Thursday, February 25, 2010

Another Snow Storm


Behold, yet another Nor'easter has struck the greater NYC metro area! The second time this month, and the third time for places farther west and south. This one is pretty wet and nasty so far, but even still we're starting to accumulate a few inches as evidenced by this quick photo I snapped on my way home through the Bronx. The fact that you actually see the individual snow flakes should tell you how big these flakes are. Normally the iPhone makes a hazy blur of falling snow.

But as someone who absolutely adores winter weather, you can imagine I'm actually very pleased by all this.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hey, Another Karate Kid Trailer!

I talked about the new Karate Kid movie starring Will Smith's son, Jaden, a while back in this post. I had also posted the first official trailer with the news, and made my usual comments. Suffice to say I'm still stoked beyond belief to catch this when it comes out in June.

I already posted this on Facebook, but I had to put it here for posterity. You can check out the second trailer below, which reveals more scenes between Jackie Chan and Jaden:



I absolutely *LOVE* this trailer! It is so awesome how serious they seem to be taking the material. The cinematography, the story, the choreography . . . it's all clicking in a good way. Not at all the cheesy mess I had originally thought it would be.

Still, I'm a little surprised at the amount of negativity these trailers are being met with by jaded ass-hat message board members. Over at Mania.com, they can't stop ragging on the film. A lot of it seems to be based on ignorance. I don't think anyone there has actually watched the trailers. They're just bashing the movie based on their own suppositions. Which is weird. Click on the link if you want to read my own contribution to the discussion. I'm under an alias, but those who know me should know which commenter I am.

I have to wonder, though: is all the animosity really because they just can't stand the thought of a Karate Kid movie starring a young black actor? Hmmmm, maybe. I would hope not, but you never can tell. If the kid was some up-and-coming young white thesp, would these complainers be willing to cut him more slack? I don't know why everyone is writing Jaden Smith off. Everything I've seen him  in has indicated he is a solid actor who might just one day be big. Not as big as his daddy, perhaps. But you never know.

Some of the complaints are so tired, though. Like the complaint about the title having the word "karate" in it despite the setting being in China where kung-fu is the name of the game. I admit, I had my peevish moment or two over the same subject . . . but now I'm finding out some interesting tidbits of information. For one, Jaden's character is supposed to know some Karate. He learned it while in Detroit. Second, it seems he tries to use what little Karate he knows to defend himself against the wu-shu trained bullies at his new school in Beijing.

Given this revelation into the story, it now makes total sense to have the name of the movie still retain the "Karate Kid" moniker despite the fact that the martial art being showcased this time is Kung-Fu. See, the title is ironic. He technically is a "karate kid" because that's all he knows at the start of the movie. But what Jackie Chan will teach him in order to overcome his fears is kung-fu. And as the trailer shows, learning real kung-fu is not about learning to throw punches.

I mean, wow! Can it get any more moving than that? I get goosebumps seeing Chan's scenes in the trailer. I think anyone who simply writes off this movie as being "yet another boring remake" is doing themselves a disservice. Give the trailers a watch, and then come back and tell me what you think.

For the record, I'm usually very much against remakes. But in this case, I don't think this qualifies as a remake. More like a re-imagining, but even that doesn't quite capture it. I just think it should be viewed as a standalone film. Yes, the title is there to evoke a connection with the first trio of films starring Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita. But, at the same time, the title also works much better for the irony implied.

And that, my friends, gives me high hopes that this won't just be your typical run-of-the-mill Hollywood money maker scheme.

One can only hope.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

America The Beautiful


I was speaking to a good friend the other day . . . about America and the imperfect country that it is. And he told me:

"You know, as a black man, I'll admit that this place has historically treated us like the bastard red-headed stepchild. But you also know what? For all its faults and prejudices even to this day, I'd still wouldn't want to live anywhere else."

(This next part I'm paraphrasing)

"When I walk out the door, I don't think of myself as a black man going to work. I don't read 'black' newspapers. I don't eat 'black' food. I don't talk about myself as a 'person of color,' or as a construction worker who 'happens to be black.' I'm an American, like millions of others who are just American. And I'm damn proud to be one. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. This is the best country in the world. Not because of our government, or our military, or our black president . . . but because of the ideal that America stands for. Other countries preach it, or pretend to, but America DOES it. We are truly the land of the free."

You said it, man! Or, generally so.

We went on to discuss other things--like kids these days, the police and their often controversial tactics, and even the evil that is health insurance companies--but I kept remembering this one snippet. It's pretty awesome when you really sit down and think about it.

Here's a man who's been shat on by the system, had to deal with enormous bigotry in a work field dominated by Irish and Italian Americans, and has no love at all for higher forms of authority. But yet he strongly believes in this country he calls home, pays his taxes proudly, and would fight to defend her honor.

And I have to stop and admire that. Because, honestly, as much as I can sit here and bitch and moan about all that is wrong with this country, there is no denying that what it stands for is something that is of purest beauty. Something that cannot be sullied or twisted or kicked in the mud. Call it liberty, or democracy, or representation by the people for the people . . . whatever.

All I know is that I'm proud to be here.

It's nice to talk about other countries and the thought of moving there. But, honestly, there really is no place like home. America is home, warts and all. Take it or leave it. Some people tend to fall into the "grass is greener" mentality; this idea that any other place would be so much better than living HERE.

My friend would say: Oh yeah, well why don't you leave then?

