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12.31.2008

Best of 2008

I meant to post this like, two weeks ago.  Really, I did.  Josh and I have been talking about it since Thanksgiving.  So much for advanced preparation.  Anyway, here is our "Best of '08" post.


So it's the end of another year and that means it's time for the Vanishing Blog Best of 2008 Awards!  Well, I guess they're not really awards, 'cause we're not really awarding anything.  Whatever.  These are the best things of 2008 as judged by Josh and I.  Some of them are predictable, but who cares?

Josh keeps complaining about how he'll lose all his indie-cred because of our music picks, and I keep telling myself that I probably should have seen Slumdog Millionaire because critics won't shut up about it and it may very well deserve a spot on our movies list, but whatever.  We're not professional critics.  We can't listen to every album and watch every movie that comes along, nor would we want to.

As bloggers, it is our responsibility to be unprofessional so that the "real" journalists can keep their jobs.


Music of 2008

Last year we went on and on about how we at the Vanishing Blog don’t really care for most mainstream music.  Consequently, most of the albums on last year’s top 5 were from independent artists no one’s ever heard of.  In an almost complete reversal of that trend, this year we have mostly well-known artists, although some of them are indie.  However, we stand by these choices.  Good music is good music.  It doesn’t matter who produces it.  Shunning something simply because it is popular is irresponsible and just plain silly.

Top 5 Albums of 2008

5.  Fleet Foxes | Fleet Foxes

Josh says:
"Pitchfork gave this a 9.0. I’m going to lead off by saying that I was going to sarcastically quote Pitchfork’s reviews before I wrote my own review, because frankly, Pitchfork is sometimes comically awful in its reviews. However, they seem to have miraculously got this one right. Way to sink my plan, guys.

“Let me begin by saying that I really haven’t heard very many other artists like Fleet Foxes before. The instrumentation is sometimes minimal, while at other times the songs have piano, acoustic guitar, and assorted other instruments. The songs rely heavily on vocal harmonies. If I had to describe the CD, it’d be a soundtrack you’d listen to while driving through a rustic landscape. It’s a very pretty record, and the critics love it for it. I like it a lot for the same reason, but frankly, I think it’s just good music: original, fresh, and endearing. The album is often cryptic lyrically, stringing together sentences randomly, but it sounds so good that I’m willing to forgive the infrequent non-sequiturs.

“What makes the album even more impressive is the fact that they also released an EP of 5 songs, likewise awesome, early in the year. Called the Sun Giant EP, it is also definitely worth a listen.

“In short: beautiful instrumentation and beautiful vocals. I probably enjoyed this record probably the most out of any of these five, it’s just bloody fun to listen to."


4.  Beck | Modern Guilt
Hmm… How to sum this one up?  In Josh's words, "Beck's awesome."  Yeah, pretty much. In Modern Guilt Beck keeps doing what he's always done: building songs around strong beats and riffs.  Beck with the assistance of producer Danger Mouse has distilled his musical essence into this album.  The Guardian called it a "vanity project," but no.  It's just Beck doing what he does best.


3.  Edison Glass | Time is Fiction
Josh says:
"If I had three words to write this review, I would say, 'It’s rather brilliant.' That sums up quite well what I am going to say in the following paragraph. I appreciate albums that have meaning in the songs, especially when I have to work a little to get the meaning out. Time is Fiction is a little hard to access, and you may not appreciated the album if you don’t already appreciate music that doesn’t come right out and say “the point of this song is X.”

“The album opens and throttles you over the head with 'Let Go.' This is pretty much what you’ll get each time a track ends. Edison Glass cuts to the chase musically, while incorporating quite thought provoking and meaningful lyrics. The meaningful, uplifting nature of the music makes it a breath of fresh air. A lot of music today is dark, without point or purpose. Time is Fiction, not so.

“'Jean Valjean' is one of my favorite songs of the year. Its lyrics really struck a chord with me:
It's a battle between just and good
What you know is right
What you know you should
Will good overcome religion?
It's a battle between grace and pride
Will you let it go or draw the knife?
Will grace overcome what was done?
“I enjoy it and recommend you give it a shot as well."


2.  Nine Inch Nails | Ghosts I - IV
Ghosts was a surprise to everyone, including NIN fans.  Josh told me about it one day and the free download of the first 9 tracks helped convince me to buy this experimental instrumental album.

It sounds as if Trent Reznor just went into the studio and recorded whatever the heck came to his mind.  Although according to him the process when like this: "When we started working with the music, we would generally start with a sort of visual reference that we had imagined: a place, or a setting, or a situation. And then attempt to describe that with sound and texture and melody. And treat it, in a sense, as if it were a soundtrack."

The result is a musically diverse, highly original album.  The way Reznor plays around with musical ideas like a kid with ADD has roughly the same effect as classical music in that it stimulates the imagination.  Fortunately, Ghosts is much more accessible to the modern listener than classical music.  These songs will stimulate your imagination if you let them.  It's wonderful music to write to.


1.  Coldplay | Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends

If you are at all shocked or surprise by this selection then you haven't been paying attention.  I mean, we warned you up front that we had some pretty mainstream picks this year.  This might be the most mainstream album release this year.  But like I said: good music is good music.

As I predicted in my "First Impressions" post, this album grew on me.  A lot.  I can now say, without question, that this is Coldplay’s best album and that’s saying a lot.  There are no bad songs on this album (although Josh disagrees: he doesn’t like “Strawberry Swing” for some reason).  Over the many times I’ve listened to it, I’ve never felt the need to skip a track.

Lyrically, musically, and artistically this album’s a winner.  Allegations of plagiarism aside, you have to give Coldplay credit for writing album after album of good, popular music that stands out amongst the throw-away tunes that play adjacent to theirs on the radio.  One day Coldplay might find themselves sweeping the streets they used to own, but right now they rule the world.  Sorry, I just had to throw that on there.  Sounded like something a proper journalist would write.


Honorable Mentions
Anberlin | New Surrender
TV on the Radio | Dear Science
The Killers | Day & Age
Portishead | Third


Song of the Year

Coldplay | Violet Hill
I asked Josh if we should each pick a song of the year.  We didn't do this last year.  I think the idea was to keep it short and sweet or something admirable like that.  But we decided to give it a go this year.  Independently of one another, we both picked Violet Hill.  That's very telling.  For most, Violet Hill was the first song they heard from Viva la Vida and contrary to most people's opinions which have shifted in favor of the title track, it still remains our favorite song from the album.

For me, it captures the revolutionary feel of the album's cover and actually gave me the complete wrong idea of what the album was going to sound like.  Lines like:
When the future's architectured by a carnival of idiots on show you'd better lie low...
perfectly describe my feeling about politics and the world in general right now.  I feel like I'm being taken for a ride.  In bailout package after bailout package my future is begin legislated away.  *sigh*  So, that's kind of a downer, but this has been a downer year with entertainment and real world news.
If you love me, won't you let me know?

