Thursday, December 20, 2007

I Am Legend

First things first, I am Legend is a legit film. I'm as surprised as you are. I know it's barely fresh (60%?) and some of the critics say it derails around the 3rd act but I disagree. This film is solid from start to finish. Will Smith is not really a Denzel-level actor but he gets the job done here. I was actually mildly disappointed the film didn't collapse like Saw, but I think my enjoyment of the film outweighs my disappointment.

The plot is almost the same as The Omega Man, the 2nd film based on the novel by Richard Matheson. Robert Neville is (as far as he knows) the last normal man on Earth. This is the end result of a lethal virus that killed over 90% of the World's Population. Those the virus did not kill turned into zombie-vampire like beings. Neville searches for a cure in NYC while fighting off the infected as well his increasing loneliness and isolation.

My main problem with this film is that the infected are all CG. It made it look like a video game but I guess to the average person this is "cool" and they don't think about video games. I felt the infected would have worked better if the film had stuck with actors in makeup but I suppose CG is the wave of the future and whatnot. At least I got to see what Resident Evil would be like if Will Smith starred in a game.

The only thing that could've made this film better was if Will Smith uttered his trademark phrase. I would also have accepted a music video / rap song about I Am Legend; it totally could've been the next Thriller!

Joking aside, I would definitely recommend seeing this film. The third time's the charm (sorry Vincent Price and Charlton Heston.)

Also, while there is a Dark Knight trailer before the regular version, if you go to an IMAX screening you will get the first 6 minutes of the film. You'll get to see the Joker's henchmen rob a bank. Needless to say, hilarity ensues! This film looks great and I'm already psyched for this summer.

Friday, December 14, 2007

C.A.R.: Juno

(Capsule Arthouse Reviews are my attempt to better myself and practice movie snobbery by watching less mainstream movies and more independent films. Not a true review, they're mainly my thoughts on various small run films. I still give an opinion about whether the film is worth watching or not, but keep in mind my cinema taste is janky at best. You can also expect mild spoilers so beware.)

Juno is a quirky, darkly humorous film in the vein of Thank You For Smoking and Napoelon Dynamite. It's a film about a teenager who has an unplanned pregnancy and decides to deliver the baby as well as put it up for adoption. The twist is that she goes out "shopping" for the kid's adoptive parents and ends up intertwined in their lives.

The acting in this film is surprisingly good. Yes, Michael Cera plays his usual role: an awkward teenager. (His role in this film is probably his most serious one yet though that isn't saying much.) Jason Bateman is also in his usual role of a supporting character. By far the best performance comes from Jennifer Garner of all people, who apparently can act when she's not busy starring in moremainstream fare. As the titular character, Ellen Page's performance is the glue that holds this film together. She's amazing in this and is able to lend realism to a smart alec teen who is dealing with a situation way above her maturity.

The humor is really hit or miss but to someone who is not quite in sync with popular tastes it works for me. I love quirky/random humor and random pop culture references so this film is perfect for me since it has tons of both. In addition the film also has a heaping of dark/gallows humor which I'm finding I love as I get older.

Unfortunately, not everything is great about this film though. The soundtrack really annoyed me and jarred me out of the movie at points. It's a lot of indie/folk music that I felt didn't really belong in the movie. Or perhaps I just can't appreciate it. Indie music is already a plot point in this film; I didn't need weird folk music over some of the scenes.

I enjoyed the ending to this film as well, which felt genuine and was not a cop out. I especially like how just like Thank You For Smoking, the film doesn't have a storybook ending

I would give Juno a 7.5-8 out of 10, which is good enough to recommend in my book. It's definitely one of the more unique films out there.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

C.A.R.: No Country For Old Men



(Capsule Arthouse Reviews are my attempt to better myself and practice movie snobbery by watching less mainstream movies and more independent films. Not a true review, they're mainly my thoughts on various small run films. I still give an opinion about whether the film is worth watching or not, but keep in mind my cinema taste is janky at best. You can also expect mild spoilers so beware.)

No Country For Old Men fills me with a lot of conflicting thoughts. On one hand, this film is currently one of the highest rated movies over at IMDB. It's definitely a good film, but I'm not sure it warrants the 9.0 or so it currently has over there. (Keep in mind that I have not read the book this film is adapted from.)

Like Lust, Caution, this film does a great job at transporting the viewer to a different time and place, namely 1980s Texas. It actually took me a while to realize this film is even set in the past, due to the fact that I have never been to modern day Texas. The film is set in what appears to be smaller town/cities located near the Mexican border.

What I found particularly interesting about this film is how (like American Gangster) it encourages the audience to emphasize and root for individuals on the wrong side of the law. I suppose you could argue that the protagonist of the film, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) wasn't truly on the wrong side of the law. However in taking the drug money he clearly crosses the line. The assassin, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is portrayed as a strong, virtually unstoppable force in clear contrast to the aging, increasingly powerless Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). On a certain level you have to admire Chigurh for sticking to his (twisted) ideals of fate and murder. He is the only character in this film who refuses to compromise.

Texas slang and accents aside, there are several times during the film in which I felt pretty lost. Chief among them is the motel confrontation scene when Ed Tom Bell may or may not have been in the same room as Anton Chigurh. I guess I could chalk this up to not having read the book, but I feel a good adaptation should not require reading the source book. The Harry Potter series of films are excellent in this regard, but they do not revolve around adult themes like No Country For Old Men.

One thing I found surprising about this film was the high body count. I suppose I'm stereotyping arthouse films, but the body count in this film easily reaches the double digits. While certainly not a focus of the film, the weaponry Chigurh uses adds to his appeal. Most of his victims fall to a silenced shotgun, something I have not seen in films for quite a while, though the film IS set in the 80s. In a super cool and original touch, Chigurh also uses a captive bolt pistol to not only kill people but blow out deadlocks to gain entry to rooms.

A lot of people are complaining about the ending to this film, but I think it's fitting. The whole point to this film is that there's really little to no point in life and getting old only highlights that. Ed Tom Bell discussing his dreams at the very end reveal the central themes of the movie though I felt his conversation with another old guy was more poignant.

