May 26, 2012

Event Reviews @ The Temple

Alvin Ailey – These guys are pretty good. I want to cover that first, because I do have things I didn’t like, but that shouldn’t fool anyone into thinking they aren’t good. They are remarkably talented and athletic people doing pretty remarkable things. The show came in 4 parts, the first was sort of exactly what I imagined from Alvin Ailey. But the choreography was pretty beautiful. It painted some pictures that were striking, moments that stuck in my head. The outfits were incredible, the dresses were so flowy and perfect for their movements. The dancers were… less than expected. Still amazing, all that stuff I said. But I saw a surprising amount of wobbly turns, and slightly off balance poses. I really didn’t expect to see that, I thought it would be much smoother. Second dance was an INCREDIBLE modern thing. Set to this “music” that was really just a woman rhythmically saying “tick tack took” or some random sounds. The dancing was equally staccato. This isn’t a good description, but it was awesome. Third dance was this samurai-inspired thing set to really industrial heavy music. It was telling the story of a hunt or something, the dancing was very aggressive and masculine (it was 6 guys). It went on a bit long, the last 3rd didn’t need to exist. But it was pretty cool up until that, and the lighting was amazing. Last dance was the one these guys are famous for. Created by Alvin Ailey a long time ago, it’s inspired by the lives of slaves, it has a few parts, set mostly to gospel music. I was strangely disappointed with this. It seemed like it should have been amazing, it had all the right ingredients. But it didn’t connect with me, I ended up bored. I feel bad! Overall, the show was great, not the best. I think I’d rather see the columbia dancers again, if put to it.

Pancho Sanchez – So, this guy leads a little latin jazz group, and has for a few decades. Turns out, I don’t really dig latin jazz. I think the guys did a good job, they are all good musicians. Although a couple didn’t seem like they wanted to be there, really. But they were skilled. The sax/flute, trumpet, and trombone guys especially. They had a guest trumpeter, a guy named Terence Blanchard, who was pretty fantastic. Probably the best trumpeter I’ve ever seen. I saw Wynton Marsalis a few years ago too, I don’t remember him being as good! All that being true – I don’t really love latin jazz. It’s fine and all, just kind of boring. They did a soul song as an encore, that was pretty fun, the rest of the night was just a bit snoozy.

River North Dance Company -  Well, these guys are a bit mixed. There was one really bad dance, but that's just because it was excessively jazzy (to Miles Davis music as well), and that's just not my thing. I'm sure they performed it well, I just don't like it. So removing that, this one is hard to judge. They had one beautiful dance that I loved. It was just a couple, dancing to "At Last", a very romantic, joyful dance. It was very much what you'd see on So You Think You Can Dance, a nice beautiful couples contemporary dance. Which is funny, because that's something I don't normally love on SYTYCD, but in person it was fantastic. The girl espeically represented such pure joy, she was genius. The night wrapped with a series of latin-inspired dance. The neat thing thing was they weren't all super high energy. I like super high energy, but it was cool to see latin music danced more slowly. The songs were fun, I liked it all. They danced to Andalucia, which I've just spent 20 minutes figuring out the name of and discovering that the reason I know it is because Pink Martini does it! So that was really nice. All the cuban stuff was good. The other stuff was the mix, they had a fairly standard contemporary piece, and then two aggressive songs. One was a solo half-improvised thing to really percussive staccato music. The other was a Robert Battle (dude running Alvin Ailey) thing. All three, including the contemporary, seemed to lack something for me. I don't know why,they seemed like fantastic ideas, great music, cool lighting. But it's like the idea was never rounded out. There was too much repitition, not enough creativity. Too much of the modern dancer equivalent of thathappy feet thing b-boys do. It's just filler, and I think kind of lazy. But I don't want to end on a bummer. I LOVE variety in dance. 2 hours of tango was overwhelming. 2 hours of Alvin Ailey, while very well executed, was a tiny bit too samey. This, while confined to jazz and contemporary, had a lot of variety, and I really liked that. This was the last dance show of the season. Funny after all that, i still love the Premium Blend by the UA dance students the most. It has the most variety and creativity, hands down. But still, good show, I'd see these guys again for sure.  

