Sunday, January 31, 2010

Maybe It's Not So Bad . . .


Last week I had some pretty harsh--albeit hasty--words concerning Apple's announcement of their new iPad device. David Jaffe, video game designer extraordinaire (most notable for Twisted Metal and God of War), sounds off on why he thinks he really, really wants this toy RIGHT NOW! You can read his take on the gadget by clicking on the link below:

http://criminalcrackdown.blogspot.com/2010/01/in-defense-of-ipad.html

He makes some pretty good points. For me, the most exciting thing about the iPad is indeed the eReader functionality. I'm just not sure it will really be able to do all the things that Jaffe hopes it will. Reading my magazine subscriptions and graphic novels digitally and in full color would be SWEET! In addition to standard novels and non-fiction books, of course.

But still, I ain't paying no $500 for something I would only use as an eReader. All the other functions of the iPad are already covered by my iPhone.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Certain Point Of View


Observation: When watching the original Star Wars trilogy, isn't it funny how we as Americans automatically identify with the rebels?

Why is that, I wonder? Probably has to do with this sense of "the rebel spirit" many Americans connect with. After all, we had our own "Evil Empire" to contend with in the early days of this nation's forming. We beat the British! And no one beats the British. Well, certainly not back in the 18th century when they ruled the world. So, yeah, we're the rebel scum that beat back the Empire and won our freedom. Naturally we're the good guys, and the Empire represents the bad.

However, when you think about it, this is completely the opposite reaction from anyone watching these films outside of the United States. To the rest of the world, unfortunately, we Americans are the evil Empire. When people in the Middle East or in Somalia--or, hey, even on reservations here in the U.S.--watch the SW trilogy, they probably project themselves onto the rebels on a personal level, and cast the American military in the role of the Storm Troopers. We even sorta resemble the Troopers, certainly in our indigenous policing tactics if not actual dress. What haven't we done that is not unlike the Empire reaching its arms across the vast cosmos and clamping down on even the slightest hint of militarized insurrection? How not like the Empire are we increasing trade with certain favored nations and excluding others in the form of retribution and/or punishment?

Like Obi Wan says in Return of the Jedi: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view."

More apt words have never been spoken. Except, in the case of many Americans, I would insert the word "desperate" before the phrase "point of view."

Just some food for thought.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hasty Thoughts On The New iPad From Apple

So, another year another item added to Apple's burgeoning collection of "iCrack" gadgets. These are items of technological wonderment which Apple feels everyone must absolutely own, and which millions of loyal acolytes happily shuffle forward en masse on supplicating knees to purchase.

I'm not bashing the company, though, because I was once a happy Mac owner and am currently in love with my iPhone. But this new gizmo just announced a couple of hours ago--the iPad? Hmmm, I'm not so sure about this one.




First off, who the hell named this thing? It's such a hideous sounding thing, let alone the unfortunate association with a certain feminine hygiene product of ubiquitous monthly use. But why not something like, oh I don't know:  the iTab? Or the iNote? There, I just pulled those two names straight out of the air and they're both infinitely better sounding than the iPad. WTF?

Anyway, this iPad has some pretty nifty wazoos up its who-hab. It's basically a much larger iPhone or iPod touch, allowing you to do the same exact things on either form, but with a better ease-of-use interface since the iPad has a larger screen real estate of 9.7-inches. It's only 1.5 pounds heavy and a half-inch thick, and comes in three flash memory offerings: 16-, 32-, or 64-GB.

So far, the iPad is being touted as the evolutionary superior of the netbook, since you can do everything with it that you can on the latter . . . but MOAR! Surfing the web on Apple's Safari seems to be faster--whether via WiFi or Apple's 3G network--and you also have the ability to create and store documents, slide presentations, videos and so forth. But of course, more importantly: you can have all the same Apple apps on your iPad as those that are currently on the iPhone/iTouch. As everybody knows, Apple apps have quickly become the company's bread and butter, only behind iTunes song downloads in terms of profitability. What's more, you can play all the existing iFormat games as well as new games being designed right this minute specifically with the iPad's higher resolution and screen size in mind.

And lastly, as if that wasn't enough, the iPad seeks to compete with Amazon's Kindle for the e-book market as well. Yup, that's right: the iPad is an e-book reader, too! And a decent looking one at that, I might add. So far 5 of the top publishers in the country have committed to providing book content via a proprietary shingle off the iTunes store. You can purchase and store books exactly the same way you do music, with full color and photo covers, and a neat bookshelf interface to display and browse through your collection.

I mean, WOW!

So why is it that I'm not too sold on this pretty nifty technological bauble? Here's my thing: I have no idea what I would do with this.

As it now stands, the iPad is too big for me to lug around outdoors through the mean streets and subways of NYC without a man-purse or messenger bag. And if I wanted to do that, I would buy a slim laptop. But, on the flip side, it's not functional enough for me to keep at home and use as another home computer. Moreover, I already have an iPhone. If 60% of the iPad's capabilities revolve around upscaled iPhone applications, what exactly is the draw for me beyond the larger screen? Yes, the e-book reader aspect is nice--but the 10-hour battery life is not. I would have to recharge it every other day based on my daily reading habits, and that can quickly wear the battery's overall charge life down to nothing.

The other big obstacle is the price. Apple has announced a pricing structure of $499 for the 16GB memory version, to $699 for the 64GB one. This is far less that the $1,000 price tag industry people had predicted for the new device, but that doesn't comfort me any. It's still a huge hurdle for someone still paying off the contract of his 3G iPhone. And so far no word has come as to whether or not existing iPhone owners can use their AT&T data plan to also cover the iPad. Conventional wisdom says: no. And I'll be damned if I'm going to pay for TWO AT&T unlimited data plans at once. Who are we kidding here?