I try to be a little more judicious. To these people, I say: travel a bit more. Not all places you think would be nice to move to are as open to you staying there permanently as you might think. I mean, my wife and I would *love* to live in France. But I'm under no delusions that all would be rosy and that we would be welcomed with open arms there.

But, yeah, America works for me. It doesn't have any more monopoly on corruption, bigotry, arrogance, violence, and deception than any other major country where the people are not outnumbered by sheep. So there!

And, before I forget (for my Olympics-minded readers):



USA. USA. USA!!!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cartoons Which Made Me Who I Am

Now and then someone will come along and offer what *THEY* think were the best cartoons of the 80s. You know, that precocious period of time which nurtured most Gen X'ers into the slackers we would later become. In college, we would wax nostalgic over dinner about our fave cartoons. Sometimes too loudly, and much to the chagrin of the foreign students sitting behind us who hadn't the foggiest clue WTF we were yapping about.

But this is not that list. No. Far be it for me to proclaim with authority what were the best or favorite cartoons of that era. No, this is just a simple rundown of the Top 10 cartoons that had an impact on one single person in the 80s and early 90s. That person being me, of course.

So, these are the cartoons that might not have aged well over time, or for that matter may not have even been all that endearing to kids watching at the time of their airing. But those which, for one reason or another, had a hand in shaping me into the grownup I am today. Yes, these cartoons were the ones I watched the most, and which to this day I wished I owned on DVD in their entirety. These cartoons made an impact on me that all others did not. That's not to say any cartoons that do not appear on this list were terrible, but that they were not the most impactive on my development. Some on the list aren't even all that educational or special, but just happened to be on at the right place and at the right time to make me feel all fuzzy and right with the world.

The only exception is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This late 80s gem is not on this list, but should be. I had to drop it because apparently Lionsgate, who owns the rights to the TMNT cartoon franchise, are being douches and disallowing all copies of the original opening theme and montage to be viewed by anyone on YouTube but themselves I guess. To you Lionsgate, I and 80s kids everywhere say:



Now, all that being said (and without further ado), I present thee with my selections, followed by a brief description as to why the cartoon rocked my childhood world. Click on the video clip after each title to watch the introductory sequences to each cartoon, too. Whoa, blast from the past!


THE TRANSFORMERS
-------------------------------



This one is no mystery to scores of boys and girls who became tv literate in the early 80s. If you had a pulse, and if you were under the age of 13 at the time, then you WERE watching this show. No question about it. For me, however, Transformers was the single cartoon that kicked it all off for me. I don't even remember if there was anything worth watching before Transformers. What, besides Looney Tunes and The Flintstones? But when it did come out, there was certainly nothing else like it. A cartoon about giant robots from space, interlocking and shapeshifting into inanimate objects like cement mixers and bazookas? Who came up with THAT idea? But it worked. And though it would open up the floodgates of American television to a slew of similar-themed cartoons in years to follow (Go-Bots, anyone?), Transformers was and always will be the big king daddy of them all. Now, go and click on that vid above and tell me that the theme song doesn't bring back warm, snuggly memories of a bygone innocent age!

HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE
----------------------------------------------------------------



Yes, leaving aside the ridiculous redundancy of the main character's name, this show owned like no other cartoon at the time! I could be wrong, but I think He-Man action figure sales surpassed even G.I. Joe and The Transformers for the same time period. At least, it did in my household. Thanks to a wonderfully generous grandma and aunt, my brother and I had pretty much every piece of toy tie-in merchandising associated with this cartoon that the folks over at Mattel could churn out of the factories. We were sickly ADDICTED, I tell you! Of course, looking at the introduction now, it does seem rather silly, doesn't it? I mean, how did the voice actors not shit themselves pale laughing at that ludicrous dialog? But still, I thank them from the bottom of my child-geek heart. He-Man kept us good company even when things at home in the mid-80s were not so rosy. Without this cartoon, we might have been left to roam the streets of the Bronx starting up gangs, or breakdancing for toy money, or something. Thank you, awesomely-cool-yet strangely-homo-erotic-cartoon-makers! Looks like shite now to my jaded eyes, but clearly you knew the secret formula to young kids' imaginations back then.

VOLTRON
---------------



Ah, see what I mean? This is what the wild success of the Transformers led to. The importing of even more obscure Japanese robot anime into the boob-tubes of unsuspecting American households everywhere. But, let's not deny it--Voltron was something special COOL at the time. It would grow to supplant Transformers in satisfying that giant robot fix that every male child who was not Ru Paul was fixing for in the mid 80s. And, yes, let's not get it twisted: I'm talking about the Go-Lion force! Not that shitty and vastly inferior vehicle-branded Voltron spinoff that was just a lame ripoff of Transformers. Or was it the other way around? It's hard to tell which came first with these Japanese giant robot cartoons. For me however, Voltron was the penultimate of this craze. By the time Robotech would see wider import to the NYC public airways later on, I was burnt out on my giant interlocking robot cartoons. For shame.

