Tag: detective

First Impressions: The Wolf Among Us

Telltale Games has a lot going for them. Their Poker Night games demonstrate some pretty solid design choices, while The Walking Dead is one of the best storytelling experiences I’ve had gaming in recent memory. Adventure games, to me, remain a charming and underrated way of combining gameplay with story, ensuring our actions and choices define the outcome of what’s happening in front of us. I was looking forward to trying out The Wolf Among Us, and recently finished its first episode, “Faith”.

Courtesy Telltale Games

The Wolf Among Us introduces us to the world of Fables. A series of graphic novels from DC’s always-interesting Vertigo studios, Fables are literally fairy tale characters who live in our world. Having emigrated from their original settings, these legendary characters do their best to live among normal humans, with the less than human-appearing ones needing magical spells to pass as everyday people. They live in their own little corner of New York City, dubbed ‘Fabletown’, and order is kept thanks to an unlikely sheriff in the form of Bigby Wolf. He’s our protagonist, but he’s not much of a hero.

In fact, in the past, he’s played the villain most often. As the Big Bad Wolf, he’s gone after and devoured pigs and little girls alike. However, that was the past. The character we see in The Wolf Among Us is much more reserved and far less malevolent, though he still has a surly attitude and is more than capable of beating down someone trying to put a hurt on him. He’s trying to make things better, for himself and for Fabletown, so he tries not to ‘wolf out’ or abuse people. He’s complex and magnetic, a great lens for us to experience Fabletown through, and like all Fables, he’s very hard to kill – this is, after all, a character that once has his stomach filled with rocks before he was thrown into a river. And yet, The Wolf Among Us is something of a murder mystery, meaning Bigby must use skills other than his ability to punch people really hard.

The combat in The Wolf Among Us is an improvement over that in The Walking Dead. Movement keys prompt dodging, the mouse helps Bigby use the environment or strike key portions of an opponent, so on and so forth. Prompts from the environment are also improved. If I had a complaint about the game, it’d be that the on-screen prompts from the environment make puzzles a bit too easy to solve. I’m not sure if you can turn this feature off or not – I’ll just have to play again to find out!

‘Faith’ is a great start to this new series of Telltale episodes. Fabletown is full of great characters, who both maintain the aspects that made them timeless and present them in a new, modern way that smacks of a noir classic. I’m a sucker for the blending of genres in general, and this particular mix is right up my alley. I’m very much looking forward to coming episodes. The Wolf Among Us offers a ‘season pass’ on Steam for all five of its episodes, and you can get individual ones on the console of your choice. It’s definitely worth your time to check out.

Flash Fiction: The Novice

Courtesy eHow

For the Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge, A Novice Revenges the Rhythm


She tended to pace when she was bothered by a case. This was a new record, by a good five minutes.

“You’re going to wear a hole in the carpet.”

She didn’t hear him, or wasn’t inclined to respond. David looked back down at the files spread across his coffee table. Seeing Claire at his doorstep wasn’t really a surprise, not when five young women were dead and a sixth missing.

“Look, you heard the captain this morning, Claire. The FBI is coming in tomorrow. It won’t be our case anymore. All we need to do is back them up.”

“Don’t tell me that doesn’t piss you off.”

David glanced at the bottle of Jack sitting on his kitchen counter. “It does, but what else can we do? We’ve been over every shred of evidence, and so have they. Until we put all of our heads together, we’re not going to make any actual progress.”

“I don’t believe that, and I don’t think you do either.”

David rubbed his temples. “All we know is he kidnaps them from their parking lots or driveways outside their residences, he leaves no trace of blood or hair so he’s cautious and catches them in such a way that any struggling is irrelevant, and seven days later we find the victim in their bedroom at home. No fingerprints, no follicles, no DNA. He dresses them in nightgowns and uses makeup to cover up any wounds that would be immediately visible…”

A novice revenges the rhythm.”

David sighed. “You know that doesn’t mean anything, Claire. He left it with the first victim on common copy paper. Both our eggheads and the ones for the Feds have been over every word of that phrase. We’re getting nowhere with this. We need to wait for…”

Claire stopped pacing as if she’d been turned to stone mid-step. “Say that again.”

“We’re getting nowhere.”

“No, before that.”

Her partner blinked. “What, that we’ve been over every word of that phrase?”

“Yeah.” She turned, walked around the coffee table, and sat down beside him on the couch. “Every word… not every letter.”

