Monday, May 31, 2010

Three's Company . . .

Got an exciting e-mail today notifying me that another one of my short stories has sold, to Afterburn SF magazine in fact. Some of you may remember that I sold my first story to Afterburn over two years ago, called "Enemy of My Enemy", and which saw publication in Feb. 2009. This will make it three now, the number of stories I've sold and had published.

I couldn't be more proud to have my short appear in the magazine. They do quality work over there at Afterburn. Check them out by clicking the link above. Plenty of great stories to read from a variety of wonderful writers -- some of them of the newbie persuasion, others more seasoned. So I'll be in outstanding company.

The story I submitted is called "Minutemen" and should be appearing in the July 30th issue later this summer. I, of course, will be more than happy to remind people when the story goes live.

To say I'm thoroughly pleased is an understatement. I worked hard on that story and am so glad it will be seeing the light of day for all my friends to read. To all those who have already read it and provided me their critiques--and you know who you are--I am eternally grateful to you for your help and support. Could not have done it without you guys!

Off to celebrate now.

Did I Ever Tell The One Where I Almost Died?

Honestly, I've told a couple of stories on here already of near misses with death. There was the time I almost drowned, and the time I got hit by a car while riding my bike. But I don't think I've ever mentioned the time I drank bleach . . . and lived.

See, it was a very hot day. I must have been around 6 or 7. My mother was doing the laundry, and I was extremely thirsty. I went to the kitchen to get a glass of water, and lo and behold there was a cup already waiting for me on the sink.

It had clear liquid in it, it was right by the faucet, and so I figured: hey, why not? Hmm, I thought. Must be my lucky day.

Oh, how few the times that I've ever been more wrong!

I snatched up the cup and, without even pausing, gulped the whole thing down in one fell swoop. Immediately I knew something was wrong. Well, no duh, you say! How did you not smell that it was really Clorox bleach?

Hey, to this day I don't know. I think my mother must've diluted it with some water from the tap. Perhaps half/half? Whatever the case, the smell never hit me. No, it was the taste of the thing. My stomach reacted right away, and it was all I could do to get to the toilet in time to throw everything up. It was one of the most violent expulsions I've ever experienced.

Afterwards, I didn't tell my mother what had just happened. I was too afraid of getting in trouble. Yes, I was a kid. Such things mattered then.

I know it's hard to believe that I drank some bleach, vomited it all up, and walked away perfectly fine afterwards. But it's the god's honest truth. Looking back, I don't think it was anything special. I mean, that's what the stomach does, right? It identifies when something's in it that shouldn't be, confers with the brain, which in turns signals the fog horn of release to the stomach muscles -- and, before you can say presto Pepto-Bismol, it's all out!

The rest, as they say, is biology. Thank my lucky stars it wasn't something more caustic like, say, Drano. There would have been no help for me then.


That Time Of Year Again

To install my three window ACs, that is. I usually wait until June 1st to turn the air conditioners on -- you know, trying to last as long as humanly possible. Because, once I turn them on, our electric bill skyrockets to unheard of amounts. It's obscene!

So I spent a good portion of my time yesterday making sure that each one worked, that they had clean filters, and then putting them through separate test runs one at a time in intervals or 15 mins, 30 mins, and 1 hour. Just checking to make sure the motors are still functional, the freon still cooling, etc.

Since June 1st falls in the middle of the week this year, it'll be good to have all this taken care of so that all I have to do is flick the power switch on that day. Ahhh, it's going to feel so good having cold, chilly air in the apartment to vanquish this oppressive humidity.

AC season at my house usually runs until October. So that means 4 whole months of being Con Ed's bitch. I could get angry if I think about it too long. But then I remember that I get to go to sleep in peace and comfort every night, even when it's 82 degrees outside with the sun down.

And then that makes me smile, yes it does.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

I'm Gonna Burn That Poison Right Outta My Skin . . .

Had a fun time with my best bud last night getting toasted on aged single malt whiskey, imported beers, and watching old Highlander episodes. Didn't finally get to bed until the sun rose and the birds were already chirping, and woke up only 5 hours later feeling a little dizzy and maybe just a tad hungover.

So what did I do?

Really, the only sensible thing someone should do in such a situation: I went for a 10k run! Oh yeah, did I mention it was 85 degrees out today, too?

Suffice to say, all that poison water got evaporated out of my tired body with the quickness! Wow, I never would've thought that strenuous cardio could clear one's head so quickly. Just minutes into my run I could feel the fog clearing away from my brain and those endorphins starting to pump. By the time I was through, I was wide awake and feeling in tip-top shape!

Hmm, have I discovered the perfect hangover cure? Well, maybe not. Obviously I wasn't falling down, pissing-my-pants drunk. I never would've been able to find my own feet let alone place them before each other in a rhythmic fashion conducive to running laps if I was. But for the mild buzz after a night of drinks? Yeah, maybe.