THUNDERCATS
--------------------



Oh snap! Yes, I know some of you were thinking I might leave this off the list, but to that I say: NEGRO PLEASE! It may be hard to understand for some of you, but Thundercats was the be-all and end-all of children's television programming when I was in the 4th grade. Forget Reading Rainbow, this was the SHIT! It's scary looking back at it now, but this show started a massively crazy following among impressionable youth like nothing else seen since the invention of the stick-and-hoop. I can't quite explain the hold it had on me, but it was something fierce for sure. I remember wanting the toy Sword of Omens so BAD! But my grandma refused, saying that it was satanic or some such nonsense. Blah! Of all the cartoons on this list, Thundercats is actually my favorite to this day. It's not as good as some of the others in terms of content or acting, but damn! Some of those multi-episode story arcs were like soap operas for kids! If you were not catching this cartoon, you were too busy picking the shredded remnants of underwear out of the vicinity of your rectum to watch. Too bad for you, loser!

DUCK TALES
-------------------



Now this one is probably more to everyone's liking. It takes a particularly inept and cold-hearted bastard to say that he did NOT enjoy the hell out of this Disney cartoon back in the day. I think even psycho stalker killers took time off of their busy schedule strangling old ladies and drowning kittens to sit down and catch them some Duck Tales, don't you? The winning formula of having the miserly and fabulously wealthy Scrooge McDuck look after Donald Duck's good-natured but troublesome children was the stuff of legend in the annals of afternoon cartoon history. It seems stupid on paper, but these episodes were surprising in the their ability to mix complex scripts (for a kids' show), stunning animation, and oodles of sheer FUN without hardly ever missing a beat. I mean, how the hell did they do that? Duck Tales is one of those shows that completely changed the face of after-school cartoons, ushering in an age of Disney properties that would rule the prime 2:30 to 4:30 time slot for many years to come. But unlike other kids, Duck Tales was the only one of these shows which I personally watched regularly. I could never get into Talespin, Chip n Dale's Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck, or Gummi Bears for some reason. I guess there was only ever room in my heart for one weekday Disney cartoon -- and this was it! Now tell me, is that theme song not catchy to this day or what? HELL YEAH!

THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER
-------------------------------------------------



Some of you are scratching your heads now, I'm sure. Batista, what unmentionable nether region did you pull this forsaken cartoon out from? If this is what you're saying, then you never had HBO growing up. Luckily for me, we did! Because this was one of my big time favorites. Wow! It's been so long since I've seen an episode, but that intro sequence brings it all back. I was a sucker for this cartoon! It was silly, yes, and the animation was a bit weird in that Japanese big-eyed-American sort of way . . . but the continuing story of the rambunctious Tom Sawyer getting into trouble along with his pal Huckleberry Finn endeared me in a huge way to classic American literature. I wish, wish, wish to GOD this would come out on DVD. I would bid a small fortune on a proper re-mastering of the entire series. That's how much this cartoon means to me. It's such a cherished part of my childhood, and in fact spurred me to go to the library and read every book by Mark Twain that I could get my grubby hands on. How's that for a media tie-in, huh?

FOX'S PETER PAN & THE PIRATES
--------------------------------------------------



Oh, DAYUM! Look, you just don't know . . . but this was my SHIT back in the early 90s. I was already a freshman in high school by the time this aired, and really a little too old to be hooked on cartoons still. But there was no denying it, this show had me line and sinker! It's no secret that I have vivid dreams about flying. Always have since about the age of 7. But for some reason, once the adolescent hormones started to kick in at the end of the 80s, these dreams intensified ten-fold! I could not go one night without having one of those marvelously lucid dreams where you really DO believe you are doing what is supposed to be impossible. The disappointment I would feel in the morning was downright heartbreaking. Waking up and realizing that--no, you most certainly can NOT touch the sky, young man--has got to be the most depressing thing I've experienced outside of my own mother dying. That's my way of showing that this was not a light matter for me. And, so, maybe now you can understand why this particular cartoon would have such a huge impact on my young adolescent life. At no other time did I feel like escaping to a magical fantasy world away from grownup responsibilities than at this stage in my maturity. Yes, I knew I was too old to join Peter and the Lost Boys on their fantastical flying adventures, but that bittersweet fact never kept me from tuning in each day after school to see what hijinks they would get into next. And to this day, I still think the opening theme is perhaps the finest symphonic movement ever set to a so-called "kiddie" cartoon. Don't you agree?

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA
---------------------------------



This was not a full-fledged cartoon, but rather a segment of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show which ran in 1989. And even then it only aired on Fridays. But if you were a kid in late 80s, and if you loved playing video games, perhaps no greater geek moment was the day you set eyes on this cartoon. I don't know why people feel the need to bash it today. Mostly young teens who were too young, or not even born yet, to fully understand the cultural watershed moment this was for us gamers. I mean, it didn't get any bigger than Zelda for video gamers unless you're talking about the Mario games. So to have not one but TWO game-based cartoons presented on the same show was simply mind-boggling unprecedented for the time. For me, though, the Zelda portion is what buttered my toast. Yes the voice acting is sooooo corny (especially the dude voicing Link), but the animation and music so perfectly captured all that made the games so much fun. Even to this day it gives me chills when I watch the episodes and hear the same exact sound effects and musical cues used from the first game. That was a big deal for kids, then. If they had not received the permission and full endorsement from Nintendo of America to use these portions, who knows what we might have ended up with. Oh sweet jeebus! I don't even want to think of the possibilities. *shudders*

