2012: A Cinematical Retrospective

It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m into a bottle of wine. I’d say it’s about time to wrap up the year and ring in the new one by naming my favourite movies of 2012.


Review - Christmas Playlist 2012

I'm working on something... monumental for next week's post--that is to say, Christmas Eve's--and seeing as I'm creatively spent I'm going to be a cheapskate and just post my playlist for the 2012 holiday season. YouTube links have been provided.


Review - Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (with Commentary!)

Keeping with the Christmas spirit, this week my friend Katelynn E (who writes semi-regularly at Duchess Thoughts) and I sat down at our kilometres-apart computers and watched the Rankin and Bass stop-motion classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer together. Our chat feed was not silent.


Tangent - Songs I Somehow Associate with Christmas

December is upon us, and so I feel little shame in devoting this week as well as the remainder of the month to discussing all things related to Christmas. With Yuletide approaching, a great deal of the music I listen to leading up to it has been chosen to enhance the accompanying atmosphere. The vast majority of these songs, mainly Christmas carols, have very, very good reasons for being on my iTunes playlist. Others, not nearly as much. This week's piece is about the latter category.


Review - The Annotated AvP: The Story, part 11

Today marks the first significant snowfall of November in Ottawa, and what better way to enjoy a cold winter’s evening than by bundling up with a blanket and a mug of rich, creamy hot chocolate and reading the latest installment in the Annotated Aliens versus Predator: The Story? Buckle up.


Rant - Shame Food

I like to think I have good taste—literally. I love food, as my mild girth will attest to, and between my dad’s frequent culinary experiments and my own burgeoning kitchen creativity (emphasis on the “burgeoning”) I’ve developed a healthy respect for sustenance done right. However, I’m also in my early twenties, a year and a half out of university and basically poor, so between homemade butter chicken and lavish amounts of penne noodles I’m apt to stuff myself full of the worst “food” imaginable. And I love it. The following dishes make me feel genuine remorse, as if I’ve actually killed a part of myself, but Goddamn I love them so.


Tangent - On Pseudonyms

What's this? A midweek update? It's nothing big, but if you go back through my archive you'll notice I've changed every instance of my pseudonym, David Merrick, as well as its corresponding initials back to my actual name (as well as, it goes without saying, its corresponding initials). I'm doing this partly because I want to keep the Merrick name for my fictional stand in, but mostly because it's confusing to see it posted alongside people's actual names.

Again, nothing world shattering, merely a little less confuddling.


Interview - Jon Bois

Sports and I don’t go together. I doubt I’ve kicked a ball or made a basket since my last gym class in grade 11 and the most interested I can muster for any championship is the Winter Olympics hockey finals every four years—and even then, only if the Canadian men or women’s team is involved. If there’s a competition I follow with Superbowl levels of enthusiasm, it’s whatever election is going on at the moment.

So when I say I follow a certain sportswriter almost religiously, you know how big that is.

Louisville-based Jon Bois  has been writing for the sports blog SB Nation for the past few years with a unique focus on the absurdity of professional athleticism both on and off the field. He also writes for the recently resurrected site Progressive Boink on occasion. Recently, I had an opportunity to interview him via email on the subject of fumbles, nerdery and animated sports GIFs.


Analysis - "It was the trees themselves!"

With the exception of a mild fear of heights, I don’t really have any phobias to speak of, be they of bats or snakes or even spiders. I’m not afraid of the dark, enclosed spaces or open spaces either, unless I’ve read House of Leaves sometime in the last 48 hours. But I do have a thing about forests; as much as I love camping, they can really freak me the Hell out sometimes. And of course, I’m absolutely drawn to them both in real life and in a fictional context. Some of the most effective works of horror in the history of the genre are set in the forest, and I’m starting to think this isn’t a coincidence.


Review - The Annotated AvP: The Story, part 10

Man, it seems like ages since I wrote one of these. In spite of the almost frightening lack of quality of this lengthy work of fan fiction I wrote in grade school, I’ve come to miss it a little, like a tweaker yearning for some subpar crystal meth. So let’s jump off the wagon once again and wade into the murky terrain of the Annotated Aliens versus Predator: The Story.


Spotlight - Hallow...watches?