Now, I know how much most people hate running. Hey, I hate it too. Trust me. I'm definitely not a poster boy for the American runner, or whatever. But damn if it doesn't have all sorts of useful benefits. WOO-HOO!!!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Movie Review: Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time

Okay, let me get this out of the way first: I'm a gamer (*gasp* *shock!*). So naturally I've played almost every single PoP game since Jordan Mechner's original came out on the Apple II in 1989.

There, now you know my "street cred" when it comes to this series, so let's continue.

The film version, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, is based loosely on the 2003 game of the same name. In fact, for all its differences (different names of the characters, different setting, some differences to the plot), it's more amazing how much of the spirit of the game was encapsulated by the film. You have to have played the original Sands of Time game to appreciate it all, really. For me, it was a highly enjoyable experience. Although, none of this should come as a surprise since the game's original creator, Mechner, had a hand in developing the movie's story, and was in fact one of the film's many, many producers.

I'm trying to avoid plot spoilers here, so I'm not going to go into the intricacies of the story's progression. But suffice to say that, for a video-game adapted film (which usually don't have the best of track records, historically) -- this movie delivers an intriguing, decently-layered plot. Surprising, actually. This has more meat to it than I expected, which is why I'm rating it so high.

I do wish there were more acrobatics, however. The PoP series--especially the "Sands" trilogy--is infamous for the Prince's insane agility and balance. He is, for all effect, the original king of Parkour. The film's star, on the other hand, could not realistically pull off the level of acrobatics the role called for. But hey, I'm not going to knock points off for this. I'm actually quite sick of the Parkour craze. People need to get over it and move on, already.

I liked Jake Gyllenhaal's performance, and am of the belief that it's better to get a good actor who can carry his scenes and teach him his stunts, rather than to get a good stunt man and teach him how to act. In this film, the former is what you get. Jake G is likable, captured the Prince's sarcasm perfectly, and was believable as an orphan who lucked into growing up as a "Prince" of Persia. People who claim the film is whitewashing have a point with some of the other cast members -- but not so much with Jake G, who's character, like I mentioned already, is supposed to be an orphan. Maybe his parents were foreign travelers to Persia and perished. Persia was a damn huge empire in its heyday; not everyone in it was Persian. Get over it.

As for the other actors: yes, they're white. Mostly British, in fact. But, meh, I don't care. I chose to just put this small detail out of my head for two hours and enjoy the movie for what it is: a damn good, swashbuckler of a good time!

Gemma Arterton, as usual, gets all smiles from me. I simply adore this actress in most everything I see her in (although I hated her blonde look in Quantum of Solace). The constant bickering and eventual attraction between her character, Tamina, and the Prince Dastan (Gyllenhaal) pretty much made the whole movie for me on its own. The chemistry fizzles for just a tad near the third act, sure, but then comes back in full force by the end.

Ben Kingsley, naturally, is the consummate professional. This man just oozes cool even when he's phoning in his performance. Which, surprisingly, he did NOT do in this film. Some would argue with me on this point, but to me he looked like he was invested in the role and having FUN! Imagine that, eh?

But that's what this movie is: grand, summer blockbuster, F-U-N!!!

Special mention goes to Alfred Molina, who damn near stole the movie with his over-the-top characterization of the black-market merchant and Ostrich-race promoter (yeah, you read that right), "Sheik" Amar. In lesser hands, this role could have fallen quickly into farce--or even worse, played straight--but Molina plays it deftly, carefully reigning in Amar's antics when needed, and letting go full throttle when the scene requires that extra bit of humor to lighten up the somber mood. It's ingenious how well he handles this balancing act, and I give him kudos.

In the end, this was a film well worth my time watching. Check it out if you want high-flying action, a little bit of romance, and deep enough plot to keep you just interested enough in the characters' motivations as they traverse the gorgeous Moroccan scenery (filling in for Persia) on their way to restore the . . . Sands of Time!

Oh, but if you have an irrational fear of snakes -- you might just want to avoid this one. Seriously, you haven't seen this many slow motion aerial snake attacks (snake-mo?) since Snakes on a Plane. Be forewarned.

Rating:  7.5/10

Decisions, Decisions . . .

Current dilemma:

Trying to decide, do I go see Robin Hood today after work, or Prince of Persia? Both are movies I really want to see, but both have also been getting disturbingly mixed reviews.

If this was the Ridley Scott of old, the choice would be easy. But I'm hearing he had a few missteps in the crafting of this latest Robin Hood. Or perhaps the subject matter is simply unfilmmable?

**EDIT:** Well, looks like I'm going with PoP for now. I'll probably get around to watching RH in theaters sometime in the following week. If I like PoP enough, I'll come back and post up my impressions. If not . . . well then, take my silence as its own verdict.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Eating When Depressed?

I never understood this trend. I hear it's more common among women, though, which reveals interesting things about the difference in wiring between men and women. If in fact this is true, which I'm not sure it is.

Do most people, regardless of gender, overeat when they are sad or even depressed?

Now, I'd like to point out right away that -- no, I am not particularly depressed at this moment. I'm perfectly happy on this fine Thursday, in fact. Thanks for asking. But on the morning commute in to work, I started thinking of all the times I have been unhappy in my life, and what my eating habits were like during these moments. Lo and behold, I realized I do the complete opposite of most people. I tend to *under* eat, if anything.

