward teams up with Whitehall as well, because why not.

Whitehall was released from S.H.I.E.L.D. prison in 1989 by order of Alexander Pierce. You may remember him from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. He was the former head of S.H.I.E.L.D. who was also secretly a HYDRA agent.

At the time of Whitehall's release in '89 he still had a pronounced (and not very convincing) German accent, but in the present day he doesn't. 

I guess 25 years is long enough to get rid of an accent. If you work at it, that is, and you're not Arnold Schwarzenegger.

• Agent Carter questions Whitehall about the Diviner. He tells her it was brought to Earth by "blue angels" who came down from the sky.

I doubt he's talking about the US Navy & Marine Corps stunt flying team. He's almost certainly referring to the Kree, one of the more prominent alien races in the Marvel Universe, and most likely the source of the magical GH-323 that brought Coulson back to life.

Whitehall's "years in prison" montage-- in which the camera slowly rotates 360 degrees around his cell as it changes over the decades-- was very well done.

• Coulson wants Fitz to practice assembling some sort of technobabble device so that S.H.I.E.L.D. can hack into an Australian satellite system. Fitz isn't sure he can do it, and reminds Coulson that he only has one good hand now.

Is this new? I know Fitz suffered brain damage from almost drowning, but I don't recall him mentioning nerve damage to his hand before.

• Skye's dad chastises Daniel Whitehall's methods for discovering the secret of the Diviner. He tells him the old saw that performing the same action over and over and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.

I don't know how that belief got started, but I don't buy it. Why is performing the same action more than once a bad thing? If you get in your car and turn the key and it doesn't start, does turning the key again and hoping it turns over this time mean you're insane? If it doesn't start on the first try should you just abandon your vehicle and walk home, lest you're put in the looney bin?

• In 1989, Whitehall finds Skye's mother, who hasn't aged a day since 1945. He gruesomely (and I do mean gruesomely!) dissects her to discover the secret of her immortality. He figures out what makes her tick and somehow applies this secret to himself, shaving years off his actual age.
How exactly would that work? How does one extract immortality from one person and apply it to another? Did it involve a transfusion of her blood? Did he inject himself with her DNA? Or did she have some sort of "immortality organ" right next to her spleen and he stuck it in his own gut?

• Also in 1989, Skye's dad finds the mutilated remains of her mother and vows revenge against Whitehall. Actor Kyle MacLachlan looks a good 25 years younger here, and I'm assuming they did a healthy amount of CGI de-aging on him. If so it was very well done, especially for a TV budget.

• During Mockingbird's interrogation of Bakshi/Buckshi/Bokshi, he bites down on a poison capsule in his cheek and kills himself rather than betray Whitehall. I guess now we'll never find out exactly how his name was supposed to be pronounced.
• Although I think Evil Ward is vastly more interesting than Good Ward, I reeeeeally don't care about his backstory or his nutty family. The scenes with Evil Ward and his brother were the dullest part of the episode.
• Next week: Well, there ain't no next week, as ABC apparently thinks we'll all be standing in line waiting for Best Buy to open on Black Friday and won't have time to watch TV.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

This Week In Ill-Advised Program Icons

So I'm watching The Flash on the CW last night, and I notice that whenever they run an in-house promo for one of their shows, they put these little icons in the corner of the screen.

They look like little squares with a letter inside, reminiscent of the Adobe icons on your computer.

For example, the icon for Arrow is a square with a stylized A, the cross section of which looks like a little bow. Clever, huh?

They use an S for Supernatural, a stylized J for Jane The Virgin, the number 100 for The 100, and then they mix it up a bit and use a lightning bolt for The Flash.

That's all well and good until we get to the icon for The Vampire Diaries. Yow... that... that's not good. That's not good at all. Those two letters should never be placed together, especially in a TV promo.

And the way the V is dripping. I know it's supposed to be blood, but with those two letters and the white color... it just looks like some sort of unpleasant discharge.

