Friday, April 13, 2007

Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

By gar, it's been a while

Wow... yeah... if anyone was reading this before, I suspect they're not now. I suppose that's kinda' what happens over the holiday season. In any case, I'm sorry. I suppose I may as well wrap up 2005 with my own personal look back at the year...


2005, for me, started with catching up on 2004. This meant finally getting around to Metal Gear Solid 3, Halo 2, Paper Mario 2, and a whole lot of other games I didn't get too much time with before the year's end. Hell, I still haven't played GTA: San Andreas.

Devil May Cry 3, Resident Evil 4, Ninja Gaiden, and God of War came out and were apparently great, but I wouldn't know. I barely got the chance to play them. At the very least I did get to play We Love Katamari (a great follow-up to the first game).

Ah, I remember now why the beginning of 2005 was such a blur to me. I was in a horrible car wreck. Yeah, that wasn't very fun...

Anyways, after my birthday (which I can't even remember), the PSP came out and at least at first it seemed really awesome. The nice screen, the launch full of great, fantastic-looking games... and then after that it sucked for almost the rest of the year. Oh, sure, it got Burnout, SOCOM, GTA: LCS and Virtua Tennis, but aside from that, the PSP was pretty much dead after it launched.

The DS, on the other hand, had started off having a really crappy year. Yoshi's Touch and Go was a mild distraction at best, Wario Ware: Touched! was too damn short, Polarium seemed to go to great lengths to prove how un-extrordinary it was... the DS was crap until... about April. Then, the floodgates opened.

The first big game was Kirby Canvas Curse, which was incredibly beautiful and fun and turned the platformer on its head in ways that only the DS could do. Puyo Pop Fever took a decent puzzle game and made it awesome with 8-player multiplayer using only one cartridge. Meteos was another awesome puzzler that really took advantage of the DS' features. Trauma Center: Under the Knife was like a surgery sim-meets-arcade game that was really challenging but tons of fun. Mario Kart DS is without a doubt one of the best games in the series. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow almost tops Symphony of the Night as the best game in the series. Animal Crossing DS is everything you could want from a haldheld port of the game. Tony Hawk's American Sk8Land took the premise of the boring "same ol', same ol'" console game and made it new and unique. Bust-A-Move DS is a fantastic transition for the series to the touchscreen. And I finally got my import of Osu! Tatake! Ouendan, which is one of the best games on the system, and one of the best music-rhythm games ever made.

I didn't even scratch the surface of a ton of others, like Metroid Prime Pinball, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Sonic DS, Viewtiful Joe DS... there are probably others I'm forgetting, too. Basically, the DS was bitchin' this year.

The GameCube, on the other hand? Dead. Aside from the aforementioned Resident Evil 4, the system got a few decent titles, like Battalion Wars, a Fire Emblem game, and Geist... and the bizarre Killer 7. But, I mean, honestly, the system is on its last legs (legs called Zelda, by the way, and once it's out, this system will drop like a corpse).

The Xbox wasn't much better off, with the aforementioned Ninja Gaiden Black and Stubbs the Zombie (which I have yet to play), and then what? Conker's Bad Fur Day? MechAssault 2 (which was a disappointment, I'll tell ya')?

The PS2 fared better, with the nice, original Digital Devil Saga games, the beautiful Shadow of the Colossus, the fantastic Dragon Quest VIII (which again, I have yet to play) and the superb Guitar Hero.

The Xbox 360 had a great launch too, with the very good Perfect Dark Zero and Project Gotham 3, the superb Condemned, the pretty Kameo, and the awesome Xbox Live Arcade games like Geometry Wars.

No, my big game this year... my "Game of the Year", if you will, was on the PC. If you've read my blog at all, you know the big game for me this year was Guild Wars. No game in this generation has sucked as many hours out of my life as NCSoft's and ArenaNet's incredible non-MMO MMO.

As for my personal life, I met Lisa in August, and she's one of the best things that ever happened in my life. Seriously, I think words fail to describe how I feel about this girl. I love her. Sure, I talk about the games, and I suppose the car accident and new job (I work for the state of California now) are a big deal, but meeting Lisa was the big highlight of my year.

Lisa, if you're reading this, I want you to know that compared to you, none of that other stuff above matters. Thank you for being a part of my life, and I look forward to spending 2006 with you too (and hopefully many years after that).

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Mmmmmmmovies

Sorry, fallen behind on updating this. Geez, when they said a girlfriend will take all your time, they weren't kidding. Not that I blame her, mind you. I've just kinda' been sacrificing my time to be with her. I guess that's the way it goes, right?

Anyways, sharing opinions on all kinds of movies I've seen recently (pretty much all with her):

Batman Begins
Excellent, as you've heard, although I need to make special mention of the actors they've used here.