So there, those are just my quick thoughts after seeing the Steve Jobs press conference live. I get the feeling I didn't quite get all the details of just what exactly makes this new gadget so wonderful. I'll wait for the big news outlets to do a more detailed write-up and make an informed decision then.

But as for now, the verdict is a very hesitant: eh?

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Movie Maven Monday

This week's Movie Maven featuring Tara Perry came early on a Monday, although I only got around to watching it this morning. She takes some low-blow shots at The Tooth Fairy, and also talks about that new Mel Gibson movie, Edge of Darkness. Take a gander:



LOL! In case you're wondering, yes that was indeed the lovely Ms. Perry in that clip of "The Colonel," a skit performed on Jimmy Kimmel live when Gibson was a guest previously. If you want to check out the full version of the clip, click on the video below:




From the producers of Braveheart . . . and Step Up 2: The Streets. Hahahaha, so random.

Monday, January 25, 2010

More Indie Sci-fi Goodness



As you know from my previous reviews of films like Moon, I'm a big fan of the small-budgeted sci-fi flicks which are finding an increased presence at film festivals the world over. It's refreshing to see an emphasis returning to smaller, intimate projects as opposed to the bloated big-budgeted affairs Hollywood has had a boner for over the last couple of decades. After all, least we forget, the original Star Wars was made on a relative shoe-string budget. Of course, Lucas has now become the poster boy for sci-fi glut. Ironic, huh?

Anyway, over on his blog, sci-fi author Tobias Buckell made mention of a new indie sci-fi short film out of Africa, called Pumzi. I was intrigued and decided to check the trailer out. Take a gander for yourself:



Ooh, pretty nice! It's so great seeing not only a small, well-done production like this in the genre, but by a non-Western perspective as well. And the lead is absolutely BEAUTIFUL! The actress' name is Kudzani Moswela, a 22 year old newcomer to the game, and I sure do hope we see more of her. She makes me all a-tingly in certain places, LOL!

Added more to the intrigue of this project is that it was independently produced by the film's award-winning writer/director, Wanuri Kahiu--a Kenyan woman! You can read more here about the production and the hoops and loops she had to jump through just to get this off the ground. I think what heartens me the most is that she wants to try and get this made into a feature-length film, much in the same way South African writer/director Neil Blomkamp got his indie short, Alive In JoBurg, remade into District 9, last year's summer sci-fi breakthrough.

If I had only one negative quip about what the trailer reveals, it's that the story seems extremely derivative of past sci-fi movies. The biggest similarity falls between Equilibrium and The Island. The first movie dealt with a small, totalitarian society in which dreams and emotional expressions have been suppressed and enforced by the law. The second movie, The Island, was a big-budgeted mess of a film that depicted a secluded underground world in which denizens were kept in check by means of routinely ingested medication and directed to never go outside because the land was a radioactive wasteland. When, in fact, it was not.

Still, these similarities aside, I'm every bit stoked to see this. It's only 20-minutes long and seems the only place I'll ever get to catch this is at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Which means, not at all. Don't know how long it will take for it to see home video release (doubtful at all) or, at least, some form of online distribution. My best bet would be to wait for it to to be expanded into full-feature length, so I'll keep my fingers crossed for that. But if I hear something otherwise, I'll be sure to let ya'll know. Because, you see, that's how I roll.

Or, you know, you can just check out the film's official website for news when it becomes available. Yeah, something like that.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Movie Review: Legion



You know when you watch a trailer that looks awesome in every way, yet somehow you've got this sick feeling in your stomach that the actual movie won't quite measure up to what you think it's about? And then you go see the movie and--SURPRISE--it's actually way better than you could ever have imagined?

Well, that didn't happen with Legion. No sirreee, not at all!

Legion is one of those insipid genre films that tries so hard to be "kewl" and yet edgy at the same time. It attempts to please the action crowd, the thriller crowd, the horror crowd, AND the fantasy/sci-fi crowd all at once. And it fails on all fronts, and fails HARD!!! The writing is some of the worst written, ham-fisted dialogue spouting turd tornadoes I've ever had the misfortune of being subjected to. My mouth was literally agape by some of the atrocious stinkers these characters delivered with totally straight faces. I thought: who wrote this, an 8-year old boy with a bath towel cape tied around his neck?



(Be careful, dude -- the shitstorm's about to HIT!!!)

Well, Legion is directed and co-written by Scott Stewart. Yeah, I know: who? This is his first big Hollywood movie. Before that he did visual effects supervision on some pretty big movies. Hmmm, maybe that should have been my clue? The movie is pretty to look at at times, but that's about all it's got going for it. Legion stars Paul Bettany as the angel, Michael, who has gone against God's wishes to finally up and rain Armageddon down on humanity. He escapes heaven to warn the humans (whom he loves more than God does), and at one point literally severs his ties by sawing the wings off his back (OUCH!) before running off to protect mankind's last redemption.

The redemption in this case--wouldn't you know it?--is a baby not yet born residing within the womb of a woman who does not believe in God or even in happiness. She smokes (whilst 8 months pregnant), she strings along some dull, love-stricken sad puppy-dog of a mechanic, and is forever in full bitch mode it seems for no apparent reason. Oh yeah, that's right, correction: because some dirty low-down MAN left her.

Oh trust me, it gets worse.

As Michael secures a small army's worth of weapons and halls ass across the Mojave desert in search of the soon-to-be-born baby savior of humanity, the diner where the mother works is visited by a particularly gruesome angel-possessed old lady. Oh, did I mention that the "bad guys" in this movie are just humans possessed not by demons, but ANGELS? Oh yeah, that. I'll just call them demons from now on, because--let's be serious here--that's what they really are, for all intent and purposes.