Hey, The CW. You use a lightning bolt in the icon for The Flash. How about for the Vampire diaries you use one with pointy teeth? Or a bat? Something, anything, besides VD.

The Flash Season 1, Episode 6: The Flash Is Born

This week on The Flash we get an obscure (to me anyway) supervillain, Iris keeps blogging, the STAR Labs Gang gets more character development and the real identity of Dr. Wells becomes even murkier.

By the way, I just want to say that despite my often snarky attitude in these reviews, this is fast becoming my new favorite show.


The Plot:
Barry encounters a new metahuman called Girder, who somehow beats the crap out of him, despite not having super speed. Girder turns out to be Barry's childhood nemesis, who regularly administered beatings to him in school. This time it's personal!

After several more beatdowns, the STAR Labs Gang figures out a way for Barry to defeat Girder-- by the incredibly sophisticated act of running real fast and punching him at supersonic speed. He finally defeats Girder, and they lock him up in the super jail inside STAR Labs, which can't possibly be legal.

Meanwhile Iris continues to blog about the Flash, while he continues to try and talk her out of it.

And Det. West, investigating the murder of Barry's mom, thinks that the highly suspicious and creepy Dr. Wells might have something to do with it. Wells denies any involvement, but then ten minutes later West is visited by the Reverse Flash, who tells him to knock it off. Hmm...


• This episode is titled The Flash Is Born. I could have sworn everyone has been calling him that since the pilot.

I guess it's just the STAR Labs Gang that's been calling him that, and Iris-- and the general public-- has been referring to him as the laughable "The Streak."

• This is some hard core nitpicking, but what the heck. In the weekly prologue, Barry says that everyone thinks he's a normal forensic scientist. He says this while holding a test tube in his hand and vibrating it at super speed. I don't think normal forensic scientists can do that.

• I thought I knew all the Flash villains, so when Girder appeared I assumed he was either from another comic (Firestorm, no doubt) or created just for the show. Turns out he's from the Flash comic after all. He's a newer character who came along after I stopped buying comics.

In the comic Girder is made of living iron, but here it's steel. Did they change his substance so they could make a "Man Of Steel" joke?

Unfortunately Girder comes off as a low-rent Colossus here. He's got a cool power, but Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. already did the metal man schtick a couple of months ago with Absorbing Man.

• At the beginning of the episode Girder is fleeing the police in a stolen yellow Hummer. A few things here.

First of all, Eddie Thawne and several other cops set up a roadblock to stop Girder. As his Hummer approaches, they all begin firing at it-- while several police cars are following closely behind. Is that a good idea? They're basically shooting at their own men here.

Secondly, as Eddie fires wildly at the approaching Girder, he gets off a lucky shot that hits him in the face. Girder's face instantly turns to steel and deflects the bullet. Somehow Eddie is able to see this and realize that Girder is a metahuman. Yep, he sees a man's face momentarily turn to steel as he's approaching at 90 mph, in the dark. Eddie must have good eyes indeed.

Lastly, why in the name of Henry Ford did Girder steal a Hummer? They stopped making them over four years ago, in May of 2010! Does Girder just have a thing for discontinued behemoths that get poor gas mileage, or did he grab the first thing he could steal?

• Girder used to work at the Keystone Ironworks in Keystone City, which is apparently fairly close to Central City. In the comics, Keystone City is where Jay Garrick, the original Flash lived. Which of course raises the question-- will we be seeing the Jay Garrick Flash on the show? I hope so, as that would be awesome.

• This has nothing to do with the episode, but the bas-relief mural in the Central City Police Department is actually a big Easter egg. The figures featured in it are all based on members of the Justice League! Pretty cool!

According to the designer of the mural, the figures are all Greco-Roman gods masquerading as superheroes. Zeus is Superman, Hades is Batman, Hera is Wonder Woman, Mercury is the Flash (natch), Apollo is Green Arrow, Poseidon is Aquaman and Vulcan is Green Lantern.