Would I recommend seeing this film despite my doubts about its IMDB rating? A resounding yes; this is a good film. It may be over hyped, but that doesn't mean it's not worth watching. A friend of mine pointed out to me there is no soundtrack to this film, and that alone is amazing because I certainly never noticed this during my viewing. That this film can convey its characters and theme without any music whatsoever speaks volumes about how highly crafted it is. I can totally see why people are fans of the Cohen brothers now.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pacific Media Expo

My article on Pacific Media Expo is up at Flippersmack. It's shorter this time around because I only went for one day and PMX is a smaller con.

Friday, November 9, 2007

C.A.R.: Lions For Lambs

(Capsule Arthouse Reviews are my attempt to better myself and practice movie snobbery by watching less mainstream movies and more independent films. Not a true review, they're mainly my thoughts on various small run films. I still give an opinion about whether the film is worth watching or not, but keep in mind my cinema taste is janky at best. You can also expect mild spoilers so beware.)

I recently attended a free screening of Lions For Lambs because several scenes were filmed at Pitzer College. It's been a while since I've seen a film that has left me so conflicted. Lions for Lambs has a lot going for it, but it also has some serious flaws. I'm not sure what to make of the finished product.

Lions for Lambs is political thriller that ties in with the War on Terror. It's about three seemingly separate story lines that end up interweaving with each other. Journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) interviews up and coming presidential hopeful Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) on a new offensive in Afghanistan. We see the results of this military plan firsthand through Arian (Derek Luke) and Ernest (Michael Peña). Meanwhile, college professor Dr. Malley tries to convince a slacker student to be more politically active like Arian and Ernest (his former students) did.

Robert Redford directs, stars, and produces this film based upon his belief that college student activism is in a state of crisis. The film definitely reflects this idea, with the central theme essentially boiling down to "You may not change anything, but it's better to try and fail that not try at all." The realist in me finds issue with this, but upon thinking about it more I find it quite profound.

There are several things I like about this film, chief among them the fact that the film is actually non-partisan. I walked into this film expecting a super liberal, pro-Democratic film that would demonize Cruise's character. Imagine my surprise when this turned out not to be the case. I'll admit the film probably skews slightly liberal, but it is made by Robert Redford so that's probably unavoidable.

Another great aspect of this film was the casting. Streep and Redford turn in good performances but Tom Cruise is perfectly cast as the super slick, charismatic Senator with a possible sinister side. It's a role that really meshes with him due to (unfortunately?) his personal life. (A life that seems to bleed onto every project he gets involved in.) Regardless, he's still a solid actor and his performance here is worth watching.

My problem with Lions for Lambs is that the film feels somewhat disjointed. The plots are inter weaved but it's somewhat jarring jumping back and forth in time and space. Other films such as Pulp Fiction have done this well, but unfortunately Lions for Lambs lacks cohesion.

I also take particular offense in college students being portrayed as "low rent Stifflers" (from American Pie). I'm fairly certain not every Southern California student is like this, but at least the student in this film has "potential". He's easily the most cliche character in the plot.

Finally, the message of this film is downright depressing. For a film that is supposed to inspire people to take action I was actually inspired NOT to take action. The ending, while based wholly in reality, inspires a sense of hopelessness. I wonder whether or not the ending should have diverged from reality. Still, I have to admire a film that has such a bleak message and factual ending.

I suppose Lions for Lambs is one of those films that I feel everyone should watch, even if it's not great. I suggest renting this instead of seeing it in the theater though. I'm fairly certain most of my age group is going to avoid this film like a cinematic plague and that fact alone says a lot about why this film is necessary.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

C.A.R.: Lust, Caution

(Capsule Arthouse Reviews are my attempt to better myself and practice movie snobbery by watching less mainstream movies and more independent films. Not a true review, they're mainly my thoughts on various small run films. I still give an opinion about whether the film is worth watching or not, but keep in mind my cinema taste is janky at best. You can also expect mild spoilers so beware.) The controversy over Lust, Caution (Se jie) which is rated NC-17 for hardcore sex scenes reminds me of the controversy over Manhunt 2. The media is hyping this up way more than the actual movie goers and gamers are. (I don't know anyone who is excited about Manhunt 2 in this crazy holiday season of AAA gold titles such as Halo 3, Rockband, Bioshock and the like.) At the matinée I went to the audience was easily made up of people over twice my age. They didn't seem to mind the sex scenes at all.

I find the whole brouhaha over the sex scenes interesting. I think we all know that if say, Uwe Boll put in such graphic scenes in one of his films there'd be no way he could get away with it. I suppose such is the power of being a "legit" filmmaker. I only wish Ang Lee could have convinced me that this film NEEDED these graphic sex scenes. The whole thing feels like a publicity stunt to me. People say Ang Lee sold out on the Hulk (or even Brokeback Mountain) but I'm convinced he sold out on this film.

Like every Ang Lee film I've seen, Lust, Caution is too long. It's over two and a half hours and the film drags in the middle. It's almost like the sex scenes are there just so you don't fall asleep (people in my theater did anyways). I'm also willing to ignore the fact that the plot is super hackneyed because great films have been made with hackneyed plots (Reservior Dogs and The Departed, both American remakes come to mind).

That being said I did enjoy some parts of Lust, Cuation. The costume and set design is top notch. There are parts of this film that play like a black comedy, one of my favorite genres. It's also one of those great, "Bitch got me again!" films (watch it and you'll see what I mean).

I'm not certain if all these positives can outweigh the one big negative in this film: the rampant misogyny. I'm not sure if this is just because something was lost in translation or if it's because I'm simply too Westernized, but I found the treatment of women, especially the main character really disturbing. Like Saving Private Ryan and Lions for Lambs the message of the film seems counter to what you would think. Apparently, raping a semi-willing woman is the way to her heart. Who knew this film would even up being like an Asian prono? (Remember, it's not rape, it's surprise sex!) Or perhaps I'm just too sensitive and prudish for an NC-17 arthouse film?