Movies of 2008

2007 was an anomaly.  There was an unusually high concentration of good, fun movies to go and see.  Most of them were pretty good.  We had little trouble with a top 5 list last year.  2008 on the other hand...

Yeah, well.  Most of the movies I went to see were disappointments.  Early in the year, Cloverfield was choked by its own hype machine.  It wasn't terrible, in fact, it was fairly inventive and breathed new life into a tired old genre.  But the monster was lame, so that pretty much killed it.

Narnia... ugh.  I don't think I was harsh enough on it in my review.  I wish I hadn't seen it.

I wasn't going to see Iron Man but people raved about it, so I rented it.  Maybe it was somehow way more awesome in theatres; doubt it.  I'm not sure why everyone thought it was so good.   Downy Jr. is in his element playing a formerly drug-addled, playboy hedonist, that's true.  Maybe I just don't "get" this one.  I can't exactly tell you why I don't care for it, but Iron Man was one of the less interesting superhero movies I've seen.  Overwhelming effects; underwhelming story seems to be a common criticism of “blockbuster” movies these days, but I feel like it does truly apply to Iron Man.

Then there was... Indiana Jones 4.  I'm sure a lot of people wish this movie hadn't been made.  Josh hated it.  Particularly the line "The space between spaces..."  I could care less.  In all honesty, it was ok.  I managed to sit though it once in the theatre and once again at home.  I don't care if I never see it again, but it wasn't the abomination described by some.  People who said that are taking the series too seriously.  And look at!  It's Indiana Jones.  Do you think it's meant to be taken seriously?


Wall•E was pretty good - second best movie of the year - but that's to be expected from Pixar.

And that brings to the last movie I saw in theatres this year; the best movie I saw this year.  In fact, it was the best movie in many years and if it doesn't sweep the Academy Awards it will once and for all prove that the Academy are a bunch of head-in-the-clouds, stuck-up, artsy critics.  And that movie is... (say it with me, now): The Dark Knight.
*cue awesome music*


In recent memory, I do not recall another film that has lived up to the massive hype surrounding it like this film has.  Sure, there were critics.  Critics who said that the film took itself too seriously; that it was poorly paced; that the essential idea of a man dressing-up as a bat to fight crime is moronic; that the Joker was too powerful and omnipotent.  There will always be those critics.  Killjoys.

However, this is not their list.  This is our list.  And Josh and I agree that The Dark Knight is, by far, the best film of the year.  In fact, it is the best film in recent memory.  Since its release, I have seen it five times and I’m still excited about watching it again.  I do not recall another movie I have liked as much.

To sum-up: The Dark Knight was awesome.  Everything else kinda stunk.  Except Wall-E.  That was good.  But, yeah, everything else.  Iron Man wasn't as good as advertised.  Indiana Jones 4 proved the critics right.
Don't even get me started on Narnia...

Let us hope for better movies this year.  Yeah, right.




Games of 2008


A new category for this year.  Yes, Josh and I are gamers.  And despite what certain politicians, professors, and doctors would have you believe, video games are not blood-soaked murder simulators.  Games are art just as much as music and film.  In fact, being an interactive medium, they can be even more personal than other forms of art.  These are the top 3 games of 2008: the most engaging; the most artistic; the most fun.

Top 3 Games of 2008

3. Left 4 Dead
On the surface, Valve’s zombie shooter looks much like any other horror game and had it been I wouldn’t have played it.  I certainly don’t go for zombies, blood & guts, or horror.  What intrigued me about L4D was its co-op gameplay.  It forces four players to work together to survive.  With online multiplayer becoming a more eminent component of games, it’s nice to see a game that’s built around the idea of a co-op campaign.  It’s short, but quite repayable due to some good AI, variable difficulties, and different modes of gameplay.

2. World of Goo
Of our top 3 games, this is by far the most accessible.  Everyone can and should play this game, even if you don’t normally play games.  It’s inventive, fun and stimulating.  Its 2008’s Portal.  Play it.  See my video review for more info.

1. Fallout 3
Fallout 3 is an epic game of choices.  This pseudo-FPS RPG features a very immersive world, tons of characters and quests, and one of the best morality systems I’ve ever seen in a game.  To top it all off, the game is HUGE.  You could probably breeze through the main storyline in around 20 to 30 hours, but you won’t.  You’ll almost certainly get caught up in exploring this post-apocalyptic world though if you want to see everything you’ll probably spend a good 150+ hours on this game.  It’s that big.
Fallout 3 is not for everyone.  It certainly warrants the “M” rating for the unfortunate frequency of gore and language.  Plus, the atmosphere of the game can feel overwhelmingly brooding.  You are, after all, wandering around the ruins of Washington D.C.  Still, if you can get past these elements, you’ll discover an incredibly fun game that really makes you think about your actions.  That is all too rare in games these days.


That's all folks!  Let's do this again next year, ok?

12.18.2008

Genres>>Vol. 1>>Post-Rock

I think, in order to get myself to post regularly over the course of next semester, I’m going to do brief posts on different types of music that I’m enjoying at the moment. Not that this is going to blow anyone’s mind, or that I’m going to drastically affect anyone’s tastes, but it will make me feel good, and it shall get me to post more frequently than never (hopefully).

For this first post, I thought I’d explore a genre that I really really like quite a lot. That is, as is evident by the title, Post-Rock. The very term “post-rock” kind of has this rather large debate surrounding it. It’s like bands being defined as emo: practically every other band earns that distinction from someone. Often the bands that are most often thought of as post-rock reject that definition for their music. To keep things simple, for the purposes of this post I will define post-rock as an instrumental genre with little to no sung lyrics, usually guitar and drum based. It’s a bit more than that, though. It’s rather hard to nail down exactly the sound of the genre, even when you’ve given it a good listen (as I have).

My whole experience with post-rock started when I saw the band Explosions In the Sky in a web comic. I looked them up on iTunes, Last.fm, Pandora, and loved it. The whole “no lyrics” thing was kind of a new experience for me. I listened to Explosions when I wrote. One shortfall of their albums was that there were very few songs that I would listen to just for the sake of listening to music. Their music was more for when I needed to concentrate.

The next band I hit up was Do Make Say Think (Last.fm). A friend recommended them. I liked them. A lot. The easiest way to describe their music is softer rock overlaid on top of ambient sounds. It's nice music as well. However, again, I don't really listen to them for the sake of listening to them. I have to be a particular mood.

Then came pretty much one of my new favorite bands. To understand that label, you must realize that the award of Joshua's favorite band cycles around every couple of weeks; however, in order to earn that label, the music must be pretty friggin' incredible (if you will pardon the expression).

I present to you God Is an Astronaut. I pretty much discovered this band on a thread about awesome post-rock. There are very few albums that I like every song on. Even Viva La Vida has a song that I don't like (Strawberry Swing), and almost every album has songs that are weaker in some form or fashion than the other songs on the record.

However, All is Violent, All is Bright, which is God Is an Astronaut's 2003 release, doesn't have a weak song. I've listened to the album around 6 or 7 times straight through, with only some pauses for other music. But, really, it's an incredible album and I think a great introduction to the genre.

