Thursday, February 28, 2013

These Lakers (Revisited)

It's official.  I'm all in.  Yeah, it may be foolish, but where Kobe goes, I follow.  I think it's going down.

That is all.

Read original These Lakers blog here.

Zero the Hero

I now challenge you to question my sanity.  This is going to be short and sweet, and I know it sounds crazy, but it's the truth.  "Zero the Hero" is my favorite Black Sabbath song.  Insanity, right?  How can your favorite Sabbath tune be any of the tracks that Ozzy didn't provide vocals for?  And isn't "Zero the Hero" from that awful Born Again album?

What about "Iron Man" or "Sweet Leaf" or (insert lengthy list of Black Sabbath masterpieces here)? 

Now, before you question my Sabbath cred, I'm a seasoned fan who grew up listening to metal and I've actually been to see two reunion shows.  And I know it sounds crazy.

But I love Zero the Hero.  It's one of the most-played tracks in my iTunes catalog, and there isn't another Sabbath track within striking distance.  Also, if I wanted to up the ante, I could acknowledge that Born Again is actually my favorite Black Sabbath album.  Crazy talk, right?  In fairness, maybe I should acknowledge my love for Deep Purple and Ian Gillan's vocals, which may explain it.  Honestly, I prefer Deep Purple to Black Sabbath, and maybe that's what this boils down to.

Of course, having said that, I will note that I positively love Ozzy's vocals, and I would surely rank "No More Tears" ahead of anything Deep Purple or Black Sabbath produced, but maybe that's just more crazy talk from your favorite deranged author.

What say you?  Is this madness I speak of, or is there anyone out there who agrees with me?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chris Cooper to play Norman Osborn

Let's be real: Marc Webb's Spider-Man reboot was okay, but it was definitely inferior to Raimi's work with the character.  Now, with reports that we might see Electro, Rhino, the Black Cat, Harry, and Mary Jane in the sequel, it seems like things are getting a little crowded.  Typically, (The Avengers aside) cramming too many comic book characters into a single film hasn't been the best approach.  Yet I just learned of the latest addition to The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and I think it's the best news we've heard about this picture thus far.  Chris Cooper has apparently signed on to play Norman Osborn, and while I doubt it will happen in the second Webb film, we'll probably see him become the Green Goblin in the near future.

Now, I'm not exactly thrilled with the idea of Jamie Foxx playing Electro, and I'm even less enthused about seeing Paul Giamatti as the Rhino.  In fact, I still can't take the idea of Giamatti as the Rhino seriously, but apparently it isn't a joke.  I don't know this kid playing Harry, and Shailene Woodley looks like a major step backward for Mary Jane.  I'm not the biggest Kirsten Dunst fan on the planet, but she did a great job and left some really big shoes to fill.  And she was smoking hot with red hair.  So, given that I wasn't blown away by the reboot--far from it, in fact--and most of the developments pertaining to the sequel have struck me as lackluster at best, I'm glad to be sharing some good news.

In all honesty, as much as I like Cooper, and I like him a lot, there's no way he's going to top Willem Dafoe, but I can't think of anyone more deserving of a shot at it.  If Webb has Norman become the Goblin in the second film and everything else we've heard holds true, I think he'll sink the boat, but if not, then Cooper may benefit from having more time to dig into the role of Norman Osborn prior to his transformation.  Regardless, I finally have a reason to look forward to The Amazing Spider-Man 2, even if I'm still doubtful.  It definitely doesn't help matters that this film is going to be compared to Raimi's Spider-Man 2, which is one of the finest comic book films on the market.

Bonus: See one of Cooper's finest performances here.

Trailer Park Trash & Vampires Excerpt: Gunnie and Gash

Greetings, peeps.

I wanted to give you a look inside my book, but I wanted to do something a little different.  Typically, when I share an excerpt, it focuses on some of the primary characters, and I usually try to provide something with a little action to hold your attention.  This time I'm going to shift the focus to two of my favorite secondary characters from the book, a pair of wannabe rockstars named Gunnie Chesterbaugh and Gash Wright.  I would say that these knuckleheads represent the comic relief in my novel, and that is probably their ultimate purpose.  Having said that, I will note that there is a lot of comedy in TPT&V, so Gunnie and Gash get a lot of help on the comic relief front, and they may even kick a little ass once the shit hits the fan.  Regardless, they're lovable losers I like to laugh at, and hopefully you will too.

The following scene takes place at the nursing home where they work as custodians, and this sequence is taken from the third part of the book, a section titled Omens.  A few hours after this scene unfolds, all hell will break loose in the small town of Little Drop as war erupts between the living and the dead.  Gunnie and Gash are safe for the moment, however, and they're actually on break at the moment.  Let's join them.