See, food doesn't exactly release happy endorphins in me. I mean, I can enjoy a good meal and be happy in the consuming of it, but that's about all. I like food. I like it a lot, in fact. But for some reason I don't seek out my favorite feel-good snacks when I am down and blue. When I'm at my most troubled, I tend not to be able to taste food. I have no appetite. It's bland and uninteresting, which probably explains why I'm not a binge eater at these times.

I can only imagine how skinny and wasted I would be if I suffered from serious depression. Wow!

Also, I suspect this also explains why I don't have the usual reaction to stimulants as most people. Coffee doesn't keep me awake and tastes horrible to me; cigarettes are gross; and even alcohol doesn't make me happy the way it does other people. It's why I very rarely drink. Even the wine I drink is only one glass a day, if that. And only with meals, so it's more like a food enhancer in that respect.

I always wondered--with hard liquor in particular--what appeal these things have to people. Going out for drinks once in a blue moon is fun, don't get me wrong. But to actually seek the bottle out when you are sad or lonely? Never did quite understand that appeal. Alcohol has the effect of making me feel chilled and mellow, but in the end isn't really a state of being I just can't do without. I'm normally low-strung and relaxed to begin with, anyway.

So, do I not have an addictive personality? Or are these things severely overrated? I'd really like to hear your opinions on the matter of food and other consumables being euphoric enhancers. Are you the type to curl up on the couch with a gallon of cookie-dough ice-cream when you are feeling unloved or disconnected from the world? Or, like me, does this make you actually avoid food and drink?

Inquiring minds would like to know . . .

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

George Lucas Is Missing A Golden Opportunity Here

Just came across this awesome interview with Mark Hamill at the Cannes Film Festival, where he announced plans to direct the film version of his comic book, The Black Pearl. You can read the interview by clicking here.

Anyway, the real joy I got out of reading this is two-fold:

1) Seeing Mark's obvious dedication to providing the voice for the Joker in the sequel to last year's blockbuster video game hit, Batman: Arkham Asylum; and

2) Realizing in the photo provided within the article that Mark Hamill can very easily appear in the Star Wars sequels as an aged, wizened Jedi Master like Ben Kenobi appeared to Luke halfway through A New Hope.

Which got me to thinking: Why the fuck isn't Lucas working on this? If the trainwreck that was the Star Wars prequels--not to mention the latest Indy installment--has proven anything, it's that George Lucas is in love with making money. Now, granted, Episodes I through III did not turn out the way fans had expected, but here's why I think Episodes VII, VIII, and IX won't suffer the same problems. Or, at least, why they shouldn't.

  • Presumably Lucas and the other producers over at FOX have learned a lesson in humble pie after the last outing, and are now willing to go to great lengths to take the property more seriously. After all, the sequels have always been of far greater potential financial payback than the prequels ever were. Fans have been clamoring to see what happens NEXT since 1983!

  • Let me reiterate -- fans want this more than they want life! Nothing could erase the foul aftertaste of Jar-Jar Binx and Han shooting first better than a truly awesome and kickass sendoff in the final three installments of this blockbuster franchise. If done correctly, Lucas could redeem himself ten times over and regain the almost complete and unfettered adoration of millions of his (former) adoring fans.

  • The key actors from the original trilogy are NOT too old to reprise their roles in the sequels. In fact, their presence can only make the films that much better. Luke could be the wizened Jedi master as mentioned above -- something akin to his role in the Jedi Academy books, although set a bit later than those tomes. Leia could be the seasoned Senator or equivalent political leader who has served the Republic tirelessly in its rebuilding efforts decades after the fall of the Empire. And Han? Well, maybe he's been married with kids to Leia and running a nice, respectable shipping business all these years. Point is, these familiar faces would not be the key factors, but a nice backdrop upon which to paint the new threat or tragedy facing the galaxy now.

  • Since Lucas' ego has taken a sizable knocking down after the last 3 movies plus Indy IV, maybe now he'd finally relent to the reality that there are people out there who can probably write and direct his movies better than he can. Hey, he's done it before and all we got of it as a result was The Empire Strikes Back -- the best damn sci-fi space opera movie OF ALL FUCKING TIME!

  • To that end, why not pool from the already existing talent of class-A writers that have been doing Lucas' Star Wars universe better than he ever could for the greater part of two decades now? Seriously: Timothy Zahn, Keven J. Anderson, Alan Dean Foster, Steven Barnes -- these guys and many more like them have really done some outstanding work with the property. I'm not saying Lucas has to hire any one of them to write his next screenplay, but it would be nice. Foster in particular knows a thing or two about screenwriting, if not just because he's already the master of movie tie-in novels.