(Old lady pantomining how big this movie sucks)

Enter Tyrese, bringing with him pretty much every black-man stereotype ever perpetuated by white-bread Hollywood writers. He's angry, listens to gangster rap, fights his lady over child custody, and (of course) is packing heat. He happens upon the diner in the middle of this desert on his way to a court hearing in LA, and ends up taking on more than just bad driving directions when he pumps a few slugs into the demon's back from clear across the room. Then claims later that he never even fired a gun before.

Yeah, okay man. Whatever you say. Do me a favor, can we ban Tyrese from Hollywood altogether? No, I don't mean just movies. I mean the WHOLE DAMN COUNTY of L.A. Don't let this guy anywhere near another movie set again, not even to deliver donuts!

Anyway, things go to hell in a hand basket pretty quick. Just like that last line, before long we're being subjected to almost every action movie cliché in the book. Cranky middle-of-the-road proprietor cussin' and packing a 12-guage? Check. Sassy goth teen who simply cannot STAND her straight-laced yuppie parents? Check. Angry black man with a secret heart of gold? Oh wait, I already mentioned him. But, check! Another, less angry, black man but older and spouting biblical wisdom? Oh, and he's the cook, too? Check and check. Survivors holed up in a boarded-up building as shambling zomb . . . er, I mean DEMONS close in on all sides? Again, check.



(der . . . yep. . .yep . . .yup. . . nuh-huh. derrrrr)

I swear, I felt like I was watching a half-dozen B-horror movies I've seen before all rolled into one. The crap just did not stop! And let me not even get into all the pseudo-biblical doom and gloom BS that people in the entertainment biz seem to think passes for good religious-themed thrillers these days. Note to Hollywood: just stop it already, okay? You had your heyday with this theme back in the late 90s when Y2K was a threat people actually took seriously for all of 3 seconds. Leave us alone already!

Anyway, the Archangel Gabriel finally shows up after what seems like a terminally long buildup, and just when you think the action's really going to crank up now . . . it simply peters out and dies. There's a brief fight, sure, between Michael and Gabriel (who exists only to follow God's law to the letter, it seems). But blink and you'll miss it.

Ultimately, the action in this movie can be summed up like so: blam, blam, blam. I'mma bust a cap in you ass, zombies! Clang, clang, clang--their time is up, Michael. No, my brother, their time has just begun. Wah, wah, oh the baby is here, hallelujah!!! Oh shit, we still got 20,000 demons camped outside our diner. Wanna run for it? Sure. This movie won't end unless we do SOMETHING!

And there you have it. You no longer need to see this movie. I just delivered for you the exact same emotional investment you got reading that last paragraph as you'll get from watching the actual film. And you didn't have to pay $10.50 for the privilege because I'm generous like that.

You're welcome.

Rating:   3/10

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Funny Batman: Arkham Asylum Review (And More)

I've posted links to this guy's video reviews in the past, but now it seems I can finally embed the videos. So, YAY!!!

Anyway, Ben Croshaw (aka, Yahtzee) operates a weekly web series off of The Escapist website, called "Zero Punctuation." The title of the show refers to his super fast-paced, breathless style of reviewing the latest games and trends in the gaming field. Yahtzee's a displaced Brit now working in Australia, but he's mostly known for his acerbic wit and wholesale slaughtering of certain game titles many people hold so dear and near. Seriously, this dude really eviscerates a game in the most brutal, yet infectiously HILARIOUS, of ways! He hates pretty much 9.5 out of 10 games that come across his desk, and is not afraid to tell you why. His points are punctuated (no pun intended) by juvenile and crude, but cutesy, paper cut-out animations that need to be watched closely for their surprisingly witty subtlety.

Check out his review of last summer's Batman: Arkham Asylum game to get an idea of what I mean. Actually, this is one of the few games Yahtzee really LIKES. Of course, he has to find something to bitch about . . . but if you know Yahtzee, this amounts to receiving a commendation from the President!



Now, if you enjoyed that and would like to view more like it, click on this link to get to a page collecting all the Zero Punctuation reviews dating back to time immemorial. If you would like an idea of how caustic Yahtzee can be with a game he actually hates, check out the review for the game Wet embedded below.



I almost never agree with his slamming of most games, but the reviews are still enjoyable to watch. And he does make astute observations about certain annoying aspects, of which Wet has quite a few.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I Used To Be A Poet, Once . . .

Reading over my friend Dion's blog, I realized that I, too, wrote poetry once, back in the days long forgotten. I used to write a lot of sappy teen angst romance poetry in high school (yeah, go figure). But when the girl I had written them for was too afraid to defy her strict parents and go out with me, I'd realized how maudlin I was being and snapped out it. I wrote a few poems for Lisa a few years later, but that was short-lived as well. I simply grew out of the need to write such silly things, I suppose. I never did consider myself much of a poet, anyway. My focus was more on writing prose, always has been.

But then a few months after I graduated college in 1998, I was bored at work and decided to give it one more try. The result is what you see below. It reads more like a metal rock ballad, but I assure you that wasn't intentional. As you'll soon see for yourselves, however, this is why I don't write poetry anymore. LOL!


Lost In Vain (The Reaper's Theme)
----------------------------------------

Born before the sun invaded the sky,
I wandered the darkness aimlessly.
Watched as creation covered the land,
My purpose bloomed unfoldingly.


I'm the nightmare you wake screaming from,
Do you fear me, dare defy me?
From the darkness of your soul here I come,
Do you hear me, dare deny me?