Christian Bale makes a decent Batman (though he seems to ham it up a bit when he's wearing the leather), but I can't think of him as anyone but the American Psycho. Thankfully, the character he plays here is also a mentally-disturbed millionare, so it's not far off-base. Michael Caine plays... Michael Caine. I'm sorry, but when I see him, I don't think "Alfred". Morgan Freeman plays... Morgan Freeman, although in this case he at least seems to fit the role fairly well. Liam Neeson as Renard was a savvy choice: Neeson should play menacing roles like this more often. Dawson's Creek Girl as Rachel Dawes (a-hyuk) is the most pointless role in the film, undoubtedly made even more insulting to the female gender by being a damsel in distress disguised as miss "tough and independant".

Finally, I want to highlight the performance of Gary Oldman. This is a man who I loathed as a horrendous choice to play Liutenant Gordon. I couldn't fathom him doing the role justice. After seeing him in action, I stand corrected. It is a tribute to such a fine actor that a man who so often plays villains (and often over-the-top ones) can portray this character so amazingly well, and with such humanity. Absolutely stunning.


March of the Penguins
It's a damn good documentary that plays like a drama, much in thanks to the wonderful score, skillful editing, and a great commentary by Morgan Freeman. Geez, it seems like he's in every movie lately...


Must Love Dogs
The quintessential "Chick flick". Not that I'm dissing the genre, mind you, but it does nothing to buck the trend (as opposed to Kate and Leopold, which mixed in a little sci-fi and historical humor to create what is one of the best films in the genre). If this is your kind of film, you shouldn't be disappointed. Or surprised, for that matter.


Flightplan
This movie gets more and more ridiculous the more I think about it. Mix one part silly conspiracy thriller, one part shallow psychological drama, one part dumb action movie, and blend in exploitation of the post-9/11 fear of flying (even with a dash of persecuted Arabian guys exhonerated by the end, for the PC crowd). The acting here is decent enough, but the plot is so ridiculous it doesn't matter.




... For the record, my pick for best film of the year still belongs to Wedding Crashers (I saw it a second time with Lisa, and it's every bit as funny), but Batman Begins comes damn close.

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Friday, August 12, 2005

Mmmmm... Lisa....

Okay, so undoubtedly the entire online world (or at least the portion that gives a damn) is wondering where I've been the last week or so. The answer is one word: Lisa. Err... well, that's not a "where" so much as a "who", but suffice it to say that this woman has dominated my thoughts and time this week.

It's funny: This wasn't supposed to happen. She wasn't looking for a relationship, and I wasn't looking for someone who wasn't looking for a relationship. I wanted someone to hug and spend time with and play kissy-face with, and she wanted someone to play videogames with. As much as that sounds like it's right up my alley, that isn't what I was looking for. The last thing I needed was a girl to hang out with and NOT be in a relationship with. I already have one of those and it's weird.

Anyways, despite both our reservations, we met anyways, and... well... we hit it off. I.... I don't think I've ever had what I have now. I mean... I look into her eyes, and I see someone who really wants me. I see desire and lust and trust and passion and...

It's not just a physical thing (though there is that), but an emotional thing too. I love how she really gets into movies, how she isn't afraid to let me know when I do something she likes or doesn't like, how she really likes orange-scented and -flavored stuff (I don't think I've ever met anyone THAT big on orange stuff. It's amusing :-) ). I like how she's smart and modest and thoughtful and considerate and... well, there's not much I can think of that I don't like about her.

We went to see Batman Begins together (and I'll talk about that in another post), we've had romantic walks through the park, and we've had times when I just held her in my arms and felt so peaceful and content...

I know I've been neglecting you guys. I intend to remedy that... um.... soon enough. But... for now, I'm just swimming in this. Be happy for me, okay guys?

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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Wedding Crashers

Okay, let me preface what I'm about to say with a few comments. I haven't yet seen Batman Begins. I have not seen Sin City. I have not seen Black, Cinderella Man, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, The March of the Penguins, or Kingdom of Heaven. These are films I've heard tons of good things about, but have not yet been able to watch.

Now, having said that.... yeesh, I've missed a lot. But anyways, having said that, Wedding Crashers is, without a doubt, the best film I've seen so far this year. There's something infectiously funny and lovable and ultimately honest about this movie that makes it very hard not to like. And that last part is funny, because it's a film about two dishonest guys.

(Note: The following contains some spoilers)

Owen Wilson and Vince Vaugn, as in most of their films, basically just play themselves. I have nothing against entertainers that do this. It's kind of hard to call them "actors", really, but as long as you enjoy watching the personalities these guys bring to the film with them, there's nothing wrong with it. A lot of actors work like this: Sean Connery, Mike Meyers... you'll never see them playing anyone other than themself, but as long as you like the actor, that's not so big a problem.

