Saturday, September 11, 2010

For the record

I haven't forgotten about my blogs, but plans have changed. I'm trying to get back into drawing, so I'm planning to create a new blog. It will primarily serve as an art blog, but I also want to roll my current blogs into it as well. No sense juggling three. I hope to get that off the ground in about a month.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer movie round-up

Now for the summer movies so far.

Toy Story 3 - I am aware it was released within the confines of Spring; I waited a week to allow time for the crowds to thin out a bit. Toy Story 3 blew me away. I don't know how Pixar does it, but they usually manage to improve with each new movie. I will freely admit that I've never been much of a Toy Story fan, but I was completely pulled in by Toy Story 3.

The Last Airbender - Who knew someone would release a movie this summer that made Jonah Hex look good? By now I'm sure everyone has heard or read about racebending-gate, but it turns out that the racial makeup of the cast was the least of The Last Airbender's problems. Even the few good actors in the movie didn't bother putting in good performances, and I can't blame them. I wouldn't try too hard if I was given such terrible material to work with either. And for some bizarre reason, half the story is told in narration; the movie just kind of flits from scene to scene without ending or even starting any of them properly. Fight choreography was decent, but the special effects were abysmal. I will say one thing about the race issue: at least Jake Gyllenhaal had the decency to get a goddamn tan to somewhat blend in for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. What the hell were two white children doing with the Southern Water Tribe anyway? The mismatch was jarring.

Knight & Day - A welcome diversion after The Last Airbender. It was a pleasing blend of action and humor, and the two leads had great chemistry. Good, but not something I'd go out of my way to watch again.

Predators - Finally, a decent successor to the first two movies. Not as good as the first two, but it was still a competent action movie with a lot of nice little references to the previous movies; particularly Predator.

Despicable Me - Excellent movie, although you can tell a few corners had to be cut on the animation. I feared the movie would feel rushed due to the length (90ish minutes), but it was actually remarkably well-paced. Quality writing, quality cast, quality movie. As you might imagine from the ad campaign, the minions really do steal the show. The minions are in on all the best sight gags, yet they're never really so overused that they wear out their welcome.

Inception - I don't want to say too much, because that would inevitably lead to spoilers. That said, amazing movie. It is better than anything Nolan has done previously, every member of the cast did a fantastic job, and the movie works on all levels. It can be a very entertaining straight-up action/heist movie for people who like that sort of thing, but Inception is capable of really engaging the brain if you pay closer attention. I'm glad I saw a matinee screening, because my mind would not have been awake enough to handle this movie at night.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Spring movie round-up

Oops; didn't mean to leave this blog un-updated for so long. So, to get back into the swing of things, I'll do a couple of entries containing quick blurbs about all the movies I've seen in the last few months. First, the Spring movies.

Hot Tub Time Machine - As a child of the 80s, I was probably predisposed to liking this one. Fortunately, the cast did a great job, and the premise was endearingly ridiculous.

How to Train Your Dragon - Dreamworks has never quite achieved Pixar levels of greatness. How to Train Your Dragon is damn close though; they're on the threshold. At the time I saw it, I considered it my favorite movie of the year-to-date.

Clash of the Titans - Lives well the legacy of the Harryhausen movie it is a remake of, which is to say it isn't very good. And without the amusingly bad effects of the original, the remake lacks some of the original's charm.

Kick-Ass - Significantly better than the Millar-penned graphic novel it adapts. The movie drops some of the more interesting ideas contained in the source, but Matthew Vaughn's execution of what remains is generally much better.

The Losers - Excellent over-the-top action movie. Solid casting with excellent performances all around. The comic is in many ways a loving homage to The A-Team, and it shows in the movie adaptation.

A Nightmare On Elm Street - I like the remake more than the original, actually. It carries many of the same flaws, but I prefer the pacing of the remake. Jackie Earle Haley is an excellent successor to Englund.