//plug for awesome band

Anyhow, give it a listen at least. Maybe buy it. But whatever you do, enjoy.

Other Post-Rock worth mentioning: Sigur Ros (who will be getting their own post, just because they're uber-awesome), Caspian, Mono, This Will Destroy You, and Ef.

12.17.2008

You know I could use somebody.

Hello, again. My name is Joshua. Some of you might remember me.

Now Playing: Use Somebody by Kings of Leon.

Last Movie Watched: The Prestige.

Currently Reading: Let Them In.

It has been a great deal of time since I’ve posted anything meaningful to the blog, and other than the odd recommendation to listen to this song or watch that video, I’ve been silent for the greater part of the latter half of 2008. There are a number of reasonable explanations for this, mainly the fact that school has taken up most of my time over the past 4 months, but I won’t bore you with the trivial details.

The year 2008 was a fairly good one for me. As years go, I think this has been one of my favourites. There were some bitter moments and some major disappointments. There has been sadness, and hurt, and heartache. But as I grow older (unwillingly, of course), I find that the sad serves to make the happy more appreciated, and in many ways, this seems to be sadness’s primary function. So instead of listing the sad parts of this year, I’m going to focus on the happy points. These are listed in the order I thought of them.

1. I graduated. I found out this merely leads to another phase of schooling, but for a couple of months there, the feeling was euphoric.

2. I’ve made a lot of new friends at college…and speaking of which, the whole college experience has been pretty dang awesome.

3. I had a last hurrah with my friends at home, only to find out (wonderfully) that there really isn’t a last hurrah for very good friends.

4. Parties, parties, parties!

5. A couple friends are getting married (you know who you are). According to Emily Post, you should not tell engaged persons “congratulations” as it imparts an impression that you were not expecting them to ever be able to find a spouse, so, “Best wishes.”

6. I got a lot closer to friends.

7. The music that I got in 2008 all makes me very happy. Bands (for me) that I’ve fallen rather in love with: Anathallo, Anberlin (all over again), Coldplay (all over again), The Dears, Deas Vail, Death Cab for Cutie (this entry is actually a little untrue, because I’ve know of Death Cab for a long time, but I always disliked the voice of the singer in the past), Editors, The Hives, House of Heroes, Jonezetta, The Killers (all over again), Kings of Leon, MGMT, Pedro the Lion, and TV on the Radio. That’s just some of them.

8. Being home again.

It’s a rather short list, to be sure, but it’s all I have time for right now. And the list seems to be nice being 8 points long, as it is the year ’08.

12.12.2008

We are humanity.

I'm not quite sure what this video means exactly, but I have a pretty good idea. It is very beautiful and meaningful to me, so I thought I'd share with you. Enjoy--it is a bit long, but it's worth it.

11.18.2008

World of Goo

Now for something a little different: a video review of a new game I've been playing.  For those few readers who don't personally know me: you get to hear my voice for the first time.  Yeah, sorry about that.  I'm afraid I have a radio face and silent film voice.  I'm just lucky that way.

This is my first time attempting such a thing and I may do more videos in the future as I really enjoy this kind of thing and have the equipment.

11.08.2008

The Free Music Revolution

I’ve been meaning to blog on this for quite sometime.

In the past, we’ve done posts artists giving away their music for free.  This approach seems great for indie bands.  Not many people are going to risk buying an album from an artist they’ve never heard of, but if the album is free what have they got to lose?

This is what happened to me with artist Derek Webb.  Back in 2006, Webb decided to give away his album Mockingbird.  All you had to do was share the link with some friends.  The prospect of free music intrigued me (though admittedly, I had also heard of Webb through Caedmon’s Call) so I went and got the album.  After listening to and enjoying Mockingbird I decided to buy some of his other albums.  And just like that, he’d made a fan out of me.  I probably wasn’t his only new fan.  Over the space of three months, 80,000 copies of Mockingbird were downloaded.

For the niche artist, it is arguable that fans are more valuable than actual album sales.  Eventually, fans will become sources of revenue.  Fans will go to shows and buy merchandise and tell their friends.

After the success of the Mockingbird giveaway, Webb co-founded a website called NoiseTrade.com, a site entirely devoted to giving away music.  Sort of.  Actually, to be clear, the deal is this.  You may either pay what you want for a given album or tell five friends about it, the idea being that, “Artists bring good music and an open mind.  Fans bring a few friends or a few bucks.”

NoiseTrade.com is part of a growing trend of artists giving away their music.  Clay Bell, Fono, and Andrew Osenga are just a few artists we’ve mentioned in the past who have given away some of their music for free.

Even some well-known, established bands seem to be tiring of the standard record label method of distribution.  The best example of this is Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want experiment with their latest album In Rainbows.

More recently, Nine Inch Nails decided to give away part of their new instrumental album Ghosts in high-quality (360kbps) DRM-free MP3.  The rest of the album can be purchased for only $5 online (Josh and I both highly recommended this album).

Time will tell how well this distribution model will work.  But for now, I recommend you take advantage of it.  Download some free music; try some new artists; expand your musical horizons.  Support good artists.


Free Music Mentioned:
•    Clay Bell (currently offline)
•    Fono
•    Andrew Osenga (Letters to the Editor I & II)
•    Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I (click on "listen" then "download free" in the pop-up window)
•    NoiseTrade

NoiseTrade Recommendations:
•    Derek Webb – The Ringing Bell
•    Disappointed By Candy – Disappointed By Candy
•    Photoside Café – EP Combo
•    SYNTHAR - Evenings & Weekends
•   Sixpence None the Richer - My Dear Machine EP (yes, they're back)

11.07.2008

Audiosurf

I'm not really into rhythm games.  Guitar Hero, Rock Band, DDR and the like don't do a whole lot for me.  I can see where they would be fun: if you're "playing" along with songs you know, but I hardly ever know any of the music from those games.  Moreover, I don't want to spend $100 or more for fake instruments that only work with on particular series of games.  That, to me, is crazy.

A recent rhythm game called Audiosurf actually takes care of both problems.

Audiosurf looks like a cross between F-Zero and Guitar Hero.  Basically, you control a futuristic race-hover-car thing as it races along a track populated by various color blocks which you collect to increase your score.  Pretty standard for a rhythm game, really.


Here's the cool thing about Audiosurf: you can use play along with almost any music file!  This means you can play through your entire music library (provided it's in a supported format: MP3, MP4, WMA, OGG, CD).

Audiosurf's engine analyzes the sound file and builds a course based upon the song's dynamics.  Slower sections of the song will have you traveling uphill and going more slowly while faster and more intense bits will be quick and exciting.

So what about the price?  It's regularly $10 which isn't bad, but it's currently on sale for $2.49!  No foolin'!  That's cheep enough for an impulse buy!

Audiosurf is only available through Valve Corporation's Steam client which is basically like iTunes for PC Games.  Obviously you'll need a Windows-enable machine to run it (I was going to say "PC," but then I remembered about OSX's Boot Camp).  If nothing else, I recommend you try out the demo (also available through Steam).