All this adds up to a throughly mediocre film. I expected better from Ang Lee and unfortunately I can't recommend seeing this film. Thumbs down indeed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

E For All Parts 2-4

Parts 2, 3 and 4 of my E For All Article are up.

Friday, October 26, 2007

E For All Part 1

I wrote an E For All article for Flippersmack, you can check it out here. I believe it will be about 4 parts or so. Hopefully I'll be able to write articles for other conventions in the future.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Fogo De Chao

Recently I dined at Fogo De Chao, a Brazilian all you can eat BBQ-place. There are quite a few around in Southern California but according to Yelp, Fogo is supposed to be the best. It should also come as no surprise that it's the most expensive.

After dining there I emailed a total of 9 people in my party and asked some questions about their opinion of the place.

Here are the questions I asked:

  1. Did you like it or dislike it over all? (This is a binary question; pretend this is Rotten Tomatoes and you can only choose thumbs up or thumbs down)
  2. Would you go back?
  3. Any other comments?
As of this post here are the results:

For question #1 the tally is: 4-4-1, so there are definitely mixed opinions.

For question #2 the tally is: 5-3-1, with a clear majority not willing to go back.

There was a lot of agreement in that the desserts were good though...so I guess the night wasn't a total bust. And hey people had my sparkling personality and Terry wearing a dress shirt instead of a basketball jersey to entertain them the entire evening.

Most of the responses were brief but there were some choice comments I'd like to share:

Warren Wrote:

"The beef was some of the most delicious stuff I have ever eaten. The sides were also very good and the dessert was tasty."

Ainsley wrote:

"The meat was salty. However, I've read that adding salt to the surface of meat pulls out a layer of protein, allowing you to make that crusty outer later that is the best part of the beef. However, the way that they serve it (just the outer pieces) makes it even more salty, since you don't have the unseasoned center meat to balance it out. The choice pieces were quite good, and I was willing to wait for them to come around (sirloin = lose).

I thought the salad bar was awesome. It went a long way to mellowing out the saltness of the meat. The sides that came to the table had a similar effect for me. Plantains!

I thought the service was good, but that is to be expected from a $60+ meal.

All that said, it's unlikely that I would go back. I just don't feel very good after eating that much meat, and for that price I think I would be much happier ordering a 12 oz $40 dollar steak plus sides at a nice steakhouse. The quality of the meat will be even better and I won't be left feeling slightly sick after. I pretty much feel that way about every all-you-can-eat place now though."

Wei wrote:

"What I found memorable was the cheese bread and desert. I am not going back just to eat those two. The wine was okay, nothing so special I can't get from Trader Joe's. For the price paid and factoring in atmosphere and presentation, it was not impressive. Now considering logistics, the location was inconvenient and the parking accommodations were mediocre at best. I would not suggest to go there, there are other Brazilian places in our area, why drive out there?"

Finally Masa gets the food snob / Haterade (TM) reward for the most negative review:

"1) Disliked it. 10000% of your daily allowance of sodium for the loss. They never give you the raw part of the meat, and try to give you the shitty scraps nobody wants. That's the kind of treatment you should expect at a $8 a plate place, not when you're spending over $60 on a meal.

2) Never. If someone else offered to pay I would just suggest another restaurant, like Gyukaku next door.

3) Yeah it was an experience to say the least, and I'm still glad I went (and was able to do so with good company). I seriously wonder about people who keep on coming back to this place, though. "

Here's my response:

"1) I thought it was ok. Not particularly worth my $$$ since I don't eat beef...in other words THUMBS DOWN.

2) I would NOT go back unless someone else paid for me.

3) This place really is a beating if you're a vegetarian or don't eat beef. I find it extremely sad that the side dishes were better than the meat. I'm reminded of the Phantom Console and how the controller was the high point of the system!"

All in all, it was an interesting experience and I'm still glad I was finally able to go. Next time I'm in the area though I'd rather check out The Stinking Rose. That name is jankalicious!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Halo 3: Finish the Hype!

Well, I finished the fight; I beat the Halo 3 single player campaign over the weekend. It's about what you would expect. The Halo games have never really been known for their single player experience and I feel that's accurate. This time around there's 4-player on and off-line co-op. That's a good addition. In terms of an overall plot arc, I guess Bungie delivered even if the plot as a whole was jumbled and hackneyed. But hey, Master Chief and the Arbiter have a TEAM UP just like Charles Bronson and the Stupid Chief (TM) in Death Wish 3! What more can one truly ask for in a sci-fi FPS?

Ok so Halo is really about the multiplayer experience. I can dig that. Halo 3 definitely delivers in this regard. This time around there are whole new game modes, weapons and vehicles. That's to be expected though, as Halo 2 did the same thing.

The crown jewel in Halo 3 is the addition of a mode similar to YouTube. Basically, every game you play is automatically recorded for playback later. You can watch these saved clips later and edit them. The editing tools are quite good for a console. Even better, you can upload your videos and share them among the community. I've already downloaded some of my Internet friends' videos and they're great for learning or laughing at. Good times indeed. (Of course the machinima possibilities are endless as well.)

There's also a new mode called "Forge". It's essentially a real time map editor. You load up maps and can spawn items or other things and dick around with them. (Each item deducts from the total "funds" of a given stage; when you run out of funds you have to destroy items to get more.) You can save these custom maps you create and share them. It's definitely unique for a console FPS and I'm curious to see how much the community utilizes this.

It's clear that Bungie spent a lot of development time figuring out ways to promote the Halo community, and that's definitely a smart thing. I can't think of any other franchise that appeals to such a large and diverse fanbase besides Halo. Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Dragon Quest, they all don't even come close. I think Madden is probably the only thing that can beat Halo and even then I think Halo has more hardcore fans. There has to be someone out there buying all the ridiculous merchandise right? I mean not everyone is buying Gamer Fuel for the taste right?

