Tuesday, December 29, 2009

To Be Continued

The blog will be on hiatus for a little while, at least through the end of the year. I need to devote some of these energies somewhere else, and with the back pain and the back-pain-related meds I'm on, updating is becoming difficult.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

If You See It, Pick It Up For Me

So, I threw my back out last night. God, do I feel old. I'm doing better this morning, that is to say I can sit up and even stand for short intervals without being in debilitating pain.

Suck-fest.

But I've seen a doctor, and I didn't have anything planned that's going to be interrupted, so that's good. And Abby's been an incredible help yesterday and today--I honestly don't know how I'd have made it through without her.

So yeah, if you ever have a chance to throw your back out, don't.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Who Names A Team "Fortress" Anyway?

So Evan and I have been playing Team Fortress 2 lately instead of our usual Left 4 Dead 2 sessions. You know, change of pace and all.

I've more or less got the hang of the game (I still can't play a spy worth shit, but I'm finally a functional engineer), and I'm struck by just how... well... completely unlike the Left 4 Dead games it is.

There is no story, there's very little backstory, and what backstory there is exists more for comedy. Ditto the characters (they have their own personalities, but there's no limit to how many can play at once). And while Left 4 Dead hand-holds you into the game, TF2 has a relatively steep learning curve. There are no tutorials, no sandboxes--there are tips, but they show up randomly.

Nope, you pretty much jump in and start playing and learn by dying a whole lot. Reminds me of old-school platformers that way.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Avatar: Reactions

So Abby and I went to go see Avatar this weekend. The best description I've heard of it is that it's basically a $100 hamburger: well-crafted, painstakingly presented, thoroughly enjoyable, and at the end of the day, just a hamburger. A really good hamburger. But a hamburger nonetheless.

I didn't see it in 3D because I am done with 3D. I don't need the headache to witness the splendor. I will say this: I liked it. The plot was well-thought-out if not terribly adventurous. The plot twists were all telegraphed fairly early on. The fight scenes were great--Cameron really should do space operas. And the technical achievement of the film cannot be understated: the movie looks incredible. The CG characters emote believably, and the environments and creatures are splendidly real and visceral.

I will complain a little about the writing. The plot-driving McGuffin is a mineral called... wait for it... "unobtainium."

Yeah. Really. Spoken without irony.

There were a few other vocal gaffes: "take it to the next level" and "we're not in Kansas anymore" that were a bit hackneyed, but for the most part the characters were colloquial enough to be believable, if not eloquent.

It's curious to me that this film was released against Oscar hopefuls rather than as a summer blockbuster. I can't help but think that Cameron expects Avatar to be a shoe-in for Best Picture. And he's wrong. Although I wouldn't be too surprised if he managed a nomination.

Anyway, good flick, exciting, 'splody, gorgeous. Is it worth the hype? Probably not. Worth seeing? Well, you could do a lot worse for $10.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

To The Moon, Pie

This weekend, I ate a strawberry-flavored moonpie.

It is an abomination against nature.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tabling This For Now

So I'm spending part of this weekend with my mother-in-law, which becomes an excuse for me to work on any of her collection of jigsaw puzzles.

I enjoy jigsaw puzzles--I don't do them very often, but I find them meditative. I hardly ever do them at home because we just don't have an accomodating surface for them--the coffee table is big enough, but it's also the coffee table. And it's got a lip on it that makes clean-up a bit tricky. So I've been saying that I need to get a card table, so I can do puzzles in the basement.

Anyway, since I'm here at my mother-in-law's (mother's-in-law?... grammar joke), part of me responsibility is to take back some presents, and I couldn't help but notice that one of them with my name on it is rather large and flat. And roughly card-table-shaped.

Makes me happy.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Even My Hair Is Wavey

Having played around with Wave, I'm beginning to see some of the uses. Google describes it as a tool for collaborative document editing, but to really grasp it's usefulness, you need to have a fairly loose definition for what constitutes a "document".

A document could be a proposed set list, or a set of suggestions for where to eat lunch, or a meeting agenda, or anything like that. I've been using it mostly as a notepad for things that I might want to share, particularly with bandmates. It's the kind of thing I use Google docs for, actually, but it's more flexible in some ways, especially with respect to sharing information.

Of course, the big drawback is still that no one actually checks their waves, but that will change as the usefulness becomes more evident. I'm still not convinced that it's any kind of be-all-end-all toy, but I'm a lot more optimistic than I was a few months ago.

Incidentally, I've got like a dozen invites, so if you or anyone you know wants to play around in it, just ask.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reactions: Iron Man 2 Trailer

So, if you haven't checked out the trailer for Iron Man 2, do so now.