Two other cool things about Audiosurf:  One: it's an independent game.  Two: it comes with the Orange Box Soundtrack for free which has some great music in it.

10.30.2008

The Progressive Youth Movement

From the looks of it, we're beginning a long hard slide that won't end soon, especially because those in the lower end of the age range for voters (18-29) are generally more progressive than they have been in the past. Granted, many younger progressives gradually become more conservative over time, but because there is a larger number of young progressives, even if the current trend of gradual change in philosophy holds up, there will be more progressives later as well.
  • Over the past 20 years, an average of 86 percent of young blacks agreed that labor unions are necessary to protect workers, while 72 percent of young whites agreed. Today the gap is just 2 percentage points.
  • Forty-six percent of young Hispanics over the past two decades believed it is the government’s responsibility to ensure a good job and standard of living for all, while just 35 percent of young whites did. Today, the gap is less than 6 percentage points.
  • An average of 55 percent of young blacks and 54 percent of young Hispanics had supported universal health care provided by the government, while 45 percent of young whites held this view. Today, young whites are slightly more supportive of universal government-provided health care than young Hispanics.
  • Over the last two decades, an average of 88 percent of young blacks and 83 percent of young Hispanics thought federal spending for education should be increased, compared to 78 percent of young whites. Today, Millennial generation whites have nearly cut in half the gap between themselves and young blacks and have overtaken Hispanics.
  • An average of 85 percent of blacks, 72 percent of Hispanics, and 51 percent of whites aged 18 to 29 over the past two decades have supported increased federal spending for the poor. Today, whites had reduced the gap with blacks by almost 10 percentage points and had cut it in half with Hispanics.

10.28.2008

VOTE!

This election, get out the vote. Exercise your right. This video, though it has a slight Democrat (or anti-Republican) bent. But still, the message is clear: vote!



I'll let you guys know when I do, and for whom I end up voting.

9.04.2008

Superman gets the reboot. WoW!

During one of my frequent safari-like adventures into the jungle that is Wikipedia, I ran across some rather interesting information.

So, based on the enormous success of The Dark Knight, Warner Bros. has teamed up with Legendary Pictures to give the 70-year-old Superman franchise another go. And guess what? Like James Bond and Batman before him, Superman's going to get rebooted. That's probably what filmmakers should have done in 2006 instead of the relative flop Superman Returns which tried to build upon the storyline of the earlier Christopher Reeve films. Not a good idea. Lex Luthor again? Audiences get tired of the same villain over and over. Even if Heath Ledger were still alive to play the Joker in the next Batman film, I'm not sure I'd want him to.

In similar fashion to The Dark Knight the new film will be named after the superhero's nickname: Man of Steel. That title would have been alright if the Batman franchise hadn't just done the same thing, but it feels like they're trying to imitate Batman a little too much because of it's success.

That's not the only aspect of Batman that will emulated by the new Superman film. It's going to be "darker" too. Go figure. Warner Bros. has stated that "We're going to try to go dark to the extent that the characters allow it." [source] That elicited a strong groan from me when I read it. Indeed, I will groan again now. *Groan...*

It gets worse. Somebody from Legendary Pictures said they'd like to portray Superman as "an angry god." [source]

Now, allow me to get up on a high horse that I shouldn't be riding. I'd don't read comic books. I never watched any of the TV series. Heck, my first real experience with any superhero was when I saw Spider-man. But these characters are part of pop culture and I've been exposed to them as much as anybody.
Batman going dark? I get that. He's always been darker than other superheros with the exception of the campy 60s series. So when the new Batman film series darkened everything a bit more, it made sense. In my experience, Superman's always been a guy in a cape who flies around protecting "truth, justice, and the American way." Or was he?

I read some more on Wikipedia and found out Superman was originally a darker character with looser morals who mostly went after lynch mobs, gangsters and the like. Of course, that was in the 1930s during the Great Depression.

It seems now we are once again headed for depression and film is reflecting this. Since the 90s, action movies especially have become darker and grittier in general. How will Superman adapt to this trend? No idea. It's worked for almost everything else though.



In semi-related news, I stumbled upon another movie in development. Turns out in addition to Man of Steel, Legendary Pictures is also working on a film adaption of the MMORPG World of Warcraft. Now that's funny.

WoW - the movie, will be out next year. *Snicker, snicker*

What to Study?

I have a ten question quiz on 80 pages of a textbook and the first 25 chapters of Genesis tomorrow. That's a lot of material, and not many questions. Augh.

Oh, and, hello again!

9.02.2008

A Post for Posting's Sake?

A blog...?  I have a blog?  Cool.

Yeah, I know that's what it must seem like.  I've been pretty neglectful of this blog lately.  As I explained before, both Josh and I were on a trip which threw us off and now we're both back in school.  He's gonna be busy so I don't expect he'll post much.  Me?  I'm just lazy.  I haven't got a lot going on this semester.  Nevertheless I've managed to waste all my time so far.

Frankly I haven't posted here because I haven't felt like posting anything.  I have no thoughts I want to share; not even any links.  I'm so, so, so, so sick of politics and the news in general.

What's the point of this post then?  Good question.  See the title for a possible answer.  I think maybe the tone and subject of my posts are going to need to change if I am to continue this blog.  It'll probably be a more personal tone.  Less formal, less structured... maybe.  I don't know.  I don't want this thing to die.  It's my longest running blog yet and I aim to keep it going.

So, yeah.  I don't know what I'm doing, basically.  I'll figure something out and hopefully the five people who check this thing will continue to do so.  Thanks, blah, blah, blah, blah...

8.24.2008

A Brief Summary of the Olympics

Hello people.  Just a quick post here.  Quick because I'm hungry and I want to go eat lunch.  Also, I don't much to say.

So, basically I was gone for two weeks (as Josh mentioned) and have been back for about a week and a half.  I've had no compulsion whatsoever to blog and for that I appologize.

I just found this hilarious post on the Woot.com blog entitled: "10 Things To Look For At The Olympic Closing Ceremony."  Although somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it pretty much summarizes my feeling on China hosting the Olympic Games.

Ok, later.  I'ma go eat pizza now.

8.13.2008

A Lot Happened...

...while I was away. Phelps wins golds. Russia invades Georgia. Man.

7.27.2008

the silent witness

sometimes, when I glance at rocks laying about on the ground, I wonder what they've seen. I wonder how many times they have been picked up; how many times the bugs and such, those distinguished creatures that call the underside of the rock home, have been disturbed. how many times have they been thrown? how many countless raindrops have tried and failed to penetrate these rocks' shells?



oddly, the rocks around my house--that is, the one's large enough to be instantly recognizable--feel like friends, old comrades. this one I grabbed from a beach in italy, that one from a beach in san diego. they're old pals, sitting together near the gutter. while the wind blows, the gutter creaks in the wind, scratching slightly the siding on our house. the rust shows through the white paint, revealing some sort of character I never knew that gutter had. the rocks don't mind, they seem to have known for a long time...