David scratched his head. Claire dove through the files, the photos of autopsies and the staged bedroom scenes, until she found a pad of blank paper and a Sharpie. She wrote out the phrase – A novice revenges the rhythm – at the top of the page. After a moment of staring at it, she began writing letters beneath it, crossing them out as she used them.

“What are you doing?”

“I think it might be an anagram.”

David frowned. “Why would he give us an anagram?”

“I don’t know, but I think he left it there for a reason.”

“Sure he did, to taunt us.”

“Dave, killers like this tend to be pretty smart people. They also lean towards arrogance bordering on narcissism. He wants us to know who he is so he can gloat about being so superior to us in intellect. He’s given us a challenge he believes we’ll never beat.”

David said nothing. Claire focused on the page, crossing out her failures and starting over, one attempt after another. Eventually, Dave got up and walked to the kitchen, pouring himself some Jack. He took a swallow, waited for the burning in his throat to subside, and poured another.

“Dave! I need you to Google something for me.”

He coughed after his second swallow as his vocal chords recovered from the alcoholic bath they’d just taken. “What is it?”

“Look up ‘Vence’, Vee Ee En See Ee, tell me if it means anything.”

Puzzled, Dave pulled out his phone and consulted Google. Claire refused to get a smart phone, said that if she couldn’t ensure it was free of tracking devices, she didn’t want it on her person. Funny, considering the department low-jacked all of their cars. But nobody ever expected Claire’s eccentricities to make sense. As long as she caught murderers, the higher-ups were happy to let her be her slightly crazy self.

“Wikipedia says it’s a commune in Italy.”

“Any poets from there?”

He scrolled down the page. “Yeah, D.H. Lawrence.”

Claire was on her feet and pacing again. “That sounds familiar. Run it through locations within the city.”

“Let me get my laptop. My phone is…”

“Told you that you don’t need it.”

“It is not spying on us, Claire.”

“I’m just saying.”

Rolling his eyes, Dave fetched his laptop. In moments he was looking through locations within the city limits and suburbs.

“There’s a Lawrence’s Pub a few blocks from here.”

“Too public. Next.”

“DH Books, shut down five years ago, owner moved back to…”

Claire raised an eyebrow. David met her gaze.

“He was an immigrant. From Vence.”

Give, then, a short Vence rhyme. That’s what I found.”

For a moment, neither of them said anything. Without a word, they moved as one, gathering up coats and sidearms as they headed out the door. David drove, lights on and siren blaring, as Claire radioed in for backup.

When they arrived at the old bookstore, the property’s exterior was burned to a blackened, cracking facade. Broken glass in the windows reflected the lights from David’s car and the SWAT van. The two detectives entered cautiously, pistols ready, flashlights piercing the dark.

It was Claire that found the trap door. Quietly, they crept down the stairs, where they heard a soft male voice reading aloud.

“I want her to touch me at last, ah, on the root and
quick of my darkness
and perish on me, as I have perished on her.”

The reading figure was bent over a bed where a young woman lay, bound and gagged. She was naked, and watched the hooded and robed reader with wide, fearful eyes.

Claire raised her weapon. “‘The Manifesto.'”

The figure turned, wearing a mask of the dramatic face of comedy. All but his eyes were inscrutable behind it; eyes that burned with ambition, anticipation, madness.

“Ah. Here you are. Now our final game can begin.”

My Roots In Pulp

Courtesy fuckyeahspaceship.tumblr.com

When I was growing up there were plenty of books to be had in my house. My parents owned a set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but that wasn’t what kept me up past my bedtime. I never read any of my mother’s paperback romance novels, either. No, for the most part I started by reading books by Paula Danzinger, the adventures of Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys, and flipping to the back of the newspaper for the latest Calvin & Hobbes. As I got a bit older, I found myself curious about a few dog-eared paperbacks my dad owned, penned by one Mickey Spillane. So I guess I really have him to thank for this writing thing I have going on. In addition to the book that got me juiced to write in the first place, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, he introduced me to a guy by the name of Mike Hammer.

Mike Hammer, a private detective and somewhat caustic fellow, is most often described as “hard-boiled.” His rage, violence and rather selfish outlook on life and the law are far more emphasized than in the likes of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. His influence can be felt throughout Frank Miller’s Sin City and in modern, more esoteric detectives like John Constantine and Harry Dresden. My curiosity about this form of storytelling is probably where my fascination with pulp really began.

This interest grew when I discovered Robert E. Howard and his musclebound sword and sorcery heroes, Conan and Kull. These blood-soaked tales were quite different from others I’d experienced growing up. In addition to the sex and violence, though, was the difference in protagonists between Conan and, say, Luke Skywalker. Like Mike Hammer, Conan was not a hero that I always liked. There were times he struck me as a complete selfish jerk. Thus pulp adventures introduced me to the concept of the unlikable protagonist.