I'll wait.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first film, despite going into it with fairly modest expectations. It was big and 'splody but it had tremendous heart, a fair amount of wit, and a wonderfully charming leading man whose struggles against his very real demons externalized themselves in fantastically sci-fi ways. It looks like everything is going to continue in that vein with the sequel.

We get a brief glimpse of Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, and Don Cheadle as War Machine, but it looks like the main conflict is going to be against Whiplash, played by a nearly unrecognizable Mickey Rourke (although the character is said to be equal parts Whiplash/Backlash and Crimson Dynamo). It looks pretty damned spiffy.

So I'm excited. Your thoughts?

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Blue-Cat-People-Ray

This is early speculation on my part.

For a while now I've been saying that blu-ray will never take off as a format because it doesn't have a vehicle propelling it. The tech is starting to get cheap enough and enough people have hi-def television these days, but there's no movie that you have to own and that must be owned on blu-ray. Not like The Matrix was for DVD.

Again, this is speculation. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I have a suspicion that Avatar is going to be that movie.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why, This Collection Is Filthy

So I picked up Madonna's The Immaculate Collection the other day. I was born in the 80's, but I definitely missed out on its music, including Madge's hayday, but it's fun to look back and rediscover a once-phenomenon like that.

If you sift out all the 80's production values and synths, there's a lot of sex appeal layered into those songs, even as far back as Holiday.

So, that's interesting.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hell Hath No Fury...

Abby related to me that the original women's "sufferagettes" were a militant group in England that burned homes, restaurants and churches, cut phone lines, smashed government buildings' windows, sent explosives by mail, and bombed Westminster Abbey. Eventually, women in England got the vote, and I think there's a lesson here for all of us.

Terrorism: sometimes, it works.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pleasant Surprise: Humpday

Watched a movie the other night called Humpday about two friends who decide to make an art-porn together. Here's the gimmick: they're both straight males, and they would be having sex with each other. I was amused enough by the trailer to drop this in my Netflix queue, and really the only reason I rented it was because I forgot that I had it in my Netflix queue at all. Eager to return it and wide awake, I popped it into the DVD player fully expecting to give up after twenty minutes (a la Shrink).

Instead, I was treated to a rather charming film that isn't about weird sex at all. Weird sex is the background noise to a dramedy about friendship and marriage and the weirdness that inhabits both of those worlds.

Ben is settling into adulthood. He's new-ish-ly married, his man-cave has been converted into a nursery-to-be (although his wife, Anna, isn't pregnant yet). He has a mortgage and a beer gut and and is fairly happy with his life. Then, at 1:30 in the morning, his Bohemian former-best-friend Andrew knocks on his door.

The two friends catch up. The next day Andrew falls in with a "Dionysian" commune and invites Ben to a party where there is a lot of alcohol, a little pot, precious little inhibition, and much talk of the upcoming "Humpfest" amateur porn festival. On a drunken whim, Ben and Andrew decide that they should make a film together.

Mild Spoilers Ahead

The premise of Humpday is pretty far out, but the filmmakers sell it by taking the focus off of the premise and instead exploring the way it strains very realistic relationships. For example, Ben goes to the party to collect Andrew because Anna was going to make her "world-famous pork chops" but Andrew is already cooking for the party and they invite Anna over instead. It quickly turns into a "honey, you can come to this party if you want to, but it's not really your scene, but I'm going to put in a quick appearance and then come home" scenario that should be achingly familiar to any married man in the audience.

And Anna totally calls him on it. She constantly surprises the viewer by having a much firmer grasp on the situation than Ben realizes and not only calling his bullshit, but understanding where it's coming from (which, again, should be achingly familiar to married men). She comes across with wonderful depth. The morning after the party (Ben having stood her up for dinner and stayed out until 3 in the morning), she wakes him up up by mounting him but telling him that she's angry with him and doesn't want to talk to him. But what at first appears to be an angry (if awkward) sex scene becomes a little bit more tragic when Ben asks her what's going on. Well, she's really pissed off at him, and they were supposed to have sex the night before because she was ovulating and it was a last-ditch effort to get pregnant this month and never-mind-I'm-just-too-angry-at-you-to-go-through-with-it.

It's a reveal to both Ben and the viewer--Ben had previously told Andrew that he and Anna were only sort-of trying to get pregnant, that if it happens it happens. This scene illustrates the difference between Anna's head space versus Ben's, and it highlights the main conflict of the film: the disparity between the person Ben thinks he is (as evidenced by his Bohemian roots and his friend Andrew) and the person that he has agreed to be (a husband and father).