  • Going forward is far more interesting and challenging than delving into the past. The prequels were a worthy cause on paper, but they can all boil down to simply connecting the dots so that all the important details match up with the original trilogy anyway. No sweat. The sequels, otoh, are uncharted territory. Anything can go. Who even knows what happens after Endor anyway? No one but George Lucas, that's who! Which is why I think this is just the project he should have been working on all this time. It's challenging and appeals to his ego. Plus, there is no longer any pressure to live up to some grand expectation since he pretty much busted that piggy bank of fan euphoria when he pulled Midichlorians out of his ass and slapped us all in the face with his dirty, dirty hands.

So, what do you folks think? Would you be willing to give ole Georgie another go at the franchise, this time for keeps?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My New Favorite Old Film?

In my most recent vlog, I mentioned wanting to introduce one of my friends to the Western genre of movies and finally settling on the seminal Sergio Leone classic, "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" as the way to best go about that.

Whoa, good choice!

Now, I had seen the movie before of course. Quite a few times growing up by way of my uncle's VHS collection, and then on the crappy DVD release back in the 90s. But HOLY SHIT -- this latest Blu-ray issue of the movie is, no joke, the most gorgeous version of this film I've ever laid eyes on! I'm sure if I hopped in a time machine back to the 1960s, even the pristine prints when it was newly released in theaters never looked this good.

Seeing the movie in this fashion seriously opened my eyes to what a masterpiece TGTBTU truly is. I recommend all you folks who own Blu-ray players to go out right now and buy this sucker. Actually, hold off on that. Buy the whole "Man With No Name" trilogy--of which this movie is the third title--which is coming out in a nice boxset on Blu-ray next week, if my sources are accurate. The set will contain the same version of TGTBTU already on Blu-ray, along with "A Fistful of Dollars" and "For A Few Dollars More" for the first time in the format.

Anyway, back to the movie I came here to talk about. I don't know if it's just the almost perfect transfer, or because I'm a more critical viewer when it comes to such things, but this film truly is better than even I remembered it being. This honestly is the lens through which all Westerns coming after 1966 should be viewed and appreciated. It helps that something like 16 additional minutes of footage was added, originally taken out of the American release back in 1967. Yes, Leone likes to chew on his scenes and stretch moments out for far longer than is probably necessary. But, hey, the man's a GENIUS so I let him be on that count. There's no arguing that his films are true artistic expressions of the man and his times, but also possessing of a timeless quality that is still every much as enjoyable today as it was then. Days after I've finished watching this version, the visuals, dialogue and--best of all--the MUSIC is still processing in the back of my brain. Coming to me here and there throughout the day when I least expect it to crop up.

Simply put: Wow!

Watching the special features afterwards (of which there are quite a few), I was amazed to learn of the grueling and innovative restoration process the film went through in 2002 to get to this point. I mean, I was truly shell-shocked! It had been so many years since I last saw TGTBTU that I honestly did not realize all of the sound-effects had been replaced, and that parts of the dialogue had been re-recorded in studio. Not to mention all the effort that went into translating the original mono tracks to full Dolby Digital 5.1 surround -- which is not an easy task at all.

Now I know what you're thinking. Say what??? How can a completely new sound stage be a good thing? Why are there new scenes? If Leone had wanted them to be put back in, he would have said so! To which I say: relax, dude. Take a chill pill. Hey, I'm a purist too when it comes to certain things. But I actually think the new sounds are better. It makes the movie even more gritty and poignant. Not to mention FULLER, if such a thing is possible to be believed. And I'll take 5.1 surround over mono 2.0 any day, original intent be damned!

But you know what? You don't have to take my word for it. Check out this 10-minute video that was part of the Special Features offering on the restoration process and see for yourself. I guarantee you'll learn a few things about this awesome film that you never knew, let alone the education you get on just what it takes to bring such an old movie to DVD and Blu-ray in the first place. I certainly feel much better informed now!

Red Dead Redemption

Just as I said I would last week, I got my hands on the Playstation 3 version despite some unfounded rumors that the Xbox 360 one had less hiccups. And so far I can't let up on this game!

Red Dead Redemption is a production that's hard to describe to non-gamers. All I can say is that it's an open-ended playroom with the wild west as the setting. Anything you imagine that description to be, within gaming constraints, that's probably what's in there. Dirty saloons littered with colorful people? Yep. Shootouts at high noon? Yep. Stagecoach chases, posses, even red injuns? Yep, yep, and triple yep!

And, hey, you can even hunt and skin wild game and play saloon favorites like poker and blackjack, too! All for a little extra cash in your pocket to buy items such as chewing tabacky and gin. Okay, well in the game those items have more to do with increasing your health and precision aiming rather than giving you mouth cancer and cirrhosis of the liver . . . but still cool nonetheless.

Red Dead is created by Rockstar Games, the same people who brought us, among other favorites, the Grand Theft Auto series. And like the latest installment in that series, RDR borrows the same game engine and basic mission layout system. Not to mention the cover and targeting systems being rather similar in most respects.

So far, as I mentioned in my sidebar on this page, I haven't been doing much progressing on the main portion of the game. I played a few missions to whet my appetite and learn the basics, but honestly I've been spending most of my days simply exploring this wide-open gorgeous world the developers have created.