• For several weeks now Barry's been trying to get Iris to understand that her blog is putting her in danger. This week Girder proves his point. Girder doesn't seem like the sharpest tool in the shed, but even he can figure out that if Iris is writing about the Flash, then she must know him, and he comes a'runnin' for her.

If a dim bulb like him can manage to put the pieces together, a more intelligent supervillain out to have no trouble doing the same. Iris should realize that and stop blogging immediately, instead of hitting send without proofreading and smugly staring at her hit count.

• When Iris is talking to the Flash, she mentions other metahumans popping up all over the country, including a burning man who's literally on fire. I'm assuming that's yet another reference to Firestorm.

• Eddie Thawne tells Barry that he was jealous of him at first, but is now glad that he's such good friends with Iris.

I liked these bonding scenes between Barry and Eddie quite a bit. As most of us know, Eddie Thawne is the alter ego of the Reverse Flash in the comics. Whether that's the case here remains to be seen. I'm betting the writers are doing everything they can to make Eddie seem like a nice guy, so that when he does finally become a supervillain it'll be all the more shocking.

• The STAR Labs Gang calculates that Barry will need to run 830 mph in order to defeat girder. Cisco says that's faster than the speed of sound. That's sort of true. Mach speed is not a constant, and can vary wildly depending on atmospheric pressure and temperature. It's all very complicated.

At normal sea level Mach 1, otherwise known as the speed of sound, is 761 mph. So Barry will most likely be running faster than the speed of sound.

• Cisco also tells Barry that in order to get up to 830 mph, he'll need a 5.3 mile running start. During his final battle with Girder, Barry takes off running in the opposite direction and stops exactly 5.3 miles away. Does he have an odometer built into his suit?

• OK, I get that Barry lacks the strength to harm Girder's steel hide, but how does he keep getting his ass handed to him every time they grapple? Barry can literally move faster than the human eye can see. Unless Girder has super speed as well, I don't understand how he's able to grab him so easily and toss him around.

• Barry's supersonic punch was pretty cool. Like a panel from the comic come to life.

That said, I'm a bit fuzzy as to how Girder's powers work. Is his body made of some kind of organic steel that he can make look normal? Or is he made of flesh and blood and can somehow cover himself with steel? I'm guessing it's the latter, especially if Iris was able to take him out with one punch to the jaw (after Barry softened him up, of course).

• After Girder is defeated, he's locked up in the Super Jail inside STAR Labs.

This can't possibly be legal. Sure, Girder's a criminal, but he still has the right to due process. The STAR gang can't just lock him up without a trial in their own little version of Gitmo. Or did they just not take the time to show us the part where he got a jury trial?

Does Det. West know about this? Surely not, because I can't imagine he'd be OK with private citizens building a prison and incarcerating criminals indefinitely.

I know this is a comic book world, but this is a pretty serious issue they're blurring over here. Jailing suspects without a trial would never happen in the real worl.... oh, wait.

• As Girder is ranting and pounding on the hopefully unbreakable glass of his cell, Barry just can't help himself and reveals his identity to him. I get that Barry wanted to finally best his nemesis, but that seemed like a pretty bad idea. I'm sure that won't ever come back to bite him in the ass come Sweeps week.

• Det. West is determined to find out who really killed Barry's mom, Nora Allen. He questions Dr. Wells, who arrived in Central City only a month before the murder. Dr. Wells he came to Central City shortly after his wife Tess Morgan was killed in a car accident.

Like so many other major and minor characters on this show, I figured Tess Morgan was from the comics. As near as I can tell she's not.

• Shortly after Det. West questions Dr. Wells, he's in his home looking over the Nora Allen case files. Suddenly the room is filled with red lightning and a blurry yellow figure appears before his eyes. When the lightning dies down, the files are gone and there's a photo of Iris stuck to the wall with a knife, the words "STOP OR ELSE" scrawled on it.