BABAR
-----------



Yes, again, if this one is leaving you searching your memory banks in vain . . . Babar was yet another one of those HBO cartoons I was talking about before. You know, HBO really does know how to spot good programming. I daresay these cartoons were better than 95% of the crap being peddled on the regular network channels for kids during the 80s. And no production was finer than this cartoon. I'm not even going to explain why . . . just watch that there intro and see for yourself. Do you see the richness of the colors, the warm and fuzzy sweetness of the animation? What about that score? Does it not convey the title of masterpiece which this cartoon so rightfully deserves? Just from looking at the sequence alone you knew you were in for something special. This show is a treasure that should be in the Smithsonian years from now. Except that it's French, so it probably won't ever be placed there. But it should! The themes could be downright mature at one point (Babar's mother being gunned down by a "Great White Hunter" during the first episode resonated so strongly!), and yet at the same time it was an enduring and lovely children's bedtime story with lots of style, fun, and surprises thrown in at every corner. Of all the cartoons listed in this entry, this is the one I would definitely want my kids watching today. It has not aged at all, but will forever be timeless in my estimation. Bravo, HBO, bravo!

BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES
----------------------------------------------



I mean, seriously? Do I even need to bother? Who doesn't already know of the awesomeness of this show? Compared to the other cartoons on this list, it came out rather late in my childhood. In fact, I believe I was either 15 or 16 when it first aired -- no longer a little kid, not by a long shot! Then again, calling Batman: TAS a cartoon is, like, sacrilege! There was nothing cartoonish about this production. From the Oscar-quality voicing and scripts, to the wonderfully inspired art direction and haunting score, Batman showed that you did not have to become a caricature in order to entertain young people. Everyone at school watched this. It aired right after Duck Tales and Tiny Toons! It brought a timeless comic book hero to the masses in ways not even the Tim Burton movies could do. The subject matter was gritty, gripping, and so remarkably endearing to a young man's imagination. Batman: TAS made me want to go into crime-fighting become a writer more than anything else at the time, because for once I saw with my own two eyes how dynamic an excellent script could be when coupled with an award-worthy televised production. No one had better character development that old Bats, after all. And so, I felt, I was learning from the best. And, indeed, I did.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Shit You Don't Know You Don't Know Can Kill Ya!

I found this linked via John Scalzi's Whatever blog. Steve Schwartz writes about the danger of assumed knowledge, and how the goal of education should not be about cramming as much knowable shit as you can into the "shit I know" category, but should really be about moving as much out of the "shit I don't know I don't know" category and into the "shit I know I don't know" category.

Confused yet? Well, click on this link to his blog to read Steve explain it better than I can. I'll wait . . .

. . .

Back? Well, even if you didn't read the post, here's why Steve's insight is so relevant to me and my writing. See, I have a lot of people praise me for my writing. They praise me all the time for stuff I feel I deserve no praise for. What some of my readers claim to be insightful, interesting, and original about (some of) my works, I see as embarrassingly under-researched, lacking, and hackneyed.

Some of these folks then get perturbed that I should knock myself so low, and caution that I should be more confident and upbeat about my accomplishments. These people want me to rush headlong into my writing endeavors and take on the publishing world by storm. They want me to write my novels RIGHT NOW! Because I'm just THAT good.

And to that, I always respond: no.

See, I'm a realist. I'm always saying to anyone who will listen that there are days I'm stupefied by how much I simply don't know. That this dearth of knowledge is perhaps the single greatest accomplishment I can safely lay claim to. Of course, what I have to look out for is to not let this revelation overcome me and freeze me in my tracks. I need to keep on moving forward despite knowing I don't know shit about writing.

And it looks like this might actually be a healthy attitude to have? Well, I always suspected so. And I guess I can count at least one other person who feels the same. Thanks for that insightful read, Steve!

For the record, I never trust anyone who is too secure in their own knowledge. Usually such people are society's greatest fools. Or history's greatest tyrants. Different side of the same coin, really.

I believe that the truly righteous man knows he doesn't know everything. But more importantly, knows he cannot ever hope to learn everything. And that all he CAN do safely is learn to know when he doesn't know something.

It's a tricky ability, that. I don't approach my own writing with the thinking that I know everything. And I don't approach it thinking I don't know anything. I write knowing that there are huge gaps in my knowledge base, and that being humble and asking for help is the best way to cover these gaps.

This last lesson is probably the best lesson a new writer can learn: knowing when to rely on the knowledge and expertise of others to supplement one's lack thereof.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Two Observations On Valentine's Day

We don't celebrate V-Day, Lisa and I. Not hating on the holiday at all, just isn't all that necessary for us. So today we spent a nice, stress-free day watching movies downtown near Union Square. Now that we're back, I have two observations to pass on to you:

1) Don't show up to a movie in NYC on time. Please, save us all the trouble of hearing your ignorant ass bitch and moan about how there aren't any seats left and how you paid good money for tickets. Um, hello? Have you been in the city long? Get to the theater 30 minutes early (at least) or don't come at all. Definitely don't come in 15 minutes late and stumble through the dark, blocking everyone's view, only to realize the place is packed. Get out the way, dumb ass. And next time, grow a brain.

2) If you are single, male, and it's V-Day: don't walk around the city saying "Fuck Valentine's Day!" You only come across as pathetic and a loser. Nothing shouts "buster" more than a man with no girl pontificating about how the holiday is just made up by "the man" to generate greeting cards and candy sales. I mean, seriously. Go home and play with yourself, and spare the rest of us your sob story bullshit, okay? Thanks!

And there you have it. Some simple insights into New York City life for those natives who should know better.