But most of all, pulp showed me how concepts and settings that might seem weird in other, more straightforward works could be pulled off with bombast and appeal. Specifically, Flash Gordon’s world of Mongo and the Mars in which John Carter finds himself are filled with exotic aliens, dangerous creatures and shockingly beautiful women; in other words, they’re fantastic places to which many would love to escape. They showed me that no world is beyond creation, that with refinement even the most screwball idea can yield something interesting to read.

Time has passed and we live in an age that tends to be a bit more cynical and straight-faced, with such flights of fancy often looked upon as juvenile or even sophomoric. The failure of pulp-flavored adventures on film like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Sucker Punch haven’t helped matters. Call me sentimental, but I feel there’s still room for the pulp in which my fascination with writing is rooted today. I know I have enough on my plate as it is, but in the back of my brain there’s something going on involving rayguns and war rockets.

Then again, that could just be my daily coping mechanism.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Dirty Harry

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/dirty_harry.mp3]

In an ideal world, police officers are sworn to serve the public trust, protect the innocent and uphold the law. Even in our fiction, even when they’re no longer fully human, we’d like to think that there’s some sort of compassionate protection between those of us abiding by the law and those driven to defy it. And in our minds, these men and women are paragons of virtue, living embodiments of justice, the sort of good-souled citizens that chase down purse-snatchers and rescue cats from trees. We don’t like to think of them doing things like beating a suspect bloody in view of the public or abusing their power to assault the innocent even if they’re irate. But they often do, and such a policeman who does these sort of bad things, for good reasons or no, is the one introduced to us at the titular character of 1971’s Dirty Harry.

Courtesy Warner Bros

His full name is Inspector Harry Callahan, and his fellows in the precinct call him ‘dirty’ due to the habit of nasty business falling into his lap. The man can’t even eat a hot dog without running into a bank robbery he has to foil. The main thrust of the narrative is Callahan’s chase of a serial killer calling himself ‘Scorpio’. It takes quite a bit to track this maniac down. However, when Harry’s over-zealous pursuit of Scorpio when the killer kidnaps a little girl leads to the villain’s release on a technicality. Harry must take the law in his own hands if he wants to see justice done to the murder, even if it means dirtying his hands further and perhaps even ending his career.

Until this film, Clint Eastwood was mostly known for spaghetti westerns and a stint on Rawhide. It would be Harry Callahan that catapulted him to stardom. The detective would be quite good not just for his acting career but also helping him develop as a director, though his first time behind the camera actually came the same year with Play Misty For Me. He’d go on to be a highly successful and iconic actor as well as an acclaimed, thoughtful and powerful director, but in 1971 he was busy setting the foundation for all sorts of future cop dramas and their actors, from Charles Bronson to Bruce Willis.

Courtesy Warner Bros
At least he has nice shades.

And make no mistake, this flick’s very much a product of the ’70s. A good deal of its content is nowhere near what we would consider politically correct today. The presence of blood so fake I was wondering if they used ketchup or hot sauce is counterbalanced with nudity that goes over the line of tasteful into gratuitous territory. There’s some casual racism, a soundtrack from the creator of the Mission: Impossible theme best described as ‘groovetastic’ and more drab suits with hideous patterns than you can shake a magnum revolver at. None of these things, however, caused as much a stir at the time as Dirty Harry’s behavior.

He breaks into places without a warrant, beats information out of suspects while they scream for lawyers and doesn’t think twice about executing someone in cold blood. This staightforward portrayal of personal justice had many critics at the time calling the message of the film ‘fascist’. But Harry does not exist in a vacuum. Not only is he driven to these ends by the actions of someone truly depraved and irredeemable, he is fully aware of how these things can and do affect him. When he’s got Scorpio under his heel, his expression is of a man tortured by the knowledge that he may be too late to save a little girl’s life. And in the end, when all is said and done, he tosses away his badge, knowing that his actions have served nobody but himself, and protected no one.

Courtesy Warner Bros
The famous handgun.

It’s this strong if morally ambiguous internal compass of his, coupled with his fortitude and excellent skills at delivering snark that made Dirty Harry into an iconic character. He’s cited as an inspiration for multiple film series, including Death Wish, Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. Pretty much any iteration of hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners vigilante justice can be traced back to his actions, from the Boondock Saints to modern interpretations of the goddamn Batman. And while Arnold and Sly may run around battlefields with bulging muscles and big machine guns, a single slender man in a suit with a revolver can be ten times as compelling and chilling, especially if that man is Clint Eastwood and that revolver is the Smith & Wesson Model 29 chambered in .44 magnum.