Obviously this was the work of the Reverse Flash. But who is he? As I mentioned above, in the comics he's Eddie Thawne. But here he appears just moments after Det. West's meeting with Dr. Wells. That would seem to point to Wells being the Reverse Flash rather than Eddie. Unless Wells somehow controls Eddie? Or they're working together.

The writers are just messing with us here. They know we're expecting Eddie to be the Reverse Flash, so they're obviously muddying the waters so we have no idea who the hell's the real villain.

If Wells does turn out to really be the Reverse Flash, it wasn't very smart of him to put on his little show for Det. West just minutes after their tense little meeting. There aren't a lot of other people West could suspect.

This Week In Derivative DVD Covers

This is the cover for the soon to be released complete series box set of Sliders.

If you'll recall, Sliders was a 1990s TV series that told the story of a group of reluctant explorers who jumped from one parallel Earth to another, trying to get back home.Each week they'd travel through a dimensional vortex to an Earth that was different from ours in significant ways. They might encounter an Earth in which the Russians won the Cold War, or one inhabited by tribes of cannibals, or one in which women are socially dominant and men considered inferior.

It most definitely has nothing whatsoever to do with the Portal video game series. So why's the designer of the Sliders cover bending over backwards to make it look like it's Portal 3?

Didn't think I'd notice, did you, Sliders designers? Well I noticed. I noticed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Walking Dead Season 5, Episode 6: Consumed

Not a lot happens in this week's episode. It's long on mood and short on plot and dialog, as it fills in the missing piece of the puzzle started when the characters split up at the church in Four Walls And A Roof.

It was nice though to see some of the characters exploring an urban setting. Let's face it, they've been killing walkers in the woods for a long, long, long time, so it was nice to see them kill walkers in the big city for a change. I'm guessing we don't get to see ruined cities very often because they're expensive to simulate. Walking around in the woods is cheap, if not free.

That said, it's a big disappointing to me that this episode takes us right back where we started. In the exact same spot, in fact, that Rick explored way back in the very first episode. Hard to believe that after five seasons the characters have only managed to travel twenty miles or so from Atlanta.

The promos for next week say there're only two more episodes this year. Groooaaaan. Does that mean they're taking another months-long break mid-season? I hate when they split seasons in half like that.


The Plot:

This week we follow badass super couple Daryl and Carol as they travel to Atlanta in search of Beth. They wander the post apocalyptic urban landscape for most of the episode, looking for clues as to her location. 

They're robbed of their weapons by Noah, the young orderly who escaped from Grady Memorial Hospital, where Beth is still being held against her will. They catch up with Noah later on and get their weapons back. When they threaten him, he tells them where they can find Beth. Carol runs toward the hospital but is hit by one of the ambulances. The Grady cops get out, put her on a stretcher and speed off toward the hospital. 

Daryl and Noah steal a truck and presumably head back to the church for reinforcements.

Thoughts:• I'm not sure, but I think I might have picked up a possible fire/burning metaphor in this episode. Carol has several flashbacks in which she sees smoke in the distance (from the prison and later Terminus). We see her burning the infected bodies of Karen and the other guy in the prison. She tells Daryl that both her old and new selves have been "burned away." Daryl tells her that they're not ashes. Subtle! 

• In a flashback we see Carol shortly after Rick banished her from the group. After driving around aimlessly for a while, she spends the night in a law firm.

A law firm? Personally I might have gone for a grocery or convenience store, or maybe even a private residence. 

On the other hand, perhaps she has the right idea after all. Maybe she figured no one in their right mind would think to hide in a law firm and therefore it would be clear of walkers.

• Daryl and Carol make their way into downtown Atlanta in search of Beth. The shot of the post-apocalyptic city is virtually identical to the one in the first episode, in which Rick rode a horse down the deserted highway. The abandoned cars and trains are even in the same places!
• Books also play a big part in this episode. Daryl and Carol hole up for the night in a woman's shelter. It's the very same shelter in which Carol and Sophia stayed before the Fall.