The Cat Empire – God dammit, I forgot to write about this for a whole month! These guys are Australian, so they rarely come to the US. And when they do, it’s a pretty sparse tour. So we flew to LA just to see them, which perhaps expresses how excited we were to do so. The show was fantastic, unfortunately the experience was less so. Going to a show in LA is a miserable experience. The club, which chose to enforce the fire code when it came to stairwells, but to dramatically ignore it when it came to number of people in an area, is mostly to blame. The assholes who attend such shows are a close second, though. But forgetting that (as I would prefer to), the performance was great. The music is a lot of fun, and the guys are very good at what they do. They have a lot of ska and latin and other random influences. So there’s a lot of brass, which is great. Both primary singers are great (and very different from each other). We love the music, they could hard to any wrong by just playing the albums. But they do a LOT of extra. A lot of extended musical breaks and such, it’s really awesome.

Yo Yo Ma – I’ve never seen him before. Kind of like Itzak Perlman, he is very skilled, but I just don’t get all too excited about the music, so I never pay that much attention. He’s continuing his fusion trajectory, however, by playing with these two Brazilian guitar-playing guys – the Assad brothers. So the music was all Brazilian and Argentinian, which was kind of cool. The music still wasn’t exactly my favorite, but it was pretty cool. Seeing the mix of Ma and his long-time (apparently) pianist with this South American music was neat.

Game Reviews @ The Temple

Okay, I’m not really sure what to do here. The Steam sales over the holidays really wrecked me. I have 75 games installed in Steam right now. At least half of them I have never even opened. I touched a few of them trying to do Steam’s holiday contest (I didn’t win anything), but that led to very shallow experiences. I’ll try to keep up and at least jot down thoughts on games I play through or through a lot of. We’ll see how it goes.

Actually, I wrote that first paragraph a couple months ago. Whoops. I’ll see if I can remember what I played.

Portal 2 – Have to start here. Without question, the best game I played all year. Perhaps in a few years. The Uncharted games get a lot of very deserved credit for their writing. They are cinematic and engaging and awesome. But his is just something else. Portal one was awesome because you had a game mechanic you’ve never experienced before. And then at the end there’s this hilarious final sequence that has you rolling. In this one, the ENTIRE GAME is the hilarious sequence. It maybe dips a little in the middle bit, but only barely. The first half had me just had me dying. It was so well written and performed, it was amazing. I must say, I don’t think the game play is as good as the first one. Perhaps it’s because the concept is no longer novel, maybe the puzzles are just as good, but not just as new. It just seemed a bit more routine, I was doing the puzzles to get to more dialogue, which is a crazy statement. The addition of the new mechanics didn’t seem that great to me. There were a few very clever solutions, but mostly it felt more mechanical to me, less creative. That being said, I haven’t had a chance to play the co-op version, that might introduce some dynamics that are amazing. Overall, still, best game of the year (keeping in mind that I won’t play Skyrim until it’s under 10 bucks), hands down.

Dead Space – Just finished this one, so that’s easy. It was a decent game. I like what everyone liked about it, the HUD-less experience. The story is a nice Event Horizon kind of creepy story. On the flip side, it’s not particularly scary. And on the bad side, the controls are god damn horrendous on PC. To get them even usable I had to google and play some tricks with the config. And even still the mouse acceleration was so jacked that aiming was very non linear. It made the game harder to play and thus less fun. But I did make my way through it and enjoyed it. I got #2 in the same deal, so that’s next.

Dead Space 2 – Second verse, same as the first! Except way prettier. Interesting playing two games separated by a few years in the same month. The second one looks freaking amazing compared to the first. They also fixed all the shit PC controls from the first game. Acting is still of good quality. The story isn’t anything amazing, kind of like the first. A decent way to spend 10 hours.

Trine – I played the demo so long ago on PS3. Got it with all the holiday sales on steam. Not much to say that hasn’t been said. It has a beautiful art style. The gameplay is fun, switching characters is a great trick. Though I spend most of my time as the thief just to her ability to get around, the wizard is a great character. He doesn’t toss fireballs and fry bad guys with lightning, he’s just a creative character. Sometimes I feel like I’m cheating because I can use his pieces to get around in ways I don’t think they intended, but it does make it fun.

Metro 2033 – This is a pretty short game, beat it in less than 10 hours. It’s good enough. It’s the modern system killer, I  didn’t try to run it with EVERYthing maxed, but I got good fps out of 1080, so that makes me feel good. The game is okay. It’s not very original in being post-apocalyptic, but it is pretty original past that. Humanity lives in the old metro lines because creatures rule the surface. It’s set in russia somewhere. You do go to the surface to travel, but there’s really only two environments: dark tunnels, and snowy surface. The game looks very good, as much as those sets can look good anyway. Action wise it’s pretty average. It has a gas mask thing for travel on the surface. Some of the guns are kind of interesting, all pretty low-tech. The sneaking mechanic doesn’t work very well. You have a monitor for if you are in the dark, which works fine. But once you are discovered, every enemy within a 5 mile radius gains the power of omniscience, which is really annoying. There’s one level in particular where you are under the floor of a bunch of bad guys. It would have been SO fun to run around, popping up, shooting them, then ducking under and moving again. But instead they know exactly where you are at all times and you head is blown off the moment you approach an opening. Combat is pretty hard, even on normal setting. Humans are decent at teaming up on you, and monsters even more so, plus they move so fast and jump on you and get behind you, it’s hard to track. It is often the right choice to sneak, or to haul ass. Overall it’s a decent way to spend a few hours. Nothing amazing, but not bad.