Two weeks ago I jabbered on about which books I like to read leading up to October 31st. This week, I’m composing a variation for that theme. What follows are the three scariest movies I have ever watched, hands down. I’m not talking sudden scares that make me jump and leave me feeling pissed for the following three seconds. I’m talking about movies that stay with me long after they’re over and, if I may be so candid, might necessitate turning on a few more lights when I head off to sleep.


Review - "Argo fuck yourself."

Somewhat to my surprise, former blockbuster star and celebrated Masshole Ben Affleck has become one of my favourite directors as of late. His 2007 debut, an adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s mystery novel Gone Baby Gone, was a disturbing and thought-provoking work that felt like the product of an experienced director rather than one behind a feature film camera for the first time. And I have nothing but good things to say about The Town, a robbery thriller that, while seemingly Michael Mann’s Heat set in Boston, stood out by turning an analytical eye on the importance of one’s roots and cultural identity.

Needless to say, I eagerly awaited Argo, Affleck’s depiction of the so-called 1980 “Canadian Caper” that saw a joint Canadian-American intelligence collaboration secret six American Foreign Service employees out of revolution-torn Iran during the infamous hostage crisis of that era. And while it certainly takes liberties with the facts, I’m happy to say that Ben Affleck’s third directorial outing is up to the high standards set by his first two.


Spotlight - Hallowreads

Halloween is tied with Christmas as my favourite time of the year, and for the same reason I put on Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack come December 1st, I enjoy reading certain novels during the month of October. I hope fellow Halloween nerds will check these out if they haven't already.


Review - The Casual Vacancy

I have to respect any artist who undertakes a massive change in direction: Radiohead with Kid A, Martin Scorsese every decade or so, Steven Soderbergh with literally every movie he makes, etc. With a few exceptions, these moves are almost intrinsically courageous. It’s difficult to move out of your comfort zone, especially when you’ve carved out such a niche there (though, now that I think of it, I’m starting to wonder if Soderbergh even has a comfort zone). J.K. Rowling recently made such a move with the publication of her eighth novel, The Casual Vacancy, which is her first non-Harry Potter­ related work to date.

In April I mentioned how I finally read the Potter novels in full last summer, in the process seeing how much Rowling developed as a writer. Between The Philosopher’s Stone and The Deathly Hallows, she gradually worked in a greater sense of maturity with each passing book, making the series one you would have to grow up with—or at least be fully grown—to truly appreciate. So by the time I finished the epilogue of Hallows I was more than ready to see where Rowling went next and whether she maintained the maturity she spent a decade building toward. I was not let down.


Review - The Annotated AvP: The Story, part 9

EDIT: It took me a while and a lot of copy-pasting, but I got this month's edition of The Annotated AvP looking presentable. Let us never speak of this again.

This month's dissection of that shitty AvP fanfic I wrote as a pretten is going to be extra special. Assisting me in this venture is Riley Byrne, who when he isn't PhotoShopping inappropriate captions onto Renaissance paintings is talking some sense into music at Justifiable Culturecide.


Interview - Cameron "Josef K." Suey

While I’m averse to anything remotely resembling risk in real life, I adore horror fiction in any medium, and masochistically enjoy the feelings of tension and paranoia resulting from a particularly effective work. Creepypasta is a font for these types of stories, though admittedly it’s a kind of “diamonds in the rough situation,” with a lot of its content originating from that cesspool of a message board, 4chan. But working late on a lonely winter night a year and a half ago, one of the site’s aforementioned jewels caught my eye: “Zero,” by Josef K., the deeply unnerving apologia of a nihilistic survivalist unleashing a viral plague upon the human race. Intrigued by the short story’s pessimistic, “no turning back” tone, I decided to click the author link and check out more of Josef’s work on his site. Roughly an hour later, I was steadfastly hammering out the rest of my essay, eyes solely on the computer screen and not daring to look toward the nearest window. I had just finished the story “Exit,” and was terrified at the thought of so much as glancing at those panes, only to see some long, pale face staring back.

The author inadvertently responsible for ruining my sleep on several occasions is not actually the protagonist of one of Franz Kafka’s unfinished novels but Cameron Suey, a 33-year-old husband, father and video game producer based out of San Francisco. When he hasn’t been working on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and its sequel, Suey has crafted some of the scariest stories I’ve ever read. He was also kind to answer a few questions about writing, perspective and inspiration I sent to him via email.


Analysis - "You are still a good person."

For maybe the first time in my life, a video game has truly affected me.