Now that I've got all the praise out of the way, I can get to the problem with Halo 3: it's not that original. It really feels like Halo 2.5. The graphics are great in places (like the lighting) but I feel games like Gears of War and Bioshock look better as a whole. (Though Halo obviously has to support multiplayer and with more players than Gears of War.) The whole Halo YouTube feature is great but it really doesn't add to the core gameplay. Halo 2 added duel wielding which was a good twist on Halo 1. Halo 3 doesn't really add anything on the same level. The game is still great, but I feel like Bioshock is easily twice the game Halo is just because it's more original despite being a spiritual successor to the System Shock series. I'm reminded of Diablo 2, which is easily Blizzard's weakest game because it didn't really feel like a true sequel to Diablo. Halo 3 is still good, but not great. I truly feel that Bungie focused on the community aspects simply because they couldn't come up with any more innovations like melee attacks and dual wielding for the core gameplay.

Perhaps I expected too much from Bungie? They really are only known for Halo at this point. It's clear the hype machine was in hyper ultra over drive mode too for this game. I'm reminded of all the hype around Neon Genesis Evangelion and how the anime completely failed to live up to the hype. Maybe this is just how things are; nothing ever truly lives up to its hype?

Or maybe I'm just a gaming snob now and I dislike Halo 3 because the franchise is so popular?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Castle of Cagliostro

So on Wednesday Fathom Events had a special screening of one my favorite anime films, Castle of Cagliostro. Yes, it's a Lupin III film but more importantly it was co-written and directed by the awesome Hayao Miyazaki. The film may be old (1979) but it's definitely worth watching. What I really like is how you can know next to nothing about Lupin III and still enjoy the film, which is quite different from nearly every film based on an anime TV series these days. (The Naruto films are pretty much just "let's take 1-2 of the most popular characters and make a film starring them and Naruto.") I suppose some Lupin III fans object to Lupin's somewhat sappy portrayal (he's much more pre-Leia Han Solo in the TV series) in this film and that's definitely valid. That still doesn't mean this film isn't awesome though.

The film reminds me of films such as The Goonies and National Treasure. It's an adventure film that focuses on finding a treasure but at heart it's a character driven story. These kind of films usually end up being really goofy and campy (see the above examples) but there's a certain undeniable appeal to them. A story like this works out a lot better in anime than in live action because of the lack of realism. There are certain sequences of National Treasure where one's suspension of disbelief is sorely tested. (I guess I should say the same for the Goonies, but I saw that film as a kid and thus I truly believed that anyone my age could survive death traps as long as they had a group that included a fobby Asian kid with crazy gadgets. )

All the ridiculous sequences of Castle of Cagliostro work a lot better simply because it's an animated film. It's hard for me to imagine the sequence where Lupin drives up the side of a mountain being plausible in a live action work. I'm apprehensive about the rumored live action Lupin because I feel the characters and typical plot are so well suited for an animated series. (Though I'm interested to see who would be cast as Lupin and Fujiko.)

Regardless of my musings, I enjoyed watching the film on the big screen and I hope to see more anime classics brought to the big screen...or maybe just the Naruto films, because as much I make fun of them I'd totally watch them on the big screen. Believe it!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me

Why have I been lazy about blogging for the last week or so? I don't really have an excuse, but I'm just going to say it was because it was my birthday. It was also Talk Like a Pirate day as well, so my Wednesday was filled with rum and wenches and thus I had no time for blogging.

On Friday I went to the Magic Castle. Apparently one of my new friends is a magician and I didn't even know it. (Cue Final Countdown music.) Not only did I not know he was a magician, but I had no idea he was also a member of the Magic Castle. Apparently he goes there often enough that the women working coat check recognize him on sight. It was a lot of fun having him guide us around and tell us what to do. He was an awesome host and he even did a small performance for us. I must admit I really do enjoy magic and weirdly enough I don't particularly enjoy trying to figure out how it's done. I guess I'm a kid a heart when it comes to magic.

Saturday had me heading into downtown LA to watch a matinee show of Avenue Q. I'm not a a big fan of musicals but I throughly enjoyed Avenue Q, because it's written for 20-somethings like me. It's also ridiculously cynical and sarcastic so it clearly is my favorite musical production I've seen so far. To be fair though, the only other musical I've seen is Phantom of the Opera. This fact could change in the future. Maybe I'll watch Sweeny Todd if I like the film. I'd totally go watch My Fair Lady but I fear what other people might say if I actually go.

After Avenue Q we went to Fogo de Chao for a Brazilian meathouse buffet experience. I enjoyed it even if all the meat is pretty much flavored with just salt but I'm not sure if I would go back and pay the $55+ it is for dinner there. Of course, I don't eat beef so that might explain it. Their salad bar is pretty cool though and their plantains and fried polenta are great. Too bad that's all just filler.... Also apparently our payment came up $17 short which is pretty odd considering we counted the money several times before leaving. Bad beats indeed.

To cap off the night I got everyone to go see Resident Evil: Extinction. The less I say about this the better, but I will say it definitely follows the standard sequel rule of dilution. That is to say, they saved the worst for last. Fortunately for me, it was janky enough for me to be entertained.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Backwatch '07: Status Update

This weekend was the ultimate test for my back.

On Saturday I went to the LA County Fair with a couple of my friends. We ended up spending 8 hours there. I had no idea the fair was so huge, I saw the fire safety area, the garden, and a rock wall among other things. A good deal of the time was walking and while my feet hurt since I'm flatfooted I'm happy to report that my back held up admirably. No pain there at all, though I did strongly consider getting a foot message. We ended up walking all over the place and checking out a lot of the buildings which are mainly the same booths selling the same products and services over and over again. I must admit I particularly enjoyed the California State Lottery booth where my group spent some time playing scratchers. I ended up ahead by $11 which was good enough for me. My friend also bought some jank dvd films and we ended up watching one that night. More on that in a future blog post.

On Sunday I played Los Verdes Golf Course and walked the whole thing. This turned out to be quite a beating despite the fact that I had a pull cart. It was a nice course in terms of the view as well as a super good value; I can see why it's so hard to get a good tee time there.

The end result of all these excursions is that I'm actually aching in almost every part of my body BESIDES my back. I suppose this is good, but it clearly indicates how much of a beating my body took over the weekend and is a sad comment on my health. Still, it beats super-agonizing back pain.