Rock of Ages – This is a kooky little game. You roll a giant boulder down an obstacle course of sorts trying to bash down the front gate of the enemy’s castle. He is trying to do the same to you, so in between rolls, you both set up defenses – walls, catapults, fans, etc to stop the other’s boulder. The game doesn’t seem super deep, either that or I’m just not great at it. Basically always the strategy is to slow him down just enough that you are slightly ahead in the boulders-bashing-into-gates department. So your last boulder will hit before his and you win. Never did I win because I stopped him or was several hits ahead. It got really really repetitive toward the end and not very fun. Maybe there’s something more here, but I didn’t find it.

Star Trek Online – I’m actually having a lot of fun with this. It’s free to play, and what you pay for is mostly bonus. A lot of cosmetic stuff ( costumes) and also extra things, extra crew, extra ships, etc. Super unnecessary to play the game, which is great because I have no desire to pay. But the game is quite fun. I’ve been having a bit of a star trek revival lately, after an absence of many years. So it’s fun to play this game. Space combat is the best part, to be sure. Away missions are okay, but mostly an uninteresting  version of typical MMO stuff, with a nice star trek wrapper. But space combat is pretty cool. Outfitting your ship with different phasers, torpedos, blasters, mines, etc. Plus special abilities like tractor beams and such makes it cooler. I had a number of ships throughout the level progression, including galaxy and whatever the enterprise-e is. The story is so so. The first was about the war with the Klingons, kind of cool, but nothing much. The second was about the Romulans and Remans, which was actually a pretty cool part of the fiction. The some cardassian arc, then some stuff about breen (wha?), borg, and undine. They are kind of cool, but kind of run out of steam. Not sure when they’ll add new content or if it’ll be interesting. Anyway, certainly for a free to play game, this is awesome for any star trek fan.

Just Cause 2 – Played this a while ago, I’ll try to remember. Mostly, it’s running around an island wrecking shit, which is pretty fun. There is a very short story, track down some dudes, kill em, etc etc, nothing new there. But destroying stuff is pretty fun. In fact, part of the reason the story was so short was because nominally you are forced to go around the island causing havoc in order to continue, but I created so much havoc just because it’s fun, that I could do a story mission any time I felt like it. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary here, but running around and shooting things, especially with tanks, helicopters, and jets, is pretty awesome. They give you a nice quantity of stuff to shoot at, both people and environment. Not a deep game, not a life changing game, but a crazy fun game.

May 24, 2012


Holy crap, why has no one ever made a movie about what happens after we survive the zombie apocalypse? Genius!

May 15, 2012

European history

Holy crap, this is awesome. I can’t believe I just stared at my screen for 11 full minutes. Just imagine if this was an interactive map where you could hover over for more information, pan and zoom around. It’d be the coolest thing ever.

EDIT: Dammit, the idiots who apparently don't love free publicity took down the long version. The short version (sadly without dates or significant events called out) got taken down too. I found it on this site, see it while you can.

Movie Reviews @ The Temple

Horrible Bosses – Man, this is another Tucker & Dale. Seemed like a great idea, trailer seemed really funny, but the movie wasn’t as much. Granted, this one is better than T&D, I laughed, it certainly had its moments. But it didn’t have me rolling. Everyone did a fine job and everything, it just didn’t have as much gas as I thought it’d have, too bad.

Attack the Block – Gosh, what is with me lately? This one isn’t bad, but it’s not as good as I heard. I heard it’s like the most amazing alien invasion movie ever. And it does get credit for doing it totally different. The idea is aliens invade, and a group of hoodlums in London fight them off. It’s a really cool concept. The problem is the whole anti-hero. I just can’t get behind a group of assholes who start the movie by threatening and robbing some random women. I’m sure it’s just my perspective, but I have a much harder time accepting them as heroes than the lovable ruffian who never really does anything wrong, but is just kind of an asshole. To be fair, the finale is pretty cool and heroic in its own right. But the movie just doesn’t live up to what I was hoping, sadly. Still decent, still 3 stars, just not great.

