Monday, March 30, 2009
I had a very pleasant weekend and I feel good about nearly everything that happened. If anything, there were times where I could have had less fun and I would have had just as good a time in hindsight. So you could say that my only regrets are enjoying myself too much, as if there is some finite supply of happiness in my life and I squandered it.
Saturday was my day to go out and spend time with friends while Mako relaxed at home. It was also, not coincidentally, the opening day of Watchmen here in Japan. I mentioned just last week my enthusiasm for this film and of Mako's evident indifference to it. Picking up on her coolness and anticipating another drawn out experience where she doesn't just tell me she's uninterested in seeing it in theaters, I made it simple for her. I told her I wanted to see the movie on opening day and asked if she wanted to go. She didn't, and I did.
But not alone! I met up with Alex to eat lunch and then watch the film. Over some spicy Thai-style pizza in Namba, we talked about games, his upcoming podcast, and the new T-shirt line at Uniqlo. He also revealed that he has not yet read the original Watchmen story but is, in fact, in the midst of reading it now. I don't think I've ever seen a movie based on a book I was actively reading at the time, but I suppose it can't be much different than going into the movie blind.
The movie was preceded by two trailers for American films which I am still thinking about two days later. The first was the new Terminator movie which I cannot begin to understand. The original film and its stunning sequel were fantastic and continue to linger in my mind as two of my favorite science-fiction stories. The third, for all its flaws, was an enjoyable romp that ended very well. Considering its very existence nullified the solid ending of T2, T3 spun a remarkably appropriate conclusion for itself that improved my view of the entire film.
While I am a sucker for good time travel stories, the real appeal of the first three Terminator films was rooted in a gritty contemporary setting. All three showed visions of humanity's nightmarish future and the war with the machines, but the story was firmly modern-day and a good deal of the tension revolved around that restriction. The heroes often lament that the technology available to them in the 80s and 90s is insufficient to take down a superior foe. Likewise, the Terminator itself experiences routine setbacks when forced to constrain itself to the society it seeks to destroy. The Terminator films have always been fish out of water stories where the two fish are trying to kill each other.
So what does the T4 trailer offer viewers? Explosions and giant robots with Christian Bale shouting at people. This is (apparently) an entire movie dedicated to those short segments in the earlier films where everyone has laser blasters and is covered in grime. Maybe someone out there saw those scenes and said "Man, when are they gonna tell me the rest of that story?" Whoever that guy might be, he's not me or any of my immediate friends. Hell, most of them thought T3 went off the rails into Silly Town. While I managed to enjoy it, I can't say the new movie appeals to me at all. I may rent it if only to bring some context to the awkward audio clip of Christian Bale chewing out a guy on the set. I just need to know what he was doing at the time.
The second trailer was also full of explosions and giant robots because it was for the new Transformers movie. This falls squarely into the category of "fool me once, shame on you/fool me twice, shame on me." I knew the first film would be awful and despite all my efforts to lower my expectations and open my mind to the possibility of it being dumb fun ("my efforts" largely consisting of drinking heavily before going to the theater that day), it was even worse than I could have imagined. The new film seems to have learned nothing from the first, as everything I saw was nigh-incomprehensible. Even by movie trailer standards the action was splintered and disjointed, which is exactly what ruined the first movie for me. Well, that and draping a dull-as-fuck high school romance over the entire story. But what do I know? The movie was a huge hit and plenty of people I know and respect managed to enjoy it. Go on without me fellas.
After all that noise and dubiousness, the movie I actually paid to see began. Watchmen surprised me right away with two curious choices. The murder of The Comedian became a spirited fight scene and there was actually an opening credits sequence (a rare sight in action movies). The fight scene represents my biggest problem with the adaptation while the credits got me excited to see the rest of the story unfold. Those initial few minutes turned out to be a microcosm of everything I liked and didn't like about the movie.
As the fight scene demonstrated, everyone's a bad-ass in the Watchmen movie. The Comedian is supposed to be a tough guy who's way past his prime, yet he's punching through walls and getting up after having his head smashed into tables. His mystery assailant is likewise incredibly strong and fast and the two of them duel with rapid-fire punches and kicks rather than brawling. Later in the film, all of the heroes demonstrate that they are incredibly gifted martial artists and gymnasts rather than just being motivated to fight crime while wearing costumes. This transformation of the "costumed vigilantes" to legitimate superheroes is Watchmen's greatest translation error. The original story was dedicated to deflating the comic book hero by showing his (and her) flaws. These characters still have their problems but completely devastating regular people isn't one of them.
On the other hand, the opening credits demonstrated a real affection for the original comic by delivering a slick, streamlined history lesson of the major events that precede the "present day," which in Watchmen is 1985. This is what the movie unquestionably gets right; it preserves the overall story of the original and presents it in a modern comic book movie aesthetic. Even if the action seems out of place from a logical perspective, I could not deny that I still got caught up in the excitement. Director Zach Snyder has given us hyper-real action setpieces before, but only in Watchmen is there a story worth telling alongside all the slow-motion combat. And while his bright ideas for "improving" 300 were laughably bad, Watchmen survives the inevitable hurdles of adaptation and actually thrives.
Rather than detail things I noticed about the movie being different than the original, I will simply point you to this article in The A.V. Club that goes through both works in their entirety. It's been a few years since I read the comic and I hadn't recalled exactly who did what to whom. Watching Watchmen has reminded me of why I was excited about the movie at all and I feel compelled to revisit the comic to make my own comparisons now. That may be the best thing anyone can say about an adaptation: it doesn't require you to know the entire backstory and watching the movie should encourage you to read the original afterward.