7.25.2008

Twisted Logic // WALL•E

So way back in January I posted a music video mashup of I Am Legend. I enjoyed making it so much that I decided to do another. The hard part is paring the right movie and song. If the style and lyrics of the song don't match the style and subject matter of the movie then it obviously won't work too well.

Even before I saw the movie, I was thinking about using the song "Twisted Logic" in conjunction with WALL•E. I think it worked out quite well, actually. Lyrics like "Hundreds of years in the future there could be computers looking for life on Earth" fit perfectly. And the musical atmosphere in this song meshes seamlessly with the space scenes from WALL•E. But, anyways, watch and judge for yourself.

*** Spoiler Warning ***
Don't watch unless you've seen the movie. If you haven't, why not? I recommended it!

7.09.2008

iHate iTunes

That's right. I hate iTunes and yes, I just made a lower-case "i" joke. Where to begin? Well how 'bout I tell you how they just ripped me off? Pretty annoying.

I'm slowly converting to digital music downloads instead of buying CDs. It's cheaper, really. $9.99 as opposed to $13.99 or thereabouts. A few things have kept me from digital music in the past. Quality, for one. DRM, for another. Also I just like to have the physical album, but if it's going to cost me $3 to $5 more then no thanks. iTunes Plus took care of the quality and DRM problems so that's how I've been buying a lot of music lately. In fact, the only way I'll buy an album is if it's iTunes Plus.

Today I was eying an album I had been thinking of purchasing for quite a while. I made sure it was iTunes Plus and clicked "Purchase." After it finished downloading, I tried converting it to MP3. This is another thing I hate about iTunes. Why must it download in AAC, a format that nobody but Apple uses? Answer: Apple doesn't care about your convenience; they do things their way and cuss out anybody who doesn't like it. So I'm trying to convert this album and - oh no - it's DRM'd. That's weird. I made sure to download the iTunes Plus... or did I?

No, apparently there was also a standard version of the album with crummy 128kbps quality and lovely DRM and there was no obvious option to buy one or the other.  Why would anybody want that over the iTunes Plus version?!? They're exactly the same price!!

Of course you can't return digital music. Instead, I had to "upgrade" the album to iTunes Plus which cost a few extra bucks. Lovely.  So in this case, digital music wasn't cheaper.  I still ended up paying about $13.99 for the album.  Thanks iTunes.


I'm seriously considering switching to Amazon MP3 for my digital music needs.  The only thing that keeps me on iTunes is the fact I don't have a credit card on any easy way to buy stuff online.  I've been buying iTunes songs through use of gift cards.  If I could find gift cards for Amazon MP3, I'd be over there so fast...

6.27.2008

Nine for Nine: WALL•E Review

My reviews of Pixar movies are nearly always the same. I explain how the first trailer looked horrible, the second looked better, and the movie was awesome. Same deal here.

This story takes place over 700 years in the future. Earth has been long abandoned by the human race after having been covered in garbage due to excessive consumerism. A fleet of robots designated WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load-Lifer Earth class) was left behind to clean up the mess. By the time the film opens, however, there is only one WALL-E unit still functioning. In the first twenty minutes or so, we get a look at his “life.”

Sometime during those 700 years of cleanup, WALL-E developed a personality. He is intensely curious about the junk he finds lying around and saves the most interesting knick-knacks including a Rubik’s Cube, an iPod, and a VHS tape of the musical Hello, Dolly! From these items he learns a bit about humans or rather the way humans used to be.

What humans have become is an altogether different matter as WALL-E discovers after a space ship lands on Earth delivering a shiny white robot named EVE (I’m not going to explain the acronym as that would give away plot details). WALL-E’s curiosity soon transforms into love, but EVE is beholden to her programming.

I was relieved and surprised that the love story was sweet and touching. It could have very easily been awkward and stupid like, say, the “love story” between Ann Darrow and King Kong, but WALL-E has so much heart that it works. It also helps that they’re both robots.

I’m going to stop telling the story here lest I give something away. I’ve known the basic premise for about a year now and even though it wasn’t a surprise, the beginning was the most delightful part. Since WALL-E is fairly incapable of speech, it almost functions like a silent movie. The visuals tell the story. You learn about the character by watching him. Film is a visual medium and, like good writing, it works best on the principle of “show, don’t tell.” It’s not that the rest of the movie is bad; it’s that WALL-E is such a great character that it’s somewhat disappointing when the plot begins to dictate that other characters must crowd the scene.

I must take a moment to say something about the amazing visuals. Pixar has one-upped themselves yet again. An awesome amount of work must have gone into this movie. The locations are amazing and vast. The animation itself is complex and there’s a lot of it. It’s beautiful.

WALL-E himself is a great character with a lot of heart. He’s the most human character which is an infectious trait. Beyond the obvious cautionary messages about the dangers of excess is the real message of the movie. Excessive consumerism is driven by selfishness and the antidote to selfishness is sacrificial love. WALL-E’s curiosity, innocence, and selflessness give him the ability to love and he passes that knowledge on to directive-focused robots and self-absorbed humans alike.

Unfortunately, the very end of the movie keeps me from giving it five stars. Without giving anything away: too many movies have a strictly happy or sad ending. WALL-E nearly found that sacred middle ground called bittersweet, but they slapped me and my personal preferences in the face with a cheap movie trick instead.

That’s my biggest gripe. So while WALL-E is not a five-star dish like last year's Ratatouille, it’s an above-average Pixar movie and is certainly the best film I’ve seen this year… so far.

Highlights: stunning visuals, WALL-E’s characterization, Oscar-worthy sound design
Disappointments: ending uses trite movie trick, unnecessary usage of "Also sprach Zarathustra"
Best Line: “I don’t want to survive. I want to live!”
Recommendation: If you tend to like Pixar movies: see it. If not, what’s wrong with you?

6.26.2008

(Mostly Portal Inspired) Flash Games

Valve's recent puzzle game, Portal, has really shaken up the gaming world. If you don't know anything about it check out the trailer.



This innovative puzzle mechanic and sense of humor have inspired many other developers. Check out some of the free Flash games I've found. Many of them take hints from Portal while others put new spins on old classics.


Portal: The Flash Version

It is what the title says. Being Flash, it's 2D, of course, but the essential gameplay is the same as the 3D version. It's quite fun, challenging and addictive. Unfortunately, there's no GLaDOS. Oh well. Can't have everything for free.


Shift & Shift 2

Another Portal-esque puzzle game. Although the puzzle solving mechanic is different, it shares Portal's dark sense of humor. Check it out.


Gravitee

Golf meets Super Mario Galaxy. It's golf - in space - with strange physics. Basically you hit the ball from a tee on one planet trying to get it through a wicket on another. Planets have gravitational fields which you factor into your shots. Might sound hard, but it's very, very fun for a golf game.


Tactical Assassin & Tactical Assassin 2


Guns don't kill people. Kids who play violent video games do. So grab your sniper rifle and try out Tactical Assassin. Read the mission briefing and take out the correct stick figure. It's simple, but quite fun and satisfying. Be advised: there is blood.