Ip Man – This movie is super good. It’s a chinese movie based on a true story of a guy during the japanese occupation during WW II. It’s a bit of a folk tale, him standing up to the oppressors and such, but I guess it’s at least partially true. He also was a great teacher of a martial art style called wing chun that is famously the style used by Bruce Lee. The movie story is cool enough since it’s “based” on real life. But the fighting is pretty awesome. It’s worth seeing the movie just for that.

Everything Must Go – Kind of a bummer movie that’s supposed to be about turning your life around and having hope that it can get better. Will Ferrell is a drunk who loses his wife and job and lives on his lawn. It’s well done, I can’t say it’s a bad movie, it’s just kind of a bummer.

The Station Agent – So, Peter Dinklage inherits an old train station from a friend of his in some podunk place. He is, of course, a dwarf, so he is an item of curiosity in this small town. That’s hard for him, he’s antisocial, some people force some social on him. It’s generally a nice story of making friends and figuring it out.

Planet Hulk – Haven’t been able to get to the avengers yet, so this is my consolation prize. It’s ok. I’m not really a hulk fan, and I wasn’t a fan of the planet hulk run, what little I read of it. I just feel like hulk is used so weirdly, sometimes he can smash a planet, sometimes he has to try to break through some dinky armor. Seems very inconsistent and hard to write well. The movie, separate from that, is an okay saturday morning type movie.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – Didn’t like the first one, don’t like this one. Don’t like money. Movies about people who only care about money are boring.

Martha Marcy May Marlene – This is another tough one. It’s about a girl who gets out of a cult and tries to make sense of it, doesn’t do a very good job. Everyone does a very good job in it, I can’t criticize the movie at all, it’s just kind of uncomfortable to watch. The ending is kind of weird, supposed to leave you wondering “oh no, is that what just happened?” but it’s kind of dumb when movies do that. It’s good though.

Killer Elite – This isn’t really as bad as you would think. Clive Owen is trying to stop a team of assassins led by Jason Statham. Many fights and explosions follow. Sounds bad, it’s not great, but it’s got plenty of fun fighting, which is really all I was looking for, so thumbs up.

Elephant White – This isn’t a bad movie. It’s about human trafficking, which is pretty effed up. Djimon Hounsou (yes I definitely copy pasted that from the netflix page) is on a tear out to punish the bad guys and save the girls. Kevin Bacon is an arms dealer with a weird accent. The movie is decent, Djimon goes around shooting the shit out of some people until all the people are shot. Despite nominally being about something someone different (not just some terrorist with a  bomb), it’s still a pretty samey action movie.

Griff the Invisible – Um, I’m not sure about this one. It’s about a guy, with a crappy boring life, who plays super hero at night. It’s hard to talk about the movie without saying too much. It’s kind of a sad movie, he’s a pretty pathetic character. The movie ends up in a very weird place, in that it embraces his patheticness, and is just okay with it. That’s an odd answer. I guess it’s not an invalid answer, if that’s the way you think, that’s one way to live. I’m being obnoxiously vague, but I sort of have to be. Not that it’s a big mystery or anything, but no sense in spelling it out. It’s kind of sweet, the way it embraces his weirdness, but it’s also kind of off putting. Decent movie, I guess.

The Double – Pppt. So Richard Gere is some kind of secret agent hunting down a super spy. Topher Grace is also an agent (less secret) trying to help Gere do that. Have you picked up on the two things wrong with this movie yet? To be fair, Richard Gere isn’t completely unbelievable as a badass. He has a couple bourne-esque scenes that work surprisingly well. He’s slick enough to pull it off. Topher Grace though, jeez. Between this and Predators, I’m thinking he should never be in anything except the movie version of that 70’s show. I mean, jeez, that was just not very good.

The Mechanic – So, Jason Statham made a movie where he beats up people. I know, weird, right? All things considered, this is one of the better Statham movies of the last couple years. It’s not particularly over the top. It’s not particularly clever either. But there’s this whole apprentice thing that is kind of cool. And Ben Foster, who is a freaking awesome actor, certainly does a great job. The action is actually somewhat sporadic, but comes in really quick awesome bursts. Very slick. You see the end coming, but it’s decently satisfying anyway. Worth the watch.

The House of the Devil – I actually was into this movie for a while. It wasn’t going gross out, or jump scare, or found footage. It did have a hokey 70s/80s feel to it, but that was on purpose, so it was ok. It was going for a slow burn. It did go a bit too slow though. And then it did try to be extra gross after things started going. In the end, it’s not that interesting or different. It’s not super poorly done, there’s just not a lot there to be fascinated by.

