Category Archives: Reviews
I kinda grimaced when Google announced their rebranding Music and Android Market into “Google Play.” To me, it just seemed like an idea that came from marketing as some hackneyed effort to breathe some perceived new vibrancy into a product that hadn’t even scratched its showroom paint yet. It certainly didn’t come from engineering, as the following screenshot can attest:
As you can see, Google Music has become “Play Music,” and, when put next to the built-in Android music player, might cause some embarrassingly humourous (and vaguely confusing) results. Granted, I’m excited about the potential of Play: if I can upload and stream my video files the same way I can with my music, I’ll enjoy being able to access my entertainment on the go without lugging around an external hard drive or even my lappy.
It’s clearly Google positioning itself to compete directly with Apple’s iCloud service, but, for the Big G’s sake, I hope that they work out the kinks between the different apps quickly or it all may be doomed to suffer the same fate as Google+.
If you were a kid in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, chances are you probably (didn’t) watch a little cartoon produced by Hanna-Barbera studios featuring the antics of two highly-stylised and intellectually-challenged canines. The show in question, 2 Stupid Dogs, is one of the rare, unappreciated gems that helped herald the new renaissance in American animation and gave way to later unbridled shows–such as The Oblongs, Superjail, and Robot Chicken (pretty-much the entire Adult Swim lineup)–that have come to define a humour for an entire generation.
The show was the brainchild of Disney house animator Donovan Cook who had worked on several feature films while finishing his degree at CalArts. In addition to Cook’s demented sense of humour, Spümcø president John Kricfalusi (“John K.” of Ren and Stimpy fame) as well as other Spümcø writers and artists would often contribute story and artistic elements (Kricfalusi was even credited with contributing “Tidbits of Poor Taste” in some episodes). The series also helped launch the career of some of the biggest names in animation in the 1990’s and 2000’s: Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Laboratory), Craig McCracken (The PowerPuff Girls), Butch Hartman (The Fairly OddParents), and Rob Renzetti (My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic), to name but a few. The writing was fresh and often topical, appealing to a mature audience while silliness, gross humour, and slapstick appealed to the “target” audience.
The sheer brilliance of the series laid not only in its razor-sharp wit, but also in its unusual “retro” style. The cartoon was drawn the the very simplistic, stylised manner of cartoons common in the 1950’s and 60’s, considered to be the golden age of television animation; the show also employed many conventions that had fallen by the wayside during the 1980’s such as absurdism, irrelevant sound effects, and wild takes. The show also employed a gaggle of celebrated voice actors, some of which were legends in their own right (June Foray, Carol Channing, Casey Kasem, Frank Welker), and some of which were just beginning to get noticed (Ben Stiller, and Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Brad Garrett).
Though only 36 shorts were produced (a paltry 4.5 hours of content compared to other shows at the time), they are packed full of quality content with absolutely no “throw away” episodes. 2 Stupid Dogs guarantees to appeal to both the classic animation lover and to the casual aficionado of cheap jokes and hearty guffaws.
With the proliferation of web-based applications out there, have you ever wondered why companies don’t make native applications that can run from your desktop like they do with mobile platforms? Well, for one, cost is an issue–it’s cheaper to develop one website that’s compatible across platforms than it is to develop multiple stand-alone applications. Just look at mobile development–it’s almost like pulling teeth to get an iOS application ported to Android (and, to be fair, vice versa), which is why only the biggest companies with the most resources usually have multiple platform applications. If you don’t have their preferred platform, you just have to deal with the mobile website.
So, back to desktop applications. I use Google Music almost religiously as well as HootSuite, Wave Accounting, and a multitude of other sites for my day-to-day business. It’s more efficient for me to have an icon on my dock that I can just click and open a particular application (considering my Firefox browser usually has multiple tabs open already). In steps Fluid, a small application for OSX that will create a capsule for your favourite web applications, allowing you to tuck it safely into your Applications folder or conveniently on your dock, complete with its own settings and icon. I have to admit, it’s a tremendous time-saver and keeps my desktop nice and organised. Best of all, it’s free! There is also a “premium” version that costs $5 (As Clark Howard would say, “What a DEAL!”) that gives you a few more options such as separate cookie storage and using full screen mode in Lion, but the free version will do for most users.
Click over to their website and check out the details, but if you’re on a Mac, it is indispensable!
