Thursday, March 30, 2006

Fun with Propaganda

This is a brilliant contest over at where their PhotoShop contests truly are worth a 1000 words. This particular one is "Fun With Propaganda Round 6" and it's brilliant as usual.

I can't imagine what these PhotoShop Gods would be capable of if there were as talented with a brush and paint bucket as they are with filters and shading. I'm convinced that Van Gough and Rembrant would absolutely be lords of PhotoShop had they been born in the last 20 years. Enjoy.


So where have I been for the last several days? Drowning at work under a sea of dumbassery, that's where. My Fair Lady has wanted to work out every day this week but since it seems all I've done the last few days is run full speed in place at the office I'm borderline content to get home past the point where we can do that.

Of course, I fully expect to get back into the swing of things this coming week but we've all seen how life has a funny way of dangling what you want in front of your nose then yanking it back at the last second. Then life will smack you in the face with said carrot just for kicks.

In gaming news, I've been playing The Godfather for the last few days and I have to say that I'm having a lot of fun despite the facts that it looks pretty dang bland, has a needlessly cumbersome control scheme, and is a blatant rip-off of Grand Theft Auto III. But considering that I haven't played that game in a year it's nice to play it again with a mafia-themed skin over everything. It also helps being a die-hard fan of the original film and that the missions are typically pretty fun. We've all played the sneak-or-be-caught missions along with the drive-to-escape-enemies missions but The Godfather remains entertaining despite its overt familiarity. The full review should be up at Gaming Trend sometime in the next week.

In the meantime, check out my review of Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones right here because the game is fantastic despite looking uglier than its three-year-old proginator.

For the record, I love the original PoP game Sands of Time with something akin to reverence because it gets everything right. The combat came under the most fire because it was repetitive, but the thing that the complainers didn't get was that the combat was never meant to be the focus. The challenge was always against the environment, and it was magnificent to play. Not to mention that as a romantic (shh, don't tell anyone) it was wonderful to watch the playful and devil-may-care Prince slowly come to love the willful Indian princess Farah. The ending was brilliant and even moreso if you played through the game start to finish over the course of a day or two.

Compare that to the absolute travesty that was the sequel Warrior Within and you'll understand why I treaded lightly on the new game. Fortunately, the new game went back to the original formula and was terrific in its own right and perfectly ended the trilogy. I so wish I could give away the ending because it was note perfect, but my advice is to just burn through it and enjoy falling to the spell of a wonderous fairy tale elegantly told.

I also have the latest Metal Gear Solid PS2 game on deck so I'll fire that up tomorrow and see what Snake has been up to. Hopefully that review will be up late next week but we'll see.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Sony Should Lay Off the Pipe

1Up Story on Sony at GDC.

Okay Sony, please set the crack pipe down and step away from it. The men in the white coats will then escort you to a nice clinic where your system will be cleaned out of all manner of toxins, kthxbye.

Anyone recall when Sony said that the PS2 would be able to work with AIM and do all sorts of stuff online? Yeah, me neither. I love how Sony set out an insane timeline for building their equivalent of Xbox Live in a matter of months. God help them if they haven't already been working on that for, say, about a year now.

It may seem that I'm getting down on Sony. In truth, I'm just stunned by all the things they're saying the PS3 will be able to do this Novemeber. Then I look at their timelines of getting final kits to developers by this summer and realize that no AAA game can be created in that short a window. I can appreciate Sony's desire to kick Microsoft in the teeth but they need to seriously shut up and just work and get their marketing people off center stage. The more they talk the crazier they sound and if they don't live up to all the promises they're making...

Well, I doubt anything bad will really happen. I have zero desire for a 360 which actually dips into negative desire when you factor in Microsoft's pissing off previous generation owners by completely botching the backwards compatibility. I have a healthy Xbox library I'd like to play on an upgrade. What? None of them will work at all? Well then, no upgrade console for me. Wait, I can plug it into Live and download a $20 shareware game that is more fun than the entire launch library but in no way utilizes the full power of the system? Sounds good to... oh wait, I just found an emulation of it for free on the internet. Still no 360 for me then.