Also, I really need to get more sleep. I'm fairly certain the 6 hours or so I get isn't enough for my body to really heal. I definitely want to be rested for this weekend too so I can celebrate my birthday without falling asleep half-way through.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mediocre Minds Fall TV Shootout

Fall TV season is almost upon us. It seems like only yesterday we had new summer shows like Greek as well as new episodes of Monk and Psych. Alas, their time is over and we're heading into the season of infinite jank and maybe (hopefully?) a few hits.

Sumir and I wrote up our thoughts on the new fall shows for all the major networks including the CW. I like how we're predicting a lot of cancelled shows. To be honest, I'm guessing we're going to end up way off on our predictions because Mediocre Minds totally does not represent the American people. (I predicted Dancing with the Stars would be canceled in under 1 season.)

Anyways, check it out if you're interested.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Backwatch '07: A Brief Update

Thanks to all those who expressed concern over my back. I'm pretty much fine now.

My back still bothers me when I stay in one position for too long, but it's not really pain so much as it is a tightness. Older people I've talked to tell me they have this problem but it's still pretty sad that I'm like this and I'm not even 30 yet. Clearly such is the effect of neglecting my body and leading a stereotypical nerd/geek lifestyle. I guess I'll be working on taking better care of myself from here on out.

One of the more annoying things is that I can't sleep in one position that long, I have to either get up and stretch or change positions in the middle of the night. It's not super annoying but it's not like I get a great night of sleep either. I suppose I could try painkillers before bed every night but that doesn't seem like a great idea. It might be time to get a better mattress but that is pretty expensive. I'll have to see how I'm feeling in another week or so.

I guess it could be worse. I could still be in pain and walking abnormally.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Let's All Go To The Chiropractor

As I alluded to in my previous post, I've been visiting the chiropractor. It's been an educational experience to say the least. I've never been able to comprehend why some people are scared of visiting the dentist. The guy just works on your teeth. If he messes up the worse that can happen is you have a crappy smile and some pain. The stakes are much higher with a chiropractor. It seems to me if he makes a mistake during adjustment I could end up paralyzed at worse and in more pain at best. Fortunately, the chiropractor I saw was great. I'll admit I picked him because he was the one that was closest to work and accepted my insurance. I liked his emphasis on stretching and preventive measures instead of just painkillers and other drugs. I've never been injured like this before (since I'm the stereotypical stay indoors and get fat geek) so I've been learning a lot about what to do to avoid injuries as well as first aid measures when I do get injured. The guy I'm seeing is a wanna be anthropologist. I think he has a masters degree in it but he said he's told old to go for the PhD and a teaching position. It certainly makes for interesting conversation especially since I'm Asian. We talk a lot about China and the Eastern world and American culture. I think it's great because it takes my mind of the fact that he is going to be moving my body and producing scary sounding cracks. Seriously, the noise my body makes during some of the adjustments are totally the Foley sounds in games and movies/tv when someone snaps some poor sap's neck. It's freaky. Still, I enjoy the heat and massages as well as the adjustments. According to my co-workers I'm much improved but there are still issues. I can't really sleep for more than 6-7 hours although that could be a good thing. I also have to get up and move around as well as stretch out after I've been sitting for a while. I suppose this could be for life but I guess we'll see. I've been told it takes on average about 8 visits to "fix" a problem (if it every really is fixed) and I'm coming up on the halfway point. I certainly feel better, probably more than just 50% better. Here's hoping I can heal up. The chiropractor seems optimistic since I'm so young. On a complete side note, I found it extremely ironic that I injured myself during vacation travel rather than golf or on my way to work. (Have you seen the freeway entrances in Monterey Park?) The chiropractor said it's fairly common to get injured while traveling because one is doing things outside of their normal routine. Often times one is carrying luggage and hustling to get from place to place. I guess that makes some sense.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Back Pain

I alluded to this in my previous post, but I really jacked my back up at PAX (Penny Arcade Expo).

I believe I stressed my lower back on the flight up to Seattle by sleeping in an uncomfortable position. (I really should have lowered that seat.) Then Thursday night (before the con!) I bent down with my back and not my knees. The end result? PAIN! Things went downhill from there.

Friday and Saturday were pretty painful. I've never felt pain like I did on Friday. It made sleeping difficult and just moving around sucked. Yet, when I stayed relatively still there was still pain. It totally ruined my plans for the convention but at least I didn't die. On the upside, I now know why people pass out from pain. I had pain spasms that would travel up my spinal cord to my brain; it felt like someone was squeezing my head at times.

I suppose it's only fitting that I got jacked at PAX this year though. Last year it was Comic Con and the most horrible food poisoning of my life. Back then I learned firsthand how people can die from food poisoning. I guess my con going experience every year is going to include a lesson in being physically owned? I love how it always happens BEFORE the con too, not during or after. Irony indeed.

So what have I learned from all this? Recline the damn airplane seat. Bend with your knees, not your back. Figure out when your back is stressed and give it a rest when it is.

On the plus side, I'm doing much better now. I'm not in that much pain and I can actually sleep through the night. I've been seeing a chiropractor because I feel it's more productive than the prescription drugs (muscle relaxant + painkillers) that my doctor recommended. It's also because I was walking funny. People at work were like, "You're @#$@# up dude, you need to get something done about that."

(We'll cover my visit to the chiropractor and subsequent healing in a future blog post.)

Monday, August 27, 2007

PAX 2007: Video Games

I didn't really see as much of PAX as I wanted to because I jacked my back...but I showed guts and went to the exhibit hall despite the pain.

There were a bunch of games I paid absolutely no attention to, like Bioshock (PC), Gears (PC), Conan MMO, Warhammer MMO, etc. (Mainly PC stuff)

Naruto: Rise of Ninja Multiplayer Demo (BETA)

This is basically the Gamecube game's (Gekitou Ninja Taisen / Clash of the Ninja) fighting system but with 360 graphics. One of the neat features is that you can do "justus" (supers) by squeezing the left trigger and then using the thumbsticks to simulate your hand motions. Then you can bust out a level 1, 2, or 3 super depending upon how long you charge. These are all the signature moves for a character: Naruto has Sexy no Jutsu, Kakashi has Sharingan, and Neji has his Byakugan.