I'm the creature men fear most,
They leave me in the rain,
Sin and guilt I love them both,
I'm a connoisseur of pain.
Years cannot hide my bloody past,
There's no glory or no gain,
Your day you fear has come at last,
With your dreams lost in vain.


When Mankind climbed out of the sea,
I hunted your world in wanton glee.
Laughed at your gods, danced in the wind,
While your mothers cried incessantly.


I'm the gripping terror of a wolf's call,
Do you loathe me, dare to love me?
My name’s unknown yet feared by all,
Do you know me, care to test me?


I'm the nightmare you fear most,
Your heart is mine to reign,
The ultimate predator, this I boast,
Thy soul is mine to claim.
Throw of God's dice, your fate I cast,
There's no glory or no gain,
Your day you fear has come at last,
With your dreams lost in vain.

 
 
Thanks, Dion, for getting me to remember this. And thanks for inflicting this anew on the world.

This Week At The Movies: Legion

Well, time again for another installment of The Movie Maven (aka, Tara Perry) courtesy of Mania.com. Most of you are probably already going to the site on your own anyway (and if you're not, why not?). But, out of convenience, here's an embedded video to aid your laziness just in case:



Ths week Tara covers Legion (a movie I'm definitely looking forward to), as well as some DVD releases like Gamer.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Space

With the purchase of an HDTV for the living room last month, I decided it was time I posted up a few pics of the spaces around the apartment where I spend most of my time. I'm a self-admitted homebody. I really have very little use for the outside world and prefer to spend most of my free time holed up at home finding many various ways to amuse myself and my darling wife. When I'm not chained to the day-job desk, that is.

Hey, I worked hard to secure a nice little comfy hole in the wall to call our own. Why not put it to good use, right? Besides, have you seen the outside world? Uh, yeah, I think I'll live a little longer if I keep myself away from that mess as much as possible.

Anywho, on to some pics:



This is the entertainment center in our living room. That's a 37-inch LCD HDTV--the only size that would fit in that space and not be too ridiculously small for comfort. Considering we only sit 8 feet away from the tv, it's the perfect size for our needs! If you look closely (or click on the image to make it bigger), you'll see a PS3 snuggled in the perfect little spot just beneath the tv. I use it less for gaming and more for watching DVDs, Blu-rays, Netflix streaming videos, and downloaded tv shows beamed from my PC in the other room. Like the commercials say, Sony's machine really "only does EVERYTHING!" And below the PS3 (to the left) is the Wii. It mostly collects dust as the Wii really is only interesting to people who don't know *real* games. I use it to play old NES and Genesis games from my youth, but beyond that it sees most use from Lisa and her workout games like EA's Active and Wii Fit Plus.



These are my DVDs and Blu-rays. I haven't had a chance to integrate my newly purchased Blu-ray titles into the stacks, but I'll get to it eventually. I'm slowing down on my movie purchases as the money really is better used elsewhere (like savings and travelling and such). But every now and then it comes in handy to have a sizable movie collection to choose from without having to leave the house or wait for long download times.



This is a wider shot of our sunken living room.



And this? Why this is my "den" -- my home within a home. This is the room I go to when I need to be on my own. I do many things in this room: play video games, workout, surf the net. But most importantly, this is where ALL my writing takes place. In fact, that's the room's most important function. Because when I close the door . . . it's all business, baby!



Close up view of my work area. Pretty standard, really. Desktop PC, scanner, printer, modem, wireless router, and landline phone. The boombox on top works, but is mostly for show. I can't remember when was the last time I played music out of a dedicated music player that wasn't my iPod or PC's CD drive. Sign of the times, eh?



My books! I have a lot of books--and this is only the half of them! What you see is a vast assortment of geekery: genre titles, comics (graphic and HCs), game guides, China-related scholarly tomes, and a crap load of various monthly science magazines I subscribe to. I really need to get magazine collector's bins to gather up the several hundred issues I've amassed. Ugh! There's a nice collection of sci-fi/fantasy pulp mags hidden beneath the pileup along the bottom shelves, too. As you can see, there is no end to my eclecticness (yes, I know that's not a real word).



My gaming set-up. Here I have a 23-inch HDTV. Might sound small, but it does the job for such a compact space. If your eyes are sharp enough, you'll spy an Xbox 360 parked underneath the TV, yet another PS3 to the right of it (and this one used strictly for gaming), and in the corner is a huge pile of junk consisting of game cases, errant DVD and Blu-ray movies, and a few dozen gaming magazines and guides. On a lonely day (which is any weekend when Lisa has to work the night shifts), you'll find me in this room rolling back and forth between writing on the PC and gaming on the tv. One of these days I'll figure out a way to get a job doing both, maybe? Would make sense.



On the other side of the same room is my workout space. Nothing much to talk about here. I spend six days a week torturing myself into keeping fit, usually immediately when I come home from work. I've got the standard bench with a few pneumatic pulls and resistance bars thrown in. On the floor are my various loose weights. The curl bar has 120 lbs on it, which is quite a pain in my ass to curl. The straight bar currently has only 40 lbs on it, but I add more when I want to do squats and lunges. The dumbbells are 45 lbs each. And on the bench I'm pressing close to 230 lbs, which is the max it will go. I'm going to need to register with a gym at some point if I want to go any further in my weight training goals. Of course, there's nothing like the bare floor for classic push-ups and crunches.



And last but not least, my treadmill. Me and this baby have a contentious relationship, but honestly this right here is the real key to my success at staying in shape. This is my second machine, as the first one finally gave up the ghost earlier last year. It's a beaut! I run 4 miles two days a week, and then 6 miles on Sundays. Once in a blue moon I switch to running 3 miles every single day for 2 months straight, just to mix things up.