After the movie Alex and I swung by Uniqlo to check out some of the new video game themed T-shirts they're offering now. All of the shirts are cool but the only one I wanted (among those that are on sale now) is their Resident Evil T-shirt that is nothing but a list of enemy names. Unfortunately, they had no XL-size shirts and only one L-size which Alex claimed. I am torn between going to their website to buy one or just waiting for more shirts to come out so I can buy all of them at once, which will likely lower the per-shirt price. My only worry is that hesitation will result in the shirts disappearing, as Japan has a tendency to offer new and incredibly cool things for a limited time. I'm still waiting for the White Chocolate Maple Kit-Kats I ate in 2005 to make a return to the shelves.
With our (ok, HIS) shopping done, Alex ran off to handle his own affairs while I wondered what to do next. I sat down for some dinner and called Kazu out of the blue. I had debated for a while whether or not it would be "right" to just call him and see what he was doing. I don't know why I treated the whole situation like some kind of first date. Kazu is someone I've known for years; there's no reason to be anxious about calling him on the phone. As it turned out he was shopping in Umeda and he was eager to meet. We had a few drinks at the same bar we hit last week before parting ways around 10.
(This post has turned out longer than I expected but I'm just going to continue rather than cut the story in half)
Spending all day (and night) out on Saturday made me more eager to spend Sunday relaxing at home with Mako. We had lunch at a little place called "Kitchen Pot" that we had been meaning to try for a long time and it turned out to be really good. The portions were large and the prices were more than reasonable. There was a friendly vibe to the place that I dare say had something to do with their choice of oldies music. I got burned out on those tunes due to continuous over-exposure during my time in the post office, but something about hearing Elvis' "Return to Sender" again made me smile.
After our meal and some shopping, we settled in for the last day of the sumo tournament. It didn't end so well as many of the wrestlers I like ended up losing or just finishing with poor records. I was especially down about the final yokozuna match. Even though Hakuho had already secured the championship, I still wanted to see Asashoryu beat him to spoil his unblemished record and save some face. It didn't happen. Drat.
For dinner we tried making nachos again. We are slowly but surely getting the hang of the taste but we need to work on our form. As seen here last week, our nachos take the shape of a burial mound with the chips smothered in a heap of toppings. Last night's version turned out the same way, except we added guacamole and sour cream to the mix. The results were delicious but we still needed to dig our way through to the chips beneath. Mako said she was full halfway through and I pretended to be disappointed in her. Meanwhile, I could barely fit another bite into my mouth but I soldiered on to avoid the nasty leftovers we would end up with. I think "burial mound nachos" is a good name for our dish because if we keep eating like this we'll both be dead in six months.
With both of us beyond satiated we collapsed onto the couch with nothing to do. I received the green light to play video games and decided to finally try the last level of Resistance 2. While playing too much of the enormously entertaining co-op mode got me into trouble in January, I have been quietly making my way through the single player mode over the past few months. I can't say I was into the story or the characters, but I did find the game provided me with enough thrills and big "moments" to keep me coming back for more.
The basic premise (bald space marine fights aliens) is beyond cliche at this point, but Resistance 2 has its share of action setpieces that made the experience worth it. I remember coming out of an underground bunker and seeing San Francisco burn while a massive enemy fleet hung in the sky above. I remember going through abandoned homes and dark warehouses that were full of nasty zombie-like creatures gestating in pods. I remember fighting a skyscraper-sized foe in Chicago who found my rocket launcher more of an annoyance than anything else, but shooting him in the face with it was enough to convince him to throw me through an glass-enclosed catwalk and onto another building five blocks away.
Unfortunately, the ending of the game didn't offer much in the way of memories. In fact, my memory was a hindrance because playing the final level made me think back to earlier stages and older, better games I had once played. Sure, it was really cool to look out the window of that Louisiana estate and see what looked like a fire-breathing dinosaur stalking me. I also got a kick out of fighting my way onto a large steamboat and going cabin to cabin looking for monsters. But the entire finale of storming the mothership with a nuclear bomb in tow felt exactly the same as the mission where I flew an enemy craft into another vessel and set off charges on the bridge. Both had me explore metallic alien corridors and then make a "daring" escape while a clock ticked down in the corner of my screen before flying away with just seconds to spare.
The final showdown with a flying psychic cephalopod was uninteresting at best and lacked all the polish of previous boss fights, even the really hard ones. Fighting a giant alien swarm halfway through the game had been so frustrating I actually got angry, but at least it was something new. The last boss encounter didn't offer a challenge so much as it did closure. You see him escape capture in the first level and then you get to put him down in the last one. Justice/vengeance is served, ho-hum.
The actual ending cinema of the game was abrupt, extremely anti-climactic and could have been handled much better. I thought I had reached the "bad ending" because I played the game too slowly. The main character is trying to finish his mission before the alien virus in his body destroys his humanity, so I thought I missed the deadline. According to the Internet, that's the only ending there is.
Having said all that, I will not dismiss Resistance 2 for its lackluster conclusion. The single player game was more than adequate and the co-op mode was genuinely exciting in ways I would never have expected. Hell, it still is genuinely exciting, I just don't have much time to play online anymore. I feel like taking a break from shooting aliens for a while...right after I finish Half-Life.
To get back to my point (huh? oh, right..."too much fun"), this weekend I ate more food than I needed to, stayed out drinking when I could have gone home, and kept plugging away at a video game to reach the end rather than put down the controller and finish it the next day. I say this not because I think I made the wrong choices, but rather to remind myself of how fortunate I am. There's nothing wrong with a little excess after a long week of not working.
Hey, speaking of work, it's almost time to get going. I wouldn't want to miss that one o'clock bus home.
I can look at my local UQ if you want me to try and pick you up the RE shirt. If you're really worried about them selling out that is.
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