Each character had multiple supers in the demo, and Neji's other super (64 Palms) actually leads into a mini-game of sorts. When you use it, the Neji player sees a silhouette with Chakra points on it. The Neji player then attempts to strike the points with his cursor while the other player controls the silhouette and attempts to dodge. At higher levels Neji's cursor is bigger and there are more points on the silhouette. It's actually a pretty cool gimmick; I certainly can't fault the game's flavor. Hell, I didn't even know Rise of A Ninja had multi-player so I'm hoping this game turns out to be better than expected.

Culdept Saga

This is a 360 sequel to a PS2 game. It's basically Monopoly + Magic the Gathering with a Japanese flair. I'm fairly certain that your die rolls aren't totally random either, there's some sort of "balancing mechanism" that hinders/helps your die rolls when you are far ahead/behind. Combine this with the luck factor in drawing 1 card a turn and being only able to hold 7 (or so) cards and this game is way too luck based for my liking. Still, it's got online play for up to 3 (or was it 4?) players so there might be a market for this.

Virtua Fighter 5 (360)

This looked awesome on the 360, and the booth had Hori sticks to play the game with. The real kick in the nuts is this was setup right next to the PS3 version. The load times were like 1/2 as long as the PS3 version. When you add in the online play it's total beatings and proves that Sega or whomever did the port didn't just phone it in.

Puzzle Fighter HD

Same thing I saw at Comic Con, but I have to comment that it looks really awesome. Sirlin balanced the X' Version of the game so I'm looking forward to that. It comes out this Wednesday on Xbox Live Arcade.

Eye of Judgement

Also seen at Comic-Con, it's still my reason this year to buy a PS3. I have clearly gone crazy.

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode 1

There was an announcement at this PAX that this game is coming to the 360 via Xbox Live Arcade. The demo was for the PC version though.

They only had the character designer up; there aren't that many options but there are enough to make a decent looking and unique character. It's certainly no Oblivion or City of Heroes/Villains. Your character is inserted right into the comic book style cutscenes which is a great touch.

The opening sequence has your character's home destroyed by a huge Fruit Fucker. Gabe and Tycho then run by in hot pursuit and you join them, armed only with the rake you were using outside the smoldering ruins that was your homestead.

Rockband

This game lives up to the hype. The concept is simple: four instruments for four players. There's lead guitar, bass guitar, drums, and the microphone.

The guitars are setup just like Guitar Hero, except the instruments have an extra set of frets closer to the strum button for solos and difficult hammer-ons/pull-off segments. The bass player can naturally raise his multiplier to 6x as opposed to the 4x multiplier for the lead guitarist.

The drum controller and screen setup is a lot like Drumania. The Haramonix guys said that the drum is the hardest instrument which makes sense since it's so close to actual real life drumming. Supposedly if you can drum on hard or expert you can drum in real life.

The microphone is setup almost exactly like Singstar or Karaoke Revolution, right down to the freestyle portions of a song. You can activate starpower by shouting into the mic. I was impressed with the level of singing ability that the average PAX attendee possessed. Though it's quite possible everyone picked easy or the game is not that strict for singing.

There's a lot of customization in the game and before each song the game has a cutscene that shows you each band member's avatar, name, and instrument. At the end of the song, each player gets a rating and title so you can totally see who is dragging your band down. I sense future dickery and trash talking!

I had a total blast playing with strangers. I can only imagine how cool and exciting it would be to play with your friends. I played bass on the OK Go song "Here it Goes Again" (there were 20 demo songs) because I didn't care what I did. I liked how you can bring a failed band member back by activating your Star Power. I must say that playing the bass was pretty boring on medium, I think I should have picked hard. That being said, I easily had the starpower to help my band out.

Start saving your money now...the game comes out in November.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Packing

My flight to Seattle for the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) leaves tomorrow. I'm packing tonight.

I've got the packing before a convention down to a fine science, yet I always feel anxiety whenever I'm packing. I don't think I've ever forgotten anything important, but yet I always make a checklist and go through it multiple times before I leave. I guess I really do have Type A blood. (Maybe that Japanese belief that your blood type imparts personality traits is true?)

One thing that is coming in really handy are the small containers I bought on Sunday. They are super tech! I love organizing my belongings like this...I think the next time I go back to the container store I'll really load up and get even more small travel containers. With the TSA regulations being what they are, I need all the small containers I can get for my precious liquids.

I'm bringing my camera so hopefully I'll have some pictures if I remember to take them. I'm also bringing my DS and am looking forward to getting relieved of my two pins in no time.

Hopefully I can actually make the concert this year and see the Minibosses. I'm also hoping to hit up the Sam & Max panel (where they create an episode of the game in front of you!) as well as the Penny Arcade panels (always a blast). I may even work in King of Kong and/or getting drunk at/around Gameworks. I'm hoping for at least a 50% success rate in terms of what I actually achieve.

Good times indeed.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Wandeing Pasadena

I went to The Container Store on Sunday to pick up some travel containers among other things. (I'm going to PAX this weekend.) Apparently there is one somewhat nearby in Pasadena. This was all the excuse I needed to head down there and wander around Old Town.

I enjoy a place like The Container Store way too much. It totally appeals to my OCD/Type A desire to organize and classify everything in my life. I could probably spend far too much money in a place like that.

Somewhat ironically, everything I did after my planned visit to the store was spontaneous. Since I foolishly parked at a flat rate lot (should have read that sign more carefully!) I decided to wander around Pasadena on foot.

I ended up walking quite a bit down Colorado Blvd. I went as far as Famima!!, a Japanese convenience store. (Yes, the exclamation marks are part of the name.) I wandered around the surrounding streets as well. I found that I'm quite poor at measuring distances by both car and on foot. Landmarks in the Pasadena area all slurred together as I walked the streets. Still, I suppose it was decent exercise. It was so warm out that I ended up pretty sweaty.

I ate at thaitalian solely for the kitsch value and the fact that it's on Eater LA's DEATH WATCH. The restaurant truly is as janky as the concept: Thai + Italian food = a truly mediocre experience! You won't hate it, but you won't love it either.