So, what you have is Vince Vaugn acting extremely sociable, somewhat selfish and a tad pig-headed, but ultimately the "true blue fried", and Owen Wilson as the somewhat quiet, easygoing "nice guy". It's funny to see these guys work together, because for all the times Hollywood has paired Owen Wilson with Ben Stiller, I actually think this duo clicks much better. Vaugn does the "high-strung" to Wilson's "laid-back" every bit as well as Stiller does, but with less severity that seems to mesh better with Wilson. I'm really just talking out of my ass here, but the end result is that these two guys have a great chemistry together, and you really feel like you're in the presence of two great friends.

In large part, this is what feeds the comedy. You know that after all's said and done, that these two will have the safety net of each others' friendship (even though it becomes very clear not far in that they can't really depend on each other for much else), and because of this omnipresent friendship, the film is free to place them in incredibly awkward situations without it feeling too awkward, because, "hey, we're in this boat together".

And while it seems like they're selling this film as a "raunchy comedy", it actually works just as well as a romantic comedy. Rachel McAdams is exceptional as the one female character in the film who seems intelligent enough to realize the ridiculousness and cliche nature of much of what's going on (in a hillarious scene, she struggles unsuccessfully to keep from laughing her ass off as her sister and her sister's hubby read off their super-sappy wedding vows). This actress is one to keep your eyes on. She's got a quality of being genuine and real that's missing from most of Hollywood these days.

On the other side of the boat is Isla Fisher, who manages to remain incredibly sexy as we watch her dive deeper and deeper into insanity. She quickly comes to terrify Vince Vaugn's character as "clingy", and while their relationship could have fallen into predictable cliche, it actually evolves into an interesting statement about finding love through sex. Vaugn's character, after leading a love life focused primarily on one-night stands, is ready to run for the hills as soon as she starts getting clingy, and he becomes more and more terrified as her persuit of him takes a continuous turn towards the bizarre, and only when he finds out just how wild she is does he come to realize that she's absolutely perfect for him.

In its own way, Wedding Crashers uses a "raunchy comedy" movie to make statements about sex and love, selfishness and compassion. Owen Wilson in particular hlps to give this film its heart. Towards the end you can tell just by looking into his eyes that he's become disillusioned with his life, and as a result disillusioned with life itself. As he talks to Will Ferrel (who, naturally, plays Will Ferrel), he doesn't need to say anything and you can still tell how heartbroken he is to realize how pointless his life has been, and when brought to its ultimate extreme, how vicious and cruel.

I suppose it deserves a side-note that Christopher Walken is in this film too, and although the movie is better for his presence, he's far more subdued here than I've ever seen him. This isn't the wild-eyed Walken or creepy Walken or even charismatic Walken. This is genuine decent guy Walken, and the bizarre thing is just how normal his character is. Ultimately, I can't help but feel that his talent is wasted as a result, but it's still nice to have him there.

Ultimately, this is just a damn good movie, and one that I think you could take just about anyone to (except the kiddies if you'd fear for their sanity if they were to see a booby or watch a guy getting a full-on pants-rubbing from a girl). It's hillarious and just plain good fun for the guys, it's genuine (and not too cheesy) romance that would make it a good date flick, and even though it's technically a "raunch comedy", its humor doesn't really come from body part or toilet humor, but rather just plain hillariously bizarre situations.

Watch it. I don't think you'll regret it.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Deviant Art

So you know, I have a Deviant Art page now where I'll be keeping the headers I make for the website on display, because I'm really proud of the artistry that went into the creation of them (if I do say so myself). You can find it at http://caspianx.deviantart.com/

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Willy Wonk-err... CHARLIE and the Chocolate Factory

I've seen opinions ranging the gamut on the latest film by Tim Burton starring Johnny Depp. Some people think it's "the bestest thing ever!!!1!", some think it's an insult to a cult classic. And others think that while the film wasn't without its flaws, it was still pretty good, although everyone's split on whether it beats the original. My opinion is as follows...

Oh, but first "Oh noes! He called the Gene Wilder film the original! Surely he must be sacrificed on the altar of Tim Burton for his crimes!"

You know what? I know that both films were based on the same book, rather than the Depp film being based on the Wilder one. I am privvy to this information, and Burton has made it very clear that he believes his film is a truer adaptation to the book, and one might even say he goes so far as to disregard the Wilder film in his comments. But it is impossible to speak about this film without comparing it to the original.

Frankly, I think that considering what they were attempting, they did an admirable job. Everyone was going to be holding this film up against the original, comparing the differences and similarities. Personally, I think that, while Burton claims not to have based this film on the Gene Wilder one, there's no way he could have avoided comparing the two as well, and so it seems brave in the things they kept the same, and the things that are different.