Contour

You know those marble rolling games where you have tilt the board to get the marble in the hole? Contour is sort of like that. You don't control the ball, you control the course. You have to mold and shape the floor tiles so that the ball rolls into the goal. It's quite challenging.


Epsilon

Portals, wormholes, time manipulation. This one's hard to describe. It takes the Portal concept in a bit of a different direction and adds other elements to it. The result is one of the most satisfying puzzle games since, well... Portal. It looks daunting at first, but the difficulty curve is just right and the game length is just right as well.

6.24.2008

Surgery

I had my wisdom teeth removed yesterday. Now I look like a former prizefighter who took one too many fists to the jaw. I'm on Vicodin for the pain...I thought that stuff was supposed to make you feel loopy or something, but so far all it's made me do is vomit. So, nothing to look forward to there. Frankly, I was a little disappointed that the Vicodin didn't live up to its stereotype, but I suppose it's good to not turn me into a druggie.

That's all for now from my end; I have some posts in the work, and I know I've been silent for a while, but right now I don't feel like doing much on the computer. Time to go watch television.

6.13.2008

"Viva La Vida" First Impressions

Ever since I heard "Violet Hill" I've been anticipating Coldplay's strangely titled new album "Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends" which loosely translates to "Long Live Life! or Look at us, we were trying to be clever with our album title."

The questionable album art represents "Lady" Liberty leading a bunch of dirty peasants to victory during the French revolution (and we all know how well that turned out.) That indicated a revolutionary tone to the album which was definitely backed up by "Violet Hill" containing lyrics like:
"When the future's architectured by a carnival of idiots on show, you'd better lie low"
Nevertheless, I really, really liked "Violet Hill." When the second single "Viva La Vida" was released, it took a decisively different tone not to mention drastically different instrumentation, but I still dug it.

A few days ago, I got an email that said you could listen to the WHOLE ALBUM on Myspace... unless you lived in the US or a few other countries. Great. Thanks for setting me up for the fall. But - wait! - "folks in the US can listen at Iheartmusic.com." Yippie!

So, naturally I immediately clicked on the link and was greeted with a "launch player" style site. Not a good sign. The long and short of it is that I can only get the player to load in Internet Explorer 6 (yes, I tried Firefox, Opera, and even Safari before IE) and even then it takes forever. Try your luck with it here.

Why couldn't it have just been on Myspace? It's an awful site, yes, but Iheartmusic is even worse. Plus it offers you several minor annoyances once you finally get the thing to work, namely ads for "Ice Road Truckers" (what a dumb idea for a TV show.) Oh yeah, once you're done listening to the album, it begins playing a completely different artist (in my case, "Young Jeezy") that I expressed no desire to hear. Bleck.

Ok, let's get to the actual album now.


Up front I'm going to explain that my first impressions of music are rarely my lasting impressions. I thought "X&Y" was a rather lackluster alt rock album the first few times I heard it, but now every song (with the exception of "What If") warrants at least a four-star rating in my library. Even more astounding, the first time I heard Jars of Clay's "If I Left the Zoo" I liked one song and that was it. I now count it as one of my favorite albums and the one song I initially liked isn't even close to the best on the album. Basically, my opinion may change drastically as I listen over the course of this summer, but I thought it would be interesting to write out my initial impressions and see how they compare to my final analysis.

The album opener "Life in Technicolor" (odd to see a British band spelling color without a "u", but Technicolor is a brand name) is an instrumental cut. I really wasn't expecting an instrumental piece from Coldplay. It's a nice intro, but nothing to write home about. It's got a pleasant sound but won't get you excited like you would by listening to other album openers like "Don't Panic" or "Square One."

"Cemertaries of London" has an oddly Western feel. You might not notice it at first, but that's what it is. The tune is like an American Western folk song, but the instrumentation is decidedly alt rock. Interesting cut. Cryptic lyrics, but then again, they told us they would be.

The title "Lost!" for whatever reason really intrigued me. It sounded like like it would have a very interesting message, but honestly, I don't get it. Musically, it sounds like it might have been recorded in a cathedral complete with an organ and effect Arcade Fire fans (Josh) will be familiar with. It's very atmospheric, but somehow in a different way than Coldplay's previous atmospheric songs. As I'm a fan of "big" sounding songs, I am obliged to like it.

"42," yet another reference to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by the band (see also, "Don't Panic") disappointed me only because with the Hitchhiker's reference, I wanted the song to be awesome. It's kind of a two-part song. It begins as one of those insanely cookie-cutter sad piano songs. It's ok, but kind of slow. At the half-way point, the song drastically changes tone. Percussion and electric guitar takes over and turn it into a pretty rockin' song.

I'm biased against this next song, not because I hate Japan or love, but because I hate slashes in song titles. If you can't decided on a title, then don't put it on the album! As it turns out, "Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love" is actually two songs stapled together into one track. I also hate this trend. What if I like the first song, but not the second or vise-versa? I have to skip to the part I want to hear. Just make them two separate tracks! Why not? Once again, I think it is due to "art for art's sake." The song(s) itself is ok but really ought to be cut into two. I like "Lovers in Japan" alright, but "Reign of Love" is kind of unnecessarily slow. It's a good lullaby, I guess. But I don't want to hear lullabies, I want to hear Coldplay.

Can you believe they did it to us twice? "Yes/Chinese Sleep Chant" is yet another sewn together song although this one doesn't need to be separated. It's all good. "Yes" briefly introduces us to the strings which will be playing a big part in the next track before... well, getting weird. The tone is so different from anything previously on the album that it's immediately attention grabbing. The vocals are especially unique for Coldplay. Most of the time Chris Martin is in the low registers which we've rarely heard before. At first you wonder why "Chinese Sleep Chant" is named so. This bit is a sort of lullaby like "Reign of Love," but this time it's awesome and has electric guitars and percussion. Oddly, this instrumentation turns out to be relaxing and pleasant like a nice spring afternoon nap... oh wait a second... it's Coldplay. That's what they're known for.

I saw a commercial for this song last week. I had never seen a whole commercial for a single before. "Viva La Vida" is driven by constant lyrics and bouncy strings. In fact, there's not much else to it. It's good though. A nice change of pace to be sure.

As I said before, I really, really like "Violet Hill." It's one of the best songs on the album although, sadly, it isn't very representative of it. None of the other songs are as driving. It is also the only song that seems to justify that "revolutionary" tone the album cover presents which makes it seem terribly out-of-place with the rest of the songs. Especially when it's adjacent to...

"Strawberry Swing." This is a pretty mellow cut. Very mellow, in fact, but not in a good way. It's probably because it is right after "Violet Hill," otherwise I might not be so indifferent to the track. Album ordering still matters even in the digital music age.

"Death and All His Friends" is the final cut (except for the "secret" track that everybody knows about). It's pretty unimpressive though I have a feeling it'll grow on me. There's nothing special about it. It's pretty typical alt rock.