Iron Man 2 - Not as good as the first one, but Downey's performance still makes it fun to watch. Rourke made for a great villain, and the movie should have focused on him instead of throwing in a second villain (Hammer). I missed Howard as Rhodes, because the chemistry between Downey and Cheadle was lacking.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time - Best video game movie ever made, although I guess that's not a tough feat. Entertaining at the time, but ultimately forgettable.

The A-Team - I think I prefer The Losers overall, but The A-Team didn't exactly disappoint. Plus they make Face a second-in-command in more than name. That always bothered me in the original series.

Jonah Hex - *shudder* About the only thing Jonah Hex got right was Josh Brolin in the title role; pitch perfect casting there. Everything else about the movie is in unholy mess. Bad writing, horrendous pacing, and Megan Fox are just of few of the movie-making sins on display here. And other than the name and the scar, the movie bears little resemblance to the source material. Until The Last Airbender (more on it in the next entry), I considered Jonah Hex the worst movie I've ever paid to see.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tip of the hat, wag of the finger, flip of the bird.

All for the movie Splice. And yeah, I've been watching a little too much Colbert Report lately.

Dren looks like that for less than half of the movie.

Tip of the hat to the movie as a whole. Splice was not at all what I was led to expect, and I mean that in the best possible way. Rather than being some jump scare-ridden creature flick, the movie was less about Dren and more about the two scientists who create her. Less horror, more science fiction, and a lot of little peeks into the minds of the two main characters. What compels them to create Dren, how her presence in their lives affects their marriage, how they affect her development, etc. Dren is actually a fairly minor character until the last 1/3 or so of the movie. She's just kind of there until she ages and starts looking more human. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley deliver rock-solid performances.

Wag of the finger to whoever made the decision to turn the last 20 minutes into a by-the-numbers creature flick. It wasn't entirely out of left field, but it still seemed a tad incongruous with the tone and pacing of the rest of the movie. Plus I wasn't thrilled about the seemingly blatant sequel set-up at the end. Coming soon, Splice 2: Revenge of the Rise of the Double Helix.

Big, fat middle finger to the people in charge of marketing. The trailers and ads almost completely misrepresent the movie, the last 20 minutes notwithstanding. I can only imagine how many people may have been convinced to skip it because of the horrendous marketing campaign. If I hadn't read the reviews, I might have missed out myself. I'm sure some who did go experienced disappointment because of the discrepancy between preview and product. I distinctly remember a few people walking out after 30 or so minutes on the day I saw Splice.

If you're in the market for the kind of horror movie the trailers promise, avoid Splice. You probably won't walk away happy. If stripped down science fiction with interesting characters sounds like something you'd like to see, see Splice. I don't care if you rent it, go to a dollar theater, or view it by some other cheap method. Just give Splice a chance.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on the Internet Post

Just got back from the last show of Conan O'Brien's tour not an hour ago. I'm too jazzed to sleep, so might as well post on the internet. The show was excellent, and I don't regret one dime spent on it. Well, I kinda regret the money spent on that soda. Even for a concert venue, the prices on non-alcoholic beverages at the Fox Theatre are outrageous.

The opening act was a musician/comedian by the name of Reggie Watts. His set impressed me a bit. I am definitely interested in checking out more of his material. After a brief intermission while they set up for the main show, The Legally Prohibited Band (Conan's Tonight Show Band minus Weinberg) came out and performed a couple of numbers. I've always been impressed by the lot of them on Late Night and The Tonight Show, but you don't know how good a band really is until you hear them live. After tonight, I view them as nothing less than amazing.

After Conan monologued for a bit, the show alternated between musical numbers and comedy. While I can't say much for Conan's signing, he plays a pretty mean guitar. Comedy highlights included Andy reading an ad for the Clermont Lounge, Conan having a 'dialogue' with the audience (the audience's part being fed to us by teleprompter) in which the audience cajoled him into kissing LaBamba, and the Chuck Norris Rural Officer Handle that played clips of a certain show that shall remain nameless. For the Chuck Norris Rural Officer Handle bit, Conan brought out Evander Holyfield and Jack McBrayer for a pull of the handle. My favorite musical moment was the instrumental rendition of Seven Nation Army. It offered a great chance for the guitarists in the band, including Conan, to show off a bit.