The trouble with a history course centered around film is that one has to rely on Hollywood’s warped sense of historical accuracy. Generally speaking, reality doesn’t sell as well as something written by a halfway-creative studio ferret. In addition, directors, writers, and producers often have their own agendas to push through their work, so much of the accuracy gets distorted in the intricate process of filmmaking. However, one does the best that one can do with the arguably massive cinematic library that has been produced in the past hundred years or so. Even so, there are still some good picks and some not-as-good.
Besides being one of the most brilliant pieces of cinema ever created, Unforgiven made a place for itself as a revisionist western. Instead of romanticizing the pragmatic struggle against the elements—taming the land, and carving out a space for oneself on the frontier, the film shows the truth of life in the American wilderness: the lawlessness, the corruption, and the sheer danger encountered in the Old West. Until this point, the Western genre had mainly focused on the shimmering, wide-eyed optimism that almost reverberated tones of original “Go West” advertising campaigns that proliferated throughout the Eastern Seaboard of the 19th century. Gone, now, is the swaggering, lonesome hero in favour of the more historically-accurate pragmatist just trying to survive. In addition to being an excellent film, this—to me—makes Unforgiven particularly effective at exemplifying life on the American frontier and illustrating the historical context of the push westward.
In The Heat of The Night is another particularly brilliant piece of cinema that also quite effectively highlights historical issues prevalent in the time period that it was made and set. Sydney Poitier’s Virgil Tibbs is thrust into the middle of a murder case in a small Southern town, which, adding insult to injury, happens to be quite contrary to the idea of a black man being so competent in the ways of homicide investigation. Initially, Tibbs is arrested on suspicion of murder solely by virtue of his being alone in a train station in the middle of the night with a pocket full of cash—something no innocent “negro” would be able to possess. The folly of the Sparta police department is further exemplified by their constant jumping to conclusions and arresting the wrong suspects while Tibbs digs further into places “he doesn’t belong” such as the local town Boss’s personal life. Tibbs’s struggle to obtain (and subsequently maintain) legitimacy in the eyes of the local police reflects the struggles of black people at large to obtain equal status in the eyes of the white majority not just in the South, but all across the country. At the same time, Tibbs also earns the respect and even the friendship of the chief of police. Eventually, the corrupt, old-world establishment is overturned, and things in Sparta begin to show signs of hope and change for the better just as the sixties and seventies did for the majority of blacks in America.
Although it is probably one of my new favourite films, and certainly worth watching for its cinematic merits, There Will Be Blood showed less about the pragmatism and pioneer spirit of the Westward Movement and more about the corruption and deceit of “Big Oil” and the megalomaniacs that allegedly run such “Big” industries: oil, steel, the railroad, and even modern entities like broadcast media. To me, the movie was more an allegory about the dangers of rampant, unchecked capitalism which came about after the West was “won.” Prime example is the fact that the plot is mostly set in the early years of the 20th century and centers around a man who doesn’t simply wish to survive, but who wants to build his own little revenue empire and—quite literally—wipe out all his competition. Daniel Day-Lewis’s Daniel Plainview did, at first, embody the pragmatic and individualist mindset of the Old West (note his surely-excruciating crawl back to town after breaking his leg in a mining accident), but as time moved on, his wealth and power began to corrupt him until he became a twisted wreck of a man with no family beating a clergyman to death with a bowling pin. “I’m finished!” Finished growing (as a country), and finished exploring (as a people).
The Last of The Mohicans probably sits at the top of my short list of films that did not effectively communicate the historical era they were intended to highlight. The Last of The Mohicans felt more like it belonged on The Wonderful World of Disney alongside Davy Crockett and other purely adventure serials. In addition to being a particularly sub-par film overall, the plot focuses mostly on how insipid the British are. In fact, the only real example of the pragmatism and willingness of the American spirit is in Daniel Day-Lewis’s Hawkeye providing a foil to the British army commanders. Hawkeye emphasises retreat and regrouping that will allow American settlers to tend their homes and farms in opposition to the British mandate that all able-bodied men be conscripted to fight the French (who ultimately win, anyway). Overshadowing the clash between the two ideologies and adding fuel to the already hot fire, is the apparent cockfight over the attraction of the female lead—both sides trying to wrench power in order to demonstrate their prowess and win the hand of the trope maiden. The only thing that makes this melodrama even remotely about early America and the Westward movement is the fact that it incorporates Native Americans into the plot and setting. Unfortunately, they are—as Mark Twain eloquently put it—“Cooper Indians,” one-dimensional characters that really only serve as an enhanced setting element. If this were a science-fiction film instead of a “Western” (when it really isn’t, it’s a melodrama), then the Mohawk would be Star Trek’s “red shirts” and the Huron are Star Wars’s Stormtroopers. Both are essentially faceless and serve only to advance the plot and provide some level of authenticity to the weak battle scenes.