TPT&V Excerpt: Gunnie and Gash

Gash and Gunnie were sitting outside with their backs against the brick exterior of the nursing home so that they could enjoy the warmth of the day.  Fortunately, the sun was still low in the sky and they were blessed with the shade the building provided.
“Remember that time you were shit-faced and you climbed out the window at Shawn Fallon’s place in Manchester,” Gash snorted, trying to hold back his laughter long enough to tell the tale.  “You were standing on the fucking roof, doing Gary Sinise’s lines from Forrest Gump, challenging God and all that shit.”
“I remember,” Gunnie said meekly, hoping to derail his friend’s account of the incident.
Gash ignored him.  “All of a sudden, your foot slipped, and you started pinwheeling your arms and screaming like a woman.”
“I wasn’t screaming like any woman.”
“Oh yes you were, you were a banshee right before you fell off that roof, Chesterbaugh.”
“I broke my fucking arm.”  The singer’s nostrils were flaring.
“Yeah, but that part kills humor in the story, so I usually leave it out.”
“Fuck you.”
“Oh, you don’t mean that.”
The two aspiring musicians were on break.  They worked as custodians at a nursing home on the outskirts of Bisby.  It was a nasty job and the hours sucked, but they never worked evenings and they were off every weekend.  That gave the band plenty of time and nothing mattered more to either of them.  They might bitch about it a lot, but no one had ever said that they weren’t dedicated.
As usual, Gash’s dad, who had been working at the home since June of 1973, had picked them up at the crack of dawn.  The old man liked to get to work at least thirty minutes early.  That gave him time to suck down four coffees every morning and pick through the newspaper.  Neither of the bandmates was all that crazy about the extra half-hour at work, but riding with Mr. Wright saved them gas money.  Besides, they still hadn’t driven the truck home from the bar.
Gunnie was getting worked up, which wasn’t much of a surprise.  Gash had yet to meet anyone else half as excitable.  “I don’t talk about that time you were jamming out with no shoes on in Tommy’s basement and you wound up getting shocked and you shit in your pants, do I?”
“Yes!  Every chance you get you tell that fucking story!  And I didn’t shit my pants, I just squirted a little.”
“Yeah, squirted a little shit, and that’s the same difference, hoss.”
Hoss?  Goddamn man, you been listening to Bocephus again?”
“Yeah, change the subject, you son of a bitch.  I would too, only I ain’t shit in my pants since grade-school, so I don’t have to worry about it.”
“You’ve done plenty worse,” Gash sneered.
“Like what?”
“Like Ruby DeLoache.”
“I thought we weren’t going to talk about that.”
“Hurricane Ruby,” Gash laughed.
“As I remember, I wasn’t the only one to feel the effects of that storm.”
Gash laughed again.  “Hey, I stopped after a smoothie, but you took the bus all the way home.”
“I like to think of it as an act of drunken bravery, if such a thing is possible.”
As they talked, an old man wearing thin pajama pants and yellow flip-flops peeked around the corner.
“Hi there,” Gunnie said warmly.  “Quite a day, isn’t it?”
“I know that the devil is watching us,” the thin man whispered.  What little hair he had left was ghastly white in color.  His thinning mane fluttered in the gentle breeze.
“Is that right?”  Gash asked.
“The devil is in Technicolor, always in Technicolor,” the old man continued, stepping around the corner.  His skin was leathery in appearance and sagged beneath his narrow chest.  “He can see us all.  His people are among us.”
“Could be us he’s talking about,” Gash said, nudging Gunnie with his elbow.
“I don’t know about this one here,” Gunnie responded.  “He’s starting to freak me out.”
“The fire is coming.  The fire is coming to burn this place clean again.  I can smell it in the wind.”  The old man cocked his head to one side and studied the afternoon sky, his eyes wide with fear.  “The storm is almost upon us now.  I can hear his children laughing at our expense.”
“Right,” Gash said at last, standing and looking to his lead singer.  “I think it’s time we got back to work, huh buddy?”
“Yeah,” Gunnie readily agreed, rising to join his co-worker.  “You enjoy yourself today, sir.” 
“Hell wasn’t made with enjoyment in mind,” the old man said to no one in particular as they made their way back inside.  “But you’re going to figure that out.”  The old man smiled, an awful smile that gave his angular face the appearance of a leering skull.  “We’re all going to hell.  The storm is coming.  The storm is coming to wash this place clean.”

Trailer Park Trash & Vampires is currently available in a revised and illustrated edition.  You can get a hard copy for only $9.99 here.  You can also snag a copy for your Kindle for only $3.99 here.

New Melvins Album Coming Soon!

Good news, peeps!  The Melvins are dropping another album on us on 4/30.  Everybody Loves Sausages will feature both the full-throttle Melvins line-up featuring Jarred Warren and Cody Willis and a few tracks from the Melvins Lite line-up featuring Trevor Dunn on stand-up bass.  There will also be several guests in the mix (including familiar names like Kevin Rutmanis and Jello Biafra) and the album is a zany collection of covers that the band enjoys.

The Melvins are one of the best bands working today, and their reputation for delivering astounding live performances is well-deserved.  If you have never seen them in person and you get a chance to do so, don't miss out.  In the meantime, this album sounds like an intriguing purchase; here's a list of the featured tracks:

1. Warhead (Venom; Guest: Scott Kelly of Neurosis)
02. Best Friend (Queen; Guest: Caleb Benjamin of Tweak Bird)
03. Black Betty (Original artist unknown)
04. Set It On Fire (The Scientists; Guest: Mark Arm)
05. Station To Station (David Bowie; Guest: JG Thirlwell)
06. Attitude (The Kinks: Guest: Clem Burke of Blondie)
07. Female Trouble (Divine a.k.a. John Waters)
08. Carpe Diem (The Fugs)
09. Timothy Leary Lives (Pop-O-Pies)
10. In Every Dream Home a Heartache (Roxy Music; Guests: Jello Biafra and Kevin Rutmanis)
11. Romance (Tales of Terror)
12. Art School (The Jam; Guest: Tom Hazelmeyer)
13. Heathen Earth (Throbbing Gristle)

Additionally, this album comes from Ipecac, a label that continues to inspire.  Click here to learn more about the Melvins and other Ipecac acts.

Oh, and whether you love them or you hate them, you have to admit that the notion of a Melvins and a Melvins Lite is extremely cool.  Long live King Buzzo!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Why I Don't Like Discussing Current Projects

So, I want to try and explain something today.  There are a few questions that writers are accustomed to, and one of the most common questions is a polite inquiry about whatever it is that we're working on at present.  Now, I always appreciate anyone taking interest in my work, but this is a question I always try to avoid, and I'm sure my answers are seldom rewarding.  My hope is that in explaining my thought process here, those of you who may have been miffed (or may one day be miffed) by my generic responses to this all-too-common query will understand.