On a desk in their room we see a book titled Treating Survivors Of Childhood Abuse. This is significant for both characters, as Carol was a battered wife, and Daryl's admitted that as a child his father regularly beat him.

Later we get a very fleeting glimpse of a copy of The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer stuffed inside Carol's duffel bag. Sharp-eyed viewers will remember that Hershel gave this book to Mika and Lizzie back in the prison.

Another possible significance: In the book, Tom Sawyer is presumed dead by the townsfolk and appears at his own funeral.
•  Inside the shelter, Daryl and Carol lay side by side on the bottom half of a bunk bed. Nothing happens though, as they simply lie there and talk.

There is a sizable group of fans out there that desperately want to see these two characters hook up. I bet their collective heads were exploding during this scene.
• It's pretty obvious that Carol used to live in Atlanta, or at least one of its suburbs. So why doesn't she sound like it? Where's the Southern drawl, like the one Rick has? Apparently she was born elsewhere and moved to the Big Peach later.

• Daryl takes a pack of Morley cigarettes from Noah and smokes one.

Morley is a fake brand of smokes used in many, many movies and TV series. The Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-FIles smoked Morleys as well. Maybe The Walking Dead takes place in the same universe! They need to get to DC after all! I bet Mulder could figure out what caused the zombie plague!

• As Daryl and Carol make their way through the streets of Atlanta, they pass an abandoned tank. This is almost certainly meant to be the same tank that Rick hid inside, way back in the very first episode.

• Welcome to Coincidence Theater! A few episodes ago Beth met Noah at Grady Memorial Hospital. Noah managed to escape, while Beth was recaptured. Daryl and Carol make their way to Atlanta, somehow hoping to find Beth in the middle of the vast city. They just so happen to run into Noah, who robs them of their weapons. Later they run into Noah again, and get their weapons back. Next thing you know Carol's hit by one of the cars from the hospital and taken there for treatment.

I get that they've got to keep the story moving along, but I think the Coince-O-Meter just exploded!

• Daryl and Carol spot a van with a cross painted on its back window, hanging halfway off an elevated highway. They investigate it, hoping to find clues to Beth's whereabouts.

This entire sequence is a goldmine of stupid actions and unlikely occurrences.

First of all, Daryl climbs inside the van, which is perched precariously on the overpass. A few seconds later Carol decides it would make sense for her to enter as well, as they both tromp around inside. Fortunately it doesn't tip over the edge.

They're then surrounded by walkers. Weaponless and trapped, they come to the conclusion that their only hope is to strap themselves in as the van is pushed off the overpass. We see it plummet nose down, then a second later we cut to it somehow landing hard on all four tires. How that particular bit of physics-defying acrobatics was achieved is left to our imaginations.
This is all just slightly less ridiculous than some of Indiana Jones' escapes.

About thirty seconds after the van crashes, walkers start raining down on the roof from above. It seems like that should have happened instantly. They were pushing the van over the edge, right? So they should have followed it down immediately. Surely they don't have the brain power to hesitate before a yawning abyss?

A nice touch: Daryl uses his arrows very sparingly, and retrieves them whenever possible. After Noah steals his crossbow, Daryl finds a walker pinned to a wall by one of his arrows. Obviously Noah's been through the area, and being an inexperienced zombie hunter, he's carelessly wasting his arrows.

After Carol is hit by the Gradies, they stuff her in their ambulance and speed away to the hospital. This neatly explains why she appeared at the end of the Slabtown episode a couple of weeks ago. I thought maybe she was faking her injury to gain access to the hospital like a post-apocalyptic Trojan horse, but apparently not.

And it's pretty much a certainty now that Noah is Daryl's mystery companion from the end of Four Walls And A Roof. Did not see that coming. I assumed it was Morgan, who we last saw following Rick's group in No Sanctuary.
Lastly, this has nothing to do with the plot or anything, but for the third week in a row The Walking Dead has trounced Sunday Night Football in the ratings. As a NON sports fan, this makes me very happy.