This has been a Public Service Announcement.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Coming Along . . .

Just plotted a few more chapters tonight (this morning). Slowly but surely, I'm shaping this novel into something that might actually turn out GOOD! It's amazing how much I'm learning and revising about the story as I go along.

For instance: Did you know that a newly killed deer tastes like fresh apples to a vampire who's been "in the dirt" for the last 50 years or so?

I know, right? How WOULD YOU KNOW THIS????

But that's why I'm figuring this all out, people. So that you won't have to. Because I think freshly killed humans taste like hamburgers and milk shakes to vampires.

And, you know: Mmmmmm . . . burgers. Milkshakessssss!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

To Build A Novel

Lately I've been mentioning this "practice" novel I'm working on. I explained it all here in this entry last month, so I won't retread all the details. Anyway, I've mentioned on Facebook that I've started an outline of the book last week. But it's come to light now that I really didn't need an outline, per say, since the general plot had already been laid out in my head months ago. You see, I've been working on it so much in my head since last September that I already had a pretty good barebones outline of my course of action vis-a-vis plotting and thematic arcs.

So, faced with the redundancy of actually writing all that down, I changed tactics. Instead of an outline, I would do chapter summaries. I broke down what I already knew of the general plot into three acts, plus a climax. The denouement portion, or wrap-up, at the end of the novel I'm going to leave up to the gods of the nether region for now. That part's pretty easy, at least on this particular project. It's one of those things that will get resolved once I get there, and it won't do any good worrying over it now.

So, instead, I've spent the last several days fleshing out the chapter layouts for the first act. The writing is vague but the structure is nice. I now have a working game plan for the beginning of the novel. What's great about writing out your chapter summaries first is that you get to test and balance all the various elements--action, suspense, characterization--without fully committing to the writing just yet. Getting to see what works and what fails before even writing "for reals" is a great advantage to have for the first time novelist like myself. Chapter summaries also allow me to mess with the order of events, since they are small nuggets of text that are easy to rearrange in Word until you get the proper pacing you want. Very, very kewl!

As of right now, I'm still at the beginning of the novel. I have a lot more chapter summaries to write. It's probably going to take me the rest of February to complete. But the up side is that, when I do complete them, I'll be ready to start writing the novel almost immediately.

So far the developments that have come to light as a result of this preliminary work have been fascinating. I mean, I'm the writer and even I'm amazed by what I'm reading! Sure, I know the overall story, but not the details. And sometimes--more often than you might think--I find myself pleasantly surprised by a particular plot development I had not seen coming. One that makes the surrounding scenes connect on levels I had never imagined. So working on these summaries is like reading a brand new book for the first time. A book in which I get to choose my own outcome.

It's times like these that I remember just how much fun it is to be a writer.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Oh Noes, It's Teh SnowPOCALYPSE!!!!


It's hard to tell in the above pic, but it's snowing like CRAZY here! We completely missed out on the huge storm last weekend, but this Nor'easter today had New York's name written all over it. I just barely made it home from work before the worst of it strikes, and now I'm waiting for Lisa to get home. And while I'm loving all the mayhem that the wintry Armageddon can bring, I would like for all my loved ones to be accounted for first before the angels on high start blowing their trumpets.

The forecasters originally predicted 10 inches for us, then this morning they revised it down to 6 to 8 inches. But now according to the latest update in the face of certain doom, they're all in a panic predicting 12 to 18 inches for NYC alone! Apparently the worst is still to come for us. Pray for our souls, people!







As you can see, just beyond the Bronx County Superior Court building . . .  there is nothing but white. Visibility really is only about 3 blocks in any direction. I suspect by late afternoon it will be down to 1 block. Creepy!

You wouldn't know it by looking at these photos, but there's actually already 6 inches on the ground here. But NYC has crazy efficient snow plowers coming through this main drag at least once every 30 minutes, if not more frequently. So the roads look fantastic! It's just the sidewalks that are a pain in the ass to traverse right now. They probably will wait to shovel those until after the worst of the snow has fallen.

My Top 5 Super Bowl Commercials

I'm a little late with this. Guess you can say I'm still celebrating the New Orleans Saints win against the hated Colts. Not that I was ever a big fan of the Saints, but I really did not want to see Peyton Manning win. I really don't want to see any Manning win, although that's sort of blasphemy since his brother, Eli, is the QB for my Giants. And I definitely want to see the Giants win again in the near future. Still, the Saints win was like a win for all of America, considering how beleaguered their home city has been ever since Katrina hit.

They deserved the win, and I have to say that was a pretty good game all around. The intercept catch and TD that sealed Indiana's doom in the 4th was just the sweet icing on the cake, though. I could (and have) watch that play over and over until the cows come home.

But, all that being said, I think I would be remiss in not mentioning a favorite SB pastime. And that would be catching all the creative and often-times hilarious commercials that air during the game.

There were a lot to choose from, but I was able to pretty handily narrow my picks down to just 5. These are the 5 company ads that resonated most with me, for various reasons which I shall briefly explain after each individual commercial.

Click on each video to see the full commercials as they appeared on Super Bowl Sunday. Then comment below on what you think about my picks, or what your own picks might be.