In many ways, this game is superior to GTA IV. In my opinion, the vastness of the plains and open prairie lends more to exploration and soaking in all the details. Whereas in GTA IV you were down and dirty in an urban recreation of present-day NYC--and all that such a setting entails--in RDR you have more time to just mosey on down the trail on your favorite mare or gelding, survey the land, and just generally take your time going about your business. You have few modern distractions like buddies calling you up on your cell phone to hang out, or annoying family members needing your help to rescue them from dumpsters. No, just you and your horse this time around.

Yessiree -- at the end of the in-game day, after a nice hunt or a big fat win at the tables, it feels good strolling through the main street at dusk on the way to my lodgings, iron strapped to my side, a polite nod to the passing ladies, and knowing that time here runs at a slower pace.

Ruff, Rugged and Roker

As in, Al Roker!

I caught this skit the other night on Saturday Night Live. Was pretty hilarious, especially when he slips from "gangsta Al" to "Today Show Al" and then back again. I don't know why, but that cracks me the hell up! And I usually don't find Keenan Thompson all that funny. Click on the clip below to watch for yourself:

Seeing Is Not Believing

I just read the most interesting article in this month's issue of Scientific American concerning "blindsight," a phenomenon by which people suffering from a specific form of visual impairment can still "see" even though they are technically blind. And even though they themselves are not consciously aware that they are "seeing."

Say WHAT???

I know, that was my reaction also. But it's true! The phenomenon has been known and studied since the early 20th century, but only recently are scientists starting to take the claims seriously and have even come a long way in explaining the source of this singular condition.

People who display this ability have had some form of damage to the visual cortex in their brain. Meaning that their eyes are perfectly healthy, but that the region of the brain that processes what the eyes are seeing is either malfunctioning or not working at all. Yet, with varying degrees of accuracy, most cortically blind people are able to still navigate around objects placed in front of them, make out simple shapes, and even recognize facial expressions in others.

But, here's the kicker -- they don't realize they're doing this!

SciAm has a video up on their website which demonstrates a patient performing blindsight. Click on this link to get to the article, and then wait for the embedded video to load up. It's intriguing to say the least!

Reading the full article (which you can only get by subscribing), I started forming my own opinions on how this was possible. I thought it was telling that only people with damage to the VC would display this ability, while people blinded through direct physical or congenital damage to the actual eyes could not.

Turns out my rationale was leading me to right solution after all. By the end of the article, the author proposes that the visual signals being received by the still healthy eyes, but not being processed by the VC, is instead being processed by an older, less-evolved region in the midbrain called the superior colliculus (SC). In mammals, the SC is responsible for less refined functions of vision such as the movement of the eyes and basic object recognition for use in higher brain functions like the "fight or flight" instinct we all share. In other words, the portion of the visual signal that would normally go to the SC is still going there despite damage to the VC that would normally handle the finer processing of the information our eyes transmit to the brain. So while the VC might no longer be operating as normal, the SC is still doing its job.

Fascinating, huh?

And because the SC is used in the processing of mostly unconscious decisions, this also explains why exhibitors of blindsight can perform such uncanny feats and not even realize they are doing it. It's raising a lot of questions--both scientifically as well as philosophically--about just how much of what we see is active cognition. How much of what we used to think we actively processed visually is in fact being handled by a part of the brain connected more with instinct and unconscious brain function?

Food for thought.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

So, This Is What Happens When You Live A Healthy Lifestyle?

I stopped by the drive-thru at White Castle last night, and for the first time in what must be 18 months or longer, I helped myself to some wonderful sliders and a sack of chicken rings. Mmmmm -- YUM!!!!

Or so I thought.

Turns out my body was none too happy about the experience. No, I won't disgust you with any tales of indigestion or bathroom hijinks. It was nothing like that at all.

It's just that, I guess after going so many years with very healthy eating and workouts that border almost on the spiritual . . . my body is conditioned to the point that I really cannot enjoy greasy fast foods any more. I wonder how much of it is psychosomatic? Because not more than 30 minutes after I'd finished eating, I could literally *feel* my blood pressure rising and my heart beating faster. It felt the way I feel when I've eaten something far too salty. Which, god only knowing what they put into these burgers and sides, I bet is right on the money of what was really happening.

No worries, though. I drank a liter of water to dilute as much of it as I could. And today is Saturday, which means I'll get to do my really long workout which I can't do during the week due to time constraints.

In other words, all is good in the hood here folks! I just have to remember that my body can no longer abide by me trying to kill it with processed crap. I mean, all in moderation of course. I can eat a hotdog or go to McD's occasionally. Just got to remember that my body *will* react to it when I do now.

Consider this a lesson learned.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mmmm . . . Maggie Q!!!

I can't believe it. A new Fall show on the CW that I might actually watch! Looks like the folks over at the former WB network are reworking an old classic--La Femme Nikita--into a brand new show starring none other than Maggie Q. *squee!*

I was a huge fan of the movie (1990) and occasional watcher of the tv show (1997), especially because the latter would often involve crossovers with the same guest actors that would appear in Highlander: The Series and The Raven. Peta Wilson herself, the tv show Nikita, appeared in the 5th season episode of HL called "Promises." She was the Paris police Inspector investigating a political assassination.