"The Escapist" is almost equally unimpressive. Fairly bland, really. It's basically an excuse to fade out the album.

Overall, "Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends" is a departure from Coldplay's previous work, though not a revolutionary departure as one might expect from the blasted album art (I know I keep harping on that). They aren't rapping yet: it's still alt rock, and though I can't pinpoint it, there is something different about this release. Perhaps it is more ethereal; more hazy; more cryptic. At times it feels like Coldplay is merely doing things for the sake of being "artsy" rather than following their own stylistic leanings. Perhaps that explains all the slashes in the song titles, the "filler" nature of some of the songs and that unnecessary album cover. Nevertheless, there is definitely more good than mediocre here; plus these are merely my impressions. My first impressions.

The album is already out in some countries, but we Americans have to wait until the 17th perhaps as punishment for not having completely adopted free trade. I can't think of any other reason Coldplay would hate us so much.

6.09.2008

Movie Anticipation

I found this "special preview" of the upcoming Pixar movie WALLE. I've been most curious about this movie ever after I saw the first teaser last year and trailers have been increasingly better since. It's certainly clear that WALLE is Pixar's most odd film to date. Early reports have stated that there is no speaking at all during the first 30 minutes and that it all plays out almost like a silent film. If that is truly the case, I wonder how audiences will react. In a wasteland of sequels and remakes, it looks as if Pixar is once again offering something fresh and different. Watch and judge for yourself.

To anyone that cares: I saw Indiana Jones weeks ago, but still haven't gotten around to posting my review. Sorry about that. Hopefully I'll have it up soon.


*** UPDATE ***

Since Disney apparently thinks the best way to promote their movie is to remove their own promotions from the internet and I cannot seem to find the clip anywhere else, I suppose I'll have to describe it for any interested parties.

The scene began with WALL-E and EVE (that's the Apple-white "girl" robot from the trailer) on a huge spaceship or space station called the Axiom. WALL-E accidentally gets shot out of an escape pod which has its self-destruct mechanism activated. WALL-E looks frantically about the cabin for an escape hatch. EVE goes into space after WALL-E only to see the pod explode a moment later. Of course WALL-E is fine and comes floating out of the debris being propelled with the use of a fire extinguisher which is a pretty interesting effect.

The thing that most interested me about the preview was the robots' "speech". They don't with the usual computer voices like HAL, rather they communicate with single words in correspondence with action. And they aren't actually synthesizing words, but creating them out of pitches in the same way that WALL-E says his name in the trailers. It's very interesting sound design by Ben Burtt who also created the "voice" of R2-D2. I'm looking forward to more of this in the film.

That's basically where the clip ends. Maybe you just had to see it. I'm looking forward to seeing the whole thing on the 27th.

5.21.2008

Soap & Water

This is the back of a package of hand wipes. Seriously. Did anybody with Sanfacon read this?

5.18.2008

Firefox 3 First Impressions

I've been test-driving Firefox 3 Beta 5 for about a week now. Those who got on board with earlier betas claimed it loaded pages quicker and was less CPU and memory intensive. With that in mind, I expected to be impressed by the performance since I knew there weren't any drastic changes in user interface.

Overall, it does seem a little faster. There's a new page rendering engine which seems to do a better job with AJAX pages such as Google Docs, Facebook and web-based mail applications. Page layouts appear instantly. The speed of a page's content seems dependent only on the speed of your connection.

On the UI side of things there are a few minor changes. There has been a slight graphical update with nice but subtle visual effects like tabs that glow when moused-over. Depending on what OS you are running, Firefox will be skinned to match by default.

Bookmark organization has been improved. Now you click the star icon in the address bar toquickly add bookmarks. Unfortunately, unless you specify a location by clicking twice and going through a bit more hassel, these bookmarks only show up under "Smart Bookmarks" in the bookmarks toolbar.

Pages can now be scaled by pressing "Ctrl +" or "Ctrl -". These hotkeys used to increse or decrease the text size only, but now it will scale the entire page much like the iPhone.

On interesting feature that is being overlooked is drag-and-drop text and images. I've only seen this feature done in Opera (and it only works with images and links there). Bascially, you can highlight some text then drag and drop it into a word processor or whereever you want. Maybe it's not that useful but it looks cool. Try it and see what I mean.

I'd don't use many add-ons, but my favorite "Adblock Plus" works fine with the new version. Bookmarks, RSS feeds and other preferences also seamlessly transfered to Firefox 3. No surpize there.

Overall, Firefox 3 looks like a modest update to an already superb browser. Clearly the Mozilla team tried to address the biggest complaints about Version 2 and for the most part they have succeded.

Release Candidate 1 is out now. You can download it here. The final version is expected to drop sometime in June, but I see no reason not upgrade right now.


** Update **
Firefox RC 1 has some issues with the new Facebook Chat. That's odd because there was no problem with Beta 5. I actually don't care at all since Facebook Chat is just another annoying feature nobody was asking for. I'm sure it will be fixed in the final release for those who care.

5.16.2008

Prince Caspian Review

Note: this review is written for those who have read the book or otherwise know the story. For those who haven’t: be forewarned that it is riddled with SPOILERS.

When I went to see the Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe back in 2005, I had a healthy amount of skepticism as to how good an adaptation it would be. Having come on the heals of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy I knew how wonderful it was when an adaptation was done properly and how sad it was when they strayed too far. But I thought that, if nothing else, it would be better than the awful BBC version from the 80s.

Fortunately, it was a lot better. Although it had a lot of problems, it was a pretty decent telling of the story overall. For the most part I liked the visuals, I liked the portrayals of the characters, and the presentation was fine though a bit overdone.

I am sorry I cannot say the same thing about Prince Caspian. There are two ways of looking at the movie: as an adaptation of the book or simply as a movie.

Let’s look at it as an adaptation first.

It seems like the filmmakers took the book, sliced it into little pieces and re-arranged them into something that vaguely resembles C.S. Lewis’s story.

Some of the best moments from the book are either glossed over, altered, or made insignificant. Trumpkin doesn’t tell the Pevensies the story of Caspian, rather the film opens with Miraz’s son being born which causing Caspian to flee for his life. Any events before that, like his meetings with Dr. Cornelius, are only hinted at. When the Pevensies first arrive in Narnia they seem to know instantly where they are, what they should do, and they don’t seem to have any problem with the time difference between our world and Narnia. In fact, it isn’t directly addressed at any time in the movie. The desperate council of war at Aslan’s How is so dramatically different as to be unrecognizable.

The largest departure from the book, however, is the portrayal of the characters. Instead of acting like a High King, Peter is a selfish, arrogant jerk who insists on making poor decisions. It is apparent from the moment he is introduced that this is how they are going to play the character. Edmund, on the other hand, has become a mediator and peacemaker much like Peter was in Wardrobe.