As noted before, There Will Be Blood, is not only my favourite film sampled in this course, it is also on my list of all-time favourites. The cinematography is unparalleled at capturing the desolation of early California and the music resonates just enough to send a chill down your spine. Outside the dialogue, the viewer already knows that there is something not to like about Daniel Plainview, and, as the plot develops, he understands why the film imparts such a creepy vibe. Within the script, the film has already spawned such quotable lines as “I drink your milkshake!” and “I’m finished!” while the overall tone of the film warns us of the dangers associated with “big” industries and unchecked capitalism.
Throughout the course, the film I liked the very least was Far From Heaven. As a retrospective period piece, the film took a harsh look at “WASPy” New England society in the 1950’s, and deconstructed it to study the human element behind the masks of propriety. The characters where highly stereotyped, and it just felt like watching some kind of dance by grotesque caricatures. In the end, there was no feeling of sympathy for any of the characters, no sense of development, and certainly no sense of loss from the deconstruction of their lives. Everyone just lives on, moderately content ever after. Such lukewarm films serve no real purpose except as an exercise in cinematography, which is what the film felt like—an internship piece for a budding director of photography.
For the first time, it’s something actually very frightening for Halloween…I don’t think we’ve done anything this scary before.
Steve Roach, Imagineer
Who doesn’t love a good roller coaster? Who especially doesn’t love a good roller coaster in the dark with multimedia effects? For the second year now, Disneyland (along with the rest of the Disney Parks family) has added a spooky overlay for their HalloweenTime celebration during the month of October. Now, there’s only a couple more days until All Hallow’s Eve, but for those of you who may not have a chance to visit their nearest Disney theme park, I’ll give you a little taste of the action.
Ghost Galaxy is probably best experienced at night when the projections on the Space Mountain dome can be seen. Monstrous roaring, gnashing, and clawing periodically emanates from the Mountain, as if there is something big inside trying to get out. Disney does a fantastic job of communicating the feel of the ride from the moment you walk past the entrance. Normally, the Mountain is quiet, unassuming, but for HalloweenTime, you know as soon as you enter Tomorrowland that something is wrong.
The story, from what I can infer from the themeing is that SpacePort 77 (as the entrance to Space Mountain is known) has been experiencing some odd readings from one of its planetary probes: eerie clouds in space followed by extreme interference and a loss of signal (riders can watch the playback on the large screen in the spaceport section of the pre-show queue). As crew of SM77 (your mission designation), it is the riders’ task to investigate the phenomenon and report back to your commander.
The ride, from the beginning, gives the feeling that something isn’t quite right. At launch, instead of the normal, epic choral fanfare, the music is subdued and in minor key. There’s a lot of humming and tension building as you ride through the darkened tunnels on the lift section. Eerie, pulsating green lights provide little comfort in lieu of the normal red and blue lighting. At last, you begin the “hyperspace” section of the lift and see the familiar swirling galaxy in the distance followed by…
Meet the Nebula Ghost, a paranormal entity that has invaded your galaxy and the source of all the interference back at SpacePort 77. It’s big, it’s powerful, it’s scary, and it wants to eat you. The SM77 rocket you and your fellow astronauts are flying has no weapons systems (it was designed for relatively short-range, peaceful exploration and scouting), so your best option here is to run.
And run you do. Fast. Down the familiar dips, twists, and turns that make up the Space Mountain track, but this time with a galaxy-eating, world-destroying, soul-sucking Nebula Ghost at your every turn!
If you happen to make it back to SpacePort 77 in one piece, you will be rewarded with the option of purchasing a souvenir photo of your adventure. I would highly recommend it, as it’s only available for 1/12th of the year and it’s a really cool image mask. The best seats are in rows 3 and 4, as most of the action centers there. Sit in row 4 if you decide to go for the photo–you’re not as likely to be blocked by someone’s wayward arms or hands.
If one hears bad music, it is one’s duty to drown it by one’s conversation.