Monday, November 17, 2014

This Week In Dubious Ad Slogans

So I'm watching TV last night and I see this commercial for Always Discreet Underwear.

It's thirty seconds of scenes of various women, all presumably with bladder control issues, dancing and whooping it up with confidence because they know whatever the activity, their protective undergarments will keep them dry.

So what, I hear you asking? Well, wait till you hear the tag line. At the end, a woman's voice says, "Now bladder leaks can feel like no big deal. Because, hey, pee happens."

Did they just say "pee happens" in a commercial on network television? Yes. Yes they did.

For the record I'm not collapsing on my fainting couch like some jittery soccer mom over this, but it does surprise me. After all, this is very obviously a play on "Sh*t happens," right? So apparently we now live in a world in which Always Discreet Underwear is referencing an R-rated slang term to sell their pee pants.

What I wouldn't give to have sat in on that ad meeting! 

It sounds for all the world like something a disgruntled writer would come up with. A writer who was passed over for a promotion or a raise or something, so when it came time to come up with slogan ideas, he submitted this one as a big F-U to managment. 

Ad Executive: OK then, does anyone have any slogan ideas for our new line of discreet undergarments? Something to do with staying dry with confidence, that sort of thing? 

(The copy writers look down at their note pads, saying nothing)

Ad Executive: Anyone? Come on, people? Why am I paying you?

Jenkins (smirking): How about, "Pee happens?"

(Audible gasps from the other copy writers)

Ad Executive: Wait a minute... wait just a minute.

(The other copy writers look tensely at one another, waiting for the inevitable explosion)

Ad Executive: That's not bad! I think you may have something there!

(Jenkins looks shocked)

Ad Executive: Yes, I like this! I think we can use this! KMart got a lot of positive press with that 'Ship my pants" thing they did a couple years ago, and this has that same edginess the kids all like. Jenkins, you're a genius!"

That's how I imagine this happened, and no one's going to tell me otherwise.

And in case you think I'm making up the whole thing, here's the ad in question. Stay tuned till the end!

It Came From The Cineplex: Fury

Fury was written and directed by David Ayer, who also wrote U-571, Training Day, The Fast And The Furious, S.W.A.T. and End Of Watch. 

I don't have a lot to say about this film. It's reasonably well-written and competently made and tells its story concisely and economically. It's most definitely a modern war film, the kind that loves to show us the horrors of war rather than paint it as a noble pursuit. It's a far cry from the old fashioned John Wayne films that glorified war. Which is as it should be.

Controversial actor Shia LeBeouf reportedly pulled his own tooth, sliced up his face and refused to shower for several weeks in order to "understand what his character would have gone through." Yeah, you could do that, I suppose. Or maybe you could, I don't know... ACT like you're tired and miserable.


The Plot:
It's the final days of WWII, and the Allies are making a final push deep into Nazi Germany. Battle-scarred veteran Sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt) commands a Sherman tank in the 66th Armored Regiment. His crew consists of "Bible" Swan (Shia LeBeouf), "Gordo" Garcia (Michael Pena) and the charmingly nicknamed "Coon-Ass" Travis (Jon Berbthal). When their original gunner is killed, his replacement is Norman Ellison, a meek and innocent clerk/typist who's never been in a tank before, much less seen any kind of battle.

Norman reluctance to kill causes the deaths of a fellow tank crew, which leads to resentment by his own tank-mates. Wardaddy forces Norman to kill a German prisoner in an effort to toughen him up.

Wardaddy is chosen to lead a dangerous mission to keep a vital crossroads from a German tank regiment. After the fierce battle, Wardaddy's tank is the only one that remains.

The tank is immobilized by a landmine, and the crew decide to stay with the tank and make their last stand in a desperate attempt to hold the crossroads from an approaching plattoon of German soldiers. It ends exactly as you'd expect.