First off, I have no problems discussing anything that has been completed.  Typically, I'm more than willing to spill the beans once my first draft is finished, so you don't even have to wait for revisions and rewrites and such.  Yet I'm reluctant to discuss anything I'm currently working on, or any brilliant ideas I have yet to launch.  Many assume I'm not willing to talk about these projects because I'm afraid my ideas will be stolen, and I can see why they might perceive that as an insult.  Relax, I trust you, and I'm not worried that you're going to take my next big idea and run with it.  There are no new stories to tell anyway, it's all about the storytelling in this day and age, and I happen to like my flavor.

No, the truth is that I believe that any storyteller, whether they're a writer, a filmmaker, or even a musician, has a certain amount of juice to devote to their craft.  I guess I think we're sort of like batteries.  I also think that far too many storytellers use up too much juice talking about projects they should be working on and never produce the artwork they should.  Think about it: how many people do you know who have told you about a book they were going to write over and over again without writing a single sentence?  How many aspiring filmmakers constantly explain their big idea to people without ever buckling down and working to make it a reality?  How many musicians are constantly talking about the type of band they would like to be in and the material they would like to produce without bringing any other musicians into the fold or playing any chords?

I think a lot of aspiring storytellers fall into the trap of talking about what they intend to do, and either they use up all the enthusiasm and energy they have for the material in question describing it, or perhaps talking about it somehow becomes an acceptable substitute for production.

Now, maybe it's just me, maybe I'm the only artist wired like this, but that's why I'm so reluctant to open up and really lay out whatever I'm currently working on.  Hell, if you get a working title out of me, you should be impressed.  I like to devote myself to the work, and when I'm done I'm very eager to share the final product.  I just don't like talking about something I'm working on until I'm done.

So, I hope that helps.  For the record, I'm currently working on a sequel to Trailer Park Trash & Vampires.  The working title for that project is "Raining Blood" and I hope to use that title upon publication.  Since so many have asked, I have gone as far as to explain that the primary threat the survivors of TPT&V face in the sequel is NOT a vampire, but that's all you get.  I'm also working on an unnamed thriller that may or may not benefit from a small dose of the supernatural.  I'm not trying to be cryptic about the supernatural element either, I'm still undecided on that front.

Anyway, sharing is caring, and that's what I like to do here in the Land of Way.  I am looking to publish another novel this summer (it's called Dirty Southside Jam, it's finished, and you can ask me anything you like about it) and I'll keep you informed about that book and those that follow here.  I'll also continue to tell you all about the movies and shows I'm watching, the sports I treasure, the music I'm listening to, and the real good stuff, the various books and comics I'm scoping out.

Monday, February 25, 2013


Rule: You don't give yourself a nickname.  That's just not how it works.  If no one else gives you a nickname, I'm sorry, but you don't get to come up with one yourself.  If you do, it's a lame move to begin with, and it's entirely possible that the nickname you choose will be equally lame.

Case in point: Dwayne Wade, who isn't just another NBA superstar, but a man with a perfectly suitable nickname that he did not give himself.  Yet "Flash" isn't good enough, and Wade has decided to brand himself WOW.  Seriously,  WOW, or "World of Wade", a nickname so bad that his teammate King James (a man whose bad decisions include The Decsion) did his best to kill this absurd notion, calling the new nickname corny.

Well, what do you know?  The Chosen One (a fine nickname so long as one doesn't assume that this particular "Chosen One" was chosen to win championships) is occasionally right, and there's more to Dwayne Wade than flying side-kicks on the basketball court.  The man is also good at coming up with silly nicknames that may just make people stop and say "Wow."  Just not in the way he's hoping for.

Another Robin Bites the Dust

Yes, friends of the Batman, another Robin is set to bite the dust.  Can you imagine how hard it is to get insurance for that job?  Fate dictated this unfortunate milestone in the history of your beloved Bats, however, for it has probably been at least 6-8 months since the last major death/severe injury/new Robin/major Gotham City crisis/new Robin (you can never invite too many new Robins to a party)/resurrection of dead character/so on and so forth.  It's all right, though, Batman will get through this, and he'll continue to throw batarangs at villains Spider-Man could dust off in a matter of minutes throughout epic storylines that are frequently years in the making.  Enjoy.

The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 11 (I Ain't a Judas)

This is as much of a recap as a review, so be warned: here there be SPOILERS . . .

After a stellar episode last week, this week we were treated to a solid, plot-driven show that worked really well.  I think The Walking Dead has done a stellar job of positioning themselves for an epic finale this season, and this most recent episode was a huge step forward in that regard.

There wasn't a wealth of action, but a lot happened in "I Ain't a Judas", and the looming struggle between our merry band of survivors at the prison and The Governor's brood in Woodbury is definitely gaining steam.  This episode did a great job of setting the stage for the coming showdown, with an emphasis on Woodbury's considerable might.  We know that The Governor is a cowardly killer, but he's also a hell of a politician, and he has his people wrapped around his little finger.  Their numbers are superior and they are better-armed, and now that they're being trained for combat, things aren't looking good for Rick and the gang.

However, back at the prison, Rick rebounds in style after a few choice words from Carl.  The prison gang may be outnumbered, but they've got their leader back, and their leader is a true badass.  When Rick is at his best, this show is at its best, and I liked seeing Rick push his demons aside and take charge in last night's episode.  Hershel still wants to run, but Rick knows that fleeing with a baby and a cripple in tow is a sure recipe for disaster.  Making a stand at the prison isn't much better, but Rick has a plan.  We don't know exactly what his plan is as of yet, but when Rick isn't seeing ghosts he's remarkably trustworthy.

Andrea actually seemed a bit more like herself for once, and I applauded her determination as she made it clear that she wasn't willing to accept The Governor's terse explanation for last week's shootout.  She wanted to hear from her old friends at the prison, and she did just that.  However, asking Milton to lend her an assist was incredibly foolish.  After all, who didn't see that double-cross coming, and The Governor's instructions for Milton (after Milton revealed Andrea's plot, The Governor told him to help) made it clear that he has a double-cross of his own in store for Andrea.  Of course, we already knew that.  Hell, it only took Michonne about thirty seconds to figure The Governor out, and Andrea remains the only person out there who is completely powerless in the face of his bullshit.  Yet she went back to the prison and had a little reunion of sorts, though she was awful quick to leave after seeing how weak her former allies are at present and how unwelcome she was in their midst.