As for the PS3, I agree with the pundits that say Sony will release it for no less than $500. Considering the bleeding edge components in it there's no way they won't incur massive losses just cranking these suckers out. But there are a few details that absolutely make me want to love it before I even see anything concrete:
The thing that makes the games region free or not is different than what makes the hardware different. With the power voltage and things like that, the hardware will need to be specific to a region. Software, however, will be region free. It's possible for developers to put all the TV formats - PAL, NTSC, HDTV, and so on - on the disc.
As Paris "Herpes" Hilton might say, "That's hot." For a film nut like Yours Truly, that means a region free Blu-Ray DVD player could soon enter Casa de Skim which means importing films from all over the globe. The priority for me would be to track down specific "special" packaging that is only available overseas. The infamous "Alien head" case for all the "Alien" films springs immediately to mind.

I think Sony will win this round too even if they don't make good on all the promises they've been making for the last six months. I do, however, think this is the last generation for the bullcrap to pass for gospel. Both Microsoft and Sony have done nothing but talk themselves up like crazy for the last two years about how each would rule the roost, but I've seen nothing from either to substantiate those claims. With my generation now having kids and passing on our gaming knowledge and loves to the wee ones, they will soon inherent our cynicism and distrust of the industry as well. When that happens they won't be swayed as much by the new and improved same ol'-same ol'.

And when that happens Microsoft and Sony could be massively screwed, and that's where the dark horse rides in with the name Nintendo and proves that innovation sometimes wins out in the end. But that's a column for another time.

As I will be attending E3 this year I plan to have my own take on events there over at Gaming Trend during the week. That weekend will see My Fair Lady achieve her dream of graduating law school and if American "Suck it" Airlines pushes my return flight back any more then I should land just in time to drive to the ceremony. Once I de-stress though I'll opine on everything I saw, and since Half-Life 2 isn't on the cards I don't have one single game that I'm craving.

Which means everything is fair game this year on all platforms, and I'm really looking forward to being an equal opportunity gamer.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Birth of an Ocean

I haven't posted science links of any sort but today I came across one that is so monumentally fascinating that it personally demanded to be shared. Apparently, a new ocean is forming in East Africa. Check this out:
A number of recent eruptions, though, have left layers of new basalt lava on the Earth's surface. And it's the exact same kind of lava that spews out of volcanic ridges deep under the ocean -- a process which slowly pushes older lava sediments away on either side. The process has only just begun in the Afar Triangle -- and scientists for the first time can witness the birth of a new ocean floor.
The full story can be read right here and it stunning to think that scientists, with all their modern high-tech equipment, can monitor Mother Nature as she births a new ocean. Oh, and I'd have had a heart attack if I was one of the scientists who landed there in September of last year. Read the story for why.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Starting Fresh of a Sorts

After the events of this weekend I found myself today in a complete writer's mood. Moods like this strike me infrequently and usually when I fail to act on them the result is several months worth of writer's block and inferiority complexes.

Take a guess as to what happened around December?

What will happen when I get home today is sitting down and cranking on my screenplay and I damn well better have pages re-written tonight or at least five brand new ones written out. Otherwise I will be most aggravated with myself. I'm trying like hell now to finish this thing off because not only am I not interested in the story anymore, but far more colorful projects have sprouted up in my head and I'm desperate to work on those.

But the goal of 2006 was focus and as such I intend to stay the course for better or worse. While the weather in Dallas was perfect to sit around and write I actually did very little because of being completely worn out from the last few weeks. The plus side was that after Noah left town the storm went with him and right now the skies are gorgeous.

This may wind up as a last will and testament because once My Fair Lady reads this then you better believe that she'll beat me over the head with it if I so much as think about straying from my original intent. Which is a very good thing, don't get me wrong, as it shows that she genuinely cares and wants me to succeed.

This actually was a topic of conversation on Friday night as we drove to our softball game (cancelled after 15 minutes of play, naturally). We talked about how some marriages are competitive in nature when they should actually be more of a partnership and we agreed that the competition was much more likely to spring up in a household of two doctors/lawyers/anything. As she will soon be an attorney and I'm in television/video production, there really is no way to accurately compare the two. Another benefit is that where I'm weak she's strong and vice versa so when we work together we compliment each other very well.