Here we go:

5) GOOGLE



This is a powerful commercial, for obvious reasons. I mean, I know it's kind of on the cheesy side, but hey . . . sometimes cheese works! Lisa and I loved it because, as I mentioned earlier in this entry, we're planning to head back to Paris. And like in this ad, we'll be booking our flight out of JFK airport and landing in Charles de Gaulle (CDG), too! It's scary, because believe it or not this is like the tenth time in the past 2 weeks that we've seen references in tv to Paris. There's even a John Travolta movie out set in our favorite city. Hey, do you think it's a sign? I haven't finalized the plans yet, but now we all but HAVE to go, it seems. I can think of worse mandates to carry out, can't you?


4) SNICKERS



This one received some controversy from PC asshats who labeled it "sexist" and degrading to women because it's implying that low sports acumen is equivalent to a man "playing like a woman". To which I say: WTF? Did you watch the same commercial I just watched? This ad is saying that if you don't eat Snickers, you'll play football like an ELDERLY person. Not just a woman, either. Abe Vigoda is not an old woman. I'm guessing the media never bothered watching the end of the commercial. Sexist my ass! Ageist is more like it.


3) DORITOS



This was a lot of folks' number 1 pick of the night. And I agree that it is hilarious. However--and I'm not one to normally jump on this particular brand of soap box--it does alarm me that for the commercial depicting a single mother going on a date, they chose to use a black woman. Now you might not think this was deliberate. After all, Doritos commercials do generally tend to trend more toward multi-cultural casts due to the demographics of Doritos eaters. However, if you stop and think about it: do you really believe they would ever have used a strawberry-blond caucasian woman as the single (unwed) mother? Hmm, probably not. Still, stepping off my conspiracy theory platform now, it was pretty funny. I'm not that little boy's daddy, but I would have to dish out some retaliation for that. You don't hit grown folk unless they hit you, son!


2) E*TRADE



Lisa and I got a huge kick out of this! This was definitely Lisa's favorite, and perhaps mine, too. I'm a sucker for these E*Trade talking baby ads. I just think they're done so well, which I can appreciate. But this one takes the cake. This is probably their best one yet, and now Lisa and I are forever walking around the house shouting "Milk-a whaaaaat?" to each other. LOL! How could you not like this?


1) BUDWEISER



In lieu of the more humorous slant their Bud Light ads often take, Budweiser as usual went the sentimental route for their regular beer. And, boy, do they really pull at the heartstrings here! This, for me, was the best commercial of the night. I get goosebumps each time I watch it. I know, I know, it's just a commercial about a baby Clydesdale and his bovine pal . . . but darn it! I can't help but get a little misty eyed. I love the message: Friends don't let fences get in the way. Awwww!

So there you have it. My top 5 favorite Super Bowl commercials of 2010. Any opinions?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Welcome Back To . . . RAPTURE!!!


This is all about the new game coming out this week, Bioshock 2. So if you clicked on here expecting something else based on the title -- well here's your fair warning to back on out.

But if you have any level of geekery towards all things gaming, stay a bit while I lay down some historic perspective.

See, the first Bioshock came out for the Xbox 360 (and PCs) a little under two years ago. It was a glorious game, an experience to behold. The plot was weird, complex, and brutal . . . while the visuals were simply drop-dead gorgeous at the time. The story itself was refreshingly mysterious and unique, which is the hallmark of a true AAA game and potential Game of the Year winner, I shouldn't need to tell ya.


The backstory behind Bioshock revolved around Rapture, a city built in the 1940s on the bottom of the ocean by billionaire industrialist Andrew Ryan. He sought to create a world where man could exist by the virtues of his own hard work and ingenuity, where creativity was rewarded justly and all the decadent, lazy morals of the surface world abolished. In Rapture, there was no religion or government; only the fruit of one's labor. The game designers specifically based Ryan's utopian views on the dense philosophy of one Ayn Rand (yes, THAT Ayn Rand), and the game world of Rapture became a twisted, fantastical underwater Atlantis because of it.


However, as with most utopian ideals, the reality of human nature begged to differ with Mr. Ryan's dreams. Before long Rapture collapsed under the weight of built-up greed, totalitarianism and, of course, criminal enterprise. And the city the rest of the world knew nothing about became a sealed off tomb for the doomed and freakishly transformed denizens who roamed its leaky corridors.

Players started off the game as a nameless man who survives a plane crash into the ocean circa 1960. He swims around until discovering a lighthouse out in the middle of the deep blue sea, and unwittingly stumbles upon one of the entrances to the secret society of Rapture. What he would discover--about the city; about Ryan; about himself--would shatter the perceptions of gamers everywhere. The twists, reveals, and the powers he would uncover electrified the gaming world like few other stories could at the time. It was a good year for gaming when Bioshock hit shelves.

And I loved every minute of it!

If you would like to view a very concise 5-minute wrap-up of the events that took place in the game (and I really hope you do), please check out this handy video put together by the folks over at IGN.com:



Are you all caught up now? See, what did I tell ya? Is that not one of the coolest concepts/plots put together? The main thing to remember is that this crazy world of Rapture is overrun by corrupted human mutants hopped-up on "Adam" called Splicers. And that little mutant girls called Little Sisters wander around Rapture collecting Adam from the bodies of dead Splicers. Because living Splicers are addicted to Adam and all the powers it can give them, Little Sisters are quite vulnerable to attack. This is where their protectors, the Big Daddies, come in. A Big Daddy was engineered to be a near-indestructible walking tank, psychologically bonded to the Little Sisters and sworn to protect them even at the cost of their own lives.