• Director Ayer was obviously going for a gritty realism when it came to the characters, but I think he went a bit overboard. With the exception of Wardaddy and Norman, the rest of the tank crew are coarse, unpleasant and downright repellant. I wouldn't want to be in the same county as them, much less cooped up in the same tank.

That definitely seems like a misfire. This is a war movie, and you know what that means-- lots of death. The movie expects us to grieve whenever a character meets an untimely end, but it's hard to work up any tears for such loathsome creatures.

 • Newly recruited tank gunner Norman Ellison serves as the film's audience surrogate, so the characters explain the intricacies of tank warfare to him and the audience as well.

As you would expect in a film like this, Norman goes from wide-eyed innocent clerk/typist to battle-hardened veteran over the course of the story. What you might not expect though is that his transformation appears to occur in the space of one day. That seems a bit rushed.

Not only is war hell, but it apparently moves very quickly as well.

• Jon Bernthal plays his "Coon-Ass" character pretty much the same as Shane from The Walking Dead. 

Whether that's what the director wanted, or if that's just the range of Bernthal's acting isn't clear. He needs to try and branch out though, or he's going to be stuck playing short-tempered rednecks his entire career.

• Jesus, Brad Pitt's 51 years old and he's still in better shape than I'll ever be.

• There's a lengthy interlude in the middle of the film that drags on forever and grinds the story to a dead stop.

After the Americans take over a small German town, Wardaddy invites Norman to come with him. They barge into the apartment of a couple of young German women. Wardaddy takes advantage of their hospitality, cleaning himself up and getting them to fix his first home-cooked dinner in months. Norman experiences German hospitality of a different kind as one of the women takes him into her bedroom and closes the door.

Later when they're enjoying a nice dinner with the ladies, the rest of the tank crew barges in. Gordo, Bible and Coon-Ass are drunk and disorderly and quickly turn the dinner into a tense and awkward affair

They taunt the German women as they paw at them of course, but they also belittle and openly criticize Wardaddy for not inviting them to the party. You know, Wardaddy, their flippin' commanding officer. For some reason he just sits there fuming, seemingly powerless to stop them.

For the life of me I can't understand the point of this scene. I guess it's to show that Wardaddy isn't perfect, and playing favorites with Norman while shutting out the rest of the crew was a mistake on his part? Honestly I'm really not sure what was going on.

I do know that letting his crew walk all over him doesn't make Wardaddy sympathetic, it makes him seem weak and incompetent. 

This entire scene could be excised from the movie and not harm it a bit.  

• Credit where credit's due: the tank battles were harrowing and very well done.

• Near the end of the film the tank runs over a landline in the road and loses a tread. Wardaddy tells Norman to run up the road to a distant tree line and keep watch for enemy troops. Norman dutifully jogs up the center of the road. The road that is most likely riddled with more land mines. Luckee!

• Norman sees a battalion of three hundred SS troops approaching. Wardaddy decides to make his last stand at the crossroads to prevent the Germans from advancing. The rest of the crew agree to stay with him and fight.

As the Nazi column advances, the tank crew begins firing. They take out an impressive number of soldiers and machinery before they run out of ammo. Wardaddy then says, "Welp, there's more ammo hanging off the sides of the tank. Let's go get it!"

They then crawl outside the tank to retrieve the extra ammo, in the middle of an intense, all-out firefight.

Why the hell didn't they think of that before they started the battle? Surely there was room for a few extra ammo cases inside the tank? If not, I'd have made room.

• With the battle lost, Wardaddy orders Norman to exit the escape hatch in the bottom of the tank. He does so, and hides in the crater left by the land mine. 

A few minutes later a young SS officer shines his flashlight under the tank and sees Norman hiding. They stare at each other for a moment, and the SS officer moves on.

It's a nice little scene, but... I ain't buying it for a minute. A regular German officer might have let Norman go. But an SS officer? Doubtful.

Fury is a grim and bloody reminder that war is hell. It features some top notch battle scenes, but its repulsive characters prevent us from getting too attached to anyone. I give it a B.
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