After Andrea left, Rick put Daryl and Hershel in charge and revealed that he's going off on some sort of mission with Michonne and Carl.  I think he picked a nice squad, and I'm eager to see what they're heading off to do.

Andrea got a choice piece of advice from Carol before leaving the prison.  Carol (in a bit of a surprise given her character's meek nature) told Andrea to give The Governor a five star lay and murder him in his sleep.  The close of "I Ain't no Judas" attempted to tease such an outcome, and even if having Andrea consider such a move is a strong indication that on some level she does see her precious Phillip for what he is, no one really thought she would go through with it.  Her decision to let him sleep peacefully (if he was truly asleep; I'm sure I wasn't the only one expecting him to pop up and break her arm) was expected.  I actually liked seeing her anguish as the show drew to a close; it's as though she realizes that Michonne is right.  She's selling her soul for a warm bed.

This show was a bit light on action, but it was a solid entry that advanced the plot and heightened the tension as Season 3 gains speed.  I'm really starting to believe that we're heading for an epic conclusion.  Also, while I still favor the ultimate villain known as The Governor in the comics, the show's more political, conniving version of the character is finally gaining traction.

Other meaningful bits included Tyreese and company being welcomed into Woodbury and telling The Governor all about their encounter with Rick at the prison.  They did so while making it perfectly clear that they were willing to do anything in exchange for a place in Woodbury.  Also, Merle is now part of our merry band of survivors at the prison, but Rick made it clear that Daryl is responsible for him.  And I think that's about it.  There's a war coming, fans of The Walking Dead, and I think it's going to be quite the spectacle. 

See you next week!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Freaky Friday

Shortly after breakfast, I took a social media lap, and here's what I learned:

Ted Nugent is about to kick off a new tour.  It's called Ted Nugent Black Power 2013.
That is not a joke, that is actual news.  Well, maybe it's actual news and a joke all rolled into one, but I digress.

Megan Fox will play April in Michael Bay's TMNT film.  Some are already saying she will contend for an Oscar.  Seriously, wasn't she calling Michael Bay a nazi just a bit ago?  Yeah, money can move mountains.  So can trying to make a living as an actress if you have a hard time acting.  But Michael Bay doesn't need acting.  He just needs to blow shit up.  If you think that's silly, don't argue with me, argue with the man's bank account.   

The Iron Man 3 promo team has released a new character poster for Ben Kingsley, and he looks like the Orient's coolest pimp.  I'm having a hard time with Ben as The Mandarin and this didn't help matters.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What's up with Slayer?

So, like many of you, I've been hoping for another Slayer album.  Since there had been some talk of another release in 2013, I was on the prowl for details when I came upon some troubling news.  The band is gearing up for an Australian tour, but the finest drummer ever to pound the skins won't be manning the kit.  Though Dave Lombardo released a statement detailing the situation (it's basically a contract dispute) and closed it with a note that he was hopeful for a resolution, things don't sound good.

Like many, I am an avid fan of the band, and while I think the group is composed of several stellar musicians, my favorite aspect of Slayer is Dave's drumming.  To be honest, when Paul Bostaph stepped in for Dave once upon a when, the band still managed to produce epic material and crush their live shows.  Yet it wasn't quite the same, and I truly felt that bringing Dave back in 2006 was a big deal.  I enjoyed Christ Illusion and World Painted Blood, and I was eager for another record, but now I just don't know.

Again, Dave seems to feel that there's some chance the band can work through this, and it has already been announced that John Dette (who worked with the band back in 1996-97) is going to handle the percussion in Australia.  Additionally, the band is supposedly still working on new material for another release, but questions abound.  Jeff Hanneman is still recovering from a spider bite and Slayer is getting a bit long in the tooth.

Will there be another album?

Will it feature Dave Lombardo on drums?

Will I buy it if it doesn't?

Will you?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Could this be the best season of Justified yet?

Last night, FX gave us another thrilling episode of Justified, and I think this fourth season has been a joy to watch thus far.  Is it possible that we're watching the best season yet of perhaps the finest show on television?

There are a number of things that make Justified special.  The show's ability to tap into Elmore Leonard's world and deliver the riveting characters, the thrilling plots, and all the action and humor that make Leonard the foremost crime writer on the planet are a major asset to the program.  Star Timothy Olyphant was made for the role of Raylan Givens, and Walton Goggins is also a perfect match for his part, that of Raylan's old pal/nemesis Boyd Crowder.  Crowder was originally slated to perish in the series premiere (the character did meet his end in Leonard's short story "Fire in the Hole", which served as both the inspiration and the pilot for the series) and the decision to keep him around has paid dividends for FX.  The way these characters relate to one another and the situations the show puts them in have cemented Justified as top-tier entertainment, but there's more to it than that.

The setting is critical, the supporting cast is outstanding, and the various guest stars (many of whom starred alongside Olyphant in HBO's supreme western series, Deadwood) always bring a lot to the equation.  The show has the look of a feature film, the soundtrack is on point, and each season has done a splendid job of focusing on one big story while telling a multitude of smaller ones.  In truth, each season has been a terrific success, and I don't know how I would rank them.  Yet, at present, I'm tempted to say that this fourth season has been the finest.  Where will it take us, and how it will measure up to its predecessors when all is said and done?  Well, that remains to be seen, but I'll be sure to weigh in when we get there. 

What I do know is this: Justified may just be the best show on TV, and this fourth season may be the best.  If you're not watching it, you should be.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Brand-Spanking-New New Avengers

I love comics.  You probably know that by now, but if not, there it is.  There's no shame in that, either, as I'm one of a great many who will tell you that comics may just be the most underrated form of art on the planet.  There are some master storytellers at work in that realm, and there are guys that can do shit with pencils and ink that will blow your mind.  There are some cats out there doing wild stuff with paint and computers and it's all designed to boggle the mind and tell a fun story.  Comics are fun, and that's something we could all use a little more of, right?