Caspian is great until he meets the Pevensies which, because this is a movie, happens much sooner than in the book. Naturally, somebody thought it would be a good idea to have Caspian and Peter clash. It makes some sense, but is a needless deviation from the book. It leads to gratuitous battle sequences and pointless drama. At times it feels like a soap-opera. Adding to that feel is an actual romance between Susan and Caspian which, as we all know, can’t go anywhere. As Susan points out in a moderately funny, but out-of-place line “I am 1300 years older than you.” Lucy, fortunately, is just right. She’s still played as the cute little girl with “faith like a child” which is precisely the character I remember from the book.

The supporting characters are very supporting. They seem to fall pretty far into the background sometimes. Trufflehunter and Nikabrik’s roles have been massively downsized. You will either find Reepicheep just right or too cartoonish. Trumpkin is more curmudgeonly than I remember.

As an adaptation, Prince Caspian drifts painfully far from the book. Even if you haven’t read it in awhile (and I haven’t read it for a good six or seven years) you will probably recall enough of the book to know it’s not quite right. Besides, the film is too dark overall to really resemble the beloved children’s classic.

Nitpicky fanboyism aside, how does it fare as just a movie? Frankly it’s no better. It falls into a lot of modern movie clichés and because of that, you are constantly being reminded that you are watching a movie and a fairly predictable one at that.

All the problems of the first film are present here only they are amplified. The dialogue has been somewhat modernized. Characters are very “quippy” if you know what I mean. They toss one-liners around, throw lines back at one another, and don’t speak as you’d expect. Characters sound altogether too much like they’re in a movie.

The pacing is all wrong too. Occasionally it is too slow, but most of the time it moves far too quickly. Often new characters will be introduced, sometimes several at a time, and their names are only mentioned once. Good luck catching them. If I hadn’t known the book, I would have been rather confused. Important plot points seem rushed or glossed over. Characters seem to instantly appear at the convenience of the plot.

Like the first film, it tries a bit too hard to be “Lord of the Rings, Jr.” There are more sweeping, epic helicopter shots. More use of slow-motion. More dramatic moments: if someone isn’t hanging over the edge of a bottomless pit or about to have their head chopped off – well they jolly well are going to get into trouble soon! The filmmakers seem to think that a scene without visible physical tension and drama is a scene that’s scarcely worth shooting.

Then there are the numerous battles and fight sequences ranging from fistfights to sieges. There are lots of minor scrapes and tussles like when Lucy discovers a wild non-talking bear or when, for no reason at all, Trumpkin swordfights Edmund upon their first meeting. There is an utterly unnecessary scene in which the Narnians attempt to raid Miraz’s castle – a futile task – not because is isn’t possible, but because the flawed, jerky version of Peter suggested it and he has to learn his lesson. Even while in England, there is a fight sequence. I was sick of them about half-way through the film.

There is one utterly laughable scene in which Caspian is surrounded by Narnians who are ready to kill him because they are convinced he is an evil Telmarine. He doesn’t really do anything to convince them otherwise, but by the end of the brief scene they are ready to call him King.

Were there any positives about this movie? Sure. The visuals were excellent. It was great to see how the Pevensies were transported to Narnia from the train platform. Miraz and the Telmarines have a Spanish conquistador look (and accent to match) that works just right for them. Miraz himself is a better villain than the White Witch. He seems more cunning and brutal which matches the tone of the film. Also, he’s not constantly spouting horribly cheesy lines.

Now, even though I darn near hated this movie, I am looking forward to the next Narnia film: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader which is more of an adventure story and should adapt to well to the visual medium of film. Plus, it introduces Eustace and (most importantly) sets-up my favorite Narnia story: The Silver Chair. Dawn Treader will be directed by Michael Apted who is responsible for the Bond film The World is Not Enough and last year’s Amazing Grace. Frankly I don’t care if all he’s ever done is cereal commercials. Anybody will be better than Andrew Adamson. Unfortunately we have to wait until May of 2010 to find out how much better.

5.14.2008

Oh, Hullo!

Ohmygoodness! I have a blog? I have a blog! Wow... that's exciting... and frightening. Not having blogged in over a month feels sort of like I haven't been paying child support. Is that metaphor funny to anyone? Thought not. I apologize.

Fortunately, the summer movie season has kicked off apparently with Iron Man which I have not seen, but it has gotten surprisingly good reviews so I may. I am planning on going to Prince Caspian, Indiana Jones 4, WALL-E, and The Dark Knight this summer so look for reviews of those beginning soon.

I expect to like Indiana Jones and The Dark Knight quite a bit. I'm not sure about the others. WALL-E is going to be the strangest Pixar film ever and (I've said this a lot and been wrong) it could be Pixar's first flop. I actually don't expect to like Prince Caspian that much. But I am obligated to see it as someone who has fond childhood memories of the book, right? We shall see.

I haven't really felt like blogging about anything else. I am absolutely bored of politics. It looks like Obama has the Democratic nomination all wrapped up which basically means he wins on his age and vibrancy alone. Voters are so stupid. So there you go: I called it right here and now. Get ready to say "President Obama."

And now summer's beginning. Yay. Either that means I will be blogging a lot more or a lot less.

4.06.2008

Free Programs 2.0: Trick Out Your PC Somemore

Aww yeah. More free stuff!

Last year, I did a post on free software. Since then, I have discovered even more free and useful programs. Here are are the best ones:


Skype

Basic usage of this program is free, although there are some pay features. Fortunately, Skype never pressures you to into using them.

Skype is basically a VOiP (voice-over IP) and chat client. It quickly became my primary IM client because of its clean, no-hassles interface. It seems to have a lot fewer problems than chat programs I've used in the past like Yahoo!, AIM, and Trillian. Also, it has excellent voice chatting capabilities.

If you're dissatisfied with your current IM client, try Skype. Unfortunately, you'll have to get some friends to use it as well or there's no point.


Inkscape

This is a vector graphics drawing program. What are vector graphics? Normally, images are represented by groups of pixels which collectively make up and image. Vector graphics use geometric values to make images. Practically speaking, this means you can scale vector graphics to any size without loss of quality. Better explanation here.

Inkscape is great if you are working with SVGs or designing a logo. I recently re-rendered my own personal insignia using Inkscape.


MediaCoder

If you've ever needed to convert one file type to another, then you've needed this program. MediaCoder is a free transcoding program with a wide variety of options for converting video and audio formats. Very useful in certain circumstances.


Notepad++

In similar fashion to Paint.NET, someone decided to take a basic program (Notepad, in this case) and make it way, way better. The result is Notepad++ a source code editor. I used it recently when coding a website from scratch. The syntax highlighting makes coding a lot more pleasant. It recognizes a wide variety of languages from C++ to Python to HTML and many others.


Rocket Dock

Last up is a program is use every single day. It's Rocket Dock which is one of many dock applications for Windows. A dock is basically a quick launchbar which can placed the bottom, top, or sides of the screen. You can drag-and-drop any file, folder, or application on to the dock and it will make a shortcut. That's a great way to de-clutter your desktop! To save space on your screen, you can hide the dock and have it appear only when you hover your mouse near the side of the screen you have chosen to place it on.

It is difficult to describe exactly what using a dock is like, so just try it yourself. It's a great piece of user interface.