But now Maggie Q is the new Nikita? OH. MY. GOD! I have the *hugest* crush on this adorable petite actress. I first took notice of her in the 3rd Mission Impossible movie. She was one of the best, if not THE best, things about that flick. She also had memorable outings in two other movies -- Die Hard: With A Vengeance and in Balls of Fury.

I'm not so sure I buy her as a kick-ass assassin. She must weigh all of 90 lbs soaking wet -- but darn, she sure is purdy! :) Plus, she's a hardcore veteran of quite a few Hong Kong action and kung-fu flicks over the years, so obviously she has the stage combat skills to at least look believable on screen. Which is a heck of a lot more than you can say about most actresses starring in these type of roles these days.

The clip below shows you a nice little slice of what to expect on the show. Check it out for yourself and drop a comment with your impressions. Personally, I'm heartened by the fact that it looks to have a fairly serious tone and not campy. That's always good.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Eh . . .

Hmm, well that didn't go the way I expected.

I watched Karate Kid I on Blu-ray over the weekend. Very, very good. Even better than I remembered it.

But then I watched Karate Kid II, which I'd previously mentioned was my favorite in the series . . . and let's just say it no longer holds this honor.

Keep in mind, it's been many many years since I last saw this film. I guess I was a child still, then. Because WOW is this movie crappy! It totally felt phoned-in by the key actors, most notably Ralph Macchio. Also, I was very uncomfortable by the way all the fake Okinawans in Miyagi's home village all happened to speak the same broken English. Putting aside the ridiculousness of native Japanese people speaking to each other in a language other than their birth tongue--and very poorly at that--when did they all have the time to learn English? And at the same exact level of proficiency, too?

The worst part is when American-born Asian actors in the movie are forced to speak in this limited fashion. Why not let them speak straight up English? If you're not even going to try putting authentic Japanese with English subtitles in the film, why force capable American actors to speak in this insulting manner? Just simply embarrassing. Ugh!

Perhaps the worst affront, however, is the end fight. I honestly didn't recall it being this bad originally. But I guess that was the benefit of my youth and low standards. Because, honestly, that fight between Daniel-san and Chozen was laughable. I saw almost no display of real Karate prowess there at all. Especially from Chozen, who is supposed to be Sato's prized student and top instructor at his chain of dojos.

Anyway, I don't mean to harp on the movie so much. I still hold it in high esteem due mainly to the emotional parts of the story, which really do resonate well even to this day. As I mentioned in that earlier post, the scene where Daniel comforts his sensei after the death of Miyagi's father is still beyond touching and brought me close to tears. God, I love that scene! As someone who's lost a parent, it captures exactly all the stages of grief and guilt one feels in the aftermath.

Anyway, KKII is still a great film. Just very flawed. I now place it in 2nd place within the trilogy, behind the original movie. Karate Kid III is still turd pellets, however. Yet, I'll eventually add that to my collection once it finally drops on Blu-ray, too. What can I say? I'm a completest like that.

What are your thoughts on the second movie?

Monday, May 17, 2010


Well, fast on the heels of my recent vlog entry commenting on movie Westerns and how much I adore them, comes's review of the sandbox Western video game, Red Dead Redemption. Click on the link to read their comprehensive analysis of the game's strengths (many) and flaws (very few).

Knowing how much I love the Western genre--especially the "Spaghetti" variety--RDR seems to be right down my alley, and then some! Brought to you by the same folks who gave us Grand Theft Auto IV, Redemption is a spiritual sequel to Red Dead Revolver released back on the prior generation of video game consoles (Xbox/PS2). Which is just another way of saying that you can play the second game without ever having heard of the first, as the story from the original does not carry over to the sequel.

I purposely allowed this game to fly under my radar until its release date (which is tomorrow, btw) so as to avoid as many spoilers as possible. As a result, the rather high review scores handed out by IGN and a handful of other gaming journalists came as a pleasant surprise. And from reading each writer's take on the game, I can tell this is going to be a special experience for me indeed. Can't wait to play it!

I'm throwing up the official trailer below so that you folks who are into gaming can give it a gander and see if this is a title you're meant to have in your collection. But before you make your decision, do me a favor and please read the written review I linked to above. It tells you a lot more about why this game is so awesome than either the trailer or my paltry gushing can accomplish.

Oh, and RDR's out on both the Xbox 360 and PS3. If you're like me and own both consoles, you'll now have to make the decision of which version to get. Since I'm a Sony loyalist, I'm picking up the PS3 one. I haven't been able to track down any word on what the graphical or gameplay differences (if any) might be between the two. But I'll take a chance with Sony's spacious BD-ROM capacity over the inadequate DVD option of the 360.

Saddle up, pardner!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Newbie Pick: Tombstone vs The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Got another vlog up. Discussin Blu-ray Westerns, more warm and fuzzy 80s movies . . . and another Yankees game!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

You're The Best . . . Arooound!!!