Sure, video games have had an effect on me before. Portal 2, which I wrote about last week, briefly left me considering non-Euclidian paths through any room I entered. But I don’t think a game has ever truly shaken me like House of Leaves or Incendies or Essex County have. While many games have engaging stories and characters—BioShock and the Mass Effect games chief among them—the video game medium makes it difficult for those elements to transcend the far more immediate mechanical aspects of the game: sure, your favourite teammate might heroically sacrifice himself, but only after you’ve somewhat tediously cut your way through dozens of nameless, identical enemies. The impact is lessened a little, is what I’m saying.

But one game, which I first heard about less than a month ago and played over the course of two days last week, has managed to break the mould. Spec Ops: The Line is a gruelling, unsentimental military shooter that not only forces you to experience the horrors of war, but makes you culpable for them as well. It’s a damning deconstruction of the modern war game genre that’s become incredibly popular in the last half decade and possibly the only video game I would consider a genuine work of art. And I can’t get it out of my head.


Analysis - "Here are the test results: You are a horrible person."

I know I'm, oh, a year and a half behind everyone else, but I finally got around to playing Portal 2. I loved the first, having beaten it five or six times, and with the same creative team overseeing the sequel I had little doubt it would be of the same quality, if not better. But during my initial exhilarating (and occasionally frustrating) playthrough, it became my single favourite game of all time. I could talk about the new mechanics, or Mike Morasky's awesome glitchy score (available as a free download), or how well Valve's Source engine has held up nearly a decade after its release, but  nearly everything this game has to offer pales in comparison to its quite frankly surprising level of character development.

The depth and nuance of Portal 2's characters isn't just the best in the video gaming medium, but some of the best I've ever encountered. The writers of the single player campaign, Erik Wolpaw and Jay Pinkerton, have crafted a small ensemble of idiosyncratic characters, each of whom has well-defined and believable motivations. This week's analysis will look at the game's four major characters.


Review - The Annotated AvP: The Story, part 8

Okay, let's get this over with.

Welcome to part eight of my annotations on the Aliens versus Predator 2 fan fic adaptation I wrote in late grade school. Chances are if you're reading this, you've probably been following along for most of it so you don't really need to be filled in. You've seen the shoddy prose, the hamhanded characterization, the clumsy dialogue, all of it. But brothers and sisters, believe me when I say the whole bloody affair hasn't gone off the rails until now. At this point, approximately in grade 8, I thought, "You know, Monolith made a pretty damn good game, but I know I can make this story better."

So I went to town.

Sorry if the formatting is off this week. Switching over to a new computer and I don't have Word installed yet. Cheers, everyone.


Analysis - Why Grand Theft Auto IV is the Best Shooter Ever Made

I’m destined to be eternally behind the curve, which is why I didn’t first listen to Arcade Fire’s Funeral until five years after its release and why I’m only now getting into Rockstar North’s Grand Theft Auto IV. I had played about an hour of the game back in my second year of university but with the sheer number of games I was playing that year it kind of got lost in the shuffle.

Come January of this year and I was finally getting around to playing Batman: Arkham City and realizing how much I love sandbox video games, so I picked up the Game of the Year edition of GTAIV from a grocery store electronics section for pretty cheap. While it took a few months for me to truly warm up to it, I can say without hesitation it’s up there with Arkham City and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask as one of the best games I’ve ever played, and for the most unexpected reason: not the open world (though I love that) or the characters and dialogue (love them even more), but because of its shooting mechanics. GTAIV beats out Mass Effect 3 and even Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 in that department, managing this not in spite of its flaws but because of them.


Spotlight - Linkathon

Rather than being productive and composing a neat essay or review this week, I'm kicking back and linking to a few articles and pieces that tickled my mental fancy in the last little while. I hope you find them as fascinating as I did.


Analysis - The Dark Knight Rises: Annotations

It’s been over two weeks since the final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy hit theatres. I put up a spoiler-free review the Monday after it came out, but now that the movie’s been out for a little while—and now that I’ve seen it three times—I feel okay with putting up some MAJOR SPOILER WARNINGS and doing something a little more in-depth regarding the movie. My method will be rather inelegant, but make no mistakes, this will be alarmingly thorough.