Now, for several years, my favorite title was Marvel's New Avengers.  I was heartbroken a few months back when the deck was reshuffled, and the team I knew and loved was sent packing in favor of a relaunch with a new team.  Now, that team I fell in love with was the best team Marvel ever put together in terms of entertainment.  Seriously, we had Cap, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Man, Power-Man and Iron Fist, Dr. Strange, and Hawkeye, among others.  It doesn't get any better than that, and Marvel was wise enough to put that team at the center of all of their biggest events, ranging from the Civil War to World War Hulk and even the Secret Invasion.  So, yeah, I was pretty distraught when I found out that Marvel was ready to do something new and different. 

Now, the new squad has been featured in three issues, and this team is made up of Marvel's power elite.  It's essentially the Illuminati with a few wrinkles thrown in for good measure.  I'm not going to go into great detail here, but once again I think Marvel has given us a winner.  The fate of the world is at stake and seeing big guns like Cap, Iron Man, Namor, Dr. Strange, Reed Richards, and Black Panther work together with everything on the line has been pretty massive thus far.  I'm still feeling a little cold, because with The Defenders and New Avengers both being retooled, I don't know where to go for an Iron Fist fix anymore, but my Marvel fandom is still providing me with killer comic books. 

If you haven't done so yet, please scope out the new New Avengers.  You won't regret it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 10 (Home)

Thank you, AMC!  Last week was an unusual hiccup for a great show that was poised to capitalize on a superb mid-season finale, but this week we witnessed a remarkable return to form.  In fact, this might have been one of the best episodes we’ve seen.

Now, I’m not going to lie: the first ten minutes of this show were designed to piss me off.  Everything I was lamenting about Episode 9 was magnified as “Home” teed off with Rick chasing ghosts and The Governor playing mind-games and looking sore, while Andrea continued to do whatever the hell it is that she’s doing this season.  Honestly, I was thinking that this show might be losing some of its considerable luster.  Then Daryl Dixon saved the day as he and Merle offered up one of the best sequences this series has provided.  Then, as the episode drew to a close, we were treated to a thrilling battle that should set the stage for a harrowing close to the season.

Early on, it was all about Rick chasing Lori’s ghost around a creek (I didn’t think it was any better than it sounds) and The Governor continuing to abuse Andrea’s newfound (and inexplicable) stupidity.  Things were going nowhere.  We were given a scene where Maggie and Glenn were both angry at each other.  We don’t know why they’re so mad at each other, and the scene made it clear that they don’t really know why either.  Another scene revealed that Hershel wants to leave the prison, but Glenn wants to stay and is determined to make hasty and irrational decisions.   Also, Axel suddenly became very endearing and seemed to be winning Carol’s affection, effectively signaling that his death had drawn nigh.  Tyrese was nowhere in sight. 

I kept thinking that it was really bizarre that Rick is the heart and soul of the show, and as the writers elected to lead him further and further astray, the show itself seemed to lose direction. 

As soon as Daryl came to the rescue of a Hispanic family with a screaming baby, The Walking Dead found its footing.  The bridge was an excellent setting for a showdown, and the show delivered a taught sequence that highlighted Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker to terrific effect.  I positively loved the Ry Cooder-esque twang (let’s just call it “Daryl’s Theme”) that punctuated every shot from Daryl’s trusty crossbow.  I loved the way he was recycling his arrows, and the interaction between the Dixon brothers was incredibly tense.  Bonus points must be awarded for the trunk-slamming zombie kill, which was epic. 

Then we were back in Woodbury, where The Governor and a few of his trusty soldiers disappeared.  Andrea couldn’t figure out where they were, but I think the viewing audience had a pretty good idea.  At the prison, Hershel begged Rick to come back inside and get some rest, while Carol and Axel were strolling around and sharing a few laughs.  That’s when The Governor made his presence at the prison known, taking out Axel with a headshot.  He and his crew were positioned at various points around the prison, and they let loose with a barrage that had all of our favorites running for their lives. 

Suddenly, a truck hit the scene, plowing through the gate before unleashing a horde of zombies on the prison gang.  A mysterious driver clad in a bodysuit and a helmet (was this one of The Governor’s minions, or could this be someone who was with Tyreese?) sprinted away as The Governor sprayed the scene with lead, too badass to take cover.  Rick and his brood managed to fire off a few rounds here and there, but I don’t think they hit anything.  I think Rick was shooting at the clouds. 

Anyway, Hershel was in a bad way and Rick was being overpowered when the greatest strengths of the third season (and perhaps the series) hit the ground running.  Michonne was on it, carving up zombies left and right.  Glenn came back and acted like Glenn, which was awesome.  And just when it looked like Rick was toast, out of ammo and overpowered by a pair of walkers, an arrow through the head of one of the walkers announced the arrival of the Dixon brothers.  It was Daryl and Merle to the rescue, and after the start of the show left me cold, the end had me smiling and itching for more.

I think Rick’s back, I think The Governor is finally starting to resemble the menace that he should be, and I think Season 3 has set the stage for a grand finale.  I’m expecting big things in the weeks to come, but if “Home” is any indication, The Walking Dead is truly going to rock in its third season.  This episode easily atoned for last week’s misstep, and I’m all in as the third act of the third season gets underway.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

For Dom

Dom Santiago
I'm fond of saying that sharing is caring, and that's not just a saying, it's something I live by.  Truthfully, I probably share way too much, and this blog is going to serve as a fine example of my generous spirit.  You see, I'm a gamer and I'm a big Gears of War fan.  