On my way to Famima!! I passed by the massive Paseo Colorado complex. This is an outdoor mall type structure, with numerous restaurants and shops as well as a "Gleason's the Super Market!". (I've never heard of it either and once again the exclamation mark is part of the name.) More importantly, there was a theater so I FINALLY got around to seeing the third Bourne film, The Bourne Ultimatum.

Like my experience with Inside Man, I found the theater surprisingly full with most of the audience composed of elderly people. Sunday afternoon truly is when old people go to the theaters. I have no idea why people with walkers and canes find Jason Bourne such a draw, but if I had to guess I would say that it's probably because they've read all the books and want new stories with the same character.

I've always enjoyed the Bourne films, and this one was definitely better than the second film. (Once again living up to my theory that in a trilogy the 2nd film is usually the weakest unless it's Star Wars.) I'm not sure if it's better than the first one though, because I really love that Mini Cooper car chase. The plot was definitely the most interesting of the 3 films simply because it reveals Bourne's true origin story.

The awesome action sequences (complete with shaky cam) return as well. This is the film to watch for good and appropriate use of the shaky cam, as opposed to Transformers. (Though I did find it odd that the shaky cam is used in non-action scenes as well...reminds me of Bay in Bad Boys 2.)

I couldn't help thinking throughout my viewing that the film could have been titled "Listen to Bourne or Get Pw3nd!" as that sums up the majority of the action sequences and plot twists. Interestingly enough though, one of the assassins successfully metagames against Bourne. So I guess you shouldn't listen to Bourne all the time. What a twist indeed!

What I enjoyed about this film was how it doesn't have an outright summary of what happened in the previous two films. Rather, your viewing/remembering of the 1st two films simply enhances the plot of this film. I felt this film had the best plot beyond the origin story quest. I enjoyed the villain this time around even if he was a bit cliche and I really liked how the film takes place in various locations all over the world. It's only fitting for what is essentially a spy film.

I'll also admit to liking Julia Stiles' character in these films. I find it hilarious that whenever she crosses paths with Jason Bourne her whole life is endangered and turned upside down. Nicky Parsons must be like "@#$@# not him again" every time she runs into Bourne. This film is no exception; she ends up in the most danger in this one after crossing paths with Bourne. What can I say, Jason Bourne can totally manhandle the future Princess of Denmark.

After finally seeing Bourne, I can attempt to rank all the 3quels for this summer:
  1. The Bourne Ultimatum
  2. Pirates of the Caribbean : At World's End
  3. Spider-Man 3
  4. Ocean's 13
  5. Rush Hour 3
(Unfortunately, I didn't see Shrek 3...but I pretty much saw everything else!)

Oh and did you know they made a sequel to the Prince and Me?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Xbox Live Demos

So lately all I've been doing on my Xbox 360 is playing demos I've downloaded over LIVE. There are a lot of good ones out: Beautiful Katamari, Blue Dragon, Bioshock, Dynasty Warriors Gundam (aka "Gundam Musou"), Eternal Sonata, and Stranglehold just to name a few. While I haven't played every demo on the previous list, I have played enough of them to comment on a few.

Bioshock

This FPS totally has a Dues Ex feel, which shouldn't be surprising since this game is being touted as the "spiritual successor" to System Shock 2 and Thief 3. What surprised me the most about this game demo was how well it sucked you into the game world. The game takes place in a 1960s underwater city that has become a dystopia. There are a lot of creepy characters around and the lighting is pretty dim to invoke tension. You have both "magic" weapons due to altering your genes (shooting fire and electricity out of your hands) as well as more mundane weapons like a wrench or pistol. For some reason the pistol feels really solid and real to me. It's a lot of fun to fire. I also really like old school music in this game as well.

This is clearly a must buy game now. I'm glad it lived up to all the hype (for me at least).

Dynasty Warriors Gundam

There are really only two groups of people this game appeals to: those who enjoy Dynasty Warriors despite the massive, mindless repetition of slaughtering numerous virtual enemies, and those who are rabid Gundam otaku.

Unfortunately, I fall into BOTH categories. This demo isn't great in terms of graphics or game play and the music is pretty much non-existent. However, it has a cross section of some of the most popular Gundam characters (Char, Master Asia, Heero Yuy, etc.) and they are voiced pretty much by all their original voice actors. (Or at least this is the case when you select the Japanese language option.) This makes it a pretty legit game for a Gundam otaku.

I would advise about buying this game unless you are crazy about either franchise like I am. (If you look at my Gamer Card, the only game I have 1000/1000 in is Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires.) I'm looking forward to utilizing the custom soundtrack feature of the 360 to play songs from the various Gundam series/films during the game.

Stranglehold

You might as well call this Hard Boiled 2: The Game. From Midway, this 3rd-person Max Payne-esque action game has you controlling Tequila from Hard Boiled as he stars in an original story. Both John Woo and Chow-Yun Fat contributed to this game, meaning that you get Woo's style as well as CYF's likeness and voice for Tequila.

I didn't really enjoy the demo at first, but as you beat it you are rewarded with additional 'Tequila Bombs' (special moves) and difficulty levels. I think medium is too easy, while hard-boiled is pretty difficult in some sections. I enjoyed the stylish gun play and the interactive environment. I must say shooting people in Tequila Time (slow motion / Max Payne style) never gets old.


This game also features "standoffs" where Tequila will be surrounded by a bunch of enemies. You play a neat mini-game as you face off against each opponent in psuedo-slow motion. Tequila moves quickly (in real time) and has to dodge incoming fire by leaning left and right while shooting his gun. During standoff mode, all the bullets (including yours) fire slowly. Once you are done with one enemy, it moves to the another one and so on until either Tequila or everyone else is dead. (The order you move through the enemies is random so no memorizing!) You are heavily encouraged to use the environment to dispatch the enemies in these sequences.