Review - The Annotated AvP: The Story, part 7

Man, that was a long month. I was actually starting to miss this. Yes, it’s time for the seventh installment of the Annotated Aliens versus Predator: The Story. When we last left off, the xenomorphs had proven their capacity for advanced language, had broken into Weyland-Yutani’s Forward Observation Pods and driven Dr. Eisenberg into a mild, temporary state of insanity—all thanks to the Marines overriding a pretty poorly designed security system. And that’s going to give you a good idea of how awkward every character interaction in this chapter is going to be.


Review - "What does that mean?" "Rise."

Up until last Friday morning, if you had asked me what my favourite movie trilogy was I would have said the Red Riding saga without missing a beat. With Year of Our Lord 1974, 1980 and 1983 Channel 4 managed to craft one of the tightest, most fascinating epics I’ve ever had the privilege of watching. But again, only up until last Friday morning, because I’ve seen The Dark Knight Rises and its quality by itself and as the final part of a series has cemented Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy as one of the greatest of all time.

I loved Batman Begins when it first came out. Since then, I’ve recognized its flaws but the movie is still great in spite of them. When The Dark Knight hit cinemas in 2008, it wowed me unlike any movie before (my good friend Xander Harrington will attest to how I was left practically speechless until we left the cinema). Going into Rises, it seemed unlikely that Nolan would be able to top himself, especially considering the late Heath Ledger’s powerhouse performance as the Joker in TDK—as well as the fact that few final chapters in trilogies tend to be the strongest. But Jesus Christ, he did it. Christopher Nolan somehow did it.



In my living room there’s a near-ceiling high shelf crammed from top to bottom with books, all of them my own. I’ll occasionally lie back on the couch perpendicular to its placement and just gaze at it—not basking in it, but looking for structural weak points. I’ve been collecting comics and literature for the express purpose of building a library for the past seven years, and as a result I’ve turned this towering, six tier bookshelf into a camel fearing the coming of some straw-bearing harbinger. (I should add I have enough space for another shelf and will be more than welcome to accept any donations or freebies, wink wink.)

This week, I’m veering as close to narcissism as I fear to tread. Make no mistake: this is literary show and tell, and when I’m done you’ll wonder if I’m even capable of loving other people given how much I adore my books. So without further ado, here are the most prized tomes in my personal collection. Pictures have been cribbed from various sources online, as I don’t have a dedicated camera and I don’t want to answer any of my roommates’ questions about why I’m holding my laptop webcam up to the bookshelf.



Last Wednesday, for shits and giggles, I sat down in front of my laptop and put on Roland Emmerich’s 1996 blockbuster, Independence Day, as a way of celebrating Canada’s southern neighbours. With my trusty companion, a bottle of wine, I liveblogged the whole experience, and this week I’m posting this pseudo-review, with timestamps, in its entirety. Enjoy.


Analysis - Here Comes the Spider-Man

So I’m likely seeing The Amazing Spider-Man this week and I’m actually really pumped for it, much more than I was a few months ago when that really “meh,” vaguely Twilight-ish first trailer hit the Net. By all rights, I should be irked by the film’s very existence—the final part in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy came out only five years ago—but I can’t find it in me to generate even a modicum of outrage. And that’s because, as unpopular an opinion as it might be, I didn’t really dig Raimi’s trilogy. Specifically, I don’t think the movies did the character and his universe justice, even the critically-lauded Spider-Man 2.

But glancing over the smorgasbord—some might say plethora—of trailers and clips released over the last couple months, I’m seeing glimpses of a movie that is as true to the character of Spider-Man as Batman Begins was to its eponymous hero.


Review - The Annotated AvP: The Story, part 6

It’s the last Monday of the month, which means two things: 1.) make sure you have enough money for rent, and 2.) aww fuck it’s another edition of the Annotated Aliens versus Predator: The Story. Sit back and crack open a bottle of Thunderbird while we take a look at my grade school stab at the art of adaptation. This month’s chapter takes place minutes after the last, when the worst security system ever designed shut down the defences around Weyland-Yutani’s main lab complex on LV-1201.


Review - "Big Things Have Small Beginnings"

A lone figure stands on a dead planet, gazing solemnly at the spacecraft which brought him here, now flying away. As the mothership soars into the stratosphere, the being—a tall, hairless biped with chalk-white skin and uncannily human features—removes his cloak and drinks an oozing, shifting black liquid. In seconds, the compound brings him to his knees, painfully rending him apart at the molecular level until the humanoid tumbles down the adjacent waterfall and dissolves among the rocks below. But from this individual’s agonizing death comes a glimpse of something new. Decayed DNA strands reanimate, one cell splits into another, then another. Like seeds cast into the wind, life spreads.