Now, typically I spend a lot more time on multi-player than in campaign mode, which is why I had yet to conquer the story on Gears of War 3 until this week.  Yes, I know, those of you who don't play video games now think I'm a nerd, and those of you who do play video games think I'm far enough behind on this one to lose valuable nerd points.  It's that kind of world.  Anyway, I finally beat Gears of War 3, and (SPOILER ALERT: If--by some miracle--you are also a Gears fan but you have yet to beat the third game, here there be spoilers) I'm not ashamed to admit (though perhaps I should be) that Dom's death hit me pretty hard.

Kris was in the room at the time, and I think she found the whole thing quite amusing, but Dom was a crucial character I had spent a lot of quality time with over the years.  Seriously, I can't tell you how many times I've actually spoken to this guy.  

Example A: "Dom, you son of a bitch, revive me.  Now!"

Example B: "Dom, you son of a bitch, stop walking around me and revive me.  Now!"

Example C: "Dom, you son of a bitch, are you blind or what?  Your feet are in my face and I'm lying here bleeding to death.  Revive me.  Now!"

Yeah, there isn't a lot of variety there, but we've had other meaningful exchanges too.  Like:

Example D: "Dom, you son of a bitch, feel free to chip in and shoot some of these bastards.  Now!"

Anyway, Dom gave his life to save me and the team and the game did a fantastic job of turning a sappy scene in a bloodthirsty video game into a genuine moment.  It was almost like watching the end of Rocky II.  Almost, I didn't cry.  Wow.  Sharing is caring, right?  I'm definitely not writing this blog to achieve cool points, but in all seriousness, it was easily one of the most emotional experiences I've had while playing a video game.  It was potent enough that I felt the need to get on my blog and give Dom a shout-out.  For the record, Gears of War 3 was the best game in the series, and the Gears series is (in my humble opinion) the best thing happening in the world of video games these days aside from the glory that is Madden.  

Nice job, Epic Games!

Friday, February 15, 2013

These Lakers

What is it about these Lakers?  We're set for the NBA's awesome All-Star Weekend, a hell of a spectacle that should have the NFL taking notes, and it's pretty clear that the team that good old Jack and I cherish is awash.  It's ludicrous to think they could make the playoffs this season.  Let's be real: this Lakers squad has given us every reason to believe it's equally ludicrous to assume that they might play good basketball for an extended stretch at any point.  Given the talent involved, the whole situation becomes even more ridiculous, and yet I can't seem to give up on them.

I should have given up weeks ago when I was watching my team on TV and I realized that I had seen better play at the YMCA, and any illusions I held beyond that point should have been shattered when Pau hurt his foot.  For the record, after Gasol went down, I was still enough of a believer to watch that Thursday night game against Boston with a slew of Celtics fans.  That's a precious memory.  Yet I still found some reason to believe.  I mean, Kobe's out there with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.  Metta World Crazy has to play nasty D and drill some big shots at some point, right?  Yes, I continued to believe.  Last night, I was convinced that a win against the Clippers would be the launching pad for a push to greatness in the second half of the season, but instead of a win I got to watch a massacre.  There's just no logical explanation for continuing to believe in this squad.

Forget about all that talent.  Forget about Kobe's quest for 6.  Forget about Dwight Howard being the best big man in the league right now.  Hell, go ahead and forget that last one twice if at all possible, because the dude just doesn't have the drive or the toughness.  As a consolation prize, he was blessed with a very nice smile.

And yet, as I get set to enjoy all the action the NBA has in store for us this weekend, I can't flush my hopes for this season down the toilet just yet.  I know it's stupid.  I know how this is going to end.  And I still believe this team can somehow scratch their way into the playoffs in spite of all that.  It must be Kobe, and despite his greatness, it's still foolish, but I'm all in.

I feel like an idiot for saying this, but I'm eager for a spectacular All-Star Weekend (which isn't foolish at all--NFL, PLEASE TAKE NOTE!!!) and I'm still down with the purple and gold.  Let's do this, Lakers!

Wow.  That felt even more ridiculous than I thought it would, but I'm still going down the ship.  Until then, maybe I'll get to see Kobe win a big game when he suits up for the West this weekend.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Heart-Shaped Cookies

So, earlier I posted a blog about video game reviews and previews, and in said blog I noted that it was Valentine's Day and I should be cuddling with my wife or baking heart-shaped cookies.  Well, I didn't bake heart-shaped cookies, but this is pretty close, right?

Rest assured, good people, that romance isn't dead.  I'm still carrying the torch, and I bet there are millions of other writers who create bloodthirsty horror romps guaranteed to offend baking heart-shaped cookies (or something like that) for their loved ones right now.  It's that kind of world.

I hope.

Why Video Game Previews Bother Me

Yeah, so this is just a little rant, but I felt like sharing.  It's Valentine's Day, and I should be cuddling my wife or baking heart-shaped cookies, but I'm too much of a geek for that.  I'm surfing the net and I've been checking out reviews for some video games I was looking to snag.  Unfortunately, this has reminded me of a troubling trend that I can't seem to wrap my head around.

Let's just start with an example and take it from there: I wanted to pick up the new Aliens game, which looked pretty cool and had received a ton of hype from various magazines and websites that offer up video game previews and reviews.  Now, the game is out, and it is getting killed.  I'm not trying to say that it isn't getting many good reviews, because as far as I can tell it isn't getting ANY good reviews.  This thing is being slaughtered.  This leads me to second-guess my decision to purchase the game, and it reinforces the notion that I'm only wasting my time when I try to scope out the video game landscape unless I rely on demos and word-of-mouth.

See, this isn't news to anyone who follows games, and it's incredibly frustrating.  Why is it that virtually every game is built up (sometimes over the course of a few years) with pieces that marvel over the stellar graphics and the innovative gameplay, only for most of these games to be released only to garner poor reviews by the same media outlet that was just in hype mode a few weeks ago?  Seriously, you'll read about cool visuals and intriguing mechanics, and then the review will come out blasting the poor graphics and the stale gameplay.  It's maddening.  I also scope out previews and reviews for the music I enjoy and the movies I watch, and I seldom see the same kind of behavior.