The real boon of having a treadmill, though,  is two-fold: 1) I get to set it at a steep incline for a real burning workout; and 2) Probably the most important part -- I get to watch tv while I run! Don't laugh, you wouldn't believe how fast time flies when you run while watching an engrossing nature program or history documentary.

So there you have it! These are the things I spend the majority of my time doing. I love having a big apartment that I get to do whatever I want in. And as you can see, why would I ever seek to venture outdoors? Sure, I do get out quite a bit when the mood strikes me. But really, this is where I'd rather be almost all the time.

I know years from now, when we're living in our house and maybe have little ones running around, that I'll look back on the time we lived in this nice little apartment and feel a twinge of nostalgia. So, here's to having pics for posterity!

New Blog Buddy

Just pimping another friend's blog today, so if you get a chance go check out my buddy Dionisios Efkarpidis' new site:

http://omegahype.blogspot.com/

Dion is a developing SF writer just like me! We're both members of a pretty cool private online crit group, as are a few good folks linked to in my "Interesting Folks" sidebar off to the right.

Everybody, Dion. Dion, everybody. Let's give him a warm welcome . . . and pass the dip!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Movie Review: The Book of Eli



Now this, this is the kind of movie I love! Post-apocalyptic, kill or be killed survival, and a kick-ass protagonist with a moral center. It also doesn't hurt to have an Oscar-calibre actor at the forefront, either.

The Book of Eli is a remarkably well-done flick, despite some grumblings from less attentive folk over the revelation of just what the title of the movie means. To me all the negative stuff I'm reading from over-adrenalized action junkies amounts to a bunch of spoiled brats not wanting the big motivating factor behind the main character boiling down to something as didactic as true faith and divine intervention. But, you know, sometimes you just have to believe that forces beyond human understanding are at work in the world. Both in the movies and in real life.

And that's as close as I'll get to a spoiler. See this movie and you'll know what I'm talking about.

And see this you should. I haven't been this entertained by a dystopian future action movie in a long time, and Zombieland doesn't count. From the very first opening scene, both haunting and beautiful in its cinematography and framing, I knew this film was something special. Denzel is in rare form here, drawing from his considerable talent as a dramatic actor to deliver what would otherwise be some pretty hammy dialogue in the hands of a lesser thespian. He plays the role of the warrior poet to perfection, and you have just GOT to see the fight choreography on this one! It's a sight to behold. Denzel's movements are so swift and fluid through the action scenes--so reminiscent of the old Japanese Zatoichi/Blind swordsman flicks that I dearly love. It's a certain brand of fight choreography you don't see much these days. And it worked brilliantly! I'm still buzzed over the awesomeness.

When the combat switches to bullets and explosive ordinance later on, however, the action falters just a tad. But I think this is a personal opinion, since I'm not as fond of shoot-em ups as I am slice-and-dice 'em ups! Ironically enough, I felt the credibility of the gunfights were compromised compared to the hand-to-hand and bladed combat sequences. But that's just me.

All the main players were on their A game, but high praise goes to Denzel Washington and Mila Kunis both. I'm really starting to like this gal. She doesn't take the stereotypical roles someone with her looks and youth usually finds themselves pigeon-holed into taking in Hollywood. Her roles are usually darker and more introspective, which I just absolutely LOVE. Can't wait to see where she goes from here.

The bad guys in here suffered the lesser hand. Gary Oldman was okay, but at times seemed to be phoning it in. Which is disappointing since I'm such a huge fan of his. Ray Stevenson seemed wasted as the right hand man, especially after getting his own starring vehicle in the most recent Punisher movie. I really would like to see him be more careful when picking future roles. Then again, a big profile movie like this one is bound to look good on the ole resume regardless.

But, yeah, watch this one for Denzel. He's the man, and you really should already know that going in. Also, Jennifer Beals is in this. I mean, come on! Who doesn't love them some Jennifer Beals? Even after all these years since Flashdance, she is still completely easy to look at and a wonderfully expressive actress to boot. While understated, her performance in this film is completely memorable. Her comeuppance scene at the end, in particular, is so beautifully done. Wow, you've gotta see it!

As usual in these types of movies, I find myself sucked in by the gritty survival aspects. I've talked about it before, but what attracts me so much to these apocalyptic films like The Road and I Am Legend is the theme of eking out a living in a land where law and order are antiquated niceties long forgotten. Where only your wits and bravery can see you through the storm. That stuff resonates with me, man! Don't know why, but it does.

Ultimately, though, this movie is about way more than survival and kicking ass. And what some viewers see as the film's weakness, I see as its greatest saving grace (no pun intended). I really dig the ending, and the so-called "big reveal" that comes with it. But more importantly I found the film's questions on faith and God to be very poignant and moving. Which is a big deal for me to admit to, given my agnostic distrust of the Church and the book its centered around.

In the end, The Book of Eli is one of those films that will probably not receive a lot of praise from the action crowd, but should be well-received by Denzel fans and folks who don't mind a little more philosophical exploration of the human condition thrown in with their popcorn movies.

I fall into the latter camp, and I cannot praise this film high enough.

Rating:  9/10

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Tale Of Two High School Yearbook Photos

This week on Facebook is supposed to be the unofficial throwback retro week, in which members post as their profile pics old embarrassing fotos of when they were young and all fresh-faced. Like a lot of people, I chose to use a picture that was taken during senior year of high school for the yearbook. Of course, since this is me, there is a little story that goes along with the pics you see below.