I find it amusing that, while the original featured Willy Wonka in the title, it was really Charlie's story, and at the same time, while this film features Charlie in the title, this film is truly about Wonka. We see far more of him here, and while Wilder's classic portrayal of Wonka may have been a bit more iconic, Depp's portrayal is much more three-dimensional, and completely different in nature. While Wilder just made him a weird eccentric, Depp made him a childlike recluse, innocent and oblivious, soft-spoken and blunt. Many have drawn comparisons to Michael Jackson (and Depp swears that was not his intent at all), I think that Depp is such a truly great actor that when he set out to portray a character whose circumstances are not unlike Jackson's, he ended up acting in a similar manner unintentionally.

I think that the "bad" children were perfectly cast and incredibly well-acted, and deserve to be addressed individually.

While the Augustus in the first film was overly-gluttonous, the one in this film was insanely gluttonous, and captured this insanity with a wild-eyed look that showed you something was wrong with this kid, even if you couldn't tell by the smears of chocolate constantly adorning his mouth (and by the way, ew).

While the Violet in the original was chided for being guilty of the sin of constant gum-chewing (Huh?), in this film her character flaw made much more sense. The new violet is over-competitive, and her actress (and in turn, the actress portraying her mother) portray this competitive nature brilliantly, always aggressive in nature, finding ways to "beat the competition" (like running up to hug Wonka to try and get in his good graces, a plan that backfires).

I'd say the Verucas in both films are about on par (how hard is it to play a spoiled brat?), but the actor portraying her father here really perfects the pair. Rather than being the big pushover of the first film, he's a man resigned to doing what his daughter says because... well, he has to. He's not excessively stupid or unreasonable or lazy in letting his daughter do what she wants. He's just very weak-willed. Fantastic choice. It's also worth noting that Veruca's end is far less ridiculous this time despite being far more fantastic.

The Teevee kid of the original film was scolded for being a TV addict back when they actually used to say "It'll rot your brains!", and ultimately he was little more than a hyper ADD-afflicted guy with boundless enthusiasm. You almost couldn't fault him for it really. The new Teevee is quite different. They've added videogames to his obsessive hobbies (I won't even touch this one, because you know what I'd say and you've heard it before), but his crime is no longer his obsession with these things. Rather, he's lost his imagination.

When the Oompa-Loompas sing after his demise (yes, they sing in this one too, in a "modernized" kind of way), they breifly mention his brain being turned to mush, but it's very apparent that's not what happened at all. While he's not the nicest kid, he's obviously the smartest person in the film, at least in terms of "book-smarts". Whenever something illogical or absurd happens, he's the first to point it out, often followed by Wonka feigning not having heard it ("You need to stop mumbling!") rather than dignify the child's questioning nature with a response. The way he got the golden ticket? He decoded tracking numbers and shipping schedules to find the location of the correct bar. When Wonka shows him the chocolate TV thing, he climbs in not because he thinks it's cool and wants to be on TV like his ADD-suffering predecessor. Rather, he believes Wonka is a fool for not seeing the practical applications for what is, for all intents and purposes, the world's first transporter, and decided to show him. Somehow I can't help but think that it would have worked if Wonka sprung for a big-screen TV. I guess that being a recluse means you don't shop at Best Buy.

Charlie... eh, I prefer the original actor. *Shrugs*

The film's visuals are vintage Burton, and all too fitting this film. In fact, many of the visuals are strikingly similar to the first film, like the edible room near the beginning and the glass elevator with the countless buttons.

Finally, a note about the ending. I think that this film's ending wraps up Wonka's story far better than the original's, as well it should, although the ending isn't quite as interesting for Charlie. I do give Burton credit for making it completely different, and all in all, while I think the "everlasting gobstopper" decision was far more compelling than the "leave your parents" decision (which seemed a tad formulaic and forced), the chemistry between Depp and Christopher Lee was so touching it made up for this. Christopher Lee, a man adept at playing villains and even portraying one in this film until the end, is so effective when he shows his emotions it's a wonder filmmakers don't have him do it more often.

Final notes: The nod to Edward Scissorhands was brilliant. The edible room didn't look quite as tasty as the first film. Wonka actually had more truly great quotes in this film than in the first one. The lack of the levitation soda scene felt a bit odd. The palace of chocolate scene was interesting but was kinda' unnecessary (other than to further the film's theme that one should enjoy life's small pleasures because they are fleeting) The oompa-loompas weren't as freaky as in the first film, but still quite freaky. The oompa-loompa land segment was hillarious, though I think Depp looked too much like Depp and not enough like Wonka. There were a lot of bad puns. Helena Bonham Carter must like looking ugly in films (despite that she's actually quite a beautiful woman), because she wore a disfigured face in Merlin, looked like a trashy goth freak in Fight Club, became an damn dirty ape in Planet of the Apes, became an old hag of a witch in Big Fish, and now she went through this film with godawful British teeth.

Anyways, that's all my thoughts for now.

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