Does this irk anyone else or is it just me?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Walking Dead Recap: Season 3, Episode 9 (The Suicide King)

The Walking Dead returned after 2 months, and the show didn’t waste any time, picking up right where it left off.  Fans have been agonizing over the cliffhanger ending that brought us to the mid-season break, and it didn’t take long to find out how the Dixon Family Reunion was going to proceed.  As you’ll recall, AMC’s ratings blockbuster left us hanging with fan-favorite Daryl squaring off against his big brother Merle with a volatile Governor and his bloodthirsty townsfolk looking on.  The Governor was left stewing after Michonne decided he had one good eye too many, and he was looking to blow off a little steam with a brotherly battle to the death for the good people of Woodbury.

Season 3 resumed with Daryl and Merle throwing down, but neither of the Dixon brothers was ready to leave the show.  Merle wasn’t going to turn on his own flesh and blood, and Rick and Maggie showed up to save the day.  Shots were fired, flash grenades were thrown, and our heroes (with Merle in tow) made their escape while a particularly disgusting walker found his way inside the town of Woodbury.

Soon thereafter, Rick made it clear that he hadn’t forgot about the first time he met Merle (when he left him handcuffed to a rooftop in Atlanta in Season 1) and he had no interest in inviting the elder Dixon back into the fold.  Yet Merle did lead the crew to safety, and Daryl wasn’t willing to part with his big brother.  With an enraged Glenn and Maggie looking on, Rick made it clear that he considered Daryl part of their family, but he made it equally clear that Merle wasn’t welcome back at the prison.  Merle didn’t help his cause any by immediately shifting gears and veering from heroic big brother back to antagonistic jerk in the blink of an eye.  Regardless, blood is thicker than water, and Daryl issued an ultimatum, telling Rick that he wasn’t leaving his brother behind, and that was it.  Rick wasn’t willing to back down, and neither was Daryl. 

Daryl Dixon has left the building, folks.  We wouldn’t get another glimpse of Daryl or Merle in this episode, but the teaser for next week’s episode promises more on that front.

So, then Rick, Glenn, Maggie, and Michonne returned to the prison, but only after Rick made it clear that he doesn’t want Michonne hanging around either.  She’s wounded, and our weary sheriff turned savior of the apocalypse wants Hershel to look her over, but he doesn’t trust her.  Thus far into the episode, I thought the ship was rocking and it appeared that the second portion of the third season was shaping up to be every bit as thrilling as the first half.  However, I must admit that I was more than a little let down as “The Suicide King” bogged down toward the end.

We spent some additional time in Woodbury, where The Governor spent much of his time sulking in his room while his town went to hell.  Andrea learned that Maggie and Glenn were being held in Woodbury, and she seemed pissed at first, but then she kind of shrugged it off.  This was bizarre, and Andrea continues to feel less and less like the character we knew from Seasons 1 and 2, but that isn’t really a new development.  Andrea has shrugged a lot of shit off since she came to Woodbury. 

Anyway, as the people threatened to revolt and The Governor’s henchman threatened to gun them down, the grotesque walker that found a way in earlier showed up and took a bite out of one of the locals.   Things were heating up before, but at that point, all hell broke loose.  The Governor showed up to put a round in the walker’s victim before the poor bastard could turn, and then he left without saying a word.  The people grew even more upset, and then Andrea gave a corny speech about the town’s place in history.  Fortunately, the good people of Woodbury chose that moment to behave less like human beings and more like insignificant characters on a television show, settling down so we could focus on other things.

Back at the prison, Carol struggled to cope with Daryl’s absence and Hershel told Rick about Tyreese and his crew.  Rick tried to take it all in, but the dude is tired.  He’s tired of being responsible for people; he’s tired of wondering who he can trust, and he’s tired of holding other people’s lives in his hands.  Even a tender moment with his baby girl didn’t allow him to ease out from under his many burdens and take a deep breath.  So, it came as no surprise when he decided to send Tyreese and his band away.  Yes, The Governor is probably going to come looking for revenge, and yes, the numbers game was in his favor even before the zombie-slaughtering badass known as Daryl Dixon hit the bricks, but Rick was too tired to care about any of that.  He simply wasn’t willing to add any weight to all those burdens that are slowly but surely wearing him down.

Hershel, who is probably the most likable character on the show at this point, took Rick aside and encouraged him to change his mind.  It looked like he made his point, and it appeared that Rick was going to welcome Tyreese and his crew into the group, but then our weary hero caught sight of a ghastly apparition that appeared to be his dead wife looking down on him and lost it.  “The Suicide King” drew to a close with Rick shouting and waving his gun around while those who see him as their leader scattered.

Now, this was a decent episode, and there were certainly a number of key elements unveiled in Episode 9 that will having lasting implications on the program.  Indeed, a number of plot points that were unveiled in this broadcast could lead to a stellar conclusion to this season, and I’m hoping for just that.  However, while I thought the mid-season finale was a terrific show, I thought the return of The Walking Dead was a little lackluster.  If I had to score it on a scale on of 1 to 10, I would probably give it a 6 or a 7, but I wouldn’t argue with anyone who gave it a 5. 

First off, I feel like Daryl is going to find his way back into the fold, but that needs to happen quickly.  The program is stronger whenever he is on screen.  Norman Reedus has developed a loyal fanbase for a reason, and while I’m open to new developments, The Walking Dead needs Daryl.  Yes, the comics are a better representation of Kirkman’s vision and Daryl was never invited to the party there, but he has been one of the show’s strengths from the very beginning.  