The second album by Miami native Jason Derülo features 12 tracks of derivative trite that I probably shouldn’t have even tried in the first place, but, for the sake of fair play and journalism, I took a listen on Spotify.
How this kid got to be so popular is a mystery to me. His songs are essentially the same R&B moans and beats that have been rushing to the DJ stands since someone decided that “R&B” no longer had to mean “Rhythm and Blues.” He sounds like R. Kelly, dresses like Prince, and looks like the bastard love child of Wayne Brady and P. Diddy (no offense to Wayne Brady for he’s a man with more talent than I could ever hope to describe). One thing I did notice was that several of his songs (the contractually-obligatory “break up” songs) were more about codependency and a lack of closure than good “break up” songs about acknowledging your hurt, picking yourself up, moving on, and maybe getting revenge on that cheating bitch that broke your heart in the first place.
Largely, it seems that Derülo’s tracks suffer from overproduction with too many unnecessary ad-libs, lyrical interludes, or other distractions. Case in point is “Breathing,” which would actually be a good dance track if it weren’t for the unnecessary, annoying “AYYIYIYIYIYIYO!!!!!!” during the breakdown section. There is also the (again, I’m sure, contractually) obligatory “I’m going to sing about us having sex” track that makes Derülo sound like he was competing with R. Kelly for the “freakiest sex lyrics” prize including an entire verse about “watersports” and a hook that sounds like “grabin’ and bitin’ all up on my boner.”
I did manage to find one track that I enjoyed: “Fight For You” is a nod to another song that I have loved for years, Toto’s “Africa.” It has a great interpretation of the music and chorus vocals that’s mixed with a driving beat and uplifting lyrics. I did consider this the “least insipid” track on the album, but I think it has to do with the fact that somewhere it is written that artists are not allowed to do terrible covers of that song.
Bottom-line: The final track, “Dumb” can effectively sum up the album; besides the chorus singing “I’m so dumb,” the song doesn’t actually pick up until thirty seconds from the end, leaving too little too late. There’s potential with this guy, but he’s not there yet.
I get by with a little help from my friends.
I have to admit, I went into 50/50 expecting something completely different. Surge, his cousin, and I were initially going to see Tucker and Dale Versus Evil, but it was not playing at the AMC at The Block. Consequently (and collectively) we opted for the new Seth Rogen/Joseph Gordon-Levitt piece. I was expecting Pineapple Express, what I got was a heartwarming tearjerker about friendship. love, and finding humor in the bleakest of days.
Not to give too much away, Gordon-Levitt takes on the role of Adam, a milquetoast twenty-something who finds out he has a rare type of cancer and learns lessons of life, love, and friendship that he probably should have learned as a teenager. Rogen co-stars as the best friend, Kyle, who–despite his callous exterior–becomes the emotional rock as Adam’s life begins to fall apart around him.
The film feels like a typical coming-of-age movie played ten years too late, but, looking at a large portion of my generation, it seems timely–we’re “growing up” later and taking on adult lives and responsibilities before we even finish learning about ourselves. This ultimately powerful film can serve as a reminder that some of us blossom later and, despite the world falling apart around us, we can overcome adversity by swallowing a little pride, laughing a little in the face of death, and being grateful for the ones we love and the ones who really love us.
Bottom line: See it once–with friends–then call your mom.
Bonus: Max Headroom (Matt Frewer) as mentor and fellow chemo patient Mitch.
I am going to love and tolerate the SHIT outta you!
Season two of Afterburn kicks off with an expose on the dark side of My Little Pony, initial reactions to Jimmy Leeward’s tragic crash at the Reno Air Races, and an argument on the merits of Final Fantasy VIII. Loki sits in for Atari who has moved to Los Angeles and taken the executive producer’s role on the show. New opening theme by Wixor.
Many hipsters refuse to learn the same way that most photographers do, about apertures, ISOs, shutter speeds, etc. Instead, they just shoot, and claim that learning the technicalities only slows them down.
I was futzing around with one of my favourite Android apps back during in July, trying to get an interesting shot of one of my favourite beaches. These photos were all taken with Urbian’s Retro Camera, a free Android camera application similar to Hipstamatic for iOS, but without the associated hipster smugness. It’s great fun for nostalgia buffs, photography aficionados, or fans of obsolete technology! That being said, just for the sake of comparison, I took the same shot with each of the camera settings. Enjoy, and let me know which you like best!