As all of you are aware, I'm sure, when you get your senior yearbook fotos taken early in the year, you get a set of proofs from the photographer a few months later, and then choose the ones you want to make multiple copies of to give to family and friends. At the same time, you also pick the foto that will be used in the yearbook roll call section.




Well anyway, I chose the pic seen above as the one I wanted duplicated and disseminated to all my peeps. And why not, right? I mean look at it! I can tell you right now, that's not a fair and accurate representation of me as I looked at 17. My friends and wife say it is, but I know better. You would almost think I was some sort of Romeo, breaking hearts left and right, by that somewhat mysterious, yet saucy, expression on my face. All I can say is--such are the marvels of modern retouch photography! That soft glow, the sparkling twinkle in my eyes. Yeah, RIGHT! (haha)

Anyway, when I got my multiples in the mail, seems some fool misread my order and gave me about 50 copies of the following pic instead:




ARGH!!! I was so pissed! This, incidentally, was my yearbook photo. Somehow the geniuses at the lab thought the box I had checked for yearbook foto was also the same box for my friends & family fotos. Damn! But I had no recourse. It was late in the year, and everyone else in my class were already handing out their pics to all their friends. I feared that if I sent them back, I'd never get my new pics. So I sucked it up and just accepted my fate.

But yes, just for the record, it was always the first one that I'd intended to be in people's wallets. And, so, now I'm making up for all these years of angst by making it my official Facebook profile pic for a little while. To all my high school-era friends and family, this is me setting the record straight. Personally, I *hate* my official yearbook photo. And now you know.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Moon, The Book Of Eli This Week On Movie Maven

Don't mind me. I enjoy these episodes of the Movie Maven, so it's a pleasure to plug each week's segment here on my blog. Tara Perry talks about the DVD release of Moon and The Hurt Locker (whatever that is), and then devotes the rest of the video to the Book of Eli, which is the only big release hitting theaters this Friday. And you already know I'm going to be there!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Prelim Work On The Novel Continues Apace . . .

As I've mentioned on numerous occasions, I'm working on a practice novel. I call it "practice" because--although I will be putting as much effort, research, and planning into the writing of this as I would a *REAL* novel--the subject matter and barest of outlines is being taken from an already existing property. To wit: Konami's excellent 1990 NES video game, Castlevania III.

Because I'm fleshing out the story a great deal--which entails adding a lot of different facets to the rather thin game storyline--most of the last few months have been spent conducting careful research. In addition to playing the game over again from start to finish, recording it to DVD, and conferring with various game maps and player's guides, I've also been putting in some scholarly research into the actual life and times of the historical Vlad Dracula, whom may or may not be the same man masquerading about in the game as the Prince of Eternal Night. About roughly half the story will deal with the political realities of the era in which Castlevania III takes place, none of which was even briefly hinted at in the game.

If I can pull it off, I plan to weave both halves--the game's existing plot and the historical politics--into one entertaining quilt work, adding poignant character studies and lots of twists and turns along the way.

At least, that's the plan.

Given all of the above, it's plain to see that this is in fact a real novel for me. Due to copyright issues and such, naturally, I won't ever be able to sell this work or publish it legitimately . . . but I daresay I'll gain a ton of valuable writing experience from the project.

So, this is a novelization folks. A media tie-in, if you will. I'm not stealing anything, and I'm not making a profit off of the hard work of Konami's employees. The writing itself will be wholly original, however, expounding upon themes not exactly covered in the game. Still, the major characters and the basic progression of the action scenes will be based largely on an already existing work.

I cannot stress this part enough.

Now, that being all said . . . I hope you are as excited as I am to begin this endeavor. I have a bit more prep work to do before I get started. I still need to do an outline and explore some of the minor characters and what-not. But the general plot and themes have already been mapped out at this point. As much as they can be for a work not yet in progress. I'm looking at a start date sometime later this year.

Keep your fingers crossed.

In the meantime, here's a sneak peek of what to expect. I wrote the following brief synopsis in the form of a book flap preview -- the type of thing you might find at the back of a book describing the general precepts behind the novel you are about to read (in my case, write). I wrote this just to wrap my head around the more salient points and to provide a sort of guidepost for me, beyond which boundaries I SHALL NOT STRAY!

If all goes well, this may end up being my actual novel synopsis. Although I'm quite sure I'll edit it a lot before I'm done. But, yes, this may just be what you see on the back of the book if I decide to self-publish this as a not-for-profit chapbook. The attendant artwork might or might not be used as the cover as well.

-------------------------------------------------

*Synopsis*


DRACULA IS DEAD!

Or is he?

15th century Wallachia is on the brink of civil war. The great noble houses vie for control of the throne left empty by the demise of their prince, Vlad Dracula. Yet rumors persist of renewed activity at Dracula’s haunted mountain citadel. Dark clouds brew above the tallest parapets, while ungodly beasts stalk the forests below. Some say Dracula has turned strigoi—vampire!—and means to spread his unholy influence across all of Europe.

The people pray for a hero to appear. They whisper the name: Belmont!

Armed with a legendary heirloom bequeathed by his ancestors, Trevor Belmont answers the call. But if he ever hopes to see daylight again, he’ll need to enlist the aid of a motley trio of unlikely allies:

Grant the adventurer, charming and deadly with a dagger.

Sypha the warlock, cold and silent, master of the arcane arts.

And finally, Adrian—an enigmatic immortal who’s hatred of Dracula may surpass Trevor’s own.

In the highest tower above Castle Dracula, the Belmont clan's eternal foe patiently awaits. Can Trevor overcome the fiendish traps set before him? Or will he and his companions surrender their souls upon the treacherous battlements of . . .