So begins Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s semiprequel to his 1979 blockbuster—and my all time favourite movie—Alien. I specify “semiprequel” because Scott himself has been wishy-washy about where it sits in the Alien continuum. While it’s set in the same fictional universe, it focuses not on the series’ eponymous monsters but on a species only glimpsed in the original film. It’s a much grander movie, featuring a more cosmic and existential brand of horror than that of its darkly sexual proto-slasher progenitor. It’s 2001: A Space Odyssey by way of Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing, and with a touch of H.P. Lovecraft to boot; in other words, everything I could ever ask for, give or take some concerns I have with the finished product.


Review - Walt Simonson: Writer, Penciller, Auteur

The other day I purchased perhaps the heaviest tome that will ever sit upon my bookshelf: a Marvel Comics omnibus containing the entirety of Walter Simonson’s run on The Mighty Thor. A hardcover with over a thousand glossy pages, the compendium collects Simonson’s nearly four year run writing the Mighty Avenger, the bulk of which was also drawn by him (Sal Buscema pencilled 18 of the 45 collected issues).

With the exception of a few high profile scribes, Grant Morrison and Brian Michael Bendis chief among them, it’s rare nowadays to see a single writer dictate the course of a character and the surrounding universe for so long. And after reading most of the omnibus—I still have yet to read the final two fifths or so—I want to see more of these auteur efforts, because Simonson’s run contains some of the best superhero comics I have ever read.


Analysis - 2x3: The Fall(s) of Harvey Dent

One of my favourite things about the Batman universe is its malleability. As has been demonstrated by the Silver Age comics, the 1960s Adam West TV series and the recent Christopher Nolan movies, Gotham City and its denizens can be modified to suit any particular tone and theme, all the while maintaining the core traits of the setting and characters. Bob Haney’s excitable 1970s globetrotter is as true to the character as Frank Miller’s hardened libertarian crime fighter. Likewise, the Joker maintains his glee and twisted sense of humour whether he is harmless (Cesar Romero) or malicious (Heath Ledger).

But there’s no better example of this thematic pliability than Harvey “Two-Face” Dent, Gotham’s physically—and psychologically—scarred former district attorney and one of Batman’s most iconic villains. Two-Face has been depicted in nearly every media adaptation of Batman, most recently Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and in each one of those instances the character’s origin and personality has been changed to fit the themes at play. The following are three of the best, in chronological order:


Review - The Annotated AvP: The Story, part 5

Hoping for some quality writing this week? Well, you’re shit out of luck. It’s the last Monday of the month, which means it’s time to critique yet another chapter of the Aliens versus Predator fan fiction novel I wrote in grades 7 and 8. This week we’ll continue to follow Corporal Andrew Harrison and his USCM comrades as they venture through Alien-occupied territory toward safe haven. Prepare yourself for overly detailed descriptions of facility layouts.


Spotlight - "Huh, never thought of it like that."

Earlier today I read a blog post by sci fi author John Scalzi (Old Man’s War, Zoe’s Tale) wherein he compared “straight white male privilege”—i.e. the social advantages straight white males receive from being straight, white and male in Western society—to the lowest difficulty setting in a video game. Speaking as not only a straight white male but a gamer as well, I felt the comparison was spot on. Purely in terms of content, Scalzi didn’t really say anything new or that I didn’t already agree with, but I thought his actual rhetorical approach was utterly fascinating.

Every so often I stumble across an opinionated piece such as this one that’s able to phrase an oft-repeated argument in a new and surprisingly intuitive fashion that hammers the point home better than a straight take (“this is right/wrong because…”) ever could. I call it the “Huh, never thought of it like that” Effect. As someone who enjoys a good opinion piece and good writing even more, it’s as refreshing as a chilly can of Coke on a blazing hot day.


Analysis - On Childish Things

I’m going to be 23 in less than two weeks. I’ve been out of school a year, have undertaken a variety of adult responsibilities including paying rent and student loans, and in the near future will hopefully be starting a career that will define most of the rest of my life. I am, for all intents and purposes, one of those fabled “grownups.”

