Monday, April 27, 2009

#26 Which Is Better: 50 Cent (Blood In the Sand) or Resident Evil 5

Quality is not subjective. People say that it is. It is not. Sometimes however, the true quality of something is harder to see and it is obscured by more obvious qualities it may possess. Videogame nerds, sci fi nerds, comic book nerds... the bulk of these groups enjoy PURE FACTUAL quality. Does the thing have facts that are cool, i.e. does a man shoot lasers from his bottom, or does a robot fight a ninja? Yes? Point. Are the characters cool in a "smart" way, i.e. pithy remarks, crap like that. Yes? Point. Does the plot stand up to scientific scrutiny? Yes? Point. If those things fail, is it purposefully campy so that you can point out how you are smart for liking it because it is obviously campy? Yes? Double points! The problem here is that often times, while yes, these things are good to have, they aren't always DONE well. But the common nerd knows nothing of these things, of how pacing and composition and the melding of all disparate elements can turn a neat idea: Spiderman 3.. into a bad movie: Spiderman 3.

So let's break this all down:
Graphics: Resident Evil 5 is clearly more beautiful than 50 Cent. It has all the neato textures and ... sort of awesome lighting. Actually it was still vaguely emotionless visually to me. The animations were still, whilc i suppose good, stiff seeming based one how your people could only move like weird remote control car versions of themselves. 50 Cent's game... the modeling was acceptable. Textures also acceptable. The environmental design was pretty basic. Desert city, desert ruins, desert roads, but the set pieces were nice open rooms, nearly too epic for a game of its caliber. Still TECHNICALLY: Resident Evil wins, obviously.

Story: Resident Evil had all sorts of complicated machinations involving old friends being brought back seemingly from the dead, a crazy virus and conspiracy, and the name Wesker. 50 Cent has 50 and his G Unit crew traveling across some unnamed middle eastern land (possibly the same "Somewhere" desert where the "In Da Club" video takes place?) to get back a diamond covered skull for no reason other than FIDDY WANTS IT. Along the way they kill Lt. Daniels from The Wire. Nerds may say this is dumb. Here's the thing: it's not TRYING to be smart and failing. It's trying to be... fun. And it is. Who gives a shit when you're two rappers blasting their way across ANYTHING yelling "gimme back my skull!" Fuck YES. And you might say, "yeah, but you're in it IRONICALLY". All I can say is: Replace one or two elements of the 50 Cent story and what do you get: Raiders of the Lost Ark.
TECHNICALLY: Resident Evil would probably still win.

Sound: Resident Evil boasts some incredible sound design. And the characters say some stupid ass things all the way through, but none of them are nearly as fun as what is said in the 50 Game, which plays all the way through with 50's music blaring behind it. Am I a fan of him? Now that I know that in his off time he is basically a globetrotting superhero: Yes.

Whatever. What makes a game fun is fun, as Bart n Milhouse once said. Resident Evil stopped being scary and so it had to become a fun shoot em up. Guess what? It's not, and sure, there's the addictive weapon collecting quality to it, but it's addicting in a way that doesn't feel fun. Instead it's like stamp collecting or alchoholism: you waste lots of time and get nothing out of it. No fun, no anything. At least you can sell your stamps for booze. I beat the 50 Cent game twice in 2 days. I will return it to blockbuster in a day or so. It lasted only 2 days. I will not buy it. It was not a GREAT game, but it was fun. I even find myself more comfortable paying to buy Resident Evil for some reason, no doubt because it's a "big name" game. That addicting shit will last me longer, fooling me into thinking I'm getting more bang for my buck while in the back of my head my heart will be crying for it knows the truth: my real love lies with fiddy.
Resident Evil 5: C
50 Cent Blood in the Sand: B

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

#25 - On the album "Bromst" by Dan Deacon

There is a always a strange small delineation between the world of popular "rock" type music that even avant garde/indie/underground artist walk on "song" side of rather than the classical composition side of things. Even many instrumental artists such as Four Tet or Books seem to construct what a person would call a pop song rather than a composition in the classical sense. Dan Deacon's new album "Bromst" seems to toe across that line while containing "pop" vocals in the songs and even choruses and verses. The new album seems to be the work of a more profound and beautiful statement than his previous outing "Spiderman of the Rings" which was part excitement and part quirk but ultimately it rang a bit hollow to me. Not to say this album is not quirky, with it's many choirs of chipmunks and the barking sample on the track "Woof Woof", but even in these instances there is more of a conveyance of an actual emotion than the showing of weirdness. Instead of just "a weird song", you get "a weird JOYOUS song". The results are truly alive and beautiful if not in any conventional way. Song structure protract and compress seemingly randomly but in the end they all flow perfectly together. A song will go from extreme 8bit noise to what sounds like a hyperactive composition by Steve Reich in no time flat and these moments are among the most stunning on this album. There is no real stand out track and while the album may seem almost one note in its tone and structure, the intricacies are in there and make it reward repeated listens while maintaining an almost monolithic joy. What's it sound like for those who don't know? Crazy nintendo music is what most people would say. Still, this is actually some heady (and hearty) stuff.
Grade: A

#24 - On the XBLA Community game "Dromedary"

I'm not sure why I haven't touched on reviewing the goldmine of questionable quality that is Xbox Live Community Games. For those of you unfamiliar with what this is: A year or so ago, Microsoft released a development kit for fledgeling game creators to use to make simple (or complex) games relatively easily. Any game made with this kit can now be put up and sold in the Xbox Live Community Games section. What people don't understand is this: For every great game making genius out there, there are literally jillions of people who just don't get it. They are the people living in the proverbial shack. But like independent music, sometimes the crappiest results are the ones that shed the brightest lights on the human condition. Corporations spend millions on games, so the games made with the big money have to have a broad appeal. Not so with community games where if a dude in Mexico wants to make a platform game about collecting burritos and somberos called "Welcome to Mexico", he can (this game actually exists now and my heart sings at this flagstone of possibility.) Maybe nobody will buy this game. But maybe one person will be touched so deeply by it that it doesn't matter. That's the true face of creation and art. You make for yourself and also for the small hopes of touching at least one other person with your creation. When you have the possibility of getting your stuff out there, it's all up to just the powers of your imagination and your intelligence. That said, Welcome to Mexico sucks but it brings me to the point of this review: DROMEDARY.

Is Dromedary a GOOD game? I don't know. Does it boast amazing graphics? No. It boasts hand drawn images of a camel and various other desert things. Badly hand drawn images. What it does is this: I played the demo thinking "whatever" yet I played it until my demo time ran out. Will I buy it? I don't know. Wait.. no. It's 2 effing dollars too much (at 2 dollars.)
What is it?
Dromedary is a game where you are trying to cross a desert on a camel. On the top of the screen you have a meter with your camel showing how far across the desert you are. Every turn you have a few options: walk, run, sleep, drink, wait. That's it. Every time you pick one, another panel is added to a small comic showing your progress and what events occur and your camel moves a centimeter further towards his/your goal. There are no meters saying how tired your camel is, no meters for how thirsty you are. There is nothing really gamey here. Instead you just get a panel and a descriptor like "You walked further today and see an oasis" or sometimes the exciting "you are captured".
It is alot like a choose your own adventure story EXCEPT instead of giving you different options every turn based on complex story developments, you always have: walk, run, sleep, drink, wait. If you run too much your camel grows tired and dies. But walking gets you further faster. Also important to note is that there are lions chasing you...
So how is this good? It is because in simplifying everything for you, taking out any gamey meters and whatnot and making your situation so simple (get across the desert), your options, minute as they seem, are the ONLY options you would have in the real situation in the grand scheme. In this way, a Choose Your Own Adventure novel feels claustrophobic in comparison.
In a book like that, you could find yourself in a deadly situation involving pirates or something. You will be offered 2-4 options when in reality there are SO many things you could probably do, but you're are just moved alone a few different tracks.
In Dromedary, since the story is barely a story, it is just survival, you feel less wrangled in and therefore it feels limitless despite it's minute limited scope. Therefore in it's small reality, it is entirely realistic. It's all something like the uncanny valley. Pong is such an abstraction of tennis that you don't feel limited by it. Its entire reality is submitted right there. In a modern tennis game, as the game gets more real, you notice what is taken away from reality rather than what has been added to what used to be Pong. Even that crappy art seems to help the game maintain an odd cohesive quality. It's an oasis from.. good games. Yet a compulsive one.
It's hard to explain, but I enjoyed the structure of Dromedary and the fact that someone had the balls to make a game this wierd and small. WTF is wrong with people.
Grade: B-
That's a generous B because I have such odd admiration for this basically shitty game.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

#23 - On the movie "Watchmen" by Zach Snyder and totally unaffiliated with Alan Moore somehow

I guess it's not the movies fault. Alan Moore took his own name off the credits. The problem I have with this is that this is the most accurately made comic book movie I have ever seen. Don't confuse this with "THE BEST". Now I do enjoy the book "Watchmen", but comic books and movies are entirely different mediums. The approaches one takes with pacing, storytelling, dialog, composition and a myriad of other things is completely different from one to the other. By accurate, I mean that Zach Snyder literally took the images from the book and slapped them onto the screen. This is admirable because well.. he didn't screw up. But how CAN you screw up when you're just cutting and pasting? Good job dude, you succesfully cut your face off of one photo and glued into onto a similar photo of yourself. Still, he did a good job of it. There was just no bold storytelling moves that weren't in the book already. So who gets the credit? Unfortunately not Alan Moore because he took his name out of this project. The choices that seemed to be pure Snyder like the musical cues were dicey at best but still not HORRIBLY offensive. He uses classic but AMAZINGLY trite and predictable songs to underscore certain moments and alot of times they seem forced in as if he was like "I hear that people consider the Sounds of Silence to be a classy tune... i need to put that somewhere in a movie. There's a funeral scene? Well people tend to be quiet during funerals... and since I can't use Nickelback..." You could see why the song was used but it still just didn't mesh right. Emotional scenes were.. well you could see the emotional intent in them and that was nice, but it was all a bit too overly done so as to wring any honesty of the emotions out of them. That said, it's still a neat little tale that Alan Moore wrote (or didn't according to the credits) and you can't fuck that up. And it was a neat looking movie. And for not TOTALLY fucking it up and making a pretty good film, Zach Snyder has come out better in my books. Like I told my friend, "it's like having a big jock write a poem". It didn't suck and you could see he tried his best to not screw it up. So...
Grade: B

There were a few things to take it into the minus area and really maybe it's a C movie but I still did enjoy it quite a bit. Oh but that sex scene was awful. How can you misuse Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"?! Even Shrek did a better job.
Oh yeah.. what's the movie about? Superheroes doing super stuff. And then something about a giant squid.

Monday, February 9, 2009

#22 - On the movie "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans"

Let it be known that I even felt stupid typing out the complete title of the movie. I don't know what it is that does this to me... I would not feel as stupid typing "Clash of the Titans", but "Rise of the Lycans"? Ooooh there, I did it again.
This movie chronicles the tale of Lucien (i think), a man who is also a LYCAN!!!!!!! (Short for lycanthrope, fancy for werewolf). I am glad the word Lycan can exist in a title. It's the "cool abbreviation" of a word that is underlined in RED, meaning it's not really real... or at the very least respected by the online dictionary. Let's dwell on this a moment because this is my blog.
It's all cool and fine to find cool little terms for like the police "po po" or bad shoes "bobo". Those are real items made alittle more "hip" through "cool clang". Whatever. Lycanthrope is a fantasy word. Lycan is the "cool version" of it? It's like a LOTR nerd trying be cool by referring to Glamdring as "Glammy D" or some shit. Don't try. Respect the nerd stuff as being removed from cool. Then it retains its nerdish dignity (oxymoron.)
So the lycan guy... you know what? NOBODY cares. Halfway through this movie, I was staring at the screen and I literally thought in my head, in complete, nearly tangible sentences spelled out with giant plastic white letters over a gaudy orange backdrop: WHO WANTED THIS MOVIE TO EXIST? Was there a giant following of Underworld fans who desperately needed the tale of the past which is, if memory serves, quite similar to the tale of the future but with crossbows instead of guns? A prequel should serve something at least SLIGHTLY different up! Crossbows might as well be called "arrow guns" anyways. I also nearly fell asleep at one point in the movie. High points: Bill Nighy and sort of Michael Sheen though here, as I noted in the theater, he was like a poor man's Karl Urban (to which my friend replied "Karl Urban is a poor man's Karl Urban!") Good point. But at least he wasn't in this movie. Except he WAS in the how-could-it-be-worse movie Pathfinder.
To pad this out with more actual critical sounding talk: the cinematography was drab and dull. Monochromatic in an attempt to moody but really it just dragged it all down. Costumes were seemingly borrowed from the lesser characters of better movies. The werewolves weren't awful, weren't amazing. Special effects... okay. Action, tightly edited so as to confuse the viewers into maybe believing it is good (it is not.) One sweet part where a guy gets a ballista bolt through the head after 3 guys get skewered together comically (possibly unintentionally...)
Grade: D- (I couldn't find it in my heart to give it an E)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

#21 - On the album artwork for Celly Cel's "It's Real Out There" CD

Seriously folks, look at this masterpiece. I cannot tell who is doing the real looking here. The audience at the conundrum that is Celly Cel and the tension between his head and his body. Or Cel himself at the audience, defying them to point out said tension. One assumes that the artist is aware of the palpible yet not wholly tangible rift between Cel's head and his body, and in that gaping chasm the viewers mind is plunged far into the depths of the image until they find themselves gasping at the shores of their OWN PSYCHE. Truly the truth is to be found here somewhere. Somewhere in, as Harlan Ellison called it, THE REGION BETWEEN.
Also this shit is as lame as this Kevin Eubanks cover:
Grade: A/F

Friday, October 3, 2008

#20 - On the album "BBC in Session" by The La's

This album is late news but still seems a necessary thing to say to the two people who read this blog. Everyone knows at least one song by The La's and that song is the mid 90's hit "There She Goes". A brilliant little "one hit wonder" grade pop song that I didn't really pay attention to when it was out (though I did love it.) Later on I had read that someone like Noel Gallagher had called The La's the greatest british pop band ever made. Oasis doesn't know many things, but they do know their way around a pop song so I figured I'd give the La's a shot. I went out to my local music store and found a used copy of The La's self titled (and to that point, only) album (I believe it was at the now defunct Record and Tape Exchange in College Park.) I popped the album into my stereo and was... underwhelmed. Only two songs really stood out to me: "Timeless Melody" and "There She Goes". Nothing else really hit me as a "Nuggets-style" brilliant pop single. Every few months I'd pop the album in again, trying to find that elusive brilliance that people claimed it had, but it was just kind of weak sounding.
Fast forward about a year and I read in what I'll assume was Mojo (I think they'd be the only magazine concerned with The La's) about the history of The La's and how the album they put out did not make them happy one bit. Recorded by Steve Lillywhite (producer of early U2 and... the Dave Matthews Band), they claimed they were never happy with the sound of the album. It was weak. They were right... it WAS weak. Still, too bad.
Later I had read about the release of this BBC session album. Perhaps the La's would produce better results live in a studio. And true that, they did.
This album is one of the best collections of pop songs I've heard in a while. It's almost the same songs, but they are played in a more urgent and muscular fashion that you only get from great live bands. The only thing preventing it from feeling like a solid "album" is that certain songs are repeated as they were recorded by slightly different lineups in different sessions from different years. It's interesting to hear the difference, but the real star here is the songs and the nearly flawless performances of them. If you like pop, harmonies, energetic 60's style rock n roll... this one should be a no brainer. Even if you didn't like There She Goes...
Grade: A

Saturday, September 20, 2008

#19 - On Possibly the World's Only Remaining Steven Seagal Fan

This man has a problem. It is ignorance perhaps. Perhaps it is merely awful taste. He is a nice man. The conversation starts very simply. He approaches with the question: "What's with these new Steven Seagal movies?" The conversation runs like this:
"What's with these new Steven Seagal movies?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I see all these new movies... around 4 of them in the last few years... I see them on DVD but they never came out in the theater."
"Oh, they are just direct-to-DVD movies."
"Why aren't they in the theaters?"
"Well.. he's just not popular enough to carry 'real' movies so they put out these direct-to-DVD movies because they are cheaper to make."
The man seems flabbergasted by this. His face betrays the sadness in his heart. His disbelief that perhaps Senor Seagal's popularity has waned since the early 90's. I comment that it's just like what happened to Jean Claude Van Damme.
His hands wave around as if his voice alone could not convey how wrong this is: "Naw! Steven Seagal was WAY more popular than Van Damme though."
I explain that those two actors took the same basic career trajectory. He disagreed, stating that Steven Seagal was one of the biggest stars in the universe compared to Van Damme. This is fine with me. I resist the urge to compare an argument over Van Damme and Seagal to arguing over which $1 bowl of gruel tastes better. But then the man let's this little doozy slip out of his mouth:
"I mean, Seagal is at least way better than Jet Li or Jackie Chan."
My co-worker notes that Jackie Chan is one of the biggest stars in the world. The man's reply is "Yeah, but not in the US."
My coworker points out that Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon were huge franchises, way larger than any Seagal movie. The man says "Nawww... not bigger than 'Out For Justice' or 'Fire Down Below'. And besides, look at who was in those movies with Jackie Chan... no wonder they were big."
Again, my astute coworker says: "Chris Tucker? Oh yeah... 'Money Talks'... that was REAL big. Half of the draw was Jackie Chan."
The man disagrees. We point out that Jackie Chan and Jet Li were both big from almost BEFORE either Van Damme and Seagal. The man argues that you're not even actually big unless you're making it in the US. We mention "Drunken Master" as an old movie that was big. He says "Well I ain't ever heard of that. And all those movies are real old and made in Japan or whatever."
Then he says "I mean... even that dude from The Transporter is a better martial artist than Jet Li. Jet Li is all fake and shit."
We point out that Statham's better movies were ones where he DOESNT fight. This conversation goes on for a while, but the man is pretty amicable, despite his sometimes offensive comments. Everyone came out slightly confused, but no worse for wear.
So this is where I consider the grade this man would receive. He was indeed a great fan of Steven Seagal's, to which he would probably get an A. The problem was that he was not really aware of the story behind Seagal's later work, meaning his "fandom" had obviously slipped since the man's fall from grace. Also he was oblivious to enough facts to make strong cases, or at least to wave away the facts. This brings up the question: once he is made to believe the facts that Jet Li is a great martial artist, and Jackie Chan was popular worldwide and this counts for something... would he still be so adamant about the greatness of Steven Seagal? Was it true love that he had for the works of the squinty eyed, elbow throwing, pony-tailed action dinosaur that made him remain a fan of his work? Or just ignorance? Will the man fail this test of fandom? I do not want to be there when the walls of his Seagal worship crumble before his eyes. It will either be a sad affair, or the rising of an even stupider phoenix borne out of the ashes of ignorance and fueled by the fires of simple bad taste. S since we do not know the outcome and can only judge this Seagal fan on his actual ignorance of Seagal's post popularity career (and the fact that he did not even seem aware the the actor was no longer popular) I'll have to give him a...
Grade: C
Low marks for ignorance of actor, high marks for still being his fan.

Friday, September 5, 2008

#18 - On the album "She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke" by The Dutchess & The Duke

The recent (by which I mean last... six or so years) revitalization of the 60's style pop/rock song as art form is a double edged whammy. It has given us some great bands: The Clientele, Belle & Sebastian. Some okay bands: The Minders, Apples In Stereo. And some downright awful bands: I can only think of that awful "Delilah" song by whoever does it. People have slowly caught on that guitars plus melody minus total rockage equals "quality" or at least the perception of "quality". The main problem is that more often than not the actual songwriting, lyrically and, more importantly, melocially falters and the crap floats to the top as it is usually written by people far prettier who are merely following the trends 30 seconds later than the real deal and 30 seconds earlier than the rest of the world.
The Dutchess & The Duke, a band comprising of basically three people, using only acoustic guitars, a little electric and hand percussion, sound like the Rolling Stones. The important fact of this is that they do not sound like they are trying to sound like the Rolling Stones. They just do. The attitude and voicing of this music could easily fall apart as phony or weak but instead it's a major strength of it. It lacks the funky swagger of half of the Stones material, but retains the dark folk sexy danger of some of their best material, coming off like an alternate version of The Stones' album "Aftermath".
Lyrically this come on equally sexy/dangerous in that 60's rock and roll way. This is not meant as a diss as they pull it off, but the main pull of the album is a) the super lo-fi production which only accentuates the pure hooks in these songs and the amazing natural harmonies that tend to blossom in each chorus.
Is it a flawless album? No. It tends to drag on a bit in the latter half and as such it can be top heavy, but the top is so heavy that it doesn't matter. The strength of the first half of the album largely overshadows the second half which isn't so much bad as it is just not as good as what came before. Will they become big? The sound of the group is almost too authentic to get that way, but there is a modern bent to their sound and the structure of the songs that makes them more than just a "retro" act. So in response to will they become big: Who cares?
Grade: B+

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

#17 - On the album "Fur & Gold" by Bat for Lashes

Another free album I managed to procure, this one is also.. not very good. I caught onto this artist by way of her Youtube celebrity making video for her single "What's a Girl To Do?" The video, while cool, is cool in all of the most basic ways. Every signifier for "hipster" music is there. Animal masks ala Animal Collective/The Knife/everyone? Check. Bike riding ala The Cool Kids? Check. A spectacularly choreographed and seemingly low budget shot video encompassing one shot ala Feist? Check. It all works very well, but in an ultimately shallow way. One likes it and then feels guilty for liking it. Not in the guilty pleasure way that is obvious, but a far more insidious way that is slowly permeating pop's growing intermingling with underground/art culture.
It all makes sense then that it would be paired up with music equally hollow. On first listen, the single and much of the album is a near inventive (circa 1995) soundscape evoking basically... Bjork and trip hop of a lesser-than-Portishead caliber. Actually, on subsequent listens, these comparisons only sink in further. The songs are spooky and a bit pretty but ultimately sound like exercises in being Spooky and Pretty. Most of the quirkiness of this release seems manufactured, and while it is made well... it still seems... made. Had this come out years ago, I would just throw it in the bin with lesser trip hoppers like the Sneaker Pimps and Mono. Highbrow art for the middle to low brow crowd.
Grade: C+

#16 - On the album "Anywhere I Lay My Head" by Scarlett Johansson

Let me first note that I got this album for free. There.
Oh Scarjo. Why did you do this? That was my first reaction when I read that the buxom indie-nerd's-then-everyone's-then-some-people's wet dream announced that she would record an album chock full of songs by one of my favorite artists of all time: Tom Waits. The offenses went on: she managed to fanagle the skills of Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio. David Bowie was slated to guest sing on the album. Nick Zimmer from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs was to play guitar on it. My mind split on whether or not the album would be awful or at least cool sound and awful. In the end I am still not sure how I feel about all of this. Being an album I got for free, my first thought was "I kinda wish it had a hotter cover/liner notes art. She looks vaguely like Gwen Stefani (someone I do not like, to put mildly)" You know, cuz really... let's get real here. I wasn't even sure if I was going to actually listen to the album but I figured.. what the hell.
The production is beautiful. For one song. Then pretty sweet the next. Then it just gets more and more boring as it goes on. On some songs, the ethereal washes of guitar and near industrial noise.. basically TV On the Radio going all Slowdive (though not My Bloody Valentine because they are a different... less boring kind of shoegazer music). Then Scarjo begins to sing.
One thing I noticed that this album reinforces is the beauty of Tom Wait's songs. The strength of melody you have there. True, Waits does not a beautiful voice, but in a way it's unique enough to make you think it's all about the delivery and the wacked out lyrics when it comes to his songs.
Scarlett Johansson cannot sing. She is not awful though. And she sounds like she is honestly trying. Not hamming it up really, but really getting into the songs, and through this it all achieves a weird sort of beauty. I imagine if the songs were presented in a movie as sung by some everyday girl (who is really hot) as portrayed by Scarjo, they would be easier to stomach than on an album which is marketed as an album of songs interpreted by someone worthy of interpreting the material. It is not. But it's a nice little album of songs sung badly but by someone who had the money and connections to put it together. There's nothing wrong with that. In the end, oddly, the bad vocals make the album better than the nearly pedestrian (while being totally nonmainstream somehow) production, which sometimes hold it back. They attempt to hide the flaws in the delivery more than call attention to them, and I think that would have helped in selling the album as a real work, and less a vanity project (which it doesn't really feel like anyways.)
Still, it's not actually GOOD. Just better than bad. Which, given expectations, throws it somewhere in the realm of AMAZING... or not. So I probably won't put it in my mp3 library, and no hot cover? I'm selling this baby.
Grade: C+

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

#15 - On the Chinese BBQ Pork Buns My Mother Gave Me

There is no true way to eat a bbq pork bun. At least when it comes to reheating them. I received 5 or 6 "prepackaged" pork buns from my mother last weekend. Not quite sure where she got them but perhaps I should ask. Each one was individually wrapped, without paper stuck to the bottom of it, much like you would find sweet red bean buns in the little "bread corner" in most asian supermarkets. You know what I'm talking about. High five my brothers.
I am sometimes wary of pork buns. They are delicious. They are just a bread exterior, sometimes rice dough, sometimes with sweet stuff smeared on top for extra oomph. The bbq pork inside is hard to mess up. Sometimes however I get a large bit of onion that is a little too... large for my taste. It isn't the flavor that gets me. It is the texture. As I chew on the meat, this leafy slimy thing smears itself on my tongue and gags me, turning what was a pleasurable experience into a STRUGGLE FOR LIFE ITSELF.
I broke out the pork buns in the middle of playing a videogame with my friend Nam who was thankfully online. Otherwise I would have had to share them with him. I microwaved the buns in their little packages despite his advice to steam them. I am lazy. Turns out it did not matter either. The outside bread did achieved the heat properties of a lesser star after spending a few seconds too long in the microwave and it also got a bit soggy. I was vaguely upset, though when I held it in my hand, the outside of the bread was still dry and pleasant to the touch. Not unless a fresh cooked brownie. I bit down onto the overly moist bread and hit the meat which was delicious and it's slightly drier than usual nature (though still sweet with delicious sauce) balanced out the consistency of the outer bun. Truly a good pork bun. Each one I ate over the course of the last few days has been equally dilectable and not once did I suffer an onion attack.
Grade: A

Monday, August 25, 2008


I have temporarily removed the review #13 because it caused my browser to close at work. No idea.

#14 - On the Jousting Competition at the Maryland Renaissance Festival 2008

Let me start with the best foot forward: It was a beautiful day. Normally I find myself (if I normally do such a thing) at the Renaissance festival in the autumn, where going is an excuse to enjoy the mild weather while eating a gigantic turkey leg. This year I found myself going with Capt. Mystery to the event on its first day of celebration. I feared the worst. The weather here tends to gravitate towards the moist/fish-ridden variety of humidity and I give my sweat glands an F- because they tend to cry angry gravy at even the smallest hint of "warmth". So when I say that it was a beautiful day, do not take this lightly. I expected the worst and was given THE BEST. The sky was hollywood blue. The grass was bollywood green. Air was coolish and it was NOT very humid at all.
Already, not of its own accord, the Jousting Competition is doing pretty well.
The festival is always the same, so weather plays a big role in whether (weather? HAAAAHAHAHAHA) or not the whole thing is a lark or a lump. Does this all mean this review will be favorable? Even the dumbest baby knows the answer.
Do you know those movies, the one Hollywood loves to make, where massive armies fan out before a grandly armored leader or some sort. They are a bustle with excitement. Then a cry rings out: "MEN OF THE _direction_, HEAR MY CALL!!!" Then something about battle and then everyone and goes and dies in the name of basically that person and his/her speech. What I have learned most from the Renaissance Festival is that in a realistic situation, where a man in armor is yelling, years of community theater voice training in his throat, I will hear this: "Do __ __ ___ __ KING! AND RE_____ TO _____ __ ___ FEVERED ___ WE CHEER!" At which point someone is paid to raise a sign that tells us to cheer and the entire audience cheers. I wouldn't mind if it was just me not quite getting it. I'd still stand up and cheer wholeheartedly if everyone around me was feeling it. But the "HUZZAH" sign raised in the clear afternoon calls us all liars and lets us all know we are in on the sad lie that is "we are totally entertained and know what is going on." So it boils down to moments of boredom and confusion and despite the weather... overheating followed by bursts of LIES. CHEERING LIES.
HUZZAH! I cheer not knowing who I am cheering for.
HUZZAH! The crowd cheers, only 5% able to hear the explanation of what's happening.
Maybe if there was blood. And so the joust began. First was the rings or cans or whatever, where they knocked cans off of posts or something. Something about replacing rings with cans made it seem very wrong. Then some bearded nerd fought another bearded nerd with staves or polearms of some sort. They did say what they were. I just couldn't hear it.
The whole first fight was very stagey, but I allowed myself to enjoy it in some silly fun fashion. Then Captain Mystery whispered "Jeez, it's so staged!"
My reply was "DUH!" but what I meant was "I was trying to hide myself from that sad truth but now I cannot for thine words have pulled the cloak of mystery from my mind and I am awash in shame and embarrassment for all parties."
Next came the thing where two knights on horses hit each other with wooden swords. This was promising because you knew it didn't have to be staged. The swords were wooden, not like the metal polearms of the first fight. Let it be known however, that not staged does not mean exciting. Constrained to their horses, the two opponents could only stand next to one another and repeatedly buffet one another with similar blows, like rock em soc em robots being played by epileptic children. It was an exercise in repetition that Steve Reich would have been envious of. Eventually someone won, but I was busy looking at the place that sold wooden swords, dreaming of the day when I too could bore onlookers with my boring exploits.
The actual joust was good. Dude's hitting each other with lances. Things splintering. Nothing amazing though. I always secretly dream that something will slip, and we'll see something awful like a man impaled by a lance through his exposed throat. I say this now, edgy like all that, but in reality if I saw it, I would be the first to cry. But at least crying would be something.
In some perverse way though, in pretending to enjoy the whole affair, I almost did. At least I got to sit down.
Grade: C

Friday, August 22, 2008

ON +/-

I was about to review the movie Pineapple Express which would receive a C+ when I realized that I had just given Brazilian Girls a B-. What's the fundamental difference between those two grades? Is it like a line on a scale? Rather than using the + or - as replacements for smaller incremental markings on a scale, I look at this this way. Pineapple Express was basically a C movie, it was okay, the jokes were pretty good, the pacing was sometimes off, and whatever, but it had the addest great value of the chemistry of the cast and that they all seemed to be having a good time. That augments how I felt about the movie, without changing what I feel the overall quality of the movie was.
Brazilian Girls' "New York City" is a good album, but there's some weird lack of artistic zeal, some hidden bit of daring that holds it back just slightly. It nags in the back of my mind and makes me question giving it a B, but in the end, it's still a good album. Not enough to take it down.
C+ is an average thing with things that push it slightly upwards. B- is a good thing with the minor niggles that keep it from being close to an A. Make sense?
Probably not.

#12 - On the album "New York City" by Brazilian Girls

Brazilian Girls occupies a strange area in the pop spectrum. It seems as if they are unsure what they are shooting for in the grand scheme of their career. This is not to say that they are unfocused in their sound, which is a mish mash of French pop, hip hop beats, rock, and whatever else comes their way. In fact this aspect of the band seems almost too calculated at times. Also, such flagrant strides for eclecticism to mask actual songwriting and ideas seems a bit... 1990's. Still, they do what they do pretty well, and when the songs match up to the production, it's still middle ground music, but high middle ground. Are they shooting for the charts or just trying to stay artistically viable? Can't tell. This album basically nails that high middle ground and stays there. Far better than their previous album "Talk to La Bomb" which I found almost annoying, this one has moments that are genuinely gorgeous/moving/exciting. "Nouveau American" reminds one of Ms. John Soda at their best, and "L'interprete" is gorgeous because they don't throw all their tricks in the basket, opting for a gentle acoustic song that reminds me of a Vashti Bunyan song if sung by Francoise Hardy. Pretty stuff. And the album carries on like that. It finds the band becoming more sure of their place in the world, even if that place is some strange place between things, and confidently waggling their music in it. I like it quite a bit when it's "on", but I don't know if I'll find it playing that much in the iPod. I recommend it to friends who aren't into the stuff I say I like the most. You know who you are.
Grade: B-

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

#11 - On "Farty Guy"

Let me state first that farting or "passing gas" is a natural occurrence and should at no point reflect on the person releasing such emissions, no matter how stinky they are. The grade to be given to the following subject is due to an assortment of reasons and the monicker given to him is just that: a name used to refer to the subject.
Do you remember the alphabet? I sure do. But Farty Guy does not. He walks into a record store and asks for the "rhythm and blues" section. After being directed to the section, Farty Guy then asks where Starpoint is. When shown where it is, Farty Guy stares at the section and then asks where Cherelle is. Farty Guy is always asking after looking for only 2 seconds. Is he actually looking then? After he asks, he continues to look. What is the point then? Farty Guy does not know. He would probably also ask this question. If he was someone smarter than Farty Guy.
Farty Guy then brings his objects to the counter to be purchased, and while talking, he farts. The smell is an explosion of wrong. It is the frowns of eleven small D-average school children. It is a flower wilting in a velvet painting in a thrift store. It is perhaps, the most unhappy smell ever. Farty Guy dwells in the realm of the smell for a while before exiting the store. Upon opening the door to leave, however, he takes a look behind him and says in the best confused voice he can muster, "What the?" as if the idea of using his nose had just come to him. As if the fart had crawled forth from some dark unknown recess of his body beyond time and his own notice, hovered for a while, watching the transaction with a bemused expression on its face before tapping him on the shoulder and saying, matter-of-factly, "you farted. shhhh..."
Thanks Farty Guy, for leaving your indelible stamp in here and requiring that we prop the door open with a wooden stick.
Grade: D+

#10 - On Today's Drive to Work

I was running about a minute late so in my hurry I didn't notice much that was notable happening around me. The weather is particularly hot nowadays which left me relying on the a/c instead of lowering my windows. This is not a great thing as I like the feeling of the wind roaring through the car. I get to blast music louder and FEEL THE ROCK N ROLL! On the good side, the windows being down hinders the aerodynamics of my car somewhat, lessening my gas mileage. Minimal red lights. Minimal bad drivers. The main part of the drive, down 95 N, was a bit crowded but nothing that really slowed me down. In Laurel, a block or so away from work, I did spot "Crazy Olympics" man (see: #1 - On Laurel...) dressed in nothing but the usual shorts and pink bandana. Oddly, he was standing next to a man at a crosswalk who was wearing blue jeans shorts and a blue bandana. I don't know if it made it more or less appropriate that instead of being shirtless, this other man, who I assume was also crazy, was wearing a blue stonewashed vest. Each one was a mountain of rippling muscles, no doubt from their daily crazy olympic training: doing push ups outside Chipotle, yelling at strangers, hiding food in bushes, and dancing to inaudible music.
For my music, I was listening to the soundtrack for Beck (reviewed below) which, detached from the show, is not that great, but contains two or three good songs. I listened to one song twice, leaving me with not enough time to listen to the other ones. I instead indecisively, and quite me-ishly, flipped through half of one song and half of the other and got really nothing out of it in the process.
The left turn into work was not as bad as it usually is. And parking was a snap, despite me thinking the store's owner was at work due to all the shiny black "business class" cars in the lot.
So the drive did its job, getting me from point A to point B with no hassles and with a little entertainment, though the entertainment did make me question my sanity a bit.
Grade: B

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

#9 - On BECK: The Series

Hopefully this isn't a trend of turning this blog into a nerdy anime review site. This will give the reader the wrong impression that I am some sort of uber anime nerd. Yeah, I watch a few shows, but I only have enjoyed a few. Cowboy Bebop, the Giant Robo OVA's, Miyazaki movies, Satoshi Kon, and the work of Studio 4C. Other than that, I find the "genre" (a funny term to use for basically an entire industry that cranks out works of all sorts of genres) to be kind of stale because for all of its inventiveness, every story is told in the same sort of anime "voice". The same staples come out and to casual viewers are either confusing or annoying and to a person who (being japanese) kind of grew up with alot of it... it becomes slightly embarrassing. This isn't to say that popular American television isn't full of awful things. I'm just used to it, I suppose. This is a thing people have to remember when they say "oh, i don't like anime." It's just an entire culture of television, and like any large group of pop cultural products, you are bound to have your bad and average things and sometimes, very rarely, something great will pop up.
Not that Beck is that "great thing", but it is very good.
Perhaps I am biased though. A long time ago, maybe over ten years ago, I saw a movie on television called Cotton Candy. Later I found out that this was some lame tv movie done in the 70's by Ron Howard. It was about a high school kid (played by I believe Charles Martin Smith of The Untouchables and Never Cry Wolf) who starts a fun little pop rock band to defeat the resident "cool" band in a big Battle of the Bands. I LOVED this movie. Was it good? NO. But it was about a band. Apparently I will watch anything involving music and the camraderie that forms in the making of it. Once? Check. The Commitments? Check. That Thing You Do? Check. MUSIC & LYRICS??? Check! And I liked each one. Don't get me wrong, I love the occassional rockumentary (DiG! was brilliant) but sometimes you just wanna see a fake ass band MAKE IT!!!!!!!!
(Seriously though, Cotton Candy... fun shit.)
BECK is an anime series about a young boy, about 14 years old, named Koyuki Tanaka (I think... I don't really recall) who is sort of a shy losery type. He eventually discovers the power of ROCK N ROLL and learns how to play the guitar and joins a band called, surprise, BECK. Alot of sites had cited this show as SUPERCOOL! but what I really enjoy about it is how UNCOOL it is. Sure, it tries to get all cool with how super awesome the lead guitarist for BECK is supposed to be. There are anime moments about "his skills are unsurpassed!" but then the objects of power are not crystals of power but vintage Telecasters. I suppose that IS cool. The uncool part is how boring life outside the band seems, but not in a bad way. The show seems to capture the NEAR poetry of how mundane everyday life is while still working in a love story that unfolds with little drama but still in a sweet sad little way. When Koyuki joins the band, one almost believes his life will immediately become awesome and the show will take flight in a ROCK N ROLL!!!!! Guitar Wolf kind of way. But instead his life, like in real life, doesn't really change. And it's all the more beautiful for it. The show does build to a big climactic point, but then moves past it in a gentler way and the very ending is realistic and totally uplifting. Sweet but not too saccharine.
All of this praise however comes with small prices. Certain characters speak English, and while the bad english is kind of forgiveable when it comes to Japanese characters (although they DO try to sound kinda cool too and fail), it is also unforgiveably bad when spoken by AMERICAN characters. This took me out of the show but not enough to hate it.
Is the music good? Not really, though I enjoyed a few songs. You can't make a large scale project about a rock band that is supposed to be AMAZING without making some concessions to the crappy music throne but some of the pop songs that BECK performs are pretty great. At least in the context of the show. Definitely better than say... The HEIGHTS (anyone?).
I will add that I love the theme song of the show and wish it was a song the band played.
The art for Beck is also noteworthy for it's beautifully painted backgrounds. Nothing super stylish. In fact, almost the opposite, the show is more slanted towards the realistic end of the anime spectrum.
I do have one big beef which is (SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!) in the Japanese release of the show, a main character performs "I've Got a Feeling" by The Beatles by himself as basically the big climactic moment of the series. In the American dub, it's a different song because of rights, understandable. In the japanese dub however, it is also different. And if the song was okay, it would make sense, but basically the dude sings the same boring verse OVER AND OVER ("I've Got A Feeling" is a long song and in the show the scene lasts a LONG TIME.) This would be awesome if it had the build of the original song in the Japanese release (I've heard it and it's great) but instead... it nearly destroys the big moment. The melody the character sings is totally fine, but more laid back, and in the context of the show, the beauty of "I've Got A Feeling" is how naked and open the exclamation is. How the melody rises. All of it is an exclamation that builds and builds on itself. It's not just a song... it's.. A FEEEEELING!
This is totally lost in the change. So if I next go to Japan, you know I'll be getting the DVD there of that episode.
Bottom line: This show is great if you are not into "anime-feeling" anime. However there are a few things that are VERY "anime" in it. It's a tough sell but if you can get past its faults and get into the "mode" of it, it's an amazing series. For music loving anime nerds who can get past the fact that the music isn't awesome, just the fact that the people making it are.
Grade: B+

Friday, August 15, 2008

#7 - A few short reviews from the past:

"Once" (movie) - Beautiful and intimate. Grade: A
"Wall-E" (movie) - At once intimate and epic. Slightly disjointed in pace. Grade: A-
"Hellboy 2" (movie) - Unashamedly fun. Visually gorgeous. A medium weight movie done by a heavyweight director. Grade: B+
"The Dark Knight" (movie)- A dark crisp feature. "Depth" mainly when compared to other "comic book movies". Not the masterpiece people say it is. But still... Grade: B+
"Persepolis" (movie) - Beautiful. A subdued animated masterpiece. The art style, while slightly different from the comic, is gloriously realized. Grade: A
"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (movie) - You'd think it'd be easy to make another movie about a dude who basically runs from Nazis and it's immediately cool. NOPE. Apparently it is impossible. At least to anything involving George Lucas. The movie at least TRIES. Or DOES IT? Grade: C-
Lil Wayne "The Carter III" (music) - A great diverse album from one of hip hop's most original (yet still gangsta) voices. Some songs a bit too R&B-ish. His mixtapes (WHICH ARE FREE) are better. Grade: B-
Bon Iver "For Emma, Forever Ago" (music) - A bleak and gorgeous album. Beautiful vocals, amazing simple production. A sad long painful goodbye to pain. Grade: A
Beirut "The Flying Club Cup" (music) - The band has one of the most beautiful sounds in modern music. Unfortunately the songs begin to sound a bit samey, and no song here is as solid as earlier 'hits' "Elephant Gun" and "Postcards From Italy". It seems that they are sometimes coasting on a formula they nearly perfected. But not quite. Grade: B
Weezer "The Red Album" (music) - Good Weezer albums are becoming more of a surprise nowadays. This album is not a surprise. It is more disheartening than ever. Most embarrassing tracks than usual. Grade: D
REM - "Accelerate" (music) - Less a return to form and more a swing in the right direction, this album sees REM doing what it did best (and better) in it's IRS records heyday. Throwing out seemingly simple but rousing pop/rock numbers. Unfortunately, none of the songs are as good as before and it just seems like "Document"-lite. Still, that's better than 80% of what is out there. Grade: C
Seether - any albums (music?) - Grade: n/a Material reviewed must serve as some form of art or entertainment to have any sort of grade allocated to it.