CASTLEVANIA?


Two Trailers For The Price Of None



We get our first look at the new A-Team movie coming out this year which, as I'm sure I don't need to tell you, is yet another Hollywood remake of a beloved 80s tv show. But I think what everyone is interested in knowing is: who's playing whom? Well, check out the trailer below to see for yourself:





For those who need the help, the main players are: Liam Neeson (Taken; The Phantom Menace) as Hannibal; Bradley Cooper (The Hangover; Alias) as Faceman; Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (UFC fighter-turned-actor) as B.A. Baracus; and Sharlto Copley (District 9) as Murdock. Yes, I'm quite as surprised as you are by the last, but judging from this video he seems to be playing the role remarkably well.

I'm of mixed feelings regarding this trailer. On the one hand it's very cool that they used the tv show's opening monologue. And they also managed to weave a rendition of the theme music into the trailer as well. But on the other hand there's this faint whiff of cheese in the air that I find disturbing. When Hannibal delivers his trademark "I love it when a plan comes together" line and the others start laughing, it's a little too forced. As if they're trying too hard to make this all seem cool. Should I be worried?

Actually, on second viewing, I can see now that the reactions are actually edited close-ups from other moments in the movie. So the actual scene of Hannibal saying that line probably has more natural reactions from the other men.

Still, I can see this being fun. That last bit of the trailer scores major AWESOME points in my book. A tank in mid-air taking out an enemy plane? OH YEAH!!! :)

So I'll give this a chance. Not quite sold on B.A. yet, but I guess there weren't too many choices for the role. I thought Common would be doing it, especially since he was in director Joe Carnahan's previous flick, Smokin' Aces. Oh well. We shall see, we shall see . . .

Just last week, I posted a bunch of trailers and teasers promoting the April release of Kick-Ass the movie, based on the comics by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. Well, it looks like the 2nd official trailer is out now, showing off more of the actual storyline. Click on the above link to watch the earlier trailers first if you haven't done so, then take a gander at the new one below:



Ha-ha, AWESOME! I'm really looking forward to this. I love that at least someone in-movie brought up the Batman connection with Nicholas Cage's Big Daddy costume. Would make sense, in real life I mean, if someone wanted to be a costumed vigilante. Why not imitate the Dark Knight himself? And if you had to, why not Chris Nolan's version of the Caped Crusader at that? It's what I would do.

Kick-Ass is making April a fun month to look forward to at the movies. Yay!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Chilean Fruit, BOOYAH!!!




Can't believe it's gotten to this point, but I can actually tell where a grape has been grown just by taste alone! Or, more specifically, red seedless grapes, which are the only grapes I eat. Today I walked into Whole Foods and--lo and behold!--they finally switched over to seasonal Chilean grapes. WOO-HOO!!!

Depending on the time of year, NYC gets most of its grapes from either California (summer time) or from Chile (winter time). Which makes sense given the different hemispheres and all. But lately I've been noticing that we get tremendous tasting grapes here from January until July, and then the quality goes downhill the months following.

So, in other words, the grapes from Chile during our winter taste AWESOME, while the ones from California taste awful. Why this is so, I have no idea. All I can say is that the red seedless grapes from Cali have a much more muted and less full taste and body. There's no tartness, no crunchiness to the skin--nothing! Not even the color is all that red.

Yet the Chilean grapes? Different story altogether! I know this pic I took with my iPhone doesn't do it justice, but trust me . . . those grapes right there are packed with taste. And they are a gorgeous, robust red, too! The type of grapes you just need to look at and already know they're delicious.

Of course, there are in fact different variety of red seedless grapes which I won't go into. Universally, though, I notice the disparity between the two regions of the world immediately now. My palate has adjusted enough over the years, I guess, to know.

Anyway, I'm a very happy camper. I have six months of yummy grapeness to look forward to. That plus all the red wine I drink, I think the red grape might be my next favorite fruit after pineapple. Whoa!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Some Week . . .

And just got my 2nd rejection this week. Different story submitted, different venue, same result. *sigh* And to think, last Sunday I had positive vibes for this week. Shows what I know. At least the response from the editor was peppered with light praise on the writing. That's better than being told my story bored them to death (which has happened).

On the plus side, I've racked up an impressive list of rejections over the past year. I mark all my sold stories in bright green ink in my tracking program, and all my rejections in crimson. The list now looks like it's bleeding from multiple orifices. *hint, hint*

But I shall soldier on . . .

Poster Plagiarization, Redux

If you recall back in August, I addressed the issue of promotional billboards copying each other as of late. In particular with regards to the new (at the time) movie posters for Jennifer's Body, which were disturbingly similar to the promotional art for HBO's vampire series, True Blood. You can click on the posting here to refresh your memory.

Well, now it seems we're back at it again. This time between two popular genre tv shows. A poster for the upcoming and final season of ABC's Lost has been released, biting off the same Da Vinci's "Last Supper" motif which Battlestar Galactica used for the promotional art going into its own final season. Jeez, people, can you put a little more originality into this? Check out both posters for yourself:








Now, I give credit to Battlestar here. Yes, The Last Supper is an original piece of art from the man who put the Renaissance into "renaissance man" himself, Leonardo Da Vinci. But BSG was making an obvious parallel here given the direction the plot of the overall series had been steering for the past couple of seasons. And after actually watching the final season, the allegory of the Battlestar poster makes literal sense, too.