Secondly, I’ve been waiting for The Governor to become the evil badass this show needs for a while now.  When the mid-season finale drew to a close, I thought we were there.  At the onset of Episode 9, when he was strolling casually through the chaos that was enveloping Woodbury, I was convinced.  Then he went and pouted for most of the show.  Now, I realize that we’re waiting again.  Can we speed his arc up?  The Walking Dead deserves a villain with a stronger presence.  The Governor is imposing, but he should be a nightmare wearing an eye-patch right about now. 

Finally, Rick needs to get a grip.  I like seeing Rick on the ropes, and Rick should be on the ropes, but he’s also a fighter and he needs to get his head in the game.  The next time he sees a ghost, I need Rick to close his eyes and count to ten or take some deep breaths or something.  He’s already taken phone calls from beyond the grave and he is clearly operating on a different wavelength these days, but he needs to settle down.  Rick on the ropes is still a good leader, but right now it looks like Rick is down for the count and I’m thinking the group might be a lot safer if they locked him up in one of those cells.  I also wonder if Andrew Lincoln is starting to feel the same way, because we’ve seen him lose his shit a lot on this show, and he rarely fails to impress.  I didn’t think this most recent descent into madness was a shining example of what he’s capable of.

In closing, “The Suicide King” was an okay episode that advanced the plot, but it wasn’t what I’ve come to expect from The Walking Dead.  I was anticipating a terrific episode, and maybe that was part of the problem, but this isn’t a series that has struggled to deliver terrific episodes.  There are still seven episodes left in Season 3, and I’m still hoping that this winds up being the best season yet.  Given the source material they’re using, I strongly believe that they can offer up something truly special as the town of Woodbury and our merry band of survivors at the prison brace for war.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tomahawk - Oddfellows

Well, that took long enough.  6 years after Tomahawk blew everyone’s minds with Anonymous, they’re finally back with Oddfellows, another challenging entry in their arsenal.  In a way, it represents a new sound, as it’s essentially a cross-pollination of the original sound that fueled the self-titled debut and Mit Gas with just a hint of the kooky groove that made Anonymous so memorable thrown in for good measure.

It’s unique enough that some of it may soar over your head on the first listen, but you’ll find yourself being drawn back to it regardless, and the more you listen to it the more cohesive and infectious it becomes.  What initially appears to be a madcap offering with a lack of solidity eventually emerges as a vibrant and bizarre collage of zany sounds and massive riffs that fits together nice and snug.

Trevor Dunn is a nice addition on bass, blending in when required to and rising to the occasion whenever an opportunity to invent something delicious presents itself.  Patton is on fire throughout. He spits, he growls, he croons, hisses, and sings with a vigor that threatens to overwhelm the rest of the band at times.   Yet Duane Denison drives the bus with an ease that masks his talent.  His ability to veer from squeezing delicate melodies out of his guitar to riffing and pushing the Tomahawk sound into pure rock bliss is astounding.  Last but not least, John Stanier does a fantastic job on the skins.  He drums with power and finesse, readily adapting to every twist and turn, and offering up a truly noteworthy performance throughout.

Song Notes:
1) Oddfellows – The album starts with a title track that has the kind of drive and power that make The Melvins so wonderful.  Yet it’s Tomahawk through and through, and it’s a great start.

2) Stone Letter – The most accessible track on the album is a nice song with a sweet hook.  It’s candy, but that’s not a bad thing.

3) I.O.U. – It’s groovy, it’s melodic, and it’s probably the first sign that this is going to be a strange party.  Don’t worry, it’s the right kind of strange, and more often than not, those are the best parties.

4) White Hats/Black Hats – This is one of those kooky Tomahawk jams I love, a venomous jaunt that races along at a breakneck pace.

5) A Thousand Eyes – I thought the Anonymous vibe was strong throughout this one.  That’s a good thing.

6) Rise Up Dirty Waters – Patton owns this one.  It has a California (c/o Mr. Bungle) feel and sets the stage nicely for another aggressive foray into madness.

7) The Quiet Few – This is one of my favorite songs on the record.  Fun, feisty, and more than a little strange, it is a great example of the Tomahawk sound.  Stanier’s drumming is superb here, and Denison’s mastery of that haunting twang is equally impressive.

8) “I Can Almost See Them” – Another song with a heavy dose of the Anonymous flavor.  Majestic stuff.  Trevor is such a steady hand, but I could almost feel him dying to go apeshit toward the end. 

9) South Paw – Another rowdy jam with a really nice hook and some truly delicate timing.  Denison is at his most metal and Patton wails to great effect.

10) Choke Neck - If a deranged band fronted by Mike Patton in full-on Vegas crooner mode took the stage in hell, we might get something like this.  Again, this is a good thing. 

11) Waratorium – My favorite track on the album, this is a true blast that allows everyone to show off while providing a unified assault.  Such a wicked jam.  The band is on point, Mike is kicking ass and taking names, and the song is delivered in classic Tomahawk fashion. 

12) Baby Let’s Play______ - A demented oddity that may turn you on.

13) Typhoon – The band closes out the album with another groovy jam that oozes joy.   This one will definitely leave you wanting more.

I had a great time with Oddfellows, and I think you will too.  I have seen some reviews calling it the band’s finest hour, and I still think that honor belongs to Mit Gas.  I have seen some lukewarm reviews, but I couldn’t help but notice that many of those revealed a dislike of the Anonymous album.  That may be an important barometer for anyone looking to snag Oddfellows.  I think Anonymous is a masterpiece, and I know many of you share that view.  You’ll love Oddfellows.  For those of you out there who don’t dig Anonymous, the Tomahawk sound you know and love is now laced with that flavor.  I think that’s a big bonus, and it’s one of the primary reasons I’m enjoying this one so much, but some may see it differently.

Duane Denison’s vision has given Tomahawk a feel that's all their own from the very beginning.  Using Patton as your big gun without slamming headlong into the sonic oblivion he loves to flirt with is a wise strategy indeed, and it has yielded many treasures thus far.  Oddfellows is the band’s latest, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who appreciates good music.

Author's note: this review was originally published by the crazy cool people over at RVA.