Now you would expect that Anna would object to Ben's wish to have sex with his friend, and she does--it's a plot point. And you wouldn't expect Ben and Andrew to still want to go through with their movie once they've sobered up. And you'd be right, but they find themselves in a weird sort of competition--Andrew to prove to himself and the world that he really is an artist (despite his having never made a piece of art) and Ben to prove to the world that he's open-minded and adventurous (despite the wife and mortgage). It turns into a sort of pissing contest--if you won't have sex with this man, then you're a pussy.

And I love the irony of that particular sentiment.

I won't tell you whether they go through with it--as the last third of the movie is devoted to sorting that out. But it's a fun film that doesn't overstay its welcome (93 minute running time, baby) and has a lot of reality and heart buried under the weird sex gimmick driving it.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

I Know, I'm One To Talk

I'm so bothered by the tendency towards ignorance in political discourse. Bill Maher comes out against the H1N1 vaccine. Any doctor in the world will tell you that it's worthwhile, but one comedian thinks he knows better?

Hilary Clinton vocally says that the people know what's better for the economy than economists, never mind that economists are paid to know about the economy. Anti-evolution religious figures and climate-change deniers claim to have a better understanding of science than scientists.

In short, it seems commonplace for a random person to believe that they know more about a given discipline than people who have devoted their professional lives to the study of that discipline.

Hubris.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Terminator Stagnation

Finally got around to see Terminator Salvation and I can think of no better way to describe it than this:

It's a big-budget fan-fic.

SPOILERS AHEAD

TS's action sequences are big and 'splody, but there is no drama. The second-act plot twist that Marcus is a terminator was given away in the trailers. The third-act plot twist that the machine-killing McGuffin and the presence of Marcus are Skynet-engineered subterfuge are clever but rather obvious. The characters do absolutely nothing to endear themselves to you--we root for John Conner because he's John mother-fucking Conner and for no other reason. He's heralded as a prophet and a respected leader, but we don't ever get to see him do anything that is particularly charismatic or respectable. Rather, he's generic tough with requisite dark-melancholy. If you don't already know about the going-back-in-time plot device that fuels the first films, you're just out of luck. We get next to no explanation of why Kyle Reece is important, just the assurance that he's extremely important.

And, in the manner of true fan-fiction, the movie is littered with homages both subtle and holy-crap-did-John-Conner-just-say-"I'll-be-back"?!?!?! We get a retread of the liquid steel and frozen terminator sequences from T2 (in fact, that entire fight scene was eerily reminiscent of the second film's factory climax). We get a bombed out gas station in the middle of a desert outside Los Angeles that looks surprisingly like the gas station in the middle of the desert outside Los Angeles from the end of the first film (may be coincidence, anyone else get that vibe?). When Conner blares a radio in the street, the song that plays is Gn'R's You Could Be Mine, which was the highly promoted single from the second movie's soundtrack.

And then we get a naked Arnold. In short, a movie that could have been a stand-alone action thriller in a very unique setting is instead a series of action set-pieces punctuated by inside jokes and a complete lack of character development.

Of course, I have a larger beef with the continuing Terminator franchise. The first movie made sense. James Cameron took a wild premise and made it fairly believable by focusing on the human struggle and by being James mother-fucking Cameron. Then he made the second movie, which was bigger and 'splodier than the first, but he still made it work. And the end of that film was a beautiful way to cap off the franchise--and really, how could it go on? How could a John Conner who was coddled and protected as a child ever grow up to be the fearsome warrior who would save mankind. Frankly, T2 stretched the range of believability on that end and only redeemed itself by averting the Judgment Day calamity altogether. Yeah, they managed to send back another set of Terminators, and yeah, we decided to send them later in time because, well, I'm not sure why. But we went with it because it was a phenomenal film with cool new special effects that was able to tell a hugely emotional story. I love the fact that part of the T-1000's downfall is that he assumes a mother can be tortured into betraying her child.

Everything after that is cinematic masturbation--making more films (and TV shows) that are poor executions of a hugely popular brand name.

Meh.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Message This

So a while back (i.e., last month) I wrote about Microsoft's ploy to inflate Bing's search numbers by incorporating it into the file-search feature of Windows XP. This is just one strand in a web of Microsoft being deceptive dicks that we've all dealt with at some point. I got another taste of it last week.

I don't use Outlook express. I don't use MSN messenger. But I missed the Internet link and accidentally opened Outlook Express. Ever since, MSN messenger loads on startup, even though I don't have it configured with a profile. It sits there, broken and disconnected, in my system tray.

Microsoft is doing what people bitch about Apple doing--trying to tell you how to use your computer. At least Apple has no pretense about it.

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