And yet my favourite television series at the moment is, for all intents and purposes, a kids’ show. Adventure Time, created by Pendleton Ward, has been broadcast on Cartoon Network since 2010 and is now in its fourth season. It follows the escapades of teenaged warrior/adventurer Finn and his intelligent, stretchy dog Jake in a fantastical land populated by a species of candy people, moderately intelligent penguins and a vast array of extraordinary creatures. It’s also surprisingly sophisticated for a show aimed at 7-11 year olds.


Review - Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2012

I spent this past weekend wearing out the soles of my newly-purchased shoes walking up and down the length of Yonge Street in Toronto and padding around the Toronto Reference Library just north of Bloor. The library has been playing host to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival since 2009, also the first year I attended. I’ve gone every May since then, adding more and more people to my little comic adoring posse and meeting several print and web artists I’m a big fan of, including comics theorist Scott McCloud, Ultimate Spider-Man penciller Stuart Immonen, Queen of the Webcomics Kate Beaton and my latest favourite writer, Jeff Lemire.

                                         Pictured L-R: Myself, Chris Mantil, Sam, Anjuli

So after spending a couple hours in a downtown diner, we walked over to the library and got our comics appreciation weekend underway.


Review - The Annotated AvP: The Story, part 4

It’s the end of the month, folks. Pour a stiff one and steel yourselves as we venture down memory lane and into the breach once more and plumb the depths of my preteen self’s attempt at fanfiction. This month, we tackle the sixth chapter of AvP: The Story, wherein we’re introduced to this novella’s United States Colonial Marine protagonist, Corporal Andrew Harrison. Be prepared for a 12-year-old’s embarrassing recreation of Marine lingo.


Spotlight - Brad Neely

As anyone who frequents my Facebook profile knows, I’m a fiend for the absurd. My wall is a veritable art gallery of the staggeringly inexplicable, an endless list of links displaying nature and society’s greatest “what the fuck” accomplishments. Over the last half year or so, I’ve included among this debris several short cartoons, all of which seem to defy anything resembling sanity. They invariably feature freakish, hastily drawn characters, all devoid of pupils, babbling on in idiosyncratic voices and residing in a world devoid almost entirely of sense.

At first glance these animations appear to be the work of a schizophrenic ex-Nickelodeon employee, but in fact the man behind them—writing, illustrating, voicing and piecing them together singlehandedly—is a relatively sane Fort Smith, Arkansas native by the name of Brad Neely. And for all the seeming incomprehensibility of his filmography, this bearded, bespectacled Arkansan has become one of my favourite comedians as of late.


Rant - Lesser Known Physical Laws

The following fragments were found scribbled on several napkins left at Professor Brian Cox’s table in a London pub.


Analysis - "The feeling begins..."

I want to talk about Jesus.

Chances are that first sentence alarmed a few of you. On my behalf, whoa, now. Whoa. Those close to me know I’m the last person to go on some rambling faith-based diatribe, and likewise know I’m not inclined to go on an anti-religious rant either. So for the next thousand words or so, let’s lower ourselves back onto our collective haunches and chill. There’s no better time: today’s Easter Monday and a holiday. And, given the season, it’s fitting to kick back and examine Martin Scorsese’s controversial 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Christ.


Analysis - Errday I'm Dumblin'

I don’t often talk about my Harry Potter fandom. Though I’d been reading the books since 2001, it wasn’t until last summer that I sat down with J.K. Rowling’s seven novel series and truly realized their depth and creativity. I could go on for pages listing the heptalogy’s qualities, but I don’t have the time and I imagine whoever is reading this doesn’t have the patience. So for today I’m just going to focus on one of the books’ strongest suits: characterization. Particularly, I’m interested in how Rowling fleshes out Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, and how the depth she gives to the character later on in the series significantly impacts Harry’s own decisions in the final book.

For all of his eccentricities and endearing witticisms, Dumbledore wasn’t even close to being one of my favourite characters for a long while. I discovered The Lord of the Rings not too long after reading the first HP novel, and anything I might have found appealing about Rowling’s old wizard was supplanted by my discovery of Gandalf the Grey (later the White). Both characters had the same, grandfatherly charm, but Gandalf was, when called upon, a warrior, whereas Dumbledore was more often than not a passive, expository figure, popping in near the end of each novel to provide Harry with context and congratulations. On a more shallow level, there was also the fact that, being old, grey and wise, Dumbledore seemed a knockoff of his Middle-earth parallel, and therefore inferior (ignoring the influence that King Arthur’s trusty mage, Merlyn, must have had on Tolkien). But there’s a lot more to the wizard than the archetypal foundation he’s built on suggests.