Nothing's gonna ever keep you down!

That's right, I just picked up the double-pack of Karate Kid parts I and II out on Blu-ray today! I can't wait to rush home and check this out. I still have the old p.o.s. original snapcase DVDs with the terrible video quality, diminished soundstage, and non-existent extras. So, for me, this was a double dip made simple. What surprises me is that there are actually people out there who have never seen these movies. Say WHAA? Well, I shouldn't talk. My wife is one of them. I guess this will just have to be my excuse to get her to watch them now -- and for me to relive my precious 80s childhood memories all over again. What's not to like about these films? It's a feel good story about an underdog kid rising to become a champion in the eyes of the public. In addition, it has a truly rocking 80s soundtrack, memorable action sequences, and decent emotional depth between the main characters. You can't go wrong! The Blu-rays of both films are in full 1080p resolution on two separate AVC MPEG-4 encoded, BD-50 dual-layer discs. I love that the aspect ratio is at 1:85:1 to fit the entirety of my widescreen television, and that the audio was remastered in DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound. From what I've read online at various sources, the quality is surprisingly good on both the video and audio fronts.

The first Karate Kid was a milestone, released back in June, 1984. I was only 7 at the time, and my family didn't go to the movies. So it wasn't until the film came out on VHS a year later that I was finally able to watch this, and in school of all places. Of course, all the older girls at my elementary school were going ga-ga over Ralph Macchio, but for me the fist movie held a special place in my heart because my family was in the middle of moving to an entirely different district in the south Bronx. Which meant that, like Daniel Larusso in the film, I would have to enroll in a different school and make new friends all over again. When I arrived at this new school in the 4th grade, most of the kids there had already established their cliques and relationships. Needless to say I was the odd boy out, much like Daniel. But, unlike Daniel-san, I didn't have a kindly old janitor/Karate master take me under his wing and teach me self-defense. Eventually we owned a copy of the VHS at home, and the Karate Kid would get constant rotation at least twice a week by my brother and I. I don't know that it had the same impact on him as it did me, but I was hooked! I'm sure the story probably seems cheesy by today's standards, but back then I thought it was a masterpiece. Like with Rocky (directed by the same guy who directed this, John Avildsen), I've always been a sucker for the comeback kid-type tales. Honestly, it never gets old. It's just something I can't get enough of.

Released exactly two years after the first movie hit theaters, Karate Kid II is the much maligned "sequel" movie of the series. And, yet, for the life of me I don't know WHY! Maybe it's because I was only 9 at the time, but if anything I ended up liking this movie even MORE than the first. I know, sacrilege, eh? But it's true. I was always a very introverted and sensitive child. And, finding very few friends or joy in my new life, I began to gravitate toward other cultures and extreme parts of the world that were as far away from the South Bronx as one could get. Yes folks, this is where my love for foreign languages, the far East, and "alien" cultures all began -- with this movie! I'm not ashamed to admit it. Even though the sequel was filmed on Oahu, Hawaii--I actually visited the site on our honeymoon there in 2005!--the setting was supposed to be Okinawa, Japan. And I was completely hooked! I loved the set pieces SO MUCH, and the musical score was simply breathtaking. But, as with the first movie, what really took center stage here for me was the story. It's weird how much these movies were paralleling my real life at the time. The first movie was about a displaced kid finding his way in the world, just like me. The second movie, among other themes, was about a son dealing with the death of his father and learning to forgive his "enemy." In many ways (which I won't go into here) -- this was me, too! The scene that always tears me up to this day is when Mr. Miyagi is sitting on a rock and staring out into the ocean, mourning his father's passing. And Daniel comes up to him and tells him about how he felt when his own father died. Nothing else is spoken after this, but Daniel puts his arm around his mentor and they both stare into the sunset together. Yeah, gets me EVERY damn time!

As you can see, the Karate Kid movies hold a special place in my heart. Not everyone gets that, and maybe you might think I'm being silly. But I don't care. This is an indelible slice of my 80s childhood, right up there with the Transformers and Ninja Turtles!

Yes, I just went there. Deal with it! :)

Anyway, I'll leave you the original trailers for both movies in case you need them. Warning, the first trailer is major CHEESE! My only excuse is: hey, it's the 80s. What do you expect?

Where were you when you first saw these movies?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Mother's Day Reminisce

I thought, in time for Mother's Day, I'd honor the memory of the woman who I only got to know for nine years of my life before she was so cruelly taken away from us one fateful New Year's Day. So, with that in mind, I direct you to an entry I wrote on this blog almost two years ago reminiscing on the tragic--but sometimes fun-filled--life of my mom. Click here to read more.

Some of you have read this already. Others may have not. It's a sad story, so be forewarned.

In the meantime, I want to wish a Happy Mother's Day to all those mothers out there who are doing what they're doing to put their children first. Especially single mothers. Those brave women who struggle to deal with the cruel knocks life can throw your way, yet still manage to put food on the table and send their kids to school with a smile on their faces. More specifically, I want to honor my grandmother and my aunt for raising us after our mother's passing, and for never letting us feel unwelcome or unloved. It is because of them we survived to be reasonably functioning adults.