In the first game, the Big Daddies were a constant terrifying foe to the main character, Jack, who, as a newcomer, was often viewed as a threat.


Bioshock 2, however, changes the dynamic around. Although in the first game Jack eventually escapes Rapture and returns to the surface, there to live out his life in happiness surrounded by several rescued (and rehabilitated) Little Sisters, the world of Rapture still went on beneath the murky depths of the ocean.

Bioshock 2 takes place 10 years later in 1970. Rapture has deteriorated even more into senseless murder and decay. A new threat arises in the ashes of Andrew Ryan's demise, and the city of Rapture itself is at stake. A prototype Big Daddy--swifter, smarter, and stronger than the others--is reawakened to counter this threat. He has no knowledge of the wasteland his city has become since he was first put away, but is pressed by a recurrent character from the first game to aid in saving the Little Sisters.


As this Big Daddy, players are tasked now with actually escorting Little Sisters and protecting them from aggressive individuals seeking to steal their Adam. And there is also a new enemy, a Big Daddy of sorts created by former Little Sisters who have all grow'd up in the 10 years since Bioshock 1, and are called "Big Sister" (but of course). At their disposal are terrifying abilities created from Adam use, and they will stop at nothing to put you down for good. Are they being guided to do so by this new leading force in Rapture? Or are they operating out of a misguided sense of liberating their little siblings from a system that has seen its days?

Even I don't know the answer to that, seeing as how I've yet to play the game. But what I would like you to do is to check out this AWESOME amazing trailer for the new game:



I all but drooled watching this. Before now, I really wasn't all that excited to return back to Rapture. The story in the first game was so neatly and satisfactorily tied up, see? But after watching this trailer, I'm itching to get back and kick some Splicer ass now!

It'll have to wait, unfortunately. I'm currently playing and enjoying the hell out of Mass Effect 2. And after that, I have God of War 3 to occupy my time (oh hell YES!!). Plus, there's that no insignificant matter of a novel to write. So, in all honestly, I probably won't get around to this until the summer.

Damn there only being 24 hours in a day. Damn it all to hell!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Return To The City Of Lights


Although I haven't confirmed the details yet . . . it looks like we may be heading back to Paris again!

Why, you might ask? No particular reason, except that we really fell in love with the city last year and felt like we didn't get to see everything we had wanted to see.

Hence, this second trip almost exactly one year later to the day. To put it in perspective: last year we were there from March 21 to the 27th. This year, if all goes according to plan, we'll be there from March 20th to the 26th. We'll try to do all the things we wanted to do before but ran out of time, like visit Versailles, the Rodin museum, the Bastille, see more of the Louvre, etc. And this time, we might even take a little day trip up to Bruges in Belgium while we're in that neck of the woods. The sky's the limit!!!

If you want, you can check out my hasty trip impressions from last year's venture by clicking here. I also devised my own walking tour around the city of some of the filming locations used in my favorite tv show, Highlander. That one was fun! If you want to read more about that outing (with more pictures!), click here.

Sometime soon, I'll update this site with more Paris pics from last year. Because of putting my albums up on Facebook and Kodak's EasyShare websites, I never did get around to putting up a proper Paris trip pics entry on this blog like I had intended to. But now that we're most likely heading back, I'll see about rectifying that little error, 'kay?

Okay!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

New Video Purchases For The Week

Stepped across the street to J & R Music World during my lunch break today and purchased two new releases hitting this week:

Zombieland



This is just a damn fun movie about Zombies taking over the entire planet and a bunch of human survivors trying to keep one step ahead of becoming their lunch. Good family entertainment for all. Actually, gratuitous violence, gore, and brief nudity (zombie nudity at that!) aside, this is actually quite humorous and accessible even to people who are not big fans of zombie movies. I liked it so much, I saw it twice in theaters! And I've read that the Blu-ray version is so good as to be demo quality. Not like I wasn't going to buy it anyway, but that's a nice bonus.

She-Wolf of London



OH. MY. GOD!!!! I can't believe this show has finally seen the light of day! It's about an American grad student who travels to England to study mythology, when she ends up lost on the moors one night and is attacked by a lycanthrope. As you can see, the story draws a parallel more with the cult film An American Werewolf in London than it did the original She-Wolf of London movie from the 1940s.

But original premise or not, I still loved the hell out of this show. I never missed it. The series only lasted one season back in 1990, but I was a tried and true fan at the tender age of 14 (yes, I just dated myself I know). I bring up my age in order to explain my next point: Kate Hodge!



I had a MASSIVE huge crush on this actress at the time. She plays the grad student, Randi Wallace. I don't quite know why today, but she simply drove me crazy! Ah, the thoughts I would go to sleep with (wouldn't YOU like to know?)

And it's not like I had any weird werewolf fantasies or anything. In fact, the werewolf is my least favorite horror trope, down their with zombies (bet you could never have guessed that last, but it's true).

But, yeah, a completely un-hairy Kate Hodge was something I enjoyed looking at on a weekly basis. And at the time I was willing to overlook the whole "turning into a monster every full moon thing." Which, of course, is a not too clever allegory to another womanly transformation once every 28 days, and something men have had to deal with since time immemorial. Although my wife's never actually tried to rip my head off and drink my blood during this delicate time.

Not yet, anyway.



But yeah, Kate Hodge. I wonder, where is she now?