Review - The Annotated AvP: The Story, part 3

It’s the end of the month, which means another sample of and commentary on that terrible Aliens vs. Predator fanfiction novel I wrote in late grade school. When we last left our Predator protagonist, the accurately named Swift-Death, he had just disposed of several questionably intelligent human soldiers and was about to pursue those who had incapacitated and captured his fellow hunters. Let’s see where this takes him, shall we?


Review - Mini Reads

I've been on a bit of a reading binge lately. The recently released Mass Effect 3 had been taking up a lot of my time the past couple weeks and in between missions I ended up feeling guilty over neglecting the several bound volumes of literature and comics that had been collecting dust on my shelf, one of which had been sitting there for a couple of months. The following list is a kind of penance, but one I enjoyed for the most part. So, not really a penance, no.


Review - On Endings, Expectations, and Take Shelter

Take Shelter could have been the best movie of 2011.

By the time it arrived at Ottawa’s little Mayfair Theatre in late December I was actually anticipating it more than I had any other film that year, beating out The Muppets and The Girl with the Dragon TattooAs cliché as it sounds, writer/director Jeff Nichols’ understated little thriller had everything: nuanced performances, pitch perfect cinematography, a minimalist but undeniably effective score and a constant atmosphere of dread. But while Nichols’ sophomore feature is 99 per cent of a fantastic movie, the remaining one percent is in danger of dragging the whole cinematic boat beneath the waves (note: none of my friends have approved this analogy). To say I’m disappointed is an understatement.


Rant - Carry On Wayward Son

I seem to have developed a secondary musical taste.

Yes, it’s a strange thing to say. Normally when one talks about developing a secondary anything they’re usually referring to some bizarre mutation: secondary organs, secondary limbs, or any other biological redundancy that might result from proximity to Chernobyl. I’ve never been off this continent, let alone within range of Ukraine, and so I’m unable to link this newly discovered tangential fondness to the ill effects of radiation, but it’s a mutation nevertheless.


Review - The Annotated AvP: The Story, part 2

Last month, I opened up the Pandora’s Box that was my 13-year-old self’s attempt at writing a novel. Without spoiling too much, it’s an adaptation of the excellent computer game Aliens versus Predator 2 and an unintentionally hilarious example of fan fiction at its near worst—though not the absolute worst. Thankfully, late grade school me had little interest in crafting harrowing slash fiction, unlike some of the borderline sexual deviants prowling the Web. Make no mistake, however: it’s thoroughly terrible, so much that I felt this poor excuse for literature deserved a Mystery Science Theatre 3000-esque treatment.

This week, I’ve selected some of the funniest/weirdest/most embarrassing moments from AvP: The Story, focusing on the introduction of the Predator protagonist, the aptly-named Swift-Death.


Review - Esquire of Darkness

I watched John Carpenter’s 1987 film Prince of Darkness this weekend. I’d caught the final third or so of the movie on AMC back in my first year of university, and while I remembered it being low-budget and kind of inexplicable it nevertheless intrigued me enough that I was more than happy to watch it in full when I stumbled across it on Netflix Saturday afternoon. With the day off from work and no obligations to speak of, I plopped down on the couch, put my feet up on the coffee table and hit play.

Roughly an hour and a half later, the credits were rolling and I was rubbing my chin, processing what I’d just seen. It wasn’t a mindbender by any means but neither was it trash. It’s actually a fairly solid film from start to finish, occasionally clumsy acting and dodgy pacing balanced out by Carpenter’s cinematography and pulsing synth score, and while it wasn’t nearly as good as The Thing, I could easily see how its cult status has endured over the last quarter of a century.

But later on that day, strolling through the Glebe with a drink in my hand and the thawing ice crunching beneath my feet, I slowly realized that buried within this admittedly unsettling doomsday flick was the potential for what could have been one of the greatest horror films ever made.


Fiction - Prologue

“‘And this also,’ said Marlow suddenly, ‘has been one of the dark places of the earth’.”
                                                                                     —Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Dad clambers into the boat with the grace of a roller skating giraffe. Clutching the tackle box in one hand and lugging our rods in the other, he’s able to muster up enough balance to keep him from toppling right over the other side and into the lake. Me reaching out and grabbing the edge of his lifejacket probably helps as well.