This is a roundabout way of saying I'm bloody well going to write this week if it kills me, writer's block be damned. At some point I may even finish my review of Dragon Quest VIII that I've been trying to finish for the last two weeks. But one step at a time.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Star Wars: The Series Official

We all heard the rumors. We all figured it may or may not come to pass. But apparently the Lord High Jedi Lucas hath spoken and lo and behold a Star Wars TV series was recently announced.

I'm filled with mixed optimism about this. On the one hand, I can think of only a handful of canon that have actually covered the gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope so it might be cool to watch the Empire consolidate its power, evil slowly take over the galaxy, and the remaining defenders fight an increasingly deadly battle.

On the other, if Lucas himself is writing this then I think it could start bad and get worse. For all the flack the fanboys give him, I still think Revenge of the Sith was a hell of a great addition/conclusion to the saga, stiltled dialogue included. There were more moments of sheer fury, emotionally painful heartbreaks, and jaw-dropping images than most other movies combined. Yet there were several moments (I'm looking at you Sam Jackson) where the film came to a screeching halt, and for that I have to thank Master Lucas for not directing actors worth a damn. I'd also like to thank all those actors for failing utterly to remember that older actors, like Ian McDiarmid himself, came from the school of thought where imagination was key. The trick was to stand alone on a barren stage and make the audience believe that what the actor "saw" was what the audience would see.

Take a comparison between Christopher Lee and McDiarmid's performances in episodes II and III and compare them with, oh, anyone else on screen at any given moment and the difference in abilities become immediately apparent. So what does all that have to do with the series?

If Lucas is truly as involved as I worry he may be, then we stand to have 100 episodes of the prequels and even a Star Wars nut like myself would find that tough to take. The original films felt lived in and worn down in a way that gave audiences the belief that no matter how outlandish the sequences on screen were, they could still reach out and touch everything they saw. The prequels were pretty much all digital so everything felt hyper-real, which made the films feel like they existed in memory only. Everything then was too clean and too pristine, and the non-stop special effects and digital imagery was a key part of that. Personally, I think it actually worked in the films' favor to go that route considering the story they were telling.

I fear the new series may rely on ILM's wizardy versus actually building some sets to give the actors and audience an association with what's on screen. But then again it's early yet. Nothing has been announced other than they're doing the show so as details trickle out we'll all go into hyperdrive analyzing them.

Because that's what we Star Wars nerds do.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Wherefore Art Thou... Gary?

So I'm in the back part of the production offices today doing various duplication things and I walk back to my cube and find a stickie note.
My computer is still broke. - Gary
Well, first of all that must suck for you, Gary, but second of all I have no idea who you are and third of all I wasn't aware your computer done broke itself in the first place. There is a noticable lack of contact information so I go on about my day.

I come back about half an hour later and find a second note that reads as follows:
Mitch, please call me ASAP. - Gary
Please take a moment to re-read that and tell me where the number is.

I walk over to the HR woman (who's sharp as a tack but has only been here for about a week) and she has no idea who this is. Neither do other people on the floor. So Gary, if you're reading this, let me know how I can help but remember that not giving me any bloody way to contact you is going to result in me putting a stickie note on my on monitor that reads as follows:
Not doing IT work today. Maybe not tomorrow either. - Mitch

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I am not a Bendy Straw

I am not a Bendy Straw. Sure My Fair Lady can drag me to Yoga class and complain that I can do the Down Dog position while she struggles at it, ignoring the fact that I make her laugh by quietly barking whenever the instructor says, "... and then move into Down Dog."

I no longer scorn the people who are Yoga fanatics because an hour of stretching your body is surprisingly stressful. You don't realize just how out of shape you are until you're told to go through four Yoga positions in a row and you realize by the second one that you can't feel your leg. I'm skinny by nature but that doesn't mean I'm in perfect shape.