I remember there was another show like this airing around the same time. It was called Dracula: The Series. Does anyone remember this? Like She-Wolf, this was also filmed in Europe (Germany instead of England), which gave both shows such a distinctive visual edge over other factory-cranked genre tv shows coming out of Hollywood at the time. And also like She-Wolf, it dealt with another shopworn horror trope: Vampires! But it was a cool show. One that I miss very much. Now that She-Wolf is finally on DVD, dare I hope Dracula might be coming next? All Google searches come up foggy on this point. Along with Kung-fu: The Legend Continues, I might be waiting a LONG time to add this to my home library.

Oh, poo!

Kick-Ass Is Still Looking Kick Ass!

Not too long ago I wrote in this entry about the upcoming April movie release, Kick-Ass. Click on that link if you want to see what all the hype is about and why I so can't wait for this to come out.

All caught up now? Good. Because here's the latest red band trailer of the movie. Red band means that this is for mature viewers only, so you're going to be asked to enter in your birth date as a statement that you are indeed old enough to watch something like this. As far as I know, I don't have anyone under the age of 18 visiting this blog. But just a precaution.

Btw, I'm loving the line: "And with no power comes no responsibility." If you don't understand why this is awesome, you don't read comic books. 'Nuff said.

<a href="http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-GB&from=sp&vid=df8e1600-9d67-47ce-9b2b-6171d203b64d" target="_new" title="Kick-Ass - Trailer">Video: Kick-Ass - Trailer</a>

Speaking of comics, if you want to pre-order the volume 1 hardcover compilation of the first batch of original Kick-Ass comics, upon which this movie is based, click on the following Barnes & Noble link:

http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Kick-Ass/Mark-Millar/e/9780785132615/?itm=5&USRI=Kick-Ass

I'm currently boycotting Amazon due to a horrendous fracas going on over there and how they're screwing over some of my favorite authors. If you want to read more about the situation, check out John Scalzi's excellent blog, Whatever.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Kratos Sez: I Fear Nothing!

For those who do not understand all my fussing over the God of War video game series, take a gander at this here teaser for the upcoming release of GoW III and never wonder again:


(Enter your birthdate to verify you are old enough to watch this gruesome footage.)

And, yes, this is the in-game graphic's engine generating this video footage and not some CGI recreation. This means that, aside from some touch-up to remove the red orbs and health/magic meters for presentation value, this is *EXACTLY* how the game will play on the PlayStation 3. Those are the same exact moves Kratos uses in the game, for those of you not familiar with the series. Tell me this is not going to RAWK hard!

How I Spent My 3-Day Weekend


Let me just get it out of the way:

Mass Effect 2 is OWNING my soul right at this current moment!

I popped the game into my Xbox 360 last Friday, my day off, and have pretty much not seen the light of day since. It's ridiculous good fun, although I really should be working on my novel outline some more. Bah, I'll get to it. I will.

But for now I'm enjoying my second foray into the sci-fi goodness that is this game. I purchased the collector's edition which comes with the game plus extra bonus features disc nestled in a sweet metal tin clamshell case, along with an art book and a code to download this exclusive armor and gun for my character to use in-game.



As with the first, Mass Effect 2 is an action RPG. But this time with more emphasis on the action, it seems. Dialog trees have been truncated severely, so that conversations between you and your team members and NPCs are still meaty and informative, but considerably shorter. And as much as I simply LOVE expository conversations to develop the hefty backstory these games have to offer, I must admit that it is a relief not to spend 15 minutes trying to mine a particular standoffish Asari consort out of valuable information I need. Full conversations now range in the 3 - 5 minute range, with many much shorter than this.

There are a host of other ways this game has been streamlined to highlight more action and less time-wasting activities, but I won't list them all here. Suffice to say that the RPG elements have been dumbed down a lot, but not completely removed. In some ways this is a bonus (no more item management tediousness!), but in others it is bizarre (what, I only have 5 character development stats to allot exp points to?).

As for the game itself, what more can be said? It is a freaking MASTERPIECE! Yes, I've only just started, but DAMN! I was afraid the first one had been some kind of fluke, but nope -- this one pretty much starts off running from where the last one ended, and drops you straight into some high-stakes intrigue. You still control Commander Shepard, a kick-ass human Spectre operative who saved galactic civilization the last time. Except now he has to rebuild a brand new team Dirty Dozen-style to combat an even greater threat to the space-faring races of known space.



The new team members are a cool mix so far. I know it's blasphemous to say, but I'm actually enjoying this bunch better than the last. Although it seems I will be reuniting with a few of my old friends, too. In fact, I already have at least three along for the ride with me, with the promise of maybe 1 or 2 more joining me later. Play the game if you want to know who's back and who's not.

I played through all day Friday, all day Saturday, and all day Sunday, with breaks in-between only to work out, eat, and say some words to the wife the few times she was around (Lisa had to work night-shifts at the hospital this weekend). I'm making good headway, and can't wait to travel to new planets in search of more bad-asses to join my quest.

As always, keep checking my "Now Playing" sidebar on this page at the start of each week to monitor my progress.



P.S. -- And, yes, I am still on track with my writing goals. I think this will be the last weekend I devote completely to gaming. I made the one allowance this time because a game like Mass Effect 2 doesn't come around too often. Also, because I need to beat this before God of War 3 arrives in March. See, finished or not, ME2 will most definitely take a back seat to that game. You just don't KNOW my obsession with the GoW franchise! :)

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