Even if it wasn’t a landmark piece of work, Dirty Harry is still a good watch. It is definitely showing its age in some places, from the width of its steel sedans to the archaic radio equipment Harry and his partner have to deal with. However, Eastwood carries much of the film’s drama, action and even humor, and would do so in future films. For fans of thrillers, cop films and examinations of absolute powers of justice in the hands of one man, Dirty Harry is definitely recommended. You’ll definitely have a better understanding of why would-be macho cops sometimes squint their eyes and ask punks if they feel lucky.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Shutter Island

Logo courtesy Netflix. No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

{No audio this week, still adjusting to the new work schedule.}

I’m sure that most of the people reading this review have at least one dog-eared copy of a paperback novel lying around somewhere. Let me ask you something: why have you read that book more than once? I’m willing to hazard a guess. Even though you know how the story ends, the telling of the story is still a worthwhile and entertaining experience. That, in a nutshell, is how I would describe Shutter Island.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Set in the mid-50s, the eponymous island is home to an asylum for the criminally insane. One of the inmates has escaped and there’s a gigantic hurricane bearing down on Boston. Enter US Marshall Teddy Daniels and new partner Chuck Aule, arriving on the island just before the storm. As much as their primary purpose is to find the missing crazy woman, Daniels is also looking for something, or someone, else. And on this island, it seems like everybody has something to hide, including Teddy himself.

Now, it’s a year on from when this movie came out, and it’s highly likely you’ve at least seen a trailer, or gotten the twist ending spoiled for you. No, I’m not going to spoil it here, but even if you have figured out how this one is going to end, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it. Like that beloved paperback, Shutter Island is less about telling a new story and more about telling a good one. And cinematic storytellers don’t come much better than Martin Scorsese.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures
Some of these visuals are just stunning.

It’s no secret Scorsese has an eye for talent. He’s worked with editor Thelma Schoonmaker since Raging Bull. He made eight films with Robert DeNiro, including the aforementioned Raging Bull which DeNiro convinced Scorsese to do for reasons that may have saved the director’s life. And here, in Shutter Island, we have his fourth collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio. Once again, Scorsese gives Leo an opportunity to show his chops as a wise-cracking tough guy, an emotionally scarred and troubled man, an intelligent detective and even a veteran. Pulling off these disparate beats while keeping the character consistent and compelling is no mean feat, but DiCaprio inhabits his role perfectly.

In addition to this strong lead, Shutter Island features a fantastic supporting cast of character actors. While Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley and Michelle Williams do a great deal of the heavy lifting in this tale, there are some small or even one-scene performances that stick out in one’s mind, speaking to the power of these actors in their roles. Ted Levine, Jackie Earl Haley and Elias Kostas do such a fantastic job nailing their characters down in just a handful of lines – or, in Kostas’ case, about two lines and some very effective leering – that they’re likely to be remembered long after the credits roll.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures
Forgive me, it’s Sir Ben Kingsley.

All of this great acting is framed in the extremely atmospheric setting of Shutter Island itself. Between the old Civil War construction, the archaic equipment and the period dress of the 1950s, the film takes on a noir detective feeling that works as a great, concrete counterpoint to the psychological horror that is the crux of the narrative. As much as Daniels begins to question and cling to his sanity, so does the audience attempt to hold onto the mystery as it was introduced, even as a new mystery slowly emerges to take its place. Granted, some viewers will have seen the ‘new’ mystery coming from the beginning, but as I said before, this is a yarn more concerned with telling the tale well than the tale being told.

In that aspect, the only real flaw that can be pointed out in Shutter Island is the nature of the plot that makes the twist at the end, in some measure, predictable. For a movie that seems to be aiming to be equal parts Inception and old carnival spook house (a comparison that wouldn’t have made sense when the movie came out), the lack of screenplay contrivance can seem incongruous, like it’s too straight-forward in the telling. The film, however, plays this weakness as a strength, making the plot just about the least important thing about it. The talent, artistry, atmosphere and characters completely overwhelm the plot and construct a very good storytelling experience. It belongs on your Netflix queue if you’re a fan of any of these actors, detective stories right at home in a Lovecraft anthology, old-fashioned head-screwy horror or, it goes without saying, Martin Scorsese. The man’s proven over and over that his talent for telling stories through film is peerless, and Shutter Island is no exception.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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