Not so with the Lost poster on top. Given what we know of the story so far on Lost, the allegory in this case is rather ham-fisted and silly. Yes, we get it, Locke is the deus-ex-machina of the show. He tries so hard to be the "Jesus" guy with all the answers and who will save civilization. But I always got the feeling that he's really the butt of some terrible cosmic joke. We shall see what really happens once the season gets under way, of course. But, really, I think the poster is just lazy PR once again. Just like with the Jennifer's Body ad. I think someone on the Lost PR account was so enamored with the BSG poster, that they just *HAD* to join in on the fun and steal some of that thunder.

Blech! I hate the Lost poster. It's so cheesy looking. But worse yet, it's blatantly biting off Battlestar Galactica, one of the finest sci-fi tv shows of all time. The BSG ad is dramatic and kind of foreboding. The Lost one, it's just goofy! If I didn't know better, seeing this artwork, I would think that Lost was a comedy of sorts. Wouldn't you?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Kick-Ass Movie Is Looking, Well, KICK-ASS!!!



Finally, a movie title after my own heart. Actually, the comic that this is based on is pretty awesome, too. Done by the legendary team-up of writer Mark Millar and artist John Romita, Jr. So I just know this movie is going to entertain. I was telling T that this is looking to be the Zombieland of the superhero/vigilante movie genre. Check out the trailer below and see for yourself:



Nicholas Cage is in this as the Big Daddy vigilante character. He's the father of the little assassin kid, Hit-Girl. The relationship between these two cracks me the hell up! You can catch some of what I mean by watching the next two set-up clips. Watch them both and tell me this is not a movie you want to watch!

Teaching the important lessons in life:



Ice-cream afterwards:



Just a reminder, this is not a film for little kids despite the fact that a little girl plays a prominent role. The comic was a gory, wonderful mess, and so naturally the film will be rated R. Can't wait for April!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Skidmark Rejection

Vrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrm!

That's the sound of my story getting rejected in less than 24 hours flat (it was 13 hours, to be precise).

Wow, that's the fastest rejection I've ever received! "It just didn't work for me" was the response from the editor.

Bummer.

Oh well, back to the drawing board. I think I'm done shopping around this particular story. I mean, this was a high-paying pro market, and normally I would just submit to some token markets and probably get a marginal sale that way. But apparently, according to John Scalzi and most other pros, these token markets are not even worth bothering with. It seems that if a story is not good enough to sell in the better markets, it's just not good. Period.

I'm thinking of adopting this philosophy, which eliminates EVERY story I've written to date. Not one of them is that good. Even the two that have sold (which you can find at the top of this page's sidebar). In my opinion, nothing I'm writing right now is of sufficient standard to submit to the Pros or even Semi-Pros. What this means is that I have to put on hold all submissions and just continue to work on my craft in silent for a little while. According to what I see of my snail-like progress, this might last a few years. Maybe 4 at the most. I have a lot to learn.

But on the plus side I will continue to write. And every now and then I'll test the waters with something, sure. But I'm going to put a stop to this practice of sending every single story out to markets in the hopes that at least one will bite. It's not helping at all, and the only result I get is that maybe a token market or two will buy them. Which seems to be a waste of time according to my betters.

I have some ideas on how to switch gears and improve my writing faster. For one, I think it's time I move into high intensity crit-shopping. It will be brutal, but I think it's just what I need to get better.

But for now, all my current short stories are going to be put on hold. They all have premises that the old me way of thinking thought up. This will not do, so those stories will not do. I'll take a little breather and work on the Castlevania III novelization instead. It's my practice novel, and will flex different muscles from short story writing. This will most likely take up a good portion of the first half of this year, if not beyond. By the end of the year, I'll be in a better position to re-assess my short story failings and see what I can salvage from there.

Friday, January 1, 2010

First!

Don't really have anything to write about today. Just wanted to start off the brand new year with a blog entry, anemic though it may be. Guess I can voice some of my random musings, if nothing else:

Next week I return to work. Doesn't feel like I've had much of a 2-week vacation due to all the running around and errands I had to do, but it wasn't overly stressful either. That's always a good thing. Don't know that I'm ready to jump back into office work, though. I could probably use another month or two away. :)

Playing Uncharted 2 for the Playstation 3. What an awesome game! As of right now, I can't see how it can NOT be Game of the Year. 2nd place, imo, would go to Batman: Arkham Asylum. Most gamers would put Modern Warfare 2 in the 1st or 2nd slot, but while I thoroughly enjoyed the game, the single-player mode was simply too slim to qualify as a full-fledged game.

Looking ahead for the year, I think I'll be cutting back on short stories a bit and focusing more on the practice novel, which has yet to be started. I still have an outline to write before I jump into that experience, but I'm upbeat about it all. Rather exciting, actually.

Re: movies -- For the immediate future, I'm looking forward to The Book of Eli and Legion in the month of January. Clash of the Titans in March. Kick-Ass in April. And a slew of other films for the summer blockbuster season beginning in May, chief among them Iron Man 2! I don't know how 2010 will possibly top 2009 in overall movie awesomeness, but I'm willing to wait and see.

As for travel? I was thinking of cutting back on all the trips this year so that we can save more money. But there are just so many places I still want to visit! First and foremost, we almost definitely will be returning to Paris. We might even visit the south of France, if I can figure out how to make it work given that neither of us speak a lick of French. That's doable when you visit such an urbane and international metropolis like Paris; doesn't seem to work so well anywhere else in France, though. Unless I'm wrong.

Other possible destinations for the year include Rome and Naples; a Mediterranean cruise to the Greek Isles; a combo England/Scotland excursion; and Tunisia in northern Africa.

Realistically, we'll probably only get the France trip in. But if we can do a second, the Greece cruise sounds lovely to me.

Hmmm, I think I'm fresh out of musings right now. So anyway, here's to my very first post on the very first day of the new year. May there be many more!

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