Tequila also has 4 "Tequila Bombs". One heals him, another one kills an enemy in one shot (with a spectacular cinematic), and yet another one allows him to become nigh invulnerable, have unlimited ammo and rapid fire for a short duration. The final one kills every enemy on the screen (only damages bosses though) by having Tequila spin around and shoot while doves fly everywhere. Once again, popular media proves to me that spinning is broken.

Oh, and did I mention the aimed shot special allows you so shoot enemies not only in the throat, but the GROIN as well? Hilarity!

How could one NOT buy this game based on that? Oh yeah, it's got multiplayer too...that seems interesting.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Convention Center Nostalgia



So I was at the Anaheim Convention Center (ACC) last Saturday for the World of Warcraft CCG Fires of Out Land Sneak Preview. (Yeah I have no life, but I still lucked my way into a playmat that's going straight to eBay.) I've attended other CCG related events there before and I always end up feeling odd.

I guess I just expect the convention center to be filled with people cosplaying. After attending Anime Expo (AX) so many times, I feel that the convention center is sorta like Disneyland. I only go there once a summer and when I do I expects crowds of people in various anime/manga related costumes. It's rather creepy being at the place when it's mainly empty and filled with "normal" people attending a trade seminar or whatnot. It's sorta like visiting your old school during summer or something. On the other hand, I had no problem figuring out parking and food though I packed my own lunch.

I feel the same way about the San Diego Convention Center. That place IS Comic Con. I've never been to the place when Comic Con isn't going on. San Diego to me is basically Masa, Comic Con, and where the original Game Empire is. I guess they filmed Veronica Mars there too.

After 4+ years or so of going to cons, these convention centers have become ingrained in my head as hosting these events. It's difficult for me to separate the convention centers from ther respective events. I definitely associate them more with events than locations. I expect cosplayers and crowds whenever I'm at them. It's definitely a form of nostalgia right?

And yes, I know Anime Expo has been held in Long Beach and other locations in the past. I missed out on this year's but I'm looking forward to next year's at the Los Angeles Convention Center. We'll see if I can make it, if only to break this location nostalgia.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Boiling Point (Restaurant)

Man what is it with hot pot and mediocrity? It seems like all the hot pot or shabu shabu places here in Monterey Park aren't great but aren't bad either.

Boiling Point gets high marks for value. For like $10 or less you get your own individual hot pot that comes with an assortment of stuff. You can also order dishes a la carte. I got some stinky tofu but to be honest I've had much better.

The service was pretty non-existent, but to be fair a factor might be that I'm not enough of a FOB to warrant attention. I'm used to it. Wei on the other hand, should have fit in. I guess I brought us down?

Oh and the food? It was ok. Not too bad, but not too good either. The sauces they have are easily the best part. I guess I'm 2 for 2 now in terms of mediocre hot pot.

Rating: 2.5/5 I'd recommend going to Little Fat Sheep (or whatever it calls itself) instead.

Boiling Point
153 Garvey Ave Monterey Park, CA 91755
(626) 288-9876

Sunday, August 5, 2007

OC County Fair

(Yeah I know how it's the "OC Fair" but my friends and I always call it the "OC County Fair" because it sounds better to us. This phrasing makes it similar to the "LA County Fair".)

So yesterday I went to the OC County Fair with some friends. This was my first time going, but I've gone to the LA County Fair twice. The OC County Fair is exactly like the LA County Fair, just smaller, which I guess makes sense since Orange County is smaller as well.

There were all the usual assortment of fair things: rides, stage shows, animals, crafts, arts, ribbon winning food related items & collections, etc.

Of course the real attraction for a glutton like me is the hilariously unhealthy food. I love how just about everything can be deep fried or put on a stick, or better yet, BOTH!

I showed some restraint so I wouldn't pass out from my gorging but I still ate (and spent) quite a bit. The highlight had to be deep fried coke...which, like the Krispy Kreme Chicken sandwich, tastes just like you think it would. It's basically just batter that has coke syrup and is well, deep fried. It is ever so delicious, but they sorta skimped on the whip cream. I'm hoping that same stall is there at the LA County Fair so when I go I can get it again. Another highlight was this salt-water taffy I bought, but then again I haven't had salt water taffy in a long time so I think I would praise even a mediocre piece. I also enjoyed the "Australian Battered Potatoes"; I'm definitely going to convince people with me to get them when we go to the LA County Fair. They have a texture between that of a deep fried potato chip and potato wedge.

Want to know what I didn't enjoy? Caramel Apples. I used to love these as a kid, but now the magic is gone. After consuming one, I'm just left a sticky mess and wondering if my fillings/teeth are going to be pulled out. It's totally a sad comment on how old I'm getting.

Despite my enormous stomach, I managed to miss out on quite a few things. I am looking forward to trying a Turkey Leg, Egg Roll on a stick, and maybe fried frog legs or a Texas donut at the LA County Fair.

Friday, August 3, 2007

15 Seconds of Fame

Why are people in my demographic (18-34?) so obsessed with fame? Apparently fame is the #1 desired thing based on surveys. I can't believe that, because I'd much rather have money than fame. Then again I guess you can parlay your fame into money. Maaybe that's why? Or maybe it just goes back to the fact that it's human nature to want to be recognized? I guess I find it so hard to believe since I don't really like being in the spotlight; I'd much rather be the person behind the show.

But hey, I got my 15 seconds of fame on the Kevin and Bean radio show the other day. Ralph read my email for his running "Rock Me Amadeus" gag yesterday for the 9:00 Showbiz Beat. It was about Comic Con and how at the con Paramount revealed Zachary Quinto is the new Spock for the upcoming Star Trek prequel. "Spock will make him famous!" W00t.

So am I officially Internet-level pathetic now? I think so. I guess I wouldn't have it any other way.

(For those of you keeping track at home, when you add this bit to EVO and PAX 2004, I should have like, 12-13 minutes left of Internet fame.)

First Post!

So the purpose of this blog is more for reviews (food? golf?) than anything else. I suppose I could just type stuff up at Yelp but I want to see if I can make a blog entry every other day or something. I guess to be honest I should shoot for 3 times a week.

That being said, I think I'm just gonna post random stuff most of the time and have this degenerate into a basic brain dump or something. I barely know how this interface and stuff works.