Battle: Los Angeles – Okay, I’m not done watching this movie, but it just lost me. It just said, I shit you not, that the aliens invaded because of the “composition” of our water. Because we, unlike ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE UNIVERSE, have liquid water on the surface. The fuck? 1) That’s a ridiculous statement, we might not even be the only place in the SOLAR SYSTEM with liquid water. 2) somehow travelling millions of light years to a planet to get water is more economical than MELTING ICE?! Besides that, it’s an entertaining enough shooty explodey movie. Lots of booms, lots of guns, lots of dead people and dead aliens. Totally fine if you want to watch explosions for a couple hours. Really can’t get over the no liquid water thing, though.

Reel Steel – Huh, this is a pretty good movie! It sounded so dumb, rock ‘em sock ‘em robots and all. But I’ve never actually seen a movie like this, so that’s cool. The plot is mega predictable, not amazingly well done or anything. It’s a very average movie in all regards, except that you get to see robots beat each other up.  Very fun!

Apollo 18 – This actually wasn’t half as bad as I thought it’d be. I had heard only bad things, but, as far as found footage movies go, it’s one of the better ones, I think! The context really suits the movie. I mean, the found footage part of it is stupid, it’s always stupid. But hey the moon is pretty freaking scary. It’s isolated, it’s foreign. As annoying as found footage is, it works to not be able to see what’s really going on. I don’t know, I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece, but I would absolutely watch it over any of the paranormal activities.

Contagion – This was decent. It does everything it’s trying to do well. But it doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done. I think I probably could have gone back and watched Outbreak and saw the same movie. Not sure what new stuff this gave me. But still, done well enough.

The Man From Earth – Uh, ok. This is kind of a stoner movie. But not a party stoner movie, more like a “woah, what if we were all ants?” kind of stoner movie. A guy tells his friends that he’s actually a stone-age caveman who never ages. You don’t know for sure if he’s crazy, full of shit, or supposed to be real. I think they thought it was an interesting thought experiment to have everyone sit around and talk about what it WOULD be like. But it comes out more like potheads talking about how there’s actually 8 dimensions you just can’t see them. Meh.

The Game – I think I saw this long ago, but we resaw it. It’s kind of annoying, any movie where things work out so perfectly and unrealisitcally is annoying. In that context, I guess it’s fine. Kind of exciting and everything. The conceit just kind of bugs me.

F/X – Apparently I forgot to do this one a long time ago. The movie was… ok? Seemed like a generic 80s movie, clever that it’s about a guy who is good at practical effects. That makes for a slightly more interesting protagonist than a random cop, I guess.

Red Riding Hood – Don’t remember this at all. I do remember it wasn’t’ very good. Waited too long to write about it, oops.

Bridesmaids – Yeah, I don’t really get the whole thing. People so flipped out about this. I was very resistant to the Hangover, and ended up thinking it was very funny. I’ve been very resistant to this, and end up thinking meh. It’s certainly got funny parts, no doubt. But I’m sick of the over the top shenanigans. I get it, girls can be gross, very funny. Can we make a movie that’s funny cuz it’s funny now?

Hangover II – Same thing as Bridesmaids, except not as good. But I didn’t say Bridesmaids was good! Exactly.

Gentlemen Broncos – Holy shit, no no no no no no. I love flight of the conchords, I was excited for this when I first heard about it. But no no no. I mean, c’mon, at least TRY to do something funny. Bridesmaids tried, it had some parts that were very funny, the over all thing was just too focused on one type of humor. Hangover II tried to try, tried to re do what it had done, didn’t really succeed, but at least some laughs. I don’t think I laughed once in this one, really just crap.

Piranha – And to wrap up this crapfest, no big surprise. Blood and boobs, how bad can it be? Pretty bad. The gore is really lame, digital flesh and penasia (to borrow Louis C.K.’s term) is pretty 3rd rate. The fish look pretty good, so I think they put all their money there. The rest of the movie had worse CG than in most decent amateur internet movies.

Game of Death – Right, so, Wesley Snipes kills some dudes. Then some dudes try to kill him. He kills them in response. That happens a handful more times. End of movie.

Casino Jack – This is kind of interesting. I didn’t really know much about Jack Abramoff, now I know more. Hopefully it’s true, otherwise I’ll be carrying some misconceptions forward. But the movie is done well, the fantasy scene at the end is so unbelievably tempting, would be kind of awesome to actually happen.

May 14, 2012