I had so much fun at the show that I almost regret not paying for one of the expensive package deals with autographed merchandise and the like. Almost.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The long overdue RPG post

I hinted at it in the Dio post, then got sidetracked again by Avenue Q, but now it is time. In all honesty, I am not an RPG guy. In the East Cobb suburbs where I grew up, I didn't know or know of anyone into pen and paper RPGs. By middle school, someone did turn me on to the Forgotten Realms through some licensed novels (the works of R.A. Salvatore, naturally), but I still couldn't have named one person playing the game behind the setting. Despite that, I became what I call a lore whore.

I've never experienced a campaign and wouldn't know anything about the mechanics of various systems, but I can recite 'historical' facts from certain settings all day. Something about constructed worlds has always fascinated me, whether speaking of an RPG setting or background for a series of sci-fi/fantasy novels. No matter how dry the presentation, I never get tired of reading even the most minor of minutiae defining a new setting and its history/culture. It ties into my love of history, I imagine; I reap great enjoyment from reading up on real civilizations far removed from my own. I took four years of Latin not for the language itself, but for all the Roman cultural and historical lessons mixed in.

I've finally reached a point where I'd really like to try my hand at the underlying games, but everyone I know is either completely uninterested or an old hand. I guess I feel like I'd be a burden on my few experienced friends by trying to get involved with their games. Maybe I'll find a group that can tolerate my newbie ass. Someday.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

It sucks to be me

You know what doesn't suck? Avenue Q. I've owned the CD of the original cast recording for years, but I've never seen the actual show before. I remedied that yesterday while the current tour was in town at the Cobb Energy Centre. Nice venue, by the way. I especially appreciated the vents under each seat, because it got hot in there once the room filled up.

For those unfamiliar with Avenue Q, imagine an R-rated Sesame Street. Same mix of human and puppet characters, but they're all adults dealing with adult issues. Oh, and there's a bit of puppet sex in there as well. The cast for the current tour is amazing, but I thought Jacqueline Grabois (Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut), Lisa Helmi Johanson (Christmas Eve), and Nigel Jamaal Clark (Gary Coleman) stood out. Ms. Johanson especially, since I really have to respect anyone playing the role of Christmas Eve. Maintaining the deliberately terrible engrish for 2+ hours can't be easy.

I'm generally not a fan of musicals, but Avenue Q hits all the right notes. It skillfully parodies a fixture of my youth, doesn't take itself seriously, and the songs are catchy as hell. After seeing the show and revisiting the original cast recording this morning, I'd have to say my current favorite songs are "There's a Fine, Fine Line", "Schadenfreude", and "For Now". I can't say any of the songs are bad though, and my favorites change nearly every time I listen to the entire set.

Avenue Q video response to this Muppet video.

Sidenote: I am never going to this sort of show solo again. I figured it would be like going to a movie; most people in groups, but a fair number of people on their own. Not so. I have never felt so conspicuously alone in my life. I didn't have much of a choice this time, since I didn't realize Avenue Q would be in town until the last minute. I simply lacked time to coordinate with my friends. I'll know better than to allow that to happen next time.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The man, the myth, the metal

The next post was originally going to be about pen and paper RPGs, but fate saw fit to intervene. Ronnie James Dio was falsely reported dead yesterday, but, unfortunately, it happened for real this morning. I am actually tearing up a bit as I type this entry, because no man has shaped my taste in music as much as Dio. I got into metal fairly late (college), but the works of Dio hooked me on the genre more than anything else my roommates exposed me to. I own nearly every album by him and other bands he's been a part of during his illustrious career. I listen to those albums more than anything else in my collection.

I was fortunate enough to be able to see him in concert a few years ago. I was blown away; not just because I was finally experiencing music that had meant so much to me live, but because of the man's energy. Even in his 60s, Dio could put on a performance that puts frontmen a fraction his age to shame. Shame, I say. I can only think of one other concert out of the many I've been to that comes close to that Dio show.