“Whoa geez,” he mutters. It takes him a second or ten to regain his equilibrium, the now sharp rocking of the boat from side to side not aiding the process in the slightest. Arms spread, he shuts his eyes, takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly. By the time he’s fully exhaled the boat’s perilous oscillations have been reduced to a slight lateral bob. His eyelids flick open and the corner of his mouth turns upward, removing a few lines (and a few years) from his face. “Thanks, hon,” he says.


Review - The Twisted Adventures of Animal Man

Late last August, I wrote about the impending DC comics reboot, wherein I detailed a few of my hopes and concerns in the process. A full five months have passed and as of this writing a quarter of the “New 52” series have put out six issues each—the typical length for a completed storyarc, or at least enough to gleam where each series will be headed. I confess I haven’t read much of the new material, with most of what I know being cribbed from ComicsAlliance reviews or from flipping through individual issues at the Silver Snail; this doesn’t make me a very good critic, but my income doesn’t exactly support my habit, so to speak.

That being said, I’ve managed to invest—monetarily and intellectually—in two series. One of them, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman, is pretty much a given, with the former's tight writing and the latter's fluid art combining to make an incredibly enthralling addition to the Bat-legacy. But as you might expect from glancing at this article’s title, I’m not here today to talk about Batman. Actually, I’d be surprised if you’ve even heard of the character I’m about to mention—provided you haven’t talked comics with me over the last few months. It’s not a bird, nor a plane, but the humble Animal Man.


Review - The Annotated AvP: The Story, part 1

As some of you might know, in November of last year I started work on a novel for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The goal was to write 50,000 words over the course of 30 days, a feat I was able to accomplish. However, the resulting digital tome—equivalent to half of a first draft—has sat untouched in its folder ever since, partly because I wasn’t satisfied with how it was turning out, but mostly because a story dealing with homicide investigations and acoustical science requires a lot more research than you might think. While this draft has been sitting in solitude I’ve been working on smaller pieces, as evidenced by this site.


Fiction - Richard's Ribald Romances #1

"Don't Call Me a Hero" or, the Misadventures of One Young Rogue on a Cold Winter's Eve

By Richard Costello (as told to David Merrick)

December 16th, 2008

The Rodeo, whose name I automatically process as the “Hoe-deo” for its largely sleazy and easy female patronage, is a cheap C&W-themed bar located in the heart of Vanier. On any given night of the week you can step onto its hardwood dance floor and be grinding up against a drunk chick to the sound of “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” in ten seconds flat. Its head bartender, Jacques, sports a mullet and worships at the feet of Billy Ray Cyrus. And every Tuesday—Karaoke Night—there’s bound to be at least one girl belting out a particularly sloshed rendition of a Dixie Chicks tune. It is, to be blunt, a redneck dive.



"Lisa's Rival" is perhaps the greatest episode of The Simpsons ever made.

For fans of the show, this might be a controversial statement, given the justified popularity of "Marge vs. The Monorail," "Last Exit to Springfield" and "Homer's Enemy," but do hear me out. While "Lisa's Rival" may not be as hilarious as the "Monorail" episode or as innovative as "22 Short Films About Springfield," it best encapsulates what made The Simpsons so great in its prime--said prime lasting a roughly seven year period from season 2 through season 8 (just less than a third of the show's actual run, you might be interested to know).


Interview - John Cheese

Oh hi, small but dedicated reader base. It's been months--Hell, an entire season--since the last time I posted here, but I have returned, both with the promise of new and utterly trivial entries on the Simpsons, Die Hard and Animal Man, as well as a Very Special Announcement. Mack Leighty, best known to the Internet by his pseudonym John Cheese, has been entertaining and enlightening people for the past year with his weekly column on Cracked.com. Whether he's writing about overcoming his alcoholism or the Hell of being a video game sewer repairman, John's been consistently funny and touching in his output. To boot, he served as the basis for the eponymous character of Cracked senior editor David Wong's comedic horror novel, John Dies at the End, the film adaptation of which will be premiering at the Sundance Film Festival later this month.

Recently, John gave any random schmuck on the Internet the opportunity to throw a few questions his way, an offer I had a physical inability to pass up. So without further ado, Mr. Cheese holds court on humour, influences and cinematic doppelgangers.