Hey, I did say "reasonably."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Shooter Game . . . Apocalyptic New York City . . . Richard Morgan? Where Do I Sign Up?

This is Crysis 2. It's coming out on all gaming platforms this holiday season. And it's a game who's story is written by none other than my favorite kick-ass sci-fi writer tour de force -- RICHARD K. MORGAN!!!

As some of you already know, this is the guy I want to be when I grow up (sci-fictionally speaking, of course). He's written Altered Carbon, Market Forces, Thirteen, and The Steel Remains to name a few of my favorite tomes. Not to mention his rescuing of the much maligned Marvel super-spy chick, the Black Widow, who Morgan whipped into surprising shape for his turn at the graphic novel in both vol. 1 and vol. 2 of her ongoing saga. And for those who don't already know, Black Widow will be making her big screen debut this week in Iron Man 2, played by Scarlett Johansson no less.

But now it seems Morgan's venturing into video game territory, too. Is there nothing this man can't do?

Anyway, check out the very eerie teaser trailer for the game below:

Looks rather Gears of War'ish, doesn't it? But set in a destroyed NYC instead of on the fictional planet of Sera.

Damn, why must they *always* fuck with my city? That's why I liked Fallout 3 and Modern Warfare 2 so much: they were both set in a bombed-out Washington, D.C. Which, as far as crippling the U.S. government goes, is probably the far more productive target an invading force can choose. Of course in Crysis we're dealing with an invading force of aliens, so what do they know?

I have it on good authority that those who didn't play the original Crysis can still get into this game since it will be more of a reboot of the series rather than a true sequel. After all, I think only 5 people played the original, seeing as how it only came out on the PC and was way too graphically advanced for a lot of people's home systems. This time they bettered its chances of receiving wider appeal (not to mention, assuaging investors' wallets) by bringing the game to all gaming venues. Good choice, I think.

And, no, I don't count the Wii as a legitimate gaming venue. Nice try.

If you want to find out a little more behind the scenes, check out this little article I found by clicking here.

And, look! They even interviewed Mr. Morgan himself. How cool!

Monday, May 3, 2010

We're In The Money!

Well, okay, not really.

But Lisa and I just got our yearly tax return in the mail today. I mean, dayuuuum! We got a LOT back! But it only serves to demonstrate just how much we had to pay out in taxes last year. It's very depressing if I stop to think about it for too long.

And, yes, I know this is really just our own money being returned back to us. So it's not like we won the lotto or anything.

And yet . . . the amount we got back completely pays for our round trip flight, Rome hotel, AND the 11-night Mediterranean cruise later this summer -- all with about a grand left to spare! Super SWEET!!!

So yeah, in case you haven't guessed it, I'm immensely pleased today.

That is all.

Quick Movie Review: The Losers

So, as I mentioned in that "brief" (hyuk, hyuk!) video blog entry over the weekend, we went to see the movie "The Losers" Saturday night. Thank god something told me to avoid the Times Square theater we usually go to, and instead we went to Union Square. Because, as you might have heard, we had ourselves a little pesky run-of-the-mill bomb scare that night. While we would never had been in any danger, that area is already annoying enough without an army of police, bomb squads, and reporters swarming all over the place. So yeah, good call on my part, that.

Anyway, I said this would be quick and so it shall:

The Losers. Great, awesome fun movie! Watch the trailer here to judge your interest in this for yourself. I want to see it again. It's so cool seeing another comics based film do well in just the span of 1 week. First Kick-Ass, and now this. And of course we have Iron Man 2 later this week. I'm in comic-geek HEAVEN!

The Losers is like a poor-man's A-Team, but in a good way. Almost the same concept, definitely the same team chemistry and fun! Again, just as with his turn as the Torch in the Fantastic Four films, Chris Evans made this movie for me. He was just so ridiculously hilarious! Jeffrey Dean Morgan was a heck of a lot more likable in this than he was as the Comedian in Watchmen. Idris Elba had a surprisingly nuanced and meaty role, which isn't at first apparent. And Zoe Saldana was just . . . well, Zoe Saldana! Boy, the things I would like to do to her if I weren't already --

But I am, so I won't. And not that I could even if I weren't. :)

Anyway, check this film out if you like fun "caper" type action movies involving highly trained ex-military units having things go BOOM! in order to make the world a better place.

And if you can find them, maybe you can hire the . . .

Oh wait! That's another movie for another discussion at another time. My bad.

Rating:   8/10

Saturday, May 1, 2010

God of War III . . . And More

In which I talk about The Yanks vs. White Sox game today, the Lakers' series win last night and . . . more importantly, God of War 3!!!

Panama Trip - Day 1: Here There Be Balboas!

In late May, 2017 I embarked on a trip of a lifetime. A trip to Panama's steamy tropical province, Bocas del Toro. Now, before 2017 ...