I won't try to pretend Dio's music is deep and meaningful. He had the odd moment of brilliance, but much of his work has more in common with the cheese that is power metal. And there's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes a person just wants to rock out and have fun, and Dio is my go-to artist when that's what I'm looking for in my metal. The man had an amazing voice, crafted music that pleased my ears with a consistency matched by no one, and only influenced nearly every prominent metal band to come after him. Dio has rocked for a long, long time; now that's all that really needs to be said on the subject.

The afterlife just became a much more metal place.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Crippling variety

Since entering the 'real world' six years ago, I've been lucky enough to be capable of buying most video games I have the slightest interest in playing. Yet I still reactivated my GameFly account recently. It took too damn long, but I finally realized I keep going through the same cycle over and over again. The game collection expands, I reach a point where I have so many games I can never settle on one when I'm in a gaming kind of mood, and then I trade most of the game pile in at GameStop or Amazon for credit. Credit that ultimately ends up rebuilding the pile. Lather, rinse, repeat. I rarely finish what I start, and it has been foolish of me to spend so much on that which will never be completed. Two weeks ago, God of War III became what is probably the first game I've finished in two years. Two years!

Age and my ever-changing gaming habits fuel the cycle to a large degree, I must admit. I simply don't have as much time for video games as I used to, and I have even less patience for certain unpleasant aspects common to the genres I once loved. Minor annoyances have transformed into game breakers, yet I never learn to keep any of this knowledge in mind when I read the reviews for the next hotly anticipated title. And when I have so many other games I could be playing instead, all the less reason to hack away at any walls I run into.

New personal rule: I will endeavor to avoid buying sequels or other games by established developers. Nothing against either, but if I'm going to lay down cash for something I'll probably never finish, better to support the new IPs and/or upstart developers.  Ah, who am I kidding? A sufficiently awesome pre-order bonus will always possess the power to part my money from me. Preferably something non-digital though. Some people appreciate the intangibles in life, but I'm not one of them.

 The Tangibles in their place of honor within my office

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A study in contrasts

Anyone who has ever been in the Electronics department of Wal-Mart or Target has seen the cheap, double/quad-feature DVD and Blu-Ray packs you only seem to find at the discount stores. Most of the time, the movies in any given pack are of comparable quality, but on occasion one throws you a major curve. I find surprises occur most often with the horror packs, such as the Blu-Ray horror pack I picked up a few days ago.

Mortuary - Mortuary is bad, but I would say hilariously so. For starters, the movie opens with a family moving cross-country because a single mother randomly decides her new life's calling is to be a mortician. When they arrive, the mortuary is in disrepair, and locals are leery of the place due to the murder of the previous owners by their son. Not ominous at all, right? The first 30 or so minutes are a little painful to watch, but Mortuary takes a turn for the funny when creepy things start happening and the zombies show up. Oh, did I mention the zombies are the result of a fungus? A fungus created using hideously cheap looking computer graphics. A fungus that spreads through the inky black projectile vomit of the infected. I think you get the idea. When they resurrect MST3K decades from now, I expect Mortuary to be on the shortlist.

Salvage - In stark contrast to Mortuary, Salvage is genuinely good. Maybe even fantastic. The movie kicks off with the brutal murder of Claire by a man called Duke. Claire wakes up at her job and carries on with her life as if the murder was a dream. Until she starts picking up on oddities in the world around her and is eventually killed in the exact same manner as before, only to once again wake up at work as if nothing happened. Now painfully aware of the fact that all is not right with the world, Claire's attempts to discover the truth lead to a well-played reveal that actually caught me by surprise. The performances are generally solid, the pacing is excellent, and though made for cheap ($25,000 according to Wikipedia), Salvage never seems cheaply made. Some of the dialogue could have used a bit more work, but I wish more horror movies aspired to the overall level of quality demonstrated here.

Salvage alone is worth the $10 price tag; the unintentional comedy included in the package is a bonus.