As I started looking that first great hurdle of 30 in the eye, I realized that I better whip the body into shape or else my heart would pull an Alien on me by 35. Thus, My Fair Lady picked up a great deal for 24-Hour Fitness (Massacre) through her company and she's making sure the two of us are using it. Try going on little to no exercise for a few years then sit down and ride a stationary bike for a 30 minute cardio workout and you'll know pain. Try a 15-minute ab workout after years of abusing your stomach with Jack in the Box and you'll know embarrassment.

I will soon attain a sleeker and more muscular look though if only through sheer determination. So many people around me seem to be out of shape and content to suck back sodas (while a Dr. Pepper is firmly in my grip) without finding a balance. But if I stay at it then someday, hopefully by this summer, I'll have something to show for it. I am not a Bendy Straw.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

What Will Sony Do?

In case you haven't noticed, the PS3 has been conspicuously absent from anything and everything lately except one thing: A growing sea of doubt.

1Up posted this column about Sony and how their smoke and mirrors act has produced little more than industry-wide skepticism that they still have the golden touch. Sony has a press conference scheduled for tomorrow but no one has any idea of what they will say. Here's the most telling paragraph from the story I just linked to:
Sony would be wise to study history; the console industry experiences a sea of change every decade. Atari more or less created the industry in the mid-70s, only to see its marketshare erode and give way to Nintendo in the mid-80s, who in turn fell behind Sony in the mid-90s. It's been a decade since then, and Microsoft seems a lot hungrier for victory than Sony these days. The 360 is proving to do just about everything right while Sony has offered nothing but cryptic promises.
That sums up Sony's situation in a nutshell. Either they get in the game right frickin' now or they will be left in the dust by Microsoft despite them screwing up repeatedly with the 360 launch. I have yet to see any title for the 360 that I would play repeatedly, let alone my standard five "system sellers" before I buy a console.

It's served me well over the years and will continue to do so because I see absolutely nothing for the 360 that I'm even close to interested in. With that sort of apathy still existant out there, Sony would be wise to kick something in the backside and get things in gear. Sadly, I think hubris and ego might tank this once invulnerable company unless the PS3 is revealed tomorrow as being able to play everything under the sun while making you breakfast and paying your bills.

In which case I say "go Sony go."

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Now Playing: The Fifth Element

The year 1997 was an interesting one for me at the movies. Normally I don't go out to the theater to see one movie several times mainly due to rising costs. As much as I love film, it can be a damn expensive hobby if all you do is sit in the theater which is one reason among many why I and film lovers the world over treat DVD like pure heroin. But 1997 was a little different for me. The year started off with the re-release of the Star Wars trilogy re-mastered and altered by head Jedi George Lucas. I could count on one hand the number of times I'd seen those in the theater so you better believe I watched those a lot. Then in the spring Gross Point Blank came out which I absolutely fell in love with.

But in May, that insane French director Luc Besson let his imagination run completely wild with The Fifth Element and I've watched it religiously ever since. I've been meaning to pick it up on DVD for years but when someone releases enough different versions that I lose track then no matter how much I like the flick I'll say "screw it." Such was the case with this gem, but after finally getting some software installed that lets me watch DVDs on my computer I figured it was high time to pick up the Ultimate Edition.

Which is what I'm watching right now, and it remains gloriously fun. Watching this is like Besson opened a portal straight into his imagination and said, "Come on in." But in French.

Good lord is this movie fun, from the the wild costume designs by Jean-Paul Gaultier to the extremely French soundtrack by frequent Besson collaborator Eric Serra, to Bruce Willis obviously having the time of his life as cab driver/ex-military man Korbin Dallas. He's fortunately backed up by a cast that's having as much fun as he is most notably the great Ian Holm. Holm is flat-out hilarious as extremely nervous priest Vito Cornelius who's known his destiny was coming for 300 years but is terrified of what it means he'll have to do.

And what other movie would have the cojones to cast Tiny Lister as the President of basically everything and Gary Oldman as an art dealer/weapons dealer who based his performance on Ross Perot. Bright colors are everywhere as is eclectic performances, both of which come together in the character of Ruby Rod who proved to be the make-or-break character. Personally I found him hilarious, but he can grate on the nerves if you don't think Chris Tucker is funny.

I do wish the tons of great ideas were followed up on. The ZF-1, for instance, is introduced as the end all-be all of weapons but it shows up only twice. The uber-villain also falls by the wayside because even though it's described as evil incarnate it comes across as a giant fireball with a deep voice.

I do love the site gags like the cigarettes that are 70 percent filter, the mugger, the obvious Star Wars gag(s), and the wickedly cool Diva. There is just too much fun overall to pass this movie up if you haven't seen it. As such, it's going to wind up on loop in my PC everytime I need some creative inspiration.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Now Playing: Elizabethtown

My favorite movie of Cameron Crowe's is Almost Famous. Period, bar none, end of discussion. I guess the reason behind that, other than the note-perfect soundtrack which was a character of its own, was because it felt real, honest, and spoke from the heart about remembering days long passed. Oddly enough, I think he went for the same thing with Elizabethtown and completely missed the mark.

Before I get into what I thought went wrong, let me start by saying the first 20 minutes are so hilariously spot on perfect that there was no way I could keep quiet. Drew Baylor (grimly played by Orlando Bloom) is an engineer at a shoe company who's first solo project has just gone up in flames. Actually, that's putting it kindly. Imagine a nuke going off and that would be more accurate.

Drew walks in knowing full well that his shoe (called the Spasmodica) tanked the company, but he puts his game face on even when taken to see the boss, Phil. Phil is described prior to Baylor actually seeing him and the visuals combined with Bloom's narration had me in hysterics. That was amplified when Phil actually speaks because Alec Baldwin absolutely kills in his five minute role. The way he takes Drew through their facilities talking to him about cutting this program or that program truly nails what it feels like to fail absolutely at anything and Baldwin is brilliant. He's making a career out of appearing briefly only to walk away with the entire show.

Once Drew gets home he plots to kill himself. Being an engineer he can't just take a knife to his wrists though and the contraction he comes up with, that also fails, is truly funny. It's at that point he gets the call that changes the rest of the movie: His dad Mitch died while visiting family in Elizabethtown and his mom and sister want him to go there and retrieve the body. Up to this point, Crowe has me completely interested in Drew's issues but once he hops on that plane we're introduced to the make-or-break character of the entire film: Claire.

As played by Kirsten Dunst, Claire is just as transitory in nature as her job as a flight attendant is. But every time she speaks it feels like Crowe was going for another Penny Lane-type free spirit and here he goes overboard. Personally, I like the heck out of Dunst as an actor but here it feels like she's really trying way, way too hard. I couldn't figure out whether Claire is desperate to connect to someone or desperate to keep everyone at arm's length, and its this contradictory nature that wound up pissing me off about her character.

Once Drew reaches Elizabethtown, Crowe knocks another homerun by absolutely nailing the South and how the large families interact. I have well over 100 cousins and relatives the majority of whom I've met only once or twice in my life. But when those people get together then everyone no matter how remote is treated like immediate family and it was a hoot watching Drew navigate through a sea of people he barely remembers from his childhood.

But then the film periodically crashes and burns by jumping back to Drew's homestead where his mother (Susan Sarandon) is channeling her grief into learning new skills. Every single time we go back there the film comes to a dead stop. But then Drew and Claire talk on the phone all night and the movie gets back on track, right down to introducing a random couple called Chuck & Cindy who are staying in the same hotel as Drew and are getting married in a few days. Guffaws aplenty follow Chuck & Cindy whenever they show up, so the film adds another charm to it.

By the end though, Elizabethtown just kind of wanders around looking to find its way which would be a better metaphor for what Drew feels if it actually, you know, found something. The final road trip sequence is wonderful by itself but feels like it belongs in another movie. Elizabethtown I had high hopes for, and to be fair I enjoyed watching it while sitting with My Fair Lady primarily because she was emotionally freaking out whenever someone on screen talked about Mitch dying and I'd laugh, or give voice to Mitch.

But I'm warped that way.