Thursday, March 20, 2008

Recent South Park episodes - ehh

South Park recently started up their 12th season to my delight. I'm a big fan of the show. I have seasons 2-10 on DVD (the first season, as hilarious as it was when I first saw it in early high school, doesn't hold up well to the later seasons). The new episode that aired last week was titled Tonsil Trouble. Amy and I watched it at Ric and Jeri's after watching In the Name of the Father. It was ok.

The premise is that Cartman gets AIDS from a blood transfusion while having his tonsils removed. At first, Kyle can't stop laughing. Cartman gives Kyle AIDS to get back at him. Then Kyle stops laughing. They discover the cure: injecting liquefied money into their veins. They are led to this cure when they see that Magic Johnson has had AIDS for years with no symptoms and sleeps next to his money.

There was some sort of commentary going on, with Cartman lamenting the fact that no one cares about AIDS as a cause anymore (it's all about cancer now), and with Kyle realizing that AIDS isn't funny once he has it, and with money being the cure for AIDS, but there's no pay-off. It felt like they had some decent ideas but couldn't come up with a good punchline. There are some funny moments, like the repeated "Are you positive?" "I'm HIV positive" routine, and the Jimmy Buffet stuff, but overall the laughs are few and far between.

This weeks episode, Britney's New Look, is even less funny. Again, they have some ok ideas, but the pay-off is weak, and I really couldn't take watching Britney's half-head all episode. The funniest bits were the townspeople singing in Latin, mimicking the ominous music from movies of that type. Other than that, I didn't really laugh.

I hope the guys get back from vacation soon, because I miss the good South Park of only a few months ago (Guitar Queer-O and The List were hilarious).

Monday, March 17, 2008

New shirts available!

Those Digital Bits shirts I was telling you about are now up for sale! Get 'em while they're hot.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Stop spitting

I still see guys spitting all the time. I don't get it. Unless you're chewing tobacco or sunflower seeds, or you just went to the orthodontist's and your mouth tastes terrible, or you just ran a marathon and chugged a quart of milk, why do you need to spit? I see baseball players at Biola doing it, when they're just walking somewhere on campus. It's still stupid to me, but I can sort of understand that it's a cultural thing for them. You play baseball? You spit. All the time. But I see regular guys doing it too. Just walking around campus, and they'll spit. Right there on the pavement. Are you civilized? Did you swallow a bee? Why is that a habit? What are you getting out of your mouth that shouldn't be there? Do you have a genetic condition that affects your saliva glands so you produce 10x more than the average person?

In elementary school I tried spitting for a while. Cool kids did it. "Ok, I'm game, I'll spit too. I have no reason to, but I guess it's what you do if you're a cool guy." Eventually I got over it when I realized it was stupid, gross, and pointless, and not in a cool "guy" way.

I don't get why guys still do it. At this age. For no reason.

Call of Juarez

At the end of last year, I finally picked up Call of Juarez for the PC. Call of Juarez is a Western-themed first-person shooter (FPS) that was actually released back in 2006 in Europe. (For some reason it took the publisher an extra year to release it in the US.) I had been excited about the game since early 2005 when I first heard about it. I'm a big FPS fan and Western fan, so the prospect of this type of game with modern graphics was incredibly appealing.

(The only other Western FPS that was any good was Lucasarts' Outlaws (which really deserves a sequel), and it was released back when sprites were still dominant in shooters (think Doom, Dark Forces, Duke Nukem). It had a great deal of style, including an original Morricone-inspired soundtrack and fully animated cut-scenes, as well as a pretty full load-out of late 19th century weapons. I wish I could get a DVD of all the animated cut-scenes.)

Well, it's not a great game, but it does certain things so right that it cheers a part of my soul. It is good to know that there are others out there as crazy as I am.

In the game you play as two opposing characters, alternating between their viewpoints to fill in their respective sides of the story. Reverend Ray is a tough old codger with a violent past. He is now a preacher, and considers himself to be an instrument of God's vengeance. The other character, Billy, is a stupid kid. Ray is his uncle. Billy is framed for the murder of his parents, and Ray goes after him. That's all you really need to know, story-wise.

The Good: Reverend Ray.

Marc Alaimo, the actor responsible for voicing Ray, is fantastic. His performance imbues the character with all sorts of interesting nuance and power. One of the better bits of voice-acting I've ever heard, especially in a video game.

The character is well-written, too, beyond just the great dialogue. Ray begins the game as a vengeful self-righteous force, but towards the end is finally made to question his "calling." The great part about the writing is that instead of questioning God, he questions himself. He acknowledges that it was his own selfish hatred that blinded him rather than attributing his blunder to God either misleading him or not existing. This was an unexpected turn, as characters of this sort usually devolve into some sort of anti-religion, anti-God message. The character is also visually well-designed. He wears a piece of armor under his coat that actually deflects bullets in the game (complete with ricochet sounds). One of his "weapons" is a Bible that he quotes terrifying passages from, Pulp Fiction style. Enemies nearby will freeze when they hear it.

The other good bits are the weapons. These guys did their research. While the shotguns and rifle feature no variants, the pistols are pretty great. Included are such unusual guns as the LeMat revolver, an 8-shot percussion pistol with a shotgun barrel under the main; a hold-out barrel-less SAA, which I've seen a picture of in a book before; Volcanic Repeaters, the cool looking precursors to the Winchester rifle.

The Bad: Billy, the other main character.

He's a wuss, a loser, and his voice acting is pretty weak. It's not horrible, but its mediocrity is highlighted further by Ray's excellent performance. His playable segments are also not that fun. The bow is fun, the whip isn't, and sneaking isn't nearly as fun as running-and-gunning like Ray.

The Ugly: the character animation. Whenever you're interacting with another character, all they do is stand there and talk at you. If there is ever any body acting, it's an arm movement. Otherwise, they all just stand there with their arms at their sides. Compared with the wonderful full-body acting of the characters in games like Half-Life 2, it just stands out and makes the game world feel artificial. The graphics engine is actually really detailed and realistic, with dust blowing across the landscape, lots of foliage, etc, but when these barely animated puppets yell bad dialogue at you without moving, it really destroys the illusion.

Well, this was an awfully long post about something no one else will care about, so I'll leave it here.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Pale Rider = Shane!

I had an epiphany while doing the dishes today: Pale Rider is a remake of Shane.

This may be an obvious thing that's all over IMDB (I haven't checked yet), but it just occurred to me.

You have a mysterious stranger who rides in just when things are getting desperate for a small 3-person family. The stranger has some sort of dark past that he doesn't discuss. The child of the family becomes really attached to the stranger. The wife falls a bit in love with the stranger. The husband is a good man who is the strongest of his community, but he's not quite up to the task of standing up to the bad guy. The bad guy controls some big business and wants to run the community out so he can own their land. The community is fearful and many want to leave. The stranger helps out the husband at a crucial moment early in the movie, which encourages the good guy to stay and fight and rally the others. The stranger participates in the manual labor around the homestead, at one point physically moving/breaking a giant obstacle with the help of the good guy. The bad guy fears that his own men aren't enough to drive the community off, so he hires a special gunman/team of gunmen to help. One member of the community makes a dumb move and winds up dead at the hand of the gunman/gunmen. The stranger and the gunman/gunmen have a history together that's only hinted at. The final showdown occurs between the stranger and the gunman/gunmen & bad-guy, and the stranger wipes them all out. The stranger leaves town, with the child calling out their love.

I prefer Shane. What surprised me was that I even prefer the kid in Shane to the girl in Pale Rider. The kid in Shane is really annoying, but the girl in Pale Rider is even worse. She does much dumber stuff, and should know better because she's a good deal older.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Legend (1985)

Legend sucked.

The Digital Bits shirt design

I don't think I ever posted about this here, so now that there's an update, I will!

A while back (November of 2006), The Digital Bits (my favorite DVD news site) graciously hosted me as Artist of the Month. As part of the deal, they typically ask for one of the artist's pieces. Sarah asked me if I'd be interested in helping to design a shirt instead, and I agreed.

Here's the first shirt design of mine they used (the theme is HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray), which can be bought here:

I drew another design as well, but I'm not as happy with it, and I wouldn't wear it on a shirt, so I'm glad we didn't end up using it. Here it is:

We recently discussed doing a sequel, now that Blu-Ray has beat HD-DVD. Here's what I came up with last night:

I'm very pleased with the way it turned out. Just gotta add some color and it's done. I hope Sarah likes it.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Movie Night, Price is Right

(Title makes no sense, but it has "Price" and rhymes)

We had our first movie night with the Prices last week. We watched In the Heat of the Night (which only I had seen!) and had jambalaya for dinner. It was a good time. Ric and Jeri described some new shows we need to see, we discussed the finer points of South Park, and we ate peanut butter M&Ms and popcorn.

Stop screaming

Screaming is the dumbest trend in music in the history of mankind ever, and you know I'm not one to hyperbolize. I work at the Biola Bookstore, and I have to listen to the same 5 CDs over and over and over and over again all day. So I hate every CD the bookstore carries, whether it's good or not. But I do know what is objectively bad, and that is any of these stupid bands that screams their lyrics all day long.

Now, I'm not against a well-timed yell, or growl, or shout, or even scream if it's appropriate. However, if you're a 20-year-old kid in a band, you need to stop screaming all your songs. You also need to stop putting little "scream fills" into your songs. If you're singing a very personal, very emotional song about some devastating event, ok, maybe then you can scream. But screaming every song completely deadens any impact you were hoping to have. A scream is the most intense vocalization a human can make. Do you really think your lyrics need to be screamed in every song?

I suspect not. I think the screaming has less to do with a careful consideration of the best way to musically express yourself, and more with something stupid like "it sounds more intenser," "the other bands in our genre are doing it, and look at their sales," or "I'm not a good singer to begin with." I think that, in a few years, the trend will have moved on, and any bands that have survived will have to look back on their releases during this time with a bit of shame, realizing that they were just fitting in.


The hard part for me is that I have friends who were/are in bands that use the scream crap. My friend Glen plays his amazing guitar for a band (Phinehas) that has chosen screaming as the only method of vocalization, and it hurts the band immensely. I honestly think that the screaming was the last part added on to the band. I should ask him, but this is how I think it went: Glen is jamming with some other guys (who are all really good, by the way), and they decide to form a band. Only problem: no singer. Well, good vocalists are hard to come by, but people who listen to the kind of hard-driving instrumentals that they play are used to screaming, so they grab another friend who can scream and have him do that. He doesn't have to be good, he just has to have endurance! I remember one of his shows I went to was hilarious in driving home this point. The "vocalist", was imploring the crowd between songs to look up their lyrics, acknowledging that they were indiscernible during the performance. WHAT IS THE POINT OF HAVING LYRICS IF NO ONE CAN UNDERSTAND THEM?

Another friend, eef, was in a band (Lunaractive) that was very talented. Really good musicians. They didn't scream all their lyrics, but they certainly threw them in to just about every song. It hurt especially because eef actually has a good voice, which every once in a while you could hear.

So it's hard, because I want to support these friends, and I could honestly say that I liked their music, but I can never listen to it for very long because that one element, that one aspect of the music, is like poop in the cookie jar.

King of Kong (2007)

King of Kong is a very entertaining documentary. Billy Mitchell is an all-time great villain, and Steve Wiebe is a great underdog hero. The documentary chronicles Steve's attempts to beat Billy's long-time Donkey Kong score.

Billy may have the worst haircut ever to appear in a documentary.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Old Videos From College: Part 2

I had a Biola professor tell me one time that whenever he was having a bad day he would watch this video and feel better.

This was taken in the Anza Borego desert when I was on a paintballing trip with my old church and Ian. I got a concussion and don't remember the weekend.

Old Videos From College: Part 1

This is a video Ian took of me skating at City Hall, across from Biola, freshman year in 1999 (I think). Matt was there taking photos of the area for a class, and